Thursday and Saturday

The view on our Thursday morning walk.

This afternoon.

This is walking and biking weather. Sitting in the backyard with a book and a mug of coffee weather. Why can’t every summer day be like this? weather. We finally saw the indigo buntings! weather. Just. Beautiful. And it’s only Saturday. Tomorrow’s forecast? Sixty-eight and partly sunny. We certainly picked a good weekend for adventuring near home.

War and Peace in seventeen weeks and other reading notes

As I’ve shared, War and Peace has always been one of those books I hope to get to… Some day! Well, Robin has developed a plan that all but ensures I will finish the tome by late October. Volume 1 of the three-volume Everyman’s Library edition (Maude translation) is in the middle of the stack pictured above, which means, yes, I now own yet another copy of War and Peace… well, two more, if you count the audiobook to which I am listening (at twice the recorded speed) while reading. For the commonplace book:

p. 4
Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part.

p. 29
“If no one fought except on his own conviction, there would be no wars, “ he said.

“And that would be splendid,” said Pierre.

p. 71
They wept because they were friends, and because they were kind-hearted, and because they – friends from childhood – had to think about such a base thing as money, and because their youth was over…. But those tears were pleasant to them both.

I am still at work on the “Shakespeare in a Year” project. In anticipation of seeing the National Theatre Live broadcast, I put Julius Caesar before Henry V; otherwise, I am on or ahead of schedule. The Sonnets remain a slog, although, at Sonnet 82, I am actually ahead of schedule. Perhaps there is no poetry in me? But, then, how I do love the plays!

From Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene iii:

“All this”? Ay, more. Fret till your proud heart break.
Go show your slaves how choleric you are
And make your bondmen tremble. Must I budge?
Must I observe you? Must I stand and crouch
Under your testy humor? By the gods,
You shall digest the venom of your spleen,
Though it do split you. For from this day forth,
I’ll use you for my mirth, yea, for my laughter,
When you are waspish.

For submitting the first log in the summer reading program, each patron receives a book. My husband gave me his turn, so I ended up with two beach reads: The Woman in Cabin 10 and All the Missing Girls, both of which were the light, quick respites I needed while recovering from a dental emergency. (All is well now.)

As did nearly everyone else, I found News of the World (Paulette Jiles) delightful. I actually began reading it via audiobook on the trip downstate to bring my daughters home for the summer. (We need two cars to move them in and out.) The narrator remained in my ear even when I turned to the book, and upon finishing, I promptly insisted that my husband choose it as his next audiobook. For the commonplace book:

p. 121
Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

p. 201

Life was not safe and nothing could make it so, neither fashionable dresses nor bank accounts.

Reading on devices troubles me, but it was the only way I could immediately access Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It (Richard V. Reeves) when I first became interested. At the halfway point, here are my commonplace entries:

There is one good reason why many Americans feel as if the upper middle class is leaving everyone else behind: They are.

Americans in the top fifth of the income distribution – broadly, households with incomes above the $112,000 mark – are separating from the rest. This separation is economic, visible in bank balances and salaries. But it can also be seen in education, family structure, health and longevity, even in civic and community life. The economic gap is just the most vivid sign of a deepening class divide.

p. 15
The big question is whether we are willing to make some modest sacrifices in order to expand opportunities for others or whether, deep down, we would rather pull up the ladder.

p. 54
The debate over college debt is lively and largely misplaced. It is lively because almost everyone involved in public discourse – scholars, journalists, politicians – went to college and has children who have done or will do so. (Almost every member of Congress has a college degree.) It is misplaced because the real problem in American higher education is not about debt, but distribution and quality. The debt problem is for people from poorer backgrounds who borrow to attend bad colleges.

Other notes: I reread Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in anticipation of the National Theatre Live broadcast. So much to press into the commonplace book, but this is destined to become a family favorite: “Martha, in my mind you’re buried in cement right up to the neck. No, up to the nose, it’s much quieter.” The Power promised more than the fragmented writing could deliver. March is one of those books that demonstrate just how important and powerful the graphic work genre is. I think I will need to reread the first three volumes of Bunker to make any sense of what is happening now. So much time passes between releases! The three four books on the bottom represent my TBRN (to be read next) pile. We’ll have to see if that plays out.

“Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special.”

From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard):

p. 51
ROS: To sum up: your father, whom you love, dies, you are his heir, you come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold before his young brother popped onto his throne and into his sheets, thereby offending both legal and natural practice. Now why exactly are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?

GUIL: I can’t imagine! (Pause.) But all that is well known, common property. Yet he sent for us. And we did come.

p. 57
ROS: Half of what he said meant something else, and the other half didn’t mean anything at all.

GUIL: Thwarted ambition—a sense of grievance, that’s my diagnosis.

ROS: Six rhetorical and two repetition, leaving nineteen, of which we answered fifteen. And what did we get in return? He’s depressed! Denmark’s a prison and he’d rather live in a nutshell’ some shadow-play about the nature of ambition, which never got down to cases, and finally one direct question which might have led somewhere, and led in fact to his illuminating claim to tell a hawk from a handsaw.

p. 60
GUIL: Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are… condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one—that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it’ll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we’d know we were lost. (He sits.) A Chinamen of the T’ang Dynasty—and, by which definition, a philosopher—dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; in his two-fold security.

p. 61
GUIL: We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

p. 63
PLAYER: […] Don’t you see?! We’re actors—we’re the opposite of people!

p. 66
PLAYER: Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special.

p. 68
GUIL: I think I have it. A man talking to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.

ROS: Or just as mad.

GUIL: Or just as mad.

ROS: And he does both.

GUIL: So there you are.

ROS: Stark raving sane.

p. 71
ROS: I wouldn’t think about it if I were you. You’d only get depressed. (Pause.) Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?

p. 72
ROS: […] They’re taking us for granted. Well, I won’t stand for it! In future, notice will be taken.

p. 79
PLAYER: […] There’s a design at work in all art—surely, you know that? Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion.

p. 80
PLAYER: […] Now if you’re going to be subtle, we’ll miss each other in the dark. I’m referring to oral tradition. So to speak.


ROS: I want a good story, with a beginning, middle and end.

“Our existence makes my eyes hurt.”

From The Book of Joan (Lidia Yuknavitch):

p. 13
It’s a perfect and terrifying consumer culture, really. His early life as a self-help guru, his astral rise as an author revered by millions worldwide, then overtaking television — that puny propaganda device on Earth — and finally, the seemingly unthinkable, as media became a manifested room in your home, he overtook lives, his performances increasingly more violent in form. His is a journey from opportunistic showman, to worshipped celebrity, to billionaire, to fascistic power monger. What was left? When the Wars broke out, his transformation to sadistic military leader came as no surprise.

We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.

Our existence makes my eyes hurt.

People are forever thinking that the unthinkable can’t happen. If it doesn’t exist in thought, then in can’t exist in life. And then, in the blink of an eye, in a moment of danger, a figure who takes power from our weak desires and failures emerges like a rib from sand. […] Some strange combination of a military dictator and spiritual charlatan. A war-hungry mountebank. How stupidly we believe in our petty evolutions. Yet another case of something shiny that entertained us and then devoured us. We consume and become exactly what we create. In all times.

Notes from the last few weeks

Baltimore Oriole.

The orioles arrived before May concluded, but we have not yet espied the indigo buntings — in the yards or on the bike trail. And now it is June. In fact, it is fiercely June: The rains abruptly concluded about ten days ago, and the grass, which has assumed a slightly o’ercooked tan-green hue, sighs, “More water, please,” as it crunches underfoot.


We have enjoyed some terrific theater since I last wrote: Not about Nightingales at the Raven, Pass Over at Steppenwolf, and Great Expectations, a Remy Bumppo and Silk Road Rising collaboration.

We had not been to the Raven since All My Sons in 2014. The excellent performances in Nightingales, an early and uneven Tennessee Williams work, ensured that we will make returning a priority.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Pass Over (which features ensemble member Jon Michael Hill — popularly recognizable for his Elementary gig) leans heavily but effectively on the structure of its chief influence, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and its leads, Hill and Julian Parker, deliver compelling, get-out-your-chair-and-applaud performances. (Added bonus: Hill and Parker are Illini!) If you’re in the area, you should see this one.

You should also see the collaboration of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, in which Pip’s “great expectations” take him from his small Indian village to colonized Calcutta. (More information here; review here.)

We also saw the National Theatre Live broadcast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. Catch a rebroadcast, if you can.

Do you listen to podcasts? Our drive in and out of Chicago yesterday was punctuated by the first three episodes of S-Town. Fans of both seasons of Serial, we all agree Brian Reed’s narrative style outstrips that of Sarah Koenig: Hers were great stories adequately told; his is a good story well told.

That said, the spoiler-ish “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?” (The Atlantic, April 9) has made. me. think.

Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption of thousands or millions of listeners. ­­S-Town may be a groundbreaking new kind of podcast; it also, like many poems, memoirs, and articles before it, confesses other people’s pain in a public—and at times questionable—way.

Speaking of episodes, my husband and I must catch up on 8 and 9 of The Handmaid’s Tale before the finale this week. (I hope you’re all watching.)

When I’m not watching (or backyard birding or biking or writing or…), I am, of course, reading, and my participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going particularly well. In fact, finishing The Rape of Lucrece early last month put me ahead of schedule. My remarks on the poem:

Last year, I read Cymbeline in anticipation of seeing a Shakespeare Project of Chicago production; and more recently, I stumbled on a film that imagines Cymbeline as a conflict between a motorcycle gang and corrupt police. As I read The Rape of Lucrece, then, I was immediately reminded of the Posthumus, Iachimo, and Imogen storyline.

Fundamentally, the similarity between Imogen’s story and Lucrece’s, the origins of both of which are ancient, is that their husbands publicly rhapsodize on their beauty and chastity — and thus, embolden their listeners. The husbands’ lack of circumspection leads to the violation of their wives. What a theme, eh? The listener in Cymbeline is Iachimo, who spends an uncomfortable amount of time ogling Imogen as she sleeps before stealing a trinket. He later lies about enjoying her bed. In The Rape of Lucrece, the listener is Tarquin, who also leers at the slumbering wife before violating her.

On hearing Iachimo’s false claims, a jealous Posthumus arranges for Imogen’s death. Of course, when the duplicity is uncovered at the conclusion of the play, Posthumus and Imogen are reunited. Yes, I am aware that we are readers “out of time,” so to speak, but I remain as horrified by their rekindled relationship as I am by that of Hero and Claudio in Much Ado. (Would that Benedict had killed Claudio, but, then, that’s not a comedy, is it?) How does the idea that one’s partner wished her dead inform the union?


Unlike Imogen, who is initially unaware of the attack on her reputation, the raped Lucrece determines to tell her story and name her attacker. That she sees death as the only release from her shame resonates in this, a month in which many are talking about a television show that depicts the rape and suicide of a high school student who, with her recorded note, tells her story and names her attacker. Shame transcends time, apparently, as do jealousy, lechery, and sexual violence.


In one of those moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, we visited the Art Institute not long after I had finished the poem and posted to the “Shakespeare in a Year” group. Now Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, always unsettling, is forever stitched to my reading.

More soon.