Category Archives: memes

Six Degrees of Separation: From Wintering to The Summer of the Bear

This month we begin with Wintering by Katherine May. I reviewed this for the Times Literary Supplement back in early 2020 and enjoyed the blend of memoir, nature and travel writing. (See also Kate’s opening post.)

#1 May travels to Iceland, which is the location of Sarah Moss’s memoir Names for the Sea. I’ve read nine of Moss’s books and consider her one of my favourite contemporary authors. (I’m currently rereading Night Waking.)

 

#2 Nancy Campbell’s Fifty Words for Snow shares an interest in languages and naming. I noted that the Icelandic “hundslappadrifa” refers to snowflakes as large as a dog’s paw.

 

#3 In 2018­–19, Campbell was the poet laureate for the Canal & River Trust. As part of her tour of the country’s waterways, she came to Newbury and wrote a poem on commission about the community gardening project I volunteer with. (Here’s her blog post about the experience.) Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson is about a canalboat journey.

 

#4 Youngson’s novel was inspired by the setup of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Another book loosely based on a classic is The Decameron Project, a set of 29 short stories ranging from realist to dystopian in their response to pandemic times.

 

#5 Another project updating the classics was the Hogarth Shakespeare series. One of these books (though not my favourite) was The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, her take on The Winter’s Tale.

 

#6 Even if you’ve not read it (it happened to be on my undergraduate curriculum), you probably know that The Winter’s Tale famously includes the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear.” I’m finishing with The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen, one of the novels I read on my trip to the Outer Hebrides because it’s set on North Uist. I’ll review it in full soon, but for now will say that it does actually have a bear in it, and is based on a true story.

 

I’m pleased with myself for going from Wintering (via various other ice, snow and winter references) to a “Summer” title. We’ve crossed the hemispheres from Kate’s Australian winter to summertime here.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point will be the recent winner of the Women’s Prize, The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki.

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Sorrow and Bliss to Weather

This month we begin with Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. (See also Kate’s opening post.) This is my personal favourite from the Women’s Prize shortlist and couldn’t be a better pick for the Six Degrees starter this month because I’ll be skimming back through the novel this weekend in advance of my book club’s discussion of it on Monday. (We’re one of this year’s six book groups shadowing the Women’s Prize through a Reading Agency initiative, so we then have to give semi-official feedback on our experience of the book by Wednesday.)

#1 Sorrow and Bliss is a terrific tragicomedy about sisterhood and mental health – as is All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, with which it shares a loaded title word as well.

 

#2 Toews grew up in a Canadian Mennonite community, which leads me to my second choice, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, a set of droll autobiographical essays that I read on a USA trip in 2017.

 

#3 During the same trip, I read Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, a witty novel about Bennie Ford’s rather miserable life, presented in the form of his longwinded complaint letter to the airline that has treated him to an unexpected overnight layover in Chicago.

 

#4 Another laugh-out-loud book in the form of unlikely letters: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, in which Jason Fitger, an irascible middle-aged English professor in the Midwest, writes ambivalent letters of recommendation for students and colleagues.

 

#5 One more “Dear” book of letters – I just can’t get enough of the epistolary form: Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence. As the subtitle states, it’s a librarian’s love letters and breakup notes to books she’s adored and loathed. Casual and amusing, with good book recs.

 

#6 I’ll finish with Weather by Jenny Offill, one of my favourites from 2020, which is also voiced by a librarian. Through Lizzie, Offill captures modern anxiety about Trump-era politics, the climate crisis and making meaningful use of time.

 


I have read all the books in this month’s chain (the links above are to my Goodreads reviews), and in a time of relentless bad news have chosen to prioritize humour and keep my descriptions short and light. These are all books that made me laugh, sometimes despite their weighty content, and half of them are built around letters. I’ve also looped from one Women’s Prize-shortlisted title to another.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point will be Wintering by Katherine May – though it’s summer here, it’s winter where Kate is in Australia!

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees of Separation: True History of the Kelly Gang to Geek Love

This month we begin with True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. (See also Kate’s opening post.) I feel like I still have an unread copy, but won’t find out now until after we move. I’ve read several of Carey’s novels; my favourite by far was Parrot and Olivier in America, a delightful picaresque set in the early 19th century.

#1 Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes was one of my most-admired novels in my twenties, though I didn’t like it quite as much when I reread it in 2020. Funnily enough, his new novel has a bird in the title, too: Elizabeth Finch. I’m two-thirds through and it’s feeling like warmed-up leftovers of The Sense of an Ending with extra history and philosophy on the side.

 

#2 My latest reread was Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, for book club. I’ve read all of her novels and always thought of this one as my favourite. A reread didn’t change that, so I rated it 5 stars. I love the neat structure that bookends the action between the death of Queen Victoria and the death of Edward VII, and the focus on funerary customs (with Highgate Cemetery a major setting) and women’s rights is right up my street.

 

#3 Another novel featuring an angel that I read for a book club was The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox. It’s set in Burgundy, France in 1808, when an angel rescues a drunken winemaker from a fall. All I can remember is that it was bizarre and pretty terrible, so I’m glad I didn’t realize it was the same author and went ahead with a read of The Absolute Book.

 

#4 The winemaking theme takes me to my next selection, Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, which I read on a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium in 2017. Bosker, previously a technology journalist, gave herself a year and a half to learn everything she could about wine in hopes of passing the Court of Master Sommeliers exam. The result is such a fun blend of science, memoir and encounters with people who are deadly serious about wine.

 

#5 I have so often heard the title The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo, though I don’t know why because I can’t think of an acquaintance who’s actually read or reviewed it. The synopsis: “When Frank, an Irish dwarf, writes a personal memoir, he moves from dark isolation into the public eye. This luminous journey is marked by memories of his lonely childhood, secrets of his doomed young mother, and his passion for a woman who is as unreachable as the stars.” Sounds a bit like A Prayer for Owen Meany.

 

#6 Another novel with a dwarf: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, about a carnival of freaks that tours U.S. backwaters. I have meant to read this for many years and was even convinced that I owned a copy, but on my last few trips to the States I’ve not been able to find it in one of the boxes in my sister’s basement. Hmmm.

To the extent that we have ‘a song,’ “Geek Love” by Nerina Pallot would be it for my husband and me. A line from the chorus is “We’re geeks, but we know this is love.” It’s from her breakout album Fires, which came out in 2005 and was almost constant listening fodder for us while we were engaged. We’ve seen her live three times and she always plays this one.

 

From a gang via dorks to geeks, linked by the fact of books being stuck in (Schrödinger’s) boxes. Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason — perfect given that it’s the book my book group has been sent to discuss as we shadow this year’s Women’s Prize.

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Our Wives Under the Sea to Groundskeeping

This month we began with Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, one of my favourite novels of the year so far. It fuses horror-tinged magic realism with an emotionally resonant story of disconnection and grief. My review is here. I met the lovely Julia Armfield at the 2019 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award ceremony at the London Library. (See also Kate’s opening post.)

#1 This morning I was reading in Slime, Susanne Wedlich’s wide-ranging popular science book about primordial slime and mucus and biofilms and everything in between, about the peculiar creatures that thrive in the high-pressure deep sea level known as the hadal zone – which is of great significance in Armfield’s book. One of these is the hadal snailfish.

#2 I wish I could remember how I first heard about The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (2010). Possibly the Bas Bleu catalogue? In any case, it was one of the books I requested on interlibrary loan during one of our stays with my parents in Maryland. Bailey, bedbound by chronic illness, saw in the snail that lived on her bedside table a microcosm of nature and animal behaviour. It’s a peaceful book about changing one’s pace and expectations, and thereby appreciating life.

#3 The book is still much admired in nature writing circles. In fact, it was mentioned by Anita Roy, one of the panellists at last year’s New Networks for Nature conference – except she couldn’t remember the author’s name so asked the audience if anyone knew. Yours truly called it out (twice, so I could be heard over my face mask). Anyway, Josie George is in a similar position to Bailey and A Still Life records how she has cultivated close observation skills of the nature around her. I believe she was even inspired to keep a snail at one point.

#4 Still Life is one of my favourite A.S. Byatt novels (this is not the first time I’ve used one of her novels that happens to have the same title as another book as a link in my chain; see also September 2020’s). Back in 2010, Erica Wagner, then literary editor of The Times and one of my idols (she’s American), happened to mention in her column the manner of death of a character in Still Life. Except she had it wrong. I e-mailed to say so, and got referred to in a follow-up column soon thereafter as a “perceptive reader” (i.e., know-it-all) who spotted the error; she used it as an opportunity to reflect on the tricksy nature of memory.

#5 When I wrote to Wagner, I remarked that the real means of death was similar to Thomas Merton’s, which is why it was fresh in mind though I hadn’t read the Byatt in years. (It would be ripe for rereading, in fact.) No spoilers here, so only look into Merton’s death if you’re morbidly curious and don’t mind having a novel’s ending ruined. I’ve not read an entire book by Merton yet, but have encountered his wisdom piecemeal via lots of references made by other authors and the daily excerpts in the one-year devotional book A Year with Thomas Merton, which I must have worked my way through in 2009.

#6 Merton was a Trappist monk based in Kentucky. In the process of introducing his girlfriend, Alma, a Bosnian American who grew up in northern Virginia, to the state where she’s come to live, Owen, the protagonist of Lee Cole’s debut novel, Groundskeeping, takes her to see Merton’s grave at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky. Literary grave hunting is one of my niche hobbies, and Groundskeeping, like Our Wives Under the Sea, is one of my top novels of 2022 so far.


So, I’ve gone from one reading year highlight to another, via two instances of me being a book nerd. Deep sea creatures, slime and snails, accidental deaths, and literary grave spotting: it’s been an odd chain! That’s just what I happened to come up with this morning, right after I wrote my review of Groundskeeping for BookBrowse; I’d started a chain yesterday afternoon and came up with something completely different before getting stuck on link #4. It goes to show you how arbitrary and off-the-cuff this meme can be, though I know others pick a strategy and stick with it, or first choose the books and then shoehorn them in.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. I can’t remember if I still have a copy – pretty much all of my books are now packed in advance of our mid-May move – but if I find it, I should be sure to actually read it!

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees of Separation: From The End of the Affair to Nutshell

This month we begin with The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, a perfect excuse for me to review a novel I finished more than a year ago. This was only my second novel from Greene, after The Quiet American many a year ago. It’s subtle: low on action and majoring on recollection and regret. Mostly what we get are the bitter memories of Maurice Bendrix, a writer who had an affair with his clueless friend Henry’s wife Sarah during the last days of the Second World War. After she broke up with him, he remained obsessed with her and hired Parkis, a lower-class private detective, to figure out why. To his surprise, Sarah’s diaries revealed, not that she’d taken up with another man, but that she’d found religion. Maurice finds himself in the odd position of being jealous of … God? (More thoughts here.)

 

#1 I asked myself if I’d ever read another book where someone was jealous of a concept rather than a fellow human being, and finally came up with one. I enjoyed Cooking as Fast as I Can by Cat Cora even though I wasn’t aware of this Food Network celebrity and restaurateur. Her memoir focuses on her Mississippi upbringing in a half-Greek adoptive family and the challenges of being gay in the South. Separate obsessions plagued her marriage; I remember at one point she gave her wife an ultimatum: it’s either me or the hot yoga.

 

#2 Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer is one of my favourite-ever book titles. The title is his proposed idea for a self-help book, but … wait for the punchline … he couldn’t be bothered to write it. It’s a book of disparate travel essays, with him as the bumbling antihero, sluggish and stoned. This wasn’t one of his better books, but his descriptions and one-liners are always amusing (my review).

 

#3 Another book with a fantastic title that has nothing to do with the contents: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Again, not my favourite of his essay collections (try Me Talk Pretty One Day or When You Are Engulfed in Flames instead), but he’s reliable for laughs.

 

#4 No more about owls than the previous one; Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame is an autobiographical novel that tells the same story as her An Angel at My Table trilogy (but less compellingly): a hardscrabble upbringing in New Zealand and mental illness that led to incarceration in psychiatric hospitals. The title phrase is from Ariel’s song in The Tempest, which the Withers siblings learn at school. I’ve been ‘reading’ this for nearly a year and a half; really, it’s mostly been on the set-aside shelf for that time.

 

#5 Another title drawn from Shakespeare: there are more things by Yara Rodrigues Fowler is one of my Most Anticipated Books of 2022. It’s about a female friendship that links Brazil and London. I’m holding out hope for a review copy.

 

#6 Fowler’s title comes from Hamlet, which provides the plot for Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, one of his strongest novels of recent years. Within a few pages, I was captivated and utterly convinced by the voice of this contemporary, in utero Hamlet. Not even born and already a snob with an advanced vocabulary and a taste for fine wine, this foetus is a delight to spend time with. His captive state pairs perfectly with Hamlet’s existential despair, but also makes him (and us as readers) part of the conspiracy: even as he wants justice for his father, he has to hope his mother and uncle will get away with their crime; his future depends on it.

 

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.)

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees: From No One Is Talking About This to The White Garden

This month marks two years that I’ve been participating in the Six Degrees meme. I’m an off-and-on contributor – I skipped last month – but this month’s starting book hooked me in. We begin with No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, critically acclaimed but divisive among regular readers. It made my Best of 2021 list. (See Kate’s opening post.)

 

#1 No one is talking about the danger/allure of social media and the real-life moments that matter so much more … or maybe everyone is by now? What else is ‘everyone’ up to? Well, according to an appealing 2021 title from my TBR, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town (a YA linked short story collection by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock). My library has a copy, so I need to catch up.

 

#2 I did a search of my Goodreads library to find other small-town stories and FOUR of the results were unread nonfiction books by Heather Lende, set in Alaska (where lots of the Hitchcock stories are set as well). Now, my rule is that I can only have ONE book by an untried author on my virtual TBR; only if I read and enjoy a book of theirs can I add further titles. So I culled the other three but kept Find the Good, about the simple lessons Lende learned from writing obituaries in her small town.

 

#3 I’ve read a few books with a lemon on the cover, but the one that was most about, you know, lemons, was The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. I chose it as one of my location-appropriate reads – written up here – during a vacation to Tuscany in 2014, my first time in Italy. It contains (more than) all you ever wanted to know about lemons.

 

#4 A less apt read for time spent in Florence, but I distinctly remember lying in bed in our hotel room, which was basically part of a medieval villa, and reading it on my Nook when I couldn’t sleep because of the noisy nightlife out the window: Dirty Daddy by the late comedian Bob Saget. I rarely choose celebrity memoirs and this one was kinda crummy, but I’d requested it from Edelweiss because of my fond memories of the 1990s sitcom Full House.

 

#5 Full house? How about A House Full of Daughters, a family memoir by Juliet Nicolson (sister of Adam)? It covers seven generations of women, including her grandmother, Vita Sackville-West. I loved my visits to Sissinghurst Castle and Knole Park, two of Vita’s homes, and have devoured Adam Nicolson and Sarah Raven’s writings about their work at Sissinghurst. When a neighbour was giving away a copy of this book, I snatched it up. It’s packed in a box and will be awaiting me after our move (coming up in March, we hope).

 

#6 During the lockdown spring I wrote about a silly novel called The White Garden by Stephanie Barron, which imagines that Virginia Woolf did not commit suicide upon her disappearance in March 1941, but hid with Vita at Sissinghurst. An American garden designer tasked with recreating Sackville-West’s famous White Garden at a wealthy client’s upstate New York estate ends up investigating what happened. My interest in the historical figures involved was enough to keep me going through a rather frothy book.

 


From one contemporary novel that swaps farce for poignancy to another that descends into ridiculousness, my chain has travelled via Alaska, Italy and Hollywood to Kent, England. The overarching theme has been fame: on the Internet, in small towns, in show business, and (my kind of celebrity) in the literary world.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation, hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best. Next month’s starting point is The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, my perfect excuse to finally review it (I finished it more than a year ago!).

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Six Degrees: Ethan Frome to A Mother’s Reckoning

This month we began with Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, which was our buddy read for the short classics week of Novellas in November. I reread and reviewed it recently. (See Kate’s opening post.)

 

#1 When I posted an excerpt of my Ethan Frome review on Instagram, I got a comment from the publicist who was involved with the recent UK release of The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin, a modern update of Wharton’s plot. Here’s part of the blurb: “Life for Ethan and Zo used to be simple. Ethan co-founded a lucrative media start-up, and Zo was well on her way to becoming a successful filmmaker. Then they moved to a rural community for a little more tranquility—or so they thought. … Enter a houseguest who is young, fun, and not at all concerned with the real world, and Ethan is abruptly forced to question everything: his past, his future, his marriage, and what he values most.” I’m going to try to get hold of a review copy when the paperback comes out in February.

 

#2 One of my all-time favourite debut novels is The Innocents by Francesca Segal, which won the Costa First Novel Award in 2012. It is also a contemporary reworking of an Edith Wharton novel, this time The Age of Innocence. Segal’s love triangle, set in a world I know very little about (the tight-knit Jewish community of northwest London), stays true to the emotional content of the original: the interplay of love and desire, jealousy and frustration. Adam Newman has been happily paired with Rachel Gilbert for nearly 12 years. Now engaged, Adam and Rachel seem set to become pillars of the community. Suddenly, their future is threatened by the return of Rachel’s bad-girl American cousin, Ellie Schneider.

 

#3 Also set in north London’s Jewish community is The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013. Chani is the fifth of eight daughters in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Golders Green. The story begins and closes with Chani and Baruch’s wedding ceremony, and in between it loops back to detail their six-month courtship and highlight a few events from their family past. It’s a light-hearted, gossipy tale of interclass matchmaking in the Jane Austen vein.

 

#4 I learned more about Jewish beliefs and rituals via several memoirs, including Between Gods by Alison Pick. Her paternal grandparents escaped Czechoslovakia just before the Holocaust; she only found out that her father was Jewish through eavesdropping. In 2008 the author (a Toronto-based novelist and poet) decided to convert to Judaism. The book vividly depicts a time of tremendous change, covering a lot of other issues Pick was dealing with simultaneously, such as depression, preparation for marriage, pregnancy, and so on.

 

#5 One small element of Pick’s story was her decision to be tested for the BRCA gene because it’s common among Ashkenazi Jews. Tay-Sachs disease is usually found among Ashkenazi Jews, but because only her husband was Jewish, Emily Rapp never thought to be tested before she became pregnant with her son Ronan. Had she known she was also a carrier, things might have gone differently. The Still Point of the Turning World was written while her young son was still alive, but terminally ill.

 

#6 Another wrenching memoir of losing a son: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of the Columbine school shooters. I was in high school myself at the time, and the event made a deep impression on me. Perhaps the most striking thing about this book is Klebold’s determination to reclaim Columbine as a murder–suicide and encourage mental health awareness; all author proceeds were donated to suicide prevention and mental health charities. There’s no real redemptive arc, though, no easy answers; just regrets. If something similar could happen to any family, no one is immune. And Columbine was only one of many major shootings. I finished this feeling spent, even desolate. Yet this is a vital book everyone should read.

 

So, I’ve gone from one unremittingly bleak book to another, via sex, religion and death. Nothing for cheerful holiday reading – or a polite dinner party conversation – here! All my selections were by women this month.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.)

Next month’s starting point is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles; I have a copy on the shelf and this would be a good excuse to read it!

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Novellas in November Wrap-Up

Last year, our first of hosting Novellas in November as an official blogger challenge, we had 89 posts by 30 bloggers. This year, Cathy and I have been simply blown away by the level of participation: as of this afternoon, our count is that 49 bloggers have taken part, publishing just over 200 posts and covering over 270 books. We’ve done our best to keep up with the posts, which we’ve each been collecting as links on the opening master post. (Here’s mine.)

Thank you all for being so engaged with #NovNov, including with the buddy reads we tried out for the first time this year. We’re already thinking about changes we might implement for next year.

A special mention goes to Simon of Stuck in a Book for being such a star supporter and managing to review a novella on most days of the month.

Our most reviewed books of the month included new releases (The Fell by Sarah Moss, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Assembly by Natasha Brown, and The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery), our four buddy reads, and The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy.

Some authors who were reviewed more than once (highlighting different works) were Margaret Atwood, Henry James, Elizabeth Jolley, Amos Oz, George Simenon, and Muriel Spark.

Of course, novellas are great to read the whole year round and not just in November, but we hope this has been a good excuse to pick up some short books and appreciate how much can be achieved with such a limited number of pages. If we missed any of your coverage, let us know and we will gladly add it in to the master list.

See you next year!

Six Degrees of Separation: What Are You Going Through to No Saints Around Here

I’ve become an occasional Six Degrees of Separation post-er, when the mood strikes me and/or I get a flash of inspiration. This month we began with What Are You Going Through, which I reviewed back in October 2020. (See Kate’s opening post.)

Between that, The Friend and A Feather on the Breath of God, Sigrid Nunez has quickly become one of my favourite contemporary authors. I have two more of her novels on the shelf to read soon, one from my birthday haul.

In What Are You Going Through, the narrator is called upon to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. However, I summed up the message as “Curiosity about other lives fuels empathy,” and noted “a sort of slapstick joy early in this morbid adventure.”

 

#1 One of the stand-out books from my 2021 reading so far has been The Inevitable, which is about assisted dying. The case studies are wrenching but compassionately told. Katie Engelhart explores the nuances of situations, crafting expert portraits of suffering people and the medical professionals who seek to help them, and adding much in the way of valuable context.

 

#2 As the saying goes, if there’s one thing inevitable besides death, it’s taxes. And if you’re a U.S. citizen, you will remain accountable to the IRS until the day you die, no matter where you live. (Eritrea is the only other country that requires expatriates to fill in tax returns.) I’ve now gotten my U.S. tax forms down to a science, keeping a list of pointers and previous years’ forms as scanned files so that I just have to plug in the year’s numbers, put zeroes in all the important boxes (since I’ve already paid income tax in the UK), and send it off. A matter of an hour or two’s work, rewarded by a G&T.

But I distinctly remember the Junes when I would spend days muddling through byzantine IRS forms, so I am very grateful that an offer for this e-book arrived in my inbox via my blog contact form in 2017: U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans by Olivier Wagner. It goes through each form, often line by line. Three cheers for actually helpful self-help guides!

 

#3 Another expat tip that I found extremely useful, small as it might seem, is that “quite” means something different in American vs. British English. To an American it’s a synonym for “very”; to the guarded Brits, it’s more like “rather.” I have the Julian Barnes essay collection Letters from London to thank for this vital scrap of etymological knowledge.

 

#4 Unsurprisingly, I have built up a small library of books about understanding the English and their ways. In the How to Be a Brit omnibus, collecting three short volumes from the 1940s–70s, George Mikes (a Hungarian immigrant) makes humorous observations that have, in general, aged well. His mini-essays on tea, weather and queuing struck me as particularly apt. I would draw a straight line from this through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island to the Very British Problems phenomenon.

 

#5 As I was preparing to fly to England for the first time for my study abroad year, one of the authors who most whetted my appetite for British travel was Susan Allen Toth, whose trilogy of UK-themed memoirs-with-recommendations began with My Love Affair with England – included in one of my Landmark Books in My Life posts. I’m rereading one of the other three now.

 

#6 Toth is a very underrated author, I feel. I’ve read most of her memoirs and have a short nonfiction work of hers on my pile for #NovNov. Her most recent book is No Saints Around Here: A Caregiver’s Days (2014), in which she chronicled the last 18 months of her husband James’s life, as she and an army of caregivers coped with his decline from Parkinson’s disease. Toth gets the tone just right: although she is honest, she is never melodramatic; although she often feels sorry for herself, she also recognizes how lucky she has been, not just to have done a good job of looking after James, but to have had him in her life at all.

 

I’ve gone full circle from one story of caregiving to another, via death, taxes and Englishness. The starting and ending books are reminders that you never fully know what another person is going through; all we can do is our best while cutting others some slack.

 


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is our buddy read for week 4 of #NovNov, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Novellas in November (#NovNov) Begins! Leave Your Links Here

I always look forward to November’s reading. Since 2016 I’ve been prioritizing novellas in this month, but this is only the second year that Cathy of 746 Books and I have co-hosted Novellas in November as a proper reading challenge.

We have four weekly prompts and “buddy reads” as below. We hope you’ll join in reading one or more of these with us. The host for the week will aim to publish her review on the Thursday, but feel free to post yours at any time in the month. (A reminder that we suggest 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 for the contemporary week.)

 

1–7 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson – including a giveaway of a signed copy!

 

8–14 November: Short nonfiction (Rebecca)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free to download here from Project Gutenberg. Note: only the first 85 pages constitute her memoir; the rest is letters and supplementary material.)

 

15–21 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

 

22–28 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (free to download here from Project Gutenberg)

 

Leave links to any of your novellas coverage in the comments below or tag us on Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and/or Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books) and we’ll add them to a master list.

 

Enjoy your reading!

 


Ongoing list of Novellas in November 2021 posts:

 

Five novellas: de Kat, Lynch, Mingarelli, Sjón, Terrin (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Four novellas with screen adaptations (a list by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Contemporary novellas from the archives (a list by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

A Child in the Theatre by Rachel Ferguson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Death of the Author by Gilbert Adair (reviewed by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings)

Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Five novellas: Burley, Capote, Hill, Steinbeck, Welsh (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grøndahl (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Open Water & Other Contemporary Novellas Read This Year

An Island by Karen Jennings (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

I’m Ready Now by Nigel Featherstone (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Lonely by Paul Gallico (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Love Child by Edith Olivier (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Murder Included by Joanna Cannan (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald: From Novella to Movie (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

The River by Rumer Godden (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Rector and The Doctor’s Family by Mrs Oliphant (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (reviewed by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Foe by J.M. Coetzee (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Short Non-fiction from the archives (a list by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Nonfiction November: Book Pairing – Novellas and Nonfiction (a list by Cathy at 746 Books)

Casanova’s Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Which Way? by Theodora Benson (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Short Memoirs by Lucille Clifton, Alice Thomas Ellis and Deborah Levy

Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Birds of the Innocent Wood by Deirdre Madden (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (reviewed by Grant at 1streading)

The Poor Man by Stella Benson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Short Nature Books by John Burnside, Jim Crumley and Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Hiroshima by John Hersey (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Short nonfiction by Athill, Herriot and Mantel (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Story of Stanley Brent by Elizabeth Berridge (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Parakeeting of London by Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Taking a Look Back at Novellas Read in 2021 (a list by JDC at Gallimaufry Book Studio)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (a review by Mairead at Swirl and Thread)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

Coda by Thea Astley (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Notes from an Island by Tove Jansson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Clare at Years of Reading Selfishly)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss

The Looking Glass by Carla Sarett (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Daisy Miller by Henry James (reviewed by Diana at Thoughts on Papyrus)

Heritage by Vita Sackville-West (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

One Billion Years to the End of the World by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (reviewed by Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery)

We Kill Stella by Marlen Haushofer and Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Passing by Nella Larsen, from Novella to Screen (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

The Employees by Olga Ravn and A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Maigret in Court by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus by Lauren Elkin (reviewed by Rebecca at Reading Indie)

Six Scottish Novellas: Gray, Mackay Brown, Mitchison, Muir, Owens, Smith (reviewed by Grant at 1streading)

Cain by José Saramago (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (Booktube review by Jennifer at Insert Literary Pun Here)

Tinkers by Paul Harding (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard (reviewed by Emma at Book Around the Corner)

Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

Utility Furniture by Jon Mills (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Symposium by Muriel Spark (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, annual Novella Project edition (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

SixforSunday: Novellas Read in 2021 before November (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

The Silent Traveller in Oxford by Chiang Yee (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Spoke by Friedrich Glauser (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Dinner by César Aira (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Scrolls from the Dead Sea by Edmund Wilson (reviewed by Reese at Typings)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

The White Riband by F. Tennyson Jesse (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Translated fiction novellas from the archives, including Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal by Charlie Hill (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Crusade by Amos Oz (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Barbarian Spring by Jonas Lüscher (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Eric at Lonesome Reader)

Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Particularly Cats by Doris Lessing (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel and The Peacock by Isabel Bogdan (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Assembly by Natasha Brown (reviewed at Radhika’s Reading Retreat)

Ludmilla by Paul Gallico (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

An interview with Stella Sabin of Peirene Press (by Cathy at 746 Books)

Behind the Mask by Kate Walter

The Pigeon and The Appointment

In the Company of Men and Winter Flowers

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli (reviewed by Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery)

Inspector Chopra & the Million Dollar Motor Car by Vaseem Khan (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Father Malachy’s Miracle by Bruce Marshall (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ignorance by Milan Kundera (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Rider on the Rain by Sébastien Japrisot and The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet and Fear by Stefan Zweig (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Some classics from my archives (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

The Cardinals by Bessie Head (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed, A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Deep by Rivers Solomon (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

Four novellas, four countries, four decades (reviewed by Emma at Book Around the Corner)

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (reviewed by Reese at Typings)

The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Six Short Cat Books: Muriel Barbery, Garfield and More

Catholics by Brian Moore (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

The Witch of Clatteringshaws by Joan Aiken (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Three to See the King by Magnus Mills (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada and Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Love by Angela Carter (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Novellas in November 2021 Wrap Up (by Carol at Reading Ladies)

A Guide to Modernism in Metroland by Joshua Abbott and Black London by Avril Nanton and Jody Burton (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Clara’s Daughter by Meike Ziervogel (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: from Novella to Screen (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Three Contemporary Novellas: Moss, Brown and Gaitskill (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Seven Final Novellas: Crumley, Morris, Rapp Black; Hunter, Johnson, Josipovici, Otsuka

In Pious Memory by Margery Sharp (reviewed by HeavenAli)

Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood, The Story of Stanley Brent by Elizabeth Berridge, Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda (reviewed by HeavenAli)

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (reviewed by She Reads Novels)

Caravan Story by Wayne Macauley (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

I Am God, a Novel by Giacomo Sartori (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (reviewed by Erdeaka at The Bookly Purple)

Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (reviewed by Emma at Words and Peace)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

Women & Power by Mary Beard and Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler and I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (reviewed by Madame Bibi Lophile)

Things I Don’t Want to Know and The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (reviewed by Madame Bibi Lophile)

Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

The Woman in the Blue Cloak by Deon Meyer (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

The White Woman by Liam Davison (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

Fludd by Hilary Mantel (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

In Translation by Annamarie Jagose (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson, The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe, Tower by Frances Boyle, Winter Wren by Theresa Kishkan, and The Santa Rosa Trilogy by Wendy McGrath (reviewed by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)

An essay on Kate Jennings’ Snake (reviewed by Whispering Gums)

Life in Translation by Anthony Ferner and Friend Indeed by Katharine d’Souza (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Every Day Is Gertie Day by Helen Meany (reviewed by Whispering Gums)

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au (reviewed by Brona’s Books at This Reading Life)

A Dream Life by Claire Messud (reviewed by Brona’s Books at This Reading Life)

Why Do I Like Novellas? Barnes, Brown, Jones, Ravn (reviewed by Stargazer)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

Foster by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Smithereens)

The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

King City by Stephen Pennell (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Missus by Ruth Park (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Inseparable by Simone de Beauvoir (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven (reviewed by Robin at A Fondness for Reading)

Maigret Defends Himself by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark (reviewed by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey, Naturally Supernatural by Wendy Mann, The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark, Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Assembly by Natasha Brown, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, All the Devils Are Here by David Seabrook, Space Exploration by Dhara Patel (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Bellow, Powell, Wolkers, Bomans, al-Saadawi, de Jong, Buck, Simenon, Boschwitz (reviewed by Sarah at Market Garden Reader)