What I read at the cottage, September 2021

September 25th, 2021Posted by Nancy

Sadly, there was no pretty picture this year, though I did read a few physical books. But here’s what I read and enjoyed on my vacation.


The Last True Gentleman on the Planet Earth by David Keyes. I’m not objective about this one, as David is a dear friend. But this is a wonderful collection of stories that range from the magical title tale (complete with goth-girl sisters, martinis, mysterious strangers, snow storms, foxes, and the Devil) to the utterly modern stories of the perils of J-pop stardom and the Manhattan model milieu.

Living Alone by Stella Benson. An odd, absurd story about a witch in London during WW1, coping both with the absurdities of wartime and the vagaries of the city’s magical underworld. Written in 1919 and available in a gorgeous edition by the House of Pomegranates Press.

Leonora in the Morning Light by Michaela Carter. A surprisingly good companion piece to Living Alone. A novel about the life of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, which I’m happy to say inspired a number of interesting thoughts about my own artist novel (in the usual “hmm, I wonder what would happen if…” way that ends up only tangentially related to the original spark).

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. A reread spurred by reading her new book, set in the same world. It’s still lovely, charming, and thoughtful. On this read, I was doubly impressed by her worldbuilding, as she provides very little detailed explanation of anything but you feel you know everything you need to for it all to make sense. I have no idea how much backstory she prepared or how long it took her, but I took heart from an excellent example of creating a fully-realized world without filling in every little crack and crevice.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I’ve read a number of Asimov’s short stories but, at the point I started reading SF in the 1970s, he already fell into the “old white man” category for a feminist teen like me, so I never read the novels. In preparation for the upcoming Apple TV series, we hauled out my husband’s old 1964 editions and had a go at them. I had a lot of quibbles (it really is just men talking and being clever. Why would the big goal be to get back to a galactic empire? Why not a galactic democracy?) but I liked it enough to read the next two. They’re very short, after all.


How to Fail by Elizabeth Day. I’ve listened to some of her podcast of the same name. The book expands on her own experiences of failure and what she learned from them. It’s heartening – but I’m still not sure my own failures led to anything special. Sigh.

The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco. Well-written summary of the issues surrounding the fugitive slave laws in the early republic. The grim, infuriating bits are offset by the examples of courage from both slaves willing to risk everything for freedom and principled people prepared to help and defend them. A good reminder that yes, indeed, there were lots of people who knew slavery was wrong back in the 1800s.

We had glorious weather, so very little writing or dancing was done. Might have broken a record for most September swims though.

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