Jo Walton’s Reading List: December 2021


December started in Chicago with friends, then I took the train to DC for Worldcon, then returned home just in time for Christmas, Omicron and the new lockdown in Quebec. So I start 2022 as I started 2021, but vaccinated, boosted and fortified by traveling and seeing friends. December started off really well and then deteriorated quickly, but the days are getting longer now, our curfew is at 10 p.m. (not 8 p.m. like it was last year), and I’m trying to be positive. I also read fourteen very varied books.

Pick Up Your Bed and Walk: Death, Disability, and Healing in Classic Girls’ Fiction, Lois Keith (2001)
It is an excellent book which examines the representations of disability in What Katy Did, Jane Eyre, Heidi, The Secret Garden and other books from this era, considering the visions of disability and the lessons about disability they offered, and the ways that are and are not useful as role models to remember. I have always found the presence of people with disabilities, which is much more common in older books, to be extremely positive as a representation, but Keith’s points on miraculous healings and personality suppression are very interesting. and relevant. It’s a great book, comprehensive, thought-provoking, says Charlotte M. Yonge, and it’s lively and fun to read. If you are interested in representations of disability, or even just can’t believe someone else remembers it What Katy did, worth picking up.

Rosaline Palmer takes the cake, Alexis Room (2021)
Love romance set on the set of a barely disguised movie Great british pastry shop, who is smart, funny, has a bimer on heroine, and reads best if you have experience with romance novels so you can see where he skillfully plays with tropes. Lots of fun, and also full of genuine warmth and character growth. Hall knows what he’s doing.

Umbria Thursday Night Supper Club, Marlena de Blasi (2012)
I prefer de Blasi when she talks about her own life – it pretends to be stories from their life told to her by a group of women who she dines with once a week, but that’s not possible. They might have told her these things but they would never have accepted her posting them so she had to change them and it is not good to worry about the confusion between fact and fiction as I am. was reading this book. . I still recommend de Blasi’s previous cuisine and Italian memories, but I didn’t appreciate this one very much.

The name of the wind, Patrick Rothfuss (2007)
Read again. Surely I have said enough about this book that you don’t need me to say more? Oh okay, it’s a beautifully written long fantasy novel with a very detailed world and an unusual framing device. Each time I read it again, I like the D less and I appreciate the language more.

Cecily Neville, mother of Richard III, John Ashdown-Hill (2018)
Unfortunately, this is a bad book. He is awkwardly written, repeats himself too much, and is a little too happy with himself to do any real historical research with documents. It also quotes too much in the original spelling – I’m all for including bits and pieces from primary sources, but there’s no need to struggle with the archaic spelling. I didn’t learn much except that other stories from the period assume certain things that he thinks they don’t have a solid foundation for, and it was a chore to go through. He doesn’t believe Richard murdered the princes, and he believes in Eleanor Talbot. I admit it’s hard to get close to Cecily Neville, but I would have appreciated more to try.

The Casse-Fête, Sophie Kinsella (2021)
This is a novel about giving up the position of a child in order to grow up, but it is unusual in that it is not about a child or a teenager but about an adult woman. in their twenties. It’s funny – all of Kinsella is funny – and it’s a little contrived, and there’s a nice reversal and a very well-played romance. But more and more, I think Kinsella is writing interestingly about the lives of women in their twenties and thirties in a way that I have never met before and that I love very much.

The secret services of Venice: the organization of intelligence in the Renaissance, Ioanna Iordanou (2019)
Fascinating and detailed book on cryptography, spies, and how Venice did these things differently and way ahead of anyone else. There are a number of paragraphs in this book that I would like to see extended to the trilogies, such as the guy who kept coming and going between Venice and the mother of the Ottoman Sultan with both sides believing he was spying for them, even when he got caught. There is also a section on how the anonymous whistleblowing of their neighbors made Venetians without political power feel like part of a community and a group, which can also apply to Soviet citizens and gives positive meaning to something that has always seemed inexplicable. Lots of intricate and interesting stuff here, and generally a good book.

Italian tales, Italo Calvino (1956)
It is a collection of folk and fairy tales collected by Calvino and others from all over Italy and told by Calvino. They all have some provenance and it is fascinating to see the varieties of stories popular in different places. It is a huge volume; I’ve been reading this for months and enjoying the process. These stories are different from Grimm and Perrault but also similar… There is nothing here as strange as the Russian or Japanese folk tales that I have read, but it is interesting to see how many there are. variation in this kind of story. There’s a surprising amount of fratricide here, for example, and more boats than I would expect.

Honeymoon for one, Portia MacIntosh (2019)
Love story in which a bride discovers that her husband is cheating on her and leaves alone for his honeymoon. Well that seemed like a good idea at the time. Nothing surprising, but pleasant to read.

Lectures on Russian Literature, Vladimir Nabokov (1981)
This contains a fascinating essay on each of the great Russian writers of the 19th century, followed by a detailed discussion of their work. I skipped books I hadn’t read, to avoid spoilers. It also has some general essays on Russian literature and translation, and literature in general, which were great. Overall, I enjoyed reading this, even when I disagreed with Nabokov, and at times he was incredibly insightful, like with Chekhov. I don’t understand why he hates Dostoyevsky so much. I can see not liking his work, but the level of vitriol seemed unnecessary.

In Italy, with love, Nicky Pellegrino (2021)
Pellegrino, whose romance romance set in Italy got me through the worst part of the pandemic, wrote another during his own lockdown in New Zealand, and it’s delicious. A heartbroken young woman’s car breaks down in a small town in Italy so she stays there and everything turns out for the best. Also, there is an old Italian woman who runs a trattoria who has never found love, and then she does. Contains characters from previous novels, living happily ever after, lots of Italy, sunshine and cooking, and it’s also good. Save this for a bad day; I did.

A rage for the rockery, Nicola Shulman (2011)
Short biography of Reginald Farrer, an early twentieth century Englishman who changed not only the way people garden, but also the way they write about gardens and plants. He had a very strange short life, and it was fascinating to read. Recommended.

Home of Italy, Peter Pezzelli (2004)
Disappointing. It was presented as the story of a retired man returning to his native village in Italy, and it was, but… spoiler… he has a love affair with a woman over forty years older young than him. If you are an older man and feel tempted to write this kind of story, then don’t. Write about an older man finding an older woman if you like, like Pellegrino does. Or there is no need for happiness to be synonymous with romance at all. Gah. Nice descriptions of cycling and the countryside, and that’s all I can say about it.

The Light of Italy: The Life and Times of Federico da Montefeltro, Jane Stevenson (2022)
I read a copy in advance of this thanks to Ada Palmer. It’s a great book, one of the best things I’ve read in 2021, and one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. I want biographies like this from everyone: readable, well documented, interested in the same issues that interest me — humanism, women, disability, patronage, art — and simply excellent. The first half is a biography of Federico da Montefeltro, the one-eyed Duke of Piero della Francesca’s double portrait, and the second half is a glimpse into his legacy and subsequent history from Urbino to the present day. I think you could read this book if you didn’t know anything about the Italian Renaissance and still enjoy it very much. It starts by talking about how we see Federico through his own self-shaping and the effectiveness of this myth that he deliberately created. Wonderful book. Pre-order it now.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She has published two books of plays, three books of poetry, a collection of short stories and fifteen novels, including winners Hugo and Nebula Among others. His novel Loanedwas published by Tor in May 2019, and its most recent novel, Or whatever you want, was released in July 2020. She reads and blogs about it a lot here on an irregular basis. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. She plans to live to be 99 years old and write a book every year.


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