Poetry Friday: now(more near ourselves than we), by e.e. cummings

now(more near ourselves than we)
is a bird singing in a tree,
who never sings the same thing twice
and still that singing’s always his

eyes can feel but ears may see
there never lived a gayer he;
if earth and sky should break in two
he’d make them one(his song’s so true)

who sings for us for you for me
for each leaf newer than can be:
and for his own(his love)his dear
he sings till everywhere is here

~e.e. cummings

Happy National Poetry Month, friends!  We can use poetry now more than ever, in these weird and scary times, in which earth and sky are breaking in two and we are certainly more near ourselves than we.  I hope that you are finding joy wherever you are, and that you can hear a bird singing till everywhere is here.

Themed Reads: Women and Wartime

It’s Women’s History Month, which I always love – while I’m down for celebrating the contributions and successes of women any old time, it’s particularly fun when women’s lives are at the forefront of the conversation and on everyone’s minds.  I love seeing the Women’s History Month display in the window of Hooray for Books!, my local indie that I walk past every day, and I enjoy fitting my month’s reading around this cultural conversation.  Fiction and nonfiction books about women are always a focus of my reading, in any month, and I love delving into women’s lives at different periods in history – but today I want to talk specifically about women’s lives during a time period that interests me especially: World War II.

Home Fires: The Women’s Institute at War, 1939-1945, by Julie Summers (also published as Jambusters) explores the significant role British women played on the Home Front as they organized into local Women’s Institutes for the purposes of serving, learning, and socializing.  The Women’s Institute movement started as a flicker, but soon caught fire, with local WI groups forming in almost every community.  Interest and participation in the WI movement went up to the very highest levels of society: Queen Elizabeth (later to become The Queen Mother) was an honorary chair of the Windsor branch of the WI.  While the WI was best known for their efforts at food preservation – especially jam-making – which made a substantial difference during the long years of rationing and food shortages, they were heavily involved in all sorts of war efforts and provided a natural mechanism for women who were not employed in wartime industries or involved in the armed forces to pool their skills and make a difference.

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue, by Kathryn J. Atwood is technically a young adult title, although it has appeal to every age group.  I happened across it in my library while looking for books about Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a heroine of the French Resistance (this was before the publication of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, which I own but have not yet read).  Madame Fourcade is profiled in Women Heroes of World War II, but so are twenty-five other women, of every age and nationality, whose acts of courage helped to win the war.  Daring women took great risks to rescue fugitives from the Nazis, carry messages to the Allies, sabotage Axis efforts, and more.  In this age of political disaffection and polarization, it’s refreshing and bracing to read about women who banded together, often at great personal risk, to do what is right.

Consider the Years, by Virginia Graham, offers a contemporary perspective on the war years – and the long drab decade that followed – through a different lens: poetry.  Graham was a well-off young woman when the war began, and evacuated with her family to avoid the danger of living in London during the Blitz.  She writes movingly of daily life; I featured my favorite poem from this slim Persephone-published collection, Evening, in a Poetry Friday post during 2018’s National Poetry Month.  (Still love that one, with its evocative depiction of office workers lined up for a bus, collars turned up against a cold and damp evening, spirits yearning for home.)

Women have contributed meaningfully in every time period, of course.  But there is something particularly fascinating about the role of women during World War II – at least, there is to me.  Those years were a bellwether for women’s greater inclusion and expansions of social and economic freedoms; once peace was achieved, there was no going back to the way things were in the interwar years and before.

What historic time periods are especially interesting to you?

Shirley Jackson on Spring Cleaning

I look around sometimes at the paraphernalia of our living–sandwich bags, typewriters, little wheels off things–and marvel at the complexities of civilization with which we surround ourselves; would we be pleased, I wonder, at a wholesale elimination of these things, so that we were reduced only to necessities (coffeepot, typewriters, the essential little wheels off things) and then–this happening usually in the springtime–I begin throwing things away, and it turns out that although we can live agreeably without the little wheels off things, new little wheels turn up almost immediately.  This is, I suspect, progress.  They can make new little wheels, if not faster than they can fall off things, at least faster than I can throw them away.

Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages

…Oh, Shirley.  Me too, girl.  Me too.

2019 in Books, Part III: Book Superlatives

It’s time for one of my favorite blog posts of the year!  For some reason, giving my books high school yearbook awards never fails to tickle me.  Enough prelude, y’all know what this post is.  Let’s go.

Brainiest.  Hermione Lee definitely takes the award this year, because no one but a certifiable genius could have written this tome of a biography and literary critique of Edith Wharton.  Also, her name is Hermione, so.

Best Looking.  Sometimes this superlative goes to that-girl-who-isn’t-conventionally-pretty-but-hot-damn-there’s-just-something-about-her, and that is Anne Boleyn in a nutshell.

Best Friends.  OMG!  This hardly ever happens, but the votes were tied.  Sloane, Ardie and Grace get the award for sticking together through thick and thin and maybe murder? but Deja and Josiah racked up just as many votes for their charming and sweet #goals friendship.

Class Clown.  Who but David Litt, official jokes writer for President Obama, could take the Class Clown superlative?  Just about anything that Obama said that was funny, you can bet – it had Litt’s fingerprints on it.

Biggest Jock.  So he gets injured early on – Marcus Aquila is the definition of the jock who grows up and joins the military.  Also, he’s brave and loyal and I think probably pretty nice to look at, so he gets the votes.

Teacher’s Pet.  Math geek Katherine gets this award, for her sheer determination to distinguish herself academically, and also because, um, well, read the book.

Biggest Nerd.  When you carry around a purple notebook full of poetry that you scribble out while huddled in the girls’ bathroom – even as an all-grown-up substitute teacher – you’re definitely a nerd.  But that’s okay, because nerds can still get the guy.

Most Creative.  Edith Holden is definitely the artsy dreamer of the bunch this year.  She’s the girl who is always wandering around with her head in the clouds, doodling pictures of flowers and birds in her notebook.

Most Opinionated.  Ben Rhodes, one of President Obama’s top foreign policy aides, had opinions coming out of his ears – and he lays them all out in his fantastic memoir.

Most Likely to End Up in Hollywood.  I was a little underwhelmed by the shifting narratives, but the stories of Sally, Irina and Olga seem tailor-made for the big screen.  Who wouldn’t want to see the glitz and glamor of 1950s D.C.?

Biggest Rebel.  Bri is definitely the rebel this year – determined to stun the world with her raps, heedless of any consequences.  And there are many, many consequences.

Biggest Loner.  When you are so determined to have your peace and quiet that you will literally commit murder to get it – like Maud – you’re definitely the biggest loner.  Piece of advice: DO NOT move into Maud’s apartment building.

Cutest Couple.  Alex Claremont-Diaz, First Son of General Adorableness, and Henry, Prince of Smoldering Glances and Falling Into Cakes, are definitely the cutest of all the cute couples this year.  What I wouldn’t give to roll with their crowd of jet-setting pals…

Prom King.  There’s no way Frank Gresham doesn’t win Prom King – this isn’t the year for a sleeper write-in joke vote.  Frank is the Captain of the football team, President of the student body, and clearly, the Prom King.

Prom Queen.  Party girl Daisy Jones is this year’s Prom Queen – how could she not be?  Both because she’s the life of every party, would look great with a crown, and because I want to see what Frank Gresham makes of her when the Prom Court dances in front of the entire senior class.

Most Likely to Succeed.  If there is one person who is bound and determined to meet every goal, it’s Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan.  Luckily she has her BFF, Amilyn Holdo, to lighten her up when she gets too steely-eyed and driven.

This post is always way too much fun.  Who would you give yearbook superlatives to from your booklist?

2019 in Books, Part II: Top Ten

In a year that saw travel, adventure, some drama, and months on end of work craziness, I’m kind of amazed that I managed to read anything at all, let alone that I read so many wonderful books.  In times of stress and overwhelm, I turn to classics and old friends – nothing new there.  And the result is that I do find myself turning the pages of many, many fantastic books.  2019 was no exception.  And while this is always a hard post to write (I! Hate! Decisions!) here’s my very best of the best.

Doctor Thorne (Barsetshire #3), by Anthony Trollope – I have been slowly making my way through Trollope’s Barsetshire and liking each installment in the series better than the last.  I adored Doctor Thorne – laughed a LOT, cried a little, and enjoyed every single page.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4), by Agatha Christie – For some reason, I’d been thinking I had not read Roger Ackroyd before, but after figuring out the identity of the murderer, I now think maybe I did?  Either way, it was riveting and absolutely great.

Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee – It took me a long time to get through this doorstopper of a biography of the enigmatic queen of American letters.  Lee’s exhaustive research was beyond impressive.  And fascinating.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski – This might be the most important book I read this year.  Life seems to get harder and harder, and I am feeling the effects of all that stress piling up on my shoulders.  The Nagoski sisters are full of tea and sympathy and tried and true scientific strategies for coping.  I’m already thinking of a reread.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – For the longest time I have been someone who wanted to like Virginia Woolf.  I tried.  A LOT.  Mrs. Dalloway finally broke the barrier for me.  I was enthralled.

The Eagle of the Ninth (Roman Britain #1), by Rosemary Sutcliff – Ostensibly a book for younger readers, Sutcliff’s first installment in her Roman Britain series was exciting, heart-wrenching, and completely page-turning.  My reading experience was enhanced by the gorgeous Slightly Foxed Cubs edition I had, but really – there’s everything to love about this book.


The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden – I can’t resist a nature diary, especially a richly illustrated one, and Holden had been on my list for so long.  It was gorgeous and luminous and everything I was looking for.

Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3), by L. M. Montgomery – It seems like cheating to include Anne on here, but anytime the fabulous Miss Shirley puts in an appearance, she’s a highlight.  Anne of the Island is my favorite, and probably most frequently reread, of the series.

I Was A Stranger, by General Sir John Hackett – One of the last books I read in 2019 was also one of the best.  Hackett, then a Brigadier General with the British Forces in World War II, was parachuted into the Netherlands shortly before the disastrous Battle of Arnhem.  I Was A Stranger is his memoir of several months he spent recuperating from his wounds and being hidden behind enemy lines by a family of mild-mannered ladies.  It’s a beautifully written, contemplative, tense and exciting book and a testament to Hackett’s gratitude to Aunt Ann, Aunt Cor, and Aunt Mien, who took unimaginable personal risks to shelter a stranger who became one of the family.

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell – It’s hard, but I think this is my book of the year.  I loved everything about Wives and Daughters and already am thinking of rereading it.  For years I had an unfair prejudice against Gaskell and I’m so glad I’ve rid myself of that nonsense.

2019 was many things, not all of them great, but it was a WONDERFUL year in reading.  Old friends, new-to-me classics, rediscovered favorites, and lots of happy, cozy moments spent turning pages.  What more can you ask for?

Next week, my book superlatives – one of my favorite posts of the year!

2019 in Books, Part I: Vital Stats

Here we go!  One of my longest, most painstakingly put together, complicated – and favorite – posts of the year.  I’m sure there are avid readers out there who don’t track their reading, and don’t enjoy looking back over past years’ book lists.  I’m sure they exist.  I just don’t know any of them, and am definitely not one myself.  In fact, there’s very little I like more than a good saunter through the previous year’s reading.  So let’s get to it, shall we?

Facts and Figures

First, the basics: according to Goodreads, I read 127 books in 2019, for a total of 37,780 pages.  Wowsers!  The page total might be a little off – Goodreads page totals vary by edition and I’m not always diligent about making sure I have marked the same edition that I’m reading.  But it’s about there.  That’s more than my stated Goodreads Challenge goal of reading 104 books – a pace of two per week – but less than my secretly cherished goal of 156 books – a pace of three per week.  Three per week would have been a lot; I may have managed it had work been less busy, but it wasn’t, and 127 is still darn respectable, so I’ll take it.

Again according to Goodreads, the shortest book I read was the bite-sized novella The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While, by Catherynne M. Valente.  And the longest book was the dense doorstopping biography Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee.  Edith Wharton was wonderful, but it did take me a loooooooooong time to get through it.

Lots of other people read Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, this year.  It was a re-read for me – I read it for my book club, and also to prepare for watching the fabulous adaptation on Amazon Prime.  And it seems I was the only Goodreads user who read Summer Places this year.  What a shame!  Simon Parkes paintings, interspersed with essays about plein air painting and the Hudson River School.  Why don’t more people pick that up?  The mind boggles.  I’m not being sarcastic.  It’s a beautiful book.

Pass the Pie

Oh, how I love pie charts.  Let me count the ways.

What I Read…

First, the basics.  As expected, I read more fiction than non-fiction this year – that’s normal for me.  The proportions are about the usual, too.  In the past few years, I’ve gotten more into poetry and I am always looking to increase the number of books of poetry I read – but fiction is going to be the top every year, and that’s just how it is.

Let’s break that down a bit more.  Starting with fiction, I read fairly widely across genres.  Classics were the largest component, which is – again – as expected.  The older I get, the more I know what I like and what I don’t like – and I find that I enjoy most classics more than anything else.  There are exceptions – for instance, I really didn’t get along with Flannery O’Connor this year – but usually, a classic novel or story collection is likely to be a winner for me.  I love a good mystery novel, too, and that shows in the high number I read this year.  What was more unusual?  Ten science fiction or fantasy novels, and sixteen historical fiction – neither a genre that I usually read much during the year; I always feel surprised that I didn’t read more historical fiction, but this year I’m not.  Sixteen titles made up a full 20% of my total fiction list this year, which is huge for me.  On the other hand, only one literary fiction title – that’s also unusual, and reflects a little less effort on my part to keep up with the big lit-fic titles of the year (and shelving some in historical fiction or science fiction and fantasy when they could, perhaps, do double duty).

As for non-fiction genres, again, I read fairly widely.  The largest category is culture, which was a bit of a catch-all for me this year – encompassing books about books, self-help (such as Burnout or Digital Minimalism) and books about cultural phenomena (like Lagom).  Biography and memoir combined for eleven titles, all of which I heartily enjoyed.  I read a little less than usual in the politics and history category, but more in science and nature writing.  And I’d like to read more travel books in 2020.

Who I Read…

Wow – I read a lot more women than men this year.  I usually read more female authors, but it’s a little closer to even most years; in 2019 I was heavily into female authors.  Only one “both” – not because I didn’t read other books with both male and female contributors, but this year I categorized those either male or female depending on the editor.  But I still had to have the “both” category because I read To Kill a Mockingbird: The Graphic Novel, an adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic by graphic novelist and artist Fred Fordham.  They don’t get equal billing, because: Harper Lee.  But Fordham needed some credit for his wonderful adaptation work.  And – this is very exciting – I read one book by a gender non-binary author this year!  That would be Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston.  (I’d love to read more gender non-binary authors in 2020, if anyone has recommendations.)

Where I Read…

It’s always a back-and-forth between the U.S. and England for the highly sought-after title of “most heavily read setting on Jaclyn’s booklist” – that’s a heavily sought-after title, right?  Don’t tell me if it isn’t.  It was a decisive win for England in 2019, with 32.3% to only 26% for the old U.S. and A.  Canada only had four titles this year, and the rest of the world (continental Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East) patched together sixteen.  (Countries covered, which I do track but don’t graph, were Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Iran, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.  Apologies to the rest of the world.)  As usual, there were a smattering of books set in fictional worlds, books set in multiple locations (where the characters moved around so much it was impossible to pin them down to a primary setting) and books with no setting (all non-fiction).

How I Read…

Very heavily weighted in favor of physical books.  Only one audiobook and two kindle books in 2019.  I read five journals – all issues of Slightly Foxed – and six comics or graphic novels.  Hoping for a bit more variety in 2020, but I’ll always be mostly a physical book person.

And finally, the source of the books.  Again, one sourced from Audible and two from Kindle, and the rest divided between the library and my own bookshelves.  I surprised myself by reading more heavily than usual off my own shelves this year – the library to own-shelves ratio was only two to one; it’s usually more heavily weighted to the library.  Although I poke fun at myself for my library addiction, I’m really happy either way.  I have a wonderful home library that I’ve collected carefully and thoughtfully, and I’m usually guaranteed to enjoy what comes off my own shelves.  But I just can’t quit my weekly walks to the neighborhood branch of my city library.  And I have no self control once I get there, but I’m also fine with that.

And there it is!  Another excellent year of reading in the books.  (<–see what I did there?)  2019 was a lot of classics and a lot of female authors, so it’s no wonder I’m looking back so fondly on my reads from last year.  My list could be a bit diverse, it’s true – unless I’m paying very close attention and making it a specific goal to read more widely, my list does tend to be very white and very English-speaking.  It’s gotten better since I started seeking out books by authors of color, LGBTQ+ and genderqueer authors, and works in translation, but there’s always room for improvement.  I don’t have a specific diversity goal for my reading in 2020, but I will continue to pay attention.

What did your 2019 in books look like?

Christmas Book Haul, 2019 Edition

Yes, I know, Christmas was – what, three weeks ago? – and it’s well past time to let it go.  But I can’t quite move on, because I haven’t shown you my Christmas book haul yet, and there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned navel-gazing book haul post, amirite?  My family knows just what I like – BOOKS, BOOKS, AND MORE BOOKS.  So that’s mostly what I unwrapped on Christmas morning and when we celebrated our family Christmas with my parents a few days later.  Here’s the haul, in all its glory.

From Steve (a.k.a. Santa)

  • The Secret Commonwealth, by Robert Kirk (NYRB Classics)
  • Balcony in the Forest, by Julien Gracq (NYRB Classics)
  • More Was Lost, by Eleanor Perenyi (NYRB Classics)
  • Great Goddesses, by Nikita Gill
  • Hangman’s Holiday, by Dorothy L. Sayers (Folio Society)
  • The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey (Folio Society)
  • Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen (Folio Society)
  • Emma, by Jane Austen (Folio Society)
  • Wonder Woman: The Just War, by G. Willow Wilson
  • Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Volume II, by William Moulton Marston

From my parents

  • Gin Austen, by Colleen Mullaney
  • Woodswoman, by Ann La Bastille
  • Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice, by Michelle Obama
  • Eliza Hamilton, by Tilar J. Mazzeo

From my brother and sister-in-law

  • Saving Tarboo Creek, by Scott Freeman

So much great reading material here!  Steve added to my collections of NYRB classics, poetry, Wonder Woman, and Folio Society – and completed my set of the Folio editions of Jane Austen.  Hurray, thank you Steve!  My mom somehow found the one book I asked her for – Woodswoman – which I worried would be unavailable everywhere (it’s not exactly a buzzed-about title!) and added a few others that I wouldn’t have thought to buy for myself but that look delightful.  And my brother’s gift looks like a fascinating read.  Clearly, I have my winter’s reading planned out.

Did you open any book-shaped packages this holiday season?