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The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

It was Reading Matters’ recent review that took me to this 1931 British novel. The edition I read has a helpful excerpt from the author’s autobiography. There I learned that R.C. Sherriff,  having had a successful play produced, struggled to write a novel, getting all balled up in words that were unfamiliar. He took a new tack and decided to write for his own pleasure. He says, I...

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

This is my second book this year that featured the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary; the first was a wonderful work of fiction, The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. Now I’ve listened to the irresistible Simon Winchester’s book, mentioned with enthusiasm by Dorothy. The “professor” was the editor of the OED, James Murray, whose own story is quite dramatic...

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

My first book after a month of no book-reading is in line to be my favorite book of the year. Although the two cataract surgeries in mid-August went well, it took time for my eyes (and brain) to be comfortable reading. I was excited to read this book and it has turned out to be a stunner. A book that has lots of surprising factual anecdotes, a view of 20th century Germany from a German person...

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

Clint Smith tells how the story of slavery is conveyed to the general public by describing his visits to seven historical sites. I was especially interested in the book because I knew the author had visited Monticello and described the changes that have occurred to the narrative about Thomas Jefferson to broaden the story from “author of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father...

The Color of Water by James McBride

Having loved James McBride’s recent book Deacon King Kong, I was eager to be in his world again and this book truly does take you there. His mother grew up in Suffolk, Virginia in an Orthodox Jewish family. Her father was a rabbi who, always fired by his congregation, finally became a successful merchant in a Black community. He was nasty and unpleasant to his customers and in general was...

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

The backdrop of this book is the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary with a mix of fictional characters and historical figures. It begins when the fictional Esme was a child spending hours under a work table in the building where James Murray and others worked to create the dictionary. They reviewed words suggested by volunteers for the dictionary, wrote definitions, and verified the...

Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley

I took a long time reading this wonderful book so that I could savor it bit by bit. It is a history of a working woman, born in 1804 in snow country in Japan to a Buddhist priest. Japan was in a long peaceful period when the Shogun ruled from Edo (now Tokyo) and the emperor was in Kyoto (1603-1867). What is known of Tsuneno comes to us through her many letters and those that her family wrote...

The Mission House by Carys Davies

It was Tony’s description of it as “life-affirming” and “reticent and quiet and almost gentle” that took me to this book. All those things were true, but it was set in India, and in my experience of books set in India involve some pain. The story centers on Hilary Byrd, an Englishman who has been fired from his job in a library and always needed his sister to help...

Books to Read

The Dead Are Arising:  The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Stranger in the Shogun’s City:  A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley. The Color of Water:  A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride Fox and I:  An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven. July 6. The Mission House by Carys Davies. Tony described it as almost gentle and life-affirming...

The Old Jest by Jennifer Johnston

This is my fifth Jennifer Johnston book and, as usual, I was glad to have given it my attention. She is an amazing Irish author, almost unknown in this country. This one is set a few years after the end of World War I and focuses on Nancy Gulliver, who has just turned 18. Having been orphaned, she lives with her Aunt Mary and her grandfather who is moving into dementia. Bridey cooks and cleans...

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