Sunday, April 29, 2018

Giveaway Winner!

After the giveaway time window closed last night, I (or rather, the forces of chance) chose a winner for The Dean's Watch, and it is:


who said,
Well, honestly, I don't know enough about the different places to make a choice. I've heard the most about Oxford, so maybe one of the other places. I don't know. I've just recently discovered Elizabeth Goudge and have only read a couple of her works for children, so I'd like a chance to read something else. Thanks! 
Congratulations, JDeb, and I hope you really enjoy The Dean's Watch!  Thanks so much to Hendrickson Publishers for providing the prize, and for keeping some of Elizabeth Goudge's lovely novels in print. 

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year's anniversary!  I hope to be more on the ball next year and do a little more publicity.  See you next time?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pan Tadeusz

 Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania, by Adam Mickiewicz

It's the Polish national epic poem!  Also the last great European epic poem, if you believe the comments.  I guess there weren't a lot of epic poems written after 1834, so it's probably fair enough.  It's twelve books long and was written in Polish alexandrines, but my translation is just prose.  It ends up reading like a rather odd novel.  Adam Mickiewicz was a poet and philosopher, and he was living in exile in Paris when he wrote this; otherwise the Russians would never have allowed it to be published.  At the time of writing, Poland had been partitioned into three pieces and shared out between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, but the story takes place at a time when Napoleon had interrupted that partition and established a Duchy of Warsaw.  Note, though, that the geographic area in the story is always called Lithuania.  It's the name of the region, not of the country, and not political.  It's confusing to a modern reader!

The story is set in 1811 (for five days) and 1812 (just two days).  The background is that the Poles in a village in the Russian sector, oppressed by the Muscovites, are placing great hope in the imminent arrival of Napoleon's conquering army.  They plan to join up, fight for Polish independence, and become part of a real Polish state.  But in the foreground, we have two feuding families, the Horezkos and the Soplicas.  Pan Tadeusz is the young heir to the Soplicas; his father, a famous fighter, is disgraced and missing.  Zosia is a maiden of the Horezko family.  Their union would end the feud, but meanwhile everybody wants to fight the Russians.

The poem starts off small and focused, and with every book, the scope becomes larger.  We start at a farm, move to a castle, then the village, and a battle, until the fate of all Poland is involved.  In 1811, in just a few days, Tadeusz arrives, inspires a real fight between the families, and falls for Zosia (after some mis-steps).  Everybody is dying to fight the Russians and they all go off sort of half-cocked for a small battle -- "the last foray in Lithuania."  After things calm down a bit, Tadeusz and Zosia are betrothed, and off he goes to the wars.  A year later, they celebrate the marriage with great hopes for the future, but portents show that it's not going to be that way.

All things Polish and homely are celebrated; this is an early example of the nationalism that grew in European nations in the 19th century, starting off with folk music and literature, and which quite soon turned into ethnic hatred.  At one point, Tadeusz chastises the fashionably Italian-minded Count:

Is not our honest birch tree fairer, which is like a village woman weeping for her son, or a widow for her husband, who wrings her hands and lets fall over her shoulders to the ground the stream of her loose tresses?  Mute with grief, how eloquently she sobs with her form!  Count, if you are in love with painting, why do you not paint our own trees, among which you are sitting?

The Pole, though famous among the nations because he loves his native land more than life, is nevertheless always prepared to abandon it, and to travel to the ends of the earth, to live long years in poverty and contempt, struggling with men and with fate -- so long as amid the storm there shines upon him this hope, that he is serving the Fatherland.
And of course nationalism had to involve a whole lot of anti-Semitism; Pan Tadeusz certainly has a bit of that too, mostly in using common idioms.  Then there are local Jews in the story, who are sometimes treated with fondness and respect, but always as strangers and not-Poles.   (The illustration above is of the wedding party, where Zosia begs the elderly Jew Jankiel to play the dulcimer for her.)

This is one of those books that has inspired a whole constellation of things without you ever knowing about it until you read it and discover.   The story of Pan Tadeusz has been illustrated and painted many times.  There was a movie made in 1999, which I would very much like to see!  There is a Pan Tadeusz vodka, a play, and everything else.

From the movie.  Check out that helmet!

Friday, April 27, 2018

CC Spin: And So Flows History

And So Flows History, by Hahn Moo-Souk

The three-generational family epic is, I think, quite a popular kind of story, and it's not one that I usually read.  I kind of have a feeling that it may be really popular in Korean media!  This novel is a classic and very popular example of the genre, but it's also an unusual one.  The family saga is kind of messy, I guess I would say -- it's realistic.  The family members are all over the place.  And the whole story starts with a rape.

Near the end of the 19th century, as the Chosun dynasty is waning, the Cho family is one of middling wealth and importance.  The head of the family, Tongjun, takes advantage of everyone's absence at a festival and rapes Puyong, a young household slave girl, which produces a daughter and ruins Puyong's plans.  From there we launch into a complex story involving the Cho extended family, the fortunes of several family servants, and the Cho in-laws, the Yi family.  Most of the Chos do not do all that well; one son is intelligent but weak, another honors tradition without understanding it.   Their sister marries into the Yi family, which in contrast appears to discard tradition but in fact honors it much more by acting rightly.   Cho fortunes mostly fall, the servants scatter and take advantage of changing times, and the Yi brothers sacrifice themselves for the right, which in turn inspires a ne'er-do-well Cho cousin to dedicate himself to the cause of Korean independence.

Nearly all of this takes place under the shadow of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which began in 1910 and ended in 1945.   It is sometimes difficult for a Western reader to follow the allusions to historical events; they can be subtle, so it might be a good idea to spend a few minutes reading about Korea from the 1890s on.  The Korean Empire became a Japanese protectorate in 1905, with annexation following in 1910. 

This is a highly patriotic novel, written in 1948, just after the end of the occupation (the story stops in 1945 and does not address subsequent political tensions).  The heroes sacrifice themselves for the cause of Korean independence, and the weasely characters collaborate with their occupiers.  Other good characters work for Korean independence too, often by gaining education and benefiting other Koreans.  The place to go for that education may well be Japan, but it's important to gain the education without absorbing Japanese ideas about their superiority.

A startling element of the patriotism (for me, anyway) was that Hahn has no compunction about describing the Japanese occupiers in quite vindictive terms.  While a modern novelist would probably describe the actions without using the narrative voice to, I guess, pass judgement, Hahn has no hesitation whatever in using harsh language about Japanese soldiers and officials.  This is perfectly understandable, of course; it's just that the modern reader doesn't expect it.

Hahn Moo-Sook was actually a young mother of several children (at least 4; a 1951 photo shows her with 5 children) when she decided to enter a newspaper's writing contest.  I haven't been able to find out just how long it took her to write this novel, but apparently it was on the fast side.  She won the contest and the book was printed serially.  I must say, I'm pretty impressed.  Imagine living in a post-war Korea, on the brink of another war, with children to care for, and writing a fairly long and complex novel. 

I actually finished the novel a few weeks ago, but am now writing the post just as North and South Korean leaders are meeting each other and signing peace agreements -- a development that strikes me as just as stunning as the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly 30 years ago.  Seems like a good time to read a Korean novel; why not give this one a try?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Blog's Name in Books

I saw this fun game this morning at o's On Bookes and promptly had to do it, despite the many other more pressing bloggy duties awaiting me.  So here we go, Howling Frog Books spelled out in books from my TBR pile.  This game was invented by Fictionophile!

The rules:
1. Spell out your blog’s name. 
2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your Goodreads TBR)
3. Have fun!  
I don't really have a Goodreads TBR -- I don't use it in the proper way at all.  So I went and looked at my actual, physical TBR shelf:

The books:

The High Book of the Grail (Perlesvaus), trans. by Nigel Bryant
The Obedience of a Christian Man, by William Tyndale
Weatherman, by somebody (it's an old library discard that intrigued me)
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Individualism and Economic Order, by F. A. Hayek
A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cosse
Germany Since the War (this would be WWI), also a random intriguing discard

Fire in the Bones, by Michael Wilcox
Resurrection, by Lev Tolstoy
The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
True Grit, by Charles Portis (my only slight cheat!)

By the Hand of Mormon, by Terryl Givens
Over the Gate, by Miss Read
Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
Kappa, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo

O did the game with her CC list, which is also a great idea that now I would like to do.  Maybe next week!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Elizabeth Goudge Day: The Readalong

Jorie now has her signup post for the readalong up, so by all means go sign up!  For a taste of what awaits you, here is a lovely blog post written by Maggie Swofford at the publisher: Joy and Sorrow (and Everything In Between) in Elizabeth Goudge's Novels.

The readalong will be for two weeks, from now until May 8th.  Hope you'll join us!

Elizabeth Goudge Day: The Master Post

Greetings, fellow Elizabeth Goudge readers!  (Or prospective readers; we're looking for new club members!)  This is the Master Post for Elizabeth Goudge Day; you can start a readalong of Towers in the Mist at Jorie Loves a Story, enter the book giveaway elsewhere on this blog, or comment here about what Goudge books you love.

I have now read most, but not all, of Goudge's adult novels and a good few of the children's stories.  I find her writing difficult to describe; most of her adult books are realistic historical or domestic stories that would be quite unremarkable mid-20th-century novels, except that a) Goudge was such a very gifted writer, and b) she had an unusual ability to write stories infused with Christianity that were nevertheless hardly ever didactic or preachy.  Her books tend to be uplifting and hopeful, giving everyone involved some redemption, even when totally undeserved.

I've looked back over my blog to see what books I have read, and it appears that I must have been reading Elizabeth Goudge longer than I had thought, since I have no posts for the first five or six books that I read.  That's too bad, because they are some of my favorites!  The first book I read was City of Bells, which I have now read twice and never reviewed properly.  Then I tried Pilgrim's Inn -- the middle book of the Eliot trilogy, and my favorite of the three.  Of the children's books, I started with The Little White Horse, a lovely work that really ought to be much better known, and Linnets and Valerians, which reminds me of E. Nesbit.

Here are some links to former posts I've written about Goudge novels:

Gentian Hill:   Fear, and the overcoming of it, is Goudge's main theme.  Zachary is not the only one who has to face his fears and work through them, but his ordeal takes the foreground.

The Rosemary Tree:  We have John and Daphne, a married couple who need to connect better, their three daughters (each with her own story), the girls' school teachers, Daphne's former fiance (fresh out of prison), a great-aunt who lives on a small estate, and John's old nanny.  All of their stories intertwine to produce a really lovely novel about second chances that uplifts but is never sticky or saccharine.  I didn't know that anyone could write novels like this anymore.

Green Dolphin Street:  Goudge was really quite a genius at taking a hackneyed old plot like "two sisters in love with the same man" and turning it into something unexpected, fresh, and redemptive.  She did it pretty often.   Here, the three protagonists have long, troubled roads, and their lives turn out otherwise than expected, but they are also all engaged in a lifelong work of saving each other.  There is a lot about love, and what that really means.  Is it necessary to be married to your true love?  What if you are not?  What is marriage meant to do, and what work should it accomplish?  Are there other ways to love and do good?  How do we each find our life's work?  Goudge's answers to most of these questions are very, very different than you'd get from almost any other novelist.

The Valley of Song: It's an unusual story, that's for sure, combining a fantasy tour of all creation, a love of one particular English village, and a deep belief in the possibility of redemption for everyone, no matter how lost they feel. 

Please tell me about YOUR reading of Elizabeth Goudge novels and what your favorites are!

Elizabeth Goudge Day: the Giveaway Post!

Luckily for us, Hendrickson Publishers has generously offered a copy of The Dean's Watch for our

COMMENT ON THIS POST TO ENTER, and I will choose a winner with the help of on Saturday, April 28.  The rules are at the bottom of the post.

The Dean's Watch is one of the Cathedral Trilogy, which seem to bear no particular relation to each other except that each is set in a cathedral town and has a lot to do with said cathedral.  Towers in the Mist is set in Elizabethan Oxford, The Dean's Watch in Victorian disguised-Ely, and City of Bells in Edwardian disguised-Wells.  (City of Bells even kicks off a different trilogy, with two children's stories to round it out!)

What's it about?  Let's ask the publisher:
A compelling saga of an unlikely friendship threaded together by redemption and grace

The setting is a remote mid-nineteenth-century town in England and its grand cathedral. The cathedral Dean, Adam Ayscough, holds a deep love for his parishioners and townspeople, but he is held captive by an irrational shyness and intimidating manner. The Dean and Isaac Peabody, an obscure watchmaker who does not think he or God have anything in common, strike up an unlikely friendship. This leads to an unusual spiritual awakening that touches the entire community. (Hendrickson)

I read The Dean's Watch three years ago for Elizabeth Goudge Week (hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review), and it promptly became a favorite.  I commented:
An interesting thing in a Goudge novel is that virtually no one, no matter how villainous, gets a comeuppance.  Nobody gets what they deserve; they invariably get something much better, and even the most awful people get some easing of their burdens, some way to be softened and become a bit better.  They don't usually repent completely and become wonderful people--she's more realistic than that even when writing a fairy tale. 
I also learned about Ely Cathedral from The Dean's Watch, and just a year later, I actually got to visit!   I don't think I would have known to go if I hadn't read the novel.

Comment to enter the giveaway!   In your comment, put your name and contact email, and then answer this question: You have the choice of Oxford, Ely, or Wells to visit for one day.  Which do you choose, and why?

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Binti Trilogy

Binti: Home
Binti: The Night Masquerade
by Nnedi Okorafor

 Centuries in the future, Binti is a member of the tiny Himba tribe: mathematical geniuses who specialize in producing advanced electronics, hemmed in by the much more populous and disdainful Khoush warriors.  Himba never leave home, but Binti's sole ambition is to attend Oomza University, the galactic center of learning where humans are relative new-comers.  She has little time to dwell on the risk she is taking as the ship carrying her to Oomza is attacked by the Meduse, a jellyfish-like race locked in war with the Khoush.

Through three books, Binti tries to make sense of her situation, which gets ever more complex, as the Meduse, Khoush, Himba and Desert People converge.  Binti may be able to play peacemaker...or she may be overwhelmed by the forces of war.

These three short novellas came out about a year apart.  Together they would make up a good-sized SF novel, and I'd recommend reading them all at once now that they're all published.  I enjoyed them a lot!

You sometimes see an argument around the bookly Internet over whether non-English words should be italicized (thus sticking out as foreign) or incorporated more closely into the text (thus accepted as ordinary).  I never cared much, really, but I now cast my vote for not italicizing.  The one thing that got annoying about Binti was that Binti uses otjize, a local clay mixed with oils, all the time.  The word is italicized, and it's used so often that it becomes grating to have it highlighted every single time.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Upcoming: Elizabeth Goudge Day!

I'm excited to host Elizabeth Goudge Day on Tuesday!  Are you planning anything special to read?   Will you perhaps join a readalong of Towers in the Mist, or enter the giveaway for The Dean's Watch?  I hope to see you Tuesday!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reading All Around the World: Badges!!

Fellow travelers on the road to reading all around the world -- we now have badges!  The fantastic Esther of Chapter Adventures, who has been quite busy accomplishing an international move, also designed these images for us to use.  I just love 'em, but that might be the former Girl Scout in me.  Badges are the best.  Here you go:


I'll put them up on the Reading All Around the World project page, where you can get them any time.  As you finish reading a continent, put your badge up on your blog -- on the project page or even on your sidebar.  Anybody who finishes the entire thing should definitely put the 100% badge on a sidebar where it can be duly admired!

Thanks so much to Esther for making the images!  What do you think, folks?

Thursday, April 12, 2018


The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, by Samuel Johnson

In 1759, Doctor Johnson spent a week writing Rasselas in order to pay for his mother's funeral.  It's not really a novel; it's a meditation on whether human beings can attain happiness, in story form.  I guess that makes it a fable.  It's sometimes compared with Voltaire's Candide, which was published in the same year, because they both ask questions about the human condition.  But Candide is an angry satire about the problems of evil and suffering, so while the two works are wandering around the same neighborhood, they don't quite meet.

In Abyssinia (Ethiopia), all the children of the royal house live in the Happy Valley until such time as they are called upon to rule the country.  Rasselas the prince and his sister Nekayah have thus never seen ordinary human society; they've spent their lives in this lush valley, where luxury and constant entertainment are the rule.  Rasselas finds himself inexplicably discontented with his life, and plots with a poet/engineer/courtier, Imlac, to escape.  Nekayah and her favorite maid Pekuah insist on coming too, and so they venture out (with plenty of jewels on hand) to see the world.  Arriving in Cairo, they inspect every form of living that they can, looking for a method that will produce happiness.

Rasselas tries out philosophy (cold comfort when tragedy arrives) and dissipation.  Nekayah studies domestic family life.  They visit a hermit.  No method seems to answer.  They decide to travel and learn, which leads to Pekuah's abduction by brigands, and she has an adventure too.  At last they meet an astronomer who seems very happy -- he gets to study and everything -- but he turns out to suffer from a delusion.  Is benign madness the only happiness??  The ladies' society helps him to improve, and he then advises them of his own regrets in life.  Rasselas and his sister never do figure out how to be happy all the time.  I guess that's just not in the cards of this mortal life.

Johnson was going along a little bit with the fashion of the time for Oriental tales, but really, it's a fable that might as well be set in Illyria or Guilder.  It's not an Orientalist tale and fortunately contains almost nothing about the Mystic East.

This is such an interesting little fable, though, and it's really not long at all.  My copy is 95 pages, and so I'm wondering what the deal could be with the scan I saw of an early edition in two volumes.  They must be very, very slim volumes!  It's such an easy read that I would recommend it to anyone looking for a taste of Johnson.  I disagree with the guy in The Moving Toyshop who nominates it as an Unreadable Book:
“Let’s play ‘Unreadable Books.’”
 “All right. ‘Ulysses.’”
 “Yes. ‘Rabelais.’”
 “Yes. ‘Tristram Shandy.’”
“Yes. ‘The Golden Bowl.’” 

“Yes. ‘Rasselas.’”
 “No, I like that.”
 “Good God. ‘Clarissa,’ then.”

"Yes.  'Titus--"
"Shut up a minute.  I think I can hear someone coming." 
--The Moving Toyshop

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I Grew Up in Latvia

I Grew Up in Latvia, by Zigrid Vidners

A while back, I was at the public library and saw this book in a display of local authors.  "I could use a Latvia book for the Read Around the Whole World project!" I thought, and so here I am with a nice memoir.  It's the first of two, and covers Zigrid Vidners' life until 1944, when at the age of 18 she had to leave her Latvian homeland.  The next one talks about her subsequent experiences in a German village, refugee camp, and then England and America.  Vidners retired to my own town, which is how I know about the books at all.

Vidners describes her early childhood and surroundings with a lot of love.  She lived in Riga much of the time, with her father an officer in the Latvian army, but his real dream was to run the family farm where grandparents already lived, so summers were spent there and after a while they lived there full-time.  After the move, Vidners would go to live with an aunt during the school year.

Mother Latvia!
During her childhood years, Latvia had at last achieved independence and was thrilled about it, having spent more years in empires than it had been independent.  There were statues of Mother Latvia, and folksongs and folk art were a treasured cultural heritage.  Then the Russians invaded and simply took over, imposing communism on an unwilling populace.  Vidners writes nostalgically about the naive and stubborn resistance she and her school friends showed; they were at the perfect age to think of it as both a real way to fight a little bit, and as a game.  They soon learned that the game had serious rules, though, and Vidners' own family was in danger, as being both military and a bit bourgeois.  They were due to disappear, except the Germans invaded instead.

The Germans were almost welcome as deliverers from the Russians, and some Latvians were willing to enlist in the German army in hopes of keeping the Russians at bay.  All of the men and boys were drafted soon enough anyway, and pretty soon they found out that the Germans were using them as cannon fodder.  Vidners did not know it at the time and it isn't mentioned, but the Germans planned to cut the Latvian population in half.  She also never mentions the Latvian Jewish population -- by then she was at the farm full time and may not have known -- but they were all taken away.

Despite living through both Russian and German occupation, this is a memoir largely dedicated to life on a farm and a love of nature and solitude.  Vidners was fortunate to live on a fairly remote farm, thus escaping many of the hardships of the war, but I think she also downplays the dangers she experienced.  She is just matter-of-fact and undramatic about them.

Once the Russians started winning, Vidners' family had a lot to worry about.  Just as she was finding first love with a neighbor boy and becoming an independent young woman, it became imperative to flee.  The elderly grandparents refused to go; her father, older brother, and young man were in the army; so she, her mother, and her baby brother hopped a ship to Germany to become refugees.  As far as I can tell, none of the men made it out. 

The story ends with her leaving Latvia and continues in the next book, A Branch Without a Tree, which I now have from the library.  It's quite long though, and I'm not sure I'll have time to read it.  I really want to know what happens, though...

Monday, April 9, 2018

Announcing Elizabeth Goudge Day!

Elizabeth Goudge was born on April 24th, 1900, and for her birthday, we are going to celebrate her many lovely books!  Jorie at Jorie Loves a Story and I will be co-hosting this event.  If you've never read one of Goudge's novels, I do hope you'll pick one up and give her a try.  She's a real favorite of mine, and wrote lovely children's books as well as adult novels.  (Her Little White Horse was famously a childhood favorite of J. K. Rowling's, and it does make a great place to start!)

Jorie will be hosting a readalong of the historical novel Towers in the Mist, set in the late sixteenth century.  We've been saving our copies for this and we hope you can track one down too!

I will be hosting a giveaway of The Dean's Watch, generously donated by Hendrickson Publishers.  I also hope you'll share your reading and favorite Goudge books with us!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1!

 It's time for the first checkpoint for Bev's Mount TBR Challenge!  Bev always asks for some information:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.
I have read 8 of my proposed 24 titles and am thus 1/3 through.  However, I read a bunch of easy old SF early in the year, which bulked it up, and I can't expect to keep up that pace, so I'd better get going.

Titles read:
  1.  Early Christian Writings (a collection)
  2. The Age of Bede 
  3. The Ginger Star, by Leigh Brackett
  4. The Hounds of Skaith, by Leigh Brackett
  5. The Reavers of Skaith, by Leigh Brackett
  6. Crashing Suns
  7. Danubia, by Simon Winder
  8. The Story of Science, by Susan Wise Bauer (my guru!)

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.  
Danubia wins, hands down.  I love all the little candy-like doodles, plus it reminds me of a board game.

 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
I've mostly read non-fiction!  So I pick St. Brendan, who sailed across the north Atlantic in a coracle and visited the island of Paradise in The Age of Bede.

 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)

Crashing Suns surprised me by producing the exact same plot line 5 times, and by having such amazingly purple prose, and by its fanciful science that no one would ever write today because we know so much more about outer space, which is good, but does cut down on the opportunities to imagine nebulae as made of incredibly hot and flaming gases.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Story of Western Science

The Story of Western Science: From Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, by Susan Wise Bauer

Did you ever want to thoroughly educate yourself in the history of science?  Well, this is your book!  Some years ago, my guru SWB wrote a how-to book, The Well-Educated Mind, about giving yourself a classical education in the humanities, with chronological sections on drama, poetry, history, autobiography, and fiction.  This is a similar book, except it takes you through the history of science.

We start with the ancient Greeks and other early thinkers, move forward to the development of the scientific method, and then into sections that concentrate on the development of (respectively) geology, biology, and cosmology.  Each section is broken into chapters that explain the ideas and the thinkers, and end with recommendations on what to read.  This is a historical perspective, so she's recommending Aristotle's Physics and History of Animals, Ptolemy's Almagest, and so on right through James Gleick on chaos theory.  If you quail at the thought of reading all of Copernicus' Commentariolus, she'll point you to the most salient sections, and she has links to all the difficult-to-find (but copyright-free) texts.

Where SWB is really, really good is in taking some massive chunk of history and distilling it down to a coherent narrative, in which she highlights important developments and explains their significance.  She is a brilliant synthesizer, which is probably why CNN asked her to appear on their new series about the Pope.  There are not a lot of historians like that around right now, and she really stands out as an unusual writer and historian.

I actually had a wonderful opportunity recently to meet my guru!  She doesn't do a lot of speaking at conferences these days, but she has been doing some visits for her new book, Rethinking School, and somebody got her to Sacramento.  I took the day off work and drove down.  The first talk was her basic talk on classical education, which I know pretty much by heart, having listened to it many times on CD, and the second one was about Rethinking School and it was fantastic; everybody should listen to it.  (If your kid is having difficulty fitting into the school system, this is the book for you.  Read it now.)  So I got to meet her, be embarrassingly fangirly, and ask some questions!  Eeek!  It was great.  She was lovely.