Happy repeal day!
Something a bit different today, though I know there are three Mondays left in the year (wow, that went fast…). If you use Goodreads, you might know about the reading challenges they run each year. At the beginning of the year you pick a number of books you’d like to read that year (I picked 50 this year; it’s been more or less in past years) and then just keep track of the date you finished them for them to be counted for the year. This year I hit my goal by the end of November, so anything I finish this month is gravy.
Goodreads, or probably any book-ish website like it, is great for keeping track of what you’re reading in so many ways. You can create your own shelves in addition to the three they start you with. You can cross-reference those shelves to see your stats for a year. For example, I have shelves for books read by year (so I have handy how many I read in addition to the reading challenge), as well as for author- if it’s written by a man or a woman. So doing that I can see that out of the 50 books I’ve finished so far this year, 29 were by men and 21 by women (I’ll have to try and read more women next year; a few series this year really cranked up the male numbers!). I can also see that I read 15 books I classified as non-fiction; I also have three non-fiction in my currently reading shelf as well. Basically this has all been a really long-winded way to tell you about some (I won’t get into all 15) of the non-fiction books I read this year.
Going from most recent to oldest…
A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup. This was really interesting! This is subtitled “The Poisons of Agatha Christie” and it’s really excellent. I love Agatha Christie’s books and tv adaptations. I’ve been interested in crime and poison for years, and I think that’s why I like mystery books so much. This was the perfect blend. There are fourteen chapters, each titled like “A is for Arsenic”. The chapter then tells a bit about a story where Christie used the poison, as well as about true crime cases that may have inspired or been inspired by Christie (mostly the former). Harkup goes into the science behind how each poison kills as well and how well Christie did portraying that. As you might remember from my post on Christie, she was a trained pharmacist and knew her poisons, so it’s no surprise that she portrays them accurately in her novels.
The Greater Journey by David McCullough. I really enjoyed this. I started it once before and abandoned it, but used the audiobook this time and had no issue. (Seriously, I can’t recommend audiobooks highly enough. I don’t always have one going – sometimes there are podcasts I’d rather listen to – but I usually do and they really help with books I’ve struggled with before.) This is about Americans in Paris in the 19th century. McCullough discusses artists, writers, politicians, inventors, you name it really. I learned that Samuel Morse started out as a painter before he worked on telegraph and invented Morse Code. There were parts about John Singer Sargent too, which well supplemented Strapless by Deborah Davis which I read in 2015. I really liked the parts about Augustus Saint-Gaudens and James Fenimore Cooper too.
The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick. This one I’ll mention because I didn’t really care for it and I think it’s important to discuss those sorts of books as well. This sounded really good – subtitled “Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World” – but it didn’t live up to expectations, so you may enjoy it. I felt like this was too much of a pop-science book and didn’t really discuss anything in depth. It was written almost conversationally and made reference to The DaVinci Code and posters you hang on your wall, which just lost me a bit. This is another one I listened to the audiobook for, and it’s totally possible that some of my issue was the narrator and not always the book. (The The DaVinci Code reference is still in the book though, so…)
Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. This was wonderful. A dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Gordon interwove their lives and stories really well. Chapters would alternate from mother to daughter, highlighting some of the parallels in their lives. I’d read a little about Shelley before – The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler – but nothing about Wollstonecraft. It was fascinating.
How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. This one took me a while to get through, but I really enjoyed it over all. Goodman takes you through a day of a Victorian. The chapters go from waking up to bathing to breakfast to work to play or school for children and so on. The chapters on clothing and other relatively superficial things were probably my favorites, while I slowed down with the chapters on work and school and games. Overall it was really interesting and could be a really good resource if you’re writing about the era. Goodman also has other books on Victorian life as well as How to be a Tudor and how to live in other eras.
The Bronte Cabinet by Deborah Lutz. I loved everything about this book. It’s set up to act like a sort of curio cabinet of the Brontes lives, hence the title, and so each chapter is about one of those items and how it relates to them. I didn’t know a lot about the Brontes going into this, and I’ve only read Jane Eyre, but I just find them really interesting and this book was a great beginning biography. Lutz uses items like the miniature books the children created, walking sticks, a dog’s collar, and writing desks, to really illuminate the lives of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne, as well as bits of Branwell and their father.
In addition to the books I’ve finished this year, I’m technically currently reading six books (oops!), three of which are non-fiction: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff; Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938 by Philipp Blom; and When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. Of these, I’m only actively reading the last, and it’s really interesting. It’s about the Armed Services Editions that were published during WWII to help with soldiers’ morale, and also pulled some books out of obscurity; did you know The Great Gatsby had fallen from popularity before it was chosen as an ASE? (The others… I might be a little Salem-d out lately, and with Fracture, once I passed the years I’m interested in, my reading really dropped off…)
I will try and have a real post before the end of the year, but I hope you enjoyed this about books I’ve read this year!