I’ve read 23 books since my last list, which puts me at 75 for the year, so far.
■ Parnassus on Wheels (Christopher Morley; 1917. Fiction.) RFS
I meant to read this ten or fifteen years ago, but I’m glad I didn’t because its innocence, humor, and bookish fun were something I needed now much more than then.
“Judging by the way you talk,” I said, “you ought to be quite a writer yourself.”
“Talkers never write. They go on talking.”
■ How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (Seneca; ed. James Romm; 2018. Non-fiction.) RFS
■ How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management (Seneca; ed. James Romm; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
■ How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life (Marcus Tullius Cicero; ed. Philip Freeman; 2016. Non-fiction.) RFS
■ How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life (Epictetus; ed. A.A. Long; 2018. Non-fiction.) RFS
These four books are part of Princeton University Press’ “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers” series. I was particularly delighted by Cicero’s anecdote about Sophocles defending himself against his sons’ claims that he was experiencing age-related feeble-mindedness.
[T]he old man then read to the court his Oedipus at Colonus, which he had just written and was even then revising, asking when he finished if it sounded like the work of a weak-minded person. After his recitation, the jury acquitted him.
It’s no secret that I am an abiding fan of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity: We had tickets to Court Theatre’s now-rescheduled production of The Gospel at Colonus. Of course, then, Oedipus at Colonus was in my reading plan for April. How neat to have this tie-in.
■ The Bookshop (Penelope Fitzgerald; 1978. Fiction.) RFS
When I added Parnassus on Wheels to my Goodreads, this came up as a suggestion — another book I had meant to read a long time ago. The ending broke my heart, but I loved The Bookshop. Lively, whose Moon Tiger (1987) I greatly admire, is a wordsmith.
■ The Haunted Bookshop (Christopher Morley; 1919. Fiction.) LIB
This was nowhere near as beguiling as Parnassus on Wheels.
■ Chemistry (Weike Wang; 2017. Fiction.) RFS
I’m not certain I am actually the audience for this book about a young woman who experiences personal crisis after her partner proposes, but I thought it was terrific — smart and bittersweet. Check out this interview with the author.
■ The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes; 2011. Fiction.) RFS
Most folks read this years ago, when Barnes nabbed the Man Booker Prize. Again, this was just the book I needed now. It’s exquisite… perfect.
Later on in life, you expect a bit of rest, don’t you? You think you deserve it. I did, anyway. But then you begin to understand that the reward of merit is not life’s business.
How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — told to ourselves.
Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
■ The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Jonathan Gottschall; 2012. Non-fiction.) RFS
Naturally, this fan of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity appreciated hearing an echo of Barnes’ narrator in Gottschall’s exploration of narrative and psychology.
We spend our lives crafting stories that make us noble — if flawed — protagonists of first-person dramas. A life story is a “personal myth” about who we are deep down — where we come from, how we got this way, and what it all means. Our life stories are who we are. They are our identity. A life story is not, however, an objective account. A life story is a carefully shaped narrative that is replete with strategic forgetting and skillfully spun meanings.
■ Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles; 406 B.C. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald; 1969. Drama.) RFS
I am perfectly content, so long as you
Can neither wheedle me nor fool these others.
Unhappy man! Shall it be plain that time
Brings you no wisdom? that you shame your age?
An agile wit! I know no honest man
Able to speak so well under all conditions!
■ Truth and Beauty (Ann Patchett; 2004. Non-fiction.) RFS
This complemented Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face (1994), which I read last month.
■ The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Zachary Mason; 2007/2010. Fiction.) RFS
April may prove to be the month of perfect books. Boy, was this fabulous. Reviews here and here.
Finally, I saw myself, how my wit exceeded that of other men but gave me no leverage against fate, and how in the time to come it would avail me nothing but possibly an understanding of the full scope of my helplessness.
■ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 1998. Fiction.) RFS
■ Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling; 1998. Fiction.) RFS
I had expected that returning to these would prove too bitter… but it was sweet comfort.
■ Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (Richard Kolker; 2013. Non-fiction.) RFS
After watching a trailer for a new movie of the same title, I headed to the shelves where this terrifically written entry in the unsolved mystery / true crime genre has awaited me (for *shhh* seven years). Review here.
■ The Tempest (William Shakespeare; 1610. Drama.) RFS
Years ago, when I first read The Tempest, I noted that Miranda was homeschooled. As I wrote elsewhere those many years ago, Prospero the schoolmaster serves his own needs at the expense of his student’s; and his dubious classroom management skills coupled with his troubling use of “wench” as term of endearment irritated in both that first reading and this most recent. Yet, when nearly every kid in the United States is “suddenly homeschooled,” rediscovering Shakespeare’s take on homeschooling provided another dose of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity.
Act I, Scene 2
Now I arise:
[Resumes his mantle]
Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
Here in this island we arrived; and here
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princesses can that have more time
For vainer hours and tutors not so careful.
■ Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Viktor E. Frankl; 1946. Non-fiction.) RFS
This was the fourth or fifth time I’ve read this book.
Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.
Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.
We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
■ Give Me Your Heart (Joyce Carol Oates; 2010. Fiction.) RFS
It was a bit of a chore to work through this one.
■ Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living (Anna S. Redsand; 2006. Non-fiction.) RFS
A suitable introduction to Frankl for middle-school students.
■ American Predator (Maureen Callahan; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link here. This was one that made me check the window and door locks. Again. And again.
■ Flatland (Edwin A. Abbott; 1884. Fiction.) RFS
Trippy blend of satire, math, and physics. Related link here.
■ Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare; 1603. Drama.) RFS
The Shakespeare Project of Chicago hopes to move its production of Measure for Measure to next season.
Act I, Scene 4
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
Act II, Scene 2
So you must be the first that gives this sentence,
And he, that suffers. O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library (including Hoopla and Overdrive)
RFS Read from shelves
Not sure if you’ll see this in time, but this virtual reading of Oedipux Rex showed up in my facebook news feed today (link here: https://theaterofwar.com/schedule/the-oedipus-project). It seemed like something up your alley, so I thought I’d pass it on. It’s free to register, starts at 7pm EST.
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Thank you! I did see it in time and will tune in shortly.
I’ve never read The Sense of an Ending. You make me think it’s about time.
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