the best of scientific nonfiction

In yesterday’s post, Pops shared with me a list of good fiction-about-science, as presented by author Kirk Smith. As part of that same conversation, Pops asked for my favorite scientific fiction – with “good” science being part of the criteria. Well, unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a lot to offer in that regard. I haven’t tended towards scientific fiction much (nor traditional sci fi); my fiction tends to be mysteries, historical fiction, literary fiction, or increasingly, fantasy; there is always a variety, but I’ve been short on science. I did come up with a few. But I did far better in recommending some really great nonfiction that is scientific in nature: both “good” science, and well written, enjoyable, accessible, good reading. He asked for those two lists, so I’m happy to share them here.

Some great fiction about science:

By Lisa Genova: Love Anthony and Left Neglected, but especially Still Alice. Genova has degrees in biopsychology and neuroscience (the latter a PhD from Harvard, ahem), so one expects that her novels about women and families, in which someone in the family (usually the woman) suffers a neurological disorder or disease, are scientifically accurate. I love that they are scientifically detailed and yet extraordinarily enjoyable novels, too.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: you can read my review, and also note that Kirk Smith and I both recommend this one; in a nutshell, Kingsolver teaches science in the most charmingly accessible of packages, the one and only Dr. Ovid Byron. You must read this; or better, you must hear the audio, because the accents are amazing. (Read by the author, a woman of many talents.)

Madeline L’Engle’s series: A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, etc. I hesitate here, because the science begins in reality and then moves outside it (see: farandolae), so I’m not sure it qualifies. But kids’ books – about science – with a female protagonist. Good stuff.

Some great nonfiction about science:

My review hasn’t published yet, but it will any day now, and I’ll come back and edit this post: A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger is an outstanding, fun, and informative look at the history of botany, really from the birth of botany as a science (relatively recent, since we didn’t think plants were all that important as a subject of study for many centuries). It’s extremely accessible and well written, even funny. One of my recent favorites!

On a Farther Shore, William Souder’s recent biography of Rachel Carson, is for me a classic example of science made reader-friendly and socially important. It doesn’t hurt that I find Carson a fascinating & important figure, and admittedly, this is more biography than science; but I think it qualifies for this list, especially considering Pops’s comments yesterday about the representation of women in literature & science (and literature about science).

Einstein, the biography by Walter Isaacson, was mentioned in Kirk Smith’s talk apparently as being “challenging,” and I wouldn’t disagree entirely, but no knowledge of physics is prerequisite – and I didn’t get all the physics Isaacson described, either, but that was no requirement for enjoying Einstein’s story.

Unfortunately, I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot before I really began blogging. (I made a few posts on it early on: here, here, and here, but none qualify as a review.) So I can only say, looking back, that as with On a Farther Shore, science is made not only comprehensible, but oh so important and relevant for our past, present and future; not to mention the glaring & compelling social commentary. This is a great book (and one I gave away for World Book Night a few years ago).

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (my review in parts one and two) is fascinating, varied, lyrical, fun, and whimsical. Both poetry and science. And the oddest chunks of science, too. Do check out some here and here.

River in Ruin by Ray A. March is a loving, informed but readable discussion of exactly what the title says.

Also pre-blog, I read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, and it made a major impact on me. I had only recently recovered from a brain injury (from a bike wreck and yes I was wearing my helmet), and reading this book by a neuroanatomist about her stroke & recovery helped me understand my own brain better. She’s a scientist, so she has the “good” science, but she’s also a human being with a personal story to tell, and she tells it well.

When we talk about science writing, though, **the grand prize** has to go to Hali Felt for Soundings. How did I rate that book only a 9? In my memory, it should be a 10. Again with the added benefit of handling women in science and the special challenges they face, Felt tells the story of Marie Tharp’s life and scientific breakthroughs with sensitivity, insight, and yes, science.

Bonus: just the other day this review posted at Shelf Awareness (by my friend Katie at Cakes, Tea and Dreams). I haven’t read the book, but I think it sounds delightful: Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything, by Amanda Gefter.

That’s all I have today, Pops, but it ought to get you started! I’m pretty sure you’d put McKibben on this list; any others to share? Anybody?

the best of scientific fiction, from Pops

Not to be confused with traditional science fiction (although I have something for you on that topic, as well) – today’s is a quasi-guest post from Pops, who is excited to share about a recent author talk event he attended. The presenter was Kirk Smith, speaking on Lab Lit: Putting Real Science Into Fiction. Pops’s report:

I attended the Lab Lit program tonight. And I signed you up to review a book. Well, sorta. We should talk.

So, to review: Kirk Smith is an old-guy Seattle author with a passion for fiction about “realistic scientists doing realistic science” – ideally where the science is the central story, not ancillary. He has high standards for credibility and likes writers who can really “get inside the head” of scientist-protagonists. Eventually he became frustrated that satisfying examples were so rare, and resolved to write his own version.

This is sort of a special interest of my father’s. He’s been interested in several scientific issues over the last few years, and often disappointed in their presentation by the finest minds in the field – scientific minds being, unfortunately, often unable to communicate what they know clearly to the rest of us. The big exception being Bill McKibben (who I reviewed recently: Oil and Honey). This is a paraphrase of my father – hope I got that about right, Pops.

It was interesting; simply an avid, insightful reader sharing a niche passion; nothing topical like climate change & how to communicate science, though I would have enjoyed that too.

He spent 45 minutes talking knowledgeably about all the books on the attached handout [see below], and 15 minutes reading from & talking about his book (an ode to Einstein, with a female character). He lauded Isaacson’s Einstein, the only overlap I detect with your reviews (you get credit for enjoying a “challenging read!”). He recommends Einstein in Love.

Not true, Pops! I reviewed not only Einstein but also Flight Behavior, which I loved.

[His passion for this niche reminds me of my own for running fiction; of course he reads other forms! I get it.]

You are onto something here. As you said in your first paragraph, Smith “likes writers who can really ‘get inside the head’ of scientist-protagonists,” and I think that’s exactly what you like about running books: sharing an experience with the protagonist, recognizing the unique and awesome thing that is being a runner – or a scientist. Or (to digress), I suspect that Susan Vreeland gets accurately inside the head of an artist, in her Clara and Mr. Tiffany or The Forest Lover, both of which I loved. However, not being much of an artist, I can’t entirely attest.

You’ll see he covered non-fiction and biographies as well as other forms; he also has his own web site where he blogs & reviews, and recommends the LabLit site (by one of the authors) that inspired the terminology. He has corresponded with several of the authors on the list.

I came home with a free UK-only-available copy of The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt. One of us is committed to reviewing it by Feb 15, before its spring USA release. Call me.

Of course by the time I called, he had already started reading this book, which is fine because I have plenty of deadlines in the next two weeks without this one (!), which would require cross-country shipping to get to me, too! But I’m next in line for it when he’s done (so I have a more relaxed schedule to read it on), and his review will be cross-posted here when complete. Hooray! Guest reviews!

And for those who are curious about Smith’s reading list – I know I was! I’m sharing here the handout he shared at this book event, with Pops’s annotations on it (how lucky we are), and hoping that the wise and magnanimous Kirk Smith will not consider this a copyright violation too egregious. :-/ Seriously, thank you Kirk for the info; and readers, do check out his website here.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

An addendum from Pops:

First, I noticed his top three fictions are all by female authors with female protagonists; then he eventually acknowledged the fact himself, in passing; then his reading (of his own novel) revealed the female protagonist in his own novel; and in response to a question explained (superficially I thought) why she is his stand-in for a fictional Einstein; and with a follow up question, finally spoke briefly but incisively about the challenge for girls & women in math & science fields to gain grudging credibility & respect.

So, one wonders: are the women appearing in his list (authors & characters both) a factor of his own selection, or if one did an “objective” survey of the landscape, would we see the same? An outbreak of women expressing a new voice? (In literature, or science, or both?)

Such fodder for future expression!

Such fodder indeed! I have no idea how to answer your questions, of course – possibly Smith could speak to these? (It would have been a great line of questioning to pursue on the spot with the audience! It sounds like he wasn’t anxious to head in this direction – of social commentary – on his own. But I understand how it took a day or two to get these thoughts, and thus this line of questioning, straightened out in your own head.) The pessimist (or realist?) in me doubts that there is a general and widespread trend toward a women’s majority in science & literature! Although for the most part we are increasingly represented, hm? That’s just a guess from me, though.

2013: A Year in Review

It’s always nice to look back, especially when we can do it fondly; and I’m getting better at spending my reading time enjoyably, and putting down books I don’t enjoy. I’ve reviewed a few years now (2012; 2011), so we can do some comparisons.

Of the 116 books I read in 2013…

  • 45% were nonfiction (51% last year)
  • 48% were by female authors (32% last year)
  • of the 64 novels I read, 37% were mysteries or thrillers, 10% were historical fiction and only 6% were classics. The rest were a smattering of adventure, drama, fantasy, horror, short stories, and humor. (Last year 31% were mysteries, 27% were historical fiction and 23% were classics.)
  • 23% were audiobooks. (25% last year)
  • 35% of the books I read came from the library, a whopping 43% were review copies, and 14% came from my personal collection; the remaining few were books I was loaned, books I purchased, or (those treasured few) books I was given as gifts. (Last year, 40% of the books I read came from the library, 32% were review copies, and 28% came from my personal collection.)
  • I read 116 books this year, compared to 126 last year.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see New Year’s Eve’s post.

So, how have my reading habits changed? I’m a little surprised at some of my observations here, which helps me justify how very nerdy it is to run these numbers! I am pleased to see that I’m reading a little more equitably between authors’ genders. I seem to have slightly reversed my fiction/nonfiction trend – last year NF had a bare majority, this year it swung the other way a bit, but I’m still nearly half and half. I’m certainly pleased to be reading that much nonfiction, and I wouldn’t want to slip too far below the halfway point, but I also recall a definite moment in the fall of 2013 when I felt that I needed a break from nonfiction.

Within the fiction I read, there is a noticeable trend toward mystery/thriller holding a large plurality, and a drop in classics. I regret that drop in classics somewhat. I wonder if the also noticeable increase in books I read for review has something to do with this. On the other hand, I don’t feel that I need to be too concerned. I bet next year will change again.

Audiobooks held steady at about 1/4 of my reading life, which seems about right. However, a new thing happening in my life in 2014 is – oh my gosh can you believe it – they finally opened up the new light rail line that runs between my home and work!! This is very exciting, and may mean that I find more time for reading print and spend less time listening to audio. So far, however, this is not the case: I’m in the middle of a delightful Stephen King audiobook and don’t want to put it down once I board the train. So, we shall see.

I read slightly fewer books than last year – a decrease of 8%, as long as I have this calculator out – and am perfectly content ascribing that to reading several longer books this year.

What does the future hold? Who knows? I’m feeling contented, and disinclined to make plans or promises. Rather, I want to keep enjoying my reading. I think that’s the most important thing, and if that suddenly means romance novels, or histories of the first World War, or reading much more or much less (none of these seems likely…), then so be it.

What about you? Any reading resolutions? Or, how was your 2013 in books?

best of 2013: year’s end

My year-in-review post is coming, but first, as the year ends, let’s take a look at the very BEST books I read in 2013. Not necessarily published in 2013, you understand, although several were that, as well. Others were quite old. And while we’re at it, do check out Shelf Awareness’s best-of list, which has three books in common with mine. The Shelf and I, we continue simpatico.

Those that received a rating of 10:

Those that received a rating of 9:

There were lots of 8s, too – it’s been a great year. For example, late in the year I’ve discovered a love for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which hasn’t gotten a 9 on an individual book lately – but I wonder why, because I’m certainly enjoying the series that much! My, I’ve read so many books that it’s difficult to think back this far; but this list helps me remember the very best of my reading year.

What did YOU read this year that’s blown you away?

a compilation of lists

Whew! You all might know that I’m a sucker for book lists. It can get a little exhausting with everyone publishing their own “100 greatest books” etc. (you know I did!), and this is a highly subjective matter. But I’m still attracted.

But then I saw this list (through Shelf Awareness, naturally). It’s a chart compiled from all the books on 11 lists of 100 books. [One list says "American novels", where the others seem to be international. Eight of the 11 say either "novels" or "literature," and a glancing survey does seem to confirm that this is a fiction list. These rules are not entirely made clear.] There aren’t 1100 books, because there’s overlap: that’s the point of this chart. And what fun: statistical analysis! Three books make 10 of the 11 lists: Catch-22, Lolita, and The Great Gatsby. Four books make 9 lists; 4 make 8; and so on from there. I found it fascinating to see the semi-democratic selections between these lists. Of course, each of those 11 lists is just another subjective view; but it’s nice to the the intersections. The lists, if you’re curious, come from sources like; TIME magazine; Entertainment Weekly; Modern Library; Goodreads; and Reddit.

Naturally what I want to do now is show which ones I’ve read, plan to read, or don’t plan to read (hello, Faulkner and Ulysses). Let’s say bold are those I’ve read, italics are those I want to read, and underlined for those I’ve picked up and put back down or don’t intend to.

Please excuse my laziness in listing only titles and not authors. You will fairly easily figure it out yourself or find the author via The Google. A few of these titles, for the record, didn’t ring a bell to me at all. Some authors are available at the original link; others are not. I’m guessing this was a copy/paste in from the 11 lists themselves…

Made 10 lists:
*The Great Gatsby

Made 9 lists:
Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, not H.G. Wells. I have read the one by Wells, actually.)
The Catcher in the Rye
The Sound and the Fury

Made 8 lists:
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird

Made 7 lists:
The Sun Also Rises

Made 6 lists:
An American Tragedy
Atlas Shrugged
Brave New World
Gone With the Wind
Midnight’s Children
My Antonia
*On the Road
* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Tropic of Cancer
Their Eyes Were Watching God
To the Lighthouse

Made 5 lists:
A Clockwork Orange
A Passage to India
All the King’s Men
Animal Farm
Brideshead Revisited
Crime & Punishment
Fahrenheit 451
Go Tell It On the Mountain
Heart of Darkness
Infinite Jest
Light in August
Lord of the Flies
Mrs. Dalloway
Native Son
One Hundred Years of Solitude
*Pride and Prejudice
The Age of Innocence
The Call of the Wild
* The Lord of the Rings
* The Old Man and the Sea
The Stand
The World According to Garp
Things Fall Apart
* Wuthering Heights

Made 4 lists:
*A Confederacy of Dunces
A House for Mr. Biswas
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Anna Karenina
Blood Meridian
Charlotte’s Web
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Don Quixote
Ender’s Game
Howards End
I, Claudius
Naked Lunch
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Rabbit, Run
Sons and Lovers
Sophie’s Choice
The Adventures of Augie March
The Brothers Karamazov
The Color Purple
The Fountainhead
The Golden Bowl
The Handmaid’s Tale
*The Hobbit
The Maltese Falcon
The Moviegoer
The Sheltering Sky
Under the Volcano
War and Peace

And on.

I have added *asterisks* for the 11 that overlapped with MY list of 100: that was interesting to note. In such subjective measurements, I think that’s not a bad statistic. And some of the ones on this list that I’ve been looking forward to reading may well end up on my own list.

What are your reactions?

the books I’ve listened to that simply must be audio

It has taken me weeks to post this – sorry! But I did have some interest, in the comments on a past post, in those books I’ve listened to that I feel really must be experienced as audiobooks. Here’s a briefly annotated list.

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, and read by the author: surely this will be obvious? Tina Fey is hilarious and you should let her tell you her story. Qualification: there are images in the book that you miss on the audio version.
  • The Likeness by Tana French: I’ve enjoyed some of hers in print and in audio, but this is my favorite and I feel strongly about the audio. For one thing, they’re set in Dublin and the Irish accents are amazing. For another, the plot of this novel involves faking someone else’s identity, and to hear how her voice changes when she’s in character is really something. Well done, narrator Heather O’Neill.
  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: also read by the author, and what an amazing feat, for her to be such an artist both of literature and of voice acting! Characters include Russians, Mexicans (of different social castes), a New York Jew, back-woods Appalachians, and a young man raised in between cultures; the importance of all those accents couldn’t be overstated, and Kingsolver executes them beautifully. It’s a magical audiobook and I wouldn’t let anybody I liked read this in print.
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: a memoir, read by the author, and she sings her chapter titles, operatically. That should be all I have to say.
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King: also read by the author, as it happens, and I enjoyed knowing that I was hearing King’s own impression of things. He does a great job. (If you’re noting how many on this list are author-read: I’m as surprised as you are.)
  • Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende: this is a historical novel of the founding of Chile, and thus another one with accents done gorgeously by narrator Blair Brown.
  • all of the P.G. Wodehouse novels read by Jonathan Cecil: I love Cecil’s voices for the very very silly Bertie Wooster and all the rest; I now am opposed to the print versions, and wary of the non-Cecil-narrated audio version. What can I say, I’ve found the Wooster I like.
  • The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection: a collection of stories and articles read by a handful of different women, who more than narrate; they act out Parker’s caustic wit.
  • all the Lee Child books read by Dick Hill: I really like Hill’s expression of Jack Reacher. (He also narrates a few of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books, which I also recommend. In other words, I like Dick Hill.)
  • bonus: I have it on good authority – although I have not listened yet (it’s in line!) – that the audio version of the new novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is not to be missed, for the southern accents.

Further, I would recommend the following books in their audio format, although I would stop short of saying they must by heard rather than read.

  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: New York of the 1930’s and 40’s perfectly evoked via Rebecca Lowman’s lovely narration.
  • Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland: the author reads this work of nonfiction herself, and because it’s the story of her own family, I think that’s important (and it is well done). Her voice is warm, she clearly cares for her subject, and she executes the French and German accents (and words) well.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson: Robin Miles narrates this work of history in a beautiful, warm voice that I found helpful to the subject.
  • The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger: read by Richard M. Davidson, it has all the taut, tense action it needs without ever feeling over-dramatized. Bonus: at the end, it includes a recording of the author speaking about the making of the book, which was awesome.
  • Loving Frank by Nancy Horan: Joyce Bean’s narration immersed me in a time and place and helped me learn to care very much about the characters.
  • Touch by Alexi Zentner: a magical, otherworldly, immersive feel to this novel is helped along by Norman Dietz’s wondering performance.
  • Left Neglected by Lisa Genova: I felt intimately close to the female lead character in this story thanks to Sarah Paulson’s reading.

I’m sure there are more out there, and I can’t wait to discover them! Do share – are there any books you’ve listened to that you would say have to be heard?

What The World’s Strongest Librarian is Reading

Following up on my review of Josh Hanagarne’s new book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, and my interview of the man himself: this section didn’t get printed in Shelf Awareness but I thought my readers might be interested. I certainly was! For one thing, The Black Count is on my list.

So, from our interview conversation: What the World’ Strongest Librarian is Reading.

Josh says, “I read a book almost every day. Because I can’t sleep. It’s really hard for me to go to sleep with the tics, so that’s one of the silver linings, that I get to read so much. I shouldn’t say I read a book every day, but I finish a book almost every day. I read everything from juvenile books to big giant books that I’ll finish after eight days of reading.”

What good books have you read lately?

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney. It has never been this fun to be cynical. Kenney was an insider in advertising and copyrighting in New York, and it is just the most brutal look at the superficial world of advertising, and the storytelling – I really want everybody to go read it.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is about Alexander Dumas’ father, who was the basis for The Count of Monte Cristo. He was a black man during the Napoleonic campaigns, and he rose to great power in a time when the world and the military were definitely ruled by whites. He winds up being imprisoned for something like 20 years, and the whole time he’s in prison his jailer is trying to poison him. Then it turns into this incredible story, if anything more swashbuckling and gigantic than The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a crash course in the Napoleonic campaigns that doesn’t feel like a history book. It’s just a wonderful book, the wildest adventure story.

I have been rereading Mark Twain, which I always am.

I just read a University Press book, Conversations with David Foster Wallace, that was quite good. Very theory-intensive, which I don’t enjoy so much anymore, but really good since I’m a fan of Wallace’s.

I just read The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr again.

And, The Twits by Roald Dahl. I just read that with Max. Max is finally old enough to want Roald Dahl. And that has made me happier than anything.”

See more of Josh’s book reviews and related and unrelated writings at his blog, The World’s Strongest Librarian.

books from Fil

I thought it was time for a feature post on my most frequent book gifter. He does an excellent job of selecting reading material for me; I’m sure you will recognize the themes from the list below. Nothing he’s given me (that I’ve read) has been less than great, yet. But I still have many of them to read.

I first met Fil at the bike shop where he works, and where I would later work alongside him. That would have been, oh, almost ten years ago. The first book gifts he got me were back when we were coworkers, for my birthday, I’m fairly sure; and those were bike themed. Since then, we have also shared interests in Mexico and in travel in general. I’ve made this list in vague alphabetical order, from memory, and I’m not completely sure that it’s exhaustive, but it’s a great start:

six days

Six Days of Madness by Ted Harper: a 1993 book about six-day racing in the United States in the “Golden Age” of cycling, the 1890’s. I read it, pre-blog, and LOVED it: track racing is obscure enough, but six-day racing is an extra-special, rare reading subject.

bicycle racing

Bicycle Racing in the Modern Era: a VeloNews production covering 25 years of pro cycling in multiple disciplines (road, track, mountain, cyclocross, BMX), and the beauty of it is that the 25 years covered are 1975-2000 – meaning that Lance Armstrong has only a bit part. In a totally Lance-saturated world, this was inexpressibly refreshing; and I learned a lot. I read it pre-blog.


Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride by Peter Zheutlin: the story of Annie Londonderry’s bike ride (ostensibly) around the world incorporates adventure, women’s issues, world travel & cultures, as well as the Golden Age of cycling. There is even a thread running through it regarding women’s clothing and clothing reform – interesting stuff.


Spokesongs: Bicycle Adventures on Three Continents by Willie Weir: a series of anecdotes by a man who cycle-tours several continents. A focus on the developing world makes for some interesting cultural tidbits.


I’ll Gather My Geese by Hallie Crawford Stillwell: the memoir of a woman who headed off into the unknown of far southwest Texas in the 1910’s to work as a schoolteacher and live on a ranch. Sounds good! I just haven’t gotten to it yet.


From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego: Across the Americas in Two Years by Michael Boyny: just looking at that gorgeous cover (click to enlarge) makes me anxious to get to this one, a coffee-table book, which I think was technically given to Husband but Husband does not read… It’s the story of a couple that traveled the length of the Americas in an old pick-up truck, and promises “superb pictures.”


The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: an exceptionally beautiful and powerful collection of short stories that might be poems. Not one to miss! And Fil had never read it; so I was able to recommend it back to him. Note that this edition is extra-special because of the lovely introduction (by Cisneros) that is included.


Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens, Volumes I & II: Barnes & Noble claims that “Edgar Allan Poe called it ‘perhaps the most interesting travel book ever published.'” That might do it for me, right there! Husband and I have a special fondness for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and an 1800’s-era travelogue with that kind of blurb definitely belongs on my book shelf.


Cruisers by Jonny Fuego and Michael Ames: another given to Husband, and more of a coffee table book than a cover-to-cover, although I confess I haven’t looked at it much yet. Pictures of beautiful bicycles, of course, do belong on our coffee table. For a little context, here’s Husband on our wedding day on the bike I got him for a wedding present:
I brought Ritchey to the wedding on my cruiser:
Sorry, I got distracted.


The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich: reputed to be a fine, lyrical observation of the American West of the 1970’s. Hopefully – and I think this is Fil’s intention – it will fall in line with the tradition of Edward Abbey and Phil Connors; and more recently, Isabella Bird (see below). Bonus: just the other day, A.Word.A.Day featured Ehrlich for their “thought for the day”:

Walking is also an ambulation of mind.

Which is a lovely one.


The Noblest Invention from Bicycling Magazine: another coffee-table bike book, this one on the history of the bicycle, presumably a celebration of our relationship with two wheels and with lots of good pictures, as well as a well-advertised foreword by Lance Armstrong, who has been inescapable in cycling publications for years – maybe that will change now with his newfound ignominy?


The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle: I know nothing about this one, and I believe the same goes for Fil; I think it was purchased on the strength of Boyle’s reputation, which I know although I have read none of his yet. So, fair enough, Fil. A reading assignment. Okay.


Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Petersen: “radically practical” sounds like a quite fine way to describe Petersen himself, a personality I’m familiar with through the Rivendell Reader (an occasional serial publication from Rivendell Bicycle Works, Petersen’s company – you can see a few issues here). He is the definitive retro-grouch when it comes to bicycles, and my reaction to his philosophies is mixed: much of what he says makes sense (and I have a little retro-grouch, even a little Luddite, running through me), but some of it seems to be clearly grouchiness for its own sake. Fil had already become ambivalent about this book by the time he gifted it to me! And I haven’t looked at it yet; but I will. I have David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries on my shelf, too (also a gift, from another friend), despite BikeSnob‘s relentless fun-making of him, and I may as well get all sides of this story! I suspect I will fall in line with the majority of Petersen’s directives, at least.


Team 7-Eleven: How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World – and Won by Geoff Drake: the story of professional road racing in the pre-Lance era, back when all their gear was recognizable and Americans were new on the scene. I can read that.


Adventures in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird: just recently read, of course. I have an idea that this might make a fine comparison read next to The Solace of Open Spaces, above, which is similar in being a woman’s perspective on the natural beauty and benefits of the American West, but from precisely 100 years later. Perhaps that’s the next Fil-gifted read I shall look forward to. Hm. I am also most attracted (in making this list) by I’ll Gather My Geese, From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (who can resist the Poe endorsement!). In other words, Fil is still doing well around here! Oh, and I feel I should get to the David Byrne book, too, and compare it to Bike Snob and Just Ride.

Which books on this list appeal to you especially? Do you have friends who consistently give you books, or consistently give really good gifts, or (lucky you!) both?

2012: A Year in Review

Everybody loves statistics, right? :) This is my second year-in-review post (see 2011 here), so I’m able to make some comparisons, too. Of the 126 books I read in 2012…

  • 51% were nonfiction (up from 17% last year)
  • 32% were by female authors (46% last year)
  • of the novels I read, 31% were mysteries, 27% were historical fiction and 23% were classics. The rest were a smattering of short stories, drama, horror, humor, and “other.” Last year 60% were mysteries, 8% were historical fiction, 7% were classics, and the rest a mixture of short stories, drama, poetry, romance, fantasy, and “other.”
  • 25% were audiobooks. (22% last year)
  • 40% of the books I read came from the library, but see below* for why that’s changing. another 32% came were review copies, and 28% came from my personal collection; the rest were books I was loaned, books I purchased, or (those treasured few) books I was given as gifts. last year, 60% came from the library, 24% came from publishers for review, and only 13% were owned, borrowed, purchased or gifted.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see yesterday’s post.

So, how have my reading habits changed? Well, most notably…

*I have kept this quiet here on pagesofjulia so far, because it hasn’t seemed all that relevant, but here’s a big piece of news for 2012: I got a new job! I am no longer working in a general/leisure reading library for patients of the hospital that employs me. Now, I’m in a library – in the same hospital – that serves patients, family members, and visitors with health and medical information regarding their conditions, treatment options, prognoses, etc. It’s more technical work, and more challenging and stimulating, and I enjoy it very much! (I’m also quite a bit busier. I hope this has not been too terribly evident around here…) What this means for my reading: I’m no longer tempted to pick up the latest and greatest new thing anymore. My new books overwhelmingly now come to me through Shelf Awareness and my gig reviewing books for them; otherwise, I’m trying to read from my shelves at home. I only have 3 full bookshelves of books waiting to be read! So I count this a good thing, mostly: I’m able to concentrate on those books I’ve brought home and housed because I really wanted to read them. Fewer distractions, if you will. On the other hand, I’m more likely to miss the next (for example) Song of Achilles – one of the best books I read all year – because I’m no longer paying attention to current bestsellers. There are always pros and cons to any change. But I’m very happy at work!

A few further changes I’ve noticed in my reading habits: I’m reading more and more nonfiction. See above: up from only 17% last year, fully half the books I read this year were nonfiction. That makes me happy. Far from being dry and boring, nonfiction is some of the best stuff I read (see again yesterday’s post about the best books of the year). Also, I hadn’t noticed this until I pulled this post together, but my fiction reading is getting more diverse: last year I read 60% mysteries, and this year only 31%. I think diversity is generally a good thing, so this makes me glad, too.

On the other hand, speaking of diversity, my reading of female authors is down. I know this makes me a bad feminist; but what can I say, I just read what appeals to me. My favorite authors are overwhelmingly male: Edward Abbey and Ernest Hemingway top the list, and they’re both misogynistic and/or womanizing, to boot! It just doesn’t feel right to choose books based on author gender, though, so I am shrugging this one off and carrying on.

Please tell me: had you noticed any changes here?? I think the biggest blog-related change in my life since I started the new job in September, is that I haven’t had the time to follow all the other great reading blogs I used to enjoy. I miss you all. :-/ So sorry – now you know it wasn’t you!

I am perhaps happiest about the trend towards reading more books off my own bookshelves. Here’s to more work on the TBR lists/shelves in 2013! I’m looking forward to a year filled with more great reading, exciting library work, and fewer knee injuries, please.

best of 2012: year’s end

My year-in-review post is coming, but first, let’s take a look at the very BEST books I read in 2012. Not published in 2012, you understand – although several were that, as well. I was able to narrow it down to a list of 14 books and 1 short story; and I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for such a long list because 1) I read 126 books in 2012, and 2) I’ve broken them out into categories for you. :)

Best print nonfiction of 2012:

Best print fiction of 2012:

Best audio nonfiction of 2012:

Best audio fiction of 2012:

Many thanks to my editor at Shelf Awareness who sent me 4 of the 5 books in that first category to review! You’re doing a great job, Marilyn! And, bonus: Shelf Awareness just the other day published an issue entirely devoted to the best books of 2012. Their list includes two of my best of the year; one I really wanted to read but didn’t get around to (Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways); one I reviewed; and one that I would totally rate a runner-up for audio nonfiction (Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened). Not to mention, a whole bunch I never heard of, so there you are! Always more to read!

What did YOU read this year that’s blown you away?


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