"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, December 31, 2023


The clock is ticking. There are just a few more hours of 2023. Just enough time to scrunch in one more review of the books I read in 2023.

Back in the fall the National Book Award Committee announced its list of finalists in five categories. Among the finalists for the fiction award was this book, THIS OTHER EDEN by Paul Harding. I try to read at least one of the winners/finalists in two of the categories each year. I selected This Other Eden for the most mundane of reasons -- It was the shortest book of the five, at 221 pages in length.

Harding sets out to tell the story of Malaga, an island off the coast of Maine, and the multi-race families inauspiciously evicted from the island in 1912. Harding reimagines history by renaming it Apple Island and giving names to the inhabitants in 1911 -- some with biblical-sounding names like Patience, Theophilus, Esther and Zachary-Hand-to-God-Proverbs. The story begins with the first inhabitants who nearly lose their lives in a huge flood caused by a hurricane, bringing to mind Noah's flood, and the tree they climb for safety as Noah's ark. Patience envisions the parting of the storm like Moses did when he was leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. To add to the Biblical allusions there are apple trees all over Apple Island. Later in the story the idea of being expelled from Apple Island like Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden becomes a climax of the story.

I've only read one other Paul Harding story, The Tinkers, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. I wasn't a big fan of that book at the time I read it, but on delayed contemplation I keep thinking about how the author played around with time in a very tangled story of three generations, making it genius. Just like in Tinkers the prose in Eden is mesmerizing. Through the inhabitants of the island and in shifting perspective, we learn the history of Apple Island and learn how come the residents of Maine decided to evict them --eugenics and racism.
In the 1800s, the Honeys face a flood; in the 1900s, they face Matthew Diamond, a white missionary and schoolteacher. Matthew comes to the island every summer to teach the children, but admits to feeling “a visceral, involuntary repulsion” when he’s around Black people. He’s disgusted by the island’s adults but enamored with the children who prove themselves smart and talented. When Matthew escorts a government committee around the island to study its inhabitants, he passively assists in the destruction of the colony. It’s his immediate regret and feeble attempts to delay what the committee plans for Apple Island that make Matthew so complex and fascinating a character — he is at once an embodiment of white supremacy and white guilt, a conduit for white power that would like to excuse himself from his responsibility in the episode of violence his well-meaning intentions made possible (NYT).
Oddly, prior to their expulsion from the island, the residents of Apple Island all seem to be completely oblivious to the racial politics of the times. They acted as if things just happened to them so this expulsion, as odious as it was, was taken in stride. The book is full of love for family, for nature, for home, for life. "Harding has written a novel out of poetry and sunlight, violent history and tender remembering. The humans he has created are not flattened into props and gimmicks, instead they pulse with aliveness, dreamlike but tangible, so real it could make you weep" (NYT).

I'm ending my year of reviews on a good one. I hope you can find your way to it someday soon.

Happy New Year.


Saturday, December 30, 2023

My 2023 End-of-Year Survey of Books


My Head Is Full of Books: 2023 End-of-Year Survey of Books

  • Number of books read and completed: 183 
  • Number of re-reads: 7
  • Genre you read the most:  Adult fiction -- 54
  • Number of books started but not finished:  5
  • Number of children's books read: 49
  • Number of poetry books read or reread (including novels-in-verse): 17
  • Number of memoirs and nonfiction books read: 66 (including 35 children's, junior, and YA titles)
  • Number of graphic or illustrated books read, not children's books: 13

(Some books are listed on more than one list accounting for the numerical differences.)




1. Best books read in 2023:

·       Literary fiction: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

2. Book(s) I thought I'd love, but didn’t:

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book: 

4. Book(s) I "pushed" the most people to read:

5.  Best series:

  • Best series starter:  I don't think I started any series this year.
  • Best sequel: Work Song by Ian Doig (Morrie Morgan #2)
  • Best series ender: The Land of Lost Things by John Connolly (The Book of Lost Things #2)

6. Favorite new author I discovered in 2022:

  • Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

7. Best book from a genre/type I don't usually read:

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year:

9. Favorite book club selection(s) based on the discussion(s):

10. Favorite book cover: These Precious Days: Essays by Patchett

11. Most memorable characters of the year:

  • Captain Kidd and his charge, Johanna in News of the World by Paulette Jiles, a reread for me in 2023.

12. Most thought-provoking/ life-changing books of the year:

13. Most beautifully written book read in the year:

14. Book I've never read UNTIL 2023. Can you believe it?

15. Favorite passage(s) or quote(s) read in 2023:

“Ceres’s father had once told her that books retained traces of all those who read them, in the form of flakes of skin, hairs visible and minute, the oils from their fingertips, even blood and tears, so that just as a book became part of the reader, so, too, did a reader become part of the book.”
John Connolly, 
The Land of Lost Things 


“At the time, I thought my life couldn’t get any worse. Here’s some advice: Don’t ever think that.”
Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead


16. Shortest and longest book read in 2023, not counting children's books:

17. Book which shocked me the most:

18. Best audiobooks of the year:

19. Favorite SH nonfiction books I read for my role as a Cybils Judge

20. Favorite book by an author I’ve previously read

21. Best book I read this past year based SOLELY on a recommendation or peer pressure:

  • Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang (review pending; recommended by my daughter Carly)

  22. Newest fictional crush:

23. Best 2023 debut: 

  •  Maame by Jessica George (I think this is the only debut author I read this year.)

24. Best world-building/Most vivid setting I read this year:

25. Book which put a smile on my face/was FUN to read:

26. Book which made me cry:

27. Hidden Gem of the Year? There are several: 

28. Anything odd about this year's reading list:

29. Most unique book(s):

30. Book which made me angry (due to the topic):

31. Favorite poetry or short story collection: 

32. Favorite re-read of 2023:

·    News of the World by Paulette Jiles

33. Favorite classic book read during the year:

34. Books I didn’t get to in 2023 are now top priorities in 2024:

  • The Covenant of Water by Verghese
  • The Fraud by Zadie Smith
  • The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama
  • The Bride Test by Huong

35. Bookish goals for 2024

  • Write reviews for all book club selections.
  • Complete "My One Book" challenge. 
  • Read two of the five National Book Award winners. (Announced in November)
  • Read the Pulitzer Prize 2024 winner for literature (announced in March or April) plus read three past winners. 
  • Read at least five classic books on my list. (See list here.)


Blogging survey:


1. Favorite reviews written in 2023

·       The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

·       Victory City by Salmon Rushdie

·       Obit: Poems by Victoria Chang

·       The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

·       A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende


2. Most popular reviews of the year based on stats:

·       Cross Purposes by Bob Welch – 246 page views; 8 comments.

·       Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – 235 page views; 6 comments.

·       The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams – 182 page views; 12 comments

·       Tom Lake by Ann Patchett -- 181 page views; 30 comments.

·       I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai – 175 page views; 16 comments.

3. Best discussion/non-review post:

4. Best bookish event that you participated in?

  • Visiting several bookstores in Nevada. There are no bookstores in my town. None. I always relish visiting bookstores when I travel. One of the stores we visited was a reader's dream come true space but it had hardly any patrons. When I mentioned this to the clerk her response was swift, "Well, this town isn't exactly known for its readers."

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2023

  • Recording the trip of a lifetime to walk in the steps of our Granddad who helped build the Panama Canal and explored the Amazon region 100 years ago in 1923. Link.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

  • Staying up. Blogging takes time and effort, and it is hard to keep going when I get few page views and even fewer comments. But I have joined some supportive on-line communities and the other book bloggers I’ve “met” keep me going.

7. Most meaningful post for me:

8. Posts I wish got a bit more love:

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, bookstores, etc.):

  • I was able to get a King County Library Card. I live in Pierce County. Now I have three library cards (Puyallup, Pierce County, and King County) and other than keeping the books straight when I return them it is the rare situation that one of the three doesn’t have the book I am looking for. King County (Seattle is in this county) has a huge library system and the nearest branch is only seven miles from my home. Yay! More books, less waiting! This will be very helpful for upcoming Cybils judging as I have more access to the books I need immediately. The book world got larger this year.

10.  How did I do on my reading challenges or goals for 2023?

  • Read 100 books this year.  (180+ books)
  • My Own Personal National Book Award Challenge to read two of the five winners or finalists each year: I read five 
  • Read the Pulitzer Prize winner and past winners: I read 7 (See list on #28 in book survey.)
  • Completed four of the five books on my list to read in 2023: ✔-
    • Fiction--- Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
    • Nonfiction--- The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
    • YA/Junior/Children's--- Mister Impossible (Dreamer series #2) by Maggie Stiefvater!
    • Classic--- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
    • Poetry/Essays: -- These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett.

  • Big Book Summer Challenge was to complete four. Six completed 
    • 1. Horse by Geraldine Brooks, 401 pages
    • 2. Humans by Brandon Stanton, 437 pages
    • 3. Tell Me Why by Tim Riley, 423 pages
    • 4. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, 401 pages
    • 5. Trust by Hernan Diaz, 416 pages
    • 6. I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, 438 pages 
  • I completed my 2023 'One Big Book' Challenge:  The Count of Monte Cristo 

-Gratefully turning the page on 2023.