Reading notes

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read ten books, for a total of 212. I am currently reading Ruth Klüger’s Still Alive, “an unforgiving memoir of growing up Jewish in Nazi-occupied Vienna and escaping death in a concentration camp.” (NYT, October 16, 2020)

Lakewood (Megan Giddings; 2020. Fiction.) LIB
Terrific premise; lackluster prose. Review here.

Disappearing Earth (Julia Phillips; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This, on the other hand, was gorgeously told. Review here.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler; 1993. Fiction.) RFS
Ordered the sequel after only three chapters. Related article about this prescient novel here.

On Immunity: An Inoculation (Eula Biss; 2014. Non-fiction.) ATY
The following passage (Chicago Tribune; September 1, 2020) prompted me to pick up some of Biss’ work:

To read Eula Biss is to remind yourself that you are relatively illiterate, have never had a clear thought in your life, can’t compose a decent sentence if you tried and should probably just shut up and go into marketing already. Or so I’ve heard. Is this the smartest writer in the Chicago area right now, on this day, in the late summer of 2020? Years ago, before Aleksandar Hemon left Chicago to teach at Princeton University, there may have been an argument. This is a parlor game, after all. But still, who else in the Chicago area, sentence for sentence, thought for thought, writes with more confidence, accessibility and provocation than Eula Biss?

For a number of (perhaps obvious) reasons, I began with On Immunity. She’s remarkable. Review here; interview here.

Theory of Bastards (Audrey Schulman; 2014. Fiction.) RFS
Review here. No question, one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Devolution (Max Brooks; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
Well, it’s no World War Z, but it was a pleasant enough evening of reading. Review here.

New Boy (Tracy Chevalier; 2017. Fiction.) RFS
Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, this retelling of Othello is set in an elementary school. While some may think the premise strains credulity , I think it works well, almost too well.

Miracle Creek (Angie Kim; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This appeared on a number of best-of lists last year. While I thought it was an engaging courtroom drama, I’m not sure it reached the heights its appearance on those lists suggests.

Class Trip (Emmanuel Carrère; 1999. Fiction.) RFS
The last time I was this unsettled by a work of fiction was on rereading Turn of the Screw.

Fen (Caryl Churchill; 1983. Drama.) ATY
Read to prepare for the third “Theatre & Thought” series presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago, Caryl Churchill’s Fen and the Dramaturgical Process.

Old school

Over the weekend, we inventoried the Christmas decorations. As I’ve mentioned before, Christmas is not my favorite. My daughters relish the holidays, but since we adopted Rosie (a.k.a., the “crazy cat”), the ornaments we began accumulating in 1986 and the pretty tree I purchased when we moved to the forever home have remained in the attic. Now that my daughters have a place of their own, it seemed like the right time to pass Christmas along to folks who will give it a proper home.

While we were up in the attic, my husband and I ended up tidying — donating a number of items, discarding a few others, and, as in the case of my old camera kit, bringing some things back into the house proper.

The Minolta X-700, a Christmas gift in 1983, was a regular companion until about 2002, but after I received my first digital camera, well, it didn’t get out much… and then it ended up in the attic. When my interest in photography waned a few years ago, I took fewer and fewer photos, until I eventually began making do with the just the iPhone or iPad. Good enough, I reasoned.

As I unpacked the kit, though, I remembered the reliably wonderful images the Minolta yielded. Perhaps with too large a dose of nostalgia and too little of reality, I fondly recalled waiting for photos to be developed, wondering if I’d accurately captured this expression or that mood. So I ordered some film and some A76 batteries.

Maybe I can make a bit of holiday magic.

How’s the weather?

It’s been two weeks since it last rained. In that time, our weather has swung from snow to sun, from overnight frost to temperatures in the high seventies. Most folks we’ve encountered on our daily walks over the last week have remarked on the beautiful weather. My husband and I love autumn and winter proper — cold nights, short days, and all — but we nodded and waved: Yes, lovely. Weather talk is, after all, simply an acknowledgment that we’ve seen one another, a verbal wave.

Although… when we homeschooled, our family kept logs of the weather and temps, listened to Tom Skilling’s extended radio segment, and regularly reviewed ten-day forecasts. My daughters even took a meteorology course at the local college. Weather colored our days and interested us enough to learn about it, to weave it into our narrative. Even now, we regularly compare predictions and daily high and low temperatures. Weather talk is, of course, a way to bridge the distance, a verbal hug.

Weekend companions

Today, a day on which it feels as if we have an “extra” hour, seemed like a good day to negotiate the timed entries, curbside pickup lines, and security checkins required to complete several errands, so we sallied forth after walking four miles, finishing chores, and assuring the cats that, yes, we would return. At the highway entrance on one of the main routes into the large town in which our activities were centered, the light turned green, but traffic halted abruptly in the wake of sirens and lights. A funeral? we wondered, as a long line of cars streamed off the highway. We then noticed the political flags and recognized that it was not a police vehicle barring our way but a member of the group in a vehicle outfitted with sirens and lights. Little surprises me (well, any of us, right?) these days, but that display of aggression, intimidation, and entitlement shook me.

Because reading is how I breathe

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read twelve books, for a total of 202. With more than two months remaining in the year, it is possible that I will blow through my goal (revised thrice: from 104 to 120 to 156 to 208).

Leopoldstadt (Tom Stoppard; 2020. Drama.)
Read to prepare for Deep Dive: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago.

The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (Wole Soyinka; 1973. Drama.)
Read to prepare for the second “Theatre & Thought” series, Euripides’ The Bacchae and Contemporary Adaptations.

Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith; 1950. Fiction.)
It is hard to believe this brooding, accomplished thriller was her first novel. Related article here.

Solitary (Albert Woodfox; 2019. Non-fiction.)
Review here.

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Milton Mayer; 1959 (2017 edition). Non-fiction.)
Excerpt here. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller; 1949. Drama.)
Reread after watching the stream of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production directed by Goodman Theatre’s Robert Falls.

The Bear (Andrew Krivak; 2020. Fiction.)
As I said to my husband, it is well written and engaging but not as special as the many recommendations had led me to believe.

Who Do You Love (Jennifer Weiner; 2015. Fiction.)
Once in a while, I just need some mental M&Ms.

Survival: Another Story, Vol. 1 (Takao Saito; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
Family Tree, Vol. 2: Seeds (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
I no longer remember who pressed Survival on me, but it was worth the time; and I’m not certain where Family Tree is heading, which is a compliment of sorts.

Don’t Call Us Dead (Danez Smith; 2017. Poetry.)
Reviews here and here.

It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis; 1936. Fiction.)
Read in anticipation of this. Review of the production here.