Themed Reads: Epics Made Modern

Don’t get me wrong: I love a nice (short) nature poem as much as the next girl. But sometimes you want to get stuck deep in an epic, right? Just me? But I don’t read Ancient Greek and – frankly – Ye Olde Englishe is a foreign language, too. Enter some absurdly talented translators who have made it their business to take the greatest epics and update them for the rest of us.

First of all, if you missed Seamus Heaney‘s swashbuckling translation of Beowulf from 1999, what are you waiting for? It has everything you didn’t know you wanted to read about – mead halls, Grendel, Grendel’s totally badass mother, making this a weirdly appropriate Mother’s Day gift too – but it’s legit readable. Will you want to throw a mug of grog at a dragon? Yes, you will, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate Homer’s epic The Odyssey, and she does a bang-up job of it. I read it on the heels of an older translation of The Iliad last spring, and this version – which really moves – was a breath of fresh air after that. Pair with A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes, if you want to get the women’s perspective (spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty).

Not sure if this counts, but The Owl and the Nightingale is a honking long poem (1,800 lines) from an indeterminate time in English literary history – there are references to King Henry, but which King Henry, there have been so many? It’s bawdy and a little rude, and kind of ridiculous – an owl and a nightingale endlessly debate which of them is better and which of them is a useless pile of… well, you know. Simon Armitage presents a new translation with sumptuous illustrations and ALL of the Medieval potty jokes.

If you’re looking for something with which to celebrate National Poetry Month, and you’ve had your fill of the Romantics, I do encourage you to delve a little deeper into literary history. With Seamus Heaney, Emily Wilson, and Simon Armitage to guide you, how can you go wrong?

What’s your favorite modern translation of an epic poem?

2021 Reading Tally – Superlatives

You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you? How could I forget the silliest, most pointless, and maybe most fun post of the year? Because it absolutely makes total sense to give high school yearbook awards to the books I read over the course of a year.

Brainiest. She’d be devastated if she wasn’t valedictorian, so I have to give this year’s award to bookish, awkward, good-hearted Mary Bennet. Janice Hadlow gives Mary the happy ending I think we all rooted for, and it’s lovely to read.

Best Looking. It’s unfair to have so many good-looking people in one family, but the Mitford sisters have to take this one. I know Diana was viewed as the most conventionally beautiful, but I can’t really get away from her politics. Nancy was a beauty, but Deborah Devonshire, the youngest of the family who eclipsed them all by becoming a Duchess, is just gorgeous.

Best Friends. You have to be really good friends to go into business together, especially a business you know nothing about (like running a small hotel!) and come out of it still friends – Verily Anderson and her wartime partner-in-crime, Julie, have what it takes. At least when it comes to friendship. They suck as hoteliers.

Class Clown. Nancy Mitford will always take class clown. She’s the kind of clown, though, that will make you snicker while also wondering, a little uncomfortably, if she’s laughing at you.

Biggest Jock. It’s a group award this year, and it goes to all the women who make their way down an overgrown path to swim at the Hampshire Ladies Pond – especially those intrepid souls who dive in all year round.

Teacher’s Pet. Who wouldn’t want to be Madge Bettany’s pet? Well – her sister, Jo Bettany, would rather forge her own path at the school that Madge founds in the Austrian Tyrol.

Biggest Nerd. Inspector Alan Grant isn’t usually a nerd, but when he’s laid up in hospital, recovering from a leg injury (sustained while chasing a criminal, so add that to the not-nerdy side of his ledger) he dives way deep into solving the historical mystery did Richard III murder the Princes in the Tower, and if not, whodunit? It doesn’t get much nerdier than a British Library-powered obsession with a three-hundred-year-old cold case.

Most Creative. Every so often you come across a project that really knocks your socks off, and Amber Share‘s tour de force through the U.S. National Parks, as experienced by their “least impressed visitors,” is that. So creative, and such a complete delight.

Most Opinionated. If you have a question – or a topic of conversation – or just a random thought… Mr. Mulliner has words for you, lots and lots and lots of words, and a story about one of his relatives to make his point clear. Sit down. He’s telling a story.

Most Likely to End Up in Hollywood. A windswept Scottish island, a terrifying peat bog, and a high fashion wedding collide in a totally gripping, completely wild story that is just screaming to be made into a movie. Will I see The Guest List if it ever does hit theatres? Probably not – too scary.

Biggest Rebel. When your fiance is arrested for murder, you’re supposed to sit quietly and wait for him to be vindicated according to the normal workings of the law. Right? Not according to Emily Trefusis, and thank goodness, because she is the only person in The Sittaford Mystery with any sense at all. And she has enough sense not to depend on social institutions to clear her beloved’s name. That’s being a rebel with a very good cause.

Biggest Loner. If you can be alone in the middle of a loud, raucous family and a bunch of rowdy neighbors, Gerry Durrell is – but he has his menagerie of animals, so he’s good.

Prom King. There was a contingent that tried to stuff the ballot box as a joke this year and throw this vote to Captain Ahab, but fortunately they were caught and foiled and the right man won. Jean-Benoit Aubery, better known as “the Frenchman” (swoon, ladies) is clearly the only choice for 2021’s prom king. That is – if he shows up. It’s 50-50, because social events aren’t exactly his thing. But then he might come to claim his crown just to bother the jocks.

Prom Queen. There’s no one like Lily Bart for sheer audacious vivacity, and that’s really what we need in a prom queen. Where did she get her dress? Wouldn’t you like to know.

Cutest Couple. I’ve been shipping Queen Beatrice and Teddy since American Royals, and in Majesty what was supposed to be a marriage of convenience deepens into something more real. Did I enjoy the romance I predicted way too much? Yes, yes I did.

Most Likely to Succeed. It’s gotta be the first woman to hold national office! Kamala Harris shares her incredible life story and it’s wonderful – I saved it to read during Inauguration Week.

What high school yearbook awards would you give to your 2021 reads?

Themed Reads: Magical Austria

I love planning travel – dreaming of destinations, digging into the adventures to be had, and always, always reading. And although the pandemic has really harshed my mellow, I’m back to dreaming and scheming trips to take in the next few years. Austria and Switzerland are both high on my list, and I’m tentatively targeting summer 2023. I can already see the blue gentians waving and smell the Alpine meadow grass… Who knows if it will happen? I hope it does, and until the day I finally board that plane, I can dip into my stash of books set in Austria.

Crossed Skis, by Carol Carnac (a lesser-used pen name of E.C.R. Lorac) follows a group of friends, acquaintances, and some last-minute fill-ins as they depart for a skiing holiday in the Austrian Alps. Unfortunately, back in London, a corpse has turned up with a bewildering connection to a skier, and the entire holiday party – off enjoying sun and crisp snow on the slopes – find themselves suspects. The book ends with a thrilling chase on skis. Read this with cocoa, ideally in a cozy mountain chalet somewhere.

Speaking of chalets, The School at the Chalet, first in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer‘s classic children’s series, is full of them. An English brother and two sisters, recently alone in the world, hit upon the idea of starting a school for young girls in the Austrian Tyrol. (Because why not?) You have to suspend a lot of disbelief here, but it’s worth it for the luscious descriptions of Austria and the rollicking school life at the immediately, impossibly successful Chalet School. There are wildflowers, good food, and mountain adventures. What’s not to like?

If you’re more of a city type, perhaps I could suggest Magic Flutes, by Eva Ibbotson. (Ibbotson is another one who requires some suspension of disbelief, but I’m really good with that.) Magic Flutes tells the story of an Austrian princess who runs away from her fairy-tale castle to follow her opera dreams in Vienna. It’s pure confection, but such fun. (On this theme, I have Ibbotson’s A Glove Shop in Vienna on my to-read-soon stack…)

This stack might not be as good as being in the Tyrol, or even the next best thing, but until I can get there myself it’s what I’ve got. Any Austrian book recommendations for me?

2021 Final Reading Tally – By the Numbers

This is one of my favorite posts of the year to write, and also one of the most difficult – because math. (Invariably, I end up mis-counting at least one category and have to recalculate.) But no matter how hard it is to gather up and analyze all this data, I wouldn’t miss it for the world – I love seeing how my last year’s reading shook out, in really concrete form. Shall we take a look?

First up, according to Goodreads records, I read 124 books last year, for a grand total of 33,560 pages. The page total is never entirely accurate, because I have uncounted pages on the margins of the year (I’m always mid-book when the year turns over, so this count gives me credit for some pages read in 2020 for which I didn’t finish the book until early 2021, and on the flip side, I read pages in the last week of 2021 that will end up counting toward my 2022 book list because I finished that book – it was Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn – on New Year’s Day). I’m also not too precious about selecting the exact edition read when I record my reading on Goodreads, so page totals vary in that way, too.

I read a few super-short books this year – a couple of Candlestick Press “instead of a card” poetry collections. On the other side of the scale, James A. Michener’s Chesapeake was a feat of endurance.

Speaking of those Candlestick Press poetry collections, it seems they should be better known. Only two other people shelved Ten Poems for Spring last year? Can’t be. But it seems that The Odyssey was crazy popular. Who knew?

Okay, let’s dive a little deeper.

The fiction/non-fiction breakdown was pretty standard in 2021. I always read more fiction than non-fiction, but especially in recent years, I’ve been enjoying more nature and gardening books, and more memoirs – so that scale has been creeping toward even. (It’s not there yet, as you can see, and I expect never will be – I’ll always be primarily a fiction reader.) The one thing that I think is noteworthy about this graph is: eleven poetry titles last year! Although I do enjoy poetry, that’s a lot for me. Probably has something to do with my efforts to read poetry almost all of April. I burnt out on it a bit after that, so I don’t think I’ll be recreating that challenge in 2022 – although I did read some very lovely stuff.

This is another graph that’s about standard for me. By far the largest genre – if you call it a genre – of fiction that I read in 2021 was classics. I’ve been a classics fan since high school and don’t see that ever changing. My second-most read genre, again completely predictably, was mysteries. What can I say? I love a good crime novel. Outside of the big two, again this is all standard stuff. Just a handful of literary fiction titles, a few historical fiction, and one or two titles from other genres. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, but I usually have more than two titles on my booklist at the end of the year; this is more representative of how I see myself as a reader – those just aren’t really my jam.

The big shift with non-fiction genres is this big growth in nature and gardening books. I always have a few titles on my list, but I’m usually more heavily weighted toward books about books. This year I only read five books about books, and fourteen nature titles – almost an exact reversal from last year. The rest of this graph surprises me less: I always have a handful of history titles, and quite a few memoirs, and that’s exactly what I see for 2021.

No surprises here – as usual, I mainly read in the standard book format. There were a handful of audiobooks, read mostly on neighborhood walks, and a handful of ebooks, which I largely save for travel. And four journals – those were all Slightly Foxed quarterly issues.

As with 2020, I have really been trying to read my own books. I curate my bookshelves carefully, and I really know what I like, so I tend to be happiest with my own personal collection. I did borrow 23 books from the library last year, which is four more than the 19 I borrowed in 2020 – but far less than I used to check out, pre-pandemic, when my reading was almost 90% from the library and I would spend way too much time looking wistfully at the books on my own shelves, which I carefully chose and knew I’d love. I’m so enjoying reading mostly my own books and I don’t see myself going back anytime soon, although I’ll always be a library user to some extent.

Apologies in advance, because I kind of phoned this category in. Last year, I had categories for non-binary authors (just didn’t read any in 2021 – must correct that for 2022) and multiple sex/genders (mainly for anthologies and essay collections; this year I did read several books with both male and female contributors, but I pressed the easy button and simply categorized those based on the sex or gender of their editor). Maybe I’ll get more granular next year, but for now – this is just what I would have expected to see – heavily favoring women authors and editors.

Lastly, here’s a bit of a surprise. Usually, the USA and England compete for the largest slice of the “settings” pie chart, and while they go back and forth it’s usually closer than this. Not in 2021 – 67 books set in England (plus another 6 in other countries in Great Britain – five in Scotland and one in Wales, specifically) and only 16 in the USA! Continental Europe had a good showing this year – interestingly, Greece made up a large percentage of those books – but I need to read more set in Africa and Asia in 2022.

Whew! If you’re still with me, thanks for reading this far. I do enjoy nerding out on book data, what can I say? Next week, I’ll share my top ten reads of 2021.

Christmas Book Haul, 2021 (Teetering!)

Happy holiday reading to all of my friends – in case that isn’t said enough, right? As y’all know, I am not big on gift-bragging posts, but the one exception I make is for book hauls. I love seeing what new books are coming into your homes any time of the year, and I gladly reciprocate. So without further prelude, here’s my Christmas book haul from 2021 – and it’s the absolute definition of “an embarrassment of riches.” I was spoiled indeed this year.

Everybody fed my nature and gardening book addiction this year. My brother and sister-in-law gave me Earth Almanac, which is broken out by day – I’m looking forward to reading it all year in 2022, in conjunction with Lia Leendertz’s wonderful Almanac, which I pre-order every year. My mom picked up Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life, by the fabulous Marta McDowell. I’ve loved several of her other books, so I can’t wait to dig in (see what I did there? #sorrynotsorry) to this one. And finally, Steve presented me with Mid-Atlantic Gardener’s Handbook, a title that has been on my wish list for ages. It’s going to come in handy as I plan my forever garden and putter about in my little rental plot in the meantime.

Some miscellaneous reads – my mom gave me The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse to read to the anklebiters (apparently it’s about kindness?!) and Steve ordered The Carols of Christmas (first one I grabbed off the stack, and I finished it yesterday) and America the Beautiful: Cross-Stitch. I’ve never successfully done counted cross-stitch before, but with so many gorgeous patterns to choose from I might actually pull it off.

When I’m not gardening or cross-stitching, I will be in the kitchen this year. I’ve been itching to get my hands on Martha Stewart’s Vegetables, and the new Dorie Greenspan – Baking with Dorie – looks wonderful. Both from Steve, who always enjoys the fruits of any cookbook gift.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a little murder, right? My mom gave me not one, but two Christies for Christmas – The A.B.C. Murders and Murder in Mesopotamia. I think I read the former back in high school, but I don’t remember it, and I know I’ve not read the latter – so fun times ahead. And Steve presented me with Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World, a new study of Christie’s most famous sleuth that looks fantastic, and with the new (ADORABLE) hardcover version of Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, adapted from a hilarious CrimeReads essay. I can’t wait to curl up with it! Preferably on a stormy winter evening, because mayhem.

Also from Steve, which one is not like the others? Four popular culture books – three absolutely stunning, fully-color-illustrated guides to the fashion of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s; and possibly the most-coveted book on my wish list this year: Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of “The Office” – which looks so great, and my eyes keep straying over to it under the tree. Soon.

I love good travel writing, and Steve delivered with Wanderers: A History of Women Walking (looks fantastic!) and Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Life in Letters. I have several books by “Paddy,” who was a renowned travel writer, sparklingly witty correspondent, and friends with luminaries like Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, and the Duchess of Devonshire. I’ve got a volume of his letters to Debo Devonshire, and I can’t wait to read this – maybe in conjunction with that one, and with some of his travel writing. I may go on a Patrick Leigh Fermor bender later this winter; you have been warned.

Finally, one last – but certainly not least! – grouping: literary classics, my favorite. I’ve been eyeing Olivia Manning’s doorstopping Fortunes of War series (broken into two trilogies, The Balkan Trilogy and subsequently The Levant Trilogy). I’ve been itching to read those; they’ll be a project, but I can’t wait. And both The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy, and Crewe Train, by Rose Macaulay, look fabulous and summery – I think I’ll save them for when the weather warms up; I certainly have enough to keep me going until then.

What a book haul! I was spoiled this year, indeed, and I’m so excited to get through each of these delights this year. Steve half-jokingly, half-seriously, suggested on Christmas morning that we may need another bookshelf, and I think he might be right. The question is: where to put it?

Did you find books under your tree on Christmas morning, too?

Themed Reads: My Holiday 2021 Reading List (Part Of It, Anyway)

Planning out my holiday-themed reading is one of my favorite annual traditions – I love a mix of re-reads and new discoveries at any time of the year, and Christmas is no exception. There are a few books that I always read (or always in the past few years, anyway) – namely The Twelve Days of Christmas on Christmas Eve, A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book on Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day on, obviously, New Year’s Day – but I’ve always got some new-to-me favorites-to-be on deck in the runup to the holiday. I’m waiting a bit later this year to start my Christmas reading bonanza, because last year I devoted all of December to holiday reading and overdosed a bit. But for all that, I do have some big reading plans ahead for the next couple of weeks.

First up, I pre-ordered this gorgeous edition of Tied Up in Tinsel, by Ngaio Marsh, from Hatchards. (I also ordered Thou Shell of Death and The Case of the Abominable Snowman, both by Nicholas Blake, from the same collection – but I’m not sure they’ll arrive in time to be 2021 holiday reading; they may be waiting for 2022.) Marsh was one of the Queens of Crime during the golden age of detective fiction, alongside luminaries like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, but I’ve not yet read many of her books. Really looking forward to this one.

Nigel Slater loves winter – by reports, it’s his favorite cooking season. I’ve heard wonderful things about The Christmas Chronicles, his Christmas and winter collection of recipes, notes and stories, and can’t wait to curl up with this and a steaming cup of cocoa.

It’s been quite a few years since I read No Holly for Miss Quinn, my favorite of Miss Read‘s holiday stories – but last year, I was lucky enough to find a gorgeous vintage hardback copy. It was too late to work it into my Christmas 2020 reading, so I’ve been saving it for 2021. I can’t wait to reunite with the devastatingly efficient Miss Quinn and watch her holiday spirit grow from a tiny spark to a full glow.

I have plenty of other Christmas reading plans, too. I’d like to finally get to The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories, and to A Literary Christmas and A Children’s Literary Christmas, both from the British Library publishing imprint. And I have a copy of The King and the Christmas Tree on order from Hatchard’s – I hope it arrives in time to read by the light of the tree – and I’m hoping to find time to get back to my last year’s favorite, The Twelve Birds of Christmas, too. Think that’s enough to keep me busy?

What’s on your holiday reading list?

Themed Reads: A Little Blitzy

It’s no secret that I love a good World War II book – home front, travel, memoir, history, contemporaneous or historical fiction – I’ll take it all, and more, please. There’s a whole subset of World War II books set in London during the Blitz, of course, and it makes sense: when and where else was the indominable spirit of a nation more courageously on display? The material for writers is endless, and exemplified by Vere Hodgson’s diaries, in which she would downplay a night of heavy, horrific bombardment as “a little blitzy.” Here are three different examples.

First, the aforementioned Vere Hodgson, whose Blitz diary was published (and republished by Persephone Books) as Few Eggs and No Oranges. This is a doorstopper, but well worth the time. Hodgson records daily life in London, with all its challenges, from the early years through the end of the war. The office cat in the charity where she worked gets plenty of coverage, to bring some levity to the pages describing incendiary bombs and tragic destruction.

Handheld Classics brings us two Blitz books for the price of one – a novella, Night Shift, about factory workers in wartime London, and It Was Different At The Time, Holden’s Blitz memoir – combined into one volume, Blitz Writing. Holden’s very modern voice reminded me of Virginia Woolf a little bit, and the characters in both the novella and the memoir are so very lifelike. The description of a night’s bombing at the end of Night Shift is absolutely terrifying.

Finally, for something a little bit fun, E.C.R. Lorac brings us a mystery with a strong sense of time and place. Murder by Matchlight begins with a young man strolling through Regents Park on a deeply black night in London during the Blitz. All of the lights are out – it’s blackout, after all – and the only light is the momentary flare of a match. In that moment, a terrifying face looms up, and seconds later, a murder is committed. That is all Inspector Macdonald has to go on, and it’s not much. The mystery and characters are engaging, and there is a firefighting scene so vivid that you can hear the bombs whistling and feel the heat of the flames.

Of course, there’s more to World War II literature than the Blitz, and when I was considering the books I’ve read so far, most of them actually don’t focus on this particular horror. But there are quite a few Blitz books, for all that, and many of them are now classics for good reason.

Have you read any books set during the Blitz? Any recommendations for me?

Elizabeth von Arnim on Loving Books

What a blessing it is to love books.  Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.  And how easy it would have been to come into the world without this, and possessed instead of an all-consuming passion, say, for hats, perpetually raging round my empty soul!  I feel I owe my forefathers a debt of gratitude, for I suppose the explanation is that they too did not care for hats.  In the centre of my library there is a wooden pillar propping up the ceiling, and preventing it, so I am told, from tumbling about our ears; and round this pillar, from floor to ceiling, I have had shelves fixed, and on these shelves are all the books that I have read again and again, and hope to read many times more–all the books, that is, that I love quite the best.  In the bookcases round the walls are many that I love, but here in the centre of the room, and easiest to get at, are those I love the best–the very elect among my favourites.

What a medley of books there is round my pillar!  Here is Jane Austen leaning against Heine–what would she have said to that, I wonder?–with Miss Mitford and Cranford to keep her in countenance on the other side.  Here is my Goethe, one of many editions I have of him, the one that has made the acquaintence of the ice-house and the poppies.  Here are Ruskin, Lubhock, White’s Selborne, Izaak Walton, Drummond, Herbert Spencer (only as much of him as I hope I understand and am afraid I do not), Walter Pater, Matthew Arnold, Thoreau, Lewis Carroll, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hawthorne, Wuthering Heights, Lamb’s Essays, Johnson’s Lives, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne, Gibbon, the immortal Pepys, the egregious Boswell, various American children’s book that I loved as a child and read and love to this day; various French children’s books, loved for the same reason; whole rows of German children’s books, on which I was brought up, with their charming woodcuts of quaint little children in laced bodices, and good housemothers cutting bread and butter, and descriptions of the atmosphere of fearful innocence and pure religion and swift judgments and rewards in which they lived, and how the Finger Gottes was impressed on everything that happened to them; all the poets; most of the dramatists; and, I verily believe, every gardening book and book about gardens that has been published of late years.

No one says it quite like Elizabeth, do they?

In Which I Read Michener, Eventually!

There is a distinct thread running through my childhood memories, and it is this: both of my grandmothers were major bookworms. My maternal grandmother, who I called Grandmama, had wide-ranging and catholic tastes, and liked nothing better than to stretch out on a lounge chair in her Long Island backyard, with a glass of lemonade (or wine) and a mystery novel or memoir with which to while away the afternoon. Grandmama had small bookshelves all over her house, and I used to saunter past each one, running my finger along the spines of the Harry Potter novels lined up by the front door or the travel books in the guest bedroom. She was a hardcore Anglophile and I definitely inherited my love of English literature from her.

My other grandmother, who I alternately called Grandma or Grandmother (she preferred Grandmother, but I too often forgot) was just as much of a bookworm, although her reading tastes were different. Grandmother introduced me to Anne Shirley, still a beloved bookish friend, but in general her preferences skewed toward meaty non-fiction (especially about the American Revolution) and historical novels – the longer, the better, and there was no such thing as too much detail. She loved it all. Grandmother kept most of her books on a tall, skinny shelf in the hallway between her two impeccably decorated guest bedrooms. And while I meandered past the shelf plenty, always on the hunt for something to read, I invariably came away with her blue and white copy of Anne of Green Gables in my hands. It was the most appealing thing on her shelf. (In my twenties, I discovered an 1890 edition of one of my favorite books – Jane Eyre – but it wasn’t on the shelf; it was on a sunroom table. Grandmother pressed it into my hands and it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.)

James A. Michener was one of Grandmother’s favorite authors. She had a line of his books – I remember Alaska and Hawaii for sure, those doorstoppers – and they always caught my eye, if for no other reason than they were just so extravagantly long. (I wonder if she ever read Poland? Being such a Michener fan, and so proud of her Polish heritage, I find it hard to believe that she would have missed that one, but I don’t recall her ever mentioning it, nor do I remember seeing her pull it out of her bag at the lake or spotting it on her shelf. It must have been there, though.) Anyway, Michener’s ability to churn out thousand-page novels at an apparently lightspeed clip fascinated me; as a young reader I subscribed wholeheartedly to C.S. Lewis’s views on long books. But for whatever reason, I never gave any of them a try.

A year or so ago, though, Chesapeake was on major discount on the kindle store. (I tend to buy ridiculously long books for my kindle; it’s a holdover from my days of commuting on Metro, when long books were only an option if stored digitally.) It seemed like a golden opportunity to finally try out one of Grandmother’s favorite authors, on my home turf. I downloaded the book and then saved it for the right time – pulling it out while relaxing in a camp chair on the side of a marsh (while camping in Chincoteague) seemed like the perfect fit. So I started Chesapeake on the Fourth of July, while the Assateague Island lighthouse blinked at me from across the marshy bay.

And I read. And read. And read. And read and read and read and read and read. The fourth of July turned to the fourth of August and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. It was engaging – following four Eastern Shore families (the Steeds, Paxmores, Turlocks and Caters) through the centuries. Chesapeake presented a broad tapestry of the entire sweep of American history from the first settlers during Elizabethan times, all the way to the environmentalists of the 1970s. And in order to do that – it was so. damn. long.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I did. It was – as I said – engaging and interesting. I never really bogged down in it; every chapter held my attention, and some held my fancy. (The one from the perspective of migrating geese!) But it was just so long. Just so long. I like a long book; the longer the better, usually. But I found myself craving something shorter – anything shorter, really. I took a few breaks to read through library books before their return deadlines, but I kept coming back to Chesapeake, and each time I returned to the pages, I was more and more fatigued. And more than a little sad that my beloved grandmother’s favorite author had defeated me.

All this to say – I did finish, eventually! As July turned to August, I recommitted to the read and forbid myself any other books until I finally completed this journey. (Which in retrospect isn’t the best way to read, but it does work sometimes.) In the end, it was an odd reading experience. I found something to like on every page. Every chapter was interesting. And by the end, I was heartily sick of it all – turning with gratitude to Stella Gibbons’ The Swiss Summer, which my Grandmama would have loved.

I expect I will read Michener again – someday. I’m intrigued by Hawaii. But I’m going to need a very long break and a string of very short books before I pick up that one.

Have you ever read James A. Michener?

Themed Reads: A Mythological TBR

There’s something about September that makes me want to dive into myths, folklore, and all things woodsy and weird. Maybe it’s back-to-school season and that compulsion to learn something new and interesting, which never seems to go away no matter how many years pass since my own school days. Maybe it’s the slow approach of wild autumn nights and everything they bring with them – crunchy leaves, woodsmoke, Halloween costume shopping, steaming brews of hot cider… Either way, I’m pausing in front of my folklore books more and more often these days. Here are three I’m hoping to get into this fall.

The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves – This one has been on my Classics Club TBR for years; it’s time to get to it! I love Greek mythology and can’t wait to read Graves’ classic compilation. Bonus for the Rick Riordan introduction. I’ve been avoiding this because it’s sooooooo long (and I need a break from doorstoppers after Chesapeake, TBH, so it probably won’t come around on deck until later in the fall) but my eye is on this one.

Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands and Forests, by Dee Dee Chutney and Willow Winsham – This pretty volume (in person, the yellow is a metallic gold – gorgeous) caught my eye a few months ago, along with its sister volume, Treasury of Folklore: Seas and Rivers, which is still wending its way to me as of this post. But that’s okay, because the Woodlands and Forests version looks more autumnal in spirit, and it’s waiting on my shelf.

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Fairies, by Robert Kirk – I got this slim little volume for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it’s so short there’s really no excuse for my not having picked it up yet. (Plus it was featured on The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room!) I don’t know much about it, other than that it is a collection of wild stories about woodland folk. Very September! I’m going to get to this one soon; I’m committing.

Do you crave mythology and lore at the beginning of the school year? Any recommendations for me?