Tag Archives: Helen Russell

Book Serendipity, November to December 2021

I call it Book Serendipity when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something pretty bizarre in common. Because I have so many books on the go at once (usually 20–30), I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. I’ve realized that, of course, synchronicity is really the more apt word, but this branding has stuck. This used to be a quarterly feature, but to keep the lists from getting too unwieldy I’ve shifted to bimonthly.

The following are in roughly chronological order.


  • The received wisdom that, in a medical school interview, when asked why you want to become a doctor, you should NOT say “because I want to help people” turns up in The Cure for Good Intentions by Sophie Harrison and Head First by Alastair Santhouse.


  • The fact that long-time couples don’t use each other’s first names anymore is mentioned in The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos and The Cemetery in Barnes by Gabriel Josipovici.
  • A rare and thus precious letter from a father in Generations by Lucille Clifton and The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos.


  • The fact that woodpeckers will eat songbird chicks was mentioned in Orchard by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates and Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian.


  • Reading two books with covers featuring a partial head-on face at the same time: Taste by Stanley Tucci and Behind the Mask by Kate Walter.
  • The fact that some of a baby’s cells remain within the mother even after she’s given birth is mentioned in The End We Start From by Megan Hunter and Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black.


  • The author’s body is described as a conundrum in Conundrum by Jan Morris and Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black.
  • The potoo (a bird like a nightjar) is the subject of an essay in World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and a poem in The Store-House of Wonder and Astonishment by Sherry Rind (coming out in January 2022).


  • Reading a second memoir this year by an English woman whose partner works for Lego in Denmark: first was A Still Life by Josie George, then The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell.
  • A mention of the disorienting experience of going into a cinema while it’s still light and then coming out to find it dark in Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and then in the 2022 novel Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield.


  • A detailed account of making a Christmas cake appears in Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, read late in the year, and the Santa Rosa trilogy by Wendy McGrath, read early in the year.
  • After Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living in November, I read a proof copy of a February 2022 essay collection called Cost of Living, by Emily Maloney, in December.


  • Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon has a poem entitled “No More Poems about My Father” while The Kids by Hannah Lowe has a poem (“The River”) that opens with the line “Not another poem about my father”.


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

Love Your Library, December 2021

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! It’s the third month of the new Love Your Library feature. I’d like to start out by thanking Margaret and Rosemary for their recent posts. Margaret’s compares libraries then and now through her experiences as a teenage library assistant in the late 1960s versus as a volunteer these days. Rosemary’s is about rediscovering the joy of browsing her local library.

It’s been a quieter library month for me: I could only go in for volunteering a few times before I flew to the USA for Christmas, and I was focusing more on returning books than on borrowing them, though I do have this small stack awaiting me when I get back. Two from the Costa poetry shortlist (I’ve already read 1.5 of them, actually), a collection of short stories I’ve had recommended several times now, and a novella to reread for January’s book club.

Since last month, these are the library books I’ve read (three poetry books and a doctor’s memoir):


A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi

The Cure for Good Intentions by Sophie Harrison

Conundrum by Jan Morris (a reread)

The State of the Prisons by Sinéad Morrissey

The Moon Is Always Female by Marge Piercy


The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

A book club read. Russell moved to rural Denmark when her husband got a job at the Lego headquarters and used her first year there as an excuse to investigate the Danish way of life and try to determine why everyone seemed so happy. My book club enjoyed the blend of information and experience and found this as light and entertaining as a novel. Although there must have been a lot of research and networking involved, Russell makes her discoveries seem effortless. A few of us felt the book was too long, or incorporated too many statistics, but there was a lot to admire about Denmark (the social safety net, the education system, childcare, clubs for adults across classes, etc.). And it made us laugh!

Do share a link to your own post in the comments, and feel free to use the above image. I’ve co-opted a hashtag that is already popular on Twitter and Instagram: #LoveYourLibrary.

Here’s a reminder of my ideas of what you might choose to post (this list will stay up on the project page):

  • Photos or a list of your latest library book haul
  • An account of a visit to a new-to-you library
  • Full-length or mini reviews of some recent library reads
  • A description of a particular feature of your local library
  • A screenshot of the state of play of your online account
  • An opinion piece about library policies (e.g. Covid procedures or fines amnesties)
  • A write-up of a library event you attended, such as an author reading or book club.

If it’s related to libraries, I want to hear about it!