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I always end up being tagged in these things, because I’m just not that tuned into the online book world. But one day I WILL find a tag before chelsandabook.

In the meantime, ten books with the time and place I read them.

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom – (Heartstone from the same Shardlake Series stands in for it in the photo because it’s currently loaned to my Dad’s reading pile). A dorm room book set in the period, city, and building that I was studying, living in, and working from at the time. Which is probably the only reason I took a risk on it. Set in Henrician York, the action takes place around the King’s Manor. So I had an incredible time recognizing the landmarks in the book, and checking out the gates and bars of the city (in York, a street is a gate, and a gate is a bar) that I hadn’t wandered down yet.

The Story Of England And The Empire by John Wood & Aileen Garland – Old books have a way of intruding into your life because they’re just so different. This is a 1950s Ontario history textbook and I have no idea how it ended up in our house. But I read it, and re-read it, and read it again from at least late elementary school and beyond in Toronto. Today, it’s seriously out of date, seriously kings-and-great-men history, and seriously jingoistic – perhaps even borderline racist and sexist. But it’s that cliché book that truly inspired my love of history. History had never been so exciting. Never had a narrative that flowed from century to century. And never made so much sense (so I guess it’s also pretty teleological).

All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – Everyone has a book that seem like they’ve been with them forever. You can’t remember the first time you read it. This is one of those books for me. I’m fairly certain I found it at the North York Public Library during my early high school years. I was reading a lot of triumphalist British history, and this was the first book that opened my eyes to the horror of war and the story from the German side. Today when I read it, I think about how young its characters are and that I’ve luckily made it to my thirties when they mainly didn’t.

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf – Ever miss school? I did. I read this in a year off between degrees while living in London…Ontario. At the time my then fiancée was in teacher’s college, we didn’t have cable, so after a shift at the book store I decided to go for a little intellectual self-improvement. The book is exactly what it says. A collection of primary documents that upends traditional stories by telling them from an unfamiliar point of view.

Augustine Of Hippo by Peter Brown – I distinctly remember this because it’s a book that physically scarred me. Turns out that paper reflects sun pretty well, so if you read in a deck chair in the sun in the Dominican Republic for two long, you will end up with a v-shaped sunburn on your chest where you held the book open.

The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene – We all mean to go back and read those high school books that we never got around to. I found this in a library in England about seven years ago while desperately searching for something other than medieval history to read. And thought, “Why not?” Now I resent my teachers for not being enthusiastic enough about it.

War And Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Third attempt made in Cuba in 2007. Got half way through. So I figure in about a decade, and four more attempts I’ll finish the damn thing.

The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich by William Shirer – Ever tried to read a book in public with a giant swastika on the cover? It’s worse than reading Fifty Shades Of Grey. So this one ended up covered in brown paper. But a friend and I buddy-read this at least twice in high school, normally on our respective commutes. It’s a thousand-page-plus work of history about Germany before and during the Second World War written by the CBS radio correspondent who lived in Berlin for most of that dark period.

A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Serious book readers must have weather associated books. Thus, my go to winter read because you should feel cold when you read this. Reaching back to my teenage years, I’m pretty sure I read this during one of those rare Toronto snow storms that shut down the city. Perhaps the army was called in. It also has one of the greatest opening lines in all of literature: “Bпять часов утра, как всегда, пробило подъём — молотком об рельс у штабного барака.” (Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 A.M. – a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ.)

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young – If you have kids in your life, you’ll always remember the first books you read to them. My daughter wasn’t even six months old, still just a giggling, squirming ball whose special skill was laying down all day. But I read this over and over because the voices and actions always got a great reaction. It’s also when I realized I was the sort of Dad who could do voices and actions!

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