Finally Writing About Books.

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My goodness it seems like forever since I’ve written a book post. I’ve been reading lots of books. Especially during the worst days of my winter malaise. Ha. But I’ve just not seemed to get round to writing about books.

Just before Christmas I finally read Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale. For someone who loves Margaret Atwood as much as I do, it’s scandalous that I’d never read it. My excuse was always that I don’t really like speculative fiction. I taught Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for many years and, as a teacher I loved the ideas and discussion that emanated from teaching that classic sci fi book to teenagers. My colleagues will chortle when they read that because I argued vociferously against our adopting it as the novel for our grade elevens. But as a reader, I hated Brave New World, resentfully slogging my way through it the summer before I had to teach it.

And yet, I adored Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Absolutely could not put it down. I read it when, as grade twelve teachers, we were researching current Canadian fiction that teenagers might like to read for their independent novel study. Teenagers love sci fi and speculative fiction as a rule. So I sighed and sacrificed most of my Christmas vacation that year to “duty reading.” Oh. My. I read Oryx and Crake in a couple of days, mostly while pedalling my exercise bike. In fact Hubby came downstairs on the second day when I disappeared with the book under my arm, ostensibly to work out, and told me that I’d better hurry up and finish the darned book before I passed out. He may have used a bit more colourful language than that.

So I ask you, when the only speculative fiction book I’ve ever loved as a reader was written by Margaret Atwood, why oh why did I not read The Handmaid’s Tale?

Writing about books. What's on my bookshelves.
I love Canadian literature.

Anyway, as I said, I did finally read it. And I was blown away. And just like with Oryx and Crake, I couldn’t put it down. What a wonderful book. What an important book. And what a dunce I’d been for not reading it sooner. It’s nothing like the science fiction I loath. It’s extremely readable, entirely plausible, the characters real, and the setting all too familiar, in an alternative universe kind of way.

And the good thing about waiting is that I read the version which includes an introduction by Atwood herself. An introduction written in light of the passage of time since the book’s 1985 publication, and in light of the recent popular television show based on the book. She places the writing of the book in the context of history: 1984, when she lived in Berlin, when the Berlin Wall was very much a symbol of the time, and “the Soviet empire was still strongly in place and was not to crumble for another five years.” She places the ideas in the book in the context of our own time, when, as she says, “basic civil liberties are seen as endangered, along with many of the rights for women won over the past decades and indeed the past centuries.”

So, yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale was a book for its time. But it’s also very much a book for our time, too. If you haven’t read it, you should. And if you read it when it came out, Atwood’s introduction alone makes the book worth reading again. I confess that I still haven’t read The Testaments, though. Why have I not read this book yet? I know, I know. Here we go again.

Writing about books. What's on my bookshelves.
I read mostly women writers.

Another book that I’ve read recently that had me pinned to the sofa, or hurrying out to the kitchen to put on the kettle for a second pot of tea, is Elizabeth Strout’s follow up to her much beloved Olive Kitterage. I adored Olive Again, as I adored the first one. I just adore Olive, I guess. Lumbering, crusty, cantankerous, unpopular Olive. Tactless, but with an uncanny ability to get to the heart of things. And who, despite her many failings, we admire for her honesty and her compassion and her ability to get back up when life deals her a knock-out blow.

Strout’s novel, like her other books, is a series of linked stories which move forward jerkily. Sometimes months have passed between stories, sometimes years. And like her other books, Olive Again deals with small town life, with death, pain, humiliation, aging, and above all with resilience. Mostly Olive’s resilience, but also the resilience she inspires in others. I highly recommend it. But don’t take my word for it. Have a look at Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s review in the Guardian. Lucy is clearly a fellow Olive fan.

Writing about books. What's on my bookshelves.
I’m not a big fan of non-fiction unless it’s about the Mitfords or about fashion.

I’ve also been reading quite a few murder mysteries this winter. I can’t seem to read two serious books back to back anymore. Not that murder isn’t serious. But murder mysteries are my solution for many of life’s problems. A good mystery and a nice cup of tea.

I recently read A Double Life by Flynn Berry, a writer who was new to me. Frances of Materfamilias Writes listed this book on an IG post about what she was reading, so I gave it a try. Both Hubby and I read it. It’s the story of a father’s disappearance, “The first lord accused of murder in more than a century”, and a grown daughter’s obsession with finding him after more then twenty years.

The plot moves back and forth in time: to Claire’s childhood, memories of her father and mother and her father’s disappearance, further back to her parent’s courtship and marriage, and forward to the present and Claire’s attempts to infiltrate the lives of her father’s upper class friends, and maybe track him down. Finally. I found myself totally transfixed by Claire, her musings about her past, and her attempts to play detective. Hubby found the plot dragged a bit for him at the beginning. He’s not a “musings” kind of guy. But he was drawn in eventually, and says he really enjoyed the book. I think it’s safe to say that we both recommend A Double Life.

While I was sneezing and coughing this past couple of months, I’ve been continuing to work my way backwards through the alphabetical titles of Sue Grafton. I mentioned her books in my last updated, but reprised, book post in February. I used to read her Kinsey Millhone books years ago, but stopped for some reason. And when I picked them up again I couldn’t remember where I left off, so I decided to start at the end and work backwards. I’ve finished Y, W, X, V, and U. I think my favourite has been V is for Vengeance which I read in a day. Grafton isn’t as erudite or as clever as P.D. James or Reginald Hill, but she is a good writer. She crafts a decent plot and I like her characters. As I said in my last post, Grafton makes great sick-room reading. Satisfying, but not too challenging.

So that’s what I’ve been reading, folks. I’m in the middle of the latest Peter Grainger mystery On Eden Street. I loved his DC Smith books, and this is his latest installment, after DC has retired. I’m so enjoying it. I love it when you open a book and it feels as if you are visiting with a bunch of people you really like and know well. And there’s a good mystery too. Grainger’s books are only available on Kindle. If you haven’t had the pleasure, the first in the series is An Accidental Death.

Writing about books. What's on my bookshelves.
I love a good murder mystery.

While I’ve been casting about for something to read, I’ve been thinking lately about book shelves. And what our book shelves might say about us. I posed this question in my video this morning on Instagram. All those mystery stories where the detective gazes at the suspect’s or the victim’s bookshelves hoping to glean information about their psyche. What might my book shelves say about me?

I like Canadian writers, especially Maritime writers. So, I guess I’m a bit possessive about the land where I grew up. I love books about the people I know, and the places I love. Plus the whole “survival” theme of Canadian Lit appeals to me. I read mostly women writers. Maybe that’s because I admire smart women, wise women, women who can teach me through their stories how to live a better life. When I find a writer I love, I read him or her over and over. I’m impatient with writers I don’t like, and stick with those that I do. Does that make me unadventurous? Or discerning? I love a good murder. Fictional, of course. Do murder mysteries appeal to the logical, mathematical part of my brain? Or the part that really wants the world to be all tidy and nicely tucked up into bed by nightfall?

And I have a whole shelf of books on fashion, both fiction and nonfiction. But I guess we don’t need Inspector Morse to figure that one out, eh?

What do my book shelves say about me?
Saturday morning video. What do my bookshelves say about me?

Now, the kettle has boiled and it’s time for me to go and finish my Peter Grainger book. And then I may read a new book that’s just come in for me at the library. Or I may settle down with the book I’m supposed to read for my book club. Maybe. I am terrible at reading books for book club lately. I don’t know what happened to me when I retired. Maybe thirty years of teaching English, and reading books that I had to read each summer, has put me off reading anything but exactly what I want, when I want. Maybe, at age almost sixty-four, I’m too old to worry about what I should and should not read.

So, what are you reading these days, my friends? What do you think your reading habits, and your bookshelves, say about you? Care to have a go at psychoanalyzing your shelves? Come on, we’re listening.

P.S. All the links to books in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.

Linking up with Catherine at #ShareAllLinkup.

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45 thoughts on “Finally Writing About Books.”

  1. I love to read and always have a couple of books on the go. I’ve just finished the Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer, which I picked up from my local library’s Valentine’s Day celebration at which books were presented in brown paper wrapping with brief, somewhat cryptic descriptions. It was a mystery with time travel and Medieval art history themes thrown in and mostly set in Siena during the Plague – not my usual genre but enjoyable nevertheless. The parallels with the current Coronavirus scare were unsettling but I loved learning about Medieval life and art. I’m currently half way through Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner, a much lighter read and a peek into Royal adjacent life (Anne was a friend of Princess Margaret and one of the 6 women who held the Queen’s robe at her Coronation). A tour of my bookshelves would reveal that Jane Austen is a favourite author, I have too many cook books, and that I love art, design and architecture.

    1. I don’t read a lot of true stories these days, but I just loved Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner. She is an amazing woman, and gives great insight into society during the period.

    2. Have you read Minette Walters’ historical fiction The Last Hours, about the plague and a woman before her time? Murder is her usual genre, but I loved this one as much as her mysteries. She has a follow-up out now called The Turn of Midnight which I haven’t yet read.

  2. Wendy in York

    Like you I’m very nosey when it comes to people’s bookshelves . I do like non fiction though & I’ve been in a social history mood lately . I bought a book for hubby called ‘ DDay Minute by Minute ‘ by Jonathon Mayo & , after reading the first few pages on the bus home , couldn’t put it down . It isn’t about strategies or battle . It’s all about people both military & civilian . Think the film ‘The Longest Day ‘ but totally factual . Really good – even my sisters enjoyed it & they never read history books . At the moment I’m further back in history with ‘ How to Be A Victorian ‘ by Ruth Goodman which details daily life for ordinary Victorians . Not a stuffy book , it’s full of fascinating information that most history books don’t touch on . At the same time I’m on my third Peter Grainger & I’m so pleased you recommended them . I can’t do book clubs . I’d be far too bossy & insist on everyone reading my choice of book . Thanks for the glimpse of your bookshelves – lots to check out there .
    PS Like Maria above I enjoyed Lady In Waiting but could have shaken her sometimes !

  3. Your final bit was the part that resonated with me – I am too old to read anything other than that which I truly desire. Am clamouring for the final part of the Wolf Hall trilogy, just published and the next in the Rivers of London but apart from that, I am in a non-fiction phase. I found so many on the shelves as I sorted them out recently that the bedside pile is growing. Two reasons, I believe: firstly, I spent my youth reading a lot of fiction and I seem to have lost the urge now (apart from old pals) and, secondly, there are so many things I want to learn about still – histories to read, biographies, nature, philosophies…fortunately, the list genuinely is endless. When I was at university I read a great deal of Margaret Atwood and then – nothing. I haven’t picked her up since, not sure why. As for sci-fi, I used to hoover it up but not so much now and I am very specific in that genre. The City and The City by China Mieville gripped me but another of his books, not so much…a bit too abstract. My major point is this: should will never be the jumping-off point for me. I will read only what I find interesting.

  4. Love Atwood’s work, especially some of her shorter very pointed stories. I had read HT years ago and reread it recently.. more terrifying the second time around.

  5. Cosette Pathak

    I just finished Olive Again, and absolutely loved it. Once again our reading choices seem to be in sync. I also just listened to Tom Hanks narrate The Dutch House. I very much enjoyed it, and recommend it as an audio book.
    I too find it so difficult to get into Book Club choices, usually because my book club favours non fiction books, mostly written by men. These selections are just not my “cup of tea”. However, I have no such excuses not to start this month’s read. I gifted The Island of Sea Women to a friend for her birthday, and she chose it for her book club selection, so it is not about the book, but about me. As a student, and I did manage to achieve a Masters degree from OISE, I was always frantically reading at the last minute to finish whatever was assigned. I too just don’t like having to adhere to someone else’s schedule.
    I do though, love to read your blog. Perfect in the morning sunshine.

    1. Ah, thanks, Cosette. I am really bad at following anyone else’s schedule but my own now. That can’t be just a retired teacher thing because many of my book club buddies were teachers too. Maybe they are better at being dutiful than I am. Ha.

  6. Like Annie, I seem to be in a non-fiction mood. In fact, nine out of ten books I brought back from the UK in January were non-fiction, including one you may or may not have read: The Mitford Girls by Mary Lovell. Only a couple of chapters in so far but enjoying it. Also on the read is Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End. As for fiction, I am awaiting the arrival any day now of Hilary Mantel’s book The Mirror and the Light from UK (I like the UK cover better and it was actually less expensive that buying in US. Go figure.). And I just received the Slightly Foxed Spring Quarterly–want to savour that one. No lack of reading material here.

    1. I read the Mitford Girls a while ago. I love anything Mitford, but that was a good one. Still waiting with anticipation for my own Slightly Foxed spring issue. My very first!

  7. I love your book posts almost as much as your fashion posts! As I await my turn for Olive Again, I want to thank you for turning me on to Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series. Unique and delicious. I was sad to finish the last book in the series but am about to put my hand on the first Peter Lovesey book as I await Ruth’s next adventure. Thanks for the happy hours spent in the company of satisfying characters!

  8. Finally! I’ve had to check my last comment to see what I’ve read than-yes,it was Margaret Atwood’s Testament,I’ve started this year with it.I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale before the Berlin Wall went down and it was really huge for me (both,the book and the wall later :-))-so,huge that I haven’t watch the series yet.Maybe now,after The Testament….
    I’m not in a book club ,first because we didn’t have books clubs before and second-well, I want to read what and when I’m in the mood for.
    So,I’ve finished Flynn Berry’s A Double Life (your and Frances’ find),and immediately after, her Under The Harrow.I’ve find a new mystery writer,too-Cara Hunter -Close To Home. Sometimes,I’m afraid to read a book that atarts well and than it ends in ….blah. Not here
    I’ve read Jeannine Cummins’American Dirt-nobody’s commenting here-ok,controversial-ok…..
    Dion Leonard’s Finding Gobi is such a lovely book,positive,restores back faith in humanity….
    I loved Ann Pachet’s The Dutch House
    I’m reading Donna Leon’s new book,Trace Elements now-it is like : let’s visit Guido,Paola and signorina Elettra,to see what’s new in Venice. I like them and the books are cosy,although always about negative aspects of italian society
    Olive is on the list,and the list……
    Dottoressa

    1. I can imagine that Handmaid’s Tale, and the Berlin Wall, were both more huge for you than me. I have yet to read the first Flynn Berry book. Did you like it? I hope she isn’t a one hit wonder. 🙂 I read differing opinions on American Dirt. One saying that it was simply not a good book, nothing to do with the controversy. I’d be interested to hear your opinion. I tend to be negatively affected by Oprah’s endorsement of books. Probably just my stubbornness. Cara Hunter is a new one for me… I will look her up. Thanks.

  9. Thank you for another book post. I will try your recommendations. In my 60’s now I am less inclined to read intellectual or heavy material, but continually search out murder mystery and even light romantic comedy, but there are very few in the latter category that I enjoy – Sophie Kinsella being one.

    Have you read the silent patient by alex michaelides? Debut novel, and he very much reminds me of the great departed english writers like reginald hill and colin dexter. He is a screenwriter, and I just hope he keeps writing novels.

    1. I have to ration the intellectual books I read or I get too cranky. 🙂 I haven’t read Silent Patient… but comparing Michaelides to Hill and Dexter has me interested!

  10. I’m thrilled that you’ve circled back to books, although I love reading all of your posts. I read Olive Again recently and also loved it. I’ve just started reading Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments… for my book club. I’m hosting next month so searching for a good choice, as I want it to be something that will prompt a lot of interesting discussion. I’m eager to take a look at many of the books mentioned above. Thanks for this timely post!

    1. Happy you liked Olive Again. I know that some people didn’t like it as well as Olive Kitterage, but I did.
      P.S. Good luck with hosting book club. I dread doing that later this spring.

  11. Wonderful to see a book post! As usual, I will be jotting down ideas from you and from your commenters for future reading material.

    As for bookshelves, I have been casting a critical eye over mine lately and wondering how to go about culling it. I have a lifelong love of reading, as evidenced by the overflowing state of my collection, but there’s a relatively small percentage of my personal library that I reread on a regular basis. So there are a lot of books there that I’m really just storing or feeling nostalgic about … Not sure that these are the best criteria for keeping them.

    A subject for a whole new blog post, but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this someday …

    1. Ah.. culling was a big thing I did when Hubby was ill in the first few months after I retired. I couldn’t make him well, but I could darned well get my shelves organized. 🙂

  12. I have pretty catholic tastes, I read everything and anything-except science fiction and most modern crime fiction, not being a fan of gore. I enjoy lighthearted “womens ” fiction, or more serious stuff, and I enjoy reading biographies. I know I can’t live without books, we have shelves in every room, literally, except the bathroom !
    I have just finished reading “Loitering with Intent ” by Muriel Sparks. It reminded me of the kind of books I read in my twenties. Being English it was all Iris Murdoch, Margaret Drabble and the like. I still revisit those old friends from time to time .
    Really enjoyed this post !

    1. I love “women’s fiction” as well, but it has to be well written. I too adore Margaret Drabble et al. Radiant Way is required reading for anyone turning fifty, IMO.

  13. I read Testaments a few months ago. It didn’t grab me the way Handmaid’s Tale did. Maybe I’ll re-read the latter, because it was a long time ago. I did read Unraveling Oliver, at your recommendation, and WOW. That was terrific. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it … unraveled.
    I have so many books on my shelf to get to. I keep saying I’m not getting anything new till I’ve read those, but then someone recommends something…

  14. I’ve really got to update my own blog ‘s reading posts, so better not carried away commenting here. But then, how to resist, in this good company of readers! 😉
    Just finished Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, and I’m going to turn to Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Liars next, and I’ve just got the library notice that my hold on an earlier Jesmyn Ward title is impatiently waiting for my at our local branch, and since we’ve got tickets to hear her speak later this month, I’d better get reading. . . (that’s the kind of “should” I don’t mind at all, self-assigned). Also on my TBR list, but based on books I’ve read by the same authors in the last while are books by Elif Shafak (wonderful Turkish-British writer), Siri Huvstedt, and Ali Smith (I bought Spring, in hardcover yet, two months ago, but the library holds have been coming at me far too efficiently lately — what a problem!)
    Oh, and one more before I go — last year’s Booker-winner, Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo is well worth reading, entertaining and thought-provoking.

  15. Thank you for a great book post! Loved Olive Kittredge & I have Olive Again in my Amazon cart! May I suggest The Library Book by Susan Orlean. She wrote the Orchid Thief. She interweaves a memoir of her life in books, a whodunnit, the history of Los Angeles & it’s library and reminds readers of the spirit and mission of the libraries.
    Loved it and plan on touring a few libraries when I travel.

  16. I would love to hear about your book club sometime. My friends and I always read, but different genres so it didn’t promote much discussion. Now that I’m forced to read outside my comfort zone, I have read many books I would have never given a second glance. (Kite Runner, Station Eleven, State of Wonder) I’m a retired teacher in California and jealous of all your snow. Thanks again

  17. Suzette Fernandez

    Regarding overflowing bookshelves: It isn’t hoarding of it’s books! It shows we love to read and are not apologetic about our love of reading.

  18. Hi just catching up on your posts. Seeing your books on your bookshelf I see many of my favorite writers and books that I’ve read. My husband just finished The Testament in a week. This is a man you will maybe read one book a year. He loved it and couldn’t put it down. So maybe you and I should put it on our list to read. I very much enjoy your blog thanks so much for going to so much work and sharing your life with us your readers.

  19. In these miserable times,with our complete failure of a president,I’ve started re-reading Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series.Hoping to be in a better place before I finish all 29!

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