Sunday Salon

Last week, for the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. This week I’m back with another post. 

After a rough start I finally made decent progress with Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School However, since my library loan expired and there’s several people ahead of me wanting to read it I’ll be putting the book on pause for a while. Siobhan Fallon’s debut novel The Confusion of Languages was a surprisingly good read. Inspired by Claire’s recent Library Loot posting I started Helen Rappaport’s 2017 Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge. With two thirds of the way into it I can easily say Caught in the Revolution will make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction. Lastly, I’m going to take a chance on Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind. The year is 1947 and the place is New York City. A chance meeting between a young Jewish woman and a WASPy Park Avenue matron sets in motion a process that will profoundly change both their lives. With this book I have a feeling I will either love it or hate it.

 

Listening. Last week I talked about three podcasts I’d been listening to and this time around I’m going to spotlight three more. The good people at Canada’s CBC produce some top-notch stuff. The recent episode, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Richard Wright” on the podcast Ideas is must listening for anyone interested in modern American literature. Also from the CBC, I can’t get enough of the series Recall: How to Start a Revolution. When someone says the word terrorism, we automatically think of Islamic fundamentalism or hard-right white nationalism. But in the 60s and 70s Canada was plagued by an almost endless series of bombings and kidnappings as part of the FLQ’s struggle to carve out an independent Quebec nation. Lastly, former conservative talk show host turned Never Trumper Charlie Sykes’s podcast The Bulwark never ceases to amaze me. His recent interview with Peter Wehner “Christianity’s Generational Catastrophe” on the current state of American evangelical Christianity is a MUST listen. 

Watching. Last week I mentioned I live on a farm nestled in small valley in the middle of nowhere. Therefore, I get zero TV reception. But fortunately, I’m able to stream online services like Netflix and Tubi. In addition I’m also able to supplement my viewing fare with DVDs borrowed from my area’s public libraries. Recently through my library I was able to sign up with the free, commercial-less streaming streaming service Kanopy. With a deep catalog at my disposal last night I watched the 1990 political thriller Hidden Agenda. Set mostly in Belfast, after an American human rights lawyer is assassinated the quest to find his killers points to a larger, more dangerous conspiracy involving elite elements of British society. Last week I watched the first episode of Mr. Robot and after watching two additional  episodes I remain 100 per cent hooked. I’m also watching the incredibly funny and twisted Canadian sitcom Letterkenny. Set in rural Canada, the characters are quirky as hell and the hilarious dialog is lightening fast. 

Everything else. Yesterday, I once again spent a little time relaxing in one of my favorite area taphouse drinking beer and reading. But earlier in the day I slapped together my reading list for the  20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy on her blog 746 BooksWe’ll see if I even come close to reading all these books. Oh, in case you’re wondering the noisy birds under the eaves of cabin have finally quieted down. 

20 Books of Summer

Summer is around the corner and that means Cathy of 746 Books will once again be hosting 20 Books of Summer. With surprisingly little thought involved I slapped together a list of 20 books plus five alternates this morning I’d like to pursue over the next three months. 

  1. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (2002)
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)
  3. A World Without Islam by Graham E. Fuller (2010)
  4. Introduction to Contemporary History by Geoffrey Barraclough (1967)
  5. Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World by Stephen Glain (2004)
  6. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (2014)
  7. God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis (2008)
  8. Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius by A.C. Grayling (2005)
  9. The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (2006)
  10. Early Modern Europe: From About 1450 to About 1720 by Sir George Clark (1962)
  11. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006)
  12. 5 Ideas That Changed the World by Barbara Ward (1959)
  13. The Evolution of God by Robert Wright (2009)
  14. The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century by Willam Rosen (2014)
  15. The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914 by Moses Rischin (1977) 
  16. Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David (1969)
  17. The Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets; Studies, Historical, Religious, and Expository of the Hebrew Prophets by John Paterson (1948)
  18. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes (1999)
  19. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (2012) – Kindle
  20. Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018) – Kindle 

And five alternates

  1. Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius Kovály (2015) – Kindle
  2. The Son and Heir by Alexander Münninghoff (2020) – Kindle
  3. Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin (2013) – Kindle 
  4. Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (2019)
  5. World Prehistory: A New Outline by Grahame Clark (1969)

In past years I began each summer with high hopes of making it through all my books only to come up short. On top of that, I constantly deviated from my original list of books, usually just reading whatever the heck I wanted to. Fortunately, Cathy is a kind and flexible host. To her, all we need to do is read as many books as we’d like and substitute freely along the way.

I’m hoping to use this as an opportunity to also tackle a chunk of my to be read pile (TBR) while at the same time also participating in other reading challenges like the TBR 22 in ’22 Challenge, What’s in a Name Challenge, Mount TBR Reading Challenge, and Books in Translation Reading Challenge. With a number of these books published prior to 1980 this is also a great chance to spotlight my Old Books Reading Project.

Sunday Salon

Last week, for the first time I participated in Rose City Reader’s Book Beginnings on Friday and this week, also for the first time I’ll be taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. Please bear with me as I use Helen’s post as a template and stumble through trying not to make too many rookie mistakes.

I quickly whipped through Penelope Lively’s Dancing Fish and Ammonites for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. If everything goes according to plan I should have my review up and posted in the next few days. I’m slowly working my way through Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School which has been a bit of a slog. As of this morning I’m two thirds of the way into Siobhan Fallon’s debut novel The Confusion of Languages. To be honest,  going in I expected there’d be more intrigue of the international flavor and less of the the spousal variety but I can’t complain because Fallon’s clever thriller pulsates away at a slow burn. So far it’s looking like I’ve found myself yet another pleasant surprise.  Inspired by Claire’s recent Library Loot posting my next book up will probably be Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge

 

Listening. As some of you might know, I didn’t become a regular listener of podcasts until just a few years ago. Political and news podcasts dominate my feed and I’ve written about it several times. However, there’s three podcasts over the last week or so I’ve been listening to quite actively and I’d like to mention them. For decades NPR’s Fresh Air has featured great interviews with fascinating guests. The episodes of late have been top-notch. In the last couple of weeks host Terry Gross and with her back-up Dave Davies have interviewed New York Times journalist Ruth Graham on the growing right wing political influence within the white evangelical church, author Hugh Ryan on the hidden history of LGBTQ life in New York City and New York Times journalist Nicholas Confessore on Tucker Carlson’s promotion of White Nationalist propaganda. A friend recommended I check out the BBC’s history podcast You’re Dead to Me and now I can’t get enough of its humorous yet informative take on everything from the Harlem Renaissance to Ivan the Terrible. Lastly, I’ve been doing a deep dive into MindShift. Dr. Clint Heacock is an American expat living in the UK and former evangelical christian pastor with a PhD in Theology who, after leaving the faith now hosts a podcast aimed at those who have left organized religion or are in the process of doing so. 

Watching. Because I live on a farm in a small valley in the middle of nowhere I get zero TV reception. Fortunately, I’m able to stream online services like Netflix, Tubi and the like. In addition, my area public libraries have a surprisingly good supply of DVDs I can borrow, providing me with a great supply of watching material. Recently, I finished up season 2 of Russian Doll. While maybe not as good as season one, after a slow start it picked up nicely and ended on a high note. Last week I watched the first episode of Mr. Robot and I’m 100 per cent hooked. After discovering Stranger Things only a few months ago I burned through every available episode and can’t wait for season 4 to drop May 27

Everything else. Late last week I picked up my new prescription glasses and I’m hoping it will make reading and blogging easier. Spring has come to the farm and currently there’s a nest of baby birds under the eaves of my cabin. As cool as this might be my goodness they’re noisy! Fortunately, they quiet down quickly in the evening. Throughout the day I see the momma bird flying back and forth bringing them their meals. (Providing no shortage of entertainment to my cat Orion.) Lastly, yesterday I spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon sitting in one of my favorite adult watering holes drinking beer and reading. Later a friend of mine happened to be in the area and was able to join me for a pint. 

Swimming in a Sea of Podcasts: The War in Ukraine Edition

I’ve been thinking about doing a follow-up to last year’s post on podcasts for about a month. Inspired by Paula’s recent piece on her outstanding blog Book Jotter I finally decided to do so – but with a twist. As Russia’s military onslaught attempts to crush Ukraine and forcibly reincorporate it one form or another into some later-day Russian Empire it’s imperative we keep abreast of the latest developments. But we also can’t hoodwinked by Russian propaganda, be it repeated on the political left or right. Therefore, with that in mind here’s a number of podcasts I’ve found helpful in providing valuable and trusted insight into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Angry Planet – After stumbling across this podcast last summer I’ve become a huge fan. Formally called War College, here you can listen to “conversations about conflict on an angry planet.” The interviews they’ve been doing of late pertaining to the Russian invasion have been top-notch. 

SpyTalk – Proudly advertising itself a podcast “devoted to the intersection of foreign policy, intelligence, and military operations” co-hots Jeff Stein and Jeanne Meserve have done a great job of late interviewing knowledgeable experts in the run-up to and wake of Russia’s invasion. 

Popular Front – The Popular Front podcast focuses on “the niche details of modern warfare and under-reported conflicts.” Originating in the UK, with host Jake Hanrahan and his Midlands accent it’s like listening to a cool and intelligent soccer hooligan interview journalists and military experts over pints in a pub. 

Deep State RadioAuthor and commentator David Rothkopf hosts a lively and smart roundtable discussion covering important issues foreign and domestic. The coverage of Ukraine over the last month or so has been quite good. 

The President’s Inbox  – Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations, each week host Senior Vice President and Director of Studies James M. Lindsay  interviews notable authors and officials in the fields of international relations and foreign politics.

The Bulwark –  Host Charlie Sykes is among a handful of conservatives like David Frum and the men and women of the Lincoln Project like Rick Wilson and Reed Galen I enjoy listening to and valuing their opinions. Like much of what he does, his coverage of the Russian invasion has been a thoughtful and intelligent breath of fresh air. 

The Lawfare Podcast – This  weekly law and government-focused podcast in cooperation with the Brookings Institution features “interviews with policymakers, scholars, journalists, and analysts” as well as lectures and panel discussions. Since the start of the year there’s been some great episodes on Russia, Ukraine and other related topics.

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer– “The United States will no longer play global policeman, and no one else wants the job. This is not a G-7 or a G-20 world. Welcome to the GZERO, a world made volatile by an intensifying international battle for power and influence.” The podcast version of Ian Bremmer’s weekly PBS TV show in which he interviews world leaders and thought leaders on a wide range of important issues. 

The Daily– From The New York Times, five days a week host Michael Barbaro interviews Times journalist to get their perspective on the day’s big stories. (There’s also a longform piece read by a professional narrator that drops every Sunday.) Great source for news about the Russian invasion.

 

Recent Discoveries – Just in the last week or so I’ve discovered a number of promising podcasts. Even though I’ve yet to give them a listen, I’m guessing they’ll be great sources of information and insight. 

Ukraine Daily Brief: A Deep State Radio Podcast – A spin-off of the above-mentioned Deep State Radio Podcast.

Foreign Office–  After hearing host Michael Weiss of the Free Russia Foundation interviewed on a podcast I was so impressed I immediately subscribed to Foreign Office, his own podcast. “Dedicated to those ever-relevant subjects of Russian intelligence operations and active measures. Featured guests include prominent historians and scholars, journalists, diplomats, and ex-spies.” My kind of content! 

The Week Ahead in Russia – I have high hopes for this one, since it’s produced by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Pod Save the World – “A weekly podcast that breaks down international news and foreign policy developments, but doesn’t feel like homework.” Sounds good to me. 

Talk Eastern Europe – Looks like a deep dive into the politics of Eastern Europe. 

The Journal – Even though I detest its editorial policy, feature writing The Wall Street Journal is outstanding. Advertised as “a podcast about money, business and power” over the last week it’s produced some great episodes on the Russian invasion.

That’s enough podcasts for now. Give them a try if you feel inclined.  And please, don’t fall for any Russian propaganda. 

2022 Reading Challenges

This year, just like in past years I’ll be taking part in a number of reading challenges. For as long as I’ve been book blogging I’ve enjoyed participating in various reading challenges since it’s a great way to connect with other bloggers as well as discover great books.

Here is a brief run-down on my reading challenges for 2022.

Mt. TBR Reading Challenge. Bev from My Reader’s Block is hosting this challenge to encourage us to read those books you own yet haven’t read. Last year I signed up for the “Mount Vancouver” level of 36 books – and for the five year in a row failed miserably! This year I’m going try again and maybe with a lot of hard work and perseverance I’ll finally climb that elusive Mt. Vancouver!

The Virtual Mount TBR Reading Challenge. Also hosted by Bev, the goal of this challenge is to read all those books that have been on your list but as library books. I’m opting for the “Mount Crumpit” level of 24 books.

Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge (COYER). I did this challenge for the fist time last year and enjoyed it. Before last year,  the purpose was to read the free or low-cost e-books squirreled away on your e-reader of choice. This time around that’s still the case, but the hosts Berls and Michelle at Because Reading is Better than Real Life have modified things a bit. As the seasons progress participants are granted more flexibility, thus allowing physical books, as well as more expensive e-books to count.

Books in Translation Reading Challenge. Years ago, when I first started blogging I took part in a books in translation reading challenge and loved it. Once again, Jennifer at Introverted Reader is hosting this challenge and I’m excited to join. Feeling ambitious, I’ve set my sights on the “Linguist” level and hope to read at least 10 translated books.

European Reading Challenge. When I first read about this challenge, I thought it applied solely to fiction. However, I soon learned it included everything from memoirs to travel and even cooking.  That’s why I signed up for the European Reading Challenge, hosted by Gillion on her blog Rose City Reader. Just like in past years I’ll be going for the “deluxe entourage” level, meaning I’ll read at least five qualifying books. By the way, the other reason that I’m taking part in this challenge is Gillion the hosts lives in my former hometown of Portland, Oregon!

TBR 22 in ’22 Challenge.  Also hosted by Rose City Reader, the challenge encourages us to read 22 books before the end of the year that have been on your shelf prior to January 1, 2022. Shelf includes your ebook reader and audiobooks you own, but it doesn’t include library books.” Even though my blog focuses on library books, I have a pretty big personal library and I’m looking for any excuse to get me reading more of my own books.

What’s in a Name Reading Challenge. Even though it’s in its 15th year, nevertheless I discovered it only last year. Hosted by Andrea at Carolina Book Nook, the goal is to read six books that have titles that contain the following:

Compound word (ex. Fangirl or Penpal)
Speed (ex. Talking as Fast as I Can or A Swiftly Tilting Planet)
Person & their description (ex. The Silent Patient or The Lost Man)
Mythical being (ex. Interview with the Vampire or The Lady and the Unicorn)
Season (ex. Winter Garden or A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Color: (ex. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine or Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning)

Library Love Challenge. As you probably all know, a huge percentage of the books featured on my blog are borrowed from the public library or downloaded from Overdrive. Therefore, I’ve always been a fan of library challenges. Hosted by Angel’s Guilty Pleasures the mission is to read as many library books as possible. Once again I’m hoping to read a minimum of 48 books which would put me at the “library addict” level.

Backlist Reader Challenge. I love a challenge that rewards me for reading older books. Heck, I’ve been doing that for years! For the Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by the Bookwyrn’s Hoard readers must read books published before 2022 and be on one’s to be read list (TBR).

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Formerly hosted by Passages to the Past, and now The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader is a great reading challenge for me because I don’t read a lot of fiction, but when I do it’s usually historical fiction. One again I’m aiming for the “Renaissance Reader” level of 10 books.

Nonfiction Reader Challenge. Since I’m a huge nonfiction fan I’d be a fool not to participate in this one hosted by Book’d Out. I’ve selected the “Nonfiction Nibbler” level and will be reading six books from any of the 12 nonfiction categories.

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge. Over the last several years along with reading more historical fiction I’ve found myself reading more international crime, spy thrillers and the like. Carol’s Notebook is hosting a reading challenge devoted solely to mystery/suspense/thriller/crime genres. Put me down for the “Amateur Sleuth” level of 5 to 15 books.

TBR Pile Challenge List. After taking a few years off from this challenge I’m back to give it another try. Hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader, the purpose it to make it through a stack of 12 TBR books over the course of the year. All 12 (plus two alternates) must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for at least one full year.

Per Adam’s instructions I’ve selected 12 books plus two alternates:

  • Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006)
  • Growing Up Jewish: An Anthology ed. by Jay David (1969)
  • The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914 by Moses Rischin (1977)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)
  • Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (2013)
  • The Knowledge Web: From Electronic Agents to Stonehenge and Back — And Other Journeys Through Knowledge by James Burke (1999)
  • The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes (1999)
  • The Evolution of God by Robert Wright (2009)
  • The Coming of the French Revolution by Georges Lefebvre (1967)
  • Becket by Jean Anouilh (1960)
  • The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Centuryby Willam Rosen (2014)
  • Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945 by Rana Mitter (2013) – Kindle
  • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder (2015) – Kindle, not shown

Old Books Reading Project. This is my own private challenge and solely a creation of my own. I have a huge personal library and many of these books are over 30, 40 and 50 years old. Year after year they just sit there just waiting to be read. And what do I do about it-nothing. I keep going to the public library to get new ones or worse, buy more. This must change. Therefore, I’m hoping this challenge that I created last year will somehow force me keep reading some of the books I already own. It’s also an effective way for me to spotlight a few old and forgotten books that have still have considerable merit, despite not being a New York Times notable book or talked about on NPR.

Nonfiction November Week 4: Stranger than Fiction

Last week Veronica at The Thousand Book Project hosted Nonfiction November and this week another great blogger, Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks has agreed to host. 

This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

When I first read Rennie’s post announcing Nonfiction November I thought I’d sit this week out. While I might be able to think of a book or two that might possibly fit the bill I wasn’t sure I could recommend enough books worthy of a post. Even if I could, what one considers stranger than fiction is definitely in the eye of the beholder. But the more I thought about it, the more I began remembering books that might be perfect for a post like this.   

Science and Nature

True Tales of Survival

True Crime 

Incredible Lives 

Incredible Iranian Lives 

  • A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili – Disillusioned with Iran’s theocratic regime, Kahlili put his life on the line to become an American agent. 
  • A Mirror Garden by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian – Like a real life Forest Gump, over the course of her rich and adventurous life Farmanfarmaian rubbed shoulders with long parade of celebrities. From Andy Warhol to Warren Beaty to Prince Charles the tales of her charmed life make for great reading. She even played Twister with the Shah of Iran and his royal entourage. 
  • Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat – Moments before she was about to be executed for opposing Iran’s revolutionary regime, Nemat agreed to marry one of her prison guards and convert to Islam. She was just 16 years old. 

History

Cults and Leaving Religion 

 

And to think I was worried I couldn’t come up with enough books for this post. Happy reading and enjoy Nonfiction November! 

Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert

Last week Katie at Doing Dewey hosted Nonfiction November and this week another great blogger, Veronica at The Thousand Book Project has agreed to host. Just like in past years we’ve been inspired to lend our expertise, request expertise or announce our willingness to learn more.

You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

In 2017 I discussed books about Iran by Iranian authors. The following year in 2018 I wrote about women leaving religion, featuring seven memoirs by, and two anthologies about women who’d left various versions of Christianity, Judaism or Islam. In 2019 it was prison memoirs. Last year, in 2020 I featured books about Italy by non-Italians.

The inspiration for this year’s topic came from a friend of mine who texted me back in September looking for book recommendations. She wanted to learn about the Middle Ages and asked if I could recommend any helpful reading material. After racking my brain for a bit I emailed her a list of 10 books I thought might do the trick. Later, I decided the list I’d concocted might make a good “Ask the Expert” post for Nonfiction November.

I revised my original list ever so slightly and added two additional titles to make it an even dozen. Remember, as with all of my so-called “expert” posts, I only included books I’ve read. Therefore, in no way is this list definitive. I trust me, I ain’t no expert.

Just like the prof you had in college who always suggested supplementary texts that no one ever read, I’m going to throw out a few more books. While they might not deal directly with the Middle Ages, they help provide valuable context and/or previously overlooked or unappreciated narratives.

If you end up reading these books I promise you’ll know more about the Middle Ages than the person on the street (unless that person has a masters in Medieval Studies). You’ll also be totally primed if you encounter any historical novels set in those centuries like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth.

With all that in mind, good luck and happy reading!

Nonfiction November Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

Once again it’s time for Nonfiction November, that time of year when book bloggers around the globe come together to celebrate the wonderful world of nonfiction. As a life-long nonfiction fan, I always look forward to seeing participants’ posts and learning what outstanding works of nonfiction everyone has been reading. Year after year I come away with great book recommendations as I’m introduced to new book blogs. Some years I even manage to pick up an additional subscriber or two.

For Week 1 our host Rennie at one of my favorite blogs What’s Nonfiction kicks it all off by inviting us to look back on 2011 and ask

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

As for this year’s favorite, six books come to mind. Both on my blog and in conversations with others I’ve praised these works of nonfiction. Look for each one of them to make my year-end Favorite Nonfiction List.

2021, as far as nonfiction goes was also a year of pleasant surprises. I decided to take a chance on these four books, knowing little, if anything about them. Each one exceeded expectations.

It was also a year for old books. As part of my 20 Books of Summer series I read two books published in the 1970s.

As far as particular topics I’ve been attracted to in 2021 as part of my ongoing research project I continue to read books on the Middle East as well as 20th century European history. In addition to those already mentioned above, I was inspired to read these six books.

This year, just like in past years I’ve recommended a number of books. With the exception of Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family those recommended address democracy under threat, and the rise of anti-science and anti-reason.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for right now. But throughout this month I’ll be sharing more posts celebrating Nonfiction November.

20 Books of Summer

After taking last summer off, this year I’ll once again be participating in the 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy on her blog 746 Books. After a great deal of hemming and hawing I’ve selected 20 books. 

  1. Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 by Ratta Mitter (2013)
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)
  3. The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1969)
  4. The Time of the Uprooted by Elie Wiesel (2007)
  5. Becket or The Honor of God by Jean Anouilh (1960)
  6. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (2014)
  7. God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis (2008)
  8. Encounters with the Archdruid: Narratives About a Conservationist and Three of His Natural Enemies by John McPhee (1971)
  9. The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson (2013)
  10. Early Modern Europe: From About 1450 to About 1720 by Sir George Clark (1962)
  11. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson (2014)
  12. 5 Ideas That Changed the World by Barbara Ward (1959)
  13. A Nation Rising: Untold Tales from America’s Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis (2011)
  14. The Jews in America: The Roots and Destiny of American Jews by Max Dimont (1978) 
  15. Europe Between Revolutions 1815-1848 by Jacques Droz (1967)
  16. There There by Tommy Orange (2018)
  17. The Fear and the Freedom: How the Second World War Changed Us by Keith Lowe (2017)
  18. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes (1999)
  19. The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 B.C. to the Present by Harry G. Gelber (2007)
  20. The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age by James Kirchick (2017)

In 2018 and 2019 I began each summer with high hopes I’d make it through all my books only to come up short. Both summers I deviated substantially from my original list of books, frequently just reading whatever the heck I happened to be in mood for at the time. I also fell short of my target of 20 books. (For instance, in 2019 I read only 16.) Fortunately, Cathy is a kind and flexible host, reminding all of us to simply read as many books as we’d like and freely substitute as we go along.

I’m hoping to use this as an opportunity to also tackle a chunk of my to be read pile (TBR) while at the same time also participating in other reading challenges like the European Reading Challenge, What’s in a Name Challenge, Mount TBR Reading Challenge, and Books in Translation Reading Challenge. With roughly a third of these books published prior to 1978 this is also a great chance to spotlight my Old Books Reading Project.

About Time I Read It: The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo

For years Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge has inspired me to read novels set in Europe. Some of these have been works of crime fiction, a genre frequently associated with Scandinavia. While I’ve only read a handful of these offerings from the Nordic lands (one of which, Peter Høeg’s 90s runaway hit Smilla’s Sense of Snow, I loved) I’ve also enjoyed stuff from other parts of Europe like Peiter Aspe’s Pieter Van In series set in the Belgian city of Bruges, as well as Vilmos Kondor’s historical thriller Budapest Noir. On more than one occasion, when needing to take a break from my usual diet of heavy nonfiction I’ll grab a piece of entertaining crime fiction set somewhere in Europe. A week or so ago while surfing Overdrive I once again found myself in such a mood and decided to grab something of that genre, this time from Spain. Originally published in 2015 with an American English-language version released the following year, Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian has been a terrific introduction into the world of Spanish crime fiction. 

In the Basque village of Baztan a serial killer has been murdering teen girls and ritualistically arranging their denuded bodies in the woods with their makeup removed, hair carefully arranged and pubic region shaved and topped with a txantxigorri, a local Basque pastry. Inspector Amaia Salazar is called in from Pamplona to investigate and finds no evidence of rape or molestation. Instead it appears the killer is making twisted attempts to erase the girls’ budding sexuality, turning them back into innocent children by removing the accoutrements of womanhood, even posing them to resemble holy Madonnas. Stranger still, animal hairs belonging to a large mammal, possibly a bear are found at the crime scenes. This prompts the locals to speculate a mythical creature known as a Basajaún, a kind of Basque Bigfoot might somehow be involved. Naturally, Inspector Salazar is the ideal person to catch the killer, having grown up in Baztan and possessing first hand knowledge of its inhabitants and close-knit culture. But in doing so must face the demons of her childhood, and deal with other long-simmering tensions within her family. 

Reading The Invisible Guardian I was struck by the degree in which Amaia is forever occupying opposing worlds simultaneously. She’s both Basque and a Spanish citizen. Raised in a rural environment she also a resident of urban Pamplona. She’s a criminal investigator in the male-dominated field of law enforcement, and a Spaniard trained by the American FBI. She uses the latest technology in hopes of catching the killer yet is not opposed to using her childhood tarot deck to divine his identity.

Even her family is a study in contrast. Married to an American, her marriage is a happy one but the marriages of her two sisters are disasters, as was that of her parents. Emotionally and physically abused by her mentally ill mother, she carries the scars from a woman who claimed to love her, but instead sought to kill her. 

All of this, plus a serial killer targeting females who, because of their youth resemble girls and women at the same time gives this contemporary thriller set against a forested backdrop of otherworldly mythology an almost quantum state of being, setting it apart from others of this genre. I thoroughly enjoyed The Invisible Guardian and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.