Bookish Chatter | Two Slow & Steady Finishes; Two Backlist Titles; and A Start on the Women’s Prize

Happy Wednesday! This post is being published a little late because I’ve been sleeping poorly and haven’t been able to wake up as early as I’d like. This cough just won’t go away and it’s been keeping me up at night. I’m hoping that I’ll be feeling better soon, but I want to stay caught up with these Wednesday posts or they will become unwieldy and difficult to write. So I’m here to share the books I’ve finished since last Wednesday, a slow & steady update, and a few more bookish coincidences that have popped up in my reading life. Let’s try to stay caught up!

Finished This Week:

Other than this poetry, What Are People For? was my first non-fiction by Wendell Berry. Overall – it was quite good. Most of these essays were written in the 70s and 80s and you can see how ahead of his time he was. They were mostly book and poetry reviews, which I really enjoyed. He forayed into dangerous territory with a few essays that touched on feminism, which I read with bated breath. I was nervous that I’d lose all respect for him, but I think he handled it well enough, especially for the time and place in which this was written.

So what are people for, according to Wendell Berry? People are meant to take care of the earth and our communities. He believes that the economies of communities should reflect the farming life of the community – products bought, sold and traded based on what grows locally; shops meant to support what the locals need in order to produce more goods for the community. I think we all know that this isn’t possible anymore, but Berry will stay a curmudgeon about it until the end.

I wanted something light and easy in the midst of some heavier reading, and the eighth Maisie Dobbs fit the bill. A Lesson in Secrets finds Maisie teaching a philosophy class at a new college in Cambridge. She’s undercover and is asked to observe and report on any activities that are not in the interest of His Majesty’s government. I found this book particularly cozy and enjoyable. Although Winspear has included whispers and foreshadowing of WWII in previous novels, this is our most direct brush with Nazi Germany so far, which leads me to believe that Maisie’s WWII involvement is going to be spectacular. I cannot wait.

The Bingo Palace is our last book for the Erdrich-Along! First of all – a huge thank you to Mary for organizing and keeping us moving forward! Second of all – I cannot believe I read so many Edrich’s in the last year+! It has been delightful and I’m looking forward to reading more of her novels on my own. I’m aiming to complete all of her adult fiction (in 2023?) and only have four more left to read!

We returned to the Love Medicine series with this one and I was SO happy to revisit Fleur, June Morrissey, Lipsha Morrissey, Albertine, and even Nanapush. I’d been hoping for a more serious study of June after reading Love Medicine and I think this was our best look at her so far. I really loved getting to know Lipsha better and enjoyed following along while he fell in love with Shawnee Ray. Although creepy, it was an entertaining journey into the head of a lovesick boy. But the ending? I was left confused, which I’d like to blame on the cold medicine I’ve been taking. I seriously doubt I’ll be able to attend the Zoom meeting on Saturday, so is anyone willing to discuss via email??

I finished War & Peace! I will never, ever feel the urge to read this again, I promise. There were some interesting parts and I would have been much happier with an inside peek into the nobility of Russia at the time, rather than including all of the war scenes and Tolstoy’s philosophy on the whole situation.

I am glad that I read it, but only for a narcissistic reason: to say that I have. I feel like I’ve joined an elite readers club by finishing this, but I’m not sure what I should be taking away from it. War is a barbaric and selfish battle between rulers. I feel like that’s something that we all know, but I guess this was written before war was portrayed in such a light. Maybe that’s why this is considered an important piece of work?

Homesick is on this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist and has been in the back of my mind for a while, so I’m glad I made room for it on my current TBR. Jennifer Croft is a familiar name to many of you because she’s a translator. Her most notable translations for many of my blogging friends are for Olga Tokarczuk; together they won the International Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Flights.

Homesick is a fabulous story about sisters and a thinly-veiled portrayal of Croft’s memories. Amy and Zoe grew up thick as thieves and Amy notices the exact moments when they start growing apart. It was fascinating to read Amy’s memories of certain childhood situations – what has stuck with her and what might have created so many of her core beliefs. I’d recommend reading this one on paper – the story is full of Croft’s original photography along with brief vignettes related to the overall narrative. I found the story to be engaging, propulsive, and written with a wildly original structure.

Bryce and I finished reading Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers. I think we read this one twice in 2022? So it was rather surprising to see if come back around again, but that’s okay. It’s still a privilege to be able to read aloud to my children every night!

Slow & Steady:

I read the second section of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less this week. This section was called Explore and it asks the reader to really take the time to explore their options and to make a choice about where they want to go big. McKeown coaches the reader to take the time necessary to filter out the unessentials in life and to look at the big picture to find the essential in what’s hidden.

I am still not convinced by this writer or this book. I am finding it to be hyper-focused on a corporate setting in which most employees have a wide latitude over their areas of focus. I’m hoping that I can allow myself to become less skeptical as the book goes on and planning to read the third section in April.

Bookish Coincidences:

Every once in a while I will gather up a small pile of bookish coincidences that I’ve noticed. You know how sometimes you learn about something new and then all of a sudden it pops up everywhere? That’s kind of the idea with this little series – I have a whole tag with posts on the topic!

Here’s a few that I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks:

+ Two books had a character named Delphine (Master Butchers Singing Club and A Lesson in Secrets).

+ Two books included people who read the last page of a book first (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Bingo Palace)

+ Two books with characters named Natasha and Sonja (War & Peace and The Constellation of Vital Phenomena).

+ We just read a chapter in our history book about how Captain Cook was sent to study The Transit of Venus, and we’ve been discussing a buddy read of The Transit of Venus on the Fiction Matters Discord group.

+ We’re reading Because of Winn-Dixie as our morning read aloud, and Miss Franny Block told a story about how she threw her copy of War and Peace at a bear. Bryce has been watching me read W&P over the last few months and he commented on how the size of that book would definitely scare away a bear. (Which means he understood a literary reference based on watching me do something that I love. That’s a big deal!)

And THANK YOU for all of the knitterly wisdom and advice that you offered on Monday. I believe that the answer to my question was unanimous – go ahead and knit that sweater at whatever gauge I like! I’m hoping to cast on tonight and I will share any progress on Friday. Until then – take good care.


15 thoughts on “Bookish Chatter | Two Slow & Steady Finishes; Two Backlist Titles; and A Start on the Women’s Prize

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  1. Congrats on finishing War and Peace. Safe to say I will never read that book 🙂 I’ve read Essentialism and I agree, I can’t apply it to my job. I have to do what I’m assigned to do, and I can’t just delegate or choose not to do something (this is also the problem with The Four-Hour Workweek). It has some relevance to personal lives and hobbies, but I didn’t need a whole book to explain the concept. I’m glad you’re feeling better but so frustrating about the cough. When I was sick last month it took me 3 weeks to get over the cough; I hope it’s faster for you!


    1. You’re not missing too much by not reading W&P – so no worries there! I totally agree with your thoughts about Essentialism. I’ve never had a job in which I could focus on whatever I wanted, even when *I* was the boss!! I think this books is speaking to a very small sliver of the creative sector despite what the author believes.

      Thanks for your kind words about our illness. I think we are all on the mend and I’m already looking forward to the weekend!


  2. Congratulations on finishing War and Peace! I was really enjoying it up to around 1,000 pages but have to confess to feeling a little battle weary now! I just have the epilogue to go so hopefully will reach the final page by the end of this week! I love your bookish coincidences – it’s amazing how often they happen.


  3. I, too, have questions about the ending of Bingo Palace, which I was a little surprised weren’t addressed in any of the materials I found about the book. Promise you a follow-up email about our discussion on Saturday! and isn’t that version of Homesick fantastic?! That’s the book I read and gave five stars last year. It was published in the US in 2019 as a memoir (you’ll note that it says “memoir” on the back, above the ISBN). This is NOT the book that was long-listed for the Women’s Prize. Homesick was re-issued (without the photos, and slightly different text?) as fiction in the UK last spring. I have both editions and plan to read the UK/fiction first; I’m curious if the story will have the same impact without the photos. and then I want to revisit the US/memoir. I am so intrigued by the change in course with the book!


    1. I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one scratching my head at the end of The Bingo Palace. I felt like I missed something BIG! Thank you for the follow-up email 🙂

      And DANG about Homesick! I checked the Blackwells site and the summary of the book is basically the same? I’m definitely not planning to buy the UK version so I’ll be anxiously waiting to hear if it’s substantially different than the US memoir. How confusing!!


  4. Congrats on finishing W&P — we did it! (And I think we deserve a break before tackling another Tolstoy!) I really think it would be a much better book if a lot of it was edited out, and perhaps more people would read and enjoy it.

    I also had questions at the end of The Bingo Palace. You and Mary and I can discuss after Saturday’s Zoom!

    I just ordered Homesick (along with Trespasses) from Blackwell’s. I said I wasn’t going to read the entire long list and I’m sticking to that, but those both sounded good and the wait for the latter was really long from my library.


  5. Yes, congrats on finishing War and Peace. I’m thinking it’s one I won’t be adding to me TBR list. 😉 On the other hand, I’ve started the Maisie Dobbs series and am enjoying the series very much. Really liked the story of your son’s observation. And those coincidences are just plain fun.


  6. I also have some questions about The Bingo Palace. I found the ending rather unsatisfactory but also wonder if I just didn’t read carefully enough. I also wondered if Erdrich left storylines up in the air as she was planning to right more about the characters and their stories. I am glad you enjoy reading out loud to your children. Enjoy this time because it goes by quickly.


  7. Congrats on War and Peace! I understand that feeling of pride for finishing a chunkster classic. Sometimes that’s the most you can come away from a book with, ha ha! But it sounds like you got more out of it than that. I’ve never read it. But I’ve still got many classics left to read on my Classics Club list first so I may never get to that one. 🙂


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