Reading notes

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read ten books, for a total of 212. I am currently reading Ruth Klüger’s Still Alive, “an unforgiving memoir of growing up Jewish in Nazi-occupied Vienna and escaping death in a concentration camp.” (NYT, October 16, 2020)

Lakewood (Megan Giddings; 2020. Fiction.) LIB
Terrific premise; lackluster prose. Review here.

Disappearing Earth (Julia Phillips; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This, on the other hand, was gorgeously told. Review here.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler; 1993. Fiction.) RFS
Ordered the sequel after only three chapters. Related article about this prescient novel here.

On Immunity: An Inoculation (Eula Biss; 2014. Non-fiction.) ATY
The following passage (Chicago Tribune; September 1, 2020) prompted me to pick up some of Biss’ work:

To read Eula Biss is to remind yourself that you are relatively illiterate, have never had a clear thought in your life, can’t compose a decent sentence if you tried and should probably just shut up and go into marketing already. Or so I’ve heard. Is this the smartest writer in the Chicago area right now, on this day, in the late summer of 2020? Years ago, before Aleksandar Hemon left Chicago to teach at Princeton University, there may have been an argument. This is a parlor game, after all. But still, who else in the Chicago area, sentence for sentence, thought for thought, writes with more confidence, accessibility and provocation than Eula Biss?

For a number of (perhaps obvious) reasons, I began with On Immunity. She’s remarkable. Review here; interview here.

Theory of Bastards (Audrey Schulman; 2014. Fiction.) RFS
Review here. No question, one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Devolution (Max Brooks; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
Well, it’s no World War Z, but it was a pleasant enough evening of reading. Review here.

New Boy (Tracy Chevalier; 2017. Fiction.) RFS
Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, this retelling of Othello is set in an elementary school. While some may think the premise strains credulity , I think it works well, almost too well.

Miracle Creek (Angie Kim; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This appeared on a number of best-of lists last year. While I thought it was an engaging courtroom drama, I’m not sure it reached the heights its appearance on those lists suggests.

Class Trip (Emmanuel Carrère; 1999. Fiction.) RFS
The last time I was this unsettled by a work of fiction was on rereading Turn of the Screw.

Fen (Caryl Churchill; 1983. Drama.) ATY
Read to prepare for the third “Theatre & Thought” series presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago, Caryl Churchill’s Fen and the Dramaturgical Process.

Because reading is how I breathe

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read twelve books, for a total of 202. With more than two months remaining in the year, it is possible that I will blow through my goal (revised thrice: from 104 to 120 to 156 to 208).

Leopoldstadt (Tom Stoppard; 2020. Drama.)
Read to prepare for Deep Dive: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago.

The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (Wole Soyinka; 1973. Drama.)
Read to prepare for the second “Theatre & Thought” series, Euripides’ The Bacchae and Contemporary Adaptations.

Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith; 1950. Fiction.)
It is hard to believe this brooding, accomplished thriller was her first novel. Related article here.

Solitary (Albert Woodfox; 2019. Non-fiction.)
Review here.

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Milton Mayer; 1959 (2017 edition). Non-fiction.)
Excerpt here. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller; 1949. Drama.)
Reread after watching the stream of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production directed by Goodman Theatre’s Robert Falls.

The Bear (Andrew Krivak; 2020. Fiction.)
As I said to my husband, it is well written and engaging but not as special as the many recommendations had led me to believe.

Who Do You Love (Jennifer Weiner; 2015. Fiction.)
Once in a while, I just need some mental M&Ms.

Survival: Another Story, Vol. 1 (Takao Saito; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
Family Tree, Vol. 2: Seeds (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
I no longer remember who pressed Survival on me, but it was worth the time; and I’m not certain where Family Tree is heading, which is a compliment of sorts.

Don’t Call Us Dead (Danez Smith; 2017. Poetry.)
Reviews here and here.

It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis; 1936. Fiction.)
Read in anticipation of this. Review of the production here.

Still reading

23268D85-9704-452B-922C-90C6A41771A8

My weekend stack, which includes recent acquisitions.

I’ve finished twelve books since my last post, for a total of 190; my goal of 208 for the year is within reach.

Seven Guitars (August Wilson; 1995. Drama.) ATY
King Hedley II (August Wilson; 1999. Drama.) ATY
Jitney (August Wilson; 1982. Drama.)
Gem of the Ocean (August Wilson; 2003. Drama.)
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (August Wilson; 1984. Drama.)
The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson (Sandra G. Shannon; 1995. Non-fiction.)
As I mentioned in my last post, Court Theatre’s 2020/21 season includes “Theatre & Thought,” four series of lectures by University of Chicago faculty and other scholars. The first four-week series, “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice,” concluded this week.

The Bacchae (Euripides; 405 B.C. Trans. Nicholas Rudall; 1996. Drama.)
The second four-week series, “Euripides’ The Bacchae and Contemporary Adaptation,” begins next week.

The Walking Dead: The Alien (Brian K. Vaughan; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
He had a brother?

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Isabel Wilkerson; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Review here.
p. 223
This was the thievery of caste, stealing the time and psychic resources of the marginalized, draining energy in an already uphill competition. They were not, like me, frozen and disoriented, trying to make sense of a public violation that seemed all the more menacing now that I could see it in full. The quiet mundanity of that terror has never left me, the scars out living the cut.

We are told over and over again in our society not to judge a book by its cover, not to assume what is inside before we have had a chance to read it. Yet humans size up and make assumptions about other humans based on what they look like many times a day. We prejudge complicated breathing beings in ways that we are told never to judge inanimate objects.

Monogamy (Sue Miller; 2020. Fiction.)
Review here. A satisfying way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Level 7 (Mordecai Roshwald; 1959. Fiction.)
What an odd time to rediscover this fictional diary of a nameless, button-pushing soldier.

Dear Edward (Ann Napolitano; 2020. Fiction.)
Earlier this summer, a friend asked if I had read this. We don’t necessarily read in the same ways or for the same reasons, but when I reached for a simple book earlier this week, I didn’t put it down. Sad without being (too) sentimental, true without being (too) didactic, it’s also filled with quiet humor. The main character may be a bit precocious, but then again, he was homeschooled.

What I’ve been reading

Current stack.

With more than three months remaining in the year, a goal of 208 books seemed reachable, so I readjusted my Goodreads challenge (for the third time); I’m currently at 178.

The New Wilderness (Diane Cook; 2020. Fiction.)
This caught my eye when it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. (It made the short list.) Review here. I wasn’t “dazzled,” but I was riveted.

The River at Night (Erica Ferencik; 2017. Fiction.)
The Truth about Harry Quebert Affair (Joël Dicker; 2014. Fiction.)
Every once in a while, I peruse the shelves, stop on a book, and think, “Hmmm. How did this get here?” So it was with these two. River, was mildly entertaining; Affair, however, was dreadful.

Sentient (Jeff Lemire; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
We Stand on Guard (Brian K. Vaughan; 2016. Graphic fiction.)
Both are solid stand-alone volumes.

The Piano Lesson (August Wilson; 1987. Drama.)
Fences (August Wilson; 1985. Drama.)
Two Trains Running (August Wilson; 1993. Drama.)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (August Wilson; 1982. Drama.)
Radio Golf (August Wilson; 2005. Drama.)
Court Theatre’s 2020/21 season includes “Theatre & Thought,” four series of lectures by University of Chicago faculty and other scholars. For the first four-week series, “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice,” I’m making my way through the entire American Century Cycle.

From Radio Golf, Wilson’s last play:

If it don’t take all the quarters you fix it. Anybody with common sense will agree to that. What they don’t agree on is how to fix it. Some people say you got to tear it down to fix it. Some people say you got to build it up to fix it. Some people say they don’t know how to fix it. Some people say they don’t want to be bothered with fixing it. You mix them all in a pot and stir it up and you got America. That’s what makes this country great.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Svetlana Alexievich; 2005 (1997). Non-fiction.)
Read as a companion to Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019). Haunting.

p. 107
I’ve felt something like this when someone close to me died. The sun is out, and the birds are flying, and the swallows, it starts raining — but he’s dead. Do you understand? I want to explain this whole other dimension in a few words, explain how it was for me then.

Still reading

A summertime photo: Last August, my daughters and I spent an evening at the beach not far from where my husband and I grew up. The sound of the waves washing in and out… one of my favorites.

As back-to-school season drew near, I craved the sort of books that slide down like a glass of Hi-C and some Oreos, a snack Debbie D.’s mother often served when we climbed out of the pool following a long afternoon of lazily spinning on floats and gossiping. What can I say? We were young and unworried. Anyway, that yen for the bound version of refined sugar explains these two selections:

The Gifted School (Bruce Holsinger; 2019. Fiction.)
A Good Marriage (Kimberly McCreight; 2020. Fiction.)

Good luck and a great conversation with my older daughter explain the four graphic works I finished since my last post:

Family Tree, Vol. 1: The Sapling (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Something Is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 (James Tynion IV; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Undiscovered Country, Vol. 1 (Scott Snyder; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Adrian Tomine; 2020. Graphic non-fiction.)

After revisiting our admiration of Jeff Lemire’s work, I poked around to see what he’s been working on lately. Say what you will about algorithms, I am grateful for the two recommendations that followed my discovery of Lemire’s Family Tree; I have enjoyed other titles by Tynion and Snyder and found these pretty solid. Tomine’s wry memoir arrived in my stack via a Goodreads recommendation.

This month, I concluded my Harry Potter reread:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling; 2007. Fiction.)

The only book I’d go out of my way to recommend, though:

Lost Children Archive (Valeria Luiselli; 2019. Fiction.)
Gorgeously written, thinky, harrowing. I really loved it. Reviews here and here.

p. 29
Conversations, in a family, become linguistic archaeology. They build the world we share, layer it in a palimpsest, give meaning to our present and future. The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? A soundscape? Or will it be all sound rubble, noise, and debris?

Notes

E2FFA2FC-48EC-4FFC-AB13-2CDF9BD756CF

This image was taken last August, when we visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History. How the time has… yes, flown.

Now that our daughters live within a five-hour drive, we are able to see them more easily and more often: We were out earlier this month and plan to return in early September, if travel restrictions permit.

Where did the last year go, though?

It’s August.

Again.

When the afternoon light achieved the autumn-approaches slant on the living room floor earlier this month, I called the company that services the heater and air-conditioner to schedule our annual clean and check. The tech we prefer is older and, concerned about his health, has greatly reduced his time in the field, so a new tech was assigned to our routine maintenance appointment.

He arrived on time, but the mask he wore looked like the dust protection my husband and I use when cleaning the garage, and his non-stop patter all but spelled “Look at my germ-laden droplets!” in the air around his face, so while our favorite tech may enter the common areas of house, the new guy was confined to the utility area. Trying to ensure he did what needed to be done from six feet away was tricky, but I caught two issues that would have resulted in a return visit that first cool morning in October. (Fingers crossed that there were only two.)

We are also catching up on postponed medical and dental appointments. I joked with my husband after one of my appointments that I would have rather been that up close and personal with my hair stylist (no, I haven’t been to the salon since February) than with the lab techs and radiologist. Haircuts are optional, he reminded me; healthcare is not.

In other news, with the Women of Trachis, I reached 159 books read this year.

Lanny (Max Porter; 2019. Fiction.)
Not as memorable as Grief Is the Thing with Feathers but worth reading. Related article here.

The Trial (Franz Kafka; 1914/1925. Trans. Breton Mitchell 1999. Fiction.)
Nightmarish and brilliant.

The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath; 1963. Fiction.)
According to the Jackson bio I finished last month, Plath’s autobiographical novel was inspired by Hangsaman. Serendipity / synchronicity / synthesis abounds: I read Ted Hughes’ Crow earlier this month because it informed Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.

The Old Guard, Book One: Opening Fire (Greg Rucka; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
After hearing about the Netflix movie on NPR, I decided to watch it. As I said to my husband, what I would have loathed at a theater was harmless enough for a Saturday night couch date. Rucka also pens the Lazarus series I follow, so I decided to read the book.

Zone One (Colson Whitehead; 2011. Fiction.)
Review here.

p.183
He was a mediocre man. He had led a mediocre life exceptional only in the magnitude of its unexceptionality. Now the world was mediocre, rendering him perfect. He asked himself: How can I die? I was always like this. Now I am more me. He had the ammo. He took them all down.

p.266
We never see other people anyway, only the monsters we make of them.

Philoctetes (Sophocles; 409 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
Women of Trachis (Sophocles; 425 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
Read in anticipation of another Theater of War production.

Survivor Song (Paul Tremblay; 2020. Fiction.)
I loved A Head Full of Ghosts and thought The Cabin at the End of Woods was a solid page-turner, a perfect poolside read. So was this. As many other readers have noted, his prescience about just how badly we would fumble the response to an outbreak was more than a little eerie.

Reading notes

17DA4F2B-0BA0-4261-B6DD-AC35F7F717BF

Current stack.

With The Good Soldier, I reached 151 books read this year, 120 of which were from my shelves. Over on Goodreads, I had selected 104 as my original challenge goal but eventually updated that to 120. More recently, I changed it to 156, but now I wonder: Is 208 a realistic goal?

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Ruth Franklin; 2016. Non-fiction.)
My unplanned Jackson unit began in May with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I read and then watched. In June, after reading Sheila’s review of Shirley, I promptly grabbed Merrell’s novel from the shelves, then watched the film. What am I waiting for? I asked myself in late June and pulled Franklin’s tome from the shelves. I finished this meticulous and engaging biography in July and followed it with The Haunting of Hill House.

p. 172
Writing in the interstices — the hours between morning kindergarten and lunch, while the baby napped, or after the children had gone to bed — demanded a discipline that suited her. She was constantly thinking of stories while cleaning, cooking, or doing just about anything else.

Richard II (William Shakespeare; 1595. Drama.)
To complement this excellent programming. One of my favorite lines of Shakespeare:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings….

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson; 1959. Fiction.)
See above.

Say, Say, Say (Lila Savage; 2019. Fiction.)
Review here.

Ajax (Sophocles; 442 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
In anticipation of this excellent presentation.

Gideon Falls, Vol. 4: The Pentoculus (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers (Max Porter; 2015. Fiction.)
Reviews here and here. Remarkable. Two passages for the commonplace book:

BOYS
She told us that men are rarely truly
kind, but they were often funny, which
is better. ‘You would do well to prepare
yourselves for disappointment’ she said,
‘in your dealings with men. Women are on
the whole much stronger, usually cleverer’
she said, ‘but less funny, which is a shame.
Have babies, if you can’ she said ‘because
you’ll be good at it. Help yourselves to
anything you find in this house. I want to
give you everything I have because you
are the most precious and beautiful boys.
You remind me of everything I have ever
been interested in’ she said.

DAD
Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling; 2005. Fiction.)
Revisiting these books that my son and I so enjoyed has been sweetly nostalgic, but with this, the penultimate volume in the beloved series, the flaws have become too big to hide under a long sweater of sentiment. They’re just not particularly well-stitched, are they?

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (Adam Higginbotham; 2019. Non-fiction.)
I watched the HBO series and thought, Why haven’t I read Midnight yet? For the record, the non-fiction account is many, many times more frightening than the cable program.

In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration (Shane O’Mara; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Related link here. A quick read, O’Mara’s survey of the brain-body connection complemented my own experience: as my mileage increased, so did my active and engaged reading and practicing.

An aside: When I tendered my resignation from my tutoring gig, I was asked — so many, many times — what I planned to do with myself. To most, I said, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll find something.” To those closest to me, though, I confided that I wanted nothing more from re-retirement than the time to read more, write more, study more, practice more, and walk more. And, boy, have I had the time, eh? That’s what happens, I suppose, when one’s re-retirement begins exactly twelve days before the world presses the PAUSE button.

Crow (Ted Hughes; 1970. Poetry.)
Of course, after reading Porter’s novel, I had to read the poetry that inspired it.

An aside: Each New Year’s Day, my family engages in the bird of the year game outlined in Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. (Related link here.) To mix things up a bit this year, we decided to move the date of our game to the first day back to work after the winter holiday, January 6. We could choose a bird from our respective backyards or a bird we saw at work. That morning, I awoke to the sound of crows conversing loudly beneath our bird feeders. My favorite bird! Finally, the year of the crow!

Speaking of backyard birding, a rock dove landed in the yard the day before yesterday. I’ve never seen a pigeon at our feeders; it dwarfed the mourning doves and blue jays. How capacious they are! A second pigeon made a few passes over the yard but didn’t touch down. Later, I saw both on my neighbor’s roof. This is a wooded neighborhood, so the pigeons looked quaintly out of place.

The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford; 1915. Fiction.)
Related link here. How did I arrive at (mumble) years of age without reading this book?

There and back again

7F02401C-C7D2-4127-94E8-C805469CC17A

This photo was taken on the way to Michigan from Massachusetts. I think we were crossing the Hudson but freely admit that most of the trip was a well-organized blur.

Last Wednesday, we returned home after driving from Illinois to Massachusetts to Michigan and back to Illinois. The last bit was in an empty sixteen-foot rental truck, along a construction-riddled route, during a torrential rainstorm. Perhaps fickle gods thought Covid 19 too weak a trial for us and decided to strew additional challenges across our path.

Well, we persevered and have largely recovered our respective grooves, Mr. Nerdishly and I. Our cats, who were boarded at a tony kitty hotel that I once innocently (and obviously mistakenly) referred to as the Pussy Palace, recovered their equanimity much more rapidly than I could have hoped and certainly more quickly than I, who needed several sleep-ins before feeling like myself again.

F62C1B2C-117F-482F-903B-7B0BE27BEDB2

Since my last list, I’ve finished four books, bringing my total to 139 books read to date.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Mary L. Trump; 2020. Non-fiction.)
This was the soundtrack of most of the second leg of our travels (Massachusetts to Michigan); I finished listening during one of our walks once we returned home. I agree with this reviewer: keenly observed, well written, and “the most convincingly empathetic chronicle of Donald Trump I’d ever read.”

A Separation (Katie Kitamura; 2017. Fiction.)
This was well-reviewed by critics but not necessarily by readers, if the mixed reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are an indication. I really liked it, though. It reminded me of The Third Hotel (Laura van den Berg), a book I read and admired in 2018.

The Sorrows of Young Werther (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; 1774. Trans. Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan; 1990. Fiction.)
Yes, he’s troubled and self-absorbed, but I don’t belong to the reading club that maintains we must like the protagonist to like the book. I will say, though, that I am old enough to have wanted to be “quite severe” with Werther, to insist that he get a grip and meet a few more suitable companions. Heh, heh, heh.

p. 9
There is a certain monotony about mankind. Most people toil during the greater part of their lives in order to live, and the slender span of free time that remains worries them so much that they try by every means to get rid of it. O Destiny of Man!

Antigone (Sophocles; 441 B.C. Trans. Ian Johnston; 2016. Drama.)
Read in anticipation of an upcoming Theater of War production.

 

“[T]he sole solution of all of the riddles of life and death”

51A0F402-C682-474E-8CFC-B8CEB90642EF

A sixth bloom has emerged, but I will instead share an image of my current stack.

With The Farm I arrived at 135 books read this year; 110 from the shelves.

The Return of the Soldier (Rebecca West; 1918. Fiction.)
In May, when I finished Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge (1912), I remarked that it was difficult to believe that was her first novel; it was so assured and true. West’s first novel is even more so — remarkable and memorable.

p. 65
Even though I lay weeping at it on the dead leaves I was sensible of the bitter rapture that attends the discovery of any truth. I felt, indeed, a cold intellectual pride in his refusal to remember his prosperous maturity and his determined dwelling in the time of his first love, for it showed him so much saner than the rest of us, who take life as it comes, loaded with the inessential and the irritating. I was even willing to admit that this choice of what was to him reality out of all the appearances so copiously presented by the world, this adroit discovery of the dropped pearl of beauty, was the act of genius I had always expected from him. But that did not make less agonizing this exclusion from his life.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder; 1927. Fiction.)
This was a reread.

p. 138
The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Leo Tolstoy; 1886. Trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude. Fiction.)
This, too, was a reread, my fourth time encountering Tolstoy’s novella. The first was in AP English, thirty-nine years ago. What do typical seventeen-year-olds take away from reading Tolstoy? Oh, I was more than capable of parroting a teacher (or a study guide) on Tolstoy’s biography, the key characters, the basic plot, the essential themes and symbols, but I’m not sure I had actually read The Death of Ivan Ilyich until my third encounter, in my forties.

“Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,” it suddenly occurred to him. “But how could that be when I did everything properly?” he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all of the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.

A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry; 1958. Drama.)
I had planned to read this in Spring 2003 for the “One Book, One Chicago” program. Better late than never.

The Farm (Tom Rob Smith; 2014. Fiction.)
A run of so many terrific books rendered this meh novel even more mediocre.

Still blooming

5A142B34-00A0-4313-859B-D15AFD361E52

Yes, that’s a fifth flower. I am amazed. And, yes, if those two buds open, at least one, perhaps two more mediocre orchid photos will follow.

The count now stands at 130, with 105 read from my shelves.

The Amateurs (Liz Harmer; 2019. Fiction.)
Review here.

Postal: Deliverance, Vol. 2 (Brian Edward Hill; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Ascender, Vol. 2: The Dead Sea (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Hoopla has enabled me to keep up on series that interest me.

The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff; 1982. Non-fiction.)
This is a somewhat different book now than it was when I first read it. The story of the author’s difficulties with the publisher are chronicled on his website.

The Pearl (John Steinbeck; 1947. Fiction.)
It seems impossible that I have not read this before, but I could not remember anything more than the horrific conclusion.

p. 25
For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. This is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.

Death in Venice (Thomas Mann; 1912. Trans. Michael Henry Heim; 2004. Fiction.)
Again, how is it possible that I have not read this? The Heim translation is introduced by Michael Cunningham, who writes, in part, “All the writers I respect want to write a book so penetrating and thorough, so compassionate and unrelenting, that it can stand unembarrassed beside the spectacle of life itself. And all writers I respect seem to know (though no one likes to talk about it) that our efforts are doomed from the outset. Life is bigger than literature. We do the best we can. Some of us do better than others.”

How about this for serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity?

p. 84
The cases were kept secret. Within a week, however, there were ten of them, then twenty, thirty, and in different districts to boot. […] The Venetian authorities issued a statement to the effect that health conditions have never been better then took the most essential precautions against the disease. […] But fear of the overall damage that would be done — concern over the recently opened art exhibition in the Public Gardens and the tremendous losses with which the hotels, the shops, the entire, multifaceted tourist trade would be threatened in case of panic and loss of confidence — proved stronger in the city than the love of truth and respect for international covenants: it made the authorities stick stubbornly to their policy of secrecy and denial.

Interesting aside: The word legerdemain is used in the description of one of the pearl dealers in Steinbeck’s short novel. It’s not a common word, so it struck me when I encountered it again in the Heim translation of Mann’s work.