2022 in Books: Top Ten

(^Blast from the past! My living room is a bit more crowded these days…)

This is always a hard post to write! Over the course of a year, I average more than one hundred books – actually, I can’t remember the last year when I read fewer than 100 – and many of them are very, very good. How to pick the top ten? It’s never an easy task. And then this year, I added to the difficulty and decided to actually rank my top ten in descending order. I could go on about what a challenge it was to narrow down all the great books I read in 2022, let alone rank them, but – well, it would just be complaining. Let’s get to the books.

10. Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office, by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman. One of the first books I read in 2022 was also one of the best. Anyone who was a fan of The Office would love this, but for Dunder Mifflin super nerds, it’s an absolute must.

9. Call Us What We Carry: Poems, by Amanda Gorman. Amanda Gorman shot to national superstardom when she read her spectacular poem, The Hill We Climb, for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. That poem is in her first collection, Call Us What We Carry, but there is so much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I finished this book, I hugged it.

8. Death in Captivity, by Michael Gilbert. Considering how many mysteries I read, I am kind of surprised I don’t have more on my top books of the year list. So that goes to show how excellent Death in Captivity is. It has everything – a murder, of course, but also an adventure/escape plot, lots of humor, and a poignant look at a World War II POW camp. And I didn’t guess whodunit. Definitely will be re-visiting this one.

7. Hons and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford. I’m fascinated by the Mitford sisters, and Jessica might be the most interesting one of them all – she certainly broke farther away from her family than any of the rest of them, even Nancy. Her memoir was riveting, and the writing was outstanding too (and so evocative – I loved her description of Nancy as looking like “an elegant pirate’s moll” and I’ll never be able to see Nancy any other way).

6. Four Hedges, by Clare Leighton. Leighton’s garden writing is beautiful, but what really sets this book apart is the stunning woodblock illustrations. I could stare at them for hours.

5. Just William, by Richmal Crompton. Sometimes you want to read a book and howl with laughter. Richmal Crompton’s collection of linked short stories about possibly the world’s most mischievous little boy, and the scrapes he and his friends get into, will be just the thing.

4. The Armourer’s House, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Manderley Press is a new small publisher that is reprinting classics that are especially evocative of a sense of place, and The Armourer’s House, the second volume brought out by the press, takes you right back to Tudor London. I am a big fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, and this was an especially good one. Just like her Dolphin Ring series (republished by Slightly Foxed, if you’re interested), The Armourer’s House puts you right in it. I would’ve liked it to have been three times as long.

3. Delight, by J.B. Priestley. This 75th anniversary edition of Priestley’s essays about things that delight him is a total joy to read. In addition to the writing – in essays like “Cosy Planning,” which had me nodding along – the book is beautiful and is a delight in and of itself.

2. War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944, by Iris Origo. Iris Origo was a really exceptional person – an Anglo-American writer married to an Italian nobleman, she and her husband Antonio sheltered refugee children and Allied soldiers, and provided guidance and sustenance to a string of Jewish refugees, anti-Fascist partisan fighters, and escaped Allied POWs – at great personal risk to themselves. When Nazi soldiers took over their idyllic farm, Origo courageously led a string of sixty refugees, including elderly grandparents and tiny babies, through heavy fire to safety in Montepulciano. Her diaries are riveting reading, capturing what it was like to live through history and make some of it for yourself.

1. The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy. In a year of fantastic reads, this was the standout of all standouts. The Feast opens with a tragedy – a cliff has collapsed on a hotel in Cornwall, and everyone inside the hotel was killed. But not all of the guests were inside, and the plot rewinds to seven days before the disaster, when you see the ill-fated hotel guests arriving. The seven guests killed represent the seven deadly sins, so as the reader gets to know each of the guests and their foibles, it becomes a fascinating intellectual exercise to work out who the victims will be and who will survive (I guessed right on all counts). I was riveted from the very first page, and will read this again and again in coming years.

Whew! I can’t believe I actually did it – my top ten books of 2022, actually ranked in descending order. It was a wonderful year in reading – as they all are, of course. And now, one more lookback post for 2022 before it’s time to turn my readerly attention fully to 2023. Next week: the silliest post of the year, in which I give high school superlative awards to the books I read last year. It’s utterly ridiculous!

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The Week in Pages: January 23, 2023

Morning, friends. It’s still morning here, although barely. I’m having one of those running around Mondays where I’m trying to juggle errands and appointments with work. But I have a minute to pop in here and tell you what I’ve been reading, and this will be a short post, because as you can see – it’s been a light reading week. I spent most of the week over Winter in the Air, a new collection of short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner. They’re not all wintry-themed, and even the titular story isn’t as seasonal as the cover would imply. But I really enjoyed this volume; as I mentioned last week, Warner is one of the few writers who can hold my attention over an entire volume of short stories.

Anyway – it took me all week and I finally wrapped it up on Friday evening, and then turned to Scott’s Last Expedition, a collection of Robert Falcon Scott’s journals from his ill-fated final Antarctic voyage. I have a gorgeous Folio Society edition, but it weighs as much as a preschooler – so there have been some shiftings of reading position. (I tried out the dining room table and then moved back to the couch with the book propped up on a big pillow – that seems to be working.) What with one thing and another over the weekend – skiing on Saturday and rushing around trying to do house chores on the weekend – I didn’t have much time to devote to reading, so I’ve only just gotten Captain Scott and his crew out of the pack ice and on to their first sight of Antarctic land. (They have, however, done plenty of skiing. Antarctic skiing! Color me jealous.)

Finally, I forgot to mention last week, but – I’m also midway through Smallbone Deceased on audio. It’s good, and quite funny in parts, but I definitely don’t like it as much as I liked the last Michael Gilbert book I read (Death in Captivity, which was one of the best books I read in 2022). I’m not sure what my next audiobook will be; I do have a credit to spend, so I might use it on Peril in Paris, the latest in the Her Royal Spyness series, but that’s rather up in the air right now. I still have almost three-and-a-half hours to go in Smallbone, after all.

My friend Dorothy asked me if we are up at our local ski mountain every weekend because it seems like we’re always there. The answer is yes – we have been going up every weekend the mountain has been open, except when out of town. As you can see, Nugget is really benefiting from all the practice! We were there again on Saturday and skied blue square (intermediate) trails the entire day, and he did a great job at controlling his speed and avoiding other skiers. Of course now he’s pestering me to let him ski a black diamond (advanced) run. I’m holding firm because he is NOT ready. Send chocolate, friends.

What are you reading this week?

Date Night at The Office Experience

I was getting ready to start writing up my series of posts all about our summer vacation, and as I scrolled back through my photos I realized I never told you about what Steve and I did the night before vacation! Yes – I booked us a date night, possibly stupidly, but I didn’t even think about the early flight, just bought tickets for an evening the babysitter was available.

The Office Experience is just that – an experience – not really a show, but more of an interactive exhibit for Dunder Mifflin nerds. It travels around the country and was in Washington, D.C. over the summer. After seeing an ad on social media, I knew this was going to be a must-do for Steve and me.

When you first arrive, you line up and present your ticket and then receive an “Employee ID,” which gets you into the main exhibit. There were plenty of visual treats in store even while waiting in line and shuffling through the entrance and into the main exhibit – including big displays of the different departments at the office. As an employment lawyer, I naturally had to get a picture with Human Resources. Poor Toby!

Once you make it through the visitors’ briefing and the maze of displays, there is an exact replica of the set. This is the most exciting part of the experience, and definitely what I was most keen to see. I couldn’t believe I was standing in the Office bullpen!

We were encouraged to roam around and explore as much as we wanted – sitting at the characters’ desks, picking up their phones and opening their desk drawers. Naturally, I made a beeline for the desk occupied by my favorite character – prickly accountant Angela Martin. I loved all the details – the spreadsheet open on her computer (of course Angela was the only accountant actually doing any work), the cat trinkets, and the cat toy and jar of cat food in her drawer.

Save Bandit!

We explored the other characters’ workstations, too. Steve, of course, sat at Jim’s desk. Jim was writing an email to Pam!

Meredith was playing FreeCell. (Fun fact I learned from reading multiple books about The Office: in the early days, the cast had to be constantly in the background, pretending to be working, but the computers were not hooked up with internet. So they all played FreeCell all day.) And Steve also spent some time at his favorite character’s desk. Dwight’s stapler was in Jell-O again! Jim!

I also tried out the reception desk and answered the phone. (“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.”) Every detail was spot-on. I especially loved the Post-It note stuck to Pam’s desk. “Michael touched me again. -Ryan.”

Steve and I re-enacted a Jim and Pam moment. Are we discussing yogurt or plotting a new way to prank Dwight?

We sat in the conference room for a Talking Head (the name given to the characters “interviews”).

It was all decorated for a party, courtesy of the Party-Planning Committee!

And of course we stopped by Michael’s office and sat in his chair. (The dancing hamsters worked!)

I loved how every detail was in place and just perfect. For instance – check out the Dunder Mifflin motto on the reams of paper. “Quabity First” – I snorted.

From the supply cabinet to Andy’s doodles – Go Big Red! – there was something to see and giggle at everywhere. It’s been a few years since the last time I re-watched the show, but all of the little details in the set jogged memory after memory.

At one of my old firms, a group of Office fans started a Finer Things Club! Sadly, they started it after I had already left, so I couldn’t join. But I sent a picture of myself at the club’s lunch table to my former colleague, who told me – giddy with excitement – that the Finger Things Club had tickets to The Office Experience for the following week!

We sat at Toby’s desk and spied on his email to David Wallace, and we attempted to play Chair Ball – I was not very good at it.

Steve spilled Kevin’s chili! What a mess!

More fun details! Angela and Dwight, immortalized in art… A movie poster for “Threat Level: Midnight” starring Michael Scarn… Pam and Jim’s wedding outfits with the aisle dance scene playing on a loop… it was all just perfect, and so well thought-out, and we had an absolute blast.

Totally worth a night out, even with an early flight the next day!

2022 in Books: By the Numbers

Well, January has rolled around again and it’s that time – time for a bookish look-back at 2022! I don’t do too many New Years-themed posts anymore – gone are the days of painstakingly going through the previous year’s resolutions and setting new goals, intentions and words for the upcoming year. But I do still enjoy looking back at the year in reading – and especially at this post, where I break down the year’s worth of books and totally nerd out on data. Let’s get to it, shall we?

First of all, let’s look at the big picture. According to Goodreads, I read 112 books in 2022, for a grand total of nearly 29,000 pages read. Yowsa! So… that’s not entirely accurate, for a couple of reasons. One, I got credit for one book I started at the tail end of 2021 and finished on New Year’s Day. Two, I was mid-way through two books at the end of 2022 and finished those on January 1, 2023, so they’ll count toward this year’s totals. And three, as always, I’m not precious about the edition I record on Goodreads, so some of the page counts might be inaccurate. But I think it all comes out in the wash, and this was a good year of reading indeed.

The longest book I read was The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, which clocks in at 704 pages. (That’s a doorstopper. I read it on my kindle.) And the shortest book – also a kindle book, interestingly – was The Wimsey Papers, by Dorothy L. Sayers – just a little collection of letters between Wimsey family members and friends during World War II; a great read if you’re a fan of the Lord Peter mysteries.

On average, according to Goodreads, my books were around 258 pages. I’d say that’s pretty standard.

The most popular book I read in 2022 was Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart. I’m heartened to see how many other people shelved that one this year – gives me hope for humanity. But on the flip side, only eighteen other people shelved Diplomatic Passport – now that’s a travesty; y’all are missing out on a wonderful read. Go pick that one up immediately.

All right – time to get really nerdy. Who’s ready to dive into some data?

First of all, zooming in a little on the books I read this year, just over half – about 56% – were fiction. I’m usually around 50/50 fiction and non-fiction, so this is slightly more heavily weighted to the fiction side, but not by much. On the other side of the equation, I read eight volumes of poetry this year, which is a lot for me – but I think I can explain it. I usually have a poem-a-day anthology going, but this year I read my way through four seasonal anthologies – A Poem for Every Winter Day, and so forth. So that’s four titles where I’d normally have one. And finally, journals – which really probably belong in the non-fiction category but I’m not re-doing this chart – were a little light this year. I usually read each of the four quarterly issues of Slightly Foxed and possibly a few back issues, but I haven’t gotten to the winter issue yet.

Zooming in a bit more, this time on the fiction genres: 2022 was heavily weighted toward classics; my classics count was more than double the count of the next-biggest chunk (mysteries). And that’s not even accounting for the fact that many of the mysteries I read are classics in their own rights. I’ve always been a big classics reader, so this is no surprise. What is a bit of a surprise: I usually have at least a few good handfuls of other genres, but 2022 was very light on pretty much everything else – only two general fiction titles, two historical fiction, and three literary fiction – no sci-fi or fantasy at all. Perhaps it’s just that as life gets busier and more hectic, and the news on the front page gets worse, I tend to gravitate toward my comfort zone. I do like to challenge myself – don’t get me wrong – but some years I just want to read what I want to read, and that means more Bronte and less speculative fiction, ya know?

Non-fiction was a bit more varied, but with three major categories. I always read a lot in the books about books genre; my totals are creeping up year over year in the nature-and-gardens category, and I love a good memoir. This year, my biography and memoirs title is slightly inflated by diaries – I read at least three.

All right, let’s zoom back out to the total and look at the sex of the authors I was reading. No surprise here – I am heavily weighted towards female authors. This isn’t unusual at all, and I think if anything male authors might be better represented on 2022’s list than they were on previous years’ lists. (The guys probably have Stephen Moss to thank for that. I think I read four of his books in 2022?) I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not seeking out more non-binary authors; there might be some on here, and I just don’t know about it, but I definitely didn’t read any specifically last year. (Various authors accounts for collections in which both men and women were represented.)

As for the source of the book – i.e. where I got it from – this chart has flipped almost on its head from previous years! Starting in 2020, I really began to try to read more books from my own shelf (with an ultimate goal of reading every book I own – which is going to take me a few more years…). I did pick up a few books from the library, but the vast – vast – majority of my 2022 books came from my own shelves. (And by shelves, I mean not only my physical bookshelves but also the virtual shelves on my kindle and my Audible app.) Oh, and I did borrow two books last year, not from the library, so I have to give shouts to Steve for loaning me Invisible Man, and Peanut for letting me borrow and read Yummy: A History of Desserts. (Can I say, you guys? Borrowing a book from Peanut for the first time was a Bookish Mom Moment for me. Heart flutters.)

In 2023, I think I’ll see the library slice of this pie grow a little – largely because I have a list of books I want to read soon (for a reading challenge I have set myself) but don’t want to buy. But I’ll still mostly be working through my own shelves and I’m happy about that.

While we’re zoomed out, let’s discuss the format of the book. This is one area – perhaps the only area – where I definitely did diversify in 2022. While the bulk of my reading was still in physical book form, I hit ten eBooks and nine audiobooks, a definite change from years past. The eBook total was driven up by all of the traveling I did last year – between business trips and family travel I was on planes almost every month in 2022, and I prefer not to carry physical books with me. The audiobook total is new though, and represents a conscious effort I made to listen to more audiobooks in 2022. I cleared out my podcatcher and started alternating between listening to an audiobook and then going back to the podcatcher and listening to the episodes that had stacked up in the meantime, and, well – you can see the results. (Will this continue into 2023? I hope so, and I hope for even more audiobooks in next year’s version of this post. But I should note that Steve activated my Spotify account, so music is creeping back into my listening, too – not that I’m complaining.)

Finally, one more chart – always a fun one to look back on – settings! My 2022 books were heavily weighted toward England. I mean, WOW. Almost 60% in England alone, and the rest of the world has to duke it out for the remaining 40-ish%. Usually, England and the USA are roughly equal on my list, often trading back and forth, but there was no contest this year; I read six times as many books set in England as in my home country. In fact, the second largest category was books that had no setting (poetry, journals, and things like advice books or essays that were not geographically grounded in any country). Seven were set in continental Europe and/or Scotland; ten had more than one setting that was equally important to the narrative (like Patsy, where the action was divided 50/50 between the United States and Jamaica), and Africa, Asia and the Caribbean were not well-represented. (This is due largely to my reading so much from my own shelves, and the fact that most of the books I own happen to be classics of English literature. That’s a fault in my own shelves, but I am trying not to buy many new books until I’ve read more of the ones I already own, so it’s going to be the way things are for awhile yet. In the meantime, I often choose diverse authors and settings when I do go to the library, which I think I’ll do a bit more in 2023. So – no goals around this, but I’m tracking on it.)

Whew! That’s a lot of numbers and a lot of information. 2022 was a good year in reading, measured by the only stat that really counts – whether I enjoyed myself or not, and I certainly DID. What did your 2022 in books look like?

Next week, my top ten! Check in with me then.

The Week in Pages: January 17, 2023

Happy… Tuesday! American friends, I hope you had a restful and reflective MLK Day yesterday. I usually try to do some special reading for MLK Day, to better educate and inform myself – I am ashamed to say I didn’t get to it this year, but will try to work some articles and info pieces into my reading over the coming weeks (as I always do, anyway).

As for other reading, as you can see, it was a productive reading week. I finished up Yours Cheerfully at the beginning of the week and just loved it – such a heartwarming story. I am really enjoying this series and looking forward to the third book, which I think is coming soon? Also around the beginning of the week, I finished my second audiobook of the year, Dinner with Edward. I really liked the writing and the personal narrative, but wasn’t thrilled with the reader. Especially at the beginning, I found her voice a bit grating; I did get used to her later on, at least. The rest of the workweek was devoted to How Much of These Hills is Gold, which was very hyped. The writing was certainly accomplished but I didn’t love it – possibly because it just wasn’t what I wanted to be reading last week, or possibly because I was juggling solo parenting (Steve was out of town on business from Thursday through mid-day Saturday) and that always leaves me depleted and unable to give much attention to a book.

Weekend reading was a little better. On Sunday, Nugget and I finished a read-aloud of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – we’ve now moved on to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (unpictured). And over the course of Sunday I read Philosophy for Polar Explorers – the first book in my pre-Antarctica reading stack. (It’s not entirely about Antarctica, but rather about life lessons the author gleaned from being the first person to complete the “three poles” challenge of walking to both the North Pole and South Pole and reaching the summit of Everest. And then I turned my attention to Winter in the Air, a collection of short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Short stories are not really my jam, as longtime readers may remember, but I love Sylvia Townsend Warner’s writing and she’s one of the few who can hold my attention over an entire volume of short fiction. (I really enjoyed another of her collections, English Climate: Wartime Stories, which Persephone Books brought out fairly recently. But I prefer her novels – Lolly Willowes was a highlight of 2021 for me.) I’m a few stories in now and really enjoying it, and so far I’ve enjoyed the title story, “Winter in the Air,” best – but there’s plenty more good stuff to come. Finally, also unpictured, I started a new audiobook – Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert. I’m only about an hour in, so lots more story to come, but so far so good.

So, as you can see, a busy reading week indeed! Winter in the Air will be good for a couple more evenings, I think – especially because I read short stories more slowly than I do novels. (I have a habit of closing the book after every story and staring into space for awhile, which does add minutes to the reading time.) I’m thinking of picking up Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey – that one has been on my TBR pile for awhile now. But I could decide in the moment that something else is calling to me more… who knows?

Guess who “leveled up” (I keep explaining there are no levels, per se…) on the mountain yesterday? I finally caved to Nugget’s constant badgering and agreed to let him try his hand at a blue square (those are intermediate runs, for my non-skiing friends) and he did GREAT and loved it! I couldn’t be more pleased. He did a great job controlling his speed and avoiding other skiers, and he had fun – and if he can ski intermediate runs that opens up so much more of the mountain. Including the much less crowded back side of our local mountain, which made a big difference given the wall-to-wall people and apocalyptic lift lines on the front side thanks to holiday weekend crowds yesterday. We had the best mountain day!

What are you reading this week?

2022: The Year in Review

Hey, hey, it’s time for one of my favorite posts of the year! 2022 was a banner year in so many respects. Freshly boosted with extra COVID-19 protection in January, we started venturing out more and our family travels (with and without kids) took us as far afield as Central America – twice – the Dakota badlands, and on plenty of local adventures. Looking back on the year that’s just ended, I can say we really lived this one.

In January, Nugget discovered his love for strapping boards on his feet and sliding down a mountain! We drove up to Pennsylvania most weekends of the winter, and I taught him the basics (this year, he’s destined for lessons with an actual pro – I don’t want to instill bad habits, and Mom needs time to sneak off and tear up some black diamonds). As for the rest of the month, we squeezed in a few hikes (around mountain days – skiing took priority!) and I discovered that serving as Peanut’s troop Cookie Manager was too much work and too much math for me. Nevertheless, she (me) persisted!

February was a month I’ll remember for a long time! Steve and I were supposed to be on the adventure of a lifetime in Antarctica, but our trip was postponed due to COVID (long story). Not ones to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, we shifted plans at the last minute and went on an incredible road trip around Costa Rica – including the spectacular Osa Peninsula, where we finished our PADI scuba certification and dove Isla del Cano. After exploring the reefs, the cloud forests, and the Arenal volcano region, we fell head over heels in love with Costa Rica and are already scheming up ways to get back there. The rest of the month was the usual winter shenanigans – work, school, and Mom/Nugget ski days on the weekends.

Our sweet Nugget turned seven years old in March! Where does the time go? For once, we mostly stayed home – just one weekend on the slopes and no travel for any of us. It’s good to be home sometimes. Nugget started his second season of Little League toward the end of the month and we pounded the dirt on our favorite local hiking trails.

In April, I made my first of several business trips of 2022 – out to Seattle for a departmental all-hands meeting. It was a fun trip – seeing colleagues from all around the world, and Mt. Rainier even came out to say hello! Closer to home, there were more hikes and more Little League games, and Nugget and I squeezed in a couple of trail rides on our bikes. The Virginia bluebells burst into bloom and we hit up not one, but two, local bluebell festivals.

May was another quiet at-home month. I was under the weather for a few days, but we still managed to squeeze in a few hikes – including on Mother’s Day at Huntley Meadows (an old favorite from our days in Alexandria) where we watched the spring migratory birds setting up their nests and enjoyed the burgeoning green. And Nugget got a new mountain bike; he’d outgrown his old one and was looking pretty comical until we sized him up appropriately.

The kids wrapped up their school year in early June, and Steve was at his law school reunion the weekend they started their summer vacation – so I planned an action-packed celebration I called The Great Summer Kickoff Weekend of Partying and Fun. We officially started summer vacation with Chinese food eaten picnic-style in the backyard, followed by a movie night (Luca, a perfect summer movie!) with popcorn. The next day, I took the kids out for an epic day out – Duck Donuts for breakfast, a visit to the Old Town Pool (our old stomping grounds) and an afternoon hanging out with our favorite former neighbors, dinner out at a Mexican restaurant in Old Town, and gelato. Whew! (It was a lot, so Peanut promptly got a sore throat and it rained on Sunday, so the Great Summer Kickoff Weekend was mostly just a really busy Saturday, but you know how it goes.) The rest of the month, we bumped around the local hiking trails, celebrated Father’s Day at Steve’s favorite local park, and wrapped up the Little League season and started summer programming (baseball camp for Nugget, musical theatre camp for Peanut). I like to stay busy, you know!

July found me back underwater. My parents wanted to borrow the kids for a week or two, so we drove them up to New York and spent a week working remotely from my parents’ house and sailing and kayaking on the Sacandaga Lake over the Fourth of July weekend, then we left the kids to terrorize their grandparents and headed back to Central America – this time to Roatan Island, Honduras, for a “digital nomad week” of scuba diving in the mornings and working from our beach hut in the afternoons. Not a bad life, indeed! Back home, we hit the beach (Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay) and Nugget got stung by a jellyfish – whoops – and the kids continued making the summer camp rounds; Peanut back at her musical theatre camp and Nugget transitioning to the soccer portion of his summer.

Family vacation time! We hit the road as a foursome in August. Originally, we had planned and booked a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but had to quickly change strategy again due to the historic flooding. (I mused to Steve that 2020 was the year of making plans and then cancelling everything and not going anywhere; 2021 was the year of making no plans at all and then traveling across the country twice; and 2022 was the year of making plans and doing something completely different – hopefully in 2023 we will make plans and actually stick to them.) On short notice, we changed our trip from Yellowstone to the Dakota Badlands – hitting up Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park in South Dakota; and Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming – what a whirlwind! We celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary on the trails at Badlands and then rushed home for the first day of school. And we capped off the month by celebrating lovely Peanut’s tenth birthday at the American Girl Store – seriously, how is she TEN?! And where did the summer go?

In September I dashed off to Nashville for another business trip, and found time to squeeze in a visit to the famous Parnassus Books while I was there. Don’t worry, I left with a major haul! Back at home, we continued tramping the local trails, and we also finally got out on the water as a family! Peanut got a kayak for her birthday – Nugget already had one – and we loaded all four onto a trailer and paddled as a foursome on a small local reservoir, one of our favorite lakes in the area, and the Potomac.

October was all about the local fun! We hosted my parents and their friends on their way back north after a month in Hilton Head (they’re doing retirement right, let me tell ya) and took them on one of our favorite hikes at Great Falls Park and for a stroll along Embassy Row in D.C. At the end of the month, Nugget and I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon weekend – he did the kids’ mile and I did the 10K and we discovered that he can bust out a seven minute mile without breaking a sweat. The kid is insane. And of course there was Halloween to cap it all off – the ultimate of the anklebiters’ holy days. Peanut dressed as Cleopatra (and did the entire trick-or-treating walk in character, acting as if she had just been plunked down in this century and had no idea where – or when – she was; it was hilarious) and Nugget was a cowboy. They were adorable, and the neighbors rewarded them appropriately with pounds and pounds of candy.

November found me traveling across the country again – another trip to Seattle, this time for a conference – and returning to find Thanksgiving creeping up on me. We hosted my parents, and Nugget and I both ran in the local turkey trot (he did the kids’ mile and I did the 5K). He finished in under eight minutes again but discovered that cold weather running is not for him – ha! The kid is definitely a Virginian.

In December we came full-circle and were back on the mountain again! Nugget and I got out skiing twice before the calendar officially turned – once at our regular mountain in Pennsylvania and once at Jiminy Peak in western Massachusetts. Those highlights aside, we did all the usual December things – I flew to Seattle for one more business trip; we brought home and decorated our Christmas tree; we visited Aladdin at Mount Vernon; we did our Old Town holiday wreath walk, and more. It was a whirlwind of a month, as December always is, and I ended the month looking forward to a clean slate in January and all the adventures that 2023 will bring.

Cheers to 2022, friends! What were the highlights of your year?

My 2022 Christmas Book Haul

As you all know, I love a book haul post. I especially love to read posts about other people’s book hauls, since those give me good ideas for what to add to my own wish list – wink, wink. And while I rarely share any book hauls of my own (because I don’t usually see books entering my house in waves… it’s more of a constant trickle, fam) Christmas is, of course, an exception to that.

2022 was actually a relatively modest book haul by my usual standards. The reason is that I am planning a big adventure this winter (read on) and most of my Christmas list was devoted to specialty gear for that trip. But there are always books – and to be honest, after last year’s stack started swaying dangerously when I tried to photograph it, this year’s more moderate pile was probably better. Even if it is still ridiculous abundance. Here’s what I added to my library:

First of all, Christmas always includes mysteries – right? And not just festive mysteries for Advent! Steve and my mom are great at ensuring I have murderous reads all year long. This year, Steve gave me the Harper Collins special edition of And Then There Were None, which completes my collection of those editions – at least until the next three drop this summer. And he also delivered bigtime with the new Marple, a collection of brand new Miss Marple stories by authors currently writing in the crime and detective fiction genre, including big names like Lucy Foley and Elly Griffiths. And then my mom always gets me “a Christie for Christmas” and this year I asked for some Miss Marple mysteries in the new paperback editions with the floral covers – they’re gorgeous. I opened A Murder is Announced and A Pocket Full of Rye, both of which I’ve read but not for many years, so I’m looking forward to revisiting them in these new editions. (And it was a very Miss Marple Christmas, now that I’m thinking about it.)

Steve also presented me with some gorgeous historical non-fiction, including The Windsor Diaries 1940-45: My Childhood with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, which was the very top of my wish list. I’m reading it now and it’s so good and transporting me right to Windsor during World War II. And then there were these two pretty hardcovers of historic guidebooks – The Cathedrals of England and Sussex, Kent & Surrey 1939, which I wanted based at least 50% on their covers. But I am really excited to read them – especially the Sussex, Kent & Surrey book, which I expect will be a fascinating time capsule of that beautiful region of England right at the beginning of World War II.

I was also so excited to unwrap this new edition of Persuasion, one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, which is stuffed with thoughtfully presented ephemera. I have Little Women in the same edition, and they are such cool, beautiful books.

Here’s my miscellaneous pile, for lack of a better word. Steve bought me Images and Shadows, Iris Origo’s memoir, which I was very excited about. I read Origo’s World War II diaries this fall and found them absolutely captivating, so I can’t wait to dig into her memoir. And Steve also found this stunning anthology of writing about birds, beautifully illustrated with pen and ink drawings – so I’m really looking forward to reading that one too. And then finally, my mom got me Michelle Obama’s latest book, The Light We Carry, and the latest (I think?) Isabel Allende, A Long Petal of the Sea. Both look wonderful!

Also from my mom, and should have been in the pile above but I forgot and left it upstairs – The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There, by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey – this is exciting stuff, people! I am a huge fan of The Office and got the audiobook version of this – read by the authors, of course – but was really wishing for the hardback, since I figured it probably had all kinds of cool behind-the-scenes photos in it (spoiler alert: it does). I’ve already finished this, and it was a total joy to read from the first page to the last. And will go great alongside Tales of Dunder Mifflin: The Complete Oral History of “The Office”, which I got last Christmas. Spoiled? Yes.

Another one that deserves its own photo: Nugget bought this copy of the fifth Percy Jackson book at the Scholastic Book Sale, but wrapped it up and gave it to me on Christmas morning. Isn’t he sweet? I can’t accept it, though. I’ll sneak it back onto his shelf and suggest that we can “share it.” Funnily enough, I gave him the first Percy Jackson – which he didn’t have – for Christmas.

Last, but not least…

Remember that big adventure I keep mentioning? My mom got me a guidebook to help me prepare. Yes – Steve and I are going to Antarctica this winter! I am beyond stoked to see the seventh continent. This is going to the top of the pile, because embarkation day is ticking nearer and nearer.

Whew! Even though I opened lots of cold weather gear to pack in my luggage for Antarctica (and Patagonia, can’t forget about that part – which will also be epic) I definitely was still spoiled with reading material. How was your Christmas in books? Did you find anything especially exciting under the Christmas tree? And what did you read over the winter holiday break?

The Week in Pages: January 9, 2023

Well – it’s Monday again, and the first full workweek after that bumpy re-entry. I feel like I’m still working my way up to full strength, and I was sort of feeling like reading was going slowly – like everything else – but based on the above, maybe not? I finished The Office BFFs on Monday after returning home from visiting my parents in upstate New York, and loved it. After a quick interlude to catch up on A Nature Poem for Every Winter Evening (which is lovely) I was back to reading The Windsor Diaries 1940-45, which was one of my Christmas presents from Steve. I wrapped it up over the weekend and mostly really loved it. The immediacy of reading Alathea Fitzalan Howard’s diary transported me straight to Windsor during World War II and it was fascinating to read a true insider’s account of how Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent the war years. But I do need to give a trigger warning (which I will also note when I do my monthly reading wrap-up) – there are a few mentions of self-harm in the book, so if that is not something you are able to read about, give this one a miss.

After wrapping up The Windsor Diaries on Saturday evening, I moved on to Yours Cheerfully, the sequel to Dear Mrs. Bird, which I have out from the library right now. (I’m making a priority to hit my library books now so that I can get in all the polar exploration books I want to read before we leave for ANTARCTICA.) As of press time, I’m about a third of the way through and enjoying it just as much as the first book in the series – maybe more, now that I know and love the characters.

Finally! (It really has been a busy reading week…) My big plan of catching up on podcasts and then alternating between listening through an audiobook and then the “recent episodes” section of my podcatcher is paying dividends. I’m all caught up on podcasts – except for a few I am saving for specific reasons – and almost done with my second audiobook of 2023. (Maybe 2023 will be the year I finally make a substantial portion of my reading out of audiobooks? Time will tell.) I am really enjoying Dinner with Edward and will finish it up this week. While I’m not crazy about the narration – look at me, already getting opinionated about narrators – the writing is great (and the descriptions of the incredible meals Edward cooks are making me hungry…)

Back on the mountain! Nugget and I have already skied three times this season – woohoo! As you can see, he insists on poles. I’m not thrilled about this but I’m picking my battles and they don’t seem to be getting in his way.

What are you reading this week?

Re-Entry

Tap, tap. Is this thing on?

To quote Taylor Swift: “It’s me. Hi.”

It’s January 6 – Twelfth Night – and I feel like I am only just now poking my head out of the holiday cave and blinking in the January sunlight. That’s despite working all week (January in the office took off like a rocket) and despite the fact that I mostly worked a regular schedule between Christmas and New Year’s and only took off a day and a half to go skiing. I do have big plans to get to my fun January content starting next week, including my bookish look-back posts about 2022, which are some of my favorite posts of the year to write. And I have a Christmas book haul to show you, of course, and lots more travel content for the foreseeable future Fridays. So all of that’s to come.

In the meantime, some snapshots in words of the mess and chaos and fun and overwhelm of the past few weeks.

  • I am home after four days in upstate New York visiting family and skiing with the anklebiters.
  • I am hopeful that we will be able to ski together as a family this season, because Peanut – the hold-out – did well and had fun when we went to Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts with my parents on the Friday before New Year’s.
  • I am wearing a new pair of my favorite pants from LL Bean, which my mom gave me for Christmas (a black pair, to go with the navy and army green pairs I already had…) and they’re SO comfortable.
  • I am also wearing my glasses nonstop because I am OUT of contact lenses and not going to the eye doctor until next week.
  • I am planning to take the Christmas tree down this weekend and I have big ideas, that are probably delusions, about culling the ornaments that we never actually use.
  • I am also planning, gleefully, a big clutter clearing for 2023, because my neighborhood just got a Buy Nothing group.
  • I am reading one of my new books, opened on Christmas morning – The Windsor Diaries, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard – and it is transporting me straight to Windsor in the 1940s every time I pick it up.
  • I am glaring at a huge pile of packages in my foyer and wondering why we still have so many packages arriving when Christmas is over, and also who is going to open all these boxes and break them down. Most of the packages are for Steve. But one is a cordless reading lamp that I ordered before Christmas and I have big plans to set it up this weekend and for it to become my new best friend.
  • I am also glaring at the situation in my kitchen, which includes a pile of dirty dishes (keeping it real) and a completely broken fridge. The fridge guy was supposed to come and pronounce it dead yesterday so that we could get a new one (yet another thing I will not miss about renting: the bureaucracy and red tape around every broken appliance, and there have been a lot of them in this dump of a house) but he was a no-call-no-show. Great.
  • I am panicking a little over the state of my inbox, which is frankly frightening.
  • I am anticipating Saturday spent cleaning the house and re-potting some plants, and Sunday on the mountain.

What is your January looking like so far?

Reading Round-Up: December 2022

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2022.

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The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023, by Lia Leendertz – I’ve been buying and reading Leendertz’s almanacs every year since they first began, in 2018, and they are always a total joy. In addition to the usuals – seasonal recipes and garden tasks, sunrise/sunset and tide tables, etc. – Leendertz sprinkles in different themes and ideas each year. This year, her theme was myths and legends and each month included a “myth of the month.” I absolutely love these almanacs and will keep reading them as long as Leendertz keeps writing them. (Pro tip: Leendertz also has a podcast, As the Season Turns, which is released on the first of every month, and is a delight to listen to especially in conjunction with reading the monthly chapter in The Almanac.)

The Christmas Hirelings, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Pretty classic Victorian Christmas fare from the author of Lady Audley’s Secret. There are poor but genteel children, a curmudgeonly old gentleman, a pudding, disguised identities, you know the drill. It’s fine but not spectacular and I guessed the big twist about a third of the way through the book. But if you are looking for something light and not at all taxing in the lead-up to Christmas, this will do the job – and a nice bonus, if you get the audiobook: the great Richard Armitage reads it. As you know, I adore Richard Armitage and would listen to him read the phone book.

The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte – Bronte’s first novel is a fictionalized account of an English teacher in Brussels, based on Bronte’s own tutor from her time in the Belgian capital. It’s no Jane Eyre or Shirley. Give it a read if you’re in a completionist mood or want to trace Bronte’s evolution as a writer. Full review to come for The Classics Club.

The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant #3), by Josephine Tey – A young girl goes missing for a month, before turning up with a surprising story – she was picked up by two women and held hostage in an attic, starved and beaten, before making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter pair who making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter, who live on the outskirts of town and somewhat on the fringes of society. The women call upon a local barrister to help clear their names. After being underwhelmed by Miss Pym Disposes, I was considerably relieved to enjoy The Franchise Affair so much. I blazed through it in a day, partly because I was trying to finish it in time to listen to a podcast episode with spoilers on a flight, but also because I just couldn’t put it down. Based on the real-life case of the kidnap of Elizabeth Canning, and featuring Tey’s famous Scotland Yard inspector only in a couple of cameos, it’s a fun and fast read.

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen (Her Royal Spyness #15), by Rhys Bowen – Another fun Georgie mystery, and one that takes place at Christmas! How could I resist? Georgie and Darcy are looking forward to their first married Christmas and planning to host a house party, when an invitation comes in, instead, to join Darcy’s aunt Ermintrude, who lives in a grace and favor house on the grounds of Sandringham Estate. It turns out Wallis Simpson is staying there, too, and then to make matters worse, dead bodies start showing up. Figures! This was a fun mystery for the festive season, and I really enjoyed the audiobook format.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak – Just a quick read on my kindle while I was on a business trip, but a really interesting one. Rehak explores the history of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a juvenile adventure book mill that created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbesey Twins, and best of all – Nancy Drew. Tracking Nancy’s history and the different lenses through which her original and replacement ghostwriters approached her, Rehak explores Nancy’s significance throughout the decades. A great read for anyone who grew up on the O.G. girl sleuth – like I did.

The Swallow: A Biography, by Stephen Moss – I really enjoy Moss’s bird biographies and this was a fun entry into the series. Moss follows the swallow from its summer residences to its winter travels and has poignant words to say about climate change and the challenges all of our favorite birds are facing in the coming years.

Dear Mrs Bird (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #1), by A.J. Pearce – This was a fun and mostly light read – although it did get poignant. Emmy Lake strives to be a journalist reporting from the front lines of World War II. When she sees an add for a “junior” at what she believes to be a newspaper, she thinks it’s her big break. Turns out, she is to be a junior typist to an “agony aunt” at a women’s magazine – and her boss, despite running an advice column, is not very helpful. Emmy decides to take matters into her own hands and write back to the readers, and she’ll change more lives than just her own before the book is over.

Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year, by Beth Kempton – If you’re like me, you can get easily overwhelmed with all the added to-dos around the winter holidays. I appreciated Kempton’s wise and reassuring words about slowing down and celebrating the season in ways that are personally meaningful.

Midwinter Murder, by Agatha Christie – A little crime at Christmas is always fun, right? At least when it’s between the pages of a book. I really enjoyed this collection of winter- and holiday-themed mysteries from Agatha Christie. Five of the stories featured Poirot and two featured Marple, so you know you’re getting a good volume!

Sister of the Angels (Torminster #2), by Elizabeth Goudge – I read the first Torminster book, The City of Bells, ages ago, and this slim volume – set at Christmas – is the second. The action revolves around Henrietta and her father, Gabriel Ferranti, as they unravel the mystery of a sad and lonely stranger who appears in Grandfather’s cathedral. This was a fast read, but as delightful as any Goudge, and I enjoyed it.

No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read – I read No Holly for Miss Quinn every year, usually on Christmas Eve. At this point, it’s as familiar as my favorite Christmas ornaments. I love this story of reserved, quiet Miss Quinn and her struggles when family responsibilities upend her plans to paint her house over Christmas. It was as lovely this year as always.

The Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – Another tradition – A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book has been my Christmas Day reading since 2017 (or was it 2018?) when I unwrapped the book under the Christmas Tree. Dr. Evans never fails to have been cackling with laughter at his witty and delightful clippings. This year, I am thinking of starting my own commonplace book – so I read it with extra interest.

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories, ed. Martin Edwards – While I sometimes struggle with short story collections, that wasn’t the case with The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories. I enjoyed every entry and some of the stories were real gems. I can definitely see myself returning to this collection in future years.

Whew! Quite a December in books – what a way to wrap up the year, huh? I’m always looking for the right balance of holiday and non-holiday reading in December, after one year when I only read Christmas books and burned out bigtime. This year, I think I could have started earlier on the Christmas reading – but I really enjoyed everything I read this month, so maybe not. On the non-holiday front, “The Franchise Affrair” was the highlight of the month. Whenh it came to holiday reading – setting aside my repeats, which are repeats for a reason; they’re old favorites – I absolutely loved “The Christmas Card Crime.” And now – onward! I have a big stack of January reads, including a bunch themed around a big adventure I have coming up later this winter. (About which: more soon.) Can’t stop, won’t stop!