Bookish Chatter | February – Where Are You Going?

Hello, Wednesday! And we’ve already arrived at the eighth of February. Before we know it, we’ll be at the fifteenth and on the downslope of the month. Too fast! I will blink and it will be summertime and will be having hummingbirds visiting the window in front of my desk while I’m typing these blog intros. Okay — maybe it’s NOT going too fast, because that sounds lovely! Today I’m sharing the books that I’ve read since last Wednesday. It was a nice little stack that just swept me away to the banks of the river in Kentucky and the wilds of Scotland. Two very different places but beautiful in every way. Let’s talk about them!

Finished This Week:

“He needs to know what he can stand because the chances are he will have to stand as much as he is able. That is what is ahead of him – to suffer and stand it.”

For some reason, I thought A Place on Earth was a series of short stories despite it clearly saying on the cover A Novel. But this was unlike the other Port William books I’ve read (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter) and we get to see life through the eyes of so many beloved characters. Set during WWII, we feel the loss of Port William’s young men. We watch the community come together during some of the most difficult moments and we feel how deeply they need each other to survive. Berry had me laughing on one page and crying on the next; he captures the sobering moments of life like no other. He also writes about rural life in the most uplifting and beautiful ways — I am so ready for spring, thanks to him!

I happened across this New Yorker article that includes snippets of correspondence with his editor about the unwieldiness of writing A Place on Earth. I find Wendell Berry endlessly fascinating and still haven’t watched the documentary about him, Look and See. I must. I had planned to read three Wendell Berry books this year but have decided to increase that. I’ve got Nathan Coulter on the docket for March, if you’d like to join me.

(When I went to Amazon to grab the link for this book, I noticed that this is free if you have an Audible account. Upon further investigation, I saw that a number of Wendell Berry books are included for free — something to check out if you enjoy books on audio!)

“If we’re talking about conservation, about saving this planet, we have to start with the predators.”

While Once There Were Wolves had a different tone from A Place on Earth, there were certainly similar themes running throughout. This book was about rewilding Scotland by reintroducing wolves in the northern wilds of the country and showed great appreciation for conservation and nature. I loved how it showed the science behind allowing predators to thrive in the wild while being totally readable and enjoyable in every way. There are also some interesting thoughts about action vs inaction or deciding when to intervene, both in nature and in situations with humans.

In this book, Inti grew up in Australia while visiting her father who strove to live sustainably in British Columbia. There she learned that she belonged in the forest and grew up to be a wolf biologist (how cool is that?!). She arrives in Scotland with tremendous trauma from her past and a boatload of hostility from the locals. When villagers begin dying gruesome deaths, they are quick to point fingers at Inti’s wolves.

If you’ve read anything by McConaghy, then you know we’re walking into a story with an unreliable narrator. My previous experience with this author had me on my toes as soon as I cracked open this book. I loved how she played with what has become an overdone twist and appreciated how Inti asked, out loud, the very question I grappled with from the beginning. Once There Were Wolves left me thinking, confused, and curious about the clues sprinkled throughout the novel — in all the best ways. If you’ve read this: can we talk??! I have questions!

Bryce and I finished the third Captain Underpants novel late last week: The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds). George and Harold made the cafeteria ladies quit in anger after they slipped them a cupcake recipe that included baking soda and vinegar — a combination that is used to make volcanos in science class. In their excitement to do something nice for the kids, the lunch ladies multiplied the recipe by 100. The volcano, of course, erupted and filled the whole school. After they quit, a trio of space aliens were available to take their place. Those space aliens had devious plans to turn all of the students of the school into zombie nerds. Luckily — George, Harold, and Captain Underpants kept their cool and saved the entire world with their bravery!

Slow & Steady:

I think I might be finding my slow and steady rhythm with War and Peace! I picked it up again last Friday and have managed to read 20 pages every day since then — which has me at page 160. Progress!

Even though I’ve read the first 500 pages or so already, I’m still pretty confused. I printed out this family tree and pasted it into my notebook to help, but sometimes it’s still pretty difficult to know which characters are in each scene because everyone has so many different names! But I’m trying not to get bogged down in the details and to just move forward. I’m hoping most of it will coalesce at some point.

I’m nearly finished with Norwegian Wood and am not sure what I think about it yet. I thought about abandoning it but, like with Kazuo Ishiguro’s work, there’s an undercurrent pulling me along and I’m not ready to give up on it yet. It’s a strange combination of dry/boring and startlingly sexual. It’s not working for me and feels somewhat misogynist. This is my first experience with Murakami and don’t know if this is representative of his work but I have at least one other Murakami planned for 2023 — I suppose I will find out! I do know that Ruth Ozeki listed several of his books on her must read list, but not this one. That should have been a clue for me.

I’ve also started What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynn Robinson, thanks to a little readalong with Mary. Goodness, Robinson is smart. This is dense and I’m taking it sentence by sentence. I’ve only read the preface and a bit of the first essay and already feel in over my head! I’m hoping to settle in and feel more at ease as times goes on.

And that’s it from me, friends. Tell me – what have you been reading lately? Any recommendations for me? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. I’m hoping to be back on Friday. Until then — take good care.


22 thoughts on “Bookish Chatter | February – Where Are You Going?

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  1. I *finally* started War and Peace this week. Like you, I found it hard to keep track of all the people. I think I’ve got the main families straight; it’s all the side characters who keep confusing me. But I am trying not to get too caught up in all the names, because I figure knowing who is who is largely not going to matter so much in the end, especially with the various soldiers.


  2. I’ve been dying to read something by Wendell Berry! I will get something of his this week. I love your selection – especially the variety and the inclusion of captain underpants!! So fun 🙂


    1. YES! Wendell Berry is so amazing. The first book by him that I read was Jayber Crow and it was SO good. But Nathan Coulter was the first book published in the Port William series and I’m planning on reading it in March, if you’d like to join me!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ambitious reading in the middle of winter. A perfect time. I would request once There We’re Wolves from our library except for one small problem: The library is temporarily closed, and I am not sure when it will open. Oh dear, oh dear! I will be writing about this on Monday’s post.


  4. The one Murakami I tried was not a hit with me. It was South of the Border, West of the Sun. Cringe-worthy sex scenes, thoroughly unlikeable protagonist. I’ve heard Wind of Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore are his best, but I haven’t tried either one.


    1. Ugh — that’s exactly how I felt about Norwegian Wood. It makes me wonder if that’s how all of his books are??! I have Wind Up Bird Chronicles scheduled for April. I’ll report back and let you know — maybe we can give up on Murakami forever??

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really need to read some Wendell Berry! Right now I’m reading a book about the incident that the movie “Alive” is based off of, and wow, what a harrowing tale. I’m realizing that I’ve been reading a lot about terrible things (the Holocaust, slavery, plane crashes) lately and really need a nice, calm, heartwarming story.


    1. Please don’t be too impressed. It’s been a struggle to find a rhythm! But last year I finally discovered what works for me: set a daily page goal and then move on to other books once that daily page goal is met. So I have been reading 20 pages a day of War and Peace and allowing myself to be captivated in other books at the same time. I would recommend playing with different strategies that allow you to read just a little W&P every day while still enjoying the other books on your radar!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have read Wendell Barry’s poetry and loved it. I also have a book of his essays, The Art of the Commonplace. He is certainly interesting. I tried to read Jayber Crow but it just wasn’t for me at the time. You have an ambitious but interesting reading schedule.


  7. Wendell Barry is INCREDIBLE; I came to him through Nick Offerman (as I imagine many do) and have only read Fidelity so far, but I sincerely can’t imagine anything being better, but I’ll have to snag this one!

    I haven’t ventured into Captain Underpants territory yet either, but have recently gotten my degree in Cat Kid Comic Club (with a minor in Dog Man) and it’s some of the most amazing comics I’ve ever read, while actively and thoughtfully blurring and exploring the overlap between comics and prose; I’m sure once the wee family boys to whom I’ve introduced the other two titles will go BANANAS for the good Captain when they hit the right age.

    AND FINALLY, I will offer you a trade for Once There Were Wolves: Wild Ones, by Jon Mooallem, which deals similarly with questions of conservation and ecological responsibility and humanity’s obsession with animals that somehow ignores the animals themselves; it’s not a novel, but sounds like it deals with a lot of similar themes and I’ve been recommending it to everyone who can’t get away fast enough.

    Great list!


    1. I think you’ll find that every Wendell Berry seems better than the last, thanks to how beautifully he manages to make a home in your heart. Too cheesy? YES — but he is amazing. So happy to find another Wendell Berry fan!

      And yes – it sounds like the kiddos who have been studying Cat Kid Comic Club and Dog Man will LOVE Captain Underpants very soon. My kiddo has been interested in them since he was about 4 and now he’s 9. So we have reread them TONS and his appreciation for them have only grown. He’s also really into Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but he reads those on his own.

      and thanks for the Wild Ones rec — it sounds fascinating!!

      Liked by 1 person

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