Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Book List

Here's a summary of everything I read in 2016. It was definitely a more fun reading year than 2015, when I got bogged down in multiple heavy-hitters like Ulysses and The Education of Henry Adams. I hope these brief descriptions aren't too unhelpful.

A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David (1950) A classic by one of England's cooking giants.

Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911) Strange novel about a woman so beautiful an entire university commits mass suicide because they can't have her. (Sorry, spoiler, but you're never going to read this anyway.) I once met a woman who was actually named Zuleika.

Map of Another Town by M.F.K. Fisher (1964) The great American food writer's memoir about living in Aix, in Provence, in the 1950s as a single mother.

A Considerable Town by M.F.K. Fisher (1978) A memoir about life in Marseilles.

Might as well be Dead by Rex Stout (1956) Nero Wolfe mystery. Not great literature, but they grow on you.

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones (1975) Brilliant children's novel about a star that's forced to be reincarnated as a dog.

Good Faith by Jane Smiley (2001) This novel looks at the seamy side of real estate.

Come Back, Wherever you Are by Lenora Mattingly Weber (1969) The last of the Beany Malone series.

The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather (2011) Newly divorced, Mather learns how to eke an existence through thrift and canning at her Lake Michigan cottage. Mostly a memoir, but has some good recipes.

The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd (2012) Super-creepy Victorian mystery.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (1972) A sweet little book about life on a Finnish island. To my knowledge, the only book I've ever read by a Finn.

Sloop of War by Alexander Kent (1969) Sometimes I like to read nautical fiction. This is one in the Richard Bolitho series.

Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd (2010) So, what if one of the characters in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is actually a murderer and kills Fanny Price? Read this to find out what that would look like.

My Life in France by Julia Child (2006) Title is self-explanatory. Entertaining. Shows how much labor goes into writing a cookbook.

Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell (1932-1935) Growing up working class and Irish on the south side of Chicago. I struggled with these books because the characters are so unlikeable.

Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell (2004) A disappointing, fictional account of the relationship between Mozart and Constanza Weber.

To Glory we Steer by Alexander Kent (1968) Another about Richard Bolitho. It was while reading this book that it finally dawned on me that this series is mild homoerotica.

Life Would be Perfect if I lived in that House by Meghan Daum. (2010) I loved this book so much! Daum writes about her house lust, something I can really relate to. She even has the same recurring dream that I have - the one when you discover a whole secret wing of your house that you never knew you had. I always hate waking up from that dream.

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson (2015) Bryson travels from the south end of Great Britain to the north.

The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford (1915) I can hardly remember anything about this one. :(

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759) The amazing thing is that I've actually read this book twice. It is funny, but it's also very hard to tell what's going on.

I Iago by Nicole Galland (2012) Novel telling the Othello story from Iago's perspective.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (1860) One of the Barsetshire series, about the financial troubles of a young clergyman.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (1934) Cynical novel about a marriage gone wrong.

Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley (1928) A rather depressing novel set among artists and intellectuals in England.

We'll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington (2016) A memoir by one of my favorite bloggers.

Frost on my Mustache by Tim Moore (1999) Travelogue about Iceland and other points north. This was a reread in preparation for my own trip to Iceland, but it wasn't as funny on the second read.

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope (1864) Concerns the romantic adventures of Lily Dale, a young lady.

Three for the Chair by Rex Stout (1957) Three murder novellas.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (1954) A beautiful woman finds her husband's affections are drawn in a surprising direction.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (1913) The tale of audacious social climber, Undine Sprague.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948) A British police inspector in a west African town faces serious moral dilemmas.

Galore by Michael Crummey (2009) Chronicle of a Newfoundland fishing village.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (1904) I had such a hard time reading this. A South American town has a silver mine. There's a revolution. Some people load a bunch of silver onto a boat and escape with it; someone else is tortured to death; someone else kills himself; someone else is shot at the end. Thank God that's over.

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor (1946) Cassandra Dashwood goes to work as a governess for a family with some shameful secrets. Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favorite authors, and I really enjoyed this, although there's a terrible plot surprise near the end that left me feeling depressed and rattled.

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (1867) The last of the Barsetshire series. Concerns a stern, upright clergyman who is accused of theft.

The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell (1934) Tiresome novel about a bratty child.

Plot it Yourself by Rex Stout (1959) Murders and other crimes in the publishing industry.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969) Angst-ridden, hilarious novel concerning sex and impossible parents.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013) Retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants.

Curse of the Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. Fantasy.

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren (2012) Beautifully crafted novel about a single day in a small Saskatchewan town. Highly recommended.

Love Among the Chickens by P. G. Wodehouse (1906) Usually I like Wodehouse, (author of the Jeeves and Wooster novels) but this was disappointing.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (1864) The first of the Palliser series. Concerns Alice Vavosar, a young woman who is torn between two lovers. Also concerns the early marital difficulties of Plantagenet Palliser (heir of the Duke of Omnium from the Barchester books) and his wife Lady Glencora - two mainstay characters of the Palliser novels.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009) Tells of the rise of Anne Boleyn from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell.

Too Many Clients by Rex Stout (1960) Nero Wolfe again.

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (1957) Preppy New England family saga.

Lake of the Prairies by Walter Cariou (2002) Memoir of growing up in a town in northern Saskatchewan.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012) Continuation of Wolf Hall - the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

The Misses Mallet by E. H. Young (1922) A family of eccentric spinsters in Bristol.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran (2012) Humorous essays by a British journalist.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (2014) A neat summary of the unacknowledged down side of Scandinavian societies. I wish there had been more about Iceland, but I enjoyed this.

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (1867) Second of the Palliser series. Concerns a young Irishman, Phineas Finn, who manages to fall bassackwards into a seat in parliament.

Three at Wolfe's Door; The Final Deduction; The Mother Hunt; The Right to Die; Trio for Blunt Instruments; The Doorbell Rang; Death of a Doxy all by Rex Stout. (1960s) What? For God knows what reason, I'm reading all the Nero Wolfe novels, It's taken me years, so I pushed to get through a bunch at once. They are pretty entertaining, though formulaic.

Justine by Laurence Durrell (1957) The first book in the Alexandria Quartet. Concerns an unnamed British man who is having an affair with the wife of an Egyptian nobleman.

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. (1930) I loved this! Deeply, deeply cynical novel about the British aristocracy. If Downton Abbey wasn't so stupid, it could have been like this.

Village Christmas by Miss Read. (1966) A cozy Christmas story.

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope (1871) The third in the Palliser series, and one of my favorites of all Trollope's novels. I plan to do a post about all the Palliser novels together once I finish them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


If January had a color, it would be white. That's probably something that everyone in the world has already thought of. I'm just slow on the uptake, as usual. But seriously, besides the snow and the monochrome winter light, January is a blank slate and a fresh start. I know it's a cliche, but I love starting the year with a bunch of resolutions, even knowing full well I won't keep them. My diet cleanse started today, actually. For the next three days, I will eat nothing but miso soup, seaweed, tofu, greens, sardines, turmeric, and copious amounts of water.

In addition to the figurative fresh start, I like the summary of the year - both reading those of other people, and writing my own. Despite the global catastrophes, 2016 was a much better year for me, personally, than 2015, which was a long string of crises. The trip to Ireland was great, but other than that 2015 sucked, massively. In 2016, I ascended the steep learning curve of my new job. It was also the year that I finally sought professional help for my depression. I read a lot of good books, I went to Iceland, and enjoyed another year of watching my children mature into lovely adults.

Here's a little photo summary of the year, taken from Instagram, so I apologize if you've seen these already.

Our one big snowstorm of the year.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

I knit myself a sweater.
A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

We painted a chalkboard wall in our kitchen.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

My daughter Brigid graduated from art school.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

I went to Buffalo.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

For my 30th high school reunion

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Jon broke his foot.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

I went on a solo trip to Iceland.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

A video posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

And caught a norovirus on the flight home. (I literally threw up about a minute after taking this picture.)

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

We burned Donald Trump in effigy.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

And voted for Hilary Clinton.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

I knit these mittens for my brother:

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

And these for my sister-in-law

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

I took a lot of long walks through Charlottesville

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

The vacant lot next door was finally sold and a house put on it. (A big deal for us, because we've been living next to that vacant lot for seventeen years.)

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

My plan for 2017 is to yarnbomb my world with anti-Trump signs. I hope other knitters do the same. Perhaps 2017 will be the year I start a second, secret career as a street artist. #yarnbombtrump

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A George Orwell Christmas

This year, "Santa" gave Seamus a copy of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. But then Ian gave Seamus the very same book, and also Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. (Seamus wants to study journalism, so we've been doing our best to give him books we think a future journalist should read.) Meanwhile, Santa gave Ian a copy of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, also by George Orwell. Are you sensing a theme here?

In addition to the Orwells, there were quite a few other books exchanged and we all have a lot of reading to do now.

It was a lovely Christmas overall. My sister and her husband came down from Washington, DC, as they do every year, and a dear friend from our ER days also came over for dinner. All the kids were here, but the girls went back to Richmond a day early because of severe allergies. This being 2016, our Christmas tree is trying to kill us with its pollen. We've never reacted so violently to a tree before. Not only did the tree make us sick, it had vicious spines that made hanging lights and ornaments acutely painful. Indeed, Christmas Tree 2016 was so terrible, I took it down on the day after Christmas (yesterday).  Jon's convinced I bought it because it was the cheapest one at the nursery, but I was drawn to its twiggy appearance and elegant, slender branches.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

 I am happy with the pine rope on the bannisters though.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

We had a lovely rib roast from the hipster artisan butcher for Christmas dinner. For dessert, I made a crepe cake. Because why mix up a batter and throw it into the oven for half an hour when you can make nineteen crepes, one at a time and then pile them into a precarious stack with hazelnut cream painstakingly spread between each layer? The cake was a success though, so it was worth the effort. The recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

The kids were happy with their presents and I'm particularly proud of these mittens that I knit for Grace. Finished in the knick of time. I got off to a late start because the local yarn shop didn't have what I wanted and I ended up ordering yarn that had to be shipped here from Sweden.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

My daughter Brigid took this picture of Jon and me at Christmas dinner.

I hope that all of you and yours had a lovely Christmas. Did you attempt any ambitious dishes for the holidays? Do share if you did. I hope that those of you who do a Christmas tree got cooperative ones!