Books Upon Books Upon Books



I have been reading up a storm lately. It started when I spent 8 days without Internet access. Now my volunteer commitments have slowed. So I can read, read, read!

I knew I’d have lots of reading time in Sussex so I brought 3 print books and 2 e-books. While I was there, I bought another 4 books, and read 3 of them! I have a soft spot for Waterstones. Their selection doesn’t overlap much with Chapters back home, so it’s fun to browse.

Here are some quick recaps. If you would like a great summer read, skip down to David Nicholls’ Us!


Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a Life in Time – by Penelope Lively

Recommended: Weakly

I haven’t read Penelope Lively’s novels. I picked this up because it promised to be a sharp-eyed examination of what old age feels like. The first part of the book is just that. She also delves into how the world events of her time influenced her outlook on life. Later she writes about how her memories sustain her, and she outlines how reading has been continually important to her. The book is more a compilation of essays than a memoir. I liked it, but the section on old age was far more interesting to me than the rest.


Some Assembly Required: the Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen – by Arin Andrews

Recommended: Yes

Most of you know I am the parent of a genderqueer 22-year-old, so I couldn’t wait to read the first published memoir of a trans teen. A co-writer kept the prose humming along! When I picked up the book, I didn’t know Arin had a lot of TV exposure for being part of a trans couple. His story is especially gripping because he had to deal with hatred from a fundamentalist upbringing and community. I think the teen voice rings true.


Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light – edited by Penelope Rowlands

Recommended: Not especially

Loads of short accounts of what it’s like to move to Paris. All of the writers wanted to be there and wanted to “live the Parisian Life” with varying degrees of success. The tales focused on mid-20th century and I wished there were many more recent ones, but I can go to blogs for that! I especially enjoyed the essays by writers who reflected on diversity or lack thereof (Janet Macdonald, Edmund White).

Book_What We See

What We See When We Read – by Peter Mendelsund

Recommended: Yes, for literary types

A fascinating look into the worlds we co-create with the author when we read a book. The author goes deep into how little novelists really tell us about characters and setting, and how much we read into books based on our own memories. You’ll be amazed! Fully and cleverly illustrated.

Book_Moon Palace

Moon Palace – by Paul Auster

Recommended: No

This was literary storytelling – a long, wordy tale about a young man in NYC, his struggles with mental health and his interactions with a MPDG and an irascible old man. I liked the family mystery at the heart of the story, but in general, I don’t love books whose only purpose is storytelling. Maybe my reading of it was shallow, but it didn’t leave me with anything to think about.


H is for Hawk – by Helen Macdonald

Recommended: Not for most

I was expecting an uplifting glorification of nature and wild things. I was surprised by the extreme darkness of this book. The author wrote it after a disabling period of grief and depression following her father’s death. Her own story was contrasted with that of the author TH White, who also trained birds of prey, and who is depicted as living under a dark cloud of internalized rage. I think the ending of the book almost cancels out her experiences. (I won’t do a spoiler, but you can email me if you want me to explain!)

Book_Jules Jim

Jules et Jim (read in English) – by Henri-Pierre Roche

Recommended: See the movie instead

I would have liked this when I was 20 and reading Henry Miller, Philip Roth and Leonard Cohen. The story begins joyfully as Jules and Jim live the high life in Belle Epoque Paris. They pursue women who live in the fast lane like they do, but they have “marriageable” women on the side, whom they expect will wait for them. Jules marries Catherine (aka Kate or Kathe) who personifies the goddess figure that both Jules and Jim desire. She leads them down a spiralling path of selfishness, cruelty, betrayal and…of course, all the erotic fulfilment they seek. As the book progressed, I developed an aversion to the character and to the feminine archetypes she represents. Jules and Jim’s relationship as best friends and soul mates is clearly superior. I found the book very trying but I am glad I watched the film afterwards: it condensed the book and made it come alive: I adore the part in which Kate writes and sings a song about herself!


Us – by David Nicholls

Recommended: Highly

I loved this book! Of everything I’ve read lately, this is the one I’ll be touting for summer reading. A prim, orderly guy marries an artsy type and finds his marriage is falling apart after their child grows up. He develops a grand scheme to keep them together, ignoring his communication difficulties. The book has the best ending ever – not what I expected at all. If you liked Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, you’ll love this book. I have the author’s previous book, One Day, on my reading pile right now.

Book_One of Us

Say You’re One of Them – by Uwem Akpan

Recommended: for the brave reader

Five short stories/novellas about children facing unspeakable horrors in African countries. They show the resilience of children, and while perhaps true to life, they also perpetuate the idea of Africa as a dark continent with nothing but blood and conflict. Generated much discussion in my book group.

Book_Bottom Up

Read Bottom Up – by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham

Recommended: for light reading

Released to much fanfare, this was the book that would finally show how romance develops through email and text. I know that many new relationships start just like this (although more texts, fewer emails). That depresses me. The female character puts up with a lot of crap while living in hope. Realistic, but not encouraging. And this from a blogger (me) who met their mate online!

Book_Not My

Not My Father’s Son – by Alan Cumming

Recommended: Yes

I put off reading this for a while because it dealt with childhood abuse. I’m glad I toughed it out, because the story of how the author moved past his horrific childhood was truly inspiring. The book also includes lots of celebrity gossip (just for fun) and ultimately shows how some can turn their lives around, with or without family support. I like how Alan’s life is so intentional.

As always, you can see what I’m reading now on Goodreads. ( I recently added next year’s book club titles to my To-Read page). I love book recommendations – tell me what you’re reading!


  1. Thank you for these great reviews. I haven’t read any of these!

    Off I go to the library…

  2. I’ll have to put Alan Cumming on my list. I’ve seen him perform and he has amazing stage presence. So far the best book I’ve read this summer is Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam – goes into fascinating detail of parts of history I’m ignorant of, but does it in a lovely way.
    I’m also slogging my way through Shelia Jeffreys’ transphobic rant Gender Hurts which I wouldn’t recommend except to try to understand what TERFS are thinking (I’m reading it because I found out that an old friend has become a Rad Fem). I may have to write a post about it just to get it out of my system.

    • I saw Alan Cumming in Cabaret last Fall. The Amsterdam books sounds good. I couldn’t read the Jeffreys book! TERFs is a new term for me, but I have certainly been exposed to that rhetoric. I hope you do post about it.

  3. Yay! Glad to hear you have more time for reading! I added “Us” to my to-read list, thanks! “What We See When We Read” is there too – because of your review on goodreads when you first finished it. 🙂

  4. ah – thank you! I’ve been short on fiction reading material. So much so, I went to the local library recently and took recommendations. I’m not sure the well meaning librarian hit the nail on the head for me, but I got through ‘Very Valentine’ fast, and am pottering along with ‘Mr Pettigrew’s Last Stand’. I definitely add some of the above to my ‘to borrow’ list.

  5. Great post, I never read One Day though I can see it sitting on my book shelf, I watched the movie instead and didn’t care very much for it. I will try us, and I am hoping to love it.

  6. Such a wide array. Thanks for your suggestions.

  7. Fiona

    I was grumbling in my head that ‘of course’ my local library wouldn’t have any of these titles (seems to be mostly cookbooks and gardening!) and then I had to eat humble pie. Both ‘Not My Father’s Son’ and ‘What We See When We Read’ are available straight away on Overdrive! Happy 🙂

  8. This is exactly why you are an awesome librarian! Thanks for the reviews–it will definitely give me some books to add to my reading list!

  9. Interesting list, thanks. I’ve read a lot by Penelope Lively and have enjoyed all of it – I find her a good observer of people, and she writes well. Worth having a look at h fiction, because I thought the book you rad was much weak than her other books.
    I really enjoy reading your posts, thanks so much. Deborah (from Bath, UK)

  10. Sorry to focus on the small, irrelevant detail but I love how your recommendation for Penelope Lively is weakly. On my phone the two words are underneath each other.

    I can’t read books with real life suffering. Too distressing. I’m off to my book club tonight so will share your reviews. Though we don’t do non-fiction.

    I just read Harper Lee’s new one and a young adult novel based on Queen Elizabeth 1. Both interesting reads.

    • Lively/weakly, yep! Sometimes I feel fictional suffering is worse because a good writer can make it more vivid than real life. I wonder if I will read the Harper Lee book eventually. Right now I’m not keen. I love reading about Elizabeth I and her era, though!

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