2003 Reading List

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell
Fascinating travel narrative of Uzbekistan.
Two Roads to Dodge City by Adam and Nigel Nicolson
Father and son do the great American road trip starting from opposite coasts and meeting in the middle. Based on Adam's writing in Sea Room and on the excerpts from Nigel's journal included in Sea Room, I had high expectations for this book. While I did enjoy the book, I kept waiting for them get to the heart of the American experience or at least to acknowledge the tradition of American road trip literature. I found myself wondering if either of them had read Travels with Charley or The Air Conditioned Nightmare, let alone On the Road. They did both seem well-informed on the Lewis and Clark expedition and Adam seemed to have read some Steinbeck. The other objective of the book, their examination of the father-son relationship (FSR as they call it), was very low key and thoroughly British.
End of the Earth by Peter Matthiessen
Travelogue of two birding trips to Antarctica with Victor Emmanuel.
Notes and Sketches from the Wild Coasts of Nipon by Henry Craven St. John
The son doesn't have quite the transcendent writing skills of his father, but he does talk a lot about the birds he sees and shoots in Japan, Korea, and China. There are some great stories about chasing pirates off the coast of China too.
Sea Room by Adam Nicolson
Nicolson owns three islands in the Hebrides, which his father (son of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson) bought when he was a college student and passed on to Adam. He writes about them with great love and insight. And, as if I were not already convinced that Scottish writers are obsessed with rats, there's a fabulous several page account of the rats on the Shiant Islands and how the senior Nicolson once invited some pretty girls to the islands to impress them and the rats ended up spoiling it for him. I can't help wondering if the Nicolosons, pére et fils, got the rat riff inspiration from Charles St. John.
A Tour in Sutherlandshire by Charles St. John
I want to go to the Scottish Highlands right now! Also I want to learn to write like St. John. I want to learn to look at the landscape like St. John does. I can't say enough about how much I like his writing. Surely it says something odd about me that the best new writer I've discovered this year has been dead for well over a hundred years. Who says dead white European males don't have anything to say to us in the 21st century?
The Natural History of Moray by Charles St. John
Every detail of life in the Scottish highlands exquisitely described... I may be developing an overwhelming need to visit the Highlands.
Prague by Arthur Phillips
A novel about how real life, the hip, happening life, is always somewhere else. In this case a bunch of American expats in Budapest after the fall of communism sit around wishing they were in Prague. Great descriptions of Budapest though.
Banvard's Folly by Paul Collins
Fascinating stories of obscure inventors, thinkers, forgers, and losers.
Long River Winding by Jim Bissland
There are a million stories in the Connecticut River Valley. These are several of the most interesting ones.
St. Peter's Umbrella by Kalman Mikszath
 It's an umbrella not a miracle.
The Orchard by Adele Crockett Robertson
 Saving the family farm during the great depression.
In the Land of the Blue Poppies by Frank Kingdon Ward
 Plant hunting in Tibet.
Birding on Borrowed Time by Phoebe Snetsinger
Memoir of the top birder, the first to list 8000 species. When diagnosed with terminal melanoma and given a few months to live she went birding -- for the next 18 years. Worth reading for the glimpse into the mind that could chase down that many birds.
Living with Seabirds by Bryan Nelson
A wonderful and very readable account of Nelson 's experiences studying gannets and their relatives the boobies in the process of becoming the world expert on gannets. It actually made me want to live on a guano covered rock for a couple of years watching and weighing seabirds.
Forbush and the Penguins by Graham Billing
Forbush alone in Antarctica. Forbush crazed by loneliness and blizzards. Penguins. Skuas. Penguin guano. A tour de force.
Village Japan by Malcolm Ritchie
Life in the remote Japanese village of Sora at the end of the 20th century is still close to the rhythms of the land, but for how much longer?
Crab Wars by William Sargent
Horseshoe crabs at the center of economic, medical, and political controversy. A quick read and well worth it.
Sixpence House by Paul Collins
Live the used book lover's fantasy: move to Hay-on-Wye, if you can find a house you can afford that isn't falling down. Plenty of obscure books...
Trespassers on the Roof of the World by Peter Hopkirk
Gate crashers of Lhasa from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century. See, if you make it forbidden, then everybody wants to go there. Human psychology 101. Too bad the lamas missed that lesson.
Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways by John G. Millais
See April 21: with horns and April 27: they'll always have cod.
The Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands by Charles St. John
Fabulous! See April 8: ouch.
Logbook for Grace by Robert Cushman Murphy
Chronologically this comes between Sails and Whales and Of Whales and Men as Murphy's trip to South Georgia was in 1911 at the very end of old Yankee whaling and the beginning of "modern" whaling.
Of Whales and Men by R.B. Robertson
Mid-twentieth century whaling on a modern factory ship. See March 24: ordinary life in spring.
Sails and Whales by Capt. H.A. Chippendale
A late 19th/early 20th century whaling memoir. See March 24: ordinary life in spring.
Spring in Washington by Louis J.Halle
Well deserving of its place as a classic in birding literature. See March 7: at the chain bridge.
Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter by Janet Alger and Steven Alger
The authors apply ethnographic methods to a sociological study of a cat shelter. Very academic, but informative once I managed to get past the academic structure and jargon. Good insights into the social relationships among cats in the shelter environment. See February 27: cats,birds, books , March 6: socially constructed selves.
The Tail of the Tip-Off by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
Mrs. Murphy and friends solve another crime wave in Crozet, Virginia, which seems to have a higher murder rate per capita than even Cabot Cove! The cats are smart and thoughtful and funny and way more interesting than the people. The plot is well crafted and a good puzzle, it kept me guessing right up 'til the last 5 pages. See March 3: brrr.
Winter World by Bernd Heinrich
I loved this. He describes how many of the animals (and some plants) in northern New England get through the winter. He explains biological stuff in plain language. Great read. See February 27: cats,birds, books
The Cat Who Brought Down the House by Lillian Jackson Braun
The 25th in the Cat Who series. It's better than The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, but not as good as the earlier ones. See February 27: cats,birds, books , March 3: brrr.
The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder
The development of the metric system intertwines with the French Revolution. Fascinating reading. I never thought much before about what weights and measures have to do with politics. See February 27: cats,birds, books, March 3: brrr.
Married to the Job by Ilene Philipson
Selfobject? Affective connection? Won't somebody please tell me what it means to have a life?
One Whaling Family by Harold Williams
Three narratives of whaling voyages by members of the Williams family. The best by far is Eliza Azelia Williams's journal of her first whaling voyage from 1858 to 1861. She gave birth to two of her children on the trip. The son, William Fish Williams, describes two of his own whaling voyages in the rest of the book. The mother's journal is more immediate and compelling because it was written as she went along. The son's tale is a memoir written many many years later. See this summary/review in the NY Review of Books. Not Moby Dick, but then what else is?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
That whale thing... See January 3 entry.
Lafcadio Hearn's Japan edited by Donald Richie
Sort of a "greatest hits" of Lafcadio Hearn essays, including In the Cave of Children's Ghosts.
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Copyright © 2003, Janet I. Egan