Reading New England: The Institute Library (guest post)

Reading New England

For a final Reading New England feature, I asked Chris of WildMoo Books whether she might like to contribute one of her wonderful library posts. Chris is a Connecticut resident, but she also travels far and wide, and wherever she goes she likes to take pictures of interesting libraries and share them with us. Please be sure to check them out here!

For her guest post, Chris picked the Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut — a place I’ve never heard of, but definitely want to visit now. Many thanks to Chris for this virtual tour of one of New England’s hidden treasures.


The Institute Library
Guest post by Chris of WildMoo Books

When Lory invited me to write a library post for her Read New England challenge I immediately said yes. There are so many fantastic libraries in New England—from charming small community libraries to powerhouse city libraries to Ivy League college libraries. There was no lack of inspiration, rather the challenge was to narrow down the options. I kept coming back to The Institute Library of New Haven, CT.

Founded in 1826, The Institute Library is one of the last remaining membership libraries in America. It also has its own classification system developed by one of its early librarians, William A. Borden. You can read about the library’s history and current events at their website:

The mission of the Institute Library is to fulfill its historical purpose of “mutual assistance in the attainment of useful knowledge” for its members and the New Haven community at large through literature, civil discourse, and the arts.

I hope you’ll enjoy this short look into The Institute Library.


The Institute Library had several homes since its founding in 1826 until this four story brick building was erected for the Institute in 1878. The ground floor is a retail space (currently for rent).


The entrance to the library. Members and guests ring a bell and are buzzed in via intercom.


The staircase leading from the front door up to the library are lit via transparent kickboards on the staircase directly above which gets direct sunlight from large windows facing the street. An elevator installation is one of the library’s upcoming improvement projects.


Through doors at the top of the stair members are greeted by a display of the library’s newest acquisitions. Behind this is the circulation desk. Notice the card catalog to the right.


When you turn to the right from here there are two displays of recent acquisitions, one for fiction, one for nonfiction.


Turn to the right one more time and you’re facing the front of the library. The tall windows provide excellent lighting. In the daytime lights are not needed for reading in this room.

Comfy reading chairs in front of the windows offer an excellent place to curl up with a good book.


Looking from the front of the library toward the back. The bookcase on the left is a complete set of the Library of America editions.


A periodicals spinner near the front windows. Notice the stairs in the background and their transparent kickboards—these light the staircase below.


Some of the early librarians who served the Institute Library.


The library’s card catalog stands tall in the reference section, just across from the circulation desk.



Looking through the card catalog is a joy, so many graceful and diverse handwriting styles to admire from various hands.



Taken from the middle area of the library. The reference section is to the left and library offices to the right.


Standing in the stacks looking toward the back of the library.


In the stacks. Each aisle has its own light with a long pull. Members turn on lights as needed.


The back room where events take place and board meetings are held. This table has been at the library since it opened. The door to the right leads to a small lounge and the bathroom.


The lounge features comfortable reading chairs and there’s also a writing desk in a small alcove just across from the chairs.


There are several skylights in the building. Notice the gears. The writing above the doorway reads: “instructions: create what you long for.”


A reproduction of an original bookplate from the Mechanic Library of New Haven, 1792.


If you’re near New Haven or find yourself passing through, be sure to stop and visit The Institute Library. It is a vibrant historical treasure that continues to play an important role in the literary life of its members and New Haven.

The Institute Library
847 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT 06510 |
(203) 562-4045

Nonfiction November: New to My TBR Link-Up


It’s my honor to be the host for Nonfiction November this week, with our final topic: New to My TBR.

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR list? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

More than ever, I’m looking for nonfiction books that expand my view of the world and illuminate unfamiliar perspectives. Here are just a few of the books I’m inspired to read now, with many thanks to the bloggers who brought them to my attention:

  • Lab Girl recommended by Doing Dewey: “It gives the best idea of what it’s like to do science in academia of any book I’ve read, but it was also accessible, moving, and beautifully written.”
  • Hillbilly Elegy recommended by Sarah’s Book Shelves: “It achieves a delicate balance of entertaining dysfunctional childhood memoir and social analysis that’s pertinent to this election cycle.”
  • Nothing to Envy recommended by Novels and Nonfiction: “The stories of despair and love, unity and self-sufficiency, family and individual survival are compelling, terribly sad and at the same time hugely revealing of the state of affairs in North Korea over the past two decades.”
  • In Other Words recommended by Words and Peace: “Even if English is your only language, I think this would be a remarkable exposure for you, a discovery of the world of languages, and maybe a gentle incentive to learn another one.”
  • Committed recommended by Reading the End: “Committed provides an insightful, balanced look at the many complex factors that influence involuntary mental health care. If you’re remotely interested in mental health or civil liberties, I highly recommend this excellent book.”
  • On Living recommended by Books on the Table: “Hospice chaplain Egan has written a beautiful and inspiring book about her experiences working with dying patients.”
  • Dark Money recommended by ipsofactodotme: “This was just plain ‘scary’ ! Wealth has given the super-rich the power to steer the economic and political direction of the United States and undermine its democracy.

I’m also interested in reading the NYT’s list of Six books to help understand Trump’s win, as suggested by Hibernator’s Library. If you’d like to join us, check out Rachel’s post.

Below, you can link up your own posts — whether they are answers to this week’s topic, or reviews of nonfiction books — and I’ll do a round-up on Friday, December 2.

Thanks to everyone who participated this month; I so much appreciated the chance to share it with you. And thanks to Doing Dewey, Sarah’s Book Shelves, Hibernator’s Library, and JulzReads for hosting. If you haven’t already, be sure to visit their posts for even more great nonfiction suggestions.

Month in Review: November 2016


This month started off with a fabulous Witch Week — thanks so much to everyone who contributed guest posts and participated in other ways. Be sure to visit the Master Post for links to anything you may have missed.

I then dived into Nonfiction November, which I was honored to be asked to co-host. My topic, New to My TBR, will be posting tomorrow and I hope you’ll check it out. I also announced the Reading New England readalong book, Mayflower, which will be a joint effort in December with Doing Dewey and the Nonfiction Book Club. Please consider joining us, even if you haven’t been participating in the challenge so far.

On a more somber note, after the election I had to ask Should I keep blogging? Is this a valid use of my time in today’s world? It remains an ongoing question for me every day, but for now I’m still here, and very grateful for the wonderful community I’ve found.



Other Books Read

  • americangodsoriginalThe Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Reread
  • Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rosell
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield – Review to come
  • Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden
  • The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald – Reread
  • NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman – Nonfiction Book Club
  • The Hitchhiker Trilogy by Douglas Adams – Reread
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – Review to come
  • Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden

Other Features and Events

Shared in the Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer, the Month in Review linkup at The Book Date, and the Monthly Wrap-up Round-up hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Reading New England: Three plays by Eugene O’Neill

Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night (1941)
Eugene O’Neill, Ah, Wilderness! (1933)
Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943)

oneillplaysBefore I embarked on the Reading New England challenge, I had no awareness of Eugene O’Neill as a Connecticut author. My experience of his plays was limited to a reading of Mourning Becomes Electra in high school, which involved heavy emphasis on the symbolism and parallels to classical drama, rather than on O’Neill’s own life.

In fact, as the son of a touring actor, though O’Neill was born and went to school in New York, he spent summers at the family cottage in New London, Connecticut. He attended Harvard briefly, did a stint at sea, and became involved with the Provincetown (Massachusetts) Players, a collective of artists, writers, and theater enthusiasts that produced some of his early works before they moved on to Broadway. With fame and increased wealth came sojourns in exotic places — the Loire Valley, the Georgia Sea Islands, Bermuda — but he died in a Boston hotel. (Born in a hotel room, died in a hotel room, he quipped near the end.)

O’Neill (right) with his family on Cape Cod, 1922

The first O’Neill work I read for its Connecticut connection was Long Day’s Journey into Night, a searing fictional portrayal of his own tortured family that is set in the New London cottage — which is open as a museum today, decorated as described in the play. He gave orders for it not to be published until 25 years after his death and never performed, but his widow, as literary executor, ignored both instructions and the American theater gained an instant classic.

With his minute rendering of the painful relationships within a family riven by alcoholism, money problems, addiction, and illness, O’Neill displays great psychological insight and dramatic skill. Hoping against hope that there will be change for the better, the characters yet inexorably slide into old habits of sloth, cowardice, and denial. As their intimate dialogue plays out before us, over the course of a single day and past the midnight hour, they evoke pity and horror at the nightmare that life has become for them.

“The fog was where I wanted to be. Halfway down the path you can’t see this house. You’d never know it was here. Or any of the other places down the avenue. I couldn’t see but a few feet ahead. I didn’t meet a soul. Everything looked and sounded unreal. Nothing was what it is. That’s what I wanted — to be alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself. Out beyond the harbor, where the road runs along the beach, I even lost the feeling of being on land. The fog and the sea seemed part of each other. It was like walking on the bottom of the sea. As if I had drowned long ago. As if I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea. It felt damned peaceful to be nothing more than a ghost within a ghost.”

O’Neill put these words into the mouth of the character representing himself, and to me they captured the feeling of the play as a whole — I was reading of people whose souls had died long ago, but who were doomed to replay their tormented lives into infinity. The only way they could rest was to lose themselves in oblivion.

O’Neill’s gravestone

Most of O’Neill’s plays are tragic, if not all quite this tragic. However, he could also write in a different vein, as shown by his earlier comedy Ah, Wilderness! — also set in Connecticut, but in a nostalgic, idealized small-town setting at the turn of the twentieth century. Its coming-of-age story of a boy who rebels mildly against his warm, loving family, but ultimately returns to their wholesome ideals, is generally described as O’Neill’s vision of the childhood he wished he had had.

Perhaps because I had just read Long Day’s Journey, though, it seemed to me that there were seeds of trouble within the harmony. An alcoholic uncle is played as a source of fun, but I couldn’t help thinking that the characters were blinding themselves to the true horrors of his condition. And the ending, in which the boy and his girlfriend naively pledge themselves to one another, appeared to me a recipe for disaster. What would happen when the boy outgrew his rather bland and stupid first love? These questions are blithely ignored in the play itself, but are the kind of subjects that O’Neill explored so thoroughly elsewhere.

Poster from the 2000 revival of Moon

A more mature and nuanced love story is the subject of A Moon for the Misbegotten, a third and as far as I know final play set in Connecticut. Here, we visit a dilapidated, hardscrabble farm tenanted by an Irishman and his long-suffering daughter (his sons have been driven away by his tyrannical ways). O’Neill returns to some of the characters and motifs, and even some bits of dialogue of Long Day’s Journey — which, of course, he never expected to be produced — and gives them a slightly more hopeful trajectory.

Centering on the characters representing O’Neill’s alcoholic older brother, and the outwardly rough but inwardly tender woman who hopelessly loves him, it takes us through another long night of suffering into a dawn that brings a strangely poignant redemption. Though their brokenness is too deep for them ever to be truly whole, the fact that they can yet see and acknowledge the human essence in one another brings a touch of grace, of salvation.

Following the utter darkness of Long Day’s Journey into Night, and the artificial brightness of Ah, Wilderness!, I was glad to finish this dramatic journey with the benign, soothing shimmer of moonlight. All three plays, though, are certainly worth your attention. If you’ve ever seen any memorable productions, I would love to hear about them, too.

Classics Club list #19


Top ten gift books from The Folio Society

Next week’s Top Ten Tuesday encourages us to make a holiday gift list — and if you’re looking for a really special gift for the booklovers in your life, The Folio Society has much to offer. In case you haven’t yet encountered this amazing repository of beautifully designed, illustrated, and bound books, have a look at their complete catalog here.

One of the things I like best about Folio is that it stands for quality, but not snobbery; it can turn out an appropriately dressed edition of Terry Pratchett or Stephen King with the same aplomb as it does St. Augustine or Homer. Some may be aghast at these books rubbing shoulders with one another, but I think it’s terrific; there’s excellence of many kinds to be found in an eclectic reading list.

Here are some of my favorite recent releases:


Poetry of Emily Dickinson
This lovely, small volume is wrapped in a translucent dust jacket and illustrated with sensitive woodcuts by Jane Lydbury — perfect for poetry lovers.


The Nursery Rhyme Book
I grew up with Andrew Lang’s “rainbow” fairy tale books, which Folio recently produced most gorgeously, but had never heard of this companion collection. Folio has wisely retained the golden-age illustrations by L. Leslie Brooke, and added new color plates by Debra McFarlane. It would be a splendid gift for a new baby or christening.


This is the third time that Folio has essayed an edition of Jane Austen, but it’s the first time they’ve selected different illustrators for each volume, which gives a pleasing variety to the series (although some illustrators may appeal more to you than others). My personal favorite is the Balbusso sisters’ Pride and Prejudice, which I wrote about here; some find Deanna Stolfo’s pictures for Persuasion a little too close to caricature, but I still prefer them to those in the other edition I own.


The King Must Die
Mary Renault is a longtime favorite author and a perfect choice for the Folio treatment. The first in her “Theseus” duology of myth-inspired historical fiction is illustrated with striking paintings by Geoff Grandfield.

And some still available from earlier seasons:


The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Joan Aiken’s classic adventure is perfectly complemented by slyly humorous illustrations by Bill Bragg. Will Folio dare to take on the entire series (which I wrote about here, here, and here)?


The Little White Horse
Luminous pictures by Debra McFarlane adorn Elizabeth Goudge’s enchanting tale. I have to say that I would have absolutely adored the cover of this book as a young girl, with its shining silver unicorn on a deep purple ground.


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
It’s been illustrated many times, but Sara Ogilve brings something fresh to the journey of Dorothy and her companions with her lively, whimsical artwork.


Folio’s first venture into Discworld was a smashing success, and there will be more to come (though it’s doubtful they will produce all 40+ volumes).


The Eagle of the Ninth
One of Rosemary Sutcliff’s most popular and acclaimed historical novels is nobly illustrated with detailed drawings by Roman Pisarev.


The Dark Is Rising series (minus one)
It’s too bad that the title volume of Susan Cooper’s fantasy series is out of print, but the other four are available at an amazing bargain price. For more about the complete series, see my earlier post.


The Blue Flower
Penelope Fitzgerald’s beautiful novel about the poet and visionary Novalis is complemented by colorful, expressionistic artwork by James Albon.

As you can see, I tend to gravitate toward the children’s books, but there’s much more to explore, including great works of religion, history, and science, golden age mysteries, and science fiction, as well as many classic and some modern novels.

In case you’re wondering, Folio has now done away with the “membership” model that required a commitment to buy four books in a twelve-month period. You can now buy just one book (though you’ll likely find it hard to stop there), and special offers are available to everyone through the year. Right now, shipping is capped at $10 for your first order, and selected sets are 15% off.

Enough temptation from me — do go and see what strikes your fancy, and let me know your own favorites.

Nonfiction November: Become the Expert


This week, the Nonfiction November topic is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, hosted by Julie of Julz Reads.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I have 94 books on my Goodreads nonfiction to-read list, so I thought I’d start there and see if I could find any common theme. One topic I seem to want to read about is “Amazing Journeys.”


Lois on the Loose by Lois Pryce
Unlike my husband, I am not a motorcycle aficionado — but this tale of an adventuresome “biker babe” who ditches her safe BBC job and takes off across the Americas sounds like a fun ride anyway.


The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane
Subtitled “a journey on foot,” this is the story of the author’s rambles from his Cambridge home across the old paths and byways of Britain, and further afield on the pilgrimage ways of Europe. I’m interested in how it illuminates the interior path as well as the external journey.


Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson
Exploring “how Shakespeare became the world’s writer,” this literary travelogue delves into the cultural history of many lands, showing how one playwright changed the world and how his works have also been transformed thereby.


Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert
A language-mad mother boldly uproots her family in order to learn Mandarin in China, Arabic in Lebanon, and Spanish in Mexico. They seem to have survived the experience, and even gained some fascinating insights into language and culture.


In Search of Mary by Bee Rowlatt
After reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark,” the author (toddler in tow) sets out to see how the early feminist may have influenced those countries, then forays to France and America for more musings on life and motherhood.

Isn’t it wonderful that reading can take us all over the world, sharing in these incredible experiences? Looking at my TBR reminded me of how fascinating these books sounded when I added them — I’m newly inspired to hunt them out and “become the expert” now! What’s on your list?

Reading New England Round-up: November 2016

Reading New England

Reading New England

We’re almost there! As the Reading New England challenge nears its end, the contributions have slowed, but they’re still coming and are as fantastic as ever. Thanks so much to all of you.

Next month, be sure to watch for the final Wrap-up and Giveaway post. You don’t need to be a challenge participant to enter, but those who have completed six or more reviews will gain chances to win extra books! But remember that to qualify, you MUST post your links to either the Genre Post or State Post linkups (choose one, as you can’t cross-post the same review to both).

And remember, if you’d like to finish the year by reading something together, the title I’ve chosen is Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. Even if you haven’t been participating in the challenge, you’re welcome to join us in December for this readalong, which is co-hosted by Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club.


Here are the reviews that came my way this month:


And a couple other links of interest:

  • Jennifer of Holds Upon Happiness takes us on a lovely autumn walk.
  • From Books as Food, the New England Orchard Cookbook looks quite delicious. (Why did I not put a cookbook category in the challenge?)

Three by Betty MacDonald

Betty MacDonald, The Plague and I (1948)
Betty MacDonald, Anybody Can Do Anything (1950)
Betty MacDonald, Onions in the Stew (1955)

bettymacdonaldbooksSince reading the biography Looking for Betty MacDonald, I’ve been eager to read MacDonald’s lesser-known autobiographical works. And with the new editions from the University of Washington Press, now I can!

Originally published within the short dozen years between the smash success of her first book, The Egg and I (1945), and her sadly early death from cancer, these three books form a fascinating window onto the past of the Pacific Northwest, and still have the power to entertain and amuse us today.

The Plague and I was first to be published, in 1948, and its title was an obvious attempt to reproduce the success of the earlier book. But it’s not a direct chronological sequel — several years had gone by since Betty left her “Egg” husband and their chicken farm in the Olympic mountains, and returned with two young daughters to her mother and siblings in Seattle. These years are chronicled in Anybody Can Do Anything (see below), but as her biography reveals, Plague is based on a diary Betty kept during her subsequent time in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Thus she had a head start on it when a second book was demanded by publishers and public.

It’s certainly an unlikely subject for a humorous memoir, and I spent much of the reading feeling less amused than astonished and humbled by what many people had to go through in the days when the “white plague” was a real menace. There was no way to battle the disease except to give the lungs complete rest so that they would form barriers around the parts invaded by bacteria. Surgical procedures involved collapsing the lungs so they would be immobile (it is still an open question to me how the patients were able to breathe after this). In Betty’s sanatorium, patients were forbidden to talk, to cough, to laugh, even to read and write until they had begun to recover, and nurses enforced the rules with semi-sadistic military discipline.

bettyvashonCan you imagine writing a whole book about being forbidden to do anything other than lie in bed? But Betty does, and she somehow makes it a riveting chronicle. She’s helped by the presence of some memorable characters, including her Japanese roommate “Kimi,” one of the smartest and funniest invalids you could hope to have in the next bed. (Though Betty betrayed her unfortunate prejudice against Native Americans in The Egg and I, she shows more liberal views in this book — she’s placed in rooms with both Kimi and an African American woman because nobody else was willing to get that close to them.) Brave, foolish, rebellious, sly, charming, defeated, defiant — in the intense environment of the sanatorium, many different sides of human nature come to light. It’s not unlike a war chronicle, and like survivors of a war, Betty and her friends feel they are now members of a “club” that no one else can truly understand.

Humor, here, is not a matter of mere silliness or belly laughs, but a way of standing apart from overwhelming experiences, not letting them get the better of you. That ability also serves Betty well when she comes to record how her family survived the Depression in Anybody Can Do Anything (1950). Her older sister Mary is determined that Betty can do anything that she (Mary, that is) sets her mind to, and so she struggles through a series of odd and unsuitable jobs, from hand-coloring photographs to selling direct mail advertising to assisting a gangster. In the midst of these episodic reminiscences, the constant is the presence of Betty’s warm, loving, if somewhat eccentric family, who keep things lively:

In addition to good health, my family possessed a great capacity for happiness. We managed to be happy eating Grammy’s dreadful food or Mother’s delicious cooking; in spite of cold baths and health programs; with Gammy’s awful forebodings about the future hanging over our heads; in private schools or public; in large or medium-sized houses; with dull bores or bright friends; with or without money; keeping warm by burning books (chiefly large thick collections of sermons, left to us by some of the many defunct religious members of the family) or anthracite coal in the furnace; in love or just thrown over; in or out of employment; being good sports or cheats; fat or thin; young or old; in the city or in the country; with or without lights; with or without husbands.

Her final work, Onions in the Stew (1955), covers a more stable time in Betty’s life, the twelve-year period when she had remarried and moved to Vashon Island with her new husband and two teenage daughters. Each of her books vividly evokes a place where she lived, and this one’s location is particularly dramatic. Beautiful and a bit remote, with no road to their house and an adventurous commute to Seattle by ferryboat, it’s a marvelous but challenging place. The pieces in this book are more loosely connected than in the others, with the common thread being “life as usual in a very unusual setting.” They could have been published as articles in a women’s magazine, but thankfully Betty’s tart sense of humor saves them from being a run-of-the-mill chronicle of 1950s domesticity — in fact, one of the pieces is a sharp critique of the ridiculous food advocated by women’s magazines of the era.

The Vashon house is still standing and is known as the Betty MacDonald Farm; the current owners run it as a B & B, with a loft room or cottage available by the night. I’ll be longing to visit on my next trip to Seattle, and if you read all of Betty’s reminiscences, I’m sure you will be too. But even if you can’t get there in person, you can get a glimpse into her world through these wonderful books.


The Bookish Time Travel Tag

Jane of Beyond Eden Rock tagged me, and I was honored to think that she would be interested in my answers! Here we go…

The Manor at Hemingford Grey (“Green Knowe”) – By Jason Ballard, via Wikimedia Commons

What is your favorite historical setting for a book?

This question makes me think of the settings I would actually like to live in — I may enjoy reading about late Imperial Rome or Revolutionary France, but they would be a bit dangerous to inhabit.

One type of setting I love is a wonderful old house that’s been lived in for many generations, and gathered much history and character. The Green Knowe books by Lucy Boston provide one example (and this is even a real house that you can visit – see Jean’s recent tour here).

Another is a nostalgic trip back to a warm family setting, as in the Deep Valley books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I know the past wasn’t really this simple, but it’s nice to enter those rosy memories for a while anyway.

Louisa May Alcott at age 20 (public domain)

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I would love to meet Louisa May Alcott and talk about how women’s lives have changed since her time. I’d also warn her not to take the calomel that ruined her health.

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I wish I’d had a chance to read and love Henrietta’s House and The Valley of Song by Elizabeth Goudge when I was younger — they would have been even more magical then.

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

As I age, I want to keep reminding myself of the important messages in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.

dispossessedWhat is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?

Ursula K. LeGuin’s vision of peaceful interplanetary colonization and interaction in her so-called “Hainish” books.

What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

It’s impossible to choose just one favorite — so many of my favorite books are set in different time periods! But I’m going to give a nod to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, largely because I think she does a brilliant job at capturing the Regency period (with a magical slant). There are so many books nowadays with this setting, and very few are truly convincing.

Spoiler time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Yes, I do, and I feel no shame about it. Sometimes the tension is too much for me and I just have to know the outcome; then I can go back and see how we got there. Spoilers don’t bother me, obviously. But everyone is different — if you don’t want to know the ending ahead of time, I certainly respect that.

If you had a time turner, where would you go and what would you do?

There are many places I’d like to have a peek — Hilda’s monastery in Whitby, the theater of Dionysus in Athens, a Regency ball… I think I’d soon be glad to get back to modern sanitation, medicine, and women’s rights, though. (Even though it’s tempting right now to find a nice corner of the past to go hide in.)

Illustration by HR Millar from The Story of the Amulet – source

Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in different time periods?

The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit made a strong impression on me as a child. Nesbit’s depiction of different times and places (from ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Britain to more fanciful visions of Atlantis and the London of the future) might not stand up to modern scholarship, but it was rich with detail and woven into an exciting quest narrative. It’s where my love of historical fiction began.

What book/series do you wish you could go back in time and read again for the first time?

Funnily enough, I don’t have the feeling that I wish I could read books again for the first time. I often enjoy reading them for the second, third, or twentieth time just as much, though it’s a different experience. I only wish I had more time to do that!

Tagging next…

I’m tagging Wendy of Falconer’s Library because she says nobody ever tags her, and I hope she might like this one. Otherwise, please feel free to take it up if you’d like to, and be sure to let me know if you do.

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings


This week brings one of my favorite features of Nonfiction November: the Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing, hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves.

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Last year I managed to find quite a few unplanned, serendipitous pairings from my reading of the past twelve months. But this year the connections were not so clear, except for one pair of books that came my way via the Reading New England challenge. I do highly recommend them both, for the way in which they illuminate the shameful role of slavery in our region’s history, and the roots of the pernicious racism that is bearing its bitter fruit today.

Click on the titles for more information, via my original reviews.


New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America



The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation


What nonfiction/fiction book pairings would you recommend?