Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

What if your kids spontaneously burst into flames?

HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version of Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland.

It’s the story of Lillian, a 28-year-old woman from rural Tennessee who moves to the home of her wealthy high school friend Madison to take care of Madison’s stepchildren.

The two met at an elite boarding school some years before, to which Lillian had a scholarship and which she thought of as her way out of the sticks. Lillian and Madison, her randomly assigned roommate, became fast friends and played basketball together.

Lillian is everything I love in a protagonist: weird, dark with a tender side, funny, selfish, fallible, and self-aware but not enough to prevent the drama of the novel.

And narrator Marin Ireland’s reading from Lillian’s perspective is *finger kiss* perfect. I loved every minute of her reading and took a couple of extra long bubble baths to listen to more.

Lillian is also poor and Madison is astonishingly wealthy. I always enjoy seeing what rich people get up to through the eyes of characters who have less money. I empathize with that. Can’t think why…

Lillian and Madison’s relationship is weirdly, I don’t know, entangled, or something. And we don’t quite know why at the beginning of the novel. The two are attached. And we very slowly learn that, actually, Lillian took the fall for Madison in high school when she got into some big trouble. In fact, Lillian was actually kicked out of her boarding school because of this incident. And she never quite got her life back on track. But she remained in touch with and attached to Madison anyway.

When Madison asks her a very, very big favor to begin the novel, Lillian surely owes her absolutely nothing, but agrees to help her anyway. And we find out that Madison wants Lillian to care for Madison’s new stepchildren who have this teensy little problem.

They burst into flames when they’re upset.

It’s wild. I thought I would hate it. I have a very low tolerance for magical realism. I am annoyed by fairy tales and I find fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings irritating. And yet. This kids-bursting-into-flames novel is so well done. So believable. That I couldn’t get enough.

It was ridiculous and I loved it.

The resulting character development and sheer fun of the story is worth suspending your disbelief. And Kevin Wilson doesn’t make you work very hard to do it anyway.

He even rewards you with a fairly happy ending. A satisfying one anyway. I won’t give it away. But read this one if you are at all tempted. And let me know how you liked it.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

I had a rough couple of days at work last week. Mostly because I let a certain coworker get in my head too much.

She’s a know-it-all. A bean-counter. Someone who really likes being in control of everything and everyone and asserts her opinion as though it’s fact.

That bothers me. Especially when she tries to do my job when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself.

Utterly irritating.

After a conversation with a sympathetic coworker, my supportive supervisor, and then another with Ben, it became clear that this woman is gaining too much ground in my mental landscape.

I decided to pick up a book that might encourage me to care less about the petty peons that tend to run the world of office work in which I am mired from day to day.

The shirt that most expressed my feelings as of yesterday

So I indulged myself by reading Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do.

It was a fun, quick read. The title is of course a play on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. But Sarah Knight had the luxury of being able to leave a soul-sucking job after tidying her sock drawer and so she wrote a book from that point of view.

The book is largely about setting boundaries. It doesn’t dig too deep. It uses the word “fuck” too much. I’m not offended by it–just annoyed when an author depends on a swear word as a gimmick instead of writing a more readable book with better and more descriptive words.

There are some good witticisms. And I found that Knight is as jaded about the world of work as I am, which was fun and reassuring. Here’s a good quote on the uselessness of meetings that you might enjoy:

But there are meetings you do not have to agree to attend in the first place. For example, say a colleague from another part of the company—the Chicago office, perhaps, if you work in San Diego—is coming to town.

Some executive assistant is “setting up meetings” wherein this colleague wanders around making the same small talk about the weather and delivering vague commentary on the state of the business in half-hour increments with everyone on your floor. There are eight meeting slots, says the executive assistant. Which one do you want?

Answer: None of them. You can just say “None of those times work for me” and continue on with your day. I know, you’re worried you’ll get in trouble, and your desire to stay on your boss’s good side overrides your desire not to take this meeting. But if you’re a competent employee and you know it’s a pointless use of a half hour, your boss knows that too. Decide you don’t give a fuck. Let someone else take one for the team. There are plenty of unenlightened coworkers who will march toward those slots like blindfolded prisoners to a firing squad. It doesn’t have to be you!

Lol. Preach.

Knight also recommends an exercise in which you list all the things you feel like you’re supposed to care about and then decide which you no longer want to give your energy (or “fucks”) to. From large to small, you list the things which annoy you and decide to not give a fuck about them anymore.

That exercise is so useful that I realized I’d actually already done it. So, without further comment on Knight’s book, I present to you:

The Things I No Longer Give a F*ck About Circa 2017

  • Professional football (in fact, most professional sports except baseball. I will always have a soft spot for baseball.)
  • News-hounding
  • The Kardashians
  • Anything Kanye is doing; seriously, stop making these assholes famous
  • Boards and committees (unless I care deeply about your cause, hard pass)
  • Racists
  • Emails from vendors at work
  • Video games that are not Mario related
  • Multi-level Marketing companies (MLMs a.k.a. direct sales)
  • Understanding how toilets work (I can pay someone good money to deal with that); ditto the furnace and air conditioner
  • Calculus
  • Religion (it is a social construct)
  • Mommy bloggers
  • Rap written after 1999
  • That dream you had and want to tell me about
  • Community theater (unless someone I love dearly is in it, in which case you are also going and will pretend to love it and shut up about it, just pre-game like the rest of us.)
  • Spoken word poetry/poetry jams
  • Pretending to like good wine
  • Pretending to like good beer
  • Hipster food in general–Aioli is for fish soup at a Mediterranean café. I will have regular ketchup on my burger like an American, please, because we are in Indiana.
  • Family drama (I am turning 40 this year. Enough already.)
  • People who only want to talk about themselves
  • People who talk over me
  • People who talk too much
  • People who explain things to me when I know more about those things than they do. Bye.
  • The feelings of rude people
  • Learning to drive stick shift
  • Books by politicians (this is not literature, guys; wise up)
  • Books by celebrities (same)
  • White papers (don’t write ’em; don’t read ’em)
  • Having a nice lawn
  • Sky diving
  • Other people’s vacation pictures

Anyway, I highly recommend making a list like this if you haven’t. It’s cathartic to get that stuff off your chest. And you could always follow it up with a list of things you DO give a fuck about, which I have done and will post for those that care.

Love to all and happy reading!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Thrifty Gardener

I love Alys Fowler. I didn’t know a thing about her until I read her memoir Hidden Nature last year, in which she kayaks the Birmingham, England canals and details her coming out as a gay woman.

Fowler, I learned, was a presenter on the BBC’s Gardener’s World, a show I only came to last year. I haven’t seen a single episode with her in it. But I have embraced gardening in the last couple of years and am now totally in love with the show. And Monty Don. In a platonic way, of course.

I’m also on a budget. So when I learned of Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Gardener, I popped onto Amazon, where I discovered it was $80! Lol. No.

I searched AbeBooks, a much kinder source for books anyway, and got it for $24.

Anyway, in her lovely conversational style, Fowler doles out advice for the rest of us–those that don’t have tons of extra cash, or you know, any at all, to spend on the garden of their dreams.

Above: The rockery I created in our side yard. Please ignore the trash bins–we’re moving them eventually. Bricks and rocks were free from neighbors who were getting rid of them. Plants were purchased on sale or for less than $4 a piece, or again, given by neighbors. My mom bought five of them for me, bless her. She also helped with the digging! It may not look like much to a stranger, but it’s heaven to me…

Fowler spends time on topics like saving seeds and taking cuttings from your own plants for propagation; making compost and comfrey tea–sometimes featured on Gardener’s World, I noticed; and “scrap craft,” which is what most Americans might call upcycling.

I also appreciated her recommendations on plants that are easy to grow from seed, which is much cheaper than buying plants from a nursery. At her suggestion, my garden will most certainly include poppies and nasturtiums grown from seed next year as I don’t like to spend money on annuals bought from nurseries.

In addition to these tips and tricks, I just like the approach, the mindset that Fowler encourages.

This is from her introduction:

“This much I’ve learnt. Gardening is something you do, not something you buy. You don’t have to spend money to have a great garden. Slow gardening, like slow food, is taking time to savour. It’s the process, not the sudden transformation that matters. When you build a little, dig a bit, plant a little, harvest often and, more importantly, don’t try to do it all at once, nature works with you.”

In my own gardening, I need to reread these words every day. I should put it on a sign. There is so much I want to grow and do now that I have discovered the world of gardening. It gives me so much joy and I just want more and more of it.

Also, I’m a very impatient person. I like immediate gratification. But it’s utterly ridiculous to fall into gardening and expect that.

So, instead, I continually work on taking the slow road. Just like Alys.

Hydrangeas in my own garden
And a sweet coreopsis bloom making his presence known.
Baby fern tendril in the bottom middle
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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Outgrowing God

Sometimes you get tired of fighting the good fight every day and just need to read something that bolsters you.

I imagine this is how many religious people feel about reading books by their favorite religious authors. It’s how I used to feel as a practicing Catholic when I read books with titles like Mary in a Martha’s World or those Joshua books that make Jesus seem like a real person.

But now my inspirational reading looks very different. After a long journey out of Catholicism and a meandering detour through New Age spirituality, I came to the logical conclusion that there is no god(s).

I’m not here to argue that point. I’m just telling you about it.

As an atheist, I don’t regret my religious upbringing or experiences. I met Ben in high school youth group, for heaven’s sake. 😉 That youth group gave me a place to be loved and cared for outside of my chaotic home (where I was also loved and cared for, but still…).

When Jacob was little and I was a very young mother in need of lots of support, my parish community was there for me. Our pastor knew me by name. He was kind of a jerk, but he knew me. I was asked to give retreat talks and was given responsibilities that made me feel capable and good about myself. Overall, I had a community and a refuge in my church. I’m grateful for those people and that place.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful that my experiences with religion led me straight to atheism. I couldn’t have ended up at the right conclusion for me without having played hard for the other team so to speak.

When I began to question, and then read about, the ways in which religions are established, I grew to understand that religion is a purely social construct.

Along this path, I have also learned about the religious history of the United States. I have woken up to the constant religious fervor that is the United States.

If you didn’t know, religion is EVERYWHERE here. Ben and I went on a walk around the downtown area last week and passed, like, five churches and a synagogue in five blocks.

I was at the mall with my mom yesterday and a lady talked to me about prayer in the bathroom. We walked past a kiosk and there was a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on display right next to a Jesus Saves t-shirt.

It gets…..tiring…being a nonbeliever in this country.

Especially when there is a mob of very vocal believers trying to make laws about what you can and cannot do based on their beliefs.

It’s all feeling very Handmaid’s Tale out there right now.

All this is to say that I appreciated listening to Richard Dawkins read the audiobook version of his Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide.

Highlights were:

  • Theories about how myths (and therefore religions) get started
  • The incredible coordinated flight of starlings
  • A mocking retelling of the binding of Isaac (you know, the story in the Bible where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own child as a sign of his obedience. That’s some sadistic stuff right there, man…)

I appreciated some Richard Dawkins in my life this week. I liked the reminder that it’s possible to wonder at the beauty and ferocity of nature without attributing it to a spiritual cause. And the reassurance that, yes, the Christian God portrayed in the Bible (angry, “jealous,” sadistic) is not a God I can get behind at all. Phew.

Dawkins reminded me that there are others out there like me. That despite a country filled with people who post memes about allowing prayer in school (even though it already is) and who fight for the right to dictate who you can and can’t marry, there is hope. There are other people out there who believe in a society that benefits all of us, not just some of us.

Ironically, sometimes an atheist just needs to feel less alone in the world.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

A business-y business man reads Marcus Aurelius and applies it to business and maybe life a little bit?

Hmm. May have just summed up my entire review for you in my title. 😉

My tone probably tells you what I thought of The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday.

Normally, I avoid books like this. I don’t like reading books by business-y business men who want to tell me how it is. In fact, I’m kind of over men telling me how it is in general.

However, I recently developed an interest in stoicism. I’ve hounded r/stoicism on reddit, begun reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and am particularly interested in how the ideas of stoicism can be applied to struggles with addictions.

bust of Marcus Aurelius – that beard tho

If you know me personally, you know I struggle with my own demons and am no stranger to the self-help genre. Always looking for a gem.

I’d come across Holiday’s book in a few places and thought, nah, not for me. It sounded a little like How to Win Friends and Influence People for the social media age.

But then I read Seth Blais’ post on Daily Stoic How Stoicism Saved My Life: My Story of Battling Addiction. It was interesting and I hopped over to his blog where he talks quite a lot about stoicism and addiction. And he recommends The Obstacle is the Way enthusiastically.

So I thought maybe I should give it a chance.

Welp. It read a lot like Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face, which a load of schlock geared toward women and MLM-ers.

The Obstacle contained whole lot of why and “you should” and not a lot of how.

Basically a cheerleader for capitalism, Holiday spends the book trying to relate basic ideas of stoicism to getting ahead in business, which amounted to: do better, work harder, work longer hours, push through, have a better attitude.

He lauds the stick-to-it-iveness of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, which I find basic and tiring. I mean, are you allowed to write a book about business that doesn’t mention those two rags-to-riches stories? Maybe there is a fine for that or something.

Holiday surrounds such examples with directives like, “Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.”

And “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

And “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.”

What is the right action? What is the right perspective? HOW do you persist?

Well, Holiday remains vague on those points. But whatever it is you think you should do, you should definitely do it. Just do it. DOOO IIIT.

Now, is there merit in changing your attitude around obstacles? Absolutely. Holiday’s overall point, as far as I could tell by reading in between the lines of Tweet-able maxims, is that sometimes we tell ourselves a scary story about the challenges we face in life and that makes them seem insurmountable. We say we can’t when in fact we can.

But that seems to be Holiday’s entire point. Because he doesn’t elaborate. He read Meditations, drew a connection to his own capitalist-centric values (work harder! faster! better! focus!), and wrote a book for other capitalists about how to stay the course. Stoicism is just the intellectual lipstick on the capitalist pig.

Bit on the nose there, sorry. 😉

I also chuckled at his fangirl-ing around Marcus Aurelius.

If you’re willing to stick with me this far, here’s a passage where Holiday introduces the title concept of the book and tells us a little bit about our good friend the Roman conqueror/philosopher.

I don’t know that our man is all that familiar with the history of the Roman Empire.

It’s complicated, but Marcus Aurelius, like Roman emperors before him was a conqueror. He worked to expand his empire, which means, you guessed it, war with people who, from the looks of it, didn’t really care for being conquered.

Did you see the movie Gladiator? That war in the beginning where the Romans are battling the people of Germania? Same guy.

Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000)

To say that a conqueror’s power “never went to his head” is, uh, speculative, reductive, and a little clueless-sounding maybe?

But here we are in the golden age of the internet and the director of marketing at American Apparel can paint his heroes however he wants I guess.

Is there anything I liked about this book? Yes, that central point, which is a point Marcus Aurelius makes in his Meditations. Basically and in my own words: Sometimes we tell ourselves a story about how scary something is to make it seem like we can’t do something. It gives us an out. “Nope, too scary, too anxiety-provoking, can’t do it.”

Better to realize and acknowledge when we are doing that so we can then decide whether to believe that story or to operate outside of it in order to get what we want/need. Whether that’s success at work (Holiday) or world domination (Marcus Aurelius).

But the book didn’t illuminate anything about stoicism for me. Instead, it seemed to promote the wrong and pervasive idea that stoicism is the philosophy of “keeping a stiff upper lip.”

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: June 2020

Welp, I upped my game and managed three-ish reviews this month and none of them were books I actually read in June. A slow start, but here we are.

Happy 4th to the Americans and happy weekend to everyone else! I’m not particularly proud of my country at the moment, but I’m doing my best on my own anti-racist journey and hoping to encourage others to embark on the same.

In that vein, I’m reading My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capo Crucet. Her first essay is quite moving and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in how a first-generation, minority college student might experience their first semester on a majority-white college campus.


On to the June books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March
April/May

What Shannon read in June:

Shannon’s Notes:

After the Flood: SO good. Will review it shortly.

-Two rereads: It Was Me All Along because I’m a sucker for a weight loss/eating disorder memoir; and Somewhere Towards the End because I never want to stop reading Diana Athill’s thoughts on aging and life in general.

More Edith Wharton

-Can’t say enough about Nothing Good Can Come from This. Another book that made me feel seen.

The Obstacle is the Way: What a load of schlock.

What Ben read in June:

Ben’s notes:

The Genealogy of Morals: It was good to come back and revisit this. I hadn’t read much Nietzsche since college days.

Legend: Another reread, this is the book that got me started on the delightful fantasy of David Gemmell. Mostly a pretty light action/adventure, it does also dabble in philosophizing about life in the shadow of death.

The Rap Yearbook: This was a fun read, and denser than you might expect from looking at it. The author has a rather frenetic, wisecracking style which complements his enthusiasm for the topic. He chooses the rap song that he deems most important for each year. Not necessarily “best” or “his favorite” but the one that mattered most in the history of the genre, and supports his choice with an essay, supplemented with charts, graphs, and illustrations.He often allows critics a little sidebar to make their case for an alternate pick. It was fun to get an inside perspective on genre trends that I had observed casually without really unpacking and dissecting the way a true aficionado like Serrano would.


Shameless Garden Update

Shannon again:

Here is a shameless garden update because I can’t stop myself. It’s my new obsession.

My lovely mother came over last weekend and helped me dig out the rest of the rockery area. Seriously, she is amazing and I am so grateful. It would’ve taken me three days to do the work we did together in a couple of hours.

The dirt we dug up waiting under a tarp (to prevent washing over the yard in the rain) waiting to be hauled away:

It doesn’t look like much under that tarp, but…it is.

Was, rather. Filthy Hands Property Preservation came over yesterday and hauled it away for us. Took two guys around 45 mins. to shovel it into their truck.

You have to pay to get rid of dirt. Not a thing I anticipated when I started gardening. I do not understand the world sometimes.

Rocks laid out and representative of Neighborhood Squirrel Watch on back porch:

All the rocks and bricks were given to me by neighbors and this week I received enough to finish the job. More shameless updates to come.

In the meantime, here are Steven Q. Squirrel and his lady friend availing themselves of the birdseed I threw in the yard for them. Because of my habit of throwing seed off the porch to them, some of it has landed in the mulch bed and germinated. So we are growing an accidental millet crop.

Quarantine continues to make me real weird. 😉

Happy reading and, if you garden, happy gardening!

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Uncategorized

2020 Classics Challenge: The House of Mirth

I didn’t realize when I read it what an outlier Ethan Frome is compared to the rest of Wharton’s work.

Well, I haven’t read all her work, so maybe that statement is uneducated and overblown, but imagine reading that bleak depiction of a hard-scrabble rural life and then popping over to The House of Mirth, where we follow New York City socialite Lily Bart about the drawing rooms, ballrooms, and restaurants of upper-class New York during the Gilded Age.

It’s a real jump.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis of The House of Mirth, which will give you the gist if you haven’t read it:

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by ‘old money’ and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing, and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.

I found Lily Bart to be as compelling a character as she is infuriating. Her decisions, based wholly on making herself into the woman her social set expects her to be, are maddening at times.

Her problem is one we can understand from a contemporary perspective. Lily is beautiful but she is getting older. She has refused a number of potential rich husbands having no real desire to be married to them.

As a contemporary woman, I get that. But I also have better choices than Lily had in her time. Even women of poorer classes during that time needed to marry well to cement or improve their social standing–or at least an acceptable standard of living.

But Lily’s story shows us what happens when a woman is raised to believe that her beauty is her chief social currency, and maintaining it her chief purpose, and that no other striving is necessary to land her the life she has been promised. As a woman in the 21st century, I have no problem relating to the themes within this struggle.

Lily doesn’t seem to want to marry any of the men who seek her out. Instead, she relies on an aging aunt to fund her increasingly expensive lifestyle.

But, Lily’s obsession with keeping up appearances and her set’s penchant for gambling lead her into some “dirty” business with Gus Trenor, husband of her friend Judy.

Gus, a known flirt/philanderer, wants too much in return for the favor he does for Lily and, in an unfortunate turns of events, the deal between them is revealed and Lily is cast out from her former friends’ circle.

From the outside, we see her lose more and more dignity as she seeks to preserve her social standing armed with only her beauty and wit.

And then we see the choices she is left with when they fail her.

She does have one true friend in Lawrence Seldon, who tends to see her for who she really is outside of her social machinations. Their interactions allow for points of hope throughout the novel in a sort of will-they-won’t-they dance that carries through to the end.

I won’t give away the ending. It is apt and terribly sad.

I also have failed to capture all the wonderful themes in this novel. It is a beast in that regard, so many threads to pull out and examine. I have no doubt I’ll reread it before long.

Do read it if you have any inclination.


This is my selection for category 3. Classic by a Woman Author for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.

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2020 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

2020 Classics Challenge: The Spring and Summer of Edith Wharton

What happens when a girl is raised to be nothing more in life than ornamental? When the outer and inner life of a woman must center on a man? When the substance of a human being is trained toward one goal and one goal only: to marry well and serve her husband and children until death?

These, to me, seem the essential questions asked by Edith Wharton throughout her entire extensive body of work.

And you can bet they are answered in the most disatrous of ways.

This spring and summer I have so far read:

Ethan Frome (read in January, actually)

The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence

The Custom of the Country

The Buccaneers

The Reef

…and there’s nary a happy ending among them.

Because what happens when a woman is raised to believe her existence is purely ornamental–that is, the point of her being alive is to appear prettily on the arm of a man–is that she becomes a wholly social creature, existing only for others with a vacuousness of heart and mind in place of an actual personality, her needs and desires replaced (or suppressed) by her own constant social striving.

And that’s when she survives at all.

As you may know, Wharton famously writes of New York City socialites during the Gilded Age. She and her family were players in this scene and she writes from an insider perspective, even including characters which may remind you of real life socialites you’ve heard of: Nan St. George, protagonist in The Buccaneers, was modeled on Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the British Duke of Marlborough, representing a trend–rich American marries cash-poor English gentry–made familiar to contemporary audiences by by Downton Abbey.  

To me, Wharton’s genius is demonstrated in her depiction of social climbers.

In each of her major novels the world of upper-class New York is laid bare, its players representing each “type” in that world. For example, the Custom of the Country features the Spraggs, midwesterners who made it big in their hometown but struggle in New York–they represent the “new money” crowd.

I won’t go into detail on each book here because I’m separating them out so that Karen of Books and Chocolate, host of the classics challenge, has an easier time tallying my books.

But I wanted to write an overall sort of intro. first.

Spending so much time in Wharton’s New York (and Western Europe) has been so pleasurable and interesting. I see myself rereading these novels for the rest of my life, partly because the characters and writing are so engaging and partly because, well, I just love to see what rich people get up to.

p.s. Do you know of a good Edith Wharton biography? I hear the Hermione Lee bio is the place to start, but I’m open to suggestions.

p.p.s. Has anyone figured out how to insert special characters into their text? I’d really like to find the em dashes in this block editor! Clue me in if you know. 🙂

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Hearth and Eagle

I discovered Anya Seton last year via her novel The Winthrop Woman, which was displayed in the shop at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and I am so glad I did.

Her historical novels were impeccably researched and she is an ace storyteller with a knack for writing female protagonists in historic settings.

Plus, Mariner Books has released them in recent years with these incredibly lovely patterned covers and I’m hoping to collect them all.

I chose The Hearth and Eagle as my next Seton novel because it centers on the very same colonial American town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in which The Winthrop Woman is set.

Seton discovered the town when researching her own family history. Apparently she found an ancestor that had lived there and became captivated by the “sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.”

Sounds idyllic, no?

The protagonist of this story is Hesper Honeywell. She is the descendant of Phebe Honeywell who came over from England in 1630. After introducing a very young Hesper, the story flashes back to Phebe’s time, describing her arrival in the colonies and her early life there.

From the first, I found Phebe’s story much more interesting than Hesper’s. There was adventure from the beginning as Phebe struggles through a long ocean journey and then nearly starves to death in the New World. But, alas, we stayed just long enough with her to give a sense of place to Hesper, who lives in Civil War era Marblehead.

Not to worry. Hesper’s family life is rather interesting as Hesper lives with her mother, a tired and resentful woman who has spent her life running the inn, The Hearth and Eagle, with little help from Hesper’s father, an absent-minded professor type obsessed with researching his family’s history.

Hesper helps her mother run the inn but, of course, longs for something more. Love, fulfillment, adventure, something beyond Marblehead. And into her longings wanders artist and avowed Bohemian Evan Redlake.

Thus begins an arduous saga of love and loss and Hesper’s search for meaning in a society that gives women few choices in deciding their own fates.

I’ll leave you with that grand statement. I ended up loving the novel, as I’d hoped I would. And, if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, you will too.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: April/May 2020

Well, hi!

We’re still over here reading. It’s just been a helluva spring, as I know it has for everyone…everyone on the planet, really.

My work picks up the pace in the spring and this year our efforts were especially dependent on those assigned to digital projects. Who knew a writer could be so gainfully employed? 😉

So I had my hands and brain full. Too full for blogging.

I found relief in the yard, planning my garden, starting a gardening log…

…and sourcing plants and rocks for a rockery, which I’m determined to have, but to create at no cost.

Rockery area “before”:

And during:

It took around 2 hours to get this far, hacking away at the tree roots and fighting the 90-degree heat before it claimed me.

Much progress was made in other areas.

Bed on south side of house “before,” clogged with myrtle (bah!), hostas past their prime, and baby maple trees (no bueno):

The same areas after…

Hydrangeas and baby pink muhly grass presided over by Ernesto the Gnome:

I feel like that side of the house can breathe again.

In my other life as a collagist, I am once again part of #the100dayproject, completing collages and sharing them on Instagram.

These creative endeavors have contributed much sanity as the world has erupted around us with disease (bad) and protests (much needed). We have been quarantined and working from home like the rest of the world. And, like others who understand the evils of the legacy of slavery, we have gone out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in our community.

A protest and march that met up at our courthouse:

In the meantime, and this is what you came for, Ben and I are reading.

On to the books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March

What Shannon read in April/May:

Shannon’s Notes:

I haven’t reviewed a single one of these, but I intend to review some in individual posts.

Notably:

  • It was the spring of Edith Wharton and looks like it will be the summer of Edith Wharton as well.
  • I re-read The Secret Garden as I am wont to do in spring.
  • I continue listening to audiobook thrillers as a means of escape…blessed escape…

What Ben read in April/May:

Ben’s Notes:

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

After the first book (Sins of Empire) I was interested in the series but not 100% sure if I was going to commit to it. But Wrath of Empire won me over, leaving all the preliminaries behind and cranking up the pace of action and intrigue from “brisk” to “rocket.” Six hundred and thirty nine pages with hardly a dull moment. I’m excited for book three.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

Slow at first compared to the show, but picked up a bit as it went along. Ending is a bit enigmatic, calling the nature of reality into question. There are many references to the I Ching, and if I were more familiar with it I bet there would be some additional insights to be gleaned.

Side Glances Volume 1 by Peter Egan

Nostalgic look back at one of the great automotive monthly columns. Starts before I started reading it, and runs up a few years past when I first began.

Side Glances Volume 3 by Peter Egan

What happened to Volume 2? I’ll have to ask Chase (who lent them) next time I talk to him. This volume picks up toward the end of my tenure as a Road and Track subscriber, though I continued reading his column (courtesy of free Tire Rack promotional copies of R&T) until he stopped writing it in 2013. Egan remains an occasional contributor as an “editor at large” and is generally considered to be one of America’s all-time great automotive journalists.

Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks

A throwback reread of a fun, fairly light fantasy novel from one of the big names in the genre. I was amused to note that I happened to pick it back up at the same age as the protagonist, 39. It was fun to revisit, I may re-read the rest of the series if the spirit moves me.

Trouble is What I Do by Walter Mosely

This one was a little short but packed a punch. Mosley seldom disappoints. And in the middle of a fairly self-contained story he dropped a major twist into the life of Leonid McGill, the main character in his 21st century noir series.


If you’ve read this far, thank you! And thanks for stopping by. I aim to be a more regular blogger (famous last words) and if we’ve connected in the past, please comment or like and let me know you’re here–I’d love to reconnect. If you’re new to this blog, welcome!

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