Top 5 Books of 2020

Merry Christmas!! It’s that time of the year again when I share my absolute favorite reads. The books are, as always, in order. Number 1 is my favorite book of 2020.

1. L’Amour, la fantasia [Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade] by Assia Djebar

l'amour la fantasia

Assia Djebar is considered one of the greatest Algerian writers of the 20th century. Her novel, L’Amour, la fantasia explores the stories of women living during two pivotal events in Algerian history: the 1840s conquest and the Algerian Revolution (1954-1962). Like a musical fantasia, this novel is a mixture of voices, cultures, and languages. It powerfully reclaims history for Algerian women. If you are interested in a more through introduction, you might find my video helpful.

2. Cahier d’un retour au pays natal [Notebook of a Return to the Native Land] by Aimé Césaire

Cahier d'un retour au pays natal

Aimé Césaire’s prose poem is considered to be the founding text of the Négritude movement – a literary movement for Black liberation. Césaire wrote this work upon returning to Martinique from mainland France. The landscape of Martinique is the backdrop against which Césaire explores colonialism.

Here’s my favorite passage in the Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith translation:

I would arrive sleek and young in this land of mine and
I would say to this land whose loam is part of my flesh:
“I have wandered for a long time and I am coming back
to the deserted hideousness of your sores.”
I would go to this land of mine and I would say to it:
“Embrace me without fear … And if all I can do is speak,
it is for you I shall speak.”

And again I would say:
“My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth,
my voice the freedom of those who break down
in the prison holes of despair.”
And on the way I would say to myself:
“And above all, my body as well as my soul,
beware of assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator,
for life is not a spectacle,
a sea of miseries is not a proscenium,
a man screaming is not a dancing bear …”

3. La Belle et la bête [The Beauty and the Beast] by Madame de Villeneuve

La belle et la bete

Madame de Villeneuve is the author of the oldest written version of the story of the Beauty and the Beast. For a fairytale, this is quite a long work (150 pages). The overarching plot is made up of several subplots, and fairies play a pretty large role. The second half of the novella is almost entirely about the land of fairies. Mme de Villeneuve’s story touches on a theme that is less emphasized in the Disney version: social class. If you want a fun read for the holidays, I highly recommend La Belle et la bête .

4. Notre-Dame de Paris [The Hunchback of Notre Dame] by Victor Hugo

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris is another story that has been made famous by Disney. However, Victor Hugo’s novel is just as much about the architecture of Paris as it is about Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Claude Frollo. My favorite character was Pierre Gringoire, a fictionalized version of the 16th century playwright Pierre Gringore. His journey into the carnivalesque Court of Miracles is a commentary on the late medieval French justice system. Gringoire is also quite a fool. I also liked that Quasimodo is more morally-gray than in the movie.

5. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme [The Bourgeois Gentleman] by Molière

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme

This year, I hosted Molière in May – a read-along of 5 of Molière’s most famous plays. Although I read Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in high school, I have never before included it on a favorites list. When I read it almost 15 years ago, I could barely understand the French. This time, however, I was able to appreciate the humor and the social commentary. Our protagonist, Monsieur Jourdain, is a middle-class man who wants to pass as an aristocrat. Unfortunately, he can’t dance or sing. He makes a fool of himself at every turn. Yet, the aristocrats are not without their flaws. Although Dom Juan will always be my favorite Molière play, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme is so much fun and equally thought-provoking.


Writing a Thesis Proposal is Hard

In the United States, PhD students take 2-3 years of course work before starting on their theses. Despite being in the program since Fall 2017, I only completed my coursework last semester. I was required to take 3 years of coursework. The American PhD is a very lengthy process. Thankfully, I now only have my thesis to worry about.

writing a thesis proposal is hard

Nevertheless, writing my prospectus has not been a walk in the park. I agonized over it for weeks on end.

The hardest part of doing research in the humanities is finding something new to say. It can often feel like everything has already been done. In popular culture, research is synonymous with looking things up on Google. But that’s not true research. Academic scholarship makes an original contribution to existing knowledge. To obtain a PhD, I must demonstrate that I am asking new questions or taking a new angle on a topic.

I must admit that I contemplated quitting my PhD dozens of times in the past month. This is actually a first for me. Up until now, I’ve always felt that I am meant to do a PhD in French literature. It has always felt like a calling. Nevertheless, the challenge of writing a proposal made me doubt my abilities. No one prepares you for how different research is from writing term papers. I had to overcome many limiting beliefs to push through this proposal, during a pandemic, with the most minimal social contact.

2020 has been a trying year for everyone, but I have come to recognize what a privilege it is to have a job during a pandemic. I’ve also realized that I want to continue in this program. Producing original research will be the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, but I am excited to see where this project will take me.

Despite what the Wall Street Journal might tell you about doing a PhD, it’s really hard. Completing a PhD in the humanities, in education, or in the social sciences is not a straightforward process. It can be just as unpredictable as in the hard or natural sciences. That’s research.

After over a month of self-doubt, I am happy to say that I submitted my proposal to my committee today.


The year I discovered imagery, classics, and Matilda’s book list | Classic Meme, Oct. 2020

The Classics Club Blog has rebooted their monthly memes. October’s question is about the classics I read as child. I’m surprised that I’ve never told this story before.

Reading Classics

When I was in elementary school (oh so long ago!) I was a terrible language arts student. I didn’t know how to interpret imagery. Whenever we were asked to complete a take-home or in-class essay, I simply summarized the major plot points of the books we were assigned. I was a literalist.

Then in 8th grade, my English teacher assigned us Lord of the Flies by William Golding. For the first time, I was taught how to go beyond the literal sense of a text. I remember failing the in-class essay not because I didn’t know what to write but because I had too much to say. Today, I am a PhD student in French literature, thanks in part to that 8th grade teacher.

8th grade was also the year that I discovered poetry and started reading more complicated classics. I borrowed a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, which I am pretty sure I never returned (oops!). The following summer, I visited the adult section of my local library and checked out Animal Farm by George Orwell, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (I thought Eyre was pronounced “ire”), Oliver Twist, and The Invisible Man — four of the fourteen books on Matilda’s book list. I also read Great Expectations. Yes, I was so obsessed with Roald Dahl’s novels and short stories that I decided to read the books that Matilda is said to have read at the age of 4!

Some people say that literature classes made them hate reading. I had the complete opposite experience. I fell in love with reading because of the classics and because I learned how to go beyond the literal plot of a story.

For your interest, below are all 14 books on Matilda’s list. Most of them seem a bit too mature for a 4 year old, but Roald Dahl would probably say that I’m just a snooty adult who underestimates children 😜 :

  1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  6. Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
  7. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  8. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  12. The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley
  13. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  14. Animal Farm by George Orwell

How Do Academic Writers Engage With Existing Scholarship? | Rewriting by Joseph Harris

I have been taking language classes all of my life, but for some reason, I was never really taught how I should cite existing scholarship. I knew that I was supposed to say something new and also acknowledge the contribution of other scholars in the field, but I didn’t know how to do that.


Enter Rewriting by Joseph Harris. Rewriting is all about how scholars and essayists position their arguments in relation to those of other thinkers. If there is one book that I would put into the hands of every incoming graduate student in the humanities, Rewriting would be it.

Harris focuses on three ways that academic writers engage with existing scholarship: forwarding, countering, and taking an approach. Forwarding is when a writer “takes terms and concepts from one text and applies them to a reading of other texts and situations” (6). The goal of forwarding is to show in what way an argument, term, or concept has been helpful in thinking about a new text. Countering is more intuitive. It involves disagreeing with a reading or a concept. The final way – taking an approach – involves applying a theory to a new set of texts or adopting the style of a certain author.

However, before an academic writer can forward, counter, or take an approach, she must come to terms with the scholarship. she must first be able to summarize in her own words the major arguments of the article, book chapter, or monograph in question. In order to find the gap in the scholarship, she must understand the scholarship.

I found the first chapter on coming to terms to be the most useful because it sets the groundwork for the later chapters on forwarding, countering, taking an approach, and rewriting. Here is how Joseph Harris explains coming to terms:

[T]he phrase suggests, a settling of accounts, a negotiation between reader and writer. In coming to terms, you need both to give a text its due and to show what uses you want to make of it. You are not simply re-presenting a text but incorporating it into your own project as a writer. You thus need not only to explain what you think it means but to say something about the perspective from which you are reading it (emphasis, my own) (15).

Harris recommends three practices to come to terms with a text:

  1. summarizing the writer’s project
  2. highlighting key passages and words
  3. considering possibilities and limitations of the approach

Only after an academic writer has come to terms with the text, can she begin to consider how an idea might be forwarded or countered. I often lose sight of the general approach that a scholar is taking, focusing instead on the facts. On the contrary, Harris views all writing – but specifically, academic writing – as a kind of negotiation. Forwarding, countering, and taking an approach involve negotiating terms, approaches, and truth claims. Even when a scholars counters, Harris believes that she should acknowledge her indebtedness (however little) to the formulations being countered. But before she can acknowledge her indebtedness to scholarship she must first come to terms with the scholarship.

Note that all strategies of engaging with existing scholarship are ways of saying something new. The goal of academic writing should never be the regurgitation of past scholarship. When quoting from a work, the writer must demonstrate how the quoted passage contributes to the development of her own argument. This is why your high school teacher taught you to never end a paragraph with a quote.

As I’m writing this post, I am deeply aware of how hard it can be to come to terms with a text. Even Rewriting, despite giving clear and practical advice, can be challenging. I find it hard to summarize in writing the major moves that academic writers make. Thankfully, Harris illustrates what he is teaching. He situates his own craft book in relation to other books on academic writing. Furthermore, he never asks the secondary sources he cites to do the work for him. Instead, he explains how a quoted passage from a novel or essay illustrates the various moves of academic writing.

My only criticism is that Rewriting is riddled with typos. The proofreader must have been on leave because there were typos or every few pages. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is a better book out there about how academics engage and cite the work of others.


New Academic Year, New Mindset |PhD Journey

white and browm notebookNew (academic) year, new me. Right? Well, only if I take control of my career.

There are two major areas that need improvement in 2020-2021:

1) Latin. I need to have Latin proficiency by the time I defend my dissertation two years from now, otherwise I will never be an adequate Renaissance scholar. I’ve taken four semesters and one summer of Latin, so I technically should have an intermediate level of proficiency. Unfortunately, I never practice. How ironic that the one Western language that the general public dismisses as “dead” and “irrelevant” is the same language that I DESPERATELY need to know!

2) Writing. I feel like I have the same writing weaknesses that I had when I started the PhD program three years ago. I know that a regular writing practice would help, but I haven’t established one yet.

So what am I going to differently this year?

I’ve realized in the past week that I’m still in “student mode”. I haven’t yet acted on what I know will advance my career.

For starters, I will stop thinking of myself as a student and start thinking of myself as a scholar, even an entrepreneur. The academic job market may be a garbage fire, but the skills that universities look for in job candidates differ little from the skills that other businesses look for in their employees. Writing and project management are just as important in the corporate world as they are in Academia. If I focus on being a scholar who’s reasonably competitive on the job market, I will inevitably develop the skills I need to be marketable in other industries. No one, not even professors, care how many years someone has been a student.

This year, I will think of myself as and perform the tasks of an educator and a scholar. I will reflect on my teaching, develop new lessons, learn Latin, and implement a regular writing practice. I will do all of these things because they are the activities that matter the most to my current PhD and my future career (whether inside or outside Academia).


Classics Club Spin #24

Yay for another Classics Club Spin!! So I’ve noticed that most clubbers double up on numbers to increase their odds of having a certain book picked. So this time, I will only have 10 different books on my list, rather than 20. These are all chunksters because I want to get them off my TBR. They take up much room in my apartment.

1-2 The Aeneid by Virgil (trans. Allen Mandelbaum)

The Aeneid of Virgil, 35th Anniversary Edition by Virgil ...

3-4 East of Eden John Steinbeck

10 Books to Read: "East of Eden" — DIG MAG

5-6 Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Barnaby Rudge

7-8 The Odyssey by Homer (trans. Emily Wilson)

Amazon.com: The Odyssey (9780393089059): Homer, Wilson, Emily: Books

9-10 A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

Amazon.com: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century eBook ...

11-12 La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal

La Chartreuse de Parme (French Edition) - Kindle edition by ...

13-14 Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede (trans. Leo Sherley-Price)

Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin Classics ...

15-16 Jehan de Saintré by Antoine de la Sale (trans. Michel Quereuil)

Jehan de Saintre (Ldp Let.Gothiq.) (French Edition): De La Sale, A ...

17-18 None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War by Robert Leckie

None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War: Leckie ...

19-20 Angel in the Whirlwind by Benson Bobrick

Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution by ...

These American histories are old enough that I will count them as classics in the history genre. I might be stretching the rules a bit…

Have you read any of these?


My All-Time Favorite French & Francophone Books

I realize that I have never posted a list of my all-time favorite French and Francophone works. As a PhD student in French literature, this is a huge oversight. These books are in loose, chronological order (by century). My favorite book, though, will always be Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I made videos for The Knight of the Cart, The Regrets, Montaillou, and The Red and the Black. The other links are to written reviews on this blog.

1. Aucassin et Nicolette (Aucassin and Nicolette) by Anonymous [12th/13th c.]
2. Yvain, ou le chevalier au lion (Yvain, or the Knight of the Lion) by Chrétien de Troyes [12th c.]
3. Le Chevalier de la charrette (The Knight of the Cart) by Chrétien de Troyes
4. Abraham sacrifiant (The Tragedy of Abraham’s Sacrifice) by Théodore de Bèze [16th c.]
5. Les Regrets (The Regrets) by Joachim du Bellay [16th c.]
6. Le Cid (The Cid) by Pierre Corneille [17th c.]
7. Dom Juan, ou le festin de pierre (Don Juan) by Molière [17th c.]
8. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman) by Molière
9. Phèdre (Phedrus) by Racine [17th c.]
10. Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard (A Game of Love and Chance) by Marivaux [18th c.]
11. Lettres persanes (Persian Letters) by Montesquieu [18th c.]
12. Père Goriot (Father Goriot) by Honoré de Balzac [19th c.]
13. Le Colonel Chabert (Colonel Chabert) by Honoré de Balzac
14. Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal [19th c.]
15. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand [19th c.]
16. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [20th c.]
17. Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
18. Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) by Georges Bernanos [20th c.]
19. Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain-Fournier [20th c.]
20. L’Amour, la fantasia (Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade) by Assia Djebar [20th c.]
21. Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) by Aimé Césaire [20th c.]
22. La Place (The Place) by Annie Ernaux [20th c.]
23. La Symphonie pastorale (The Pastoral Symphony) by André Gide [20th c.]
24. Montaillou by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (history) [20th c.]
25. Réparer les vivants (Repair the Living / The Heart) by Maylis de Kerangal [21st c.]


20 Books of Summer

20 Books of Summer is hosted by Cathy @746 books. All of the French-language books on this list are on my PhD exam, which I will be taking at the end of August. You will also notice that there are two major themes in this list: the history of the Reformation and racial justice. My research is on accounts of heresy trials and massacres in 16th-century France and Geneva (pleasant, I know). The books on racial justice will help me understand the current moment. Since reading The New Jim CrowI’ve been very interested in learning more about racism in the US justice system. As you can tell, I have a broad interest in justice systems, whether in 16th-century Europe or in 21st-century America.

1. Les Tragiques by Agippa d’Aubigné

Les Tragiques by Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné

An epic of the Wars of Religion, written by a Calvinist soldier.

2. Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (currently reading on by Booktube channel)

Notre-Dame de Paris - Victor Hugo - Payot

I need to know how this story differs from the Disney version. I expect a radically different plot.

3. The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

The Architect's Apprentice: Amazon.co.uk: Shafak, Elif ...

Historical fiction set in 16th-century Istanbul. I have never read a story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, I don’t know very much about the Ottomans.

4. W ou le souvenir d’enfance by Georges Perec

W ou le souvenir d'enfance | Fahrenheit 451

An imaginative autobiography of Georges Perec. It’s an experimental work.

5. L’Amant by Marguerite Duras


I’m not usually into love stories, but The Lover is super famous, and it’s on my exam list.

6. Le Bleu du ciel by Georges Bataille

Le Bleu du Ciel | Lisez!

I don’t really look forward to this one since there are evidently some unpleasant sex scenes, but it’s on my list.

7. L’amour la fantasia by Assia Djebar

L'Amour, la fantasia (Le Livre De Poche): Amazon.de: Djebar, Assia ...

Djebar was an Algerian writer whose novels explored the female Muslim experience in Algeria.

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Adams, Douglas ...

This will be a fun, escapist read. I really look forward to this.

9. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption (English Edition ...

Bryan Stevenson was the defense attorney for an innocent Black man on death row.

10. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools: Amazon.co ...

1/3 of all girls arrested at school are Black. This book explores this phenomenon.

11. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – ESCA CancerSupport

Cell research has saved lives, but science can be racist. Henrietta Lacks was a poor Black woman, whose cells were taken without her permission and used to generate the first human cell cultures. Her cells have transformed genetics, but they were acquired without her consent.

12. The Armenian Book of Prayer (a.k.a. The Book of Lamentations) by Gregory of Narek (trans. Thomas J. Samuelian)

The Armenian Prayer Book of St. Gregory of Narek: Narekatsi, St ...

Gregory of Nark was an 11th-century Armenian Christian. His Book of Lamentations is a spiritual bestseller among Armenian Christians. I first heard about him when he was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. Evidently, his poems speak a lot about suffering. Sounds appropriate.

13. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Bryan N. Massingale

Racial Justice and the Catholic Church: Massingale, Bryan N ...

I want to read Fr. Massingale’s book on racial justice in the Catholic Church before watching his interview with America magazine.

14. Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery by Katie Walker Grimes

Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery ...

Canonization is political. It’s not just a statement about a person’s sanctity but a call to imitation. Official Saints are canonized because they embody certain Catholic values. However, Grimes insists that some of these saints promote a White savior narrative at best and perpetuate racial injustice at worst.

15. Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life by Philippe Girard (reading in June)

Amazon.com: Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life ...

In 1791, Toussaint Louverture led the only successful slave rebellion in history. Thanks to his leadership and the courage of his fellow slaves, Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804. This book is a biography of Toussaint Louverture.

16. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Amazon.com: Don't Call Us Dead: Poems (9781555977856): Smith ...

This is a poetry collection about racism, anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and police brutality. Danez Smith is a nonbinary Black poet. I don’t often read modern poetry, but this collection has been almost universally praised for its rawness.

17. Trent: What Happened at the Council by John W. O’Malley

Trent: What Happened at the Council: O'Malley, John W ...

I need a run-down of the what happened at Trent. John W. O’Malley, my favorite Jesuit historian, has me covered.

18. War Against the Idols by Carlos Eire

War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to ...

Iconoclasm was religious and political. It was particularly widespread in Switzerland (first in Zurich, then in Berne and Geneva). Taking down statues is nothing new. Indeed, it is one of the oldest means of protest.

19. Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott

Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution: Stott, Rebecca ...

Isaac Newton said that he stood on the shoulders of giants. So did Charles Darwin. Rebecca Stott tells the story of those who helped plant the seeds of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

20. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes: Egan, Dan: 9780393246438 ...

I am from the Great Lakes region (Cleveland). Non-Ohioans love refering to Cleveland as the “mistake on the lake”. But why was the Cuyahoga River on fire? The lake may not be as visibly polluted as it once was but Dan Egan reminds us that environmental degradation is a widespread problem in the Great Lakes region. Invasive species (such as Zebra mussels) have decimated native populations and destroyed the ecosystem.


Escapist/Comfort Reading Recommendation

I don’t need to tell you why a list like this is necessary at the moment. If I could reread Anne of Green Gables for the next three months, I would. Unfortunately, I have too many books on my physical TBR here in Geneva that I need to get to before I move back to the US.

These books are in no particular order. They are all fantastic, escapist reads.

1. Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery: 9780553213133: Amazon.com ...

I never expected this book to be so good. I read it for the first time in 2014 because I thought the book would be twee and superficial. Boy was I wrong! Anne Shirley is one of the most relatable female protagonists. If you want lifelike characters in a cosy setting, Anne of Green Gables is a must read.

2. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Heidi (Illustrated) (English Edition) eBook: Spyri, Johanna, Smith ...

Since I am currently living in Switzerland, I must mention Heidi. If you like twee, this is definitely the book for you. I found Heidi a bit too precious at times but the setting is breathtaking. I can’t dislike a book set in the Alps.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & MR Norrell von Susanna Clarke. Bücher | Orell ...

If you are looking for a historical fantasy with a gothic vibe, I highly recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr NorrellSusanna Clarke is a master storyteller. The two title magicians are polar opposites of each other, but their stories complement each other well. You can read my review here. I recommend reading the ebook because this is a chunker.

4. Any of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters

Amazon.com: A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother ...One Corpse Too Many (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael): Ellis ...Amazon.com: The Heretic's Apprentice (The Chronicles of Brother ...

I have read three of the Brother Cadfael mysteries and they have all been wonderful reads. My favorite so far has been The Heretic’s Apprentice. The series follows Brother Cadfael and the Benedictines of the 12th-century abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a former crusader of the First Crusade. When he’s not tending the abbey garden, he is investigating murders. These books are more than murder mysteries, however. Their secondary story lines are just as interesting. If I ever write a novel, it will be a historical murder mystery. My review of the first book is here.

5. Orlando Furioso by Ariosto

Matthew (Salt Lake City, UT)'s review of Orlando Furioso

This 16th-century epic is so much fun. Orlando Furioso is made up of several storylines, but the most prominent is Orlando’s obsession with Angelica. He quite literally loses his mind; his friend Adolpho flies to the moon on the back of a hippogryph to recover Orlando’s wits. This book has a wizard, magic rings, outrageous humor, and strong female characters. Orlando Furioso was Galileo’s favorite poem. It might become yours. I made a series of videos about this book on my BookTube channel “The Francophile Reader”.

6. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones

Amazon.com: The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci Books ...

This is technically the second book in the Chrestomanci series, but it can be read as a stand-alone. I hope to get to the other books in the next year because The Lives of Christopher Chant was such a fun, comfort read. Christopher Chant has nine lives, but he keeps managing to get himself killed in an alternative universe. This book has amazing world building.

7. Bone by Jeff Smith

Out from Boneville (BONE #1): Smith, Jeff: 9780439706407: Amazon ...

I don’t usually read graphic novels, but the Bone series is a feast for the eyes and the heart. The characters are so adorable. Having read most of the books, I can safely say that the story gets better and better as the series goes on. Fone, Phoney and Smiley are three cousins who are driven out of Boneville because Phoney Bone is…well…phony.

8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Keith Harrison

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (Oxford World's Classics): Helen ...

This translation was my favorite book of 2018. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is perfect from start to finish. A green knight arrives on New Year’s Day with a challenge for the knights of King Arthur’s court. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge of cutting off the green knight’s head. But the green knight doesn’t die. He picks up his head and rides away, leaving Sir Gawain to contemplate how he will maintain his end of the bargain. How will Sir Gawain survive getting his own head chopped off? This translation is remarkable! Keith Harrison manages to preserve the alliteration of the original English. To get the full experience, you should read the poem aloud.

9. Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda: Dahl, Roald, Blake, Quentin: 9780670824397: Amazon.com: Books

I was absolutely obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books as a child. No one knew more about his career than me. I could have included any of Dahl’s children’s books, but I chose Matilda because the film adaptation is equally delightful. This book also has a special place in my heart. When I was 14, I decided to read all of the books Matilda read at the age of 5. I got through many of the books on the list, but not all. It’s one of my bucket list projects to read all of the books on Matilda’s list.

10. Terre des hommes (trans. Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Best known for his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was also a mail carrier and fighter pilot during the early days of flight. He wrote several memoirs about the dangers of air travel in the 1930s. I recommend Wind, Sand and Stars because it is so hopeful. Like the pilot of the The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed in the Sahara desert. The story of his rescue is a welcome reminder that humans are capable of generosity and love. Check out my review here.