I don’t know about you, but these days, I am consuming content at double the rate I did pre-pandemic. And that’s saying a lot. A LOT.
I also happen to be one of those annoying friends who, at the slightest bit of encouragement, will launch into an exhaustive list of book recommendations. It’s annoying. I know. I also can’t help it.
That’s how I came up with the idea of creating catalogues raisonnés. That’s a fancy French way of saying annotated bibliography. But, really, it’s more in line with the reading lists that professors would give me in college. Different perspectives on a topic. I just added a dash of fiction to the list.
Today, I’m sharing a mini version of my usual 8-book list…a ‘demi’ catalogue raisonné, if you will. The topic?
Matthew Pearl is one of my favorite authors. I discovered his work through The Poe Shadow, which I devoured in one day – luckily, it was a jury duty day, so all I had to do was sit and read. And then come home and read. And stay up and read.
His book, The Dante Club, combines so many of the things I love: a bone-chilling mystery, rich prose, and amazing historical accuracy. Throw in some genuine historical figures, some fascinating fictional ones, and you have a fabulous book set in post-Civil War Boston.
It was almost by accident that I discovered the other work in this demi-catalogue raisonné. And, by that, I mean I actually started working through my TBR pile. I know. It has actually gotten that far along in my content consumption that I am tackling the TBR and decreasing the the number!
Anyway, I had picked up The Wilderness of Ruin at the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) in Boston. Aside from The Trident Booksellers & Cafe and Brookline Booksmith, the MFA bookshop is actually one of my favorite bookstores. I’ve actually taken to hunting through museum bookstores wherever I go because they really are…pardon the pun…curated. It’s not just whatever the publishers and corporate decide are going to be on the shelves. These bookstores are catering to a specific audience and aren’t afraid to order books that aren’t on run-of-the-mill topics.
Special exhibits and their temporary gift shops are also great places to find amazing books – both fiction and non-fiction. Anyway…
I was at the MFA when I picked up The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo. It’s a true story set in the Boston of 1871-72. There’s a kind of smug, comfortable feeling that comes with reading about places that I have lived or visited. Something in the back of my brain goes, ‘Ahh, I know exactly what she is describing, but all the poor sods who have never seen Boston couldn’t possibly grasp the fullness of it.’
Like I said, smug. Not pretty, just smug.
While I never hesitate or have problems convincing myself to buy a book (would that I did have that problem), I do dither and dawdle over my decision of what book to read next. Part of it is that I have ADD, and however I’m feeling one moment, I will probably feel differently the next one.
Hmm, should I crack open that book on real 14th century poisoning cases, or am I more in the mood for 17th century Dutch tulip economics? Maybe it’s a good time to start on cephalopod neuroscience.
I kid you not.
If I could choose to be reincarnated as a pagan god, I think I’d go for one with at least two heads (three would be fabulous) so I could read multiple books at the same time. Problem solved.
But, part of picking the next book to read is about delayed gratification. The better a book sounds, the more I want to put off reading it so I can look forward to it for longer. This, of course, can also really backfire on me when the book doesn’t live up to my great expectations.
However, most of the time, the books do turn out to be awesome. The Wilderness of Ruin included.
The Dante Club and The Wilderness of Ruin make for a great, thrilling tour that takes you to the Boston of old…and far away from everything here and now.
Got a subject you’d like to see me do a catalogue raisonné for? Let me know! Do you have a fiction/non-fiction pairing that you think is fabulous? Share!