Top Ten Tuesday is hosted on That Artsy Reader Girl. Be sure to check out her blog for other takes on this week’s topic!
If fall is the season for all things cozy, for me winter is a time of reflection and stillness. This is the time of year I most enjoy reading in depth nonfiction like biographies and books about nature. Winter means long books for me–stories you can really sink your teeth into. And of course, it means reading a lot of poetry. Here are ten books on my to-read list that I’m hoping to spend some time with this season.
This is a great time of year to binge read (or in this case, binge finish, a series). Plus who doesn’t love to escape the winter weather into a world of magic and dragons? The books are long, but they so far have just flown by–perfect for gloomy winter weekends.
The cover for this book is just genius–and I really like King’s writing when it isn’t scary. His science fiction for example is really great. And even the horror still haunts me to this day, so you know he’s doing something right. This seems like a no brainer for my winter list.
I love, love, love cultural and material histories that highlight marginalized communities. There is so much we take for granted about where our US American culture comes from, and this book aims at stripping that thick layer of ambivalent mayonnaise from our cultural history. I am here for it.
Material history? Check. Fashion and fabric have been traditionally looked down upon as topics because of their close association with women but what we wear says a lot about us and how we interact with each other and the world. Historical dress and fabric fascinates me. This will not be the first history of fabric I’ve read and I dare say it will not be the last.
All of these are longer books that have been sitting on my bookshelf
This volume has side by side English and Spanish pairings, so I can attempt to read the Spanish and then read the translation and start matching them together. I’ve only read a few things by Borges, mostly short stories, but I’m hoping to rectify that a little this coming year.
This is one of two major 20th century poetry anthologies in my collection (the other one is from Penguin) and these primers are always a great introduction to major movements. Their size is a little intimidating, but I’m hoping to read both this year and see whether it’s worth keeping both or choosing my favorite as a reference.
This book cracks me up because its title is clearly ironic. Except that form could be talked about in volumes and volumes I suppose so perhaps it’s a fitting title after all. Anyway this is less poetry than poetics (though this has a host of other names) basically its nonfiction about poetry.
I don’t know if there’s any genre I can categorically say I love more than revisionist historical fantasy. I bought the audiobook of this and I can’t wait to listen to it on my way to and from the library. Or while doing dishes. Or doing anything really.
Are you planning on settling in with a long book this winter? Let me know which one in the comments.
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Be sure to check out different takes on this week’s freebie topic on her site!
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We are currently bird sitting for one of my partner’s coworkers. Gizmo is an adorable green-cheeked conure, but goodness birds are so much work! We’ve learned a lot about her though in the time we’ve spent together. She loves sunflower seeds and grapes, makes the cutest noise when she finds a tunnel, and is generally too smart for her own good. Although my partner was hoping he’d bond with the bird more, the bird has definitely glommed onto me. So needless to say, I haven’t gotten all that much done except entertain this little lady and birds have been on my brain. Since this week is a freebie, I thought we could do 10 books with birds on the cover.
I went through my to-read list on Story Graph, and there were 36 books with birds featured prominently on the cover. So to make this list a little more interesting (and to narrow it down, quite frankly). Here’s 10 books each featuring a different bird/s. Let me know if any of these covers intrigue you to read more–which is the greatest compliment you can give to a cover in my opinion.
Don’t you love the way they did the typography on this cover? Like a bird’s screech, the title grows larger, impossible to ignore. I also really like the plain background and the bird impossibly sitting atop and upside down elevator button.
In the book, a young woman is about to be married and is visited by the spirit of her dead grandmother in the form of a parakeet. In my family, we say we’re being visited by departed family members whenever we see a hummingbird–so this feels like a really intriguing take on that idea.
I don’t know if it’s just because I read so many fantasy books or if ravens and crows are just popular books for covers, but there were sooooooo many corvids to choose from. I really liked this cover, which showcases the beautiful iridescent feathers–just enough to clue you in on what bird it is, but still showcasing the beautiful abstract patterning.
Also that ‘H’? Gorgeous. And I love the way the wing partially obscures the title just like the way the bird is obscured. You can tell from the cover that this book is going to look at things a little differently.
I didn’t choose a lot of nonfiction books about birds for this list, but this one has such a beautiful scrub jay on the cover that I couldn’t resist. The detailed Audobon-like rendering of the scrub jay is so lifelike, but then you have the sketched perch underneath, which makes the cover feel more self-aware and interesting.
I’m not sure what type of feather this is (if anyone knows you should definitely leave it in the comments), but I love the way it dissolves into the birds who fly off onto the cover). It’s an especially appropriate cover for a protagonist named Bird and which takes inspiration from Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” poem.
A lot of books with magical elements use a raven on the cover, often intertwined with other gothic elements, so it’s nice to see a treatment of birds on a cover in such a bright blue. I like the midair flight layered on top of the bird cage and the way the typography echoes the colors. Very simple and elegant.
What’s better than one bird on the cover? Lots! And they blend so beautifully into this foliage–you have to hunt for them. Then you have the typography and the silhouettes intermixed…I just think this one is gorgeous.
I think this spring green and hot pink combination is really striking. Maybe I’m just partial to it because I threw my aunt a baby shower in these colors. The title creates an interesting little puzzle for the viewer. If the things in the novel are mostly dead–does that mean the flamingo is alive or dead. Is it taxidermy on the cover?
Also I think there’s always something fantastical about a flamingo. They make me think of Alice in Wonderland. I like the fluid, bendy bird contrasted with the rough, all caps, poster like lettering.
Not a groundbreaking cover, I’ll admit. But the owl illustrations are just too stinking cute. Plus I love owls. They’re the cutest little sky killers. If you like adorable bird illustrations, I think Sewell actually has several books. This would probably make a lovely little holiday gift for someone who enjoys owls. Which is probably almost everyone.
Okay–so I couldn’t narrow it down to 10. But I think 11 is pretty good! Here’s another feather close-up. The museum-y label is the most distinctive thing about the cover, but feathers themselves have so much color and texture that it doesn’t matter. The type is simple, but I like how it’s woven around the featherrs.
I like true crime books most especially when they’re about thefts and heists, and this one seems like it’ll have all the thriller aspects you could ask for.
genre: nonfiction, true crime
mood: adventurous, mysterious
Did any of these covers catch your eye? Have you read any of these books? Share about books or bird stories in the comments!
Join me as I read through the Oakland Public Library poetry collection.
So this week has not quite gone to plan, and this book is going to be a few days overdue. Whoops. But I’m glad that I finished it and didn’t just turn it back in because I so thoroughly enjoyed Troy Jollimore‘s collection, Earthly Delights.
This is another new book from the library’s collection, and it’s Jollimore’s (1971-) fourth book of poetry. Jollimore is also a philosopher and teaches at California State University, Chico. Although I didn’t know that before reading the collection, it doesn’t surprise me. The collection is meditative and playful, especially with themes of leaving and return, such as in the last poem of the collection which is an imagination of Odysseus before he leaves Ithaca. There’s a lot of looking back in the book, but I wouldn’t call it nostalgic. Wistful for the beginnings of things maybe, but not nostalgic in the sense that it believes we can or should return to another time.
The book feels very summery to me. Part of this is the literal mention of summer in several poems, but it’s also a mood, a languid, slow moving rhythm that feels like long summer nights on the porch. It feels ripe, at its peak but also if you pick up some peaches, they may be rotten, such as discussions about our current political state. Here’s a sample of that summery feeling I’m picking up on:
it takes three drinks to make the music sound the way it’s supposed to sound, that the taste of the air on summer evenings
is always a little bit bitter, always a little bit tinged with regret, that this is your language, your city, and no one but you
can speak it, and no one but you can save it. —
Troy Jollimore from “Landscape with Ambiguous Symbols”
Jollimore uses a ton of references–the classic ones are here of course–few collections are complete without mentions of Greek mythology, but beyond those references there is so much discussion of cinema. This takes the form of individual movies, such as a long poem on American Beauty and others on cinema classics that he calls screenshots. I don’t know if there’s a work like ekphrastic (poems about visual artwork) for poems about cinema, but it’s not a true ekphrasis in that it’s not really describing what we see so much as capturing some of the mood or a philosophical question the film delves into. For example, Jollimore delves into questions of identity in his poem about the film Being John Malkovich:
Being John Malkovich, John Malkovich was pretty much the inevitable choice to play the character ‘John Malkovich.’ Who else could imitate that wheedling voice,
…But know, the very question that the film itself
forces us to confront is, who am I when someone else lives through me?… —
Troy Jollimore, from “Screenshots: Being John Malkovich”
So the philosopher definitely comes through here–the film brings up questions, but the poem does not concern itself with answering the questions. Rather the poems (and this can be said about poetry throughout the book) rephrase the questions in really moving, insightful ways. Because of this the book feels intellectually rather than emotionally moving, and it’s clever without resorting to barbs.
I am excited to pick up a copy of this collection and start making notes in it. There’s so much to pick apart in this book, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. This is definitely a book to reread.
I’m the kind of person who always brings a book to the cabin and…never reads more than a few pages of it. I go on trips with several book and come back with most of them unread except for the audiobook on the plane. I’m often lucky if I get a single book read on a trip. There’s usually so many other things to experience and do and reading tends to be a pretty solitary, relaxing activity, which is not usually trip strategy. So with very few exceptions (like our trip to Taiwan years ago when I had long stretches of time to myself), I tend to buy more books on vacation than I read. And because these books become something like souvenirs, they’re often more memorable to me than the books that I read (or tried to read, and reread the same paragraph over and over again). So although the prompt for this week is books I read on vacation, I’m going to talk about books I purchased on vacation instead.
New York, New York at the Strand: Unnatural Creatures ed. by Neil Gaiman
I bought this book for the cover, the gorgeous typography and twisting branches. We were young college kids on this trip, and we didn’t have a lot to spend on souvenirs, but the book was out in paperback and on sale, and I bought it. This is a great collection of short stories by the way–a cool focus that allows the writers to be very creative. If you enjoy fantasy and dark fairy tales, you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Bend, Oregon: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
I found this at a thrift store with my Mom and Nana–we always beeline for the books. I had read a couple other Atwood books by then so I was excited to see another one. Even now, I know I’ll get through all of her books eventually, but I tend to dole them out to myself so I don’t go through them all at once.
Paris, France: A French version of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I learned un petit peu of French for the trip to Paris my Nana and I took in 2018. I learned enough to get around as a tourist, but definitely not enough to struggle through Harry Potter, and given the choice I’ll probably go back to Spanish, but I couldn’t resist buying something in the wonderful little bookstore. Next time I’ll stick to notebooks. I still have the little embossed bookmark though, and I love it.
Maui, Hawaii: The Quest for King Arthur by David Day
I really enjoy shopping, but not the mass produced souvenir kind, so while my friend was off looking at things in Lahaina, I went and found this cute little used bookstore and an interesting coffee table book about King Arthur caught my eye.
Taichung, Taiwan: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I went into a lot of bookstores and stationery stores in Taiwan and bought lots of washi tape and little cards and stickers and things, but I didn’t kid myself and think I was ever going to learn enough Mandarin even for a simple picture book. But there was a little used bookstore in Taichung that held a shelf of English books, and I was running low on reading material so…it came home with me.
Actually Taiwan was the rare trip that I read quite a bit since I was alone most of the day. I only took books I was willing to leave behind and I ended up leaving almost a drawerful and the hotel called. In retrospect, I should have just taken them down to the bookstore I’d found but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the person at the counter even though the vast majority of people we met spoke at least some English (certainly much more than my 10 words of Mandarin) i also could have looked it up on my phone… no excuse really. My bag was lighter without them and then I had room for all the washi tape.
Patrick Ness writes really well about the shock and horrors of childhood made manifest as a little boy grieves his mother in the only way he knows how. A beautiful middle grade book. And the movie was decent as well.
London, UK: The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
There was some sort of deal for 3 of certain paperbacks, so I found a few things. I don’t remember the name of this bookstore that we poked into…but I did notice that books are a bit less expensive in the UK and that they’re made a little differently– stiffer and lighter than the floppy US trade paperback. The covers were gorgeous too!
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote the Master and Margarita, which is one of my all time favorites, and this little novella was good, but not as good. It’s about a doctor who switches a human’s testicles with a dogs and they take on each other’s characteristics to amusing results. It’s a weird little book, but it gives you a good sense of the midcentury USSR, which Bulgakov was very much writing against in a fantastical way.
The Essex Serpent is a little dark and creepy and full of magical realism, like most of Sarah Perry’s work. Her writing can be a little dense, but it’s worth wading through (or listening to the audiobook) for the atmosphere she creates in her stories, which borders on the gothic. They made a miniseries of this for Apple TV+, which I haven’t seen yet.
Everyone talks about Jessie Burton’s more well known book The Miniaturist, but I couldn’t get into that setting nearly as quickly as I was swept into a fast paced midcentury London. I ended up reading this book waiting to be called for jury duty. We were there 6 hours or so before being dismissed. I finished both books I brought and went to the library on break. That’s where I picked up the more famous Jessie Burton book, but it was such a tone and pace shift I couldn’t get through the first chapters and into the richer parts. Also, those closeted Holland spaces always feel dark and claustrophobic to me. They’re not my favorite historical setting by a long shot.
Merida, Mexico: Purchased: The Poems of Octavio Paz
Recently my friend and I went to Mexico, and while we were in this colorful city, I discovered that an expat was running an English language bookstore. I was looking for poetry by Mexican authors, and I was disappointed not to find much although I’m sure it doesn’t sell that well. But I did pick up a lovely bilingual edition of poems by Octavio Paz.
Do you ever buy books on vacation? Let me know in the comments!
I actually have two TBRs. I have the one that I keep on my phone through Story Graph and the stack of books I own. When I buy a book off of my digital TBR, I take it off the list. This is the easiest way I’ve found of making my TBR available for my family to browse for gifts–they don’t have to worry about buying me a book I already own. And it means that at the library or when shopping I don’t have to sort through it either.
That does mean however, that there is always wayyyyyy too much to read. So for this cover prompt I decided to see what commonalities I could find between the covers I own. The answer was not that much, but after some sorting I realized that there are a lot of covers with hands. Some are disembodied, some are suggestions (gloves for example), but these are covers that have hands featured in some way.
I wanted to write a short discussion/analysis of what’s on the covers and what they’re achieving because although you maybe shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you can still learn a lot from it!
Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende – The cover photo by Marcia Lieberman features a young woman holding a garment of some kind in one hand and the control for a camera in the other. As if this is the moment before a photograph rather than a moment captured in one. She’s the subject of the reader’s gaze but clearly the reader is the subject of hers as well. It’s a creative and arresting image.
Cleopatra Dismounts by Carmen Boullosa – The stylized art deco version of an Egyptian painting really draws attention to the hands with the stiff, geometric angles. This photo was taken by E. O. Hoppé, who was a German-born British photographer starting in the early 1900s. Egyptian revival and costume were becoming more popular in the 1920s, which makes total sense if you think about how Art Deco and Egyptian painting both value a stylized geometric and decorative style. On the cover this is echoed by the golden suns. The archival photo lets the reader know that the story is likely to take place in the past, but that the subject is a living, breathing person in three dimensions.
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – Angela Carter’s novel features what we can only assume to be an aerialist, but with no visible means of support, an almost fluid grace (that reminds me of Elastigirl from The Incredibles), and her position within a decorated frame, we seem to be looking at a circus poster rather than the performer herself. I think this cover adds to what I’m sure will be the magic of the book, and the sharp edges of the performer’s nose, feet, wings, and fingers let us know that the story will not be as light in tone as the effortless pose and fluffy cotton candy pink might suggest.
¡Caramba! by Nina Marie Martinez – In what looks like an old travel poster or postcard, a woman hold a red bird in the palm of her hand. It even matches her fingernails. Because of the way the blue splash is positioned, her hand almost looks like it’s been severed from her body. It adds a little bit of surrealism to the cover and mystery. Especially when coupled with the blue bar that’s been put across someone’s eyes in the bottom corner. From this picture I definitely get a sense that nothing is exactly as it seems.
The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes by Hannele Klemettilä – Interestingly, although the title mentions the kitchen, the cover painting chooses to focus on an important feast, showing that medieval kitchens probably would rarely have been the focus of art or commemoration. This is a reproduction of a page from a medieval Book of Hours, produced in about 1380 for the Duc Jean de Berry. This page illustrates Jesus’s first miracle, turning water to wine at the wedding at Cana. Hands had special status in medieval art (you can learn more from this pdf from a Getty exhibit) and the hands here can be read symbolically, but I won’t go into it or we’ll be here all week. I especially like the hands that mirror each other on the left hand side of the portrait. This picture illustrates the centrality of religion and feast in a lord’s medieval kitchen.
Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge – The photo on the cover was taken by Lincoln Clarkes in 1988, and it manages to feel much older than that as if a Victorian or Edwardian woman has simply decided to take flight. It’s a not entirely carefree pose, as with one hand she reaches up to grasp her hat. Her look is less joyful and more enigmatic, but her limbs are powerfully stretched. This is a woman who has made a leap–perfect for a book on writing where you are taking a leap into your imagination and then taking another leap onto the page.
Now for the disembodied hands!
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey – This cover has a lot going on. The image of the hand echoes the title in a really beautiful way. You’ve got the disembodied hand with this interesting multicolored aura and an all seeing eye. It’s not on the palm like we might expect from a hamsa, this makes it feel more unexpected and fresh, and of course it allows the hand to be partially closed to cross the fingers in a lie. In this book we might expect an unreliable narrator, some play with genre, and a little irreverence. And we learn all that from a fairly simple but striking graphic.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – You might be wondering, if this hand is attached to a body, why did I put this hand here? It’s because of the way the photograph has been disassembled and surreally reassembled. There are actually three hands on the cover and they don’t appear where you’d expect them to be. The left gloved hand is almost in the center, and the high contrast means your eye is drawn to it right away. It shows a hint of this person’s identity but also shows that something is fractured or fracturing. It’s super intriguing to me, especially the way part of the image is flipped.
True Biz by Sara Nović – The attention to the hand on this cover makes total sense when you know that it’s about sign language in the deaf community. I really like the patterns and different colors on the fingers echoing the different colors of the letters, as the hand is really representing those different letters in the alphabet. It draws attention to the meaning of each hand position and each gesture. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from the fact that it’s the right hand on the left side of the cover. I didn’t expect that and only discovered it when I made the same shape with my hands.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – A dark vignette reveals an empty pair of white kid gloves, photographed by Jeff Cottenden. The emptiness really suggests a kind of absence or loss, even as the gloves seem to be embracing each other. The gloves also hint that this is a historical novel as gloves haven’t been in vogue for some time. It’s a fairly simple image but it’s very evocative.
Do any of these covers catch your eye? Do you have a favorite cover that features a hand? Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments!
So many delightful bookish things are out there…it’s really a pity I live in a studio apartment at the moment. There’s not much room for collecting things (even when they are adorable). But these are 10 items I think would be worth the space!
I have some bookish socks already because they are an excellent stocking stuffer and friends and family tend to get me them as gifts, which I love. I would definitely add these library card socks from Out of Print to my collection.
Typically I have a hard time with perfume. I tend to be allergic to a lot of things and have to be really careful with what scents I pick to not end up with an instant headache (like I just did recently after I thought the Lush perfume I bought was fine.. whoops). But I’ve never had a problem with the perfume from Black Phoenix Alchemy. I bought one perfume and two samples from them and I can wear everything without headaches!
While not all their perfumes are bookish, many are directly inspired by books or poems like their Alice in Wonderland collection. Others are inspired by dark, gothic, or magickal themes or films (be aware that some are more risque than others and may not be appropriate for under 18). There are so many fun scents and they’re reasonably priced, but they make limited batches so be aware that the scent you want may be out of stock. My favorite perfume I’ve tried so far is Bess, which is:
“Inspired by the tragic, ill-fated love of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester. This is our modernization of a 17th-century perfume blend favored by British aristocracy: rosemary, orange flower, grape spirit, five rose variants, lemon peel, and mint.”
The biggest problem I have with this company is that their website is extremely difficult to navigate! They organize by collection rather than scent or scent profile. I would start under the “beloved favorites” section or just browse and see what rabbit holes you fall into…
Obvious State designs beautiful minimalist prints, postcards, notebooks, and more out of Portland Oregon. As someone who is…ahem…obsessed with notebooks, I’m always looking for more. These recycled beauties are small enough to fit in a purse or a pocket.
We got our first Covid shots! And our second Covid shots! Two steps closer to quasi-normal life! I’m very excited about it (if you couldn’t tell). It took almost two weeks to get an appointment and we’d been checking every day and then all of a sudden appointments! It was really exciting, and it’s really helped relieve my anxiety.
I finished my masters degree! I am now officially an MLIS holder, which is really exciting. Now that I’m done with school I’m starting to think about what it is that I really want to do. And it’s been fun to get to take the time to read a little more!
I also started keeping a daily sketchbook at the end of March and I am so enamored with it. Who needs a journal when you can do a daily sketch? I’m actually going to enjoy looking back on this. I got to the end of my first sketchbook and was so paranoid about not having enough pages that I ended up ordering 4 sketchbooks. So now I have too many sketchbooks, but I know I’ll use them up…eventually.
My top 3 books for each month have green outlines, so you can skip straight to the best ones!
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda This is a story about two mothers who never meet but share a daughter. One is forced to give her daughter up to give her a better life, one is her adopted mother who can’t have biological children. The book considers the families we choose and how our culture is invariably intertwined with those decisions.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson If you are interested in gaining insight into systemic racism in the United States, you need to read this book. Wilkerson compares the caste system in the United States to caste systems in India and in Nazi Germany in order to gain insight into the way that race works to divide us. Besides having important insights, Wilkerson is also an incredible writer and the book is a pleasure to read even though its subject matter is quite difficult.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa After being hired as a housekeeper, a woman and her young son develop a friendship with an aging math professor who is slowly losing his memory after an accident. Unable to form new memories (his memory erases after 88 minutes), the three of them form their connection through the power and magic of numbers. Recommended for anyone who needs a reminder about the power of connecting with other people.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal This YA duology is perfect if you like a little romance with your adventure. The characters are standard YA fare (a lot of focus on a journey of self-discovery without a lot of insight), but they are all interestingly flawed. My favorite part of this series is the worldbuilding. Faizal constructs a magical, well-realized world that doesn’t rely on western tropes and is so interesting and much more dynamic than the characters themselves–I loved spending time there through these books.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende This is historical fiction at its best with a complex and intriguing heroine that won’t take no for answer. Eliza travels from her native Chile to California during the Gold Rush to follow the young man who stole her heart and finds herself along the way. I’m a huge fan of Allende’s writing and the way she weaves relationships and stories together.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu Told as a screenplay, this short experimental screenplay plays with the idea of how we all play roles, but specifically focuses on the Chinese American community and the various roles and stereotypes that are forced on and lived by Chinatown residents. I found it extremely clever.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala I’m not sure you can describe a murder mystery as “cozy,” but if you can, this chatty mystery filled with food (recipes included) and family definitely fits that description. A great read if you need something a little less serious in your life.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge A fictional story about one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, the book follows her daughter, Libertie, as she figures out what she really wants out of life and how to use her voice. The book has a really nice ebb and flow to it. If you’re looking for some historical fiction with a little botany and travel thrown in, look no further.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at KensingtonPalace by Lucy Worsley This nonfiction book examines life in England’s Georgian court in the 18th century through the eyes of different individuals connected to the court, both high and low. Worsley presents a rounded and complex view of life at court, and introduces Kensington palace during its high point, before it was used by Queen Victoria or Princess Diana.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Mothers by Brit BennettThe Vanishing Half was one of my favorite books last year, so I was eager to read The Mothers. Bennett’s writing is a little less immediate in this one (due to the framing device she uses), which took me out of the story a little. Like her newer novel, it does follow the characters over a long time span, and I really like how Bennett really lets events stew so the consequences can deepen over time. A smart young woman dealing with grief over her mother’s death gets involved with the preacher’s son, and their decisions will have consequences far into their adult lives.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré I’m probably biased in favor of books that talk about the importance of education, but I found this book to be beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. Adunni is 14 years old and her life is filled with hardship. She is young and naïve, and without any power or education she is at the whim of the adults around her who are trying to subdue and manipulate her. But Adunni refuses to be quiet or submissive. She’s always asking questions and working towards a better life. Her courage and spirit will win you over.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez I really wanted to like this YA fantasy novel set in South America, but it fell flat by pretty much every standard. It was predictable and the protagonist was perhaps the least interesting character in the book. The writing was only okay, and to top it all off, it was a political novel with its political center totally missing. The world wasn’t rich–all in all this is one to skip in my opinion.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Little by Edward Carey What do wax sculptures and the French revolution have in common? You’ll have to read the novel and find out. Featuring a spunky, underestimated main character, Marie aka Little, is the apprentice who outdoes the master. The illustrations in the book add a lot, but it is Marie’s observant nature and voice that carry the narrative from Sweden to Paris, from Paris to Versailles and back again.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor A Black gay masters student in biology in a predominantly white East coast town, Wallace has become adept at code switching and hiding his feelings, but over the course of a single weekend a series of events breaks down the walls he’s built for himself. This book has beautiful language, but I found the subject matter to be really difficult–sort of like if The Color Purple was set in the middle of a laboratory. It made me cry.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie Some books are so of your time that you can’t imagine them being written at any other point in history, and this is one of those books. It is dense, layered, and moves through some of the biggest questions of our time debating the nature of truth, identity, and goodness. It’s kind of like a modern update of The Great Gatsby, since it follows an outsider, a young aspiring screenwriter, who inserts himself into the story of his rich, pretentious, probably criminal neighbors. It’s a novel with more questions than answers, but all the questions are fascinating.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert I’ve been more drawn to romance novels recently because I have needed a bit of a break from more serious literary fiction. And this book was the perfect remedy! This a great (and sexy) romantic comedy. I’m so glad that this is part of a series because the Brown sisters are amazing! They have so much love for each other and make each other better. Chloe has fibromyalgia and both she and her love interest exhibit so much personal growth over the course of this book. This book was like a warm hug.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Elisabeth’s Lists: A Life Between the Lines by Lulah Ellender After being given her grandmother’s book of lists compiled between the 1930s and the 1950s, Ellender follows the trail of the grandmother she never knew through her and her husband’s diplomatic postings. It’s a meditation on the nature of lists and our need to organize our lives, to get to know the people we love, and to come to terms with our grief. I ordered this book from the UK, since I haven’t seen it in bookstores here, but it’s worth picking up!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
In April and May I spent a lot of time either re-watching movies or catching up with shows or finishing up projects for school and thus not watching anything. I’m hoping that in June I can get back to really crossing movies off of my list!
Moxie (2021) A total feel-good movie–as radical 90s feminism gets adapted in Gen Z. Plus Amy Pohler is in it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Howards End (1992) Oh this movie was so slow. And pretty depressing. Not even Emma Thompson could save this movie for me.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Wolfwalkers (2020) I subscribed to Apple TV for a week just to watch this movie, since it was nominated for the animated Oscar this year. I wasn’t super impressed by Soul, so I wanted to see the competition, and this movie was really beautiful with a 2D animation style and a great story. But it is only streaming on Apple’s service, which is really annoying.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) This was so cute it was hard to handle. I loved how playful and silly it was. If you don’t normally watch animated movies, and you like sci-fi, I would really recommend this movie. It’s such a great family film.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021) I’d read the Joy Luck Club when I was younger and loved it and the movie, but I didn’t know how closely it resembled Tan’s life. Her books seem to be drawn really closely from her life. I always think documentaries about writers and artists are interesting because they help capture how they see the world and how their work is connected to their lives.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
What was the best thing you read/watched in April or May? Have your summer reading list set yet? What are you looking forward to this month? Let me know in the comments!
This year I read 150 books, and though it was a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of books I didn’t finish and lots of reading for classes, there were still a number of great books. In fact there were well over 30 books this year that I unreservedly loved, and narrowing it down to 10 was a bit of a challenge, but (somehow) I managed to do it because a top 30 favorite books of the year list is a little too much, even for me.
2020 was a strange year for reading. Although I read more than I have done in many years, it came in strange bursts and droughts. I found a lot of great comfort reading, in the form of romances and magical books. The great thing about fantasy and historical fiction is that it takes you somewhere else, but I think the best of these books are imbued not just with escapism but with a mindfulness that’s as full of the real issues of the world as it is with the otherworldly. For me, reading is a journey into empathy, imagination, and hope rather than an escape. My 10 favorite books differ quite a bit in terms of genre, but they all explore how we come to be where we are and who we are and they don’t hide the fact that this process is a struggle whether against society, the self, or the supernatural.
My 10 favorites, in reverse order of reading (most recent first):
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab This book has everything: deals with the devil, a feisty protagonist, twists and turns…I couldn’t stop reading it. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded to seize the day. In other words, everyone. I think this is a widely enjoyable book.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks Historical fiction at its finest–the kind that connects you to the past and shows you that the past is still with us, even when it’s hard to see. Recommended for: Anyone who likes historical fiction or books.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett More great historical fiction. This book tells the story of two sisters who make very different choices and lead very different lives. Recommended for: Anyone who’s looking for a family saga.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik I have read quite a bit of Novik’s work at this point, and really enjoy her writing. Her characters are really strong and have believable voices. Although I still prefer Uprooted, this book has even more strong female voices in it, and I love how she spins together threads from so many different fairytales and folklore. Recommended for: Anyone who’s tired of how many fantasy books are about dudes.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Even though the title gives away the fate of the main character, this book doesn’t get less heartbreaking, poignant, or beautiful. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded of the power of community (for both good and bad).
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood I couldn’t put this short story collection down. I really like Atwood’s command over her sentences and structures and the worlds she spins. One of these stories does relate to her novel The Robber Bride, but I don’t think you need to have read that to enjoy the stories. That said, that book is well worth reading as well. Recommended for: Anyone who wants their narrative in rapid, witty bursts.
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel Over the holiday, my brother and I had an interesting conversation about the ethical dilemma of parenting a transgender child and what that would mean, which is what this book explores in a humanizing and life-affirming way. Recommended for: Anyone intrigued by this conversation.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston Okay so this one is pure escapist fantasy. But it’s the pure escapist fantasy I needed. The gay romance is hot, romantic, and so sweet, and I love the exploration of this alternate universe. Recommended for: Anyone who needs a reminder about the joys and sorrows of first love. And some escapist romance.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Speaking of alternate universes, what if there were doors hanging around, waiting to be discovered that could take you to other worlds? Recommended for: Anyone who would open the door.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter A short, image-packed, coming-of-age novel that is the stuff of my dark fairy tale dreams. Recommended for: Anyone who likes their stories a little darker.
Have you read any of these or are you interested in reading any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
In my reference class this semester we’ve been talking about how to find books for patrons in need of a new great read. The holidays are fast approaching and maybe you’re planning on getting a book for yourself or for someone else this holiday season. Need a good recommendation? You can drop a comment on this blog post, and I’ll give you personalized book recommendations!
Let me know:
Is this book for you or someone else?
What’s something you/your recipient has read recently and enjoyed?
Are you looking for something similar or a little different?
Feel free to share as much detail as you’d like. You can also let me know if you’d prefer a new release or something you’ll be able to find in paperback or used.
Here are my favorite online retailers:
You’re local bookstore! Check your local bookstore’s website and see if they’re offering pick-up or if they’ll ship directly to you. Many will be happy to order a book specially for you.
If you can’t get to the local bookstore, try Bookshop.org. They give 30% of book sales directly to local bookstores. You can search for your local bookstore and make sure that they are supported.
For used books: thriftbooks.com. I love that I can search for exactly the books I want or need and choose their condition. Shipping tends to be quick.
For pretty UK covers: Book Depository. If average book covers leave you underwhelmed, try this seller. They offer free shipping on all orders. Order by December 9th for delivery by Christmas.
Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.
Eventful Events and Happening Happenings
My partner and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary with sushi and an evening of watching Lucifer on Netflix. Who says we don’t know how to have a good time? My wonderful partner bought me an espresso machine to celebrate and we have been having so much fun learning how to use it.
Plus we are so excited that my sister-in-law came down to visit us (which is the reason that this post didn’t go up last week like it was supposed to)! It was so lovely to have her. Of course, with COVID and the terrible air quality, we were pretty limited on what we could go and do, but it was still lovely. We went to the Full House house, got a cake from b. Patisserie, and then walked up to the edge of the Presidio. I hope next time she comes everything will be open and we can take her to the Haight, Castro, and Mission.
This weekend it’s Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year. I had a really hard time deciding whether to make challah or apple cake, but I finally settled on apple cake. I made it from an old recipe I found in a Jewish community cookbook from the late 50s. It was layered and was almost like an apple lasagna. I love adapting old recipes.
On the very sad side of things, you’ve probably hear that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87 after a long battle with cancer. She was my absolute hero, and I have to admit I cried while reading her NY Times obituary.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost One of my best friends told me this book really resonated with her and I had to read it because I would see so much of her in it. She’s not wrong, since, like the author, she’s a international affairs major who loves to jump into travel with both feet. This book is hilarious–travel writing that will make you laugh and gasp. He has some horrific experiences on a small island in the Pacific, but he also learns and grows and adapts, which is fun to read about. Recommended for: anyone who likes travel narratives, funny books, or knows an international affairs major.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell I found this book to be really refreshing. Odell talks about how doing nothing, allowing yourself time to think, process, and observe, becomes a radical act in a society that’s designed to keep you as busy, productive, and distracted as possible. She argues that this time for reflection is necessary for sustained action. She draws her conclusions from humanities sources, the arts in particular, and writes about her own experiences as well. While it doesn’t suggest certain strategies or prescribe certain actions, reading it becomes a meditative experience in itself. Recommended for: anyone who needs a break.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester I honestly feel like the title sums up this book pretty well and still manages not to give some of the juiciest bits away. A relatively short but fascinating look at 1800s life and how mental illness and scholarship are often closely related. Recommended for: anyone interested in the Victorian era, people who like dictionaries.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
You can probably tell by this list that I’m desperately trying to shorten my Netflix queue. I swear sometimes it takes longer to go through it than it does to watch something on it.
Carrie Pilby (2016) I don’t know why I waited so long to watch this movie. It is utterly adorable. Carrie is unbelievably bright (having graduated college at 18), but she’s also incredibly lonely and isolated. With the help of therapist Nathan Lane (who I loved in this), she overcomes a past trauma and moves on with her life. This is a book adaptation, but I’d never heard of the book. I may have to pick it up though because I really liked this film. Streaming on Netflix.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The Polka King (2018) I should start off by saying that I love Jack Black and his earnest hilarity. This movie is not hilarious despite an abundance of some very fun and funny actors. It is earnest and rather sweet and an interesting look at how people who want to do good things sometimes get caught up in a mixture of enthusiasm and naivete to do some very bad things. Like run a Ponzi scheme. Streaming on Netflix.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Luka Chuppi (2019) A fun Bollywood farce where things go so, so wrong before the ultimately happy ending. Comical misunderstandings about a couple’s marital status (or lack thereof) threaten to disrupt two very traditional households in India. Streaming on Netflix.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Candy Jar (2018) The smartest kids in school hate each other? That probably means they’re perfect for each other. A relatively clever high school comedy about two star debaters with moms who hate each other that explores the pressure to achieve. Netflix original.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
No Kiss List (2015) It’s hard to say what the worst part of this film: the acting, the music, the writing, the subject matter, the cinematography, the directing…I don’t think there’s anything good about this movie. I watched it with my sister in law to have something to make fun of, but it was even worse than we could have predicted. Streaming on Netflix.
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Parasite (2019) I was really hesitant to watch this movie because the title has horror movie written all over it and I do not watch horror movies. I was sure that this movie, academy award winner though it was, was going to involve bugs. Or deadly diseases. And I don’t need that in my life. However, my sister-in-law swore to me that this wasn’t the case and that we needed to watch it with her. So we did. And she was right. Though there are horrific moments in this film, the parasites are all of the human variety. This film has so many interesting things to say about wealth disparity and though its set in South Korea, it reflects United States culture as well. The movie builds really slowly and is just gorgeously put together. I am really glad she convinced me to watch it. Streaming on Hulu.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.