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 September, 2021.
Where Stands a Winged Sentry, by Margaret Kennedy – I flew through this memoir of the tense summer between the official declaration of World War II and the beginning of the Blitz. Margaret Kennedy is a renowned and respected novelist, but her war memoir, taken from her diaries of that hot and anxious stretch, never mentions work – Kennedy is consumed with her children, her responsibilities, missing her London-bound husband, and invasion worries. This was beautifully written and a wonderful read.
The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Williams – I brought this with me to Shenandoah National Park for Labor Day weekend and it was a perfect choice. Williams, a noted environmental activist and nature writer, shares twelve of her most personally significant national parks. The writing is beautiful and atmospheric, although I did start to bog down near the end.
Slightly Foxed No. 70: Tigers at the Double Lion, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – Not much to say about Slightly Foxed that I haven’t said before! I thoroughly enjoyed the summer issue – as always.
Goldenrod, by Maggie Smith – I preordered the new volume of Maggie Smith’s poems and I did enjoy it, although some spoke to me more than others did. Smith’s bittersweet reflections on motherhood were the highlight for me.
Crooked Sixpence, by Jane Shaw – Loved this recent reprint from Girls Gone By publishers! Six friends team up to investigate who is sending poison pen letters to the cherished and cuddly local squire. There’s a ghost – maybe! – and some Roman history. Good fun all around.
Spam Tomorrow, by Verily Anderson – In the mood for another war memoir, I picked up this reflection on life on the home front. I’d been saving it, and am so glad I finally read it, because it was a total delight from the first chapter – when Anderson goes AWOL from the FANYs to get married, but it’s fine because she was a terrible FANY anyway – through to the harrowing birth of her first child. There is a lot of moving houses, and a hilarious chapter in which Anderson and her friend/roommate Julie decide to open a B&B to earn extra cash in the absence of their husbands; they’re not born hoteliers. Altogether a total delight – highly recommend.
Period Piece, by Gwen Raverat – I decided to re-read Period Piece, as it was the September choice for Miranda Mills’ comfort book club. It ended up getting downgraded because Raverat reports a deplorable racist attitude that her mother held (I’d read Period Piece before, but that didn’t stand out to me the first time). I say this every time I read a book that is “of its time” – but perhaps there is a blog post there. I tend to take an “if you know better, you do better” attitude and use those moments as reflection points. Other than that one paragraph, this is a lovely book and I enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1), by Agatha Christie – Total spur-of-the-moment pickup, but I have been itching to read The Mysterious Affair at Styles and how it all began for Hercule Poirot for ages now. Totally ingenious mystery, as always, and good fun all around.
The House Party: A Short History of Leisure, Pleasure and the Country House Weekend, by Adrian Tinniswood – This was a quick one – the work of about ninety minutes – but fun. Tinniswood explores country house parties “between the wars” – from the transportation to the guests to the food and more. Interesting and enjoyable.
Business as Usual, by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford – This is going to be another one of my highlights of the year. Business As Usual is an epistolary novel following a young woman as she decamps to London with the novel idea of spending a year working and earning money before she marries her surgeon fiance. It was a fabulous, funny and sweet read. I loved it.
All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot – This is something of a triumph – after about eight months of listening in fits and starts, I finally finished All Creatures Great and Small on audio. Really enjoyed this classic memoir by a Yorkshire vet, but it was rather more detail about bovine birth than I bargained for. I expect I’ll continue with Herriot’s memoirs, but I need a little break first.
The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves – Read for the Classics Club Challenge, this is the definitive compilation of Greek myths. All of your murder, incest, forced marriage and eye-gouging, you can find it here. I’ll have a full review coming later in the month, but… it was a bit much.
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, by Marta McDowell – I needed a palate cleanser after The Greek Myths and this was perfect. I love these Timber Press books about famous authors and the gardens and landscapes that inspired them (I’ve read The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh and The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables already) and this tour of Beatrix Potter’s life in gardens was lovely. And the books are absolutely gorgeous.
Fresh From the Country, by Miss Read – This standalone book by Miss Read has been staring at me from my shelf for months – it was time. Young Anna Lacey, fresh-faced and innocent, leaves her idyllic farm home and embarks on a new career as a teacher in an overcrowded suburban school. At first, Anna is desperately homesick – cold, hungry and lonely in her penny-pinching boarding house landlady’s clutches – and lost and confused at school. But friendship and romance await, and her first year of teaching proves to be eventful. I so enjoyed this book, and will re-read it again and again.
At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, by Various Authors – So, this is a classic “I bought it for the cover” book, but that cover didn’t lead me wrong – it was wonderful. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds muse on the peculiar magic of the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond in a series of essays. I especially loved “The Lifeguard’s Perspective” – an essay by a lifeguard who watched the life of the pond swirl around her from her yellow canoe, while a new life grew inside her. And I appreciated that the essays weren’t universally adulatory – a non-binary writer mused that they don’t swim at the ladies’ pond anymore because they don’t feel female enough, for instance. I’ve never been to the ladies’ pond, but I feel like I have now.
Whew! Some month. I definitely got my reading mojo back after the long, hot summer of not-much-book-time. It would be hard to pick a favorite for the month; Business As Usual was an absolute joy, but so was Fresh From the Country. And then there were two – not one, but TWO – standout World War II home front memoirs, and wonderful nature writing, and the Queen of Crime… no, I can’t pick a favorite. But I’m grateful for this lovely month of reading, and excited for October’s books ahead.