What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: 2021 End of Year Wrap-up

Hey hai hello and Happy New Year! I’m back as promised with an end-of-year wrap on the reading.

But First, Some Pics from Our NYE Party

Just had to share these moments.

Ben knocked it out of the park this year by commissioning an amazing ice sculpture. Family and friends turned out to celebrate and make it the best time. We all wore either “black tie” or just what we were feeling. I, of course, turned up in sequins with champagne bottle earrings because I am that extra. We had a ton of food, drinks, beer pong, and fireworks.

It couldn’t have been a better way to say good-bye to a rough year and hello to a new one.



And Now for the Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats

Note that these numbers won’t reasonably add up to the total number of books read due to issues like books that cross genres and books written by both a male and a female author. In these cases, I logged both stats for one book.

Total books read: 82 (3 fewer than last year)
Fiction: 58
Nonfiction: 24
Female authors: 65
Male Authors: 18
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Same as last year. That’s a real miss for me. Determined to work on it this year.)
Non-white authors: I managed 11, 7 of which happened in December when I realized I’d barely read anything by someone who was not of my same race. I want to be a more informed and aware person than that, so…
E-books: 16
Audiobooks: 55 (damn)
Re-reads: Started an official re-reading project in 2019 and am keeping it up.

Year of the Audiobook

The bulk of my reading happened via audiobook. Here are a few of my favorites from the year.

Most-read Genres

Classics: 13

I didn’t succeed at the Classics Challenge this year. In fact, I ignored it completely and read whatever I wanted. 🙂 C’est la ME.

Historical Fiction: 13

It was a goal of mine to read more historical fiction this year and I learned that there is a lot of bad historical fiction out there. But here are a few I loved. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Pachinko.

Mystery/Thriller: 13

There’s almost nothing I like more than settling into a warm bath with a glass of wine and a thriller. It’s always a true break for my tired brain.

Memoir/Autobiography: 11

Always a winning genre for me. A few of my favorites:

Other Genres I Read

Biography: 2
Fantasy/Magical Realism: 1
Nonfiction History: 3
Letters (nonfiction): 1
Myth/Folktale/Legend: 2
Psychology: 1
Speculative Fiction: 1
Self-help: 5 (Do not remember reading that many…)
Social Issues: 3
Spirituality: 1
YA Fiction: 1

2021 Takeaways/2022 Goals

I want to read more diversely and will be making a point to read many more books by BIPOC authors in 2022.

I loved the classics I read and plan to, once again, choose them at random rather than completing a Classics Challenge.

I’ve had a little time to reflect and can’t think what my other reading goals for 2022 should be. Just…drawing a blank. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s 2022 is off to a good start!



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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: December 2021

And there goes another year–woo! Happy Holidays, all! Hope your December was as enjoyable as mine. And if it wasn’t, I’m sending virtual *hugs* to you. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite time of year.

Here’s one of my favorite presents from this Christmas–a brand new potting bench!

I’m about to level up my gardening game hard. (Ignore the dirty siding. It’s winter…)

Isn’t is *heart eyes emoji*???

Here are my sister’s two Christmas pups who decided my new rug was the comfiest spot to squat.

And here’s a snowy scene from our block. It’s not from Christmas, which was rainy, but from a couple days after.

On to the books!

I’ll put together a recap of my entire reading year soon, but here’s what I read in the past month.

What Shannon Read in December

Aside from the treat of rereading Bridget Jones’ Diary (because Christmas), I was determined to read only books by BIPOC authors. I succeeded in seeking out and finding some awesome books–I read a total of 7.


Another Brooklyn: This is a coming-of-age story that was a bit too sentimental for my usual tastes. That said, I read it in two days, so who am I to criticize? Set in Brooklyn, of course, it’s the story of a young Black girl who tells her own story and that of her neighborhood. I loved the sense of place.

Heavy: Quite the opposite, this an incredibly heartbreaking memoir by an amazing writer. I can’t use enough meaningless superlatives to describe it. Laymon writes about growing up Black, male, fat, and with a mother who is larger than life in some of the most dysfunctional ways.

Klara and the Sun: A totally different book for me to read. This is speculative fiction told from the perspective of an Artificial Friend, essentially a solar-powered, humanlike robot named Klara. She gets purchased by a young girl and her mother. It turns out she was purchased to learn as much about being like the girl, Josie, as she can just in case Josie dies from her illness–so Klara can “continue Josie”. It’s wonderful, creepy in the ways that only speculative fiction can be, and a bit plodding, if I’m honest.

A Burning: What a fabulous novel. This one, set in India, begins with terrorists locking the doors of a train car and throwing molotov cocktails into it. It’s heart-wrenching from the start. We then follow the story of the young woman accused of organizing this act of terrorism. We witness the story through three narrators, the woman herself, a trans friend from her slum, and oddly, her school gym teacher, all of whom play vital roles in the case as we learn their own stories. I sped through it in a day. Can’t recommend it enough.

Such a Fun Age: This audiobook won an Audie Award and for good reason. It’s wonderfully narrated by Nicole Lewis and I was sucked in from the beginning. It starts with an incident where Emira, a Black babysitter has been asked to take her young charge, a white toddler, to a grocery store to get the girl out of the house for a while while the family deals with a whole other problem.

Emira, her best friend, and the little girl head to the neighborhood grocery, which is something like a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. There, a white woman alerts security that Emira is with a little white girl and wonders weather the little white girl is supposed to be with her. The scene errupts into a disturbing, racially-charged incident filmed by another customer.

And the story moves from there. We also get a second perspective in the novel, that of Emira’s white employer Alix. The book is heartbreaking, triumphant in the end, and also, in its way, is a sort of coming-of-age story for Emira.

Bridget Jones’ Diary: Because Christmas. Don’t worry, I also watched the movie twice. Also, has anyone moved on from there to watch Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason? It’s terrible. Do not recommend.

Pachinko: Another award-winner for a very good reason. This novel pulled out all the stops. It’s one of those novels that reviewers probably call a “tour de force.” Set in 1900s Korea in the beginning, the book follows a young girl, Sunja, who works in her parents’ boarding house, and who falls in love with a wealthy man from another town. You can probably already guess that she becomes pregnant and I really don’t want to give away anything else. This is a wonderful book to discover as you go.

The story of Sunja’s family starts in Korea but is largely set in Japan and illuminates the experience of Korean immigrants there during the time of the novel. These are issues that I, having grown up a suburban white girl in America, wasn’t even aware of. And that, in a nutshell, is why books like this one are so important.

How can you understand the perspectives of others if you don’t know where they’re coming from–the history and experiences behind their actions, behind who they are?

I want to understand other people, but my travel budget is limited and I’m an introvert. Thus, books.


I’ll end on that not-so-eloquent note and hope you get my point. I’ll be back soon with a full year recap. Thanks for stopping by! And here’s a jolly Christmas collage.

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: November 2021

And there went another month! Thanksgiving and my 41st (!!) birthday in the bag. How did I get this old? Like, what’s happening?

Life Update

  • I had a birthday! It was awesome and I was soundly spoiled by my loved ones. Lots of presents, two cakes, and a pie. I love you all so much.
  • Thanksgiving was so much fun. We gathered. We overate.
  • I’m still making tons of collage and the obsession continues.
  • I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done.
  • Work is fine.

Scintillating, no?

What Shannon Read in November

Past monthly recaps available here.

And here’s what I read in November.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Finished up the Dragon Tattoo series and enjoyed it thoroughly. I see myself coming back to these over the years. Especially the audiobooks read by Simon Vance. He’s such a great narrator.

The Woman Upstairs

Exactly the kind of quirky, introspective novel I love. This is about a single woman who befriends a family and becomes mildly…obsessed with them. She makes weird art and has lots to say about the lot of the single woman and her place in society. I loved this book.

Homesick

Another quirky book, this time a memoir by a woman who can’t afford housing and thus lives in a shed. I loved the atmosphere in the book, which is set in western Cornwall. And I appreciated what Davies had to say about exchanging one’s life force for money. She’s a gardener and a surfer and a bit of a loner. Can relate. (Not the surfing bit, but yes to the rest.)

A Friend From England

I wanted to love this and didn’t. I’m finding that’s how I generally feel about Anita Brookner. Her novels are odd, often with–you guessed it–quirky characters. They’re intense, “delicate,” as Goodreads calls them. This one is an examination of a relationship between a single woman and some family friends. She gets overly involved in their lives and this leads to discomfort for her in many ways. It’s an interesting premise and I thought I’d love it, but instead of appreciating the book’s “delicacy,” I just found it tedious. And now I find this paragraph tedious…

Transcendent Kingdom

This was my favorite book of the month. Gyasi can do no wrong in my eyes. Themes explored run the gamut from race to familial relationships, to the immigrant experience in the U.S., to addiction, suicide, and grief. It floored me. I’m going to reread it for sure.


Tell me what you’re reading! I have big plans to finish out the year strong. And, aside from a reread of Bridget’ Jones’ Diary, I’m focusing on BIPOC authors. How about you?

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: October 2021

Happy belated Halloween! Did you read any spooky books in October? I tried a bunch of ghost stories but got bored and didn’t finish them. I need to stop trying Susan Hill. I just can’t get into her. Instead, I ended up re-listening to the Dragon Tattoo series and that’s where I got my fill of darkness.

But I’m still looking for spooky book recommendations, so bring ’em on if you have ’em! I can read spooky all year.

In other news, October was a busy month here. Working, of course, plus it was Jacob’s 20th birthday and Desiree’s 21st! We had so much fun celebrating them with cake, presents, and a few libations.

We also hosted quite a few football weekend guests. People are excited to get back to ND now that restrictions have lifted a bit. And I’m still busy making lots of collage.

That’s the life update…

On to the books!

What Shannon Read in October 2021

Some Notes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’d forgotten how good this is! The mood, the quirky main characters, the odd and wonderful relationships–I love it all. Also, since I listened to it, Simon Vance’s voices is burned into my brain from the first time I listened. And this time around I had flashbacks to listening while driving to a job I had five years ago!

Side note: Given all the crazy action in this book, is it strange that my favorite scene is when Lisbeth goes shopping and drops 90,000 kronor at IKEA?

Yes, Lisbeth. The answer is always yes.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

This one was slightly less interesting, and certainly not as well-paced and tight as the first book, but after finishing Book 1, I needed more Lisbeth Salander in my life. Still good, but nothing is wrapped up and one must slog one’s way through Book 3 to get to a satisfactory ending. And I do mean slog. The audiobook is in the neighborhood of 20 hours in length.

Where the Crawdads Sing

This is a book I avoided because it was popular. You know by now that this is a habit of mine. But a friend recommended it and I finally gave in and read it. I read the hard copy about halfway through, then finished up via audiobook. Both were excellent and, per usual, I need to get off my high horse and stop nixing books from my TBR just because other people like them. I mean, what a book snob.

Quartet in Autumn

I love Barbara Pym. I read this one because it was recommended on this list by Five Books: “The Best Five Books on Friendship.” It’s about a group of four coworkers who are all single for one reason or another. They are office drones in 1970s London, the flavor of which comes across wonderfully in the book. That’s one of the things I loved about it–it’s much moodier than Pym’s other books.

All four main characters are nearing the end of their working lives. They’re all single and super quirky in their own ways and I enjoyed watching them interact. But the book also saddened me as questions of worth and mortality are revealed through those quirks. It’s a beautiful and sad novel.

Hand to Mouth

I read Hand to Mouth after watching Maid on Netflix. I really enjoyed Maid, but I’ve already read the book, so I had to find something else when I wanted to read a book in a similar vein.

Tirado works in various service industry jobs (generally–she does mention retail and factory work), and this book came of an essay of hers that went viral. The essay, based on an internet forum comment, essentially explained reasons “poor people” act and think the way they do. She starts with explaining why poor people indulge in various costly vices (smoking, drinking, etc.) when they have trouble paying for the basics in life. She refutes the idea that poor folks aren’t worthy of little luxuries despite their poorness. And she goes on from there, covering things like payday loans and going to the ER in place of health insurance.

For anyone who’s ever been broke, none of this will be illuminating. But for anyone who hasn’t, I recommend reading it with an open mind.

Virginia Woolf

My fascination with the Bloomsbury set continues! (There’s a little account of my Bloomsbury obsession in this post.) This biography of Woolf is by Nigel Nicolson, son of Woolf’s friend and lover (famous in her own right) Vita Sackville-West. It’s not comprehensive, but Nicolson tells lots of fun stories about Woolf and her life among the Bloomsbury crowd.


That’s it from me. What did you read in October?

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: September 2021

And just like that, it’s October, one of my favorite months of the year. It’s time for spooky and cozy things, but it’s still warm enough to conduct outdoor activities in comfort. For me that means drinking more hot coffee and tea, decorating for Halloween, and giving the garden a good clean-up.

To whit, here are some autumn-y garden shots, plus goofing around with the fam, and walking a happy dog through the park. Also, Elvis the polar bear has his Halloween costume ready to go. And we celebrated Ben’s 41st bday, but slacker wife that I am, I can’t find any photos of that…

That’s the life update you didn’t come here for. Now, here are the books you did come for!

What Shannon read in September:

Some notes:

Affluence Without Abundace and Catching Fire

These two formed a theme. Both focus on hunter gatherer societies. Affluence Without Abundace offers a look at an existing hunter gatherer society in the Kalahari. It reflects on the Bushmen’s natural tendency to work only as much as is needed for food and comfort (as do/did most hunter gatherer societies). And author James Suzman introduces us to members of the group, illustrating the many new challenges such a society faces as their home territory is eaten up by the larger society, allowing them little room for their traditional way of life.

Catching Fire offers a look into the development of fire, its use in cooking, and the place of cooking in human history. Richard Wrangham posits that cooking directly affected and encouraged sapiens’ development as a species. Fascinating!

The Wife Stalker and The Therapist

Funny to have read Affluence Without Abundace: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen along with a thriller bearing the hilarious title of The Wife Stalker. 🙂 Hey, everyone has their brain candy. That’s exactly what The Wife Stalker and The Therapist were. I do love relaxing with a good, cheesy thriller.

Pretty Things

This is what I like to call a “smart thriller.” In my opinion, books like Pretty Things fall into a category apart from those like The Wife Stalker. These novels are signified by smart writing, good character development, and a thorough sense of place. The mystery moves the story along deftly while the reader is engrossed with the characters.

In Pretty Things, a woman whose mother is in need of expensive cancer treatment becomes a con artist. She needs to carry out one last big job to pay for an experimental treatment. (Ain’t that always the way it goes?) The target is a social media influencer overwhelmed by family secrets. It takes place in a historic mansion in Lake Tahoe.

All the elements of a smart thriler! And I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Exiles

A quick historical fiction read that centers on a nanny–one of my favorite protagonist types.

The Great Alone

I’m sure you beat me to this one. It’s been so popular that I ignored it like the book hipster I pretend I am. This is one of those novels that can be tritely described as “sweeping.” *eyeroll*

It’s the story of a family who moves to Alaska in the 70s, centering on thirteen-year-old daughter Leni. She comes of age in a small town surrounded by vast wilderness, growing up with a violent Vietnam vet father and a mother who is loving but cowed by and entirely devoted to her husband.

I’ll be honest, this started off slow and there were definite dips in the narrative with what felt like barely enough plot to keep me moving along with the story. But I am more tolerant of such issues in audiobooks and I did listen to this. So I was able to stick with it and I found it very much worth it in the end.

Valentine

This is a heartbreaking story. It begins with the rape of a young second-generation Mexican-American teenager in the oil town of Odessa, Texas in the 1960s.

What struck me about the book was author Elizabeth Wetmore’s ability to incorporate a healthy number of characters, and to write from the perspective of each, without losing the story line. Somehow, we read from the perspective of more than five characters and can transfer between them with ease.

Anyway, it’s an excellent book.


That’s it for September. Tell me what you’re reading! And let me know if you have any good spooky book recommendations for October!

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Audiobooks, Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: August 2021

I guess I only blog once a month now, but since I don’t have a lot of readers, I feel like that’s OK. This space is mostly for me to get out my thoughts about books. If you enjoy reading them, thank you! Let’s be friends and talk about books. 🙂

Life updates:

I went back to the office. It was a rough transition, but we have a brand new building on campus, so that’s fun. Here’s my new cubicle. It needs some artwork.

I’m still collaging and sharing what I make on Instagram.

Still gardening too. Here’s a local volunteer garden I have been helping with. I’m a little over halfway toward getting my Master Gardener certificate.

And that’s about it. What’s up with you? Tell me in the comments.


Now, in case you just came for the books, here is…

What Shannon Read in August

Some Notes ‘n’ Things

The Great Gatsby:

Still great! I hadn’t read this in so long. It’s a summery book in my mind, so I went for in the 90-degree melee that was August, and I read it in about two days. I know we’re not supposed to call classics “readable” but I must say, this one is, OK? I’d forgotten how easy it is to get wrapped up in the story. Does good writing sometimes make you forget about the writing entirely because you’re so involved in the story? Let’s discuss.

Also, why is everyone but Nick a terrible person?

The Chaperone:

Also a re-read for me. This is about a woman who chaperones the famous Louise Brooks on her first trip to New York to become a dancer. I love the characters, the simultaneous story lines, and the glimpse into 1920s Kansas and NYC. Recommend.

The Wonder:

Good historical fiction, but will not be a favorite for me. This one is about a Florence Nightengale-trained nurse who in 1859 travels from England to care for a young Irish girl, “the wonder.” The girl has been fasting for months, taking in nothing but water. This is ostensibly for religious reasons, but the reader, along with the nurse, gets to the bottom of the mystery as the nurse observes the girl and her family day in and day out. Watch out for the English bigotry against the Irish.

The Underground Railroad:

Why did it take me so long to read this? You probably beat me to it and already know that this is a heart-breaking and wonderfully written novel about living in and escaping from slavery. 10/10

Cork Dork:

My sister-in-law Susannah, founder of Wines and Bends, is a wine afficianado. When she and her family moved here during quarantine, we became a tightly-knit crew, mostly hanging out with each other. We had wine at pretty much every gathering and I learned a ton from Susannah just by asking about the different wines. That led me to Cork Dork, the memoir of a journalist turned sommelier in NYC.

This book tells the story of wine and serving wine in restaurants, while offering education on the sciences of taste and smell–oh, and there are about 100 types of wine mentioned, so I now recognize many more in every day situations than I ever did before. The process of becoming a somm is explored in detail. What a fascinating world. I’d recommend it even if you’re not that interested in wine. I wasn’t and now I am.

The Four Winds:

This is an epic tale of one woman struggling to keep her children safe in Dust Bowl Texas and small town California of the 1930s. I listened to the audiobook and fell in love with narrator Julia Whelan. I will now listen to pretty much anything she reads.

The book itself totally grabbed me. Though melodramatic at times, I found the writing generally excellent and the characters engrossing. Many driveway moments were had.


That’s it from me! What are you reading? I’m on a total historical fiction kick, so let me know if you have recommendations!

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: July 2021

It’s August. What happened? I blinked, went to New Orleans at the end of July, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew moved, and now here we are.

We are going to miss those folks like crazy. We became a tight crew during the raging-est part of the pandemic.

I’m also going back to the office tomorrow for the first time in months and months. My anxiety knows no bounds and I have no idea what to wear. I just know I can’t show up in my Metallica tshirt the way I do for Zoom meetings.

But here we are.

Anywho, here’s what I read in July. Mostly audiobooks, with some library books sprinkled in. I’ve now got a yen for contemporary gothic novels, especially if they are about spinsters or mansions or nannies. So hit me up if you have suggestions!

What Shannon read in July

Some notes:

Flowers in the Attic:

When I was a teenager, I read every V.C. Andrews book I could get from the library. I thought it would be good fun to revisit Flowers in the Attic as an adult and see how it held up. I listened to the audiobook and it was weirdly engrossing. Seriously, I’ll probably reread it again sometime. That said, the melodrama was almost unbearable at times. Still good fun.

Like One of the Family:

This is a classic about a black domestic worker and her experiences throughout her working life, as well as during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. If you don’t understand what domestic workers have been through in the U.S., and what many go through even now, I recommend reading this one. The way Childress handles the subtleties of racism may be illuminating. Or, as it did for me, the book may reinforce your understanding and remind you that we still have a lot to fight for in this country.

Okay Fine Whatever:

One of those fun memoirs about trying new things. Lots of good fish out of water moments for Hameister, but mostly I remember the sex-capades, to be honest. I can’t recall if the book focused a lot on those or if they just stood out to me. I feel more informed about polyamory though.

The Invited and The Companion:

Great spooky, gothic fun.

The Unsuitable:

I loved the protagonist, who is a Victorian spinster with a terrible father who is trying to marry her off. There’s a loving housekeeper, some will-they-won’t-they action with a fiancé, and, wait for it, a dead mother who lives in the woman’s neck. Yep, I thought it would be too weird for me too, but I loved this book. Again, good gothic fun. This was my favorite book of the month.


And that’s all she read! Thanks for visiting.

I leave you now with a great view of the Mighty Mississippi and a pic of us at the New Orleans Audubon aquarium–a rare moment when no alcohol was being consumed. Don’t worry, we fortified with daiquiris directly before.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: June 2021

A bit late for What I Read in June, but it’s been a busy summer. And by busy, I mean I haven’t felt like blogging in a while. 😉

But I did want to report in on my June reads.

Past recaps here.

What I read in June

Notable Notes:

Abbi Waxman – Is there anything better than discovering a new-to-you author who has written a ton of books? I feel like I could now read all of Waxman’s. Her style is a little bit chick lit, a lotta’ bit LA. I loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill for its set-in-her-ways protagonist, the ensuing love story, and the fun LA setting. There’s also a good bit of family drama for those that like such things.

Orfeia – I never read fairy tale reimaginings, but this book was so beautiful with its bronze leaf cover design that it called to me from the library shelf. And the story was fascinating. I don’t have a lot of patience for ethereal atmospheres, but I loved this book anyway.

Beyond Anne of Green Gables – I knew L.M. Montgomery had other series and stand-alone novels, but didn’t delve into them until I saw Jane of Lantern Hill on a list of #CottageCore books. I’m fascinated by that whole trend and it’s probably no surprise. I read Jane (not sure why that pic is so blurry…) and then The Blue Castle and loved them both.

Daddy Long Legs – A very dated epistolary novel. It was enchanting. Highly recommend.

The Creative Spark – Here’s a man who really wanted to hammer home a point and, while the evolutionary history was really interesting, I’m not sure he made it.

And that’s it. Not too terribly exciting, but July should be more fun because I just reread Flowers in the Attic. Oh the melodrama!

I leave you now with the gorgeous garden of a historic mansion in our city. If only mine looked half as put-together!

After that, I’d love to know what you’re reading…

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Nonfiction, That Reading Life, What Shannon Read

My favorite gardening books: Part 1 – NONFICTION

Here’s what I like in a gardening/plant book:

  1. Straightforward and thorough how-to: If you tell me how to plant a certain type of seed indoors, for example, you’d better also tell me when to pot it up and harden off.

    Don’t be skimpy on the details. I am new here.

  2. Beauty: Great photography, good graphics, illuminating illustrations, lovely plants to take in with my eyeballs, etc.

  3. Opinions: The personality of the writer-gardener is of utmost importance to me. If you are boring or are suppressing your personality in the interest of widening your book’s appeal, I’m out. The library shelves are stacked with boring gardening books. Even if I don’t like your personality, I would much prefer that you have one. It makes the writing so much more interesting.

    Have opinions! State them! Let me decide if I like you and your work or not.

  4. Inspiration: Show me the way. I want to know things but also be inspired to do things.

  5. Unique content: I’m thinking of books like The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

  6. Plants in my zone: I know. You can’t show and write about plants in everyone’s growing zone all the time. But I’m not gonna’ lie–if I’m reading your plant book, I’m looking for plants I can grow in zone 5a.

(Weird to have a list with an even number, but here we are.)

With all that said…

My Favorite NONFICTION Books About Gardening and Plants

Bottom shelf: where I keep the goods

Anything by Alys Fowler

Alys Fowler doesn’t know it, but she is one of my mentors. I first got to know her through her book Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery. This is her memoir of kayaking (pack-rafting, actually) the canals of Birmingham, England.

It’s a beautiful book about finding nature wherever you are, and it’s also the story of how she left her husband and realized she was gay.

Fowler is a former presenter on the British show Gardener’s World (with which I am obsessed), and she has a whole catalog of gardening books under her belt.

These are three I own. I reread them all the time and have two of the audiobooks through Audible because I like listening to them whenever I need a hit.

They meet all six of my criteria above.

The Thrifty Gardener

Garden Anywhere

The Edible Garden


From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is a long-time gardening writer. She is one of the founders of Garden Rant, a favorite gardening site of mine. She’s also the author of The Drunken Botanist and the Kopp Sisters mystery series–Girl Waits with Gun is the first. You may recognize it.

Honestly, this is the only book of hers I’ve read so far. I loved it and plan to reread it this summer.


In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West

Oh Vita. So much glamour. So much intrigue.

For those who don’t know, Vita Sackville-West famously had an affair with Virginia Woolf. She became a tangential member of the Bloomsbury set, which included Woolf and her husband, plus Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and the crowd whose base was the famous Charleston farmhouse.

That was a lot, sorry, but I’m deep in the Bloomsbury life right now.

At any rate, apart from all this, Vita was also a writer and gardener. With her husband Harold Nicolson, she created a famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent in England.

This particular book, In Your Garden, is a compilation of Vita’s gardening essays, which she wrote for the London Observer.

They are pure plant poetry.


Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon

Here’s a famous book among gardeners.

This book is for those of us who don’t necessarily want a science lesson, but who need a science lesson to understand more about plants. *raises hand*

It’s exceptionally readable science, which is the point of the book, and has helped me get to know the whys and wherefores of my plants.


A Year at Brandywine Cottage: Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms by David L. Culp

Ok, I’m cheating here because I had to return this to the library before I could read the whole thing. But this book is so darn pretty. I’m buying it.

The author is a renowned garden designer and, in this book, filled with lovely photos, he provides both advice and inspiration.


Magazines!

And here’s another cheat.

My favorite gardening magazines:

The English Garden — A must for anglophile gardeners, obviously.

Fine Gardening — An American publication with style and substance; You’ll definitely find plants for your zone in its pages.


I do have some gardening-related fiction to share with you, but this post has turned out to be really long already. I will save those for a future post.

If you have favorite gardening books, share them with me! I’m always looking for new ones.


from my Instagram stories

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

More midlife crisis reading

This time it’s Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun.

This is another one that made me burst into tears from time to time. (The first was Burnout.)

I was born in 1980, often considered either the last year of Gen Z or the first of Millennials, depending on who you ask. This means that my childhood was a mix of 80s and 90s pop culture experiences, a little bit Workout Barbie, a little bit Reality Bites.

I’ve experienced the landmark events that helped shape the worldview of both generations:

-Child of baby boomers
-Lived through dotcom bust
-I wanted my MTV
-Crippling student debt (paid off now THANK GAWD)
-911
-2008 financial crisis
-The rise of social media
-Many others I’m not naming

One of Calhoun’s major points is that women’s midlife crises are essentially different from men’s. First, we have them. That’s something not many people know.

And second, they look “different” because gender inequality means that women are often still meeting gender role expectations while having their crises.

Basically, privilege tends to offer men more leeway for expressing their own personal crises. They’re not necessarily also meeting the caregiving expectations that women are. (That was a simple point with a lot of couching language, but it’s hard to generalize and be accurate here.)

I loved Calhoun’s framing of the generations and empathized with many of the feelings ascribed to women of my age, including:

-Constant money anxiety (whether it’s warranted for me personally or not)

-The pressure to succeed in my career while balancing family life; Boomer women paved the way for us here–both creating greater ability for women to have careers and supporting the “you can have it all” message–and the overwhelming expectations that come with it.

I used to feel this more acutely when my kiddo was smaller, knowing I didn’t even really want a career in the first place and constantly feeling “not good enough” as a mother because he spent waaaay more time in day care than I (or he) wanted.

As all moms know, somehow you make it work because there is no other option. I should note here that I am not the norm when it comes to Gen X/Millennial moms. I had a baby in college. I’m 40 and he’s in college now, while many women my age have younger children. So they’re still living through this pressure.

-Decision fatigue–blessedly, there’s a whole chapter on this and I felt it so deeply. On my last birthday, Ben, so solicitous and eager to celebrate me, asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner. All I could think was, “I don’t want to have to think about that.” So, that’s what I said. He chose something he knew I’d like and I didn’t have to make a decision.

But that says something about how tired one’s brain is. I didn’t want to have to choose the food for my own birthday dinner, for heaven’s sake.

I think this book, like Burnout, helped me most by naming feelings I didn’t have names for. And by telling the stories of other women my age, which made me feel infinitely less alone.

Also, there’s a chapter on peri-menopause and menopause with a wealth of information I didn’t know. Did you know that peri-menopause can last 13 YEARS???

Healthcare community, we need way more education than we’re getting on this topic. My thanks to Calhoun for this chapter. I now know what to expect.

One of my gripes with books like this is the usual lack of “how to.” You’ll often get a lot of social commentary, a lot of “why,” but not much “what to do now that you know.”

Calhoun does pepper some “how-to” throughout the book and there is a final chapter called “New Narratives,” which offers some solutions she personally came up with to deal with this time of life–and the aforementioned feelings. But the book has more why than how.

I found it useful just the same and ended up buying a copy to reread in future.

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