Journal of a Sabbatical

2001 Reading List

So far this year (most recent on top):

The Travels of Friar Odoric by Blessed Odoric of Pordenone
Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes by Charles Wendell Townsend
The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton
Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
The Gilgit Game by John Keay
Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
A couple of writers discover the world of used books. Quick read. Lots of fun. Oddly for a used book saga, does not include any cats.
The Unveiling of Lhasa by Edmund Candler
First person account of the Younghusband expedition's advance on Lhasa by a war correspondent who accompanied the troops.
A Summer Ride through Western Tibet by Jane E. Duncan
 A 57-year old Scottish woman trekking around in Ladahk, Baltistan, and Kashmir in 1904. Brilliantly observed and brilliantly written. Alas I can't find anything else she'd written. See September 28 entry for an excerpt.
Anna Édes by Deszö Kosstolányi
Translated by George Szirtes  - see September 3 entry.
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
How apples, tulips, potatoes, and cannabis manipulated humans into spreading their kind and speeding their evolution. A nice idea but the potato chapter kind of blew it. I mean, regardless of what Mr. Pollan thinks, the potato itself did not cause the Irish potato famine and subsequent emigration. The potato didn't force them into monoculture - umm, didn't the confiscation of all the good land by the English have a little something to do with it? And it's way too simplistic to describe the Irish as overrunning their habitat because of the ample food supply the potato provided until the famine. He makes the Irish sound like lemmings or white-tailed deer. But as I pointed out to a coworker when we were discussing this book, unlike the white-tailed deer, the Irish had predators.
A Conscious Stillness by Ann Zwinger and Edwin Way Teale
Rarely do nature writers observe the manmade built environment as ably as they do the natural one. Except for Thoreau of course. However, Teale and Zwinger describe the natural and human history of the Assabet and Sudbury rivers with equal attention. They follow the courses of both rivers from their sources to the spot where they meet to form the Concord River. All three rivers figure heavily in Thoreau's writings. Both Teale and Zwinger are past presidents of the Thoreau Society and it shows. This book gave me an even deeper appreciation of the Assabet and Sudbury rivers. I loved it. Read it.
Return of the Osprey by David Gessner
Gessner spent a season observing several osprey nests on Cape Cod from the adults' arrival in the spring through nesting and the hatching and fledging of the young and their departure in the fall. The success of the osprey is one of the happy positive stories on the bird front. He tells the story engagingly and highly personally. See July 11 entry.
Tibetan Trek by Ronald Kaulback
Trekking across Tibet with on of the last of the great plant hunters - Frank Kingdon-Ward - Kaulback tells a great story of the hardships of bee stings, leeches, sand flies, rope bridges, worn out shoes, and tough chickens. The only thing that disappoints is that he doesn't say much about the plants and never gives the scientific name of anything, whether he's collecting it or it's biting him. A nice adventure story though.
Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird
 I was thrilled to find this back in print. Bird intrepidly trekked into the heart of Japan where few/no westerners had gone yet, including Hokkaido, where not even many Japanese had gone at that point in the 19th century. She's a good story teller too. I love 19th century woman travelers' tales anyway, and Bird's are the best.
An Exhilaration of Wings by Jennifer Hill
An anthology of writings about birds from some of the usual suspects, and some writers who ought to be more widely read.
Salt Rivers of the Massachusetts Coast by Henry Howe
See May 29 entry.
Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux
A thick collection of essays, book introductions, and other short pieces. A real feast for the aficionado of travel writing, especially the essays on China.
The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
I read this small (211 pages) novel straight through without stopping. It's a simple story of a young Hong Kong Chinese man sent to his family's beach house in a Japanese village to recuperate from tuberculosis. He meets a few local residents and gradually learns their stories. As he is swimming and painting at the beach and getting to know the village people, the Japanese army is marching through China. The characters and the setting (both geographical and historical) are stunning. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the characters after the war.
Urban Transportation by Zoltán Várnagy
A history of public transportation in Budapest, in the same series as the coffeehouse book I read on the previous trip. Full of pictures of old tram cars, trolleys, trains... A slim book, but great fun.
Budapest 1900 by John Lukacs
An in depth look at history, culture, and life in Budapest during its Golden Age. I really enjoyed this book. It's history for the non-historian so not filled with academic jargon. And you gotta love a book that footnotes a three volume history of coffeehouses (in Hungarian). This guy also wrote a similar book about Philadelphia that I may have to track down.
Claws and Effect by Rita Mae Brown
Another Sneaky Pie Brown mystery where the cats and the Corgi figure out who the murderer is long before the people do. Too many murders in this one though, and the fox-hunting milieu didn't do much for me.
A Visit to India, China, and Japan in the Year 1853 by Bayard Taylor
More about India and China and Loo-Choo than about Japan, but he was there with Commodore Perry in the Black Ships and he wrote well.
The Golden Goose King by Judith Ernst
See March 11
Coffee-Houses by Ferenc Bodor
See February 24, March 20
My Generation by Sarah Anna Emery
This is a novel by the same woman who wrote Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian. Basically an almost Dickensian plot is superimposed on a memoir. The historical details are all correct, and the portrait of everyday life in Newburyport in the early 19th century is vivid, but I could have lived without the plot.
The Merrimack River Hellenics and Other Poems by Benjamin W. Ball
See March 2, March 4
The Boy Travellers in Central Europe by Thomas W. Knox
See March 2, March 3
In Audubon's Labrador by Charles Wendell Townsend
Another early 20th century travelogue, this time an amateur ornithologist and a botanist retracing the Labrador voyage of John James Audubon. Lots of insight into how things had already changed for the worse since Audubon, and how things have gotten both better and worse for birds since. Somewhat slow going because Townsend's writing is a little stiff, but fun nonetheless.
Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer
Read this book! A seriocomic novel about a basketball team in Budapest from 1947 to 1956. Once I started it, I could not put it down. The characters are engaging and the narrative is compelling. I loved this book.
Budapest Then & Now by Imre Mora
A collection of personal essays on various aspects of Budapest history, with historic photographs. Well worth it for getting to know the city of Budapest.
A Hungarian Quartet * Four Contemporary Short Novels
Logbook by Geza Ottlik, Left Behind by Ivan Mandy, Forgiveness by Miklos Meszoly, The Transporters by Peter Esterhazy - All a bit too postmodern, self-reflexive, intertextual, abstract, allegorical, and in love with textual indirection for my taste. The Transporters is the most intertextual of the four, and I confess to not recognizing a single line of the intertextual material from Teilhard de Chardin (whom I have read a lot), Pascal (whom I haven't read), Kierkegaard (whom I haven't read), Janos Pilinszky (of whom I have never heard), Rilke (whom I have read), and Geza Szocs (again never heard of him). That's a tad much to have had to read to comprehend a very short novella. I got a kick out of the premise of Logbook and actually understood Forgiveness. Forgiveness was probably the least postmodern and intertextual and I kind of liked the characters. I'm not cut out for this sort of literary fiction I guess.
The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnar
A charming story of two rival gangs of boys (back when gangs were innocent) fighting over a vacant lot, which is a cherished symbol of freedom to them, in the Budapest of 1907. I laughed and cried copiously. Sweet. Sad. Wonderful. Set in the very neighborhood where I was living/working.
Budapest: City of the Magyars by F. Berkley Smith
A 1903 travelogue by an American ex-pat living in France who visits Budapest in search of "comic opera". It's funny and very turn-of-the-century. It's fascinating to read a first hand account of Budapest at its peak, its very best of times. Highly recommended if you can scrounge one up in your local used bookshop.
The Cat Who Smelled a Rat by Lillian Jackson Braun
The newest in the Cat Who ... series. This one features a silent auction to benefit an animal shelter, the loss of a beloved used book store, a slick antiquarian book dealer from out of town ... hmm, except for that last part it sounds like my life.
Poems of Whittier edited by Markham
See February 4 entry.
Snowbound by John Greenleaf Whittier
See February 4 entry and February 5 entry.
Henry David Thoreau: Studies and Commentaries edited by Walter Harding, George Brenner, and Paul A. Doyle
A Festschrift honoring Thoreau at a conference at Nassau College in 1972, containing essays by people like critic Alfred Kazin and poet Muriel Rukeyser. Only 156 pages.
Whittier-Land by Samuel T. Pickard
A guide to places celebrated in Whittier's poetry. See January 24 entry.
John Greenleaf Whittier: Life and Letters (volume 2) by Samuel T. Pickard
Covers the Civil War years and after, the period when he wrote Snowbound. See January 18 entry and January 26 entry.
John Greenleaf Whittier: Life and Letters (volume 1) by Samuel T. Pickard
See January 15, 2001 entry.
Gulls: A Social History by Frank Graham Jr.
An engaging book about the ups and downs of gull populations in relation to human society. Short and relatively easy to read too.
Young Adult Novel by Daniel Pinkwater
The Wild DaDa Ducks trigger a whole genre of Kevin Shapiro stories.
The Last Guru by Daniel Pinkwater
Silly Hat Lamas
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater
Serious Hat Lamas
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
Thick collections of Daniel Pinkwater books are just irresistible. I think I may be from Mars.
Slaves of Spiegel by Daniel Pinkwater
Blue garlic? See official Daniel Pinkwater site.
Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian by Sarah Anna Emery
Memoir of a woman who grew up in the Newburyport area in the late 18th & early 19th centuries. Check out Recollection: Sarah Anna's Summer Day at the Old Sturbridge Village site. Also read about her trip with her husband to Saratoga Springs to take the waters.
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Copyright © 2001, Janet I. Egan