I try to balance reading for fun and reading for work, and often there are overlaps between these categories. Thought I would start keeping some track of the books I’m reading, with some comments:

  • Arthur and George (2005) by Julian Barnes, an interesting story about two men, one of whom grows up to be Arthur Conan Doyle who saves the other’s bacon when he is wrongly accused of a crime. Starts as a novel and then drags into a history.
  • Far Away Nearby (2013) by Rebecca Solnit, an uncommon memoir. A powerful writer. Read mostly at bedtime I need to restart and do it properly.
  • Nine Lives (2006), by Dan Baum: devastating and compulsive reading – Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath were even more unimaginably awful than I knew.
  • Homer and Langley (2009 ), by E. L. Doctorow, another classic jaunt through American history as only he can do. I was affected by the story of these Collyer brothers (real people, though fictionalized), particularly Langley’s quest to read all the news there is to synthesize a newspaper edition that would be good for all time (thanks to the predictable fallibilities of humankind).
  • Ghost Wall (2019), by Sarah Moss, a gripping short tale about our thin veneer of civilization, read in one Sunday sitting (thanks Eleanor Wachtel for the introduction).
  • Curiosity (2010) by Joan Thomas, a wonderful exploration of early fossil expert Mary Anning, and ‘undergroundologist’ Henry de la Beche, loaned by my neighbour.
  • How Green Was My Valley (1939) by Richard Llewellyn, a classic about the coal mining ‘valleys’ of Wales, which I was inspired to read by Coal Cultures, below.
  • Spiderweb (1998), by Penelope Lively, an enjoyable book about a retired anthropologist and questions of subjectivity in research.
  • Coal Cultures: Picturing Mining Landscapes and Communities (2019), by Derrick Price, which I’m reading (and enjoying) for a book review commission.
  • Enemy Women (2007), an earlier offering by the amazing Paulette Jiles, author of Map of the World lauded below, both of which were picked up at subsequent Women for Music booksales.
  • Attempted and abandoned two Wayne Johnson books, Baltimore’s Mansion and First Snow, Last Light. Sorry, Wayne.
  • Back to the brilliant Rachel Cusk for The Lucky Ones (2004).
  • I didn’t take much of a break from Jane Gardam. Read The Man in the Wooden Hat (2009), The Hollow Land (2015), and then God on the Rocks (1978).
  • How it all Began (2011), Penelope Lively
  • Last Friends, by Jane Gardam (2013), not nearly so good as Old Filth (see below), but good enough to lead me to dig into her The Stories (2014), which is brilliant. Then I read Crusoe’s Daughter (1985), which is remarkable, and Queen of the Tambourine (1992), a trippy epistolary novel. I might take a little break now.
  • Melmoth, by Sarah Perry (2018), remarkable word painter; the cafe scene at the end is still visiting me.
  • Transit, by Rachel Cusk (2017), one of the most remarkably absent and opaque heroines I’ve ever experienced.
  • Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill (2014). Chaotic novel in fragments, some pieces of which were startlingly familiar.
  • Indelible Acts, by A. L. Kennedy (2004). Remarkable short stories.
  • Three for three on great novels picked up for $2 each at the Women for Music Book sale this year:
    • News of the World, Paulette Giles (2014), two unforgettable characters
    • Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (2013), bleak but powerful
    • Old Filth, Jane Gardam (2004), excited to hear it is the first in a trilogy!
  • Donovan’s Station, Robin McGrath (2002), is Newfoundland’s Morag, circa 1914. Great.
  • Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability, Marc J. Stern (2018), is the book I have been waiting for: well-organized and cross-referenced remedial sociology and psychology in an applied package.
  • Far to Go, Alison Pick (2010), excellent but dread-filled story of the Czech Sudetenland in 1939 and one boy’s escape via the Kindertransport. This quote sucked me in early on: “If I’ve learned anything in my very long [academic] career, it is this: we research what we recognize” (p. 6).
  • The Rich Part of Life, Jim Kokoris (2001), was a great read, and made me laugh out loud at times, particularly the civil war renactment part; I’ll look for more from him.
  • The Group, Mary McCarthy (1953), changed the way I think about my grandmothers.
  • The Cheese Monkeys, Chip Kidd (2002), exactly how you would imagine a novel by a graphic designer, with some thought-provoking dialogue about “limitations as possibilities”, which aligns with my own research philosophy.
  • When They Hid the Fire, historian Daniel French (2017), a great foil to Crowe, below; what happens when we make our power use invisible?
  • The  Book Shop, Penelope Fitzgerald (1978), like Swift she makes the wet Suffolk landscape like one of the characters as well as the setting; funny while misanthropic.
  • The Children’s Act, Ian McEwan (2014), devastating yet quick read about relationships, responsibility and religion, with a brief cameo by a conservationist trying to convince coastal farmers to allow the restoration of their land to salt marsh for a buffer against climate change.
  • The Landscape of Power, by Sylvia Crowe (1958); interesting book about the integration of utilitarian infrastructure like electrical transmission into pastoral England. Alternately nostalgic and forward-looking work of landscape architecture with great turns of phrase.
  • Wilding, by Isabella Tree (can that be her real name?) … stalled
  • England and Other Stories, by Graham Swift, who also wrote Waterland, Beautiful.
  • The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. Great fun and skilled writing linking natural history, ghost story, and Victorian manners. Highly recommended.
  • The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot. This was very clearly an assemblage of essays, as each chapter of the book had very similar structure, the arc of landscape, isolation and connection to nature helping this author tackle her alcoholism. An indulgent example of what seems like a genre now, of women taking to remote islands to figure things out through self-imposed hardship.
  • Just finished the in-translation novel August, by Argentinian writer Romina Paula. I loved the Patagonian landscape, the 90s pop culture references, and the unsettling feelings of going ‘home’ after a long time away, and seeing these moments where life choices branch. An unconventional voice that resonated with me.
  • Migration Songs, the first book by Halifax (actually, Dartmouth) writer Anna Quon. Novel narration, and a rich family story, though the main plotline didn’t quite work, especially near the end.