Tag Archives: Favorite

Notable books read in 2023

It’s that time again, to reflect on interesting and notable books that I read last year. According to my Goodreads site, I read 48 books, with the shortest book being “Flunking sainthood: a year of breaking the Sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor” by Jana Riess at 179 pages, and “The dollmaker” by Harriette Simpson Arnow at 677 pages (which I ended up skimming much of).  The average book length was 311 pages, which is perfect: too much longer and I start to get grumpy, and really, I think most good stories should be told in about 300 pages.

The most read book was “Lessons in chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, which I loved, but because it’s so popular I won’t highlight it. The least read book was “Snowshoe and lancet,” which I will feature in my list below. Some of my other favorite books this year I have written about in previous blogs, such as Ride of her life, and Drinking the rain, so I will not spotlight them in this list.

So, below is my list of recommended books to read:

Snowshoe and lancet: memoirs of a frontier Newfoundland doctor, 1937-1948, by Robert Skidmore Ecke.

This book was a serendipitous find. I came across a Christmas card from Robert P. Tristram Coffin to Robert Ecke in a book that I catalogued at the Maine Historical Society, and then I catalogued the card. I was intrigued enough to research Ecke. When I learned about his time as a doctor in Newfoundland I was hooked enough to trot down to the Portland Public Library to find his book. This amazing book by Robert Ecke (1909-2001), based on his diary, is a blending of graphic descriptions of medical procedures with the social customs of the Newfoundlanders. And lots of tea drinking! I’m so grateful this book was published, although it took many years after the fact. I think it would make a wonderful BBC series.

The flower arrangement, by Ella Griffin

This book of intertwined stories takes place in a flower shop in Dublin, Blossom and Grow. Cleverly, each chapter’s flower represents a story. This is one of those book which after reading it the first time I reread much of it, to try to figure out when and where the characters popped in and out of the chapters. This was such an enjoyable read, and I loved the characters, writing, setting, and all things flowers!

Fun with Fred: life with OCD and hoarding: a humorous memoir, by Leslie Robinson.

I’ve known Leslie for about 30 years, and while I know she struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I had very little idea of the depth of this struggle until I read this book. Leslie brings the reader straight into what OCD and hoarding looks like on a daily basis. While many of us have piles that need tending, and are prone to “gather” items that we may someday need, most of us are able to quickly dispose of extraneous and unimportant flotsam and jetsam in our lives and move on without a second thought. We can relate to OCD because we understand it, but only on a surface level. This book is a must read for anyone who has OCD, hoards, or knows someone with these disorders.

The winter sea, by Susanna Kearsley

This novel about Scotland is a wonderful way to learn about a period of Scottish history, the Jacobite expedition of 1708, through the eyes of Carrie, an author who travels to Scotland to immerse herself into the geography as background for her book. My only quibble was that there was a bit too much history and too many historical characters to keep straight, but having the explanation of the real figures and story at the back was very helpful. My favorite part was when Carrie initially finished writing the book, and her editor said, “Oh, no you can’t end the book like that – way too depressing.” Sometimes I find myself rewriting depressing endings, so I could appreciate the editor’s perspective!

Hare with amber eyes: a family’s century of art and loss, by Edmund De Waal

As an archivist and history person, this was my kind of book, as the author tried to track down the provenance and stories of his family’s artifacts. This tells quite a tale of a family, who crisscrossed Europe and Asia, for various reasons, while managing to hold onto their collection of netsukes. I was drawn into the story, and I liked the unique voice of the author.

Alena: a novel, by Rachel Pastan

This was a serendipitous find – when I saw the book was based on Rebecca, and written by an author I had read another book by, I had to pick it up. The story really drew me in, and I loved the main characters. The author takes Daphne du Maurier’s classic “Rebecca,” and places it at a small museum on Cape Cod, with various twists, such as the main character being a museum curator. I was mesmerized all the way through, and in fact, went back to reread some favorite passages.

Waterlog: a swimmer’s journey through Britain, by Roger Deakin

This book, which apparently launched the international wild swimming movement, seemingly took me as long to read as it probably did for Roger Deakin to swim. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it, but a few pages was all I could read at a time. I would like to read it again sometime as I felt like I couldn’t quite absorb it the first time around. Next time I read it I’ll have an atlas by my side so I can see where he swam. Regardless of all that, this is an amazing book about one man’s quest to swim in all sorts of waterways in England.

The Blackout book club, by Amy Lynn Green

I would read a little of this book, about a library and librarian in a small town in coastal Maine during World War II, before turning out the light at night, and it seems like each time I would say to myself, “I really love this book.” I’m not sure why, beyond the good stories and characters. Just something about how it was put together and the storytelling. One fun thing about the book is that one of the characters is from Long Island – yes, our Long Island! I went on the author’s website later to find out more about this connection.

The involuntary American: a Scottish prisoner’s journey to the new world, by Carol Gardner

I learned about this book when I was working on the Sharon Anderson Long Island history research papers for the Long Island Historical Society. Sharon’s folders about the Doughty family introduced me to Thomas Doughty, the “involuntary American,” who arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the winter of 1650-1651, after the Battle of Dunbar. Turns out there are other families in this collection, including the MacVanes, that are also descendants of Scottish prisoners of the same era. It was fascinating to learn about this period of history that I knew nothing about. It’s also a good background to 17th century New England history.

Island of missing trees, by Elif Shakaf

This novel introduced me to the Cyprus crisis in 1974, which I also knew nothing about. This book is another great example of accessing history through fiction, in this case a horrific war. Despite the serious subject matter, this is actually a lovely book, and one of the voices is that of a fig tree!

May this list introduce you to some books that may not be as visible as the usual bestsellers, but bring some added layers to your reading.