Since my last annotated list, I’ve read thirteen books, for a total of eighty-six so far this year, sixty-five of which were from my shelves. My reading goals mirror last year’s: one hundred books from my shelves (i.e., books in my collection before the end of 2020), including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following categories: Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.) poetry, NYRB, Kurt Vonnegut (by or about), Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. At this writing, all of this seems achievable as I have more than six months to read thirty-five more books from the shelves, including eight non-fiction works and something from the Vonnegut, NYRB, and art collections.
My quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays this year is going well; I’ve now finished twenty, most recently:
■ Henry VI, Part One (William Shakespeare; 1591. Drama.)
■ Henry VI, Part Two (William Shakespeare; 1591. Drama.)
■ Henry VI, Part Three (William Shakespeare; 1591. Drama.)
■ Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)
■ Coriolanus (William Shakespeare; 1605. Drama.)
Julius Caesar (“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!”) and Coriolanus (“Hear you this Triton of the minnows?”) have always been particular favorites of mine, so it is unsurprising that I loved rereading them, but this, my third, time through the Henry IV plays was so much more rewarding than the prior two. In addition to better understanding the history that informs the plays, I also have a firmer grasp on the many characters’ relationships to one another.
■ The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky; 1880. (Trans. Constance Garnett.) Fiction.)
Three posts about reading this with an online book group: one, two, three.
■ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (George Saunders; 2021. Non-fiction.)
I recommended this book in the third of my book group posts (linked above). Here are two commonplace book passages:
We’re always rationally explaining and articulating things. But we’re at our most intelligent in the moment just before we start to explain or articulate. Great art occurs — or doesn’t — in that instant. What we turn to art for is precisely this moment, when we “know“ something (we feel it) but can’t articulate it because it’s too complex and multiple. But the “knowing” at such moments, though happening without language, is real. I’d say this is what art is for: to remind us that this sort of knowing is not only real, it’s superior to our usual (conceptual, reductive) way.
There is no world save the one we make with our minds, and the mind’s predisposition determines the type of world we see.
■ Gideon Falls, Vol. 6: The End (Jeff Lemire; 2021. Graphic fiction.)
This concluded the series.
■ The Collector of Hearts (Joyce Carol Oates; 1998. Fiction.)
In his Cardiff BookTalk, Tyler Keevil mentioned that this short story collection not only inspired his most recent novel, Your Still Beating Heart, but also serves as a work he teaches in his university classes. I actually preferred Oates’ most recent collection, The (Other) You.
■ Meditations (Marcus Aurelius; 180 A.D. (Trans. Gregory Hays.) Non-fiction.)
From entry 4.3:
Men seek retreats for themselves – in the country, by the sea, in the hills – and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite unphilosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into the thoughts there which put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. The doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment at what you must rejoin.
From entry 11.1:
It reflects that our successors will see nothing new, just as our predecessors saw nothing more than we do: such is the sameness of things, a man of forty with any understanding whatsoever has in a sense seen all the past and all the future.
■ The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud; 2013. Fiction.)
When I reshelved The Burning Girl, I pulled this down. NPR interview here and review here
■ The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (George Saunders; 2000. Fiction.)
NYT feature on Saunders from 2013.
■ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling; 2003. Fiction.)
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