What I read at the cottage (plus extras)

October 23rd, 2023Posted by Nancy

I didn’t keep a close record of cottage reading, but did get through a few books between July and the end of the September. Here are some of my favourites.


The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic, R.F. Kuang. I motored through the first two parts of this trilogy and finished the final book in October. Kuang has won a Nebula, has written several NY Times bestselling books, has several degrees, is currently studying at Yale, and is definitely an overachiever (meant in the best way, of course). Based on Chinese history, this series is dark, violent, and vividly written. I was occasionally annoyed at the willful obtuseness of the main character, but she was very young, after all. All three books are long but worth it, with an overall ending that is not happy but satisfying.

The Marigold, Andrew Sullivan. Debut horror novel set in a five-minutes from now Toronto. Anyone who lives here will not be surprised to discover that condo development is a dark art.

Castles in Their Bones, Laura Sebastian. I didn’t realize this was the start of a trilogy but I enjoyed this enough to read the next one. The three daughters of an ambitious queen are raised to marry into the surrounding countries and usurp their thrones – but nothing goes quite as planned.

The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar. Absolutely bloody brilliant. I loved this book so much. Set in the world of A Stranger in Olondria, the narrative is divided between the voices of four different women – a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite – involved in a rebellion. Just staggeringly good. Read it.


Did I Ever Tell You This? Sam Neill Spurred by a cancer diagnosis, the NZ actor decided to finally write a memoir. My husband listened to the audio book and loved it. I read the book and managed to at least hear some echoes of his voice while reading. It’s funny and kind (mostly) and honest.

The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Donna Rifkind. A fascinating look at Viertel, a German actress and writer, who fled the rise of Nazism and settled in Hollywood with her director husband and her family. She worked with Garbo on several pictures but her true gift was as den mother, social butterfly, and advocate for the exiles who washed up in LA and made an unforgettable contribution to cinema. Made a good pairing with the Netflix series TransAtlantic, a fictionalized version of the Emergency Rescue Committee efforts to get artists and intellectuals safely out of France.

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, Claire Dederer and The Success and Failure of Picasso, John Berger. More Glass World project research. The Dederer book on ‘art monsters’ led to the Berger book, which is decades old but still interesting. The first explores the question of whether you can love the art when the artist is a reprehensible human being.

The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, and the Debate over Race in America, Nicholas Buccola. I knew the basic outline of the debate and had seen some clips but this was a fascinating deep dive into the lives of both of the men and what led them to that moment. It also includes each speech in full at the end. Now I have to read some more James Baldwin….

Riverman: An American Odyssey, Ben McGrath. Writer McGrath meets Dick Conant, an eccentric canoeist paddling from New York to Florida. He writes an article about him and several months later, receives a call from police to say that Conant’s canoe has been found but there’s no sign of him. McGrath sets out to discover the man who lived on his own terms, made a lasting impression on everyone he met, but could never quite feel at home in the world.

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