Category Archives: Reading habits

Love Your Library, February 2023

Thanks to Cathy, Elle and Sarah for contributing with their recent library borrows!

While shelving in the large print area at the library I noticed something I’d never seen before: a “Dyslexic Edition” of a novel. I opened it up and saw that it has large type, but various other features: the font is a sans serif, in medium to dark blue, and there are lots of short sections rather than lengthy paragraphs. Instead of passages being in italics, they appear in bold face. The overall effect is fewer words on a page and maximized readability. We shelve these with large print, but there are plans to pull them out for a future display on disability awareness. There are also some children’s series geared towards dyslexic and reluctant readers, as well as the “Quick Reads” books put out by the Reading Agency for adult readers who may struggle with literacy.

This isn’t library-specific, but most of you will have heard about the new UK expurgated versions of Roald Dahl children’s books commissioned from the consultancy Inclusive Minds by his literary estate. Dahl’s work still flies off the shelves at my library. What’s more, it’s inspired countless other writers with his particular brand of snarky/edgy humour. Apparently the specific changes made are to, in hundreds of places, replace words like “fat,” “stupid” and “ugly.” In general, I’m leery of censorship, preferring that parents speak to their children about the appropriate use of words or, if that can’t be guaranteed, adding an introduction or afterword. (The unaltered “classic” Dahl collection will still be sold, too.)

Yet I am sympathetic in this case because I know how hurtful some stereotypes can be. For instance, we have Jen Campbell to thank for this addition to The Witches (who are portrayed as bald and wearing wigs): “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” She has various genetic conditions including alopecia and has long been opposed to casual associations of disfigurement with evil in popular culture.

What’s your take?


And my own library reading since last month:


Plus a load of picture books about winter and snow; I reviewed them here.


  • A Fortunate Man by John Berger
  • The Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent
  • Martha Quest by Doris Lessing
  • Nightwalking: Four Journeys into Britain after Dark by John Lewis-Stempel
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
  • Manorism by Yomi Sode

I also have the rest of the Folio Prize poetry shortlist out on loan to read soon. A lot of the other books pictured in this post have already gone back unread. I never consider that a problem, though, as it still helps libraries retain funding, and authors get royalties!


What have you been reading or reviewing from the library recently?

Share a link to your own post in the comments. Feel free to use the above image. The hashtag is #LoveYourLibrary.

Book Serendipity, Mid-December 2022 to Mid-February 2023

I call it “Book Serendipity” when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something in common – the more bizarre, the better. This is a regular feature of mine every few months. Because I usually have 20–30 books on the go at once, I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. The following are in roughly chronological order.

My biggest overall coincidence set this time was around Korean culture, especially food:

  • A demanding Korean/American mother (“Umma”) in Sea Change by Gina Chung, Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling, and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.
  • In the Chung and Zauner, she has eyebrows tattooed on.
  • In the Chung and Sterling, there’s also a mall setting.
  • Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin was set in South Korea and mentioned a lot of the same cultural factors and foods. KIMCHI (which I’ve never had) was inescapable in these four books.

And the rest…

  • The concept of Satan as “the enemy” in God’s Ex-Girlfriend by Gloria Beth Amodeo and All of Us Together in the End by Matthew Vollmer, two 2023 memoirs I reviewed for Foreword Reviews.


  • A mention of the Newsboys (my favourite Christian rock band when I was a teenager) in God’s Ex-Girlfriend by Gloria Beth Amodeo and, of all places, Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (the context: a list of songs with “Born” in the title; theirs is called – you guessed it! – “Born Again”).
  • Two Moores in my stack at once: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore and The Distance from Slaughter County by Steven Moore.


  • A chapter in The Distance from Slaughter County by Steven Moore is called “Fight Night” and I was reading the early pages of Fight Night by Miriam Toews at the same time.


  • A story in Birds of America by Lorrie Moore is called “Real Estate” and I was reading Real Estate by Deborah Levy at the same time.
  • The Virgil quote “there are tears at the heart of things” and the theme of melancholy link Bittersweet by Susan Cain and The Heart of Things by Richard Holloway.


  • A character who stutters in Bournville by Jonathan Coe and A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale.
  • (Werther’s) butterscotch candies are mentioned in Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng, What Napoleon Could Not Do by DK Nnuro, and How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.


  • A mother who loves going to church in Bournville by Jonathan Coe and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.


  • The metaphor of a girl trapped in a block of marble ready to have her identity carved out in Sea Change by Gina Chung and Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle.

  • When I read a short story about a landmine-detecting rat in Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle, I knew it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered that very specific setup. It took some digging, but I found out the other was in Attrib. by Eley Williams.


  • Shane McCrae, whose forthcoming memoir Pulling the Chariot of the Sun I was also reading, is a named poetic influence/source in More Sky by Joe Varrick-Carty.
  • I’m sure that after the one in Margaret Atwood’s The Door I encountered another poem about a frozen cat … but can’t now find it for the life of me.


  • A character named Marnie in Martha Quest by Doris Lessing and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.


  • Cape Verdean immigrants in the Boston area, then and now, in Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt and The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish.
  • Someone swaps green tea for coffee in Bittersweet by Susan Cain and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.


  • A half-French, half-Asian protagonist in a novella translated from the French: A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery and Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin.


  • A (semi-)historical lesbian couple as a subject of historical fiction in Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt and Chase of the Wild Goose by Mary Gordon.

  • A lesbian couple with a ten-year age gap breaks up because the one partner wants a baby and the other does not in My Mother Says by Stine Pilgaard and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.


  • After I specifically read three Frost Fairs books … 18th-century frolics on the frozen Thames were mentioned in The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph.

  • As I was reading The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph, I saw him briefly mentioned in How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.


  • From one 139-page book about a foreigner’s wanderings in Kyoto (often taking in temples) to another: I followed up A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery with How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart by Florentyna Leow.
  • Persimmon jam is mentioned in Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin and How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart by Florentyna Leow.


  • A brave post-tragedy trip to a mothers and babies group ends abruptly when people are awkward or rude in All My Wild Mothers by Victoria Bennett and How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.
  • As I was reading What We Talk about when We Talk about Love by Raymond Carver, I encountered a snippet from his poetry as a chapter epigraph in Bittersweet by Susan Cain.


  • Sexologist Havelock Ellis inspired one of the main characters in The New Life by Tom Crewe and is mentioned in passing in Martha Quest by Doris Lessing.


What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

Love Your Library, January 2023

Elle has been reading loads from the library (and discovering the freedom of DNFing or not reading the library books you borrow; this is not a problem in the least, and it still helps the library’s statistics!). Naomi always finds interesting books to read and review from her library system. Margaret’s “My Life in Book Titles 2022” almost exclusively featured books she’d borrowed from libraries. Through Twitter I saw this hilarious TikTok video from Cincinnati Library about collecting book holds. If only I could be so glamorous on my Tuesday volunteering mornings. Washington Post critic Ron Charles’s weekly e-newsletter is one of my greatest bookish joys and I was delighted to see him recently highlight an initiative from my hometown’s local library system. Whenever I go on the cross trainer, I read library books or my e-reader so exercise time isn’t ‘lost’ time when I could be reading.

Since last month:



  • A Night at the Frost Fair by Emma Carroll
  • Bournville by Jonathan Coe
  • A Heart that Works by Rob Delaney
  • The Weather Woman by Sally Gardner
  • Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah


  • Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire
  • Martha Quest by Doris Lessing (for our women’s classics book club subgroup)
  • How to Be Sad by Helen Russell
  • Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
  • City of Friends by Joanna Trollope (for February’s book club)
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner


My library system has a ton of new books on order – I set up an alert so I would be e-mailed a weekly digest of all 2023 adult fiction and nonfiction releases added to the catalogue – so my reservation queue is nearly full now with all kinds of tempting stuff, including a new biography of Katherine Mansfield and a bereavement memoir by Blake Morrison, whose And When Did You Last See Your Father? was my favourite nonfiction read of 2018. In fiction, I’m particularly excited about The New Life by Tom Crewe, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz, and Maame by Jessica George.

What have you been reading or reviewing from the library recently?

Share a link to your own post in the comments. Feel free to use the above image. The hashtag is #LoveYourLibrary.

Tricking Myself into Reading My Own Books

I suspect many of us have this bibliophile problem: we get tremendously excited about a particular book and just have to have it, whether as a proof from the publisher, pre-ordering it new, or (for an older book) snapping it up secondhand the minute we hear about it. Then months or even years pass and we realize that the novel or memoir we were once so desperate to read has simply joined the ranks of hundreds of other half-forgotten books we still plan to get to on that legendary ‘one day’ but always pass by in favour of newer acquisitions.

I’ve long strived to read more backlist books from my own collection, as well as to catch up on the dozens of books I’ve been foolish enough to pause partway through and group together on two “set-aside” shelves in the lounge. (Many of these I obtained as review copies from publishers, so I do feel a sense of obligation to write at least a mini review for each.) As Marcie (Buried in Print) noted in her recent reading goals post, vague intentions go by the wayside, so it’s time to get specific about how to incorporate these into my reading stacks.

  1. For my review backlog of 2022 releases, I get a second chance. I’ve noted the paperback release dates for around 20 books and will aim to have catch-up review posts (here or for Shiny New Books) ready for that date, or at least within that month. Having a deadline to work towards is essential for a last-minute worker like me.
  2. There are some authors I own 3 or more unread works by. Usually this means I enjoyed a book of theirs so much I went on a secondhand binge … then got distracted and didn’t explore their back catalogue as I meant to. Via Margaret, I just found out about What Cathy Read Next’s Backlist Burrow challenge, where she’s picked six authors who piqued her interest and two books by each to read this year. I’m unlikely to manage two each, but I fancy doing this adjacent/modified challenge: where I own 2 or more unread books by an author, I must read at least 1 this year. I have these authors to choose from, but also others in my sights, e.g. Sarah Hall, whose Haweswater I’ll take on holiday to the Lake District in July.
  3. Challenges like that one are the best way to get me rifling through my own shelves. I started a few low-key, long-term projects of my own back in 2020 (Journey through the Day and 4 in a Row) and am still ostensibly working on them, as well as on thematic pairs and trios (my Three on a Theme series) as they arise, along with regular tie-ins to seasons, holidays, etc. Hosted challenges are somehow better, though, perhaps due to the built-in companionship and accountability. Nordic FINDS this month, Reading Indies in February, Reading Ireland in March, the 1940 Club in April, and so on. Because they’re so useful for getting me reading from my shelves, I will participate in at least 1 reading challenge per month.
  4. How to tackle the dreaded set-aside shelves? One book at a time. So, in addition to the ones I’ll review to coincide with the paperback release, I’ll also reintroduce 1 set-aside book to my reading pile each week.
  5. How to ensure that book hauls from shopping excursions and gift-receiving occasions don’t get neglected? By undertaking regular “overhauls” such as this and this, and checking there are no more than 3 unread books remaining from any 1 haul. If there are, start reading the stragglers right away. This will be particularly important because it looks like this year I might complete the triple crown of UK book towns, with trips planned to Wigtown in June and the Sedbergh area in July/August and Hay-on-Wye a perpetual temptation.
  6. How to make time for all those lovely random books (such as this stack) that I keep meaning to read but somehow never do? I’m going to allow myself to start at least 1 “just because” book per fortnight.
  7. Connected to all of these will be requesting fewer 2023 review books from publishers. Almost all my recent requests have gone completely ignored, in fact, which is probably for the best. Unless I’m reviewing something for pay, I’ll just plan to read it from the library or, if I can’t find it that way, will add it to my wish list in advance of my birthday and Christmas.

How do you trick yourself into reading your own books?

Final Reading Statistics for 2022

What with Covid ruining the holidays and a cat who’s been to the vet twice in two days, I’m wishing 2022 good riddance. (The only good thing the end of the year brought is a visit from my sister, who hadn’t been to the UK in 15.5 years. After a few cautionary days at a hotel in London, she’s been staying with us and enjoying the slower pace of life of these quiet, rainy days.) It was still a good reading year for me, though; I worried my total might plummet after my mom’s passing, but I found I read as much as ever, just maybe shorter books and more rereads. Late in the year I realized matching the previous three years’ total of 340 books wasn’t going to happen, so reduced my goal accordingly and managed to surpass it yesterday.


How I did with my 2022 goals

My goal for 2022 (which I had completely forgotten about!) was to read mostly backlist books. In fact, I read 44.9% current-year releases, which means 55.1% older material – even if just 2021 or 2020 releases. This is actually higher than my 41.8% new releases last year, so it looks like I failed to live up to the letter of my resolution, but still happened to read well over half “older” books.

Once again, my initial goal for the new year will be to get through all my set-aside books and my review backlog shelf. After that … I’ll just read some books and hope to enjoy them.


The statistics

Fiction: 53.3%

Nonfiction: 33%

Poetry: 13.7%

(Fiction and nonfiction are usually just about equal for me; I’m surprised that fiction pulled well ahead this year. I read a bit less poetry this year than last.)


Female author: 72.3%

Male author: 23%

Nonbinary author: 1.7%

Multiple genders (anthologies): 3%

(I’ve been reading more and more by women each year, but this is the first time that female + nonbinary authors have outnumbered men by more than 3:1.)


BIPOC author: 20.7%

(The second time I have specifically tracked this figure. I’m pleased that it’s higher than last year’s 18.5%, but will continue to work towards 25% or more.)


Work in translation: 8.7%

(Better than last year’s 5%! But I’d still like to get closer to 10%.)


E-books: 26.3%

Print books: 73.7%

(The number of e-books has doubled since last year because of my increase in reviewing for Kirkus and Shelf Awareness, for which I exclusively read e-books.)


Rereads: 12 (3.5%)

(The same number as last year, so one per month seems to be what I naturally gravitate towards. I have a whole shelf of books I’d love to reread, though, so I’d like it to be more like 2–3 a month.)



Where my books came from for the whole year, compared to last year:

  • Free print or e-copy from publisher: 42% (↑10.2%)
  • Public library: 30% (↑5.3%)
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 7% (↑1.1%)
  • Secondhand purchase: 6.7% (↓10.1%)
  • New purchase (sometimes) at a bargain price): 4.7% (↓0.9%)
  • Gifts: 4% (↑2%)
  • Free (giveaways, The Book Thing of Baltimore, the free mall bookshop, etc.): 2.6% (↓6.7%)
  • University library: 2.3% (↓1.5%)
  • Borrowed: 0.7% (↑0.7%)


Additional statistics courtesy of Goodreads:

67,899 pages read

Average book length: 225 pages

Average rating for 2022: 3.6


Happy new year!

Some 2022 Reading Superlatives

Longest book read this year: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (720 pages)

Shortest book read this year: Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle (37 pages)

Authors I read the most by this year: Nicola Colton (4), Jakob Wegelius (3), Tove Jansson and Sarah Ruhl (2)


Publishers I read the most from: (Besides the ubiquitous Penguin and its many imprints) Canongate, Carcanet and Picador – which is part of the Pan Macmillan group.


An author I ‘discovered’ and now want to read everything by: Matthew Vollmer


My overall top discovery of the year: The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

My proudest non-bookish achievement: Giving a eulogy at my mom’s funeral (and even getting some laughs).


The books that made me laugh the most: Revenge of the Librarians by Tom Gauld, Undoctored by Adam Kay, Forget Me Not by Sophie Pavelle, Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder


The books that made me cry the most: Foster by Claire Keegan, The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken

Most useful fact gleaned from a book: To convert a Celsius temperature to Fahrenheit, double it and add 30. It’s a rough estimate, but it generally works! I learned this from, of all places, The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken.


Best book club selections: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Best first line encountered this year: “First, I got myself born.” (Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver)


Best last lines encountered this year:

  • “Darling, that’s what life’s for – to take risks.” (Up at the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham)
  • “The defiant soul of the city doesn’t die. It stays alive, right below the surface, pressing up against the boot heels, crouched like the life inside an egg, the force that drives the flower, forever reaching for its next breath.” (Feral City, Jeremiah Moss)
  • “Until the future, whatever it was going to be.” (This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub)


A book that put a song in my head every time I picked it up: Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Adrian Shirk

Shortest book title encountered: O (a poetry collection by Zeina Hashem Beck), followed by XO (a memoir by Sara Rauch)


Best 2022 book title: I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee (No, I haven’t read it and I’m unlikely to, not having had great luck with recent translations of work by Japanese and Korean women.)


Favourite title and cover combo of the year: Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens

Most fun cover serendipity: Two books I read in 2022 featured Matisse cut-outs.

Biggest disappointment: The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki ( for me)


Two 2022 books that everyone was in raptures about but me: Trust by Hernan Diaz and Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (both for me)

A 2022 book that everyone was reading but I decided not to: The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – since I thought Hamnet her weakest work, I’m not eager to try more historical fiction by her.


A 2022 book I can’t read: (No matter how good the reviews might be, because of the title) I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy


The worst books I read this year: The Reactor by Nick Blackburn, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, Anthropology by Dan Rhodes, Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra (1-star ratings are extremely rare from me; these were this year’s four)


The downright strangest book I read this year: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

The Ones that Got Away: 2022’s DNFs, Most Anticipated Reads & More

Every time I list my DNFs the posts are absurdly popular, so if this is the permission you need to drop that book you’ve been struggling with, take it! If for any reason a book isn’t connecting with you, move onto something else; you can always try it another time. I’ve given a few words as to why I gave up on each one. In rough chronological order:


What Cannot Be Undone by Walter M. Robinson: Medical essays. Repetitive and mawkish; won’t stand out in the crowded field of doctors’ memoirs.


Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary by Johanna Kaplan: Rediscovered short stories of Jewish NYC in the 1960s–70s. The character portraits are sharp, but the first story, “Other People’s Lives,” is novella length and felt absolutely endless.


Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by Ben Shattuck: Nice enough travel writing about trips to Cape Cod, Walden Pond and Mt. Katahdin, but the information on Thoreau (including extensive quotations) is not well integrated and the reflections generic.


Here Comes the Miracle by Anna Beecher (from the ST Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist): MA-course writing-by-numbers and seemed to be building towards When God Was a Rabbit­-style mawkishness.


Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline: The premise was appealing but it was so slow to go anywhere and the writing was only so-so.


Devotion by Hannah Kent: I was enjoying the beautiful writing and the gentle love story unfolding between two teenage girls setting off from Prussia to Australia with their families. My interest waned a little during the start of the sea voyage, as I kept waiting for the bizarre twist other bloggers had warned of. When I finally got to it, it seemed so silly that I could scarcely be bothered to continue. A shame as I was getting Kiran Millwood Hargrave vibes.


Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra: A huge disappointment as I adored Marra’s two previous works. I wasn’t connecting to the characters or setting at all. Something about it felt too familiar, also; I kept trying to think what it was reminding me of. Mr Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe?


After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz: From the Booker Prize longlist. Another case of a terrific premise – and interesting style, too, what with the first person plural in the prologue and the discrete paragraphs like prose poems – but I found that there were too many historical figures, most of them too obscure for me to get interested in.


Raining Sideways: A Devonshire Diary of Food and Farming by Sally Vincent: Boring observations, poorly edited.


Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth: I actually read about two-thirds of this comic horror novel about a woman dealing with the aftermath of her hateful mother-in-law’s suicide, and intended to review it for R.I.P. even though it felt try-hard. But when my mother died I found that the whole thing seemed in poor taste and I didn’t want to go back to it.


Liberation Day by George Saunders: I only read the first story, which was so much like “The Semplica Girl Diaries” (from Tenth of December) in voice and content that it felt unnecessary, as well as being overlong (nearly 1/3 of the whole book). I’ll hold my place in the Kindle edition and think about trying the rest again another time.


Lessons by Ian McEwan: I’m used to much shorter novels with more contrived plots from McEwan, whereas this feels like the sort of rambling life story William Boyd would have written. I was intrigued by the promised element of Roland’s abuse by his childhood piano teacher, but bored with the Cold War theme of the 1980s strand (which feels most like The Child in Time from his past oeuvre). Perhaps I’ll try it again another day.


Plus a handful more I didn’t keep notes on and barely remember, so they just get my reductive and unfair two-word summaries (alphabetical order this time):

  • Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson: Too quirky.
  • The Flow by Amy-Jane Beer: Too overwritten.
  • The Wilderness by Sarah Duguid: Too pulpy.
  • Brave New World: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham: Too lurid.
  • Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale: Too mild.
  • The Quarry by Ben Halls: Too gritty.
  • The White Rock by Anna Hope: Too what’s-the-point.
  • One Good Story, That One by Thomas King: Too trickster.
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee: Too old-fashioned.
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell: Too academic.
  • What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi: Too weird.
  • Catch Your Breath by Ed Patrick: Too unfunny.
  • The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke: Too boring.

Whew. I think that’s all.

That works out to abandoning about 8% of the books I started in the year, which is not a bad average for me (often it’s closer to 15%).


In January, I wrote about the 20 new releases I was most looking forward to reading in 2022. Here’s how I did with them:

Read and enjoyed (3.5* or above rating): 10 (a few will appear on my Best-of lists for the year)

Currently reading: 2

Started but set aside; need to finish: 3

Haven’t managed to get hold of: 3

Not actually published yet: 2 (Heartstopper, Volume 5 is now due out in 2023; try as I might, I can’t find any info on A Violent Woman by Ayana Mathis.)

This beats last year’s showing, when I had 5 DNFs from my Most Anticipated list!


I regret running out of time to finish True Biz and Horse from that Most Anticipated list, as well as The Rabbit Hutch (a bit too clever for its own good?) and Fight Night. It’s entirely possible that I could have found some more year favourites on my groaning set-aside and review backlog shelves. I also would have liked to get to the in-demand 2022 releases I’ve just picked up from the library, including The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and Our Missing Hearts. No matter – I’ll enjoy these just as much when I get to them in an unhurried fashion next year.


What are some of the ‘ones that got away’ from you this year?

Love Your Library, December 2022

The UK has just experienced its coldest week since 2010, so it’s no wonder we’ve been freezing here in our drafty old house. It’s turning milder (and rainy), so we hope to have it habitable for hosting my parents-in-law on Christmas day, and my sister the week after.

Margaret sent me a link to this charming story about a public library in Poland that moved its entire collection 350 meters down the road using a human chain of over 600 volunteers. Marcie sourced many of her graphic novel and poetry reads, as well as various globe-trotting stories, from the library this year. And Eleanor has been reading loads of print and e-books from her library: everything from Dickens to sci-fi. Thank you all for your contributions!

Earlier in the month my library closed to the public for two days to complete a stock take (which happens once every three years). I helped out for my usual two hours on the Tuesday morning, scanning children’s chapter books with a tiny device about the size of two memory sticks put together. We scanned the library’s nearly 50,000 on-shelf items in the equivalent of just over one working day.

All of my remaining reservations seem to have come in at once. There’s no hope of me reading all the big-name 2022 releases (such as the Booker Prize winner, and Celeste Ng’s new novel) before the end of the year, but I will see if I can manage to finish a few more that I have in progress.


Since last month:



  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks
  • A Heart that Works by Rob Delaney
  • Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner



What have you been reading or reviewing from the library recently?

Share a link to your own post in the comments. Feel free to use the above image. The hashtag is #LoveYourLibrary.

Book Serendipity, Mid-October to Mid-December 2022

The last entry in this series for the year. Those of you who join me for Love Your Library, note that I’ll host it on the 19th this month to avoid the holidays. Other than that, I don’t know how many more posts I’ll fit in before my year-end coverage (about six posts of best-of lists and statistics). Maybe I’ll manage a few more backlog reviews and a thematic roundup.

I call it “Book Serendipity” when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something in common – the more bizarre, the better. This is a regular feature of mine every few months. Because I usually have 20–30 books on the go at once, I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. The following are in roughly chronological order.

  • Tom Swifties (a punning joke involving the way a quotation is attributed) in Savage Tales by Tara Bergin (“We get a lot of writers in here, said the rollercoaster operator lowering the bar”) and one of the stories in Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (“Would you like a soda? he asked spritely”).


  • Prince’s androgynous symbol was on the cover of Dickens and Prince by Nick Hornby and is mentioned in the opening pages of Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber.
  • Clarence Thomas is mentioned in one story of Birds of America by Lorrie Moore and Encore by May Sarton. (A function of them both dating to the early 1990s!)


  • A kerfuffle over a ring belonging to the dead in one story of Shoot the Horses First by Leah Angstman and Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth.


  • Excellent historical fiction with a 2023 release date in which the amputation of a woman’s leg is a threat or a reality: one story of Shoot the Horses First by Leah Angstman and The House Is on Fire by Rachel Beanland.
  • More of a real-life coincidence, this one: I was looking into Paradise, Piece by Piece by Molly Peacock, a memoir I already had on my TBR, because of an Instagram post I’d read about books that were influential on a childfree woman. Then, later the same day, my inbox showed that Molly Peacock herself had contacted me through my blog’s contact form, offering a review copy of her latest book!


  • Reading nonfiction books titled The Heart of Things (by Richard Holloway) and The Small Heart of Things (by Julian Hoffman) at the same time.


  • A woman investigates her husband’s past breakdown for clues to his current mental health in The Fear Index by Robert Harris and Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth.


  • “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” is a repeated phrase in Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, as it was in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.
  • Massive, much-anticipated novel by respected author who doesn’t publish very often, and that changed names along the way: John Irving’s The Last Chairlift (2022) was originally “Darkness as a Bride” (a better title!); Abraham Verghese’s The Covenant of Water (2023) started off as “The Maramon Convention.” I plan to read the Verghese but have decided against the Irving.


  • Looting and white flight in New York City in Feral City by Jeremiah Moss and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.


  • Two bereavement memoirs about a loved one’s death from pancreatic cancer: Ti Amo by Hanne Ørstavik and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.
  • The Owl and the Pussycat of Edward Lear’s poem turn up in an update poem by Margaret Atwood in her collection The Door and in Anna James’s fifth Pages & Co. book, The Treehouse Library.


  • Two books in which the author draws security attention for close observation of living things on the ground: Where the Wildflowers Grow by Leif Bersweden and The Lichen Museum by A. Laurie Palmer.


  • Seal and human motherhood are compared in Zig-Zag Boy by Tanya Frank and All of Us Together in the End by Matthew Vollmer, two 2023 memoirs I’m enjoying a lot.
  • Mystical lights appear in Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (the Northern Lights, there) and All of Us Together in the End by Matthew Vollmer.


  • St Vitus Dance is mentioned in Zig-Zag Boy by Tanya Frank and Robin by Helen F. Wilson.


  • The history of white supremacy as a deliberate project in Oregon was a major element in Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Adrian Shirk, which I read earlier in the year, and has now recurred in The Distance from Slaughter County by Steven Moore.

What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

December Reading Plans

November is always a busy blogging month what with co-hosting Novellas in November and making small contributions to several other challenges: Nonfiction November, German Literature Month, and Margaret Atwood Reading Month.

In the final month of the year, my ambitions are always split:

I want to get to as many 2022 releases as possible … but I also want to dip a toe into the 2023 offerings.

I need to work on my review copy backlog … but I also want to relax and read some cosy wintry or holiday-themed stuff.

I want to get to the library books I’ve had out for ages … but I also want to spend some time reading from my shelves.

And that’s not even to mention my second year of McKitterick Prize judging (my manuscript longlist is due at the end of January).

My set-aside shelves (yes, literal shelves plural) are beyond ridiculous, and I have another partial shelf of review books not yet started. I do feel bad that I’ve accepted so many 2022 books for review and not read them, let alone reviewed them. But books are patient, and I’m going to cut myself some slack given that my year has contained two of the most stressful events possible (buying and moving into a house, and the death of a close family member).

I’m not even going to show you my preposterous backlog, because my WordPress media library is at capacity. “Looks like you have used 3.0 GB of your 3.0 GB upload limit (99%).” I’ll have to work on deleting lots of old images later on this month so that I can post photos of my best-of stacks towards the end of the year.

So, for December I’ll work a bit on all of the above. My one final challenge to self is “Diverse December” – not official since 2020, when Naomi Frisby spearheaded it, but worth doing anyway. This is the second year that I’ve specifically monitored my reading of BIPOC authors. Last year, I managed 18.5%. I have no idea where I stand now, but would like to see a higher total.

I’ll start with a December review book, A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero, and see how I go from there. I was a lucky recipient of a proof copy of The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor, one of my new favourite authors; it doesn’t come out until May 23 in the USA and June 22 in the UK, but I will also see if I can read it early. Another potential 2023 release I have by a BIPOC author is Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling, a debut dystopian novel about climate refugees, which arrived unsolicited last month.

Among the other tempting options on my dedicated BIPOC-author shelf:

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez

Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil

What are your year-end bookish plans? Happy December reading!