Library Catalog

To my kind sky-t-tray readers

Below is a list of some novels, biographies, and poetry that
I cannot recommend highly enough.

Happy reading!



Loitering With Intent
by Muriel Spark

Loitering With Intent (1981) is about a writer who wants to write,
but who also needs a day job.
It’s about good friends and not-so-good friends.
It’s a nostalgic look back at being young in 1950s London.
It’s part mystery novel, part comedy.

Its main character is in love with writing and reading—and in love with life. It’s got an amazing buoyancy of mood. And I think that’s what I most love about this novel, and what keeps me re-reading it time and again.

People passed me, both ways,
going home from their daily work, like myself…
Young men with dark suits and
girls wearing hats and tailored-looking coats.
The thought came to me in a most articulate way:
‘How wonderful it feels to be an
artist and a woman in the twentieth century.’

– from Loitering With Intent
Muriel Spark

You can read more about Muriel Spark and her novel
in my February 5, 2019 post called…
Time Off


Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety (1987) is Wallace Stegner’s 14th and last novel.
It is a hot-buttered-rum of a book.
It’s about the 1930s. It’s about academia. It’s about strong women and devoted husbands. It’s about living in natural beauty.

But mostly, it’s about friendship.
The grown-up friendship of two couples that spans decades.

Two couples meet in the Madison, Wisconsin during the Depression of the 1930s. Both women are pregnant. Both men are trying to get tenure—or at least hired for a second year—at the same college.

It’s incredibly heart-warming to read this writer’s praise of friendship. And incredibly romantic to hear his view of marriage: A strong man’s belief in what a strong woman can do for him, for better and for worse. And mostly for better.

We were all at the beginning of something,
the future unrolled ahead of us
like a white road under the moon.
When we got back to their big lighted house,
it seemed like our house too.
In one evening we had been made at home in it.

– from Crossing to Safety
Wallace Stegner

You can read more about Wallace Stegner and his novels
in my post from February 25, 2020 called…
Invited In


Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters (1865) is the fifth and final novel written by Scottish author Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s the story of Molly Gibson, daughter of the local doctor in a small English town.

Molly is a strong, complex character when we meet her as a child on page one. She only grows stronger and more richly drawn as she grows into adulthood.

It’s a joy to spend 650 pages with her.

The two girls were silent for some time,
both gazing into the fire. Cynthia spoke first:
‘I wish I could love people as you do, Molly!’
‘Don’t you?’ said the other, in surprise.
‘No. A good number of people love me, I believe,
or at least they think they do;
but I never seem to care much for any one.
I do believe I love you, little Molly,
whom I have only known for ten days,
better than any one.’
‘Not than your mother?’
said Molly, in grave astonishment.
‘Yes, than my mother!’ replied Cynthia, half-smiling.

‘It’s very shocking, I daresay; but it is so.’

– from Wives and Daughters
Elizabeth Gaskell

You can read more about Elizabeth Gaskell and her novels
in my post from September 24, 2019 called…
Escape to Italy


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) is a coming of age story.

The novel begins in Brooklyn in 1912 when the main character, Francie Nolan, is 11 years old. By the end of the novel it’s 1918, and Francie is a 16-year-old heading off to college in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Francie is bookish and smart; her mother is strong and hard-working; her father weak and lovable. What makes the novel so re-readable are the many stories and characters in Francie’s neighborhood and extended family. It’s an in-depth look at a time and place—with all the harshness and hate, as well as the humor and love.

It was a good thing that she
got herself into this other school. It showed her
that there were other worlds besides the world
she had been born into, and these
other worlds were not unattainable.

– from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

You can read more about Betty Smith and her novel
in my post from December 3, 2019 called…
A Book a Day.


by Daphne du Maurier

As it begins, the storyline of Rebecca (1938) seems full of very ordinary events.

Our heroine meets a widower and marries him. She worries she doesn’t compare well to his first wife. She’s shy and feels intimidated by the staff. The housekeeper is snooty to her.

All pretty ordinary stuff. Yet it never feels ordinary. Why not?

Because Daphne du Maurier’s handling of suspense is consummate.
Each page is seeded with small, hidden-in-plain-sight clues—and each one hints at change: Change is coming. And change is definitely not for the better.

Rebecca is a novel rich in metaphors, in suspense, in psychological depth, and it is well worth another read.

I wished he would not always treat me as a child,
rather spoilt, rather irresponsible,
someone to be petted from time to time when the
mood came upon him, but more often forgotten…
Was it always going to be like this?
…Would we never be together,
he a man and I a woman?

– from Rebecca
Daphne du Maurier

You can read more about Daphne du Maurier
in my post from May 14, 2019 called…

Mrs Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

The novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) takes place over a single day. A day in the middle of June 1923. A day that Clarissa Dalloway is giving a party.

The novel begins as Clarissa walks out to buy flowers for her party. The noisy vibrancy of the London streets thrill and exhilarate her.

And everywhere,
though it was still so early,
there was a beating, a stirring
of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats…
The whirling young men, and laughing girls in their
transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were
taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run;
and even now, at this hour, discreet old dowagers were
shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery;
and the shopkeepers were fidgeting in their windows…
She too, loving it as she did with an
absurd and faithful passion; she, too, was going
that very night to kindle and illuminate;
to give her party.

– from Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf

As she walks, the summer air reminds her of her past—of a summer she stayed with friends, at Burton, when she was 17 years old.

Woolf’s description of the party itself is wonderful. And the comparisons—of her current friends and the friends of her youth, how she was then and how she is now—are rich and provocative.

The story then picks up a second thread about a young couple named Lucrezia and Septimus Smith.

Septimus is suffering from what was then called shell-shock, what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by the horror of trench warfare in WWI, which we as readers hear about through Septimus’ post-war experience.

Now that it was all over,
truce signed, and the dead buried,
he had, especially in the evening, these
sudden thunder-claps of fear.
He could not feel…

– from Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf

As Jeanette Winterson wrote of Virginia Woolf’s novels: “She is not afraid of pain. The dark places attract her as well as the light, and she has the wisdom to know that not all dark places need light.”

You can read more about Virginia Woolf
in my post from January 28, 2020 called… Woolf on War




There’s a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it. Give
more of your life to this listening…
I should sell my tongue
and buy a thousand ears.

– from the poem Listening
translation by Coleman Barks


We began as
a mineral. We emerged into plant life
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states.
Except in early spring when we slightly
recall being green again.

– from On Resurrection Day
translation by Coleman Barks

You can read more about Rumi and his poetry
in my post from October 1, 2019 called… Dissolving Boundaries


Anna Akhmatova

In the room of the banished poet
Fear and the Muse stand watch by turn,
and the night is coming on,
which has no hope of dawn.

– from Voronezh
Anna Akhmatova
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward


I came to the house of the poet.
Sunday. Precisely at noon….
The gaze of my watchful host
silently envelops me.
…But the talk is what I remember
from that smoky Sunday noon,
in the poet’s high gray house
by the sea-gates of the Neva.

– from To Alexander Blok
Anna Akhmatova
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

You can read more about Anna Akhmatova and her poetry
in my post from June 25, 2019 called… Heart’s Memory


Robert Frost

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– from The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost

You can read more about Robert Frost and his poetry
in my post from March 26, 2019 called… Miles to Go



For he possessed the happy gift
Of unaffected conversation:
To skim one topic here, one there,
Keep silent with an expert’s air
In too exacting disputation,
And with a flash of sudden quips
Charm tender smiles to tender lips.

– from Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin
stanza I-5
translated by Walter Arndt


Fall lingered on as if it never
would leave the countryside that year,
While Nature seemed to wait forever
for winter. Snow did not appear
till the third January morning.
Up early, Tanya without warning
finds roofs and fences overnight
turned to exhilarating white,
Her window laced with subtle etching,
in wintry silver bright each tree,
Rooks wheeling overhead with glee,
The mountain summits softly stretching
‘Neath winter’s scintillating shawl.

And clear is all, and white is all.

– from Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin
stanza V-1
translated by Walter Arndt

You can read more about Pushkin and his poetry
in my post from June 11, 2019 called… A Point of Pride



I Wonder As I Wander
by Langston Hughes

I Wonder As I Wander (1956) is a travel memoir by American poet Langston Hughes.

He first describes leaving New York to travel through the American South giving poetry readings in church halls and sometimes in people’s living rooms.

Next he tells about joining a group of young American actors who traveled to Russia to create a movie there.

It doesn’t go well.

The group gives up—after several adventurous months—and heads home. But Hughes decides instead to continue traveling.

He describes his travels through Turkmenistan, and Spain during the Spanish Civil War, to Cuba, Haiti, Japan, Mexico, and finally California. Altogether, it takes Hughes about seven years (from 1931 to 1938) to circle the globe and return to New York.

But you can do it in 400 pages.

I highly recommend this book. Especially if you’re planning a trip!
I Wonder As I Wander makes an excellent traveling companion, no matter where you going.

For ten years I had been a writer of sorts,
but a writer who wrote mostly because, when I felt bad,
writing kept me from feeling worse;
it put my inner emotions into exterior form, and gave me
an outlet for words that never came in conversation.

– from I Wonder As I Wander
Langston Hughes

You can read more about Langston Hughes
in my post from February 11, 2020
called… Belonging.


The Land of Little Rain
by Mary Austin

In her first book, The Land of Little Rain (1903), Mary Austin mixes travel and natural history, conservation and philosophy. She evocatively recounts fourteen years of traveling—what she calls her “twice seven years’ wanderings.”

She writes about the American Southwest, especially the Mojave Desert: “That country which begins at the foot of the east slope of the Sierras and spreads out by less and less lofty hill ranges toward the Great Basin.”

Austin carefully observes everything. She has a love of place and a spirit of curiosity. And when she describes plants, animals, and people it’s in prose that reads like poetry. It’s a beautiful book.

The coyote is your true water-witch,
one who snuffs and paws, snuffs and paws again
at the smallest spot of moisture-scented earth
until he has freed the blind water from the soil.
Many water-holes are no more than this
detected by the lean hobo of the hills.

– from The Land of Little Rain
Mary Austin

You can read more about Mary Austin
in my post from September 3, 2019 called… A Sense of Place


A Moveable Feast           
by Ernest Hemingway

The subtitle for A Moveable Feast is:
‘Sketches of the Author’s Life in Paris in the Twenties.’

It is essentially a love letter to his first wife, Hadley.

It was first published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death—but for that first printing, Hemingway’s manuscript was heavily edited by his fourth wife, who perhaps resented its reminder that she was neither his first nor his favorite.

In 2009 A Moveable Feast was revised, re-edited, restored,
and published by his grandson, Seán Hemingway.

One of chapters restored for the 2009 edition is called ‘Winter in Schruns,’ which describes Hemingway and Hadley living happily and cheaply in Austria. They would climb mountains carrying packs and skis, ski down, then pick up their skis, climb back up, and ski down again. This chapter also includes a disturbing description of the couple leaving their infant son to be babysat by a cat. (The cat’s name was F. Puss.)

In another chapter, Hemingway describes a road trip that he and F. Scott Fitzgerald took between Lyon and Paris in 1924.

There was quite a lot of drinking.

You could not be angry with Scott…
But it was hard to accept him as a drunkard,
since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol.
In Europe then we thought of wine
as something healthy and normal…
Drinking wine was not a snobbism
nor a sign of sophistication … it was as
natural as eating and to me as necessary
…It had never occurred to me that sharing a
few bottles of fairly light, dry, white Mâcon could…
turn him into a fool.

There had been the whisky and Perrier in the morning but…
I could not imagine one whisky harming anyone who was
driving in an open car in the rain.

– from A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway
chapter 17: ‘Scott Fitzgerald’

A terrific way to read A Moveable Feast is as a ‘double feature’ with Paula McLain’s novel A Paris Wife (2011). It’s a fictionalized but well-researched account of Hemingway’s Paris years, told through the eyes of Hadley. For instance, McLain expands on the almost unbelievable ‘stolen valise’ incident. (McLain gives it two chapters; Hemingway dispatches it in a page and a half.)

It was one of two stories
I had left when everything I had written was
stolen in Hadley’s suitcase that time at the Gare de Lyon…
She was bringing the manuscrtipts down to me…so I could
work on them on our holidays in the mountains.
She had put in the originals, the typescripts,
and the carbons, all in these manila folders…

– from A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway
chapter 8: ‘Hunger Was Good Discipline’

You can read more about Ernest Hemingway
plus a reading list of his best short stories,
in my post from July 23, 2020 called… Hemingway For Better & Worse