Notes from the past two weeks

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Detail from Ken Krimstein’s graphic biography of Hannah Arendt.

📚 Today I reached 121 books read this year. Twenty-six of those are non-fiction works, which means I am only four books from my goal of thirty.

Speaking of non-fiction… from Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Ken Ilgunas):

p. 74
It never failed: When I’d gaze at the stars and the aurora, I’d see my problems for what they were. I always told myself that I’d been under the control of other forces: parents, school, work. And I’d convinced myself that my debt was to blame for everything as if I had nothing to do with contracting the debt in the first place). I hated my job even though I worked for a wonderful company. And I told myself that, because of the debt, I couldn’t travel, couldn’t go back to school, and now couldn’t even leave my room.

Part of me liked being in debt. Part of me even wanted to stay in debt, to keep going on random and expensive three-week trips to places like Ecuador so I could spend my hard-earned dollars on halfhearted adventures, instead of staying focused on what should have remained my true goal: busting out of the great American debtors’ prison, steadily chipping away at its walls with each paycheck.

Part of me like being in that position of submission, tied up in leather, willfully cowering beneath a ruthless whip-wielding Sallie Mae. Life is simpler when we feel controlled. When we tell ourselves that we are controlled, we can shift the responsibility of freeing ourselves onto that which controls us. When we do that, we don’t have to bear the responsibility for our own unhappiness or shoulder the burden of self-ownership. We don’t have to do anything. And nothing will ever change.

Also on the subject of non-fiction… I loved Krimstein’s The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. What a fabulous introduction to the philosopher’s life and work! Good customer service story: My copy of Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (Elisabeth Young-Bruehl), ordered not long after I finished The Three Escapes, arrived with a bent cover and chipped pages. Hoping for a modest discount, I wrote to customer service, and Amazon refunded the entire cost of the book.

🎭 Since my last post, I’ve seen two plays — Nell Gwynn at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (meh) and Mansfield Park at Northlight (misguided, at best) — and one opera — Il trovatore at the Lyric (fabulous; review here).

☕️ On Thursday I was sick enough to call out from work for the first time. After dragging my tired, sniffling self in on Friday, though, I began a nine-day break, arriving home just a few hours before my younger daughter, who is here for Thanksgiving. (My husband and older daughter begin break on Wednesday.)

🍂 Autumn visited for about three days. Not kidding. A few of my neighbors were unable to finish leaf removal before the first snowfall. It snowed again this past Thursday. We were lucky: During a break in my fever last Sunday, we cleared many of the last leaves; and on Monday, in a scarf, earmuffs, and warm coat, I did the last mow of the season.

 

Bookish

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Recent acquisitions.

Read from the shelves.

This is the avid reader’s “Lose weight” or “Join a health club” goal, isn’t it? A resolution made to be broken before Valentine’s Day with rueful chuckles and the nodding acceptance of most fellow readers.

Although my rate of acquisition has certainly slowed, my commitment to reading from the shelves has been something less than steadfast. (Evidence: More than forty of the titles I’ve finished this year were published this year.) As I made room for new friends this morning, I was struck afresh by how many wonderful books already await my attention. Frankly, walking through my house is not unlike wandering through a tiny but well curated bookstore, replete with the same, “Oooo, that looks interesting!” and “Hmmmm, now what’s that about?” discoveries. The abundance of riches is both wildly cool and a little embarrassing. So although we’re a bit out from the “I resolve” time of year, I have been contemplating a personal reading challenge for 2019, something with a bit more stick-to-it-ness than the designed-to-be-broken, “Read from the shelves.”

I began with, “Read one book from every shelf in my library.” Because there are more than two hundred shelves, though, and because it’s been more than a decade since I last finished more than two hundred books in a year, the goal needed refinement. I have decided on one hundred books from my shelves, including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. Since I’ve been finishing between 120 and 150 books annually for the last few years, this goal leaves me a little room for impulsivity. My current plan requires nothing more than that the book have been in my collection before the end of 2018, but I will add more details if or when it becomes less random.

How about you? Do you have any reading plans or goals or challenges for the coming year?

Reading notes

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Recent acquisitions.

Earlier this week, I finished Gorilla and the Bird, Zack McDermott’s 2017 memoir. For the commonplace book:

p. 20
Watching my mom tutor eighteen-year-olds who read at a second-grade level — who considered our humble abode the Taj Mahal because we had a weight bench and a Sega Genesis — showed me that the difference between the track to prison and the track to grad school boils down to approximately a thousand consecutive nights of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Where the Wild Things Are, along with being told by someone who loves you: “A writer is always writing” and “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and, once, “A writer is a liar. A good writer is a good liar. And you’re a silver-tongued devil, boy.” In other words, being lucky enough to have the Bird or someone like her as your mom.

p. 73
I spent my whole life trying to get out of this place. It’s as familiar as an identical twin, and yet I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this is the factory where I was assembled.

The place to which McDermott refers is Wichita, Kansas. One of the books I’m now reading, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, is set just thirty miles outside of that city. From an NYT review of the National Book Award finalist:

A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, “Heartland” is one of a growing number of important works — including Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” and Amy Goldstein’s “Janesville” — that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America’s postindustrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class. It’s a term that Smarsh argues wasn’t mentioned during her childhood in the 1980s and ’90s. “This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it.”

I’m thisclose to finishing the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, and I have recommitted to Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. Now I need to figure out where to put the recent acquisitions: the TBR pile or the shelves?

A walk in the woods

99E9F91B-9709-450B-981A-C325C27474067869250F-7F6B-49FD-8EE7-6B6BF69B3455The weather has been so odd, and the trees and plants are taking it hard. For example, the ginkgo in our front yard dropped all of its leaves this morning — they were still green. The forsythia rebloomed and then froze. The same with both rose bushes. Although fall colors have been difficult to find, however, some autumn gold glimmered during our walk in a new-to-us park near campus yesterday.