This year in books: 2018 edition.

In late 2016 I started keeping a book journal, mainly as a way of getting into the habit of writing every day. It turns out to be useful for actually remembering what I read, and what each book was about, and what I was thinking, and how life was going at the time. Plus, a handy resource for book recommendations or gifts.

I kept it up this year, so now am able to provide you, dear reader, with an exhaustive list of Stuff I Read. Green are top of the tops. Blue are also quite good. Red were not for me. Here goes:

Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone. 2018. YA Fantasy. 525pp.

John Allison, Lissa Treman, Whitney Cogar. Giant Days vol. 1. June 2016. Coming-of-age comic series. 128pp. [Only reason not top is because have read before. ❤ JA.]

John Allison, Lissa Treman, Whitney Cogar, Max Sarin. Giant Days vol. 2. April 2016. Coming-of-age comic series. 128pp.

Leonid Andreyev. Seven Hanged. Trans Anthony Briggs. 1908/2016. Realist Russian novella. 128pp. [The saddest sad book of sadlyburg.]

Kate Beaton. The Princess and the Pony. 2015. Picture book. 36pp. [Farting fat pony.]

Kate Beaton. Step Aside Pops. 2015. Comics. 158pp.

Billy Ray Belcourt. This Wound Is a World. 2017. Poetry. 62pp. [Book club book. Wrenching and good.]

E.F. Benson. How Fear Departed the Long Gallery. 1911/2017. Ghost story. 52pp. [Sweetest ghost story. Includes mushroom scabs.]

Brooke Bolander. The Only Harmless Great Thing. 2018. Speculative fiction novella. 89pp. [Sci-fi book club book. Broke my whole heart.]

Blair Braverman. Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. 2016. Memoir. 274pp. [Tough read but worth it.]

Ananda Braxton-Smith. Merrow. 2010. Fabulist YA novel. 197pp. [Excellent sense of place.]

Peter Brown. The Wild Robot Escapes. 2018. YA spec-fic(?) novel. 288pp. [Ros is on her way home.]

G. Brender à Brandis. A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet. 2008. Art book. 61pp. [By Smudge the Peke’s Person!]

Anne Brontë. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.1848/2008. Didactic novel. 417. [Book club book. Anne is done with rakes.]

Steve Brusatte. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. 2016. Non-fiction. 394pp. [Birds are t-rexes! Also there are some proto-mammals. And a bit too much academic rock-star-ism.]

Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden. 1911. YA novel. 331pp. [So very much racism and ableism. And a garden.]

Steve Burrows. A Siege of Bitterns. 2014. Detective fiction. 352pp. [Birbs.]

Lewis Carroll. The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll. 1998. Miscellany. 1160pp. [Oh geez a lot of this stuff is tedious.]

Bailey Cates. Some Enchanted Eclair. 2014. Cozy mystery/romance. 327pp.

Becky Chambers. Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. 2014. Sci-fi. 518pp. [Sci-fi book club book.]

Agatha Christie. A Murder Is Announced. 1950/2011. Mystery. 297pp.

Agatha Christie. And Then There Were None. 1940/2011. Mystery. 247pp. [Thrilling. But then I read about the printing history/titles and…it is unpleasant.]

Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. 1939/2011. Mystery. 272pp. [Dame Agatha was p into blood.]

Caryl Churchill. Top Girls. 1982. Contemporary-ish drama. 87pp. [THE BANQUET. Saw a production of this and the final scene was chilling.]

Brian Conaghan. The Bombs that Brought Us Together. 2016. YA spec fic. 368pp.

John Crowley. Little, Big. 1981/2006. Urban fantasy. 538pp. [Slow and rich and full of melancholy.]

Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris. My Lady’s Choosing. 2018. Romance. 351pp. [Choose-yer-own romance format. Things escalate absurdly.]

Charles Dickens. The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 1870/2004. 19th-c detective fiction. 284pp. [Did he drown or was he washed ashore? Jasper probs did it but we’ll never knooooow.]

Charles Dickens. The Signalman. 1866/2015. Ghost story. 51pp. [Not that scary…?]

Cherie Dimaline. The Marrow Thieves. 2017. Spec fic/Dystopia. 231pp. [Painful and hopeful.]

Jean Dutourd. A Dog’s Head. Trans Robin Chancellor. 1951/1998. Fabulist novella. 149pp. [Guy’s got the head of a dog.]

George Eliot. Middlemarch.1874/2015. Realist novel. 785pp. [I’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, CASAUBON.]

Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt (eds). Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. 2017. YA poem anthology. 160pp. [Lovely.]

Helen Fielding. Bridget Jones’ Diary. 1996. Romance. 310pp. [Sadder than the movie. It’s so good tho.]

Alan Garner. The Owl Service. 1967/2006. YA fantasy. 240pp.

Tom Gauld. Baking with Kafka. 2017. Literary comics. 160pp. [Delightful as ever.]

Karina Yan Glaser. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. 2017. YA fiction. 311pp. [Just a nice warm story about a community at Christmas.]

Hiromi Goto. Half World. 2009. YA fantasy. 233pp. [Book club book. Weird and wonderful.]

Hiromi Goto. Darkest Light. 2012. YA fantasy. 328pp. [book club book.]

John Green. Turtles All the Way Down. 2017. YA fiction. 286pp. [Completely believable representation of anxious mental illnesses. The best JG book.]

Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble. 2016. Feminist eco-criticism. 312pp.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Mozart’s Starling. 2017. Memoir(s). 266pp.- [Starlings are charing geniuses.]

Betty Hechtman. Hooked on Murder. 2008. Cozy mystery. 280pp.

Nicole Helget. The End of the Wild. 2017. YA eco-fiction. 261pp.

Catherine Hernandez. Scarborough. 2017. Realist fiction. 255pp. [Funny and warm and so loving.]

James Herriot. It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet. 1972. Memoir. 229pp. [Herriot is kind, and loves his animals and his family. But never forget he lies about his name.]

James Herriot. Let Sleeping Vets Lie. 1973. Memoir. 251pp.

James Herriot. Vet in Harness. 1974. Memoir. 252pp.

James Herriot. Vets Might Fly. 1977. Memoir. 240pp

Laurence Hill. The Book of Negroes. 2007. Historical fiction/memoir. 470pp. [Book club book.]

Eowyn Ivey. To the Bright Edge of the World. 2016. Adventure/Fantasy. 417pp. [Stunning writing. Am looking for reviews by indigenous readers. Feel a bit unsettled about its use of indigenous narratives/figures (ravens) and representation of Alaska’s colonial history.]

Miranda James. The Silence of the Library. 2014. Cozy mystery. 305pp. [Includes a giant cat.]

P.D. James. Death Comes to Pemberley. 2011. Regency detective novel. 291pp. [Law and Order meets Jane Austen. Rly well written tho.]

T.J. Kline. The Radcliffes. 2017. Romance novella collection. 372pp. [Found it p hard to sympathise with the poor little Richcliffes]

Bettina Krahn. A Good Day to Marry a Duke. 2017. Romance. 329pp. [Daisy’s greatest fear is that her mum won’t be able to go to the best parties and is never in any real economic danger. Just marry the poor-but-dashing brother already!]

Ambelin Kwaymullina. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. 2012. YA spec fic. 380pp. [Sci-fi book club book]

Ursula Le Guin. Worlds of Exile and Illusion. 1966/67. Sci fi. 370pp. [Book club book]

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. March: Book 1. 2013. Graphic novel. 128pp.

Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arseneault. Virginia Wolf. 2012. Picture book. 30pp. [I will always love this book.]

Kyo Maclear and Esmé Shapiro. Yak and Dove. 2017. Picture book. 50pp.

Francesco Marciuliano. I Could Pee on This. 2012. Cat poems. 112pp.

Christopher Marlowe. Dido, Queen of Carthage. 2018/19. Early modern drama. 85pp.

Victor Milán. The Dinosaur Knights. 2016. Fantasy. 448pp. [Developing lady characters through sexual violence! Plus weird pacing and not nearly enough dinosaurs?]

Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables. 1908/2014. YA fiction. 371pp. [Book club book. Emily is better than Anne.]

Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne of Avonlea. 1909/1984. YA fiction. 277pp.

Jen Neale. Land Mammals and Sea Creatures. 2018. Fabulist novel. 277pp. [Some gorgeous writing but really disturbed by the attitutde towards suicide.]

Jeanette Ng. Under the Pendulum Sun. 2017. YA fantasy. 409pp. [Well-written. There’s some…weirdness in here and I need someone to read it so we can talk.]

Mary Norton. The Borrowers. 1953/81. YA fantasy. 180pp.

Mary Norton. The Borrowers Afield. 1955/83. YA fantasy. 215pp.

Mary Norton. The Borrowers Afloat. 1959/87. YA fantasy. 191pp.

Mary Norton. The Borrowers Aloft. 1961/89. YA fantasy. 224pp.

Mary Norton. The Borrowers Avenged. 1982. YA fantasy. 298pp.

Michael Ondaatje. Warlight. 2018. Fictional memoir. 285pp. [Gorgeous intimate writing as usual, but had a hard time connecting to the characters/story.]

Tochi Onyebuchi. Beasts Made of Night. 2017. YA fantasy. 298pp.

Daniel Ortberg. The Merry Spinster. 2018. Horror/Humour/Feminist fairy tales. 188pp.

Emily X.R. Pan. The Astonishing Colour of After. 2018. YA magical realism. 466pp.

Shelley Peterson. Sundancer. 2017. YA fiction. 402pp. [A girl and her horse.]

Plautus. Menaechmi. Oldey times. Roman drama. 100pp.

Philip Pullman. The Book of Dust. 2017. Fantasy. 451pp.

Laura Purcell. The Silent Companions. 2017. Horror. 304pp. [Creepy af]

Bob Purnell. Crops in Pots. 2007. Non-fiction. 160pp.

Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down. 2017. YA poetic novel. 306pp. [Chilling.]

Jason Reynolds. Ghost. 2015. YA fiction. 180pp. [One of the most charismatic narrators of the year.]

Stuart Robertson. Tips on Container Gardening. 2008. Non-fiction. 216pp. [Surprisingly funny.]

Eden Robinson. Son of a Trickster. 2017. Fantasy…? 316pp.

Kelly Robson. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. 2018. Sci fi. 230pp.

L.C. Rosen. Jack of Hearts and Other Parts. 2018. YA queer fiction. 344pp.

Ruta Sepetys. Salt to the Sea. 2016. YA historical fiction. 392pp.

William Shakespeare. The Comedy of Errors. 1504. Early modern drama. 70pp.

William Shakespeare and Matthew Dunster. Imogen. 2016. Early/modern drama. 80pp.

Megan Shepherd. The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. 2016. YA fantasy. 195pp.

Mikhail Sholokov. Quiet Flows the Don. Trans. Robert Dagliesh. 1934/1997. RUSSIAN NOVEL. 1408pp.

Clint Smith. Counting Descent. 2016. Poetry. 74pp. [Book club book]

Danez Smith. Don’t Call Us Dead. 2017. Poetry. 88pp. [Haunting.]

Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Winterglass. 2017. Queer fantasy novella. 114pp.

Robin Stockwell. Succulents. 2017. Non-fiction. 288pp. [Half plant care, half glossy life-style magazine ft Californianans with ‘small’ rooftop gardens bigger than my apartment. Good succulent guide tho.]

Denise Swanson. Murder of the Cat’s Meow. 2012. Cozy mystery. 272pp.

Antonio Tabucchi. The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico. Trans Tim Parks. 1987/2013. Short miscellany. 113pp.

Jillian Tamaki. They Say Blue. 2018. Picture book. 40pp.

Laini Taylor. Strange the Dreamer. 2017. YA fantasy. 532pp. [Inventive, excellent characters, rich story.]

Laini Taylor. Muse of Nightmares. 2018. YA fantasy. 514pp.

Hasan Ali Toptaş. Shadowless. Trans Maureen Freely and John Angliss. 1995/2017. Magical realist novel. 303pp. [A stunning fever dream.]

Lynn Truss. The Lunar Cats. 2016. Urban fantasy. 295pp. [Talking cats.]

Stuart Turton. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. 2018. Fantasy mystery. 505pp. [WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON IN THIS BOOK.]

Unnamed academic monograph (for review). 2018. 200ish pp.

David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest. 1996. Dystopian Tennis Boys. 1088pp. [NOPE]

Peter Wahlleban.The Inner Life of Animals. Trans Jane Billinghurst. 2016/17. Eco-criticism. 262pp. [Charming, but I so loved his trees book which this doesn’t quite match.]

Michelle Wan. The Deadly Slipper. 2005. Detective novel. 379pp.

Edith Warton. Afterward. 1910/2016. Ghost story. 84pp. [Starts innocuous. Gets sufficiently creepy.]

Joshua Whitehead. Jonny Appleseed. 2018. Fictional memoir. 223pp.

31 December 2018


James Herriot stories: a summary.

  1. Please join me in crying ugly tears over this noble and beautiful sheepdog who died a dignified death in his old age.
  2. Siegfried yells a lot but has a Heart of Gold.
  3. A whole flock of sheep/herd of cows/litter of pigs died in the 30s because we didn’t have all these great vaccines yet.
  4. Taking Helen on a date (my car broke down in the mud/snow).
  5. Adorable scrappy cat hi-jinks (ft eccentric cat person).
  6. Yorkshire farmers are Salt of the Earth.
  7. Tristan drinks.
  8. Waking up at three am to put a whole arm inside a cow/horse/sheep uterus.
  9. The War happened but we don’t talk about it.

6 August 2018

January books as reviewed by an extremely tired person.

G. Brender à Brendis. A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet. Erin: The Porcupine’s Quill. n.d.

We happened to be walking by the artist’s studio while staying in Stratford last October and stopped in to see what was inside and ended up having a lovely little visit/tour of Brendis’s studio (including his 19th-century printing press and happy Pekingese, Smudge!) A picked up a puffin print and this alphabet book with a flower engraving for every letter of the alphabet. The engravings are tiny and exquisitely life-like. (My only regret is that I didn’t actually pick up a print of Smudge, though I love my little puffin friend.)

Steve Burrows. A Siege of Bitterns. Toronto: Dundurn, 2014.

Was feeling ho-hum about this mystery at the beginning, but kept going and found myself really needing to know how it ended. It’s not super great at female characters, but otherwise a solid book. Plus: birds!

Alan Garner. The Owl Service. London: HarperCollins, 2017.

Modern-day retelling of the Blodeuwedd story in the Mabinogian. Was creeped out in the first half of the novel in that nothing-overtly-horrific-is-going-on-but-everything’s-a-bit-sinister way of 19th-century ghost stories. Pretty good stuff.

Hiromi Goto. Half World. Illus Jillian Tamaki. Toroto: Penguin, 2009.

Oh boy did I love this novel. Warm, fast-paced, but also thoughtful, with meaningful (and hopeful) things to say about recovering from trauma and loss. Half World (the place people go when they die to work through their worst moments) is incredibly weird and terrifying. Melanie is a delightfully imperfect heroine. And there’s a talking cat. (And rat.) (And a raccoon with a magic eight ball.)

Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Mozart’s Starling. New York: Little, Brown, 2017.

Haupt rescues and raises a starling to understand how Mozart lived with his starling. Many delightful anecdotes about starling problem solving and mimicry. There’s also a cat named Delilah. (I really enjoyed the mix of history/biography/ecology/music in this book.)

Danez Smith. Don’t Call Us Dead. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

A collection of poems about living in the intersection of blackness and queerness in contemporary America. The first section, ‘summer, somewhere’ (from which the collection’s title is taken), imagines an alternative heaven for black boys who’ve been killed by white violence, is raw in its anger and mourning, and is absolutely devastating.

Hasan Ali Toptaş. Shadowless. Trans Maureen Feely and Jake Anglis. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Reading this book is like having a weird dream where you’re talking to your neighbour but your neighbour is also your childhood best friend (who looks nothing like your neighbour in real life) and you’re standing in the middle of an old spooky factory going ‘what a great restaurant!’ and absolutely nothing makes sense and that’s what Shadowless is like except with a cat that turns into a horse and dozens of barbers in a strange old-timey town where people keep disappearing.

(I really enjoyed it.)

David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest.* New York: Black Bay Books, 2016.

Urrrrgggggghh noooooooooooo.

*AKA Dystopian Tennis Boys.

Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. Eds Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt. Macintosh, Halifax: Nimbus, 2017.

This anthology of poems for children from/about Atlantic Canada  is gorgeous in all possible ways. It’s beautifully designed and comfortable to hold, and the selection of poems is excellent. The editors mention in their introduction that they picked poems especially meant to be read aloud and the selections fit that bill quite nicely. They poems range from very silly, playful poems heavy in alliteration and rhyme to beautiful wistful selections (the title is taken from Charles G.D. Roberts’s ‘Sleepy Man’, which I found eerie and moving all at once). The range of authors is also excellent and diverse, and there’s an extensive author bio section with lots of suggestions for further reading. Plus (unusual in a young person’s anthology), a small, very readable literary-critical-style introduction to the poems. (You can tell academics made this book but it never ever forgets its main audience of young people.)

6 February 2017

October books.

I started keeping a reading journal this year (at long long last) so now I can obsessively keep track of what I read and What I Thought About It (like, in 10-20 words: this is deeply uncomplicated stuff; also I doodle in the margins).

Anyway, for your pleasure, here’s what I read last month and brief (and deeply personal) recommendation notes:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Wizard of the Crow. New York: Random House, 2007.

Highly recommend if you like tricksters/magical realism/post-colonial satire. It’s 700ish pages so proceed with caution if you’re not into long books?

Anthony Horowitz. Magpie Murders. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2016.

I thought it was gimmicky at first and then really enjoyed it. Think the ending deeply underserves the female narrator though.

Charlotte Brontë. Villette. New York: HarperCollins, 2015.

I now have a profound love-hate relationship with this novel. Just kidding I love it deeply. I imagine it is…not for people who like plain old likeable narrators?

Laurel Snyder. Orphan Island. HarperCollins, 2017.

Compellingly readable. At first I thought I hated the ending but then I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for two days after I finished and now I think it’s maybe great? (Pretty sure it’s about how adults fail.)

Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. London and New York: Verso, 2016.

I love London and I love walking and I love writers but this didn’t quite do it for me. UGH SORRY.

Cixin Liu. The Dark Forest. Trans Joel Martinsen. New York: Tor, 2015.

The first third made me so angry. The last third is really thoughtful but left me incredibly sad. Worth reading but not as great as the first book in the trilogy.

James Tiptree Jr. Up the Walls of the World. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1978.

This book made me so happy. Also: SPACE SQUIDS. (There is also a space Labrador.)

Ben Aaronovitch. Rivers of London. London: Galloway, 2011.

Are all the London books going to let me down? Page turning, but there’s a spirit of meanness (and casual misogyny?) about this book that left me feeling disturbed.

Colson Whitehead. The Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

Everyone needs to read this book right now. A horrifying and traumatic history/present elegantly told.


That’s it. Nothing but the most informative book reviews from me.

7 November 2017

Bad things the cats have done (this week).

  1. Eaten soap. (Lady Jane)
  2. Repeatedly broken into the cupboard below the sink. (Lucy)
  3. Deleted all my MLA search results before I could save them. (Lucy)
  4. Hung up on a Skype call with B. 5 times in a single conversation. (Cynthia)
  5. Climbed the screen door. (Lucy)
  6. Escaped into the hallway while I was bringing the laundry in. (Cynthia)
  7. Broken the ceramic covered soap dish in a bid to get at the delicious soap contained within. (Lady Jane)
  8. Nearly ate a set of headphones. (Lucy)
  9. Went into the grocery bags and pulled out the new bar of soap I bought to replace the one that got smashed all over the bathroom floor (see #7). (Lady Jane)
  10. Went into the garbage and pulled out all the crumpled up balls of paper and dropped them in the bathtub. (Lucy)
  11. Ate my soup. (Lucy)
  12. Repeatedly tried to eat my breakfast. (Lucy)

24 October 2016

Stuff I have learned.

I’m trying to write after I finish books (or collections of articles) as a way of processing thoughts and putting things together. But I am either out of practice, or there’s not enough coalescing in my brain after reading 1-2 books. But here is some stuff I’ve learned about theatre/performance theory so far.

It seems (though this may be a limited perspective) that performance theory in Europe/England/North America in the last century or so has been mostly dominated by realist and non-realist traditions. So on the realist side is the idea that plays ought to be mimetic of reality (Hamlet’s ‘to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature’ comes up a lot around this point). From what I remember from my lit crit/lit theory classes, this is a pretty age-old concept that has roots in classical dramatic and aesthetic traditions (see Plato, Aristotle, Dryden, etc). Realist theatre is also influenced by the character development ideas of Stanislavksy (or he is influenced by realist theatre?) which suggests that when on stage the actor is subsumed into the character she or he portrays (and seems the basis of method acting principles?).

The other major performance theory seems to be Brecht’s (or heavily influenced by him). I’ve read a bit of Brecht before in a class on Jewish modernist philosophy. Brecht was himself a Marxist/socialist, and so he believed that theatre’s job was to show audiences the social relations that resulted in certain events/conflicts. Rather than being lost in a narrative, identifying with characters, and being brought to some emotional catharsis audience members should be invited to see how actors create characters, theatre apparati create theatrical and narrative effects, and, through the concept of gestus (repeated, signifying gestures or actions), how characters and events are the result of social conflict.

My reading right now is focussed on the way that contemporary critics have adapted different performance methods and ideas to represent gender. So far what I’ve gleaned is that realist theatre has the potential to highlight the lived realities of women (but doesn’t necessarily question the social constructedness of those realities). Brechtian theatre (non-realist theatre) has the potential to highlight the way that social relations construct ideas around gender, to show how these ideas might be changed/changeable. But perhaps non-realist theatre creates less of an emotional impact for the viewer (I’m not entirely clear on how this strand of theory makes a place for emotional connection between audience and stage)?

I’m also trying to think through how these modern ideas make sense of early modern play texts. On the one hand, I’m really interested in looking at contemporary productions of early modern texts, which are obviously heavily influenced by modern performance theory. But I also want to balance that consideration by thinking about how these texts might have existed and been presented on their own stages (since contemporary productions most always work with theatre historians and early modern critics while preparing productions for the stage, as a way of better understanding their meaning, and how to make connections between ‘original’ meanings and contemporary situations and audiences.

But mostly I’m wondering if I should go back and read Brecht and early performance theory. I’m never very good at drawing liens around these things.

29 September 2016

[Caveat: I probably don’t really know what I’m talking about yet.]


Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator as Critic.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.


Since I’ve had…

a more relaxed schedule I’ve been playing with the cats more. They’re pretty active and into things to the extent that I mostly tune out any strange noises I hear around the place and have mostly lost my startle response when objects crash to the ground nearby. (‘What are you destroying in there?’ I’ll casually call over to the next room. Or ‘Good job knocking things over!’ when I see rampant destruction happening in front of me.)

But everything I’ve ever read about trouble-making cats has added up to ‘play with cat more=tired, well behaved cat!’ Except in the case of my cats it seems to have made them more active and into everything.

Case in point.


This ended in a broken plate.

26 September 2016