2006 Reading List

Letters from Eden by Julie Zickefoose
Beautiful paintings. Moving essays. Love it.
Julie Zickefoose's web site
Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
More "tales of the city" Edinburgh style. Bertie is one of the most engaging characters I've encountered.
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
"Tales of the City" Edinburgh style. Originally published serially in The Scotsman.
The Scotsman Books section.
Friends.Lovers,Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
Isabel Dalhousie applies some ethics in Edinburgh.
Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
Mma Ramotswe drinks yet more tea. I actually brewed a cuppa bush tea to sip while I read this.
Dune Boy by Edwin Way Teale
No, not that Dune, the Indiana dunes -- where Edwin Way Teale learned to observe nature, to write but not to spell well, to build flying machines, to watch birds... This is a splendid, well-written, very engaging memoir of the rural childhood of one of America's best natural history writers. If you liked North with the Spring, you'll love reading about the guy who wrote it and how he got to be so good at it.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I'd seen a review in the Boston Globe the previous week. and then spotted it on a table in Vermont Book Shop with the Booksense recommended sticker on it.
The Thirteenth Tale web site
Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
Mma Ramotswe drinks more tea. The second book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
Isabel Dalhousie mulls over practical ethics and investigates a suspicious death. She drinks coffee.
Otter Creek Bakery has nothing to do with this novel. It's where I had breakfast the day I bought this book at Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCallSmith
Mma Ramotswe drinks tea.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith
Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is way too tall and has no social skills whatsoever. He agonizes about ethics and about forms of polite address with equal angst. I impulsively bought this on CD to listen to on the drive to Vermont for our snow geese vacation. It was so funny and absorbing that the drive went by in no time and we laughed all the way.
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts
An excellent biography of James Holman (1786&endash;1857) a 19th-century British naval officer who lost his sight at 25, but managed to become the greatest traveler of his time. Holman joined the Navy at the age of 12 during the Napoleonic wars and saw duty along the coast of North America. and was quite an accomplished sailor by the time he went blind at 25. That might have been enough of a career but he went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, travel the Grand Tour of Europe, hunt slavers off the coast of Africa, get escorted out of Siberia by one the czars elite minions, and circumnavigate the globe. Roberts tells the story well and includes lots of excerpts from Holman's own writings, some of which were bestsellers in his time.
Jason Roberts' web site.
The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan by Christopher Benfey
Tells the story of a bunch of 19th century intellectuals, collectors,connoisseurs, mainly based in Boston, who all knew each other and dedicated themselves to preserving "Old Japan". Again this is in the post-Perry to Treaty of Portsmouth era. I knew there was a special connection between Boston, especially the Museum of Fine Arts, and Japan but I never realized the extent to which the lives of so many prominent people from Henry Adams to Isabella Stewart Gardner to Theodore Roosevelt intertwined around their interest in things Japanese. And Kakuzo Okakura knew everybody. The Book of Tea as the essential binding force of the universe, who knew?
More: www.gardnermuseum.org, Museum of Fine Arts, Interview with Christoper Benfey 

Deer Cry Pavilion: A Story of Westerners in Japan, 1868-1905 by Pat Barr

Barr writes about the westerners who participated in or at least witnessed Japan's transformation into a modern industrial society: post-Perry to Treaty of Portsmouth. It covers some of my favorite writers of that period like Isabella Bird and Lafcadio Hearn as well as people I never heard of like the engineer who supervised building the first railroad, wives of diplomats, and even a few scoundrels.
Mr. Crewe's Career by Winston Churchill
That would be the early 20th century American writer Winston Churchill, not the Prime Minister. This is another one of the pile of books I picked up at Homestead Bookshop on our Monadnock region mini-vacation. We'd been reading the WPA guide to New Hampshire and read that Mr. Crewe's Career is the only one of Churchill's novels set in the Monadnock region and we thought we should hunt it down on bookfinder but we didn't need to because I break for signs that say "Old Books". Anyway, this novel is an excellent glimpse into turn of the (last) century political reform, attitudes toward women, the railroad robber barons, and so on. The idea of New Hampshire having a puppet government controlled by New York railroad interests and run from -- literally -- behind a curtain in a hotel room in Concord just tickles me. I totally enjoyed the story and liked the characters, even the bad guys.
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Reread of a classic of the nature writing/environmental writing genre. Still good. Still relevant.
Leopold's trees to become paper for Leopold book.
The Danube: A river guide by Rod Heikell
A boating guide to the Danube, which is an entertaining history of Mitteleuropa and a fascinating glimpse of the amazing time between the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia as well as a kilometre by kilometre guidebook to ports,docks, locks, and fish restaurants. A surprisingly good read. A Homestead Bookshop find.
More: The
Danube A river guide page at Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson Ltd.
The Bird of Light by John Hay
John Hay's classic account of the lives of terns on Cape Cod. He talks about common, least, and roseate terns who nest on the Cape and also gets into Arctic terns and brown noddies, and a lot of other tern species that don't nest on the Cape. He obviously spent years paying very close attention to his local tern colonies and his observations are insightful and exquisitely detailed. I started reading this shortly after I watched the common terns of the Providence Harbor colony mating. Watching a tern colony can be absorbing.
The Bird of Light page at Norton. Some John Hay quotes.
Over the Ocean to Paris by Franklin W. Dixon
The first book in the Ted Scott Flying Stories series. Young Ted learns to fly and only months later becomes the first to fly across the Atlantic solo. No mention of caribou or global warming.
A Guide to the Plots of Every Ted Scott Story Ever Written.
Hamlet and the Enormous Chinese Dragon Kite by Brian Lies
Pigs really can fly!
Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle by Brian Lies
Hamlet, an adventurous pig and his friend, Quince,a porcupine with some sort of pessimistic anxiety disorder go to the beach, where Hamlet is determined to build the world’s biggest sandcastle. Time and tide wait for no pig, and the porcupine falls asleep on the beach leading to near-disaster. Fortunately friednship, McGyver-like ingenuity,and teamwork save the day. The illustrations are fabulous.
Brian Lies web site.
The Story of Manny Being Manny by Todd Balf
The text and illustrations really capture the essence of Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez -- that certain something that makes Manny unique and makes the fans love him no matter how often he asks to be traded or consorts with Yankees in the Ritz bar or all those other weirdly lovable things Manny does. It even captures the surge of emotion Red Sox Nation felt when Manny became a US citizen. It's a charming kids' book that even grownups will love. Not that I'm a grownup or anything. :-)
The Honorable Visitors by Donald Richie
Famous gaijin view Japan thru their various preconceptions. Actually not all of them had preconceptions and those make for the most interesting accounts. Richie collects and comments on visitors ranging from Isabella Bird , Ulysses S. Grant, ad Rudyard Kipling in the late 19th century (early Meiji era their time) on up to Charlie Chaplin in the 1930s, William Faulkner and Truman Capote in the 1950s, and Angela Carter in the 1960s. It's a quick read and very entertaining. I want to read Kipling's writings on Japan now. That's what I came away with. Not bad for a book with no mention of caribou or global warming.
More: There's a review of it at
Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu
Songbird Journeys is full of fascinating anecdotes about researchers and birders who have been and are studying bird migration. She summarizes the latest research in plain language and gives a wonderful glimpse into just how hard and rewarding field research is. She read at the Newburyport Literary Festival in April and recounted the story about the researchers radio-tracking a grey-cheeked thrush from an old car with a home built antenna on top and running into trouble with small town law enforcement, the flu, and the Canadian border. She also read from the part about a guy standing on an oil rig in the Gulf as songbirds streamed by in the mulit-thousands. The book is part great birding stories, part science popularization, and part resource guide on where to watch or listen to the migration and how to get involved in citizen-science projects. It contains global warming, one mention of caribou (actually caribou fur -- apparently snow buntings line their nests with it), and one instance of using Rhode Island as a unit of measure.
More: Chu has a web site for the book at
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Inside the childhood of the creator of Dykes to Watch Out For. Unexpectedly deeply moving and funny and literary and just plain wonderful. I don't know what you call the memoir equivalent of a graphic novel, but her story is told thru drawings and text that work together seamlessly. And her family members don't all look like Mo, but I think her childhood self kinda does. Every lesbian I've ever asked which DTWOF she identifies with the most has said Mo. Me too. But this ain't about Mo and her posse of DTWOF. It's about their creator and her Dad and tragedy and comedy and tragecomedy. No global warming or caribou.
More: There's a review at
The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna
Kavenna is fascinated by the mythical nation of Thule, first described by the Greek Explorer Pytheas. She visists all the places that might be Thule, goes on a long tear about the Thule Society and the Holocaust, visits more northerly places she knows aren't Pytheas' Thule -- like Thule airbase in Greenland where I almost ended up working as a FORTRAN programmer but it turned out girls weren't allowed in the early '70s thank goodness in hindsight. Anyway, like everything I read lately, it ends with global warming. No caribou this time, but plenty of global warming. The ice is melting and soon the polar bears will have no place to put their stuff.
More: Her publisher, Penguin, has a
page about it on their web site. Oh, and Kavenna has her own web site too.
Rural Life by Verlyn Kinkenborg
Not in the persona of a long dead tortoise, but fabulous essays arranged seasonally nonetheless. OK, a tiny bit of global warming, but no caribou.
Over The Rockies With The Air Mail by Franklin W. Dixon
The third title in the Ted Scott Flying Stories series. Aviation hero Ted Scott faces many challenges when his plane crashes in the Colorado mountains, but must deliver the mail at all costs. Not to mention help his friend get the girl, and bring a bad guy to justice. This is pure vintage "boy adventure series" escapism. The kind I'm powerless over. The girl can't help it. :-) No global warming, caribou, or unhappy tortoises though.
Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Gilbert White's tortoise tells her own story. Brilliant.
Review in the Boston Globe.
Chasing Spring by Bruce Stutz
Global warming. ANWR. Caribou. Salamander sex.
More: Heard him reading from it on
On Point on WBUR and had to buy it immediately.
Sour Puss by Rita Mae Brown
Another cat mystery book. Much more well crafted than the latest Cat Who... but I am beginning to wonder how Crozet, Virginia survives with a higher murder rate than even the legendary Cabot Cove.
Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie have a web site
The Cat Who Dropped a Bomshell by Lillian Jackson Braun
I can't help it! I am addicted to these books -- the way they used to be. Actually this one is mildly entertaining and quite a bit better than last year's The Cat Who Went Bananas. I do love catching up on the lives of the folks in Moose County. I just wish there were more of a plot.
What else do readers of Lillian Jackson Braun read?
The Run by John Hay
A wonderfully lyrical account of alewife migration on Cape Cod. A great pleasure to read.
The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (1840-1945) edited by Benita Eisler
Fourteen hours a day in the mills and only the sabbath day off and yet they managed to write some really good stuff. Makes me feel guilty for not writing, among other things. This is seriously good stuff and very well chosen.
The Lowell Offering Index at UMass Lowell
Tales of the Seal People by Duncan Williamson
A wonderful collection of Scottish folk tales about silkies (aka seal people). I'd heard silkie stories in childhood but never knew the diversity of the stories nor how dark some of them are. Better not be mean to the seals! They'll teach you a lesson.
Orkney seklies
1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
A riproaring yarn that sweeps you along making you forget the lack of scholarship. Lots of fun to read and argue with but not to be taken as history. Far less credible than When China Ruled the Seas. Columbus may not have discovered America but neither did the Chinese. Even if the Chinese were hanging out in Rhode Island in 1421 they were hanging out with the Narragansetts who were already living here.
An upcoming National Geographic movie about Zheng He; an interview with Michael Yamashita who made the film Ghost Fleet.
One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty
What can I say? It's a classic memoir.
a virtual tour of Eudora Welty's house
Theatre of Fish by John Gimlette
Newfoundland and Labrador post-fishocracy, 2 generations since Grenfell, weird and wonderful and depressing all at once. It's a must read. I could not put it down -- much sleep deprivation ensued. Makes me want to go to Newfoundland.
John Gimlette's Home Page
When China Ruled the Seas by Louise Levathes
I did not know any of this. Pirates. Treasure fleet. World domination. Fabulous descriptions of the dry docks and shipyards too. I love this book.
An upcoming National Geographic movie about Zheng He; an interview with Michael Yamashita who made the film Ghost Fleet.
The Edge of Maine by Geoffrey Wolf
A lot of it is history gleaned from other sources. I was expecting more travel narrative. Best parts are when they're lost in the fog.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The whale thing again ... See January 3 entry.
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Copyright © 2006, Janet I. Egan