Category Archives: 01. 2022 Reading Journal

Monday at the Library

I’m not sure how consistent I will be, but I’m going to try to post my library check-outs every Monday. I’m a very heavy library user, and I am lucky enough to have access to two really great library systems. One of them belongs to the large library system adjacent to my home county  – I primarily use this system for ebooks, because their catalog is so much bigger than my home system. There is also a branch about 20 minutes from my home, so I do from time to time check out print books from that system as well, if my home system doesn’t have them. I use my home library system for almost exclusively print books because the wait times for ebooks tend to be double or triple the wait times for the other system.

I manage my library activity on-line, placing holds on the books I want to check out. This transports them to my selected branch, so I can pick them up easily.

Having said all of that, let’s get started. For some reason, right now, I have a completely excessive number of books checked out. I meant to go through them over the weekend and drop a bunch of them in the return bin, but I didn’t get to it. I actually have two that are overdue as of yesterday, and I can’t renew them because they have holds. I’ll get to the library tomorrow & return them, so I haven’t included them in the list.


  1. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (due in 21 days)
  2. Small Angels by Lauren Owen (due in 21 days)
  3. A Libertarian Walks into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (due in 20 days)
  4. The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews (due in 13 days)
  5. Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh (due in 12 days) (currently reading)
  6. Clariel by Garth Nix (due in 21 days)
  7. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears(due in 17 days)
  8. Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger (due in 15 days)

Print books:

  1. Maigret and the Judge by Georges Simenon (due 12.3)
  2. Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon (due 12.3) (on deck)
  3. Maigret and the Killer by Georges Simenon (due 12.3)
  4. Maigret and the Reluctant Witness by Georges Simenon (due 12.3)
  5. Maigret Enjoys Himself by Georges Simenon (due 12.3)
  6. Murder After Christmas by Rupert Latimer (due 12.3)

Home library print books:

  1. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker (due 12.2) (on deck)
  2. Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac (due 12.2)
  3. Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart (due 12.13)
  4. The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr (due 12.13)
  5. The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong (due 12.13)
  6. Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard (due 12.13)
  7. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (due 12.16)
  8. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (due 12.16)
  9. All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie (due 12.16)
  10. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (due 12.16)
  11. National Provincial by Lettice Cooper (due 12.19)
  12. Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (due 12.19)

I have 26 books checked out (of which, I have read 3), all of which are books that I would like to read, but it is really unlikely that I will get to them all. I am currently reading Wuthering Heights, a copy from my personal library – this is a reread, and Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh. I do plan to get to all of the Maigrets and Murder after Christmas by Rupert Latimer finished before I have to return them.

Mid-Year Update: 2022 Top Ten (so far, anyway)

I have read some amazing books already this year, along with a fair amount of mindless schlock. Here are the top ten, so far:

  1. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West
  2. Caste: the Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
  3. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  4. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott – this is really an inclusion of Scott’s entire Raj Quartet. I am in the last half of book 4 right now, and will write a review of the whole series once I finish.
  5. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
  6. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  7. The Least of Us by Sam Quinones
  8. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
  9. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  10. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Mid-year review, 2022

When I was setting my reading goal this year for my Goodreads challenge, I decided that I would set it low, at 2 books per week, for a total of 104 books. I knew that I would probably read more than that number, but I was also vaguely planning to read some more challenging books this year, so I wanted to keep the goal reasonable. This plan was both successful and unsuccessful, as I hit that 104 book target at exactly the mid-year point of July 1, 2022.

So, here are some stats for you:


Books read so far in 2022: 109, with 106 finishes and 3 DNFs. I’ve written 46 reviews so far, books in 35 different series, and 44 stand-alones. I’ve read a total of 73 different authors, 34,032 pages and have an average rating of 3.81 for the books I’ve rated. I’m on track to read 207 books this year.

Page length of books.


My most read genres are, as always, crime (44)/mystery (40). Because some of my books are entered as both, I don’t exactly know the number of books. It’s too late for me to screw around with the genres for this year, but I’ve already decided I’m going to tweak my genre categories in 2023 and figure out a mechanism by which I separate out crime, mystery, suspense and thriller. These are all overlapping genres and I’d like to have a paradigm under which I assign a single genre to each book I finish to make the genre categories more meaningful. After crime/mystery, the next most read genres are fiction (23) and fantasy (13).

Here is a full breakdown of the genre categories.

Name Books Read Reviews Written Average Rating
classic 12 8 4.33 Stars
crime 44 15 3.55 Stars
essays 3 2 3.83 Stars
fantasy 13 4 4.25 Stars
fiction 23 13 4 Stars
gothic 1 0 3.5 Stars
historical fiction 5 1 4 Stars
magical realism 1 0 4 Stars
memoir 11 5 3.82 Stars
mystery 40 19 3.6 Stars
non-fiction 9 4 4.13 Stars
religion 2 0 4.25 Stars
romance 2 0 3 Stars
supernatural 1 1 4 Stars
suspense 9 4 3.67 Stars
thriller 7 4 3.86 Stars
translated fiction 1 0 4 Stars
YA 8 4 4.06 Stars

Additional analytics:

I’ve been tracking a number of additional analytics this year, including publication year. So far, I’ve read the largest number of books from 4 decades: 1950’s (14), 1970’s (7), 2010’s (19) and 2020’s (20), but I’ve read at least one book in every decade for the last 100 years (1920 through 2020). I’ve read 4 translated books – 1 from Danish, 1 from Swedish and 2 from French (both Maigret books).

85 of the 109 books were new to me, 21 were rereads. My rereads (not surprisingly) received a slightly higher average rating – 4.05 – than my new reads – 3.76.

In terms of format, 3 of the books were audio books, 60 were kindle books & 44 were print books. With respect to gender of the author, 78 were written by women to 30 written by men (72% to 38%).

Of my various reading projects, my progress is:

Project Breakdown

Name Books Read Reviews Written Average Rating
a century of crime 4 4 3.38 Stars
a century of women 17 13 4.06 Stars
American mystery classics 2 2 3.75 Stars
appointment with agatha 4 2 4 Stars
back to the classics 4 4 4.13 Stars
classics club round 2 4 4 4 Stars
furrowed middlebrow 2 1 4.25 Stars
golden age mystery 3 2 3.33 Stars
inspector alleyn files 1 1 3.5 Stars
Mt. TBR 2022 15 5 4.1 Stars

Some of the books may overlap or do double duty here.

The last piece of statistical information that I track is the source of my books. I have 3 primary book sources: my personal library (39 of the books were from this source), the Kindle Unlimited library (13 books from here) and the public library (55 books were library check outs).

So, there’s an update of my reading progress so far in 2022.

In terms of substantive content, my plans did get a little bit derailed a couple of times. In mid-April, I got obsessed with bizarre cult memoirs and read five or six of them, covering the Westboro Baptist Church, Warren Jeffs and his sect of FLDS, the LeBaron FLDS sect in Mexico and one concerning a fundamentalist offshoot of the Baptist church. These were gripping and disturbing, complicated and harrowing stories of child abuse, brainwashing, and virulent misogyny and homophobia and misogyny. Reading them made me feel vaguely dirty, as though I were gawking at a fatal car accident. Nonetheless, they had an addictive quality.

The second derailing was less icky – in late may, I picked up a book by Melinda Leigh. She has three series that are available through the KU library and I mainlined 7 books from the three series. I read her entire Bree Taggert series to date, one of her first romantic suspense series, Scarlet Falls, (which I found decidedly meh) and one of a different series, the Morgan Dane series, which I also found underwhelming. I will not go back to Scarlet Falls because it is way too romance-y for my taste; I may give Morgan Dane a follow-up try. The next Bree Taggert comes on in January, and I will definitely read that one. These are very basic mystery/thrillers, but are reasonably well-written, free and a lot of fun. I also picked up some additional KU crime novels – two by Joy Ellis from the Jackman and Evans series, and a couple of one offs from other series that I may, or may not, return to down the road.

I also have not felt like blogging, so I’m way behind on reviews. I generally don’t try to catch up once I get this far behind. I have entered all of the books into the database, so if I want to write some reviews, it will be easy. But I’m just going to continue to go with the flow and not try to force things.

Triple Play: Firestorm, Moscow Rules and Shadows Reel

I’m going to quickly blow through a few contemporary mysteries – this type of book is my catnip and I read a lot of them.

by Nevada Barr
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Anna Pigeon #4
Publication Date: January 1, 1996
Genre: crime, mystery
Pages: 310
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of women

A raging forest fire in California's Lassen Volcanic National Park traps exhausted firefighters, including Ranger Anna Pigeon, in its midst. Afterward, Anna finds two from her group have been killed. One a victim of the flames. The other, stabbed through the heart. Now, as a rampaging winter storm descends, cutting the survivors off from civilization, Anna must uncover the murderer in their midst.

Firestorm is book 4 in the Anna Pigeon series. Anna works for the National Park Service as a law enforcement officer, and each book is set in a different National Park. This element is my favorite part of the series – one of my retirement goals is to visit every single National Park in the U.S., so getting the little vignettes is fun.

This one was set in the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, and the book is set within and then in the immediate aftermath of a wildfire that has resulted in one of the firefighters being killed. Anna is trapped in a closed circle with a group of fellow survivors, one of whom is the killer. It kept me interested to the very last page.

Moscow RulesMoscow Rules
by Daniel Silva
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Gabriel Allon #8
Publication Date: July 22, 2008
Genre: suspense, thriller
Pages: 433
ReRead?: No

Now the death of a journalist leads Allon to Russia, where he finds that, in terms of spycraft, even he has something to learn. He’s playing by Moscow rules now.
It is not the grim, gray Moscow of Soviet times but a new Moscow, awash in oil wealth and choked with bulletproof Bentleys. A Moscow where power resides once more behind the walls of the Kremlin and where critics of the ruling class are ruthlessly silenced. A Moscow where a new generation of Stalinists is plotting to reclaim an empire lost and to challenge the global dominance of its old enemy, the United States.

One such man is Ivan Kharkov, a former KGB colonel who built a global investment empire on the rubble of the Soviet Union. Hidden within that empire, however, is a more lucrative and deadly business. Kharkov is an arms dealer—and he is about to deliver Russia’s most sophisticated weapons to al-Qaeda. Unless Allon can learn the time and place of the delivery, the world will see the deadliest terror attacks since 9/11—and the clock is ticking fast.

I cut my reading teeth on cold war spy fic – Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, etc – so sometimes only a spy novel will do. This is book 8 in Silva’s series centering on Gabriel Allon, Israeli super-spy. In this one, Allon spends time in Moscow, but not the cold war Moscow of my memory (Gen X here – I grew up during the Cold War). It ended up being a particularly timely read since Russia has resumed their historical place as the West’s greatest enemy by invading the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

Shadows ReelShadows Reel
by C.J. Box
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Joe Pickett #22
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Genre: crime, mystery
Pages: 384
ReRead?: No

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s job has many times put his wife and daughters in harm’s way. Now the tables turn as his wife discovers something that puts the Pickett family in a killer’s crosshairs in this thrilling new novel in the bestselling series.

A day before the three Pickett girls come home for Thanksgiving, Marybeth Pickett finds an unmarked package at the front door of the library where she works. When she opens the package she finds a photo album that belonged to an infamous Nazi official. Who left it there? And why did they leave it with her?

She learns that during World War II several Wyoming soldiers were in the group that fought to Hitler’s Eagles Nest retreat in the Alps—and one of them took Hitler’s personal photo album. Did another take this one and keep it all these years? When she finds the name of a deceased local man who was likely in the unit, Joe visits the man’s son—only to find him brutally tortured and murdered. Someone is after the photo album—but why? And when a close neighbor is murdered, Joe and Marybeth face a new question: How will they figure out the book’s mystery before someone hurts them…or their girls?

Meanwhile, Nate Romanowski is on the hunt for a younger and more ruthless version of himself—the man who stole Nate’s falcons and attacked his wife. Using a network of fellow falconers, Nate tracks the man from one city to another, learning that his target is an agitator and a financier of anarchists. Even as he grasps the true threat his quarry presents, Nate swoops in for the kill—and a stunning final showdown.

The Joe Pickett books aren’t just catnip to me – they are really more like creamy, chocolate covered crack. This is book 22, and was released last Tuesday. I read it in one sitting on Saturday. Because we are 22 books into a series that is set in a location that contains approximately 22 residents – Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming – Box has increasingly imported his mysteries from outside of Saddlestring.

What that means is that the mysteries have become more and more implausible. But, who cares. I am wildly entertained when I read a Joe Pickett. I know exactly what I am getting: Joe, will be uncorruptible, Marybeth, will be smart and supportive, Nate Romanowski will rip someone’s ear off, and, at some point, Joe’s state vehicle is going to get blown up. This one was true to the formula, and even though the story was, as always, bonkers, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Books about Books – a pairing

Sometimes I have reading slumps – although frequently it’s actually impossible to externally identify when I am in a slump, because I am such a reader that I read whether I really want to read or not. I know I’m in a slump, though, because I find myself unable to choose a book, or reluctant to pick up a book I am reading, or just generally experiencing bookish malaise.

One of the things that helps get me out of a reading slump is rereading. Another is books about books – I am always looking for reading memoirs.

Tolstoy and the Purple ChairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
Genre: essays, memoir
Pages: 241
ReRead?: Yes

After the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch found herself caught up in grief, dashing from one activity to the next to keep her mind occupied. But on her forty-sixth birthday she decided to stop running and start reading.

Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, a mother of four spends one year savoring a great book every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. In the tradition of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and Joan Dideon's A Year of Magical Thinking, Nina Sankovitch's soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss,hope, and redemption. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.

This was the first of a couple of bookish memoirs that I picked up at the end of February/beginning of March. I like these types of memoirs, and a lot of them seem to be set around the idea of a year of reading. This one is no exception. The gimmick here is that the author read a book a day for a year. Now, I read a lot, and still the idea of actually finishing a book a day for a year is crazy to me. I have friends who accomplish this year after year, and I bow to their proficiency.

I enjoyed my time hanging out with Nina enough that this is actually the second time I’ve read this particular reading memoir.

Jacob's Room is Full of BooksJacob's Room is Full of Books
by Susan Hill
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: October 5, 2017
Genre: essays, memoir
Pages: 273
ReRead?: No

When we spend so much of our time immersed in books, who's to say where reading ends and living begins? The two are impossibly and gloriously wedded, as Hill shows in Jacob's Room Is Full of Books.

Considering everything from Edith Wharton's novels through to Alan Bennett's diaries, Virginia Woolf and the writings of twelfth century monk Aelred of Rievaulx, Susan Hill charts a year of her life through the books she has read, reread or returned to the shelf. From beneath a shady tree in a hot French summer, or the warmth of a kitchen during an English winter, Hill reflects on what her reading throws up, from writing and writers to politics and religion, as well as the joy of dandies or the pleasure of watching a line of geese cross a meadow.

Full of wry observations and warm humour, as well as strong opinions freely aired, this is a rare and wonderful insight into the rich world of reading from one of the nation's most accomplished authors.

This is a “sequel” to Susan Hill’s first bookish memoir, Howard’s End is on the Landing, which I read and really loved a few years ago. It also follows a reading year format, without the book-a-day gimmick. Hill talks books, but she talks about a lot of other things, too – the cycles of nature, and the joys of reading in summer and winter. In my mind, she lives in a rambling 18th century farmhouse bursting at the seams with books of all sorts, from the green Penguin mysteries of Josephine Tey to leather bound tomes hand-illustrated by monks. This is probably mostly just my head-canon, but it makes for a wonderful vision. There are reader complaints that she’s patronizing, or stuffy, or a bit of a know-it-all. But that’s not the experience I have, hanging out in her garden, in an admittedly one way conversation about books.

Friday Round-Up

I decided to expand my usual #FridayReads post a bit, into a full Friday Books post that dives into my reading plans for the weekend, my library situation, bookish haul, and any other reading organization that I am compelled to share.

Exiled in Paris by James Campbell: This is the last, slightly laggy, book in my James Baldwin author-in-residence project. I started it and was going along pretty well, and then I started feeling sort of slumpish so it’s just been sitting on my nightstand, looking at me accusingly, for over a week. I’m either going to finish it or DNF it this weekend.

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill: Interestingly, it was Murder by Death’s mediocre review of Hill’s first bookish memoir, Howard’s End is on the Landing, that gave me the impulse to pick this one up. I liked HEiotL much more than she did (although I completely agree with her criticisms). In addition, when I am feeling slumpish, one of my go to solutions is books about books.

The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns: I am recently obsessed with the NYRB imprint. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that they have published and haven’t felt it was worth my while. I previously read Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns and thought it was grimly interesting. The Juniper Tree is a retelling of among the darkest and most shocking of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Juniper Tree, which is famous for the lines:

My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.

This retelling is moving in a very dark direction. I’m strongly hoping that Comyns leaves out the cannibalism.

Library Loot:

I just realized that I have 27 books checked out from the library right now. It’s time to cull.

Print books:

  1. Red Knife by William Kent Krueger: this is due 3/8 and I’m not going to get to it by then. I am going to renew it once, and if I don’t get to it by the end of the renewal, I’ll return it.
  2. First things First by Stephen Covey: I checked this out because the organizational premise sounded interesting, but I’m not even remotely interested in it at this point. Return.
  3. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: I have been really excited to read this, and it is next up, once I finish my current reads.
  4. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann: checked out for 1966 in my Century of Women project, but I read a different book already. Return.
  5. Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger: this is the next book in the series; I’m going to hold onto it and may read it if I want a standard contemporary mystery in the next 3 weeks or so.
  6. Endangered Species by Nevada Barr: This is a catch and release special; I will read it eventually, but not right now. Return.
  7. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes: One of the 5 NYRB titles I have checked out. I just bought an ebook omnibus with this in it, though, so I’ll likely return it.
  8. Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban: another NYRB title; keep & read.
  9. Stoner by John Williams: third NYRB title; this book was everywhere last year. Keep & read.
  10. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber: a little magical realism for a palate cleanser; keep & read.
  11. The Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning: fourth NYRB title; I have read the first book in this trilogy. I’d like to get to the second & third, but I also think that I will probably end up buying this book, so I am fine returning it if I don’t quite get there.
  12. The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner: fifth NYRB title; keep & read.
  13. The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns: currently reading; will be ready to return soon.
  14. Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda: this is part of my current obsession with books about books; I may or may not get to it.
  15. Browsings by Michael Dirda: I have actually started this one, & I’m reading a few essays at a time.
  16. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders: this is a bit of a project read, but I definitely want to get to it.


  1. Notes on a Native Son by James Baldwin: finished & ready to return;
  2. The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James: I’m not going to get to this; return.
  3. Pony by R.J. Palacio: I’m also not going to get to this; return
  4. The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore: I have 9 days left on this borrow; keep & read
  5. The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede: I have 11 days left on this borrow; keep & read
  6. Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani: I am not going to get this book; return;
  7. How Reading Changed my Life by Anna Quindlen: I may get to this book; keep;
  8. Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson: I am not going to get to this book; return
  9. Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren: I am actually reading this book right now; keep & finish
  10. The Defector by Daniel Silva: this is book 9 in the Gabriel Allon series; keep & read;
  11. Hell’s Half Acre by Susan Jonusas; the subtitle of this book is “the untold story of the Benders, a serial killer family on the American frontier; hell yes; keep & read.

OK, that’s the library situation. Now: book haul for the week. I bought three books this week.

Title: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Author: Rebecca West

Published in 1941

Plot summary (Goodreads): Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is still a focus of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans, and the uneasy relationships amongst its ethnic groups. The landscape and the people of Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as West untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.

This is a doorstopper of a book, and once it arrives, I’ll take a picture. It is 1181 pages. I am not sure exactly how I am going to approach it – probably with caution. It has great reviews on GR, but it is just a monumental undertaking. I’m not sure if I am going to plan to read 50 pages a week and set a pace of 20 weeks or so, or if there is a more natural way to break it up. I won’t really be able to tell until it arrives.

I bought the Penguin Classics Edition.

Title: Library of America Women Crime Writers of the 1940’s

Editor: Sarah Weinman

Pages: 848

This is an anthology that is currently on sale as an ebook (for U.S. readers) for a mere $2.99. I attribute my good fortune in realizing this to my friend Mike Finn, who linked to it in the Appointment with Agatha Goodreads group. Yay, Mike.

Further information from GR:

Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales explore the terrors of the mind and of family life, of split personality and conflicted sexual identity.

Vera Caspary’s Laura (1943) begins with the investigation into a young woman’s murder and blossoms into a complex study, told from multiple viewpoints, of the pressures confronted by a career woman seeking to lead an independent life. Source of the celebrated film by Otto Preminger, Caspary’s novel has depths and surprises of its own. As much a novel of manners as of mystery, it remains a superb evocation of a vanished Manhattan.

Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man (1946) won an Edgar Award for best first novel and continues to fascinate as a singular mixture of detection, satire, and psychological portraiture. A poet on the faculty of an Ivy League school (modeled on Eustis’s alma mater, Smith College) is found murdered, setting off ripple effects of anxiety, suspicion, and panic in the hothouse atmosphere of an English department rife with talk of Freud and Kafka.

With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma.

Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding “the top suspense writer of them all.” In The Blank Wall (1947) she constructs a ferociously taut drama around the plight of a wartime housewife forced beyond the limits of her sheltered domestic world in order to protect her family. The barely perceptible constraints of an ordinary suburban life become a course of obstacles that she must dodge with the determination of a spy or criminal.

Psychologically subtle, socially observant, and breathlessly suspenseful, these four spellbinding novels recapture a crucial strain of American crime writing.

Title: Mutual Admiration Society

Author: Mo Moulton

Published: November 5, 2019

This book has been on my radar for months. I actually checked it out, but it has to go back to the library unread, & I decided to just buy it since I think it’s the sort of book that will hold up to rereads. Not sure when I will start it. I’ll also mention that the Mutual Admiration Society (and Sayers) came up in Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, which made me all that much more interested in this group biography!

GR summary: A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights.

Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking “Are Women Human?” Women’s rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers’s lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human.

Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.

So, that’s it! What are you reading?

February Reading Plans: James Baldwin

It’s black history month in the U.S., and James Baldwin is the second author-in-residence in my Goodreads group for the first quarter of 2022, so my plans for February and March involve reading a few of his books. I have a stack of books from the library as well as from my own shelves.

If Beale Street Could Talk and Notes of a Native Son from the Library of America edition are first up. I’m also planning to rent the movie I Am Not Your Negro from Amazon at some point during the month. The large book on the bottom is Exiled In Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank by James Campbell, which isn’t exclusively about James Baldwin, but covers a number of America writers, especially Black writers, who left the United States for the more welcoming climate of Paris. Fortuitously, it also includes Chester Himes, whose Rage in Harlem also happens to be on my February reading list.

January, 2022 Wrap-Up

I had an outstanding reading month, finishing a total of 16 books.

With respect to my various reading projects, I read 3 books from my TBR cart: Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark Is Rising, both by Susan Cooper, and My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather. I read 7 books which fit the Century of Women project, which had an average rating of 3.93 stars, and 4 books from my Classics Club 2.0 list, with an average rating of 4 stars.

I DNF’d one book – I finally pulled the plug on The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan around the middle of the month. I haven’t concluded that I’m never going to give the series a try again, but I lost interest and found myself avoiding reading it. This is always a clue to me that it’s time to DNF.

Using the book database, I am able to pull a lot of interesting analytics. I won’t go through all of them every month, but a few of the more interesting pieces of information from January are as follows:

My longest book, The Priory, was 536 pages, and my shortest book, My Mortal Enemy, was a mere 112 pages.

I spanned 100 years with my reading this month, breaking down as follows (I would note that this only adds up to 15 books – I obviously forgot to complete this term for one of my entries):

In addition, 12 out of 16 books were new to me, and 4 were re-reads. This is the first time in many months, I would suspect, when I actually read more print books than kindle books – 7 books were read on kindle, 9 in print. 10 books were from the public library and 6 came off of my shelves.

Finally, with respect to ratings, I ran the gamut, but spent the most time between 3.5 stars (29%) and 4 stars (29%); I had 2 5 star reads: The Dark is Rising and This House of Brede, and 2 4.5 star reads: The Priory and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent. The book I liked the least this month was My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather.

I think that I have gotten my book database terms organized the way that I want it to be able to track the information I want to track. I’ve decided to enter my reading from 2021 into the database because I’m curious about what a comparison of this year against last year will look like. I really wish that I had all of this information going back the full 10 years that I have been tracking my reading on the internet, but the idea of creating the database is pretty intimidating.

2022: Book 15 – Wintering by Katherine May

by Katherine May
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: memoir, non-fiction
Pages: 241
ReRead?: No

Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

I’m going to be honest – I thought I would like this book more than I did. I definitely didn’t hate it, but I also expected something more, or maybe just different. There were parts of the book that I liked, but I think I was looking for something that approached the subject from a more universal perspective. Less memoir-like. I’m not a huge fan of memoir, so that might have been the barrier for me.

What did I like? I really liked the concept of “wintering” and how she introduced it. I liked the way that she differentiated between approaching your life in a linear way, rather than acknowledging that there is a cycle:

To get better at wintering, we need to address our very notion of time. We tend to imagine that our lives are linear, but they are in fact cyclical.

I also liked her description of the “eightfold Wheel of the Year.” As I’ve gotten older, it has seemed apparent to me that modern society has lost touch with the yearly cycle of nature. I suspect that severing of our lives from the forests and the water and the desert and mountains may explain some of why so many people spend so much time attempting to deal with their psychic pain through drugs, alcohol and other activities that numb them to what their life is missing, and to the stress of modern striving.

Four solar festivals, linked to solstices and equinoxes, and four pastoral ones in between, celebrating key moments in the lived experience of the year. “In mainstream culture, the only major festival is now Christmas,” says Philip, “and perhaps also a summer holiday. The gap is far too long. When you’re following a Way like Druidism, the pattern of festivals gives a rhythm to the year, offering a way through even the darkest periods.”

I really liked her discussion of “grasshopper years” versus “ant years,” as well.

I will give you an alternative if only. If only life were so stable, happy, and predictable as to produce ants instead of grasshoppers, year in, year out. The truth is that we all have ant years and grasshopper years—years in which we are able to prepare and save and years where we need a little extra help. Our true flaw lies not in failing to store up enough resources to cope with the grasshopper years, but in believing that each grasshopper year is an anomaly, visited only on us, due to our unique human failings.

I just had a conversation with a co-worker and we were talking about this very subject. It’s easy to forget that lives – and careers – are a marathon and not a sprint, and that the person who expects to be able to run flat out to the finish line without ever stopping to catch her breath is doomed to collapse. I’ve been a lawyer for 30 years, and there have been grasshopper years and there have been ant years as it comes to my work; the same is true when it comes to my long marriage (27 years) and having raised two children to adulthood. There were easy years, and there were hard years. It has taken me a while to accept that this is not just okay, but should be embraced, even if deciding not to fight through sometimes feels like giving in or giving up.

This wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but worth reading nonetheless.

2022: Book 9 – Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: the Origins of our DiscontentCaste: the Origins of our Discontent
by Isabel Wilkerson
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Genre: non-fiction
Pages: 496
ReRead?: No

The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

I started reading this when my library hold came up unexpectedly, a few days after the anniversary of January 6th, and I finished it yesterday, on MLK Day.

This isn’t going to be so much a review as it is a collection of thoughts about the book, and its impact on me.

Many years ago, I read a different book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, which had much the same effect on me. The scholarship behind that book and it’s foundational premise – that “ordinary” Germans were far more aware of the Holocaust and therefore far less blameless than had previously been believed – has apparently been challenged, even so, it is clear that the Nazi’s had a huge apparatus of death that they used to murder millions of people, that was accepted by a large part of the population.

Between this book and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, whatever scales were over my eyes about the massive institutional apparatus, including the federal government and state governments, that was used to oppress Black Americans long after the end of the Civil War and post-emancipation have been removed. The devastating and detailed accountings of lynchings which involved massive, celebratory crowds engaged in the vigilante murder of young black men for what were shockingly minor offenses against the caste system left me nauseated and horror-struck, but also aware that entire communities took part in these rituals of dehumanization and displays of power.

Wilkerson’s premise is one that will piss off a lot of people who are stubbornly unwilling or unable, for whatever reason, to accept the reality that the United States was, until within my personal lifetime (I’m 55) a separatist nation, built upon a tradition of apartheid, and that many of the underlying factors that empowered this are buried just slightly below the surface now. As was the case with The Warmth of Other Suns, many of the events that she uses to illustrate her premises occurred either during my lifespan, or within a decade or two before it – certainly during the life of my mother, who is still alive at 76 years old.

It was in this atmosphere, in 1951, that a Little League baseball team in Youngstown, Ohio, won the city championship. The coaches, unthinkingly, decided to celebrate with a team picnic at a municipal pool. When the team arrived at the gate, a lifeguard stopped one of the Little Leaguers from entering. It was Al Bright, the only black player.

My mother was born in 1945. She was 6, only 3 years younger than 9 year old Al Bright, who was not allowed into the pool in Youngstown, Ohio because of his black skin. Rather than leaving, the party continued without him; he was apparently forced to remain outside the gates, while the rest of his teammates frolicked in the pool, the adult chaperones occasionally checking up on him. Ultimately, they were able to prevail upon the lifeguards to allow Al into the pool. According to Wilkerson, he was placed on a raft and the lifeguard pushed him around the pool for a single circuit:

During his short time in the raft, as it glided on the surface, the lifeguard warned him over and over again of one important thing. “Just don’t touch the water,” the lifeguard said, as he pushed the rubber float. “Whatever you do, don’t touch the water.” The lifeguard managed to keep the water pure that day, but a part of that little boy died that afternoon. When one of the coaches offered him a ride home, he declined. “With champion trophy in hand,” Watkins wrote, Al walked the mile or so back home by himself. He was never the same after that.

There are stories that White America tells ourselves that we want so desperately to believe. Wilkerson, ultimately, debunks them all. Slavery was not benevolent – it was violent, murderous and dehumanizing. And it lasted for centuries.

This was what the United States was for longer than it was not. It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil. No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That will not come until the year 2111.

Jim Crow was very nearly as bad.

One day he was out riding with some other white men, southern white men, who were checking out some black sharecroppers. The black people were reluctant to come out of their cabins when the car with the white men pulled up. The driver had some fun with it, told the sharecroppers he was not going to hang them. Later, Dollard mentioned to the man that “the Negroes seem to be very polite around here.” The man let out a laugh. “They have to be.”

We revile the Nazi’s and their death machine while refusing to acknowledge that those self-same Nazi’s took what they learned at our knee about oppression and applied it to their Nuremburg laws, to enable the murder of 6 million Jews.

As they settled into their chairs to hash out what would eventually become the Nuremberg Laws, the first topic on the agenda was the United States and what they could learn from it. The man chairing the meeting, Franz Gürtner, the Reich minister of justice, introduced a memorandum in the opening minutes, detailing the ministry’s investigation into how the United States managed its marginalized groups and guarded its ruling white citizenry. The seventeen legal scholars and functionaries went back and forth over American purity laws governing intermarriage and immigration. In debating “how to institutionalize racism in the Third Reich,” wrote the Yale legal historian James Q. Whitman, “they began by asking how the Americans did it.”

We tell ourselves that the fact that Black families, as a group, have been unable to build wealth like white families, as a group, has nothing to do with institutional racism and ONLY has to do with Black weakness and failure. These are the stories we tell ourselves. These stories are lies.

Reading this on the heels of the anniversary of the Capitol Insurrection only strengthened my belief that what we are watching is a backlash to the ideas inside of these books and the growing discomfort with the dominant caste in America being confronted with a loss of power; a loss of automatic prestige; and a loss of their sense that no matter how poor they are, how meagre their lives, they could always believe themselves to be better than the subordinate class. And they could demand respect for it.

Rather than calling it backlash, we should call it whitelash. That’s what is happening, with “Christian nationalism,” with the “Oathkeepers” and Richard Spencer, but it’s also what’s happening at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the die-hard MAGA supporters of Donald Trump. We know the code behind “Make America Great Again,” and what the “again” stands for – a return to a different time, a past in which white (male) Americans reigned supreme over everyone else. That’s the only thing it can mean, because that is the only past we have.

We may underestimate, though, the aftershocks of a shift in demographics, the erosion of labor unions, the perceived loss of status, the fears about their place in the world, and resentment that the kind of security their fathers could rely upon might now be waning in what were supposed to be the best years of their lives. Rising immigration from across the Pacific and the Rio Grande and the ascendance of a black man as president made for an inversion of the world as many had known it, and some of them might have been more susceptible to the calls to “take our country back” after 2008 and to “make America great again” in 2016.

Everyone should read this book. It will take your breath away, at times. It left me crying – and I am a hardhearted bitch – more than once.

I admire the way that the German people have dealt with their history. I wish that Americans had the moral courage to do the same. Every day that we collectively refuse to reckon with our own history is a day when we continue to fail to live up to the promise of our founding documents, and that we give lie to our claim to being a moral force for good in the world.