Summer of Rereading

  1. Novels of Jane Austen (minus Mansfield Park hah)
  2. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
  3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  4. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  5. One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle
  6. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  7. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader. Anne Fadiman
  8. Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill
  9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
  10. Pat of Silver Bush by LM Montgomery (bought a weird copy)
  11. Mistress Pat by LM Montgomery (bought in Canada last year)
  12. Blue Castle by LM Montgomery (bought in Canada last year)
  13. Family Furnishings: Stories by Alice Munro
  14. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  15. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  16. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  17. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  18. My Name is Lucy Barton. Elizabeth Strout
  19. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
  20. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  21. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I’ve been planning a summer of re-reading all year. I limited myself to twenty-one (+) titles, and they are a mixture of favorite books from my childhood, my girls’ childhood, and then also favorite books from my young adulthood. I would like to do this every summer!

2020 Favorite Books

It’s been two years since I posted last (!) but I wanted to share my favorite books of 2020. I’ve always read a lot, and it’s now my job to read, but 2020 still shifted many of my habits and my time, freeing up the 3-5 evenings I used to be gone every week. I am of course looking forward to the time when we can safely host events at the store again, but we will never host as many as we used to pre-pandemic. I love being home more in the evenings – we cook more family dinners, we’re all together more and, a happy byproduct, we’re all reading more.

Here are my favorite books of 2020 – three fiction titles (1-3) and three nonfiction titles (4-6)

1. Transcendent Kindgom. Yaa Gyasi

A very different novel than Gyasi’s celebrated first book, Homegoing. To me, this feels more personal and sustained. Gifty, a Ghanian immigrant, is nearing the end of her training as a neuroscientist at Stanford, studying addiction in mice. Her brother died of a drug overdose and her depressed mother is staying with her in a small apartment close to campus, sleeping much of the time. This is a deeply reflective rumination of faith, science, love, mental health, and family.

“The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears. We spend decades, centuries, millennia, trying to answer that one question so that another dim light will come on. That’s science, but that’s also everything else, isn’t it? Try. Experiment. Ask a ton of questions.”

2. Hamnet. Maggie O’Farrell

In this imaginative and beautifully written novel, Shakespeare remains a shadowy figure. It feels right: she centers the heart of the novel around Shakespeare’s wife Agnes, a healer and herbalist. Their young son, Hamnet (essentially interchangeable with the name Hamlet at the time) dies of the plague and O’Farrell tremendously explores grief, marriage, and creation after the death of a child.

“She, like all mothers, constantly casts out her thoughts, like fishing lines, towards her children, reminding herself of where they are, what they are doing, how they fare. From habit, while she sits there near the fireplace, some part of her mind is tabulating them and their whereabouts: Judith, upstairs. Susanna, next door. And Hamnet? Her unconscious mind casts, again and again, puzzled by the lack of bite, by the answer she keeps giving it: he is dead, he is gone. And Hamnet? The mind will ask again. At school, at play, out at the river? And Hamnet? And Hamnet? Where is he? Here, she tries to tell herself. Cold and lifeless, on this board, right in front of you. Look, here, see. And Hamnet?”

3. Novels of Jane Austen

Comfort reading at its finest. When I wasn’t working to keep the bookstore going in the chaotic months of March, April, and May, I walked a lot and listened to the six perfect novels of Jane Austen in order of when they were written, starting with Sense and Sensibility and ending with Persuasion. I reread Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice relatively often but I was happily surprised how often Northanger Abbey made me laugh out loud this time. Alas, poor Fanny of Mansfield Park is still my least favorite.

4. One Long River of Song. Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle’s posthumous nonfiction collection, One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, is easily my favorite book of 2020. My copy at this point is dog-eared, beloved, and underlined. I have been unexpectedly delighted by the two-way-street of book recommendations in a bookstore. I recommend books all day, but I am equally beyond grateful for the books and writers my customers have recommended to me.

“All you can do is face the world with quiet grace and hope you make a sliver of difference. Humility does not mean self-abnegation, lassitude, detachment; it’s more a calm recognition that you must trust in that which does not make sense, that which is unreasonable, illogical, silly, ridiculous, crazy by the measure of most of our culture. You must trust that you being the best possible you matters somehow. That trying to be an honest and tender parent will echo for centuries through your tribe. That doing your chosen work with creativity and diligence will shiver people far beyond your ken. That being an attentive and generous friend and citizen will prevent a thread or two of the social fabric from unraveling. And you must do all of this with the certain knowledge that you will never get proper credit for it, and in fact the vast majority of things you do right will go utterly unremarked.”

5. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Caroline Fraser

This absorbing biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder has been on my to read shelf for years now. I am so glad I finally read it! Fraser’s research is impressive – she delves into the American West , the life of LIW, and the manuscripts of the Little House books in a way that paints a vivid, readable portrait of the time and LIW herself. Late nineteenth century America is every bit as complicated as our current era! I came away with an even deeper appreciation of the Little House books.

6. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Isabel Wilkerson

If I could insist that everyone in the United States read one book right now, this is it. The New York Times called Caste “an instant American classic” and it’s true. I am blown away by Wilkerson’s ability to write as a historian, a sociologist, a critic, and as a personal essayist. She’s a magnificent writer and this is the best book I have ever read on race in America.

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.”

2018 Favorite Books

2018 favorites.png

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza follows Layla and Rafiq as they immigrate from India and make a life in America. They raise their children Hadia, Huda and Amar with all the opportunities that America affords while instilling in them a reverence for their Muslim faith. Mirza writes the relationships between the siblings so beautifully and memorably. This is a first novel by a young writer: I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sing, Unburied, Sing. Jesmyn Ward. I read this twice this year, once for myself and once for the store book club. I loved it both times. A powerful multi-generational family story set in the American South. It’s part road trip novel, part ghost story.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Gail Honeyman. I was skeptical about this book (Reese Witherspoon Book Club?) but I took it on vacation with me in June and loved the character of Eleanor. Deeply weird in just the right way, this is our top pick at the store when readers want a happy but not dumb novel.

Educated by Tara Westover is a gripping, beautifully told account of growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist Mormon family. Westover is thoughtful and has done the work. I loved her rumination on what it means to be “educated”. A truly unforgettable memoir.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany. Jane Mount. I met Jane when we lived in New York – she painted a custom Ideal Bookshelf for me. Fast forward ten years and Browsers is in her newest book! She painted the store and I wrote a little paragraph on Middlemarch. Jane came to the store in September and it was just the best.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Anne Bogel. I have read and collected books about books my entire adult life and how thrilling it is to have a personal connection to this slim, perfect book of readerly essays by podcaster and blogger Anne Bogle. She also came to the store in early October – a dream come true!

If I had a penny for every time I said I wanted to write on my blog more, I would have at least dollar by now. But truly, I am more thoughtful when I *do* write here. The pace of the store has doubled in the last year but I am finding how necessary it is for me to remain rooted in certain practices at home. Reading, puttering, cooking, and yes, writing a little.

Day 5: Weekends


Oof. So there goes my string of daily participation in the 100 Day Project. I think I will just number these until #100 – even if it’s not quite a daily thing. Weekends are hard. I have so many expectations – I am going to do it all! – but there’s still a lot going on. And sometimes, reading a book for an hour is just a better choice all around.

The whole weekend was a bit of a blur – the electrician is making progress at the store and I spent a lot of time down at the shop deciding on pendant lengths and other practical lighting choices. Cate had her first soccer game and she did great. I think she’s decided defense is her thing and she’s motivated. Telfer and I had three other couples from the girls’ school – all parents we like so much – over for a dinner party on Saturday night. No kids! It was such a highlight – good food, good wine, good conversation. These are all people we have wanted to get to know more. After everyone left, Telfer and I were chatting and doing the dishes while George lurked by the stairs, watching us intently. He was basically asking, “can I sleep with you guys?” Yes, George, you can.

Spring Break is over and it’s back to school for the girls. We’ve had a smooth transition. Telfer has been in meetings tonight but the girls and I had such a sweet afternoon leading into dinner and bedtime. They played while I did all my March accounting and then after dinner, we read a bit of our current read-aloud: James and the Giant Peach. A good day.

Day 4: End of the Week

painted plate
It’s already the Friday of Spring Break. I went to the girls’ performance of Snew White at 3:15 and afterwards, I had surprise reservations at our local pottery-painting place. They love painting – Cate painted an arrow wall plaque and Jane painted a round box that will indubitably be full of “treasure.” I am so not up for painting anything but I am such a good chatter and general helper – I hold box lids and consult on color choice. Daddy made a surprise appearance and all is well.

The performance was so fun. This was a fractured fairy tale so as you can tell by the title, Snew White had some…tweaks. Cate was a dwarf – “Cleany”, complete with a beard and broom. Jane was the Evil Queen’s servant. Cate was really funny and into her role – she talked about her props and costumes all week and did such a great job. Jane was the youngest performer and had a lot of lines and played it so straight to who she is. I loved seeing them experience something totally different this week.

Telfer picked up the DVD of The Last Jedi tonight and the three of them are cozily watching it together in our den. I can hear all the dramatic bits all the way upstairs in my office. Telfer just brought me a glass of wine and I am contemplating what book to start. A lovely end to the week.