great books

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instant reviews below by year:

Excellent Women and Less than Angels, Barbara Pym (among others)
The Grand Sophy and Frederica, Georgette Heyer (among others). These novels are from my go-to comfort-authors and they did not disappoint.

The Forest Garden Greenhouse: How to Design and Manage an Indoor Permaculture Oasis, Jerome Osentowski, 304 pg.  How to build a climate battery to heat a greenhouse without additional power in the frigid mountains of Colorado.
High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-hardy Dryland Plants, Robert Nold, 420 pg.  Plant guide.  Natives and other plants well-suited to high, cold and dry climates.

The Luck Uglies, Paul Durham, 316 pg.n  Children's novel, adventure in a quasi-medieval town.

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman, 337 pg.  Novel, Curmudgeon plans to shift off this tiresome mortal coil, but life reels him back in.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven , Chris Cleave, 432 pg.  Novel, WWII, written with great competence though the story is a little lackluster.  Still an enjoyable read.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand, 473 pg.  Biography.  Exactly what the subtitle says -- richly researched and honestly told.


Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine From A Nutritionist Who Healed Herself From the Inside Out, Jennifer Adler, 271 pg. Nutrition, with a side of autobiography. Thought-provoking.

Smoking Poppy, Graham Joyce, 271 pg.  Novel.  This very  individual voice is unlike others I've read -- nothing artificial or mannered.  And a heart-cracking exploration into the center of what matters most.

Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope, 319 pg. Novel. Classic Chronicles of Barsetshire set in a fictional ideal English countryside (later revived in Thirkell's series).

Pomfret Towers, Angela Thirkell, 316 pg. Novel.  The English countryside and its inhabitants.  This prolific series begins in the time between the wars, stretches through the Blitz and into the post-WWII years. Also: Northbridge Rectory and Growing Up. These are three of the best, though the series entire is a pleasant read.

Backyard Winter Gardening: Vegetables Fresh and Simple, in Any Climate Without Artificial Heat or Electricity the Way It's Been Done for 2,000 Years,  Caleb Warnock, 176 pg. Garden. Author from Heber, Utah, writes about heirloom varieties of winter hardy vegetables.

Dodger, Terry Pratchett, 368 pgs. The Pratchett version of Dickens' London is like a fugue on Ankh-Morpork.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Novel.  An account of war in Chechnya.  A book of such beauty, such undrownable witness to what is worth saving.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce, 320 pg. Novel.  The best book I've read in a long time.  Nearly perfect.

Tolkien: A Biography, Michael White. 292 pg.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, T.A. Shippey. 347 pg.

The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, Diana Glyer. 293 pg.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion, Richard Purtill. 154 pg.< 

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, Colin Duriez. 244 pg.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Phillip Zaleski.  644 pg

The White Witch, Elizabeth Goudge. 439 pages, historical fiction, set during the English Civil War, a little magic realism before that became a thing. 

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr. 531 pages, novel set in Nazi-occupied France, incandescent.

Cheese and the Worms: the cosmos of a sixteenth-century miller, Carlo Ginzburg, translated by John and Anne Tedeschi. 177 pages, quirky medieval history.  

A Glass of Blessing, Barbara Pym. 256 pages, brilliant novel.  Also An Unsuitable Attachment, 256 pages; Civil to Stranger, and other writings, 388 pages.  Re-reads.  Still refreshing.  Still funny.  Even over and over.  I love Barbara Pym.

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela.  310 pages, autobiographical novel set in Sudan -- more about an appealing and talented family than one person.  

The Keep, Jennifer Egan. 239 pages, experimental novel.  (also A Visit from the Good Squad)  I can't say why I like these two novels, which are hard-bitten and sour but at the same time full of a lush yearning.  The mastery of the writing leaves me in a state of awe.

Together Tea, Marjan Kamali.  321 pages, mother-daughter novel set in New York and Tehran, lovely interaction and appealing characters.  

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer. 326 pages, novel set in New York City, heart-warming tale of boy whose father died in the Twin Towers attack.  

Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson.  556 pages, incredibly rich memoir of an English village

Two Wheels North - Cycling the West Coast in 1909
 - Evelyn McDaniel Gibb. 181 pages, memoir of two boys who rode bikes from California to the world's fair in Seattle in 1909.

Shepherdess of Sheep  by Noel Streatfeild  (also, Caroline England.  360 pages), novels of the era between the wars in England with delightful female protagonists.

Pied Piper - Nevill Shute. 303 pages, novel that reads like a memoir, WWII England and France of a brave old man.

Eating on the Wild Side - Jo Robinson.  407 pages, nutrition, whole foods.

Happy City: transforming our lives through urban design - Charles Montgomery. 358 pages, city planning

A Pure Clear Light - Madeleine St. John. 233 pages (also The Essence of the Thing. 234 pages), comedy of manners, novels of modern London.  

How to Travel Incognito - Ludwig Bemelmans. 244 pages, comic novel that sets itself up as an autobiographical memoir and how-to travel cheap in France.  

Perennial Vegetables:  From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-grow Edibles - Eric Toensmeier. 241 pages.   Fantastic resource for planting a garden that looks great from the garden to your plate.

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist: How to Have Your Yard and Eat It Too - Judd, Michael. 143 pages.  Great pictures for inspiration and useful instructions to actually get you there.

The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy A Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen - America's Test Kitchen. 486 pages, cook book explaining the science behind its successful results.


Book of Mercy,
Leonard Cohen.  Unpaged. 
Slim book of modern psalms that never settle for the easy insufficiencies.  

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett. 353 pages.  
Exotic novel in an ethnobotanist's camp in the Brazilian Amazon, where a visiting pharmacologist tries to solve the mystery of her colleague's death while uncovering the mysteries of being female in a changing world.  

 Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson. 431 pages.
Modern Islamic techno/sci-fi thriller that's a great read for plot alone but intriguing, too, for its picture of the modern Middle East and its Muslim view of reality.  

Monstrous Regiment and Soul Music, both novels of Discworld, Terry Pratchett.  405 and 373 pages.  
Brilliant comic fantasy that sheds its clarifying (and hilarious) light on life's lingering questions and our day's most vexing puzzles.   Also The Light Fantastic, 216 pages; Mort, 243 pages; Pyramids, 323 pages; Wyrd Sisters, 265 pages; Guards! Guards!, 355 pages; the Fifth Elephant, 389 pages; Interesting Times,  368 pages; Thief of Time, 378 pages.

Natural Fashion: tribal decoration from Africa, Hans Walter Silvester.  167 pages. 
This  brilliant collection of exotic photographs of the Omo people of Ethiopia celebrates the human instinct for ornament.   

From Falasha to Freedom: an Ethiopian Jew's journey to Jerusalem, Shem'uel Yilmah. 112 pages.  
An exciting real-life journey of a faithful family from genocide through the wilderness to the Promised Land, only to find that the quest to arrive requires mental rigor and perseverance as much as physical courage.  

Faith, Jennifer Haigh.  pages.  
A novel about trust and betrayal, sustaining family love and the destructions of desire, vulnerability and power.  Seen through the eyes of doubting modern woman whose brother is a struggling Catholic priest, this is a difficult story compassionately and beautifully told.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: how to create a beautiful, chicken-friendly yard, Jessi Bloom, photos by Kate Baldwin. 218 pages.
Chicken Coops: 45 building ideas for housing your flock, Judy Pangman, 166 pages. 
The first book is packed with inspiringly lovely pictures and a generous scatter of information.  The second is more practical with useful diagrams and building plans.  

Homestead, Rosina Lippi. 210 pages.  
Twelve exquisite linked stories focusing on the lives of different women in a tiny village in the Austrian alps, from 1909 to 1977.  

I Feel Bad about my Neck: and other thoughts on being a woman, Nora Ephron.  137 pages.  
A collection of intimate and amusing autobiographical essays about being a woman in the youth-obsessed West, wittily, sometimes movingly, written by today's queen of rom-com.  

Horace and Me: life lessons from an ancient poet, Harry Eyres.  238 pages.
Ah!  What would it be to be able to read the hieroglyphs that are Greek to me?  Second best is to read these essays by critic and translator of Horace. Eyres reveals a lively ancient voice who speaks pithily to the excesses and shallow facility of the modern world.

Greece on my Wheels, Edward Enfield.  315 pages
Old enough to know better, but full of erudite wit and all sorts of cycling vim, the author takes his readers with him bicycling through Greece.

Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis. 151 pages.  My obsession with Old Testament poetry continues.  C.S. Lewis encounters the psalms as invitations to joy but also as stumbling blocks that may tell the reader "a good deal he will not like to know about himself."    

When Jesus Became God: the struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome, Richard E. Rubenstein.  267 pages.  
A fascinating history of the religious (and sadly political) debate between Arius and Athanasius whose consequences affect our society still today.   
Transports us to an empire fraught with contradiction and turmoil. The protagonists were Arius, a learned and eloquent priest, and Athanasius, a brilliant and dedicated, yet violent, bishop. Arius argued that Jesus was less than God and that his true role was to serve as a model of virtue for all humanity. Athanasius thought this was heresy and an assault on Jesus himself. Between these formidable adversaries stood Constantine the Great, Rome's first Christian emperor. - See more at: 

  • Anna, Bengat Homestead, 1909

  • Johanna, Bent Elbow Homestead, 1916

  • Isabella, Bengat Homestead, 1917

  • Angelika, Bent Elbow Homestead, 1920

  • Barbara, Bengat Homestead, 1921

  • Wainwright's Katharina, 1938

  • Mikatrin, Bent Elbow Homestead, 1943

  • Bengat's Olga at the Dairy, 1946

  • Alois's Katharina at the Dairy, 1950

  • Martha, Rosenau School, 1959

  • Lilimarlene, Bengat Homestead, 1974

  • Laura, Bent Elbow Homestead, 1977

  • Clan Charts

  • Naming Conventions

  • Pronunciation Guide

  • Glossary

  • - See more at:

    The Irresponsible Self: on laughter and the novel, James Wood.  312 pages.
    James Wood's brilliant essays on comedy and the novel.  I got a kick out of reading this concurrently with his own first comic novel (below) to see how he put (or tried to put) into practice his stated ideals of comic writing.

    The Book against God, James Wood.  257 pages.
    Comic novel of a surprisingly sympathetic eccentric who won't bathe,  can't hold down a job, won't commit to love, and can't leave God alone.  This is a book about the failure of belief and the failure of disbelief, the persistence of love and the absurdity of being human.

      To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf. 242 pages.
    Year after year, I keep re-reading this novel-length poem.  Each time it seems deeper and more delicious than the time before.  Each time the easy clarity  reveals itself as a more structured attainment than I had originally supposed. 
    The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome - See more at:

    Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott.  322 pages. Also Eight Cousins, or Aunt Hill, 236 pages, and An Old-Fashioned Girl, 345 pages.
    These are sweet books and a little didactic but with characters that are still fresh (and refreshing) for their fervent dedication to balance a life of talent and independence with the claims of family and love.


    Gaviotas: a village to reinvent the world, Alan Weisman.
    If I read only one book this year, this is the one I would have wanted to read.  Deserves to be set to music.  Demands to be put into practice, 231 pages.

    Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: the story of the village of Le Chambon, and how goodness happened there, Phillip Paul Haillie.
    Inspiring story of true community and ordinary courage under extraordinary duress, 304 pages.

    Thud!, Terry Pratchett.
    This may look like light-hearted skullduggery in the fantastical strain, but  functions also as a resonating meditation on courage, fatherhood, civil justice and democracy.  Pratchett is almost always amusing: this title stands out as something more than just fun.  Speculative fiction at its finest, doing what fantasy does best, 373 pages.

    The Connected Child: bring hope and healing to your adoptive family, Karyn Purvis.
     An unexpected bout of pneumonia provided a bounty of downtime to read all the books on adopting an older child I could get my hands on.  Several are useful:  Nurturing Adoptions: creating resilience after neglect and trauma and Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents both by Deborah D. Gray and Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory C Keck and Regina Kupecky.  But I liked best this hopeful book by Karyn Purvis.  Useful for all parenting,  I think, 288 pages.

    The Book of Isaiah, Isaiah, translated from the Hebrew by King James' committee of scholars.
    Poetry from an ancient day speaks to today's concerns with social justice and environmental hope.  Gorgeous words, gorgeous ideas, plus some great, dramatically satisfying, humorously anti-heroic moments in the historical subplot. 


    The Strangest Man: the hidden life of Paul Dirac, mystic of the atom, Graham Farmelo.
    Fascinating biography of a brilliant physicist and endearing human being, 539 pages.

    Running for the Hills: growing up on my mother's sheep farm in Wales, Horatio Clare.
    A story of brilliant and imperfect parents through the clear but loving eyes of a particularly bright child, 273 pages.

    The Sabbath World: glimpses of a different order of time, Judith Shulevitz.
    Beautiful, beautiful book, part personal memoir, part cultural history, a Jacob's wrestling with the idea and reality of the Day of Rest, 246 pages.

    Olive Trees and Honey: a treasury of vegetarian recipes from Jewish communities around the world, Gil Marks.
    History and geographical survey of the Jewish diaspora, by way of recipes.  Good, wholesome food, 454 pages.

    A Blessing of Bread: the many rich traditions of Jewish bread baking around the world, Maggie Glezer.

    Spotlights on individual bakers with professionally exact recipes and detailed techniques.  A treasure, 336 pages.

    Understanding the Book of Mormon: a reader's guide, Grant Hardy.
    A fluid and mountain-creek-clear structural analysis of this text as a text, how it functions as a text, how parts comment on neighboring parts.  Insightful, 346 pages.

    The Great Angel: a Study of Israel's Second God, Margaret Barker.
    Theology, unconventional and thought-provoking, 272 pages.

    Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, Claire Dederer.
    Loved this contemporary memoir of an ordinary but extraordinarily attentive contemporary woman, 332 pages.

    Subversive Sequels in the Bible: how Biblical stories mine and undermine each other, Judy Klitsner.
    What the subtitle says is what this book does.  Interesting and insightful way of reading the stories of the Bible, relating stories together and weaving a whole cloth from  different episodes, 224 pages.

    A Tour of the Calculus, David Berlinski.
    A manic ode to math.  Required reading for all wordy mathophobes amonst us, 331 pages.

    What the Nose Knows: the science of scent in everyday life, Avery Gilbert.
    My personal obsession with understanding how scent works continues, 290 pages.

    The Secret of Scent: adventures in perfume and the science of smell, Luca Turin.
    My personal obsession with smell personified in one stubborn, unconventional, and charismatic man, 207 pages.

    Creating a Forest Garden: working with nature to grow edible crops, Martin Crawford.
    A blueprint for restoring Eden, with gorgeous photos and useful plant lists, 384 pages.

    Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Sherry Turkle.
    Enter into the thought-chamber of a particularly intelligent researcher and survey alongside while she looks back over decades of her research about technology and what it means to be human.  Fresh and insightful, backed up with hard data and extensive familiarity with the topic.  Brilliant, 360 pages.

     The Winter of our Disconnect: how three totally wired teenagers (and a mother who slept with her iPhone) pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell the tale, Susan Maushart.
    Fun account of a family that goes technologically cold-turkey.  Enough to inspire emulation, 278 pages.

    NurtureShock: new thinking about children, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
    Always satisfying to read convincing studies that back up your parenting intuitions.  Even more helpful to pick up more useful techniques and insightful approaches, 336 pages.

    Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron, Jasper Fforde.
    This audiobook took us many miles across country and played severely with our brains.  Waiting impatiently for the sequel, 390 pages.


    My Life in France,
    Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme.

    Biography of a life in love with food, 317 pages.

     The Rest is Noise: listening to the twentieth century, Alex Ross.
    Beautifully written and brilliantly conceived history connecting modern music to the politics, philosophies, and world events from which they arose, 624 pages.

    The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish identity in Hindu India, Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg.
    Intimate history of a long-lived Jewish community in India, 352 pages.

    Catching Fire: how cooking made us human, Richard W. Wrangham.
    Renowned primatologist argues that the habit of eating cooked food allowed the development of the human brain, civilization, and the male/female division of labor, 309 pages.

    Ancient Encounters:  Kennewick Man and the first Americans, James C. Chatters.
    American archeology by one of the more controversial practioners in the field, 303 pages.

    What to Eat, Marion Nestle.
    Our pre-eminent nutritionist takes a tour of the average grocery store exploring the pros, cons and controversies of today's diet, 611 pages.

    Curious Minds: how a child becomes a scientiest, John Brockman.
    Collection of autobiographical sketches of scientific awakening by many of the best modern minds, 236 pages.

    Radical Evolution: the promise and peril of enhancing our minds, bodies -- and what it means to be human,
    Joel Garreau.

    Fascinating overview of technological advances and thought provoking discussion of  technology's effects on human nature, 384 pages.

    Alexis de Toqueville: a life, Hugh Brogan.
    Entirely satisfying biography of an incomparable man, 724 pages.

    A Sacred Feast: reflections on Sacred Harp singing and dinner on the ground, Kathryn Eastburn.

    Personal journey through the melodious and faithful world of modern shape-note singing,  212 pages.

    Red Plenty:  industry! progress! abundance! inside the fifties' sweet dream, Francis Spufford.
    Not exactly straight history and more than just a novel, the author calls this a comedy of ideas, set in early 1960s USSR.  An enlivening read, 441 pages (53 pages of notes). [re-published in 2012]

    The Routes of Man: how roads are changing the world and the way we live, Ted Conover.
    A thought-provoking adventure through the world's network of roads, 333 pages.

    The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins.
    YA science fiction, a gripping story of loyalty and courage, 374 pages.  Continued in Catching Fire, 391 pages, and Mockingjay, 398 pages.

    Pearl: Hymn of the Robe of Glory, Nonny Hogrogrian.
    Picture book and ancient gnostic poem, 40 pages.

    Wolf Hall,
    Hilary Mantel.

    Historical novel centered on Thomas Cromwell, a powerfully intelligent and deeply humane man at the time of Anne Boelyn and Henry VIII, 532 pages.

    The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild: the forgotten father of the flower garden, Michael Leapman.
    Delightful biography and history of the early hybridization of flowers and the beginning of the English nursery trade, 280 pages.


    The Twelve Little Cakes, Dominika Dery.
    Autobiography of a hopeful childhood within the stubborn embrace of disenfranchised parents in Communist Czechoslovakia, 349 pages.

    The Tiger Ladies: a memoir of Kashmir, Sudha Koul. 
    Autobiography of a childhood in the most beautiful valley in the world, 218 pages.

    Lud-in-the-Mist, Hope Mirrlees.
    Fantasy-medieval novel driven by well-wrought characterization, written in 1926, 239 pages.

    World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler.
    Speculative, post-apocalyptic novel, 317 pages.

    Gilead, Marilynne Robison.
    Novel of limpid clarity about faith and family love, set in the 1950s, 247 pages.

    My Family and Other Animals, Gerry Durrell.
    Autobiography of a naturalist's childhood in Crete, 273 pages.

    This Sovereign Land: a new vision for governing the West, Daniel Kemmis.
    Environmental, pro-Western autonomy non-fiction, 263 pages.

    A River No More: the Colorado River and the West, Philip L. Fradkin.
    Environmental, pro-Eastern oversight non-fiction, 360 pages.

    The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett.
    Fantasy young adult novel set in the chalk-lands of southern England, CD (or 263 pages).

    Ironhand, Charlie Fletcher.
    Fantasy young adult novel set in a London where the statues walks, CD (or 386 pages).

    Music of the Bible Revealed: the deciphering of a millenary notation, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, translated by Dennis Weber, edited by John Wheeler.
    Music theory and history of chironomy (musical hand notation), 557 pages.

    Budapest: A City Guide, Annabel Barber and Emma Roper-Evans.
    Travel, 187 pages. 

    Language in Hand: Why Sign Came Before Speech, William C. Stokoe.
    Non-fiction history of sign language and its role in the origins of verbal communication, 227 pages.

    Talking Hands: what sign language reveals about the mind, Margalit Fox.
    Non-fiction survey of natural sign language communities, 354 pages.

    Visible Thought: A New Psychology of Body Language, Geoffrey Beattie.
    Non-fiction clinical and anecdotal experiments and observations of body language, 206 pages.

    The Mummies of Urumchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber.
    Non-fiction examination of a Central European wandering population through its language and textiles, 240 pages.

    The Haunted Pool, George Sand.
    Romantic era folk novel, 167 pages, translated from the French by Frank Hunter Potter.

    Greenwillow, B.J. Chute.
    Rural village novel, a longtime favorite re-read, 237 pages.

    Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, Geoff Dyer.
    Biography/ autobiography, a tour de force, 242 pages.

    Little Lady Agency and the Prince, Hester Browne.
    Fluff novel - which I blush to own, but keep re-reading, 391 pages

    Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea.
    Semi-autobiographical novel, 286 pages, translated from Arabic by the author and Marilyn Booth.

    The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion.
    Autobiography of a year of grief by accomplished novelist, 227 pages.

    Intrusions, Ursula Heigi.

    Novel (autobiography?) about a writing mother of young children, 288 pages.

    Borrower of the Night, Elizabeth Peters.
    Art historian mystery novel with the ever-enchanting Vicky Bliss, 247 pages.

    Le Mariage, Diane Johnson.
    Francophile novel of manners, 322 pages.

    Old Friends and New Fancies: an imaginary sequel to the novels of Jane Austen, Sybil G. Brinton (in 1914).
    Novel, Austen revisited, 377 pages.


    Frederica, Georgette Heyer.
    Classic Regency romance, 296 pages.  See also The Grand Sophy (346 pages), The Nonesuch (300 pages), Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (276 pages), and The Unknown Ajax (286 pages). 

    Hope Human and Wild: true stories of living lightly on the Earth, Bill McKibben.
    Essential environmental essays, 235 pages.

    The Emperor of Scent: a true story of perfume and obsession, Chandler Burr.

    Biography, plus 
    the business of scent and the science of olfaction, 332 pages.

    The Price of a Dream: the story of the Grameen Bank, David Bornstein.
    Biography of Yunus Muhammad, 370 pages.  

    Women and Microcredit in Rural Bangladesh: anthropological study of the rhetoric and realities of Grameen Bank lending, Aminur Rahman.
    Scholarly non-fiction, a corrective to some of the more boostering reports of microcredit, 188 pages. 

    Give Us Credit, Alex Counts.
    Economic philosophy and history of the microcredit movement, Grameen in Bangladesh and in Chicago, 361 pages.  

    Edible Forest Gardens. Volume one: ecological vision and theory for temperate-climate permaculture; Volume two: . . . design and practice . . ., Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier.
    Permaculture theory, 378 pages, and design guide, 655 pages. 

    The White Witch, Elizabeth Goudge.
    Historical novel set at the time of the English Revolution.  Pure nostalgic romance, 439 pages.  

    By Faith Alone: one family’s epic journey through 400 years of American Protestantism, Bill Griffeth.
    Family/ American history, a personal tour of American history tracing the author's genealogical line, 288 pages.

    Mayflower: a story of courage, community, and war, Nathaniel Philbrick.
    Colonial history, brilliant and essential, 461 pages. 

    Out of Poverty: what works when traditional approaches fail, Paul Polack.
    How to end poverty, 232 pages. 

    Break Through: from the death of environmentalism to the politics of possibility, Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger.
    Environmental philosophy and blatant hope-mongering, 344 pages.

    Dreams from my Father: a story of race and inheritance, Barack Obama.
    Autobiography of first black president of Harvard Review (now US president-elect), 442 pages. 

    The Seven Sisters of India: tribal worlds between Tibet and Burma, Aglaja Stirn and Peter van Ham.
    Photographic essays, 167 pages.  

    alphabet, Inger Christensen, translated from the Danish by Susannah Nied.
    Booklength, pre-apocalyptic poem structured around the alphabet and the Fibonacci sequence.  If ever I give up hope, I want this long poem chanted in my ear until I can get back up on my feet and carry on, 77 pages.

    Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations – one school at a time, Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin.
    (Auto)biography of climbing enthusiast and his school-building efforts in Pakistan, 338 pages.

    Stoneheart, Charlie Fletcher.
    YA fantasy adventure set in a modern London where statues walk, CD or 450 pages. 

    Wooden Fish Songs, Ruthanne Lum McCunn.
    Biographical novel of the father of the Florida citrus industry and groundbreaking hybridizer – Lue Gim Gong.  A beautiful book, 385 pages.

    A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736, Kenneth A. Lockridge.
    History of a Massachusetts town established as a Puritan utopian society by some of my fore-parents,  220 pages. 

    Neal Shusterman.
    YA fantasy of the afterworld and adventures therein, 313 pages.

    The World is Flat: a brief history of the 21st century, Thomas L. Friedman.
    Economic philosophy and observations on globalization, 639 pages.

    Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins.
    Poetry, witty and lucid, 171 pages. Also The Trouble with Poetry, 88 pages.

    Daniel Plainway; or the Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League, Van Reid.
    Novel set in 19th century Maine,  385 pages.  Also Peter Loonhistorical adventure in post Revolutionary Maine, 298 pages.

    Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula to Fast and Sustained Weight-Loss, Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
    Common sense nutrition, 292 pages.  


    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver.
    Locavoring memoir by popular novelist, 370 pages.

    The Gospel of Food: everything you think you know about food is wrong, Barry Glasner.
    Nutrition.  An entertaining historical overview of diet orthodoxies, restuarant anecdotes, McDonald’s and foodie-snobbery, so-called miracle foods, food purity and GMOs. 228 pages.


    Room to Fly: A Transcultural Memoir, Padma Hejmadi.
    Autobiography of a childhood in southern India within a non-written language, magically evocative, 202 pages.

    Coming Home Crazy: an alphabet of China essays, Bill Holm.
    Travel memoir, generously rendered, 259 pages.

    Amethyst Road, Louise Spiegler.
    YA alternate reality fiction, inspired by Rom culture, 336 pages.

    Iron and Silk, Mark Salzman.
    Travel memoir, martial arts and classical Chinese literature, empathetic and insightful, 211 pages.

    Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier.
    Luminous post-Civil War novel, 356 pages.

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
    7th (and final) novel in YA fantasy series, 759 pages.

    Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado, Marc Aronson
    Amazing historical narrative for mid-teens on up, 222 pages.

    Oaxaca Journal, Oliver Sacks.
    Travel in Mexico and fern-collecting journal by one of the most brilliant minds of our time, 159 pages.

    Gardening under Cover: a Northwest guide to solar greenhouses, cold frames, and cloches, William Head.
    Northwest cold-weather gardening, 135 pages.

    Winter Gardening for the Maritime Northwest: cool-season crops for the year-round gardener, Binda Colebrook.
    Northwest cold-weather gardening, 163 pages.

    Gaia’s Garden: a guide to home scale permaculture, Toby Hemenway.
    Northwest permaculture, 222 pages.

    The Nine Tailors: changes rung on an old theme in two short touches and two full peals, Dorothy Sayers.
    Classic mystery set in East Anglia between the World Wars, 331 pages.

    The World to Come, Dara Horn.
    Novel of trust and enduring love in a post-Holocaust world, set in urban, artsy America, 314 pages.

    Real Food: What to Eat and Why, Nina Planck.
    Nutrition, 343 pages.


    The Saddlebag, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani.
    Inter-linked stories of a caravan beset by sandstorm and bandits, 263 pages.

    An Area of Darkness, V.S. Naipaul.
    Autobiography of a return to his ancestral India, 304 pages.

    From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet, Vikram Seth.
    Autobiography of a journey home to India from China, 192 pages.

    A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India, Norman Lewis.
    Travels in tribal, caste-free India, 336 pages.

    Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie.
    Allegorical novel of independent India, 560 pages.

    1491: New Revelations on the Americas before Columbus, Charles C. Mann.
    History/ Archaeology, what we never learned about the history of America before Europeans, 560 pages.

    Mysteries of the Alphabet: the Origins of Writing, Marc-Alain Ouaknin, translated from the French by Josephine Bacon.
    History and interpretation of the alphabet, 384 pages.

    The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, David Abram.
    Philosophy / Alphabet/ Cultural critique, 352 pages.

    Not Your Mother’s Slow-cooker Cookbook, Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.
    Obviously, 520 pages.

    Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How It Changed the Course of Civilization, Ian Wilson.
    Archaeology and plenty of engaging speculation, 352 pages.

    The Knox Brothers, Penelope Fitzgerald.
    Delightful biography of the author's literary family, 304 pages.

    Angelina’s Children, Alice Ferney, translated from the French by Emily Read.
    Evocative novel of a gypsy clan's befriending of a young librarian, 275 pages.

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: A Novel, Susanna Clarke.
    Fantasy novel set in 18th century England, 800 pages.

    Thanksgiving 101, Rick Rodgers.
    Cookbook, no-fail recipes for all the standards, 165 pages.

    The Taste of the Season: Inspired Recipes for Fall and Winter, Diane Rossen Worthington.
    Cookbook, inspired play with root vegetables, savory meats and other cold-weather dishes, 179 pages.


    Fast Vegetarian Feasts, Martha Rose Shulman.
    Cookbook, basic vegetarian with common pantry ingredients, 368 pages.

    366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains, Andrea Chesman.
    Cookbook.  THE cookbook for basic wholesome non-meat meals.  Everything turns out delicious, 480 pages.

    By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, Terryl L. Givens.
    Early 19th century American religious historical context for the publication of Book of Mormon, 336 pages.

    Bones: Discovering the First Americans, Elaine Dewar.
    Archaeology, revises the outdated Bering Straits theory of settlement with convincing argument and solid scholarship, 628 pages.

    The Lost Chronicles of the Maya King, David Drew.
    Fascinating and very clear history of two contemporaneous Mayan societies, 461 pages.

    The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale.
    YA fantasy novel about integrity and true love, 400 pages.

    Greensleeves, Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
    Novel about a college girl in Portland, Oregon, early 1960’s, 311 pages.

    Emma, Jane Austen.
    Classic novel, 416 pages.  Also, Persuasion, 288 pages, and Pride & Prejudice, 352 pages.  Essential reading.

    Middlemarch, George Eliot.
    Classic novel of marriage, by one of the greatest minds that ever took pen in hand, 880 pages.

    The Wandering Scholars of the Middle Ages, Helen Waddell. (1932)
    Essays, historical literary criticism by one of the most sparkling minds of the century, 364 pages.

    Inkheart, Cornelia Funke, translated from the German by Anthea Bell.
    Fantasy YA novel about the power of the written word,  544 pages.

    City Making and Urban Governance in the Americas: Curitiba and Portland, Clara Irazabal.
    Environmental comparison of Curitiba, Brazil, and Portland, Oregon, 335 pages.

    Children of Summer: Henri Fabre's Insects, Margaret J. Anderson, pictures by Marie LeGlatin Keis.
    Children’s bio-novel told in the voice of the famous entomologist’s 10-year-old son,100 pages.


    Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation Of Language And Music And Why We Should, Like, Care, John McWhorter.
    Cultural critique by witty and insightful African-American linguist, 304 pages.

    One More River to Cross (Standing on the Promises, Book 1), Margaret Young & Aidan Darius Grey.
    Historical novel of early African-American Mormons, 337 pages. (2 other books in series.)

    Black Athena: the Afro-asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, vol. 1, Martin Bernal.
    Controversial scholarly non-fiction about the African and Hebrew roots of Greek traditions, 575 pages.

    A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry.
    Novel of India, 624 pages.

    The Dancing Bear, Peter Dickinson.
    YA historical novel of the fall of Byzantium, 300+ pages.

    The Year 1000 : What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey.
    Month-by-month history, illustrated with drawings from the medieval Julius Work Calendar, 240 pages.


    I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother, Allison Pearson.
    Novel set in modern London, 352 pages.

    The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars, Stephen O’Shea.
    Medieval history of a believing people in Southern France destroyed by the pope’s crusade against them, an intricate and enthralling story, 224 pages.

    Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners, Margaret Visser.
    Non-fiction, history of table manners, 448 pages.

    Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres.
    Incomparable novel set during WWII on a Greek island.  This is one of my documents of hope, 448 pages.

    Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories from a Decade Gone Mad, Virginia Holman.
    (reissued in 2004 as Rescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad)
    Autobiography of a daughter growing up with a schizophrenic mother, 256 pages.

    The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Jessie Wise & Susan Wise Bauer.
    Homeschool guide, inspiring and encouragingly clear, 800 pages.

    Warrior Scarlet, Rosemary Sutcliff.
    YA historical novel set in ancient Britain, classic children's literature from a brilliant mind, 207 pages.  Also Mark of the Horse Lord, 289 pages.

    The Wanderings of Odysseus, Rosemary Sutcliff.
    Illustrated retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, 120 pages.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon.
    Tenderly wry novel of an autistic 15-year-old boy who cannot understand lies, 240 pages.

    John Adams, David McCullough.
    Great biography of a good man, 736 pages.


    The Life of the Bee, Maurice Maeterlinck, translated from the French by Alfred Sutro.
    A poet-playwright's great naturalist masterpiece observing bees, 427 pages.

    alpha beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World, John Man.
    History of the alphabet, 312 pages.

    One Year Off: leaving it all behind for a round-the-world journey with our children, David Elliot Cohen.
    Travel with children, 312 pages.

    The Secret Adversary, Agatha Christie.
    Mystery, set just after WWII in England, 426 pages.

    Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslovakia, Rebecca West.
    Travel/ History of the troubled Balkan region on the eve of WWII, 1181 pages.

    Italian Vegetarian Cooking, Emanuela Stucchi.
    Cookbook of restrained elegance and simplicity.

    The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton.
    Essays on travel, 272 pages.

    Kershisnik: Painting from Life, Leslie Norris, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Mark Magleby and Brian Kershisnik.
    Biography and reproductions of paintings of a gifted contemporary artist, 128 pages.


    The Country of the Pointed Firs and other stories, Sarah Orne Jewett.
    Stories of New England, latter half of the 1800’s, 269 pages.

    The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image, Leonard Shalin.
    Philosophical linguistical argues word/linear/violent/exclusionary vs. image/holistic/peace-loving/inclusive, 464 pages.

    The Pursuit of Paradise: A Social History of Gardens and Gardening, Jane Brown.
    History of European gardens from medieval times until now, 400 pages.

    The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, Brian Greene.
    Modern science overview for the general reader, 448 pages.

    Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson.
    A history and philosophy of housekeeing, as well as an incredibly intelligent and thorough how-to, 884 pages.

    The Red Tent, Anita Diamant.
    Novel, an imaginative retelling of the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, 321 pages.

    Jacobson’s Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell, Lyall Watson.
    Insightful (or should I say insmellful?) biology for the general reader, 255 pages.

    Homecoming: Earthfall, Orson Scott Card.
    Surprisingly readable sci-fi novel, 4th in The Homecoming Series (also includes Memory of Earth, Call of Earth, & Ships of Earth), 350 pages.

    Invincible Louisa, Cornelia Meigs.
    Biography of Louisa May Alcott, 256 pages.

    The Secret of Platform 13, Eva Ibbotson.
    Children’s fantasy, better than Harry Potter, so far,  250 pages.

    Passage, Connie Willis.
    Speculative fiction about the nature of end-of-life experiences, a romance and everyday adventure, 800 pages.  (Also, To Say Nothing of the Dog also byWillis, a comic gem, 434 pages.)

    Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, all three by Dorothy Sayers.
    Mystery and intelligent romance, 272, 512, and 416 pages, respectively.

    Villette, Charlotte Bronte.
    Poignant novel, 672 pages.

    ***Beloved Books that Somehow Missed the List***  

    novels (and non-fiction)

    Cheerfulness Breaks In, Angela Thirkell.
    Comic novel set in England between the wars, 188 pages. Also The Brandons, 368 pages.

    War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy.
    Grand novel of Russia during the Napoleanic War, 1472 pages. Also Anna Karenina, a meditative novel about fidelity, 976 pages.

    Colour in the Winter Garden, Graham Stuart Thomas.
    Non-fiction, gardening, brilliant,  256 pages.

    Home Economics, Wendell Berry.
    Essays about living upon the earth, utterly lucid, 192 pages

    Colcorton, Edith Pope.
    Forgotten novel about race and the meaning of house, set in the early 20th century South, 330 pages.

     Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson.
    Novel set in northern Idaho about the nature of home, 219 pages.

    Moby Dick, Herman Melville.
    Immense prose-poem of 19th century American whaling  as an allegory of the democratic experiment (among other things), an essential text, 704 pages.

    The Neverending Story, Michael Ende.
    Deep and believable children’s fantasy, 384 pages.

    The Railway Children, E. Nesbit.
    Delightful children’s novel from the early 1900’s, 288 pages.

    The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease.
    Convincing argument for reading to children and a list of great books to read aloud. 432 pages.

     picture books

    Nancy Hoberman: A House is the House for Me and Seven Silly Eaters.

    Else Minarik:  all the Little Bear books (and Signourey Weaver’s lovely recording on audiotape).

    Russell Hoban: all the Frances books (and Glynis Jones’ delightful  recording on audiotape).

    Charlotte Zolotow: Mr. Rabbit & the Lovely Present and I Like Being Little and When I Have a Little Girl and Over & Over.

    Roy Gerrard: The Favershams and Rosie & the Rustlers and Sir Cedric.

    Mem Fox: Wilfrid Gordon MacDonald Partridge and Koala Lou I do Love You and Whoever You Are.

    Trina Schart Hyman: Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White and Winter Poems.

    Graeme Base & Lewis Carrol: The Jabberwocky.

    Douglas Wood: Old Turtle.

    Arnold Lobel: all the Frog and Toad books.

    Harve & Margot Zemach: The Judge.

    Jon Muth: Zen Shorts.

    William Steig: The Amazing Bone and Shrek! and Dr. DeSoto and Sylvester & the Magic Pebble and Caleb & Kate.

    Maurice Sendak: Chicken Soup with Rice and Where the Wild Things Are.

    Barbara Cooney: Ox-Cart Man and Miss Rumphius.

    Mercer Mayer: East of the Sun & West of the Moon and Beauty & the Beast and Liza Lou & the Yeller Belly Swamp and What Do You Do with a Kangaroo?

    Kevin Henkes: Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse and Julian the Baby of the World.

    Robert Munsch: The Paperbag Princess.
    Caralyn Buehner: Fanny’s Dream.

    Dr. Seuss: The Lorax  and Mr. Brown Can Moo and Dr. Suess' ABC.

    Eugene Trivizas: The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig.

    Arlene Mosel: Tikki Tikki Tembo.

    Joanne Oppenheim: Have You Seen Trees?

    Tomie de Paola: The Clown of God and Strega Nona and Helga's Dowry.

    Jane Yolen: The Girl in the Golden Bower and Dove Isabeau and Old Dame Counterpane and Letting Swift Water Go and All Those Secrets of the World.

    Julian Scheer: Rain Makes Applesauce.

    Margaret Wise Brown: The Color Kittens and Pussy Willow and The Important Book  and The Quiet Book and Mister Dog and The Sailor Dog and Home for a Bunny and The Little Island.

    Christian Garrison & Diane Goode: Dream Eater.

    Jay Williams: Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like.

    poetry anthologies for children

    Come Hither, collected by Walter de la Mare.

    My Kind of Verse, compiled by John Smith.

    The Wind and the Rain: an anthology of poems for young people, edited by John Hollander and Harold Bloom.

    All the Silver Pennies, edited by Blanche Jennings Thompson.

    This Same Sky: a collection of poems from around the world, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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