In search of succor, people adopted pets and plants during the uncertain and difficult months of the pandemic. In March 2020, we already had two cats and several houseplants, but successfully splitting the sansevieria, propagating the inchplant, and harvesting pilea sprouts contributed to the increasing number of the latter, as did, yes, a few gifts and purchases. Although the heart of the collection (above) thrives in the girl cave, we now keep plants in the Annex and dining room, too. (And, yes, the orchid has bloomed again.)
Speaking of collections, since my last annotated list, I have read fourteen books, putting me at seventy-three total, fifty-five of which were from my shelves. Right now, I’m reading Book Eleven of The Brothers Karamazov and Joyce Carol Oates’ The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque. On my shelves since 1998, these short stories earned a spot on the nightstand after Tyler Keevil mentioned that they were not only an inspiration for his most recent novel but also works he teaches in his university classes.
■ The (Other) You (Joyce Carol Oates; 2021. Fiction.)
For a program with the Chicago Humanities Festival.
■ The Mouse and His Child (Russell Hoban; 1967. Fiction.)
“Comforting and devastating.“
■ Elegy for Mary Turner (Rachel Marie-Crane Williams; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
Related article here.
■ The Dog Stars (Peter Heller; 2012. Fiction.)
■ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling; 1999. Fiction.)
■ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling; 2000. Fiction.)
■ The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel; 2020. Fiction.)
Excellent. Review here.
■ The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (Stephen Mitchell; 1993. Non-fiction.)
Mitchell is a genius.
■ War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad (Christopher Logue; 2015. Poetry.)
My selection for National Poetry Month.
■ Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty (Maurice Chammah; 2021. Non-fiction.)
Although somewhat drily and awkwardly written, this meticulously researched history is both timely and important. Related article here.
Then came the DNA. Beginning in the 1980s, the analysis of genetic material started to be marshaled by defense teams to prove, with an unprecedented degree of scientific certainty, that their clients could not have committed the crimes for which they were sitting in prison. The legal system had always aspired to establish truth, while hedging with language about “reasonable doubt.“ Now the actual truth appeared within reach, and the public and politicians could no longer dismiss innocence claims as desperate efforts to avoid execution. In case after case around the country, men were freed from death row when DNA helped them prove their innocence, and in late 1998, at a conference on wrongful convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law, more than two dozen people exonerated from death row appeared together on a stage. “Had the state of Illinois gotten its way, I’d be dead today,“ one said. The political implications were big: Even if the justice system had not killed someone innocent yet, it had gotten awfully close, over and over again.
■ The Talented Mr. Ripley (Patricia Highsmith; 1955. Fiction.)
A reread, for T Book Club. The June selection is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear. He felt in the grip of a fit, as if he would fall to the ground. It was too much: the foreignness around him, the different language, his failure, and the fact that Dickie hated him. He felt surrounded by strangeness, by hostility. He felt Dickie yank his hands down from his eyes.
■ Your Still Beating Heart (Tyler Keevil; 2020. Fiction.)
For the Cardiff BookTalk. The second-person narrative point of view hasn’t worked this well since Stewart O’Nan’s A Prayer for the Dying, which I must now reread.
■ Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare; 1604. Drama.)
As part of my effort to reread all of the plays this year and in advance of the Goodman Theatre stream.
■ The Burning Girl (Claire Messud; 2017. Fiction.)
Accidental and worthy complement to Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides, which I read earlier this year.
Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theater or the fire escape in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn’t as a kid, that the body you in habited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified.
[B]ut this is what I think: you only see what you expect to see. Your brain lets the rest go. Because life’s tumult, with its infinite sounds and smells and signs, rushes around you like a river in flood: you can only take in, you can only grasp, so much.
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