4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I just adored this book. It had so many elements that I enjoy : WWII-era England, letter writing, strong and interesting women characters, and books. The writing was at times a bit heavy-handed but still so enjoyable. Honestly, a delight.
5. A Square Meal : A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe
This was fascinating! So much interesting history through this lens. My favorite weird/fun fact was that early nutritional guidelines developed in the United States based a man’s daily caloric intake on his occupation (okay, that sort of makes sense) and based his wife’s and children’s on fractions of his (I forget the fractions, say, 1/3 of his intake for his young child). So what this meant was that their guidelines recommended less food for the wife and child of a watchmaker than the wife and child of a railroad worker. Isn’t that hilariously ridiculous? Anyway, this book had more than just fun facts and is definitely worth a read.
6. Like A Mother : A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes
I laughed out loud several times in this book and also learned a lot (especially about the placenta, holy wow). Garbes explores how in the US the main “pregnancy science” we (the general public) know is scary warnings (no alcohol! no deli meat!) but not the really interesting and amazing biology that actually takes place during pregnancy and birth. (Which is MINDBLOWING. Like, do you have any idea how complex and incredible the placenta is? Or the way that breast milk works, and how it can create antibodies specifically for the baby?? I thought I had a sense of these things but there is SO MUCH I didn’t know.) She also writes about her experiences as a woman of color in the medical/birth system, and interweaves her personal story with science and history. I’m handing this off to my husband to read next. I’d recommend it to anyone who plans to someday be pregnant (or whose partner or close friend plans to someday be pregnant!) or has an interest in feminism, pregnancy, or birth.
p.s. I also just read Garbes’ article, “Why Are We Only Talking About ‘Mom Books’ By White Women?” in The Cut and it was both a good piece on its own and provided me with books to add to my to-read list.
I really do mean to update this more regularly. I finished three books in January. 🙂
1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher
This is one of my mother-in-law’s most beloved books and she lent me her treasured copy in the fall. I waited until it was good and cold and began it on January 1st. What a pleasure it was to read! We trace a family through several generations in England. The descriptions are delicious, and although I made a wee bit of fun of the author for all the wooden scrubbed tables she mentions (do you all have any other kind of table over in England? seems unlikely), I also totally want a wooden scrubbed table and to be the kind of person who has half a roast chicken in the fridge at all times. I will be seeking more of her books in future when I want a good cozy novel to sink into, for sure.
2. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
This was the third and final book in a fantasy series that I began in 2017. It was just released and I was SO excited. These books trace Vasya, a magically talented girl in medieval Russia. The books deal a lot with the meeting of folk traditions/pagan beliefs and Christianity — a topic I love to explore. They are also completely engrossing. I laughed with David about “fantasy book food,” a concept all of us who read fantasy are familiar with. Would I actually enjoy a stew of wild mushrooms, scented grasses, and pond fish cooked over a fire? Almost definitely not, but when I read about it in a fantasy novel I get mighty hungry. I definitely recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy books, empowered girls, and the meeting place of magic and religion.
3. The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl
My brother gave me this book for Christmas, in our great tradition of unwrapped books as gifts to each other. It is a psychological thriller (I think this is the right term, it’s hard to say) set in Norway. I could almost literally not put it down. David even snapped a photo of me reading it while drying my hair.* It’s hard to tell much about the book without risking giving it away, but it begins with a wealthy mother and interior designer who takes in a little boy from her daughter’s swim class. The book switches perspectives from Cecilia (the mother & interior designer) to Tobias (the little boy) and journal entries from Anni (who we learn more about as the book goes on). It is creepy and fascinating. (A note : there are some scenes with sexual violence, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking to avoid those.)
I’m part-way through several books at work, including The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. So far I am really impressed with her work. She is a pediatrician who began incorporating her understanding of ACEs into her practice. I’ll write up a full review when I finish it!
Happy February reading, everyone! 🙂
* This isn’t the first time I’ve done this though. I hate drying my hair and often try to read while doing so. I’ve also been known to read while getting dressed, while cooking, and while walking (while reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis I walked straight into a huge cement block next to a construction site and went flying over it, getting identical scrapes in both shins and a bonus scrape on my chin! And no, I wasn’t a child at the time…or a teenager…or drunk. I was a graduate student and it was the middle of the day.
I used to be (perhaps I did this three times?) in the habit of making monthly “what I’m into” posts — books, television, music, etc. It was a clever idea, and one I didn’t keep up. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading habits, and I figured I’d share some of the best books I’ve read in the past year.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : I read this early in 2017. It was a very challenging book, with many depictions of violence and suffering (as is appropriate for a book about slavery). The ‘magical realism’ element of the literal underground was cleverly done, I thought, and something about Whitehead’s writing of the protagonist, Cora, pushed me to really think about how I relate to characters in novels. The plot reminds one of the ways that the past returns even when we might think we are safe.
The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf : This novel, about a young Muslim woman in Indiana, was captivating. I didn’t realize when I got it out from the library that it took place in Indianapolis and Bloomington, but the many location references, which were familiar to me, helped ground the book and added a level of interest.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King : I downloaded the first four of the many mysteries in this series onto my Kindle and read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice while in California to be with my beloved grandmother as she died, and then as I helped plan her funeral. It was highly enjoyable escapism, and although I still haven’t read the next three in the series, I am looking forward to them. I haven’t read a lot of mystery books, but I have read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Laurie King writes about a young woman apprenticed to Holmes. If you’re looking for something diverting that still feels intelligent and rich, this is definitely a good series to try.
The Emigrants Series by Vilhelm Moberg : When David and I were visiting his distant relatives in Sweden, this book series came up over and over. It seemed like everyone in Sweden had read these books, and they all insisted that I ought to read them. So, I dutifully downloaded the four-book saga to my Kindle and began to read. The Emigrants is about a Swedish family that travels to the United States in the 1850s to escape the famine and poverty in Sweden (more than a quarter of the population of Sweden emigrated in the 1850s – 1950s. The population of the country has still not recovered from this mass exodus). The books were written in the 1940s and 50s, and I was completely drawn in. They were pretty strange at times — there are a lot of stories within the story, some of which are quite bizarre — but I was deeply fond of the characters, specifically Kristina, the mother of the family that emigrates. The books follow them from childhood until the end of their lives, and I cried a lot as I finished the final book.
Amazing Grace : A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris : I read Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis while David and I were in Oxford, and I was really disappointed with it. I thought Lewis wasn’t particularly clever and felt distanced from him by his sexism. I’ve loved some of his other work (I love the Narnia series, and I really enjoyed an essay collection of his as well as The Screwtape Letters), but I’d had high hopes for Mere Christianity. After I finished it, I asked for recommendations on a Facebook group I belong to : intelligent yet readable theology, from a woman. And boy, did this book hit the spot. Norris is articulate and thoughtful, but never conceited or obnoxious in her writing. I share a lot of her thoughts and was convinced by her arguments in favor of seeking meaning within the religion of your own ancestors. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, and if you are a progressive, feminist Christian struggling to reconcile your modern views and the ancient, often “problematic” religion of your ancestors : check this out.
Stasiland by Anna Funder : My mother traveled in Germany and Eastern Europe last spring as a chaperone for a school trip and read this book while there. I borrowed it from her after David and I returned from Europe and it was fascinating. I never felt like I knew very much about East Germany and the Stasi, but Funder’s journalist eye provides facts and good stories within the context of her own story of living in East Berlin shortly after the fall of the wall. (If you read this book, pair it with the film Goodbye Lenin, a really excellent German film which, unlike most German films, had East Germans involved in production and shows a different “side” of East Germany).
Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird : I was interested in Queen Victoria after watching the first season of the PBS Masterpiece Theatre show, Victoria, and picked up this massive paperback when I saw it at Costco. I read it all fall and into the winter, finishing on December 31st. It’s magnificent! Baird is a journalist but also has a PhD in history, so she has the perfect blend of rigorous research and historical knowledge with captivating and intriguing writing style. I learned so much about Queen Victoria and also British history, Europe, and the industrial revolution. She really was a magnificent queen, and some of the popular imagination of her — that she disliked her children and was largely not involved in the politics of her country — are clearly disproven by Dr.Baird’s research.
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto : My dear friend Lindsey gave this to me as a birthday gift. I love Winnie-the-Pooh, I loved the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, and I loved the tiny bit of hiking that David and I got to do in Southern England, so this was a perfect gift. I learned a lot about Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A.Milne, and Ashdown Forest (the “real” Hundred Acre Wood). It’s also just a beautiful book to look at — lots of photographs, clever page design, and handsome red cloth covers.
One exciting element of reading Victoria The Queen was realizing that I actually can read history books. I find history very interesting but have often felt intimidated by history books — and quite honestly, a lot of history books seem very dry and dull to me. However, after I finished this massive biography, it occurred to me that there must be a lot of other well-written, interesting books on history. I asked around and am now reading To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild, which is about World War One, and finding it absolutely fascinating and quite engaging. It’s pretty exciting to feel like I have a “new genre” to explore.
What are your favorite books about history? Any I should add to my to-read list? 🙂