Reading Round-Up: November & December 2022

It’s always hard to judge when I should start writing up my December round-up post. As we edge past Christmas and toward the new year, I start to wonder: can I finish this last book by the 31st? Should I wait until January? The answer for 2022 is a definite no — I’ve got a good 400 pages to go and that is not happening today. So without further ado, my last two months of reading:

November:

  • Mary Poppins Returns (P. L. Travers)
  • The Burning Page (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Lost Plot (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Mortal Word (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Secret Chapter (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Dark Archive (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Untold Story (Genevieve Cogman)

December:

  • Shepherds Abiding (Jan Karon)
  • How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind (Dana K. White)
  • Something Wilder (Christina Lauren)
  • Rattle #77 — Tribute to Translation
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
  • The Firm (John Grisham)
  • Decluttering at the Speed of Life (Dana K. White)
  • The Machine Stops (E. M. Forster)

After reading P. L. Travers’s sequel to Mary Poppins, which was as bizarre and delightful as the first, I dove headfirst into the rest of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series (I read the first one in October). This was an incredibly engrossing series, and I was very happy that my library had electronic copies of all of them so that I never had to wait for the next one! It wrapped up in a very satisfying way, tying up the loose ends and following through on clues established all the way back in the first book. A++ would read again.

I started December in a Christmassy mood with Jan Karon’s Shepherds Abiding, a shorter addition to the Mitford canon. Father Tim works on restoring an antique Nativity crèche as a surprise for his wife, as he and the other Mitford residents prepare to celebrate Christmas. It’s sweet and comfortable reading, just like the rest of Karon’s sprawling series. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol scratched a similar itch for me — though no matter how often I read it or watch one of the film adaptations, the Tiny Tim switcheroo still makes me cry.

Something Wilder was a departure from Christina Lauren’s usual M.O., which was surprising and fun. It’s still a romance, but it’s also a thriller involving puzzles, manslaughter, multiple gunfights and hostage situations, and searching for Butch Cassidy’s lost treasure stash in Utah’s labyrinthine slot canyons. It certainly was “something wilder” and I hope to read more from Lauren in this vein. 

The Machine Stops was simultaneously one of the best and the very worst book I read this month. Forster’s sci-fi novella was first published in 1909 and is set in a world where humanity’s needs are wholly provided for and overseen by a vast Machine. All of human experience is mediated by the Machine, and the story’s parallels to a world dominated by social media and the almighty algorithms are… spookily prescient.  That’s what made it one of the best books. It was the worst book this month because my edition had very obviously been neither copy edited nor proofread, and was absolutely riddled with errors. It was outrageously sloppy, and my reading experience was frustrating-bordering-on-enraging. (If you want to read a clean copy, there are several ebook formats available for free here.)

I enjoy Grisham novels, most of them at any rate — but especially in his earlier books like The Firm I can’t help but laugh/sigh at his hilariously terrible understanding and descriptions of female anatomy. This one contains gems like “The [woman’s] breasts were resting comfortably on the table” (just… what? no! those words don’t go together) and this absolute masterpiece:

She coughed, a hacking, irritating cough which reddened her face and gyrated her huge breasts until they bounced dangerously close to the typewriter keys.

Ladies, if you ever find your breasts gyrating off your keyboard — or anywhere else, for that matter — you need (1) a better bra and (2) to make an appointment with your doctor. 

Moving on!

The two Dana K. White books were really clutch for me this month. Clutter and organization is something I’ve struggled with my entire life, and I’ve tried and failed many different systems and methods over the years. But with Dana I’ve found something that just works for my brain, not just with the system she uses but also just helping me to reframe the way I think about these things. Like how it’s a process, not a project; and you can clean and declutter without making a bigger mess in the first place; and how the goal is not “finished” (house stuff will never be finished; I will be doing dishes and laundry for ever and ever amen) but “better” and “less”. And that sometimes (a lot of the time) the problem is not that we don’t have a good organizational system, the problem is that we just have too much stuff. On that note I took about seven boxes to Goodwill this month and have another two ready to go… and I don’t think anyone in the family has even noticed what’s left the house. (If that’s not a sure sign of “too much,” I don’t know what is!)

I’ve been recommending her books in person to people when it won’t come across as a passive-aggressive dig at the state of their home — but as I cannot see your home, dear reader, consider this recommendation a gift rather than censure. These books are so helpful. Start with How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.

Rattle, as ever, remains one of the best poetry magazines going, and well worth the annual subscription fee.

And that’s a wrap. Happy New Year!