What I’ve been reading

April 18th, 2022Posted by Nancy

As a break from the WORDS & MUSIC series (because, quite frankly, we haven’t started working on the next video yet!), here are the best things I’ve read since the beginning of 2022.


Matrix, by Lauren Groff. A beautifully written book about the life of a young woman who sent to be the prioress of an impoverished abbey in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s England. A nice supplement to my earlier reading of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner that Held Them.

Sudden Traveller, by Sarah Hall. I was so in awe of the stories in this book that I read some of them twice. Just bloody brilliant writing.

Burntcoat, by Sarah Hall. A short novel that came out this year, encompassing both the timely (pandemics) and some of my own personal obsessions (artists and their work). The sex scenes in this one are very different than those in romance novels but I admit I still skipped over them. The rest I devoured and then reread key passages. More bloody brilliant writing.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers. Charming and very human (even if some of the characters are robots) science fiction.

Bewilderment, by Richard Powers. Not quite as successful as The Overstory, but a compelling and sad look at loss, both personal and planetary.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. I put off reading this book about escaping slavery but was glad I finally bit the bullet and plunged in. The magical realist conceit (the railroad is a real railroad, the places it goes are not quite real places) doesn’t take anything away from the brutal truth of oppression and the persistence of hope.

Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel. I might quibble a bit of the SF elements but this is Emily St. John Mandel, so the prose is wonderful, the story booms along at an incredible pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey. A scientist specializing in cloning discovers that her ex-husband has made a clone of her. Gailey isn’t afraid to take this scenario to it’s darkest conclusions and provides a masterclass writing lesson in the art of revealing that your first-person narrator is not at all a nice person.


The Master and His Emissary, by Iain McGilchrist. Subtitled “The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World”. I was never convinced by the central premise but it was an interesting read with some thought-provoking ideas. I admit to being put off by the contention that modern and contemporary art is a symptom of the left brain (which is bad) because it’s not beautiful and uplifting.

Being You, by Anil Seth. A look at the science of consciousness and being human. It takes a bit of concentration to really grasp the science but Seth does a great job explaining and it was an interesting combination with the book mentioned above.

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs, by Camilla Townsend. I was fascinated by the South and Central American cultures when I was younger but this book was a revelation.

Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas, by Jennifer Ruff. Ruff explores the latest archeological and genetic evidence that support the various theories and proposed timelines for the settlement of the Americas. Includes a great chapter on the process of working with DNA, explores the history of European attitudes to the indigenous inhabitants (past and present), and outlines ways scientists are now trying to build respectful partnerships with the descendants of the first peoples to arrive on the continent.

Second-Hand Time, by Svetlana Alexsievich. A few years old but very timely. Alexsievich interviews a wide range of Russians about the changes to their world in the early 1990s.

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