Library Checkout: February 2018 – A Bumper Edition!

I found a plethora of interesting books, many of them pretty recent, on my last few trips to the public library. I had somehow convinced myself that my library system doesn’t have many interesting new books in stock, but I was proven wrong.

Plus, excellent news: As of March 1st, reservations will be free again. Eleven months ago, the library system brought in a 50-pence charge for every reservation and I stopped placing holds altogether. I can only presume that this was an experiment that didn’t bring in enough revenue, or that, now that the council has reduced hours and staffed its branch libraries with volunteers only, they can afford to offer reservations for free again. It’s a sad state of affairs in general, but a boon for me: from next month I’ll be able to place holds on any Wellcome-shortlisted titles I haven’t read, and lots of other recent books I’m interested in.

For once I’ve done a good job of plowing through a bunch of my library books, including the four books that made up the Costa Prize for Poetry shortlist. As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and links to reviews of books I haven’t already featured on the blog in some way.



A selection of the library books I read and skimmed this past month (the others have since been returned).


  • Your Life in My Hands: A Junior Doctor’s Story by Rachel Clarke 
  • Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker 


  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (a re-read)
  • Herzog by Saul Bellow
  • Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
  • The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler
  • To the Is-Land: An Autobiography by Janet Frame
  • Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins
  • There Is an Anger that Moves by Kei Miller [poetry]
  • And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison
  • Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales

The currently reading stack.


Public library:

  • The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg by Tim Birkhead
  • Mean Time by Carol Ann Duffy [poetry]
  • Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine
  • Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell with Anna Wharton
  • In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott
  • Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton
  • The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

My bedside table (and environs) with its usual overwhelming selection of review books, library books, and backlist books from my own collection. And yes, it’s double-stacked!

University library:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • Vita Nova by Louise Glück [poetry]
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination by Richard Mabey
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton


  • Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis – This was requested by another user before I had a chance to read it. Maybe I’ll put a hold on it next month and try again.

What have you been reading from your local libraries? Does anything appeal from my stacks?

26 responses

  1. When Did You Last See Your Father? was a huge bestseller when I was in bookselling. I remember it as a poignantly honest piece of writing. It’s the kind of book that I imagine has stood the test of time.


    1. I’m about 3/4 through and it is such a masterful family memoir, a real classic of the genre. I can’t believe I haven’t read it before now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your thoughts on Mary Beard, I was hoping for some solutions and a little disappointed, although that might not have come across in my Shiny review. I was interested to read that you found Sacks a bit dry, I wonder if this is in contrast with the much more personal and emotional writing that’s found in modern medical case study type books, which I know you read a lot. When it came out, it was amazingly human and non-dry compared to what had come before, and now I’m thinking that with him as a model, it’s no wonder I find some modern nature and medical writing too “wet” and overloaded. Interesting.

    Did you review the Greenland one anywhere and is it any good?

    I have the Book of Forgotten Authors but it arrived around Christmas so I won’t be on to it for a lonnnnnnnng time yet.


    1. I suppose I like my medical reads to be a bit more narrative-based. Are all of Sacks’s books much of a muchness, or are there others that are a bit more personal?

      The Greenland travel book is exceptional. I featured an excerpt of my review in my post on wintry reads: I’d like to read all the author’s other books. She’s not very well known here but her books are available secondhand.

      Oh, you should pull out The Book of Forgotten Authors to be a bedside book. Each profile is just a few pages, so it’s really nice to read a bit of it at a time. It’s not one I’d try to read straight through, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At the minute my bedside book is a huMUNGous book about the suffragettes I need to review, but I hear you there. An Anthropologist on Mars, about his relationship with Temple Grandin, is probably his most personal book, and he got VERY open in his autobiography, which I reviewed back in September and I didn’t much like that. So I’d only recommend you try that one. Well, he has one about his broken leg and another about eye issues that I’ve not read because EYES and those are about him himself so might be more attractive.

        Missed noting your review of the Greenland one, def one for my wish list!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ll look into those other Sacks books. I’m interested in autism and have read a book or two by Temple Grandin, so that appeals.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of the university library books have been hanging around since the autumn — they can be renewed pretty much indefinitely, so I keep putting them off. This blog feature is a handy way of reminding myself what’s still around and then forcing myself to read at least a few each month so the next month’s lineup looks a little different!

      I definitely go nuts at my public library on most visits, but I figure that even if I end up not having time for or interest in all of the books I borrow, at least I’m supporting the service. Borrowing from the bestsellers collection (two-week loan with no renewal possible) also encourages me to be timely about reading those books.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed Testosterone Rex though the science is much harder going than in Delusions of Gender (have you read that one?). I must get to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.


    1. Hmm, hard going means I will probably just end up skimming that one. It was on my radar because it won the Royal Society Prize.

      I’ve meant to read Oscar Wao for years and have actually borrowed it several times with that intention. One of these days!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely skimmed bits of it!


  4. Sarah's Book Shelves | Reply

    I can’t believe your library was charging for reservations! I would be so annoyed about that…but, glad they’re back to being free.


    1. I think it’s a more common practice in the UK; I’d never experienced it in the States. I can understand having to charge for an ILL that you’re getting from further away, but charging to get a book from a neighboring branch or place a hold on a book that’s on order seems pretty silly to me. I didn’t use the paid reservation service as a sort of protest, and also because I’m a cheapskate! 😉


  5. I’ll be anxious to hear how you like _The Sparrow_. It’s been recommended to me, but I couldn’t get into it.


    1. I struggle with science fiction in general, and would like to be better about trying it. There have been a few examples that I’ve really liked (e.g. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis), but then others that I gave up on (e.g. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin — though I intend to try again, as that was probably 5+ years ago and I remember setting it aside after just ~20 pages) or didn’t like (e.g. J.G. Ballard). It’ll be interesting to see which camp The Sparrow falls in.


  6. It’s sad to hear they’ve reduced hours and staffed with volunteers, but at least they’re still open, I guess.
    I enjoyed the Junot Diaz and I hope you enjoy it when you get to it. How is the reread of Little Women going? I reread it a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, although it felt longer than I remembered.


    1. I think one option they considered was to close all the small branch libraries and only keep the main one open, so it’s good they’ve been able to keep all the branches. I’m sad for the staff who were made redundant, though. This seems like a common pattern across the UK.

      I literally hadn’t read Little Women since my first time in 1994, when I read it with some of my fellow sixth-graders in advance of going to the new Winona Ryder movie with our teacher! (My first ‘book club’, I guess.) I’ve been enjoying it. It’s a good cozy read for this time of year. But you’re right — it does feel long. I had forgotten that it’s basically two books put together: the original volume, which goes from one Christmas to another, has more of the events that I remember; the sequel, which picks up three years later, she hurried out once it was clear the first book would be a success.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I had a wander around a library today that I hadn’t been in for at least 5 years. It’s not in my county and was increasingly difficult to get to, meaning I ended up with lots of fines. What shocked me what how much of the library itself has now gone, replaced by a one stop shop for the local council. An entire floor given over to them. The book selection has suffered – barely anything in the non fiction shelves meeting my needs.


  8. I am so disheartened to hear this as surely it’s not long before we are facing the same situation. I depend very heavily on the library and have for some years now (and, before that, just loved going there), so closure of branch locations would fundamentally affect my access to reading. Here we do not have to pay for holds and transfers between branches but we do have to pay if we request that something be sent to a specific branch but then do not pick up the item ($1); this seems fair to me, and I have heard that it dramatically improved the rates of return. I rarely miss picking up an item on hold but that’s because I’m obsessed with books; I suspect this is a nice source of revenue for many people probably don’t care about the odd $1 here and there and only ask for things on a whim. I can’t believe poor Oscar is still waiting for your attention. When you finally meet him and find out how friendless and lonely he is, I think you will feel very badly for neglecting him. 🙂


    1. That’s interesting, to only have a penalty for NOT collecting your item. I agree that’s fair enough if they’ve spent time and resources getting something for you and you couldn’t be bothered to come get it.

      I was even more of a library fiend when I lived in the States / visited frequently and could take advantage of free ILLs from the whole of the state. Library services seem much more stingy and restricted here in the UK. I imagine it varies by region, though, and how much the local government invests in its libraries.

      Now you’re guilt tripping me…I’ll try to pick up Oscar Wao in March 🙂


  9. You’ve had an impressive library month! Your “currently reading” list is staggering to me. I usually only read one book at a time, sometimes 2 if they’re very different. If you’re really into a book, are you still able to put it down to work on your others?
    I’d like to read many of these, but right now what stands out is The Secret Life of Cows. What fun!


    1. I’m usually reading 10-15 books at a time, but sometimes it gets closer to 20, which is admittedly a bit ridiculous. It’s always some combination of library books, review copies (print or e-) and books I own. I flit between the books as the whim takes me, reading a chapter or two, or just a few pages, of each; I rarely get so stuck in that I feel I can’t put a certain book down. No doubt I get more read in total through this practice, as I would never manage a rate of nearly a book a day if I just focused on one book. But I know that most people read just one or two books at a time. It’s rare to have more on the go than that, according to surveys I’ve seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe some day I’ll try 5 and see how it feels. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Green with envy that you will not have to pay for library reservations, here in Bucks they charge 60p for book reservations within the county and £3 for books transferred in from libraries outside the county. I love reserving books so I don’t forget about good titles I hear about, but it’s too easy to run up quite a bill.
    Did you not like Travelling Cat Chronicles? it made me cry!


    1. (I wasn’t actually sure whether you were in the US or the UK. Silly me!) My husband tells me that the richest counties get the least money for public services (because it’s assumed those councils don’t have as many poorer people to support), so I guess that explains why the library services tend to be less generous. I’m personally and rather selfishly glad for the reservation charge to go away.

      No, I’m afraid I found Travelling Cat mawkish. Some tear-jerkers just annoy me as I feel manipulated.


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