My favorite local bookshop is the used bookstore downtown. I’ve been going there since before I moved here (about twenty years ago), and I count the owner and manager as friends. Most of the books I get rid of go there first, so I often have a fair amount of store credit. And because they’re going to be closed for the first two weeks of 2022 for a reset, I wanted to get it before the new year. I had about an hour and a half to wander about the shelves on my day off and picked up a few used titles that caught my eye.
- Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
- The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
- Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground by Ahdaf Soueif
- Beside the Ocean of Time by George Mackay Brown
- Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby
Ex Libris and Ten Years in the Tub are books about books, which I always enjoy. I don’t always find titles I’ll be interested in reading, but I’m always curious about other people’s reading lives. Especially when they are great writers who are both funny and insightful. I’ve already read both of these, but I’m looking forward to going back to them again.
The Geography of Bliss is about grumpy writer who is looking for the happiest place on Earth. He travels to places like Bhutan and Iceland, looking for the key to happiness. I’m not entirely sure that he’ll find it, but I’m looking forward to this, as it seems like it will be a humorous travelogue. Who doesn’t like a wry look at countries one wants to visit?
Mezzaterra is a collection of Soueif’s essays about being from the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. I doubt it will be particularly entertaining, but it’s good to learn about pressing issues and the troubles other people have had and are having due to recent history.
My friend Simon on Instagram read a couple of George Mackay Brown’s books last summer and fall and raved about both of them. Simon and I don’t always have the same taste in books, but we both enjoy the same historical fiction. So because of that, I’ve been on the lookout for Brown’s books. He is from the Orkneys, an island chain well off the northern Scottish coast in the reaches of the North Sea. I love Scotland, and I’d love to visit the Orkneys someday. For now, I’ll have to settle for reading books by an Orcadian author.
I was surprised and delighted to learn that Barnes and Noble was having a 50% of all hardback books sale after Christmas. It was initially meant to last just a couple of days, but it was extended until Wednesday. I wasn’t able to go in right away due to being out of town and then being at work, so things were a bit picked over by the time I stopped by, but I found a couple of titles I’ve been interested in. Getting them for a great price was a bit of icing on that cake.
- The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry
- The Widow Queen by Elzbieta Cherezinska, translated from the Polish by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim
No one will be surprised that I got a book about Medieval Europe– especially one that refutes the old notion that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were an era where everyone decided that being clever was for the birds and then proceeded to spend 500 years being stupid and dirty. That’s a Victorian notion. The Victorians weren’t the best historians, as they let their own cultural biases and gender norms influence their view of everything in the past. That it has taken more than a century for historians to stop assuming that those Victorian mores applied to earlier centuries (and other cultures) should tell you how pervasive those ideas are. This is not the first popular history book like this I have read, but I’m happy to read another one. I welcome most perspectives that take another look at the culture and history of the early Medieval era.
I doubt anyone will be surprised that I bought The Widow Queen, either, as it’s a historical fiction novel set in the late tenth century. Right in the middle of the Medieval era. But this is set in Poland and tells the story of a largely overlooked queen, Swietoslawa, who refuses to be a pawn in political schemes and who will do what it takes to rule in her own right. Sounds fascinating.
So now I have a great stack of new and new-to-me books to ring in the new year. I’m looking forward to all of them, and I think the hardest decision I have before me is which one to start reading first.