School closures

My school was closed Monday for snow. They were also closed early on Tuesday and all day Wednesday and Thursday for extreme cold. When I learned about the mid-week closures, I promised myself I would treat the days off as the gifts they were. No “getting ahead” on weekly chores. The house is immaculate. No reshelving projects. No reorganizing closets. No comparison shopping for a new lawn mower. The library looks wonderful. So do the closets. And I have at least six weeks on the lawn mower purchase.

Relax, I told myself. Approach the days with some child-like delight.

So, yes, I finished our federal and state tax returns, but I also finished Season 6 of Parks and Recreation and three books. Yeah, I caught up on correspondence with out-of-state family, practiced my music, and exercised. But I also slept in a bit and woke up without an alarm clock. And we made fun food: one-pot pasta and crunchy garlic bread; bacon sandwiches; brownies.

For two days: No makeup. No hair products. No work clothes.

I look forward to working with my students tomorrow; I do, after all, like my job. But what a week; Friday is already here!

“But the result was now ours to live with.”

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It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful — a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids — and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.

p. 411
In the end, Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than her opponent, but Trump captured the Electoral College thanks to fewer than eighty thousand votes spread across Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I am not a political person, so I’m not going to attempt to offer an analysis of the results. I won’t try to speculate about who was responsible or what was unfair. I just wish more people had turned out to vote. And I will always wonder about what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president. But the result was now ours to live with.

From the shelves

c753c096-14ec-4b0d-b45f-a9268a1ded27Over the winter break, my younger daughter borrowed my copy of the Halperin translation of Michael Bernanos’ wonderfully creepy and unforgettable The Other Side of the Mountain.* Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork caught my eye when I refiled it. What a perfect “Read from the shelves” selection: I received the review copy nearly twelve years ago! The book was good as Stephen King’s EW editorial promised, and it fits neatly onto the mental shelf where I recently placed two other novels about anthropology: Euphoria by Lily King (one of the best books I read last year) and The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (disturbing content but excellently written).

Since my last post, I also finished Upgrade Soul (Ezra Claytan Daniels; 2016), which I borrowed from the library. For those of you who are still resisting graphic works, especially those who enjoy speculative, dystopian, and/or science fiction, this would be a fabulous introduction to the form: deceptively simple art enriches a compelling and original story. Bonus: The protagonists are a vibrant, intelligent couple who have been married forty-five years.

It has been a slow reading month, but many of my bookmarks are in the last quarter of their books, so I hope to add a few more to my list before month’s end. Sure, it would be easy to blame my discovery of Parks and Recreation on Prime Video for the paucity of books read, but I have also been walking more; and my winter break concluded a few days after my last post, so I have returned to work and to music lessons and practice. ASL studies and snow removal have also nibbled on my reading time. Okay, okay. Yeah. I’ve been gleefully enjoying Parks and Recreation episodes — not binge-ing but definitely choosing the series over a book. If you’re a fan, you probably understand. Color me chagrined.

* I recently learned about another translation by Gio Clairval and have added it to my “Want to read” list.

Read from the shelves

71975def-17e0-48e0-9d56-39fe2e09a477We spent yesterday driving to and from and hiking at Starved Rock State Park, but last night, I was able to finish the first book in my “Read from the shelves” challenge — Hanya Yanagihara‘s first novel, The People in the Trees (2013).

p. 73
Genius was no excuse for social ineptitude, the way it is today, when a certain refusal to acquire the most basic social skills or an inability to dress properly or feed oneself is generously perceived as evidence of one’s intellectual purity and commitment to the life of the mind.

p. 93
There is really no satisfying or new way to describe beauty, and besides, I find it embarrassing to do so. So I will say only that he was beautiful, and that I found myself suddenly shy, and unsure even how to address him — Paul? Tallent? Professor Tallent? (Surely not!) Beautiful people make even those of us who proudly consider ourselves unmoved by another’s appearance dumb with admiration and fear and delight, and struck by the profound, enervating awareness of how inadequate we are, how nothing, not intelligence or education or money, can usurp or overpower or deny beauty.

Edited on January 13. Lesson learned: Do not fail to proofread voice-to-text entires.

The year of the…

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Image taken in 2008.

In her paean to birding, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt writes:

There is a game birders play on New Year’s Day called “Bird of the Year.” The very first bird you see on the first day of the new year is your theme bird for the next 365 days. It might seem a curious custom, but people who watch birds regularly are always contriving ways to keep themselves interested. This is one of those ways. You are given the possibility of creating something extraordinary — a Year of the Osprey, Year of the Pileated Woodpecker, Year of the Trumpeter Swan. This game is an inspiration to place yourself in natural circumstances that will yield a heavenly bird, blessing your year, your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. New year, new bird.

After her breathless anticipation, Haupt is confronted with… an Eastern Starling, or “sky-rat.” The Year of the Eastern Starling. Inauspicious, yes, but not without its charms, according to Haupt.

Last year, I lifted the window-hanging while still curled in bed and saw a female Northern Cardinal at one of the feeders. This year, I awoke to the sound of house sparrows in the bushes beneath my bedroom window. The window-hanging was slightly raised, so, to avoid seeing them, I squeezed my eyes shut, rolled to the other side of the bed, and went back to sleep. I admit: Yes, I’d like a crow or a blue jay. Is that too much to ask? Later, when I finally walked out into the living room, three cardinals, a house finch, and several dark-eyed juncos were at the feeding station, but what did I see first?

House sparrows.

The year in books

Unfinished business.

With only two evenings remaining in the year, I’m not sure if I will finish any of the seven books I’m currently reading, so I am calling it at 138 books read this year. (As always, I have included only cover-to-covers.) Here is my complete list, and here are a few numbers:

— 51 novels (not including graphic works)
— 30 non-fiction works (32, including graphic works)
— 13 plays
— 1 poetry title
— 43 graphic works (2 of which were non-fiction titles)

Expanding on my mid-year review, then, here are the standouts:

Even better on rereading:
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro; 2005. Fiction.)
Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke; 1953. Fiction.)
Daytripper (Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá; 2011. Graphic fiction.)
Mrs. Caliban (Rachel Ingalls; 1983. Fiction.)

Forgot how wonderful this writer is:
Memento Mori (Muriel Spark; 1959. Fiction.)

For those who loved The Elementals (Michael McDowell; 1981):
The Reapers Are the Angels (Alden Bell; 2010. Fiction.)

Fabulous story for a long car trip:
American Kingpin (Nick Bilton; 2017. Non-fiction.)

Honorable mention:
The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet (Justin Peters; 2016. Non-fiction.)

The most engrossing books I read this year (not including rereads):
Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue; 2016. Fiction.)
An American Marriage (Tayari Jones; 2018. Fiction.)
The Third Hotel (Laura van den Berg; 2018. Fiction.)
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carreyrou; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Euphoria (Lily King; 2014. Fiction.)

Honorable mention:
Killers of the Flower Moon (Dan Grann; 2017. Non-fiction.)
An Abbreviated Life (Ariel Leve; 2016. Non-fiction.)
After the Eclipse (Sarah Perry; 2017. Non-fiction.)
The Hole (Hye-young Pyun; 2017. Fiction.)
Bel Canto (Ann Patchett; 2001. Fiction.)
Things We Lost in the Fire (Mariana Enriquez; 2017. Fiction.)

Cannot stop talking about the ideas in these books:
Janesville: An American Story (Amy Goldstein; 2016. Non-fiction.)
Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America (Alissa Quart; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (Jessica Bruder; 2017. Non-fiction.)
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Sarah Smarsh; 2018. Non-fiction.)

Even better than War and Peace:
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath (Sigrid Undset; 1920. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 1997.) Fiction.)
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife (Sigrid Undset; 1921. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 1999.) Fiction.)
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross (Sigrid Undset; 1922. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 2000.) Fiction.)

Best graphic work I read this year:
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt (Ken Krimstein; 2018. Graphic non-fiction.)

Despite all of that great reading, I didn’t make much progress on my 2018 reading resolutions:

1. Read from the shelves.
Of the 138 books I read cover-to-cover, 55 were published this year. So, yeah, “Read from the shelves” was a bust in 2018, but as I wrote early last month, I have a plan: In 2019, I will read one hundred books from my shelves (i.e., the books must have been in my collection before the end of 2018), 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.

2. Complete a close reading of Moby Dick.
Next year marks the two hundredth anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth. I’m reading serendipity/synchronicity/synthesis into missing this goal because obviously it will be more fun to complete it in 2019, right? I’ve read Moby Dick (conventionally, words on a page) once and listened to the spectacular audiobook (William Hootkins; 2004) dozens of times, but I would still like to reread it (closely) because it bears returning to. If you’re up for it, please join me!

3. Reread at least one Vonnegut novel.
Sirens of Titan is part of my unfinished business. (By the way, my (tentative) 2019 selection is Player Piano.)

4. Finish reading several books abandoned in 2017 (or *gulp* earlier).
Ayup. I am a shamelessly promiscuous reader, good books don’t deserve such treatment, and I will do better.

5. Read at least thirty non-fiction titles.
Twenty-six has been my goal in the past, so I raised the bar this year. It’s the only resolution I kept. This year, I read 32 non-fiction books, two of which were graphic works.