Hey, look, it’s another booklist (and, later on, some musings about Book Riot’s 2022 Read Harder Challenge)!
Instead of doing my usual charade of writing up a list of specific titles I’d like to read this upcoming year – just for me to ignore it in favor of whatever books catch my eye in the library or bookstore – I’ve decided to come up with a list of topics I want to read more about, and list some titles I’ve found that I might read towards that goal. Sort of like a mini syllabus?
So, without further ado:
It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve stepped back into Medieval England, and that’s saying something, coming from someone who practically minored in the subject back in undergrad. I’ve found myself missing it – after checking my Goodreads, it’s apparently been TWO years since I’ve last read something specific to Medieval Britain (Josephine Wilkinson’s The Princes in the Tower, to be specific). TWO YEARS! So, of course, I’ve been curating a list of books at my local library that take place in Medieval England (and definitely have some at home I’m looking to reread, too):
Timeline / Michael Crichton
This is actually one of my favorite books of all time; I’ve reread it a number of times since I first picked it up in 2010 (according to Goodreads, I read it again in 2012, 2013, and 2016), putting it on that small list of titles I’ve consistently reread in the past ten years. (Unfortunately, the movie was pretty terrible – I wouldn’t recommend it)
The Last Duel / Eric Jager
Agincourt / Bernard Cornwell
Matrix / Lauren Groff
Here Be Dragons / Sharon Kay Penman
Confessions of the Fox / Jordy Rosenberg
The Weight of Ink / Rachel Kadish
The Orchard / David Hopen
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space / Amanda Leduc
Disability Visibility: Twenty-First Century Disabled Voices / Anthology
Book Riot also released their 2022 ‘Read Harder’ Challenge prompts the other day, so of course I had to take a gander. The whole point of their tasks is to get readers to pick up titles and/or authors they otherwise might not have; I’ve never participated in one of their yearly challenges, but there are some interesting challenges on their list that I think I might try out.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself and claim that I’ll read something for every single task on the list – that, I think, would be getting ahead of myself, and far too ambitious. But there are absolutely some tasks on there I really do want to read towards. For example, ‘read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes’, ‘read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character’, ‘read an anthology featuring diverse voices’ (I’ve already got one title that would work for this one listed above). ‘Read a history about a period you know little about’ is one that I want to do, but I’m not sure which period I’ll choose…
I’ll start with a disclaimer: I really don’t read super long books all that often. I have read a few with 600+ page counts – of course there’s she-who-must-not-be-named’s The Deathly Hallows, and then Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (one of my favorite books to reread), as well as Harriette Simpson Arnow’s The Dollmaker, which I read in a course I took for my English degree. But when we get into the 700+ territory, I believe there’s only a handful I’ve read – and the three on this list were not only the first to come to mind, but are also three of my favorites. And so, without further ado:
The Passage // Justin Cronin
IT HAPPENED FAST. THIRTY-TWO MINUTES FOR ONE WORLD TO DIE, ANOTHER TO BE BORN.
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse. As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. Wolgast is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors, but for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—toward the time an place where she must finish what should never have begun.”
Starting with the title I’ve read most recently, Justin Cronin’s ThePassage clocks in with a total of 766 pages (at least, my hardcover copy does. I can’t speak for other editions, of course). I got my copy from a friend at work for Christmas (thanks Tony!), a couple months before the Covid-19 pandemic really began here in America, so I definitely ended up with the time to read it. It’s the first sci-fi book I’ve read in a good long while, and it reminded me a lot of Michael Crichton’s work (granted, I haven’t read anything of Crichton’s since probably 2009, aside from Timeline, which I reread every three years or so; but the summer after eighth grade I discovered the author and then devoured nearly every book he’d ever written, for some reason).
The Passage isn’t a book about vampires, but at the same time, it’s a book with vampires – just, not the ones that typically come to mind. My favorite part, though, was the fact that 1/3 of the book takes place in one century; the other 2/3 are set after a time jump of nearly 100 years. You’re given the chance to see the lead-up to the end of the world as we knew it, and then move on to a completely new setting and cast of characters, dealing with the fallout of the first third of the novel. The abrupt change was jarring at first, but where I’d thought the first group of characters was great, the second cast was even better. And where the first 1/3 had been interesting, the last two parts were even more riveting. All three novels on this list are worth a reread, in my opinion, but this is the one I see myself most likely to reread first.
“The Mists of Avalon is a generations-spanning retelling of the Arthurian legend that brings it back to its Brythonic Celtic roots. The plot tells the story of the women who influence King Arthur, High King of Britain, and those around him.
The Mists of Avalon is a 1983 historical fantasy novel by American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which the author relates the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the female characters. The book follows the trajectory of Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), a priestess fighting to save her Celtic religion in a country where Christianity threatens to destroy the pagan way of life. The epic is focused on the lives of Morgaine, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), Viviane, Morgause, Igraine and other women of the Arthurian legend. The Mists of Avalon is in stark contrast to most other retellings of the Arthurian tales, which consistently cast Morgan le Fay as a distant, one-dimensional evil sorceress, with little or no explanation given for her antagonism to the Round Table. In this case, Morgaine is presented as a woman with unique gifts and responsibilities at a time of enormous political and spiritual upheaval who is called upon to defend her indigenous heritage against impossible odds.“
This was a book that had been on my TBR for at least two or three years before I finally picked it up, though I suppose that’s not all too long, considering. My British Studies minor advisor had listed it as one of his favorite novels, and I’d dutifully made a note of the title, purchased a copy, and then promptly forgot about it until halfway through 2016. Despite it’s hefty page count (884 pages!) I somehow managed to read the book in it’s entirety during the first two weeks of my senior year of undergrad – if only I still had that same sort of fervor today! I can’t even imagine what I’d get done.
But back to the book. Like the synopsis says, not only is this an amazing retelling of the Arthurian legends, from the POV of the female characters who’d long been overlooked, it’s also a retelling (or redesign, perhaps, would be the better word) of Morgaine’s character, and her story, within the larger Arthurian legends. She goes from the shallow villain she’d so oft been portrayed as to a much more complex, interesting protagonist; similarly, many of the other familiar names from the legends undergo such positive transformations (aside from the fact that Bradley decided to give Merlin the name ‘Kevin’, of all things, a detail which I’d rather forget).
The Sunne in Splendour // Sharon Kay Penman
“A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III – a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history. In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III – vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower – from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling. Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning. This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.”
Last, but certainly not least, we have Sharon Kay Penman’s debut novel, and a work of historical fiction –The Sunne in Splendour. A debut novel that just so happened to fill 1,248 pages. OVER A THOUSAND! Not to mention the fact the author had to completely rewrite her manuscript and start from scratch when her only copy was stolen (as it was the 1980s, and so of course it would’ve been more difficult to back-up drafts).
I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to read any another fictionalized work of Richard III’s life, because The Sunne in Splendour simply set the bar so high. Richard III is one of my ‘historical faves’, and someone I’ve studied and read about for years; reading this portrayal of him was so interesting, and a refreshing look at how the king may have been seen and remembered, had the history of the Wars of the Roses not been written by the victors (as history nearly always is). In addition, Penman’s work was clearly so meticulously researched, something I (as an avid medievalist and Wars of the Roses enthusiast) greatly appreciated – other novels I’ve read on the time period and the historical figures it contained can’t even hold a candle to how well-written Penman’s book is. I was so sorry to see that she’d passed away from pneumonia early this year, in January 2021. I’ve still got plenty of her other books on my TBR, and a few already on my personal bookshelves – I already know I’m going to enjoy them.
Just a quick booklist of some newly released nonfiction titles I’ve found in the stacks at my local library that I’ve since added to my TBR.
True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina / Cathy Pickens
Goodreads Summary: “Eastern North Carolina is a land of contrasts, and its crime stories bear this out. A lovelorn war hero or a stalker? Conniving wife or consummate homemaker? Murder or suicide? The answers can be as puzzling as the questions. Mystery author Cathy Pickens details an assortment of quirky cases, including a duo of poisoning cases more than one hundred years apart, a band of folk hero swamp outlaws, sex swingers and a couple of mummies. Each story has, in its way, helped define Eastern North Carolina and its history.”
Highway of Tears : A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls / Jessica McDiarmid
Goodreads Summary: ” A searing account of the missing, and murdered, Indigenous women of Highway 16, and an indictment of the society that failed them. For decades, Indigenous women have gone missing, or been found murdered, along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The highway is known as the ‘Highway of Tears’, and it has come to symbolize a national crisis. Journalist, Jessica McDiarmid, investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on the families of the victims and their communities, and how systemic racism and indifference have created a climate where Indigenous women are over-policed, yet under-protected. Through interviews with those closest to the victims–mothers and fathers, siblings and friends–McDiarmid offers an intimate, first-hand account of their loss and relentless fight for justice. Examining the historically fraught social and cultural tensions between settlers and Indigenous peoples in the region, McDiarmid links these cases to others across Canada–now estimated to number up to 4,000–contextualizing them within a broader examination of the undervaluing of Indigenous lives in this country. Highway of Tears is a powerful story about our ongoing failure to provide justice for missing, and murdered, Indigenous women, and a testament to their families and communities’ unwavering determination to find it.”
Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society / Judy Christie, Lisa Wingate
Goodreads Summary: “From the 1920s to 1950, Georgia Tann ran a black-market baby business at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. She offered up more than 5,000 orphans tailored to the wish lists of eager parents–hiding the fact that many weren’t orphans at all, but stolen sons and daughters of poor families, desperate single mothers, and women told in maternity wards that their babies had died. The publication of Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours brought new awareness of Tann’s lucrative career in child trafficking. Adoptees who knew little about their pasts gained insight into the startling facts behind their family histories. Encouraged by their contact with Wingate and award-winning journalist Judy Christie, who documented the stories of fifteen adoptees in this book, many determined Tann survivors set out to trace their roots and find their birth families. Before and After includes moving and sometimes shocking accounts of the ways in which adoptees were separated from their first families. Often raised as only children, many have joyfully reunited with siblings in the final decades of their lives. In Before and After, Wingate and Christie tell of first meetings that are all the sweeter and more intense for time missed and of families from very different social backgrounds reaching out to embrace better-late-than-never brothers, sisters, and cousins. In a poignant culmination of art meeting life, long-silent victims of the tragically corrupt system return to Memphis with Wingate and Christie to reclaim their stories at a Tennessee Children’s Home Society reunion . . . with extraordinary results.”
Other (Mostly On Mental Health)
Hoarders / Kate Durbin
Goodreads Summary: “In Hoarders, Durbin deftly traces the associations between hoarding and collective US traumas rooted in consumerism and the environment. Each poem is a prismatic portrait of a person and the beloved objects they hoard, from Barbies to snow globes to vintage Las Vegas memorabilia to rotting fruit to plants. Using reality television as a medium, Durbin conjures an uncanny space of attachments that reflects a cultural moment back to the reader in ways that are surreal and tender. In the absurdist tradition of Kafka and Beckett, Hoarders ultimately embraces with sympathy the difficulty and complexity of the human condition.”
Disfigured: On Fairy-tales, Disability, and Making Space / Amanda Leduc
Goodreads Summary: “In fairy tales, happy endings are the norm—as long as you’re beautiful and walk on two legs. After all, the ogre never gets the princess. And since fairy tales are the foundational myths of our culture, how can a girl with a disability ever think she’ll have a happy ending? By examining the ways that fairy tales have shaped our expectations of disability, Disfigured will point the way toward a new world where disability is no longer a punishment or impediment but operates, instead, as a way of centering a protagonist and helping them to cement their own place in a story, and from there, the world. Through the book, Leduc ruminates on the connections we make between fairy tale archetypes—the beautiful princess, the glass slipper, the maiden with long hair lost in the tower—and tries to make sense of them through a twenty-first-century disablist lens. From examinations of disability in tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen through to modern interpretations ranging from Disney to Angela Carter, and the fight for disabled representation in today’s media, Leduc connects the fight for disability justice to the growth of modern, magical stories, and argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is other—helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies.”
You Will Get Through This Night / Dan Howell
Goodreads Summary: “A practical guide to taking control of your mental health for today, tomorrow, and the days after, from the Sunday Times bestselling author and beloved entertainer. ‘There’s a moment at the end of every day, where the world falls away and you are left alone with your thoughts. A reckoning, when the things you have been pushing to the background, come forward and demand your attention.’ Written by Daniel Howell, in conjunction with a qualified psychologist, in an entertaining and personal way from the perspective of someone who has been through it all – this no-nonsense book gives you the tools to understand your mind so you can be in control and really live.”
We’re Not Broken : Changing the Autism Conversation / Eric Garcia
Goodreads Summary: “With a reporter’s eye and an insider’s perspective, Eric Garcia shows what it’s like to be autistic across America. Garcia began writing about autism because he was frustrated by the media’s coverage of it; the myths that the disorder is caused by vaccines, the narrow portrayals of autistic people as white men working in Silicon Valley. His own life as an autistic person didn’t look anything like that. He is Latino, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and works as a journalist covering politics in Washington D.C. Garcia realized he needed to put into writing what so many autistic people have been saying for years; autism is a part of their identity, they don’t need to be fixed. In We’re Not Broken, Garcia uses his own life as a springboard to discuss the social and policy gaps that exist in supporting those on the spectrum. From education to healthcare, he explores how autistic people wrestle with systems that were not built with them in mind. At the same time, he shares the experiences of all types of autistic people, from those with higher support needs, to autistic people of color, to those in the LGBTQ community. In doing so, Garcia gives his community a platform to articulate their own needs, rather than having others speak for them, which has been the standard for far too long.'”
This past August, I was lucky enough to get to work a handful of shifts at my local library’s annual autumn book sale. I’ve frequented the sale for many years, but this was my first time there as a librarian (rather than a patron), and my first time behind one of the registers! It was pretty fun, and I was surprised at how many people I saw there that I knew from outside of work. When I wasn’t helping set up in the morning, or cashing out purchases, though, I was able to take some time to browse the selection – I ended up coming in on one of my days off, just so I could take an hour for myself to see what titles were still available. Contrary to popular belief, the book sale isn’t filled with discarded library books (though there are a few of those for sale), but by donations from the community and patrons. Most of the books you can buy are still in new condition; others are more well-loved, but the majority appear as if they’ve been read only once before, if at all. So with the quality so good, and the prices so cheap, it’s definitely first come, first serve – a lot of the newer, more popular and in-demand books were gone the first hour of the first day the sale was open to the public. Nonetheless, I managed to snag some great reads for my personal collection at home. Most of them pertain in some way to British history or literature, one of my favorite subjects (as you’d expect to hear from someone who minored in British Studies!).
The Quick / Lauren Owen
Ripper / Stefan Petrucha
The Angel’s Game / Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Dracula Dossier: A Novel of Suspense / James Reese
London / Edward Rutherford
Macbeth / Jo Nesbo
Gone Girl / Gillian Flynn
Myst: The Book of D’ni / David Wingrove, Rand Miller
Myst: The Book of Ti’ana / David Wingrove, Rand Miller, Robyn Miller
The Library Book / Susan Orlean
Eleanor of Aquitaine / Alison Weir
Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography / Marion Meade
Losing Our Heads: Beheadings in Literature and Culture / Regina Janes
Beautiful Death: the Art of the Cemetery / David Robinson
Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-4 / Bryan Burrough
Juvenile / Young Adult Fiction:
Leviathan / Scott Westerfeld
Dear America: Dreams in the Golden Country / Kathryn Lasky
It’s been awhile since I’ve started up a blog with book blogging in mind. Eight years, in fact – that was when I started my own ‘booklr’, as such blogs were (are?) called on Tumblr in 2012 (the same year I started my Goodreads account, in fact). I’d already been on Tumblr for a year by that point, with my small fandom blog that had more than its fair share of Doctor Who gifs, Marvel theories, and cringe-y jokes, but increasingly found that I wanted to start one that specifically focused on books and reading. I was still a year or two out from deciding to become an English major, but I’d made a goal to read 100 books in 2013, posting reviews for each book I read, and connecting with other readers working on reading challenges of their own. I may not have read 100 books that year, but I did end up running that blog for seven years, until 2019, though by that time the focus of the blog had changed quite a bit. It had slowly but steadily morphed from a ‘booklr’ into a ‘studyblr’ – which, you can likely guess, is a tumblr blog centered around studying and everything else academia – and, after my graduation from college, eventually just devolved into a place for me to share aesthetic photos and quotes. But back in 2012, when I clicked ‘publish’ on my first post on that blog, I’d decided to focus on book-blogging because I’d been looking to get back into reading after a three-year reading slump.
The past two years, for me, were also marked by a pretty severe reading drought. For reference, I only read a total of fifteen books last year – a new personal low record, which I’d thought I’d set the year before, when I’d read only 33 – and there were eight months where I didn’t pick up a book at all. Before those two years, from 2013 to 2018, at least, I had been consistently reading at least 45 books a year.
So far, 2021 has been a slow but steady return to more regular reading, the slump finally receding. I finished my fifteenth book of the year yesterday (Sarah Pearce’s Sanatorium) and my new job working as a library assistant has definitely helped me revive my excitement for reading. My shifts are filled with compiling lists of books, shelving returns, pulling holds, and reading bookish articles, so it’d be impossible for me not to find at least one new title to add to my TBR a day. I tend to leave each shift with a new book checked out on my card, and every other shift or so, I’ll bring books to return.
I doubt this blog will be much like that first, where I would post short reviews for every single book I read and re-blogged any book-related gif I laid eyes on. Nowadays, I’m more content compiling book lists, writing up bookish year-in-reviews, and the occasional essay-style post, so that will likely be the sort of content I publish. I’m not expecting much by way of followers and readers here (that’s more of a Tumblr thing in my view anyway), and that’s quite alright by me – I’m more than happy to just have all my writings about my reading all in one place for myself, and that just so happens to be this blog.
So we’ll see, how many more books I manage to read by the end of the year. I already know that, with two and a half months left of the year, I’ll pass last year’s total of fifteen. My goal for this year was twenty-five. Only ten left to go before I reach my goal – we’ll just have to see what those ten will be!