This particular web

Image captured at the conservation district on Labor Day.

From Book II, Chapter 15, of Middlemarch:

I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.

Although I missed the August meetings of book group, I did finish (re)reading Middlemarch and have returned in time for our three remaining meetings this month.

Book Five, Chapter 44
He distrusted her affection; and what loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

Book Five, Chapter 46
Our sense of duty must often wait for some work which shall take the place of dilettanteism and make us feel that the quality of our action is not a matter of indifference.

Book Five, Chapter 50
“… [T]here are always people who can’t forgive a man for differing from them.”

I also finished reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch.

p. 41
Coming to languages too late for effortless fluency, she set about achieving what she could through resolution and determination. She found an outlet for her hungry ambition by reshaping herself into an intellectual. She turned her yearning into learning.

p. 145
Books — or texts, as they were called by those versed in theory — weren’t supposed merely to be read, but to be interrogated, as if they had committed some criminal malfeasance.

p. 172
Such an approach to fiction — where do I see myself in here? — is not how a scholar reads, and it can be limiting and its solipsism. It’s hardly an enlarging experience to read a novel as if it were a mirror of oneself. One of the useful functions of literary criticism and scholarship is to suggest alternative lenses through which a book might be read.

A book group member recommended The Readers Karamazov podcast, which began its second season with a four-episode discussion of Middlemarch. (And, yes, I must go back and listen to their The Brothers Karamazov episodes.) What a terrific resource! I enjoyed their insights so much that I plan to read along for the rest of this season. Candide (Voltaire; 1759. (Trans. John Butt; 1947.), their next selection, was a reread for me.

In my quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays, I have finished Twelfth Night and Troilus and Cressida since my last annotated list.

Under the heading “beach reads” (although I spent no time at the beach this summer), file the following:

The House in the Cerulean Sea (TJ Klune; 2020. Fiction.)
p. 188
It struck him, then, just who this house belonged to, and how much of an honor this would be. For an adult sprite, their dwelling was their most important possession. It was their home where all their secrets were kept. Sprites were notorious for their privacy, and he had no doubt that Phee would one day be the same, though he hoped she would remember the time spent at Marsyas in her youth. She wouldn’t have to be so alone.

The Turnout (Megan Abbott; 2021. Fiction.)
Review here.

The Plot (Jean Hanff Korelitz; 2021. Fiction.)
Review here.

A Trick of the Light (Louise Penny; 2011. Fiction.)
The Inspector Gamache series is actually a number of steps up from “beach read.” As always, many thanks to Robin for recommending these books.

My recent graphic work selections include:
Odessa (Jonathan Hill; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
The Hard Tomorrow (Eleanor Davis; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
Sweet Tooth: The Return (Jeff Lemire; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be (Lizzy Stewart; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness (Kristen Radtke; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)

Radtke’s Seek You is a gorgeous read. Highly recommended.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson; 2004. Fiction.)
Speaking of gorgeous reads, how did this languish on my shelves for seventeen years? Beautiful, beautiful.

p. 7
Well, see and see but do not perceive, hear and hear but do not understand, as the Lord says. I can’t claim to understand that saying, as many times as I’ve heard it, and even preached on it. It simply states a deeply mysterious fact. You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.

p. 39
But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course that some very tedious gentleman have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp.

p. 197
We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.

p. 233
I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime — the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars. It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by to put the obvious question, that is, to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand.

p. 246
I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turned radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.

Recent non-fiction selections included:

Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America (Alec MacGillis; 2021)
Review here.

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials (Marc Aronson; 2003)

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (Dashka Slater; 2017)
Original article here.

Other books:

Green Shadows, White Whale (Ray Bradbury; 1992. Fiction.)
I read Bradbury’s fictionalized account of his travels to Ireland to write the script of Moby Dick for an upcoming Newberry Library program.

Medea (Euripides (trans. D. Raynor); 431 B.C. Drama.)
Read before seeing the excellent 2014 production streaming on National Theatre at Home. I also enjoyed the related Reading Greek Tragedy Online episode, which can be found here.

The month in books

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Some recent acquisitions.

Since 1989, I’ve been promising myself I’d return to Middlemarch (George Eliot; 1871). Thirty-two years later, nearly to the month, I’ve (finally) kept my word: Members of the reading group that attempted to penetrate the mysteries of The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky; 1880) earlier this year are now working their way through Eliot’s wise novel. Although one of our core principles is to avoid secondary sources, I must confess to (quietly) enjoying the companionship of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014), as well as the most recent episodes of The Readers Karamazov podcast.

Book One, Chapter 1
Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

Book One, Chapter 6
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts — not hurt others.

Book Two, Chapter 16
This was one of the difficulties of moving in good Middlemarch society: it was dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office.

Book Four, Chapter 42
Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death — who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we called knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of the water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace “We must all die“ transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness “I must die — and soon,” then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first. […] In such an hour the mind does not change its lifelong bias, but carries it onward in imagination to the other side of death, gazing backward — perhaps with the divine calm of beneficence, perhaps with the petty anxieties of self assertion.

Other books I’m reading are listed in the sidebar.

As we head into August, I realize that I’ve read 128 books so far this year (eighteen since my last annotated list), but I still need to sort through the list to see which of my annual goals / reading challenges remain unmet. Note that in this annotated list, I’ve moved away from presenting the books in the order in which I read them, opting instead to cluster related titles.

As You Like It (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare; 1601. Drama.)
By my count, thirteen works remain in my quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays this year.

Act I, Scene V
HORATIO
O day and night but this is wondrous strange!

HAMLET
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell; 2020. Fiction.)
The Dead Fathers Club (Matt Haig; 2006. Fiction.)
I appreciated both of these books, the former less than most readers, though, and the latter (commonplace book passage follows), more.

p. 113
Its like how in War soldiers are told to kill other men and then they are Heroes but if they killed the same men when they were not in War they are Murderers. But they are still killing the same men who have the same dreams and who chew the same food and hum the same songs when they are happy but if it is called War it is all right because that is the rules of War.

How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Scott Newstok; 2020. Non-fiction.)
What a delight to read John Warner’s recommendation of this and Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (which I read earlier this year).

p. 3
[W]e claim to know thinking when we see it, despite the difficulty of definition. And if we believe cultivating it is a good thing, then we are often perverse. We’ve imposed educational programs that kill the capacity to think independently, or even the desire to do so. While we point to thinkers — Leonardo, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Curie — who modeled the disciplined, independent, questing intellect we claim to revere, we reinforce systems ensuring that our own young people could never emulate them.

Hawking (Ottaviani and Myrick; 2019. Graphic non-fiction.)
The Trojan Women (Euripides): A Comic (Anne Carson; 2021. Graphic fiction.)
Family Tree, Vol. 3: Forest (Jeff Lemire; 2021. Graphic fiction.)
Feynman (Ottaviani and Myrick; 2011) was a stronger work, but Hawking certainly engaged me, as did the offbeat graphic interpretation of The Trojan Women. The conclusion to Family Tree, however, was a disappointing jumble.

Trojan Women (Euripides (trans. E. P. Coleridge); 415 B.C. Drama.)
After reading Carson’s graphic adaptation, I turned to the play itself. Once again, Harvard’s Reading Greek Tragedy Online was a fabulous companion. (Related episode here.)

Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie; 2017. Fiction.)
Review here.
p. 10
She felt, as she did most mornings, the deep pleasure of daily life distilled to the essentials: books, walks, spaces in which to think and work.

Antigone (Sophocles (trans. Don Taylor); 441 B.C. Drama.)
Partway through Shamsie’s gorgeous retelling of Antigone, I decided to reread Sophocles’ play and watch the 2012 production on National Theatre at Home, the latter of which is first-rate.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 2001. Fiction.)
Yes. Again.

Fox 8 (George Saunders; 2015. Fiction.)
If George Saunders wrote it, I want to read it.

Bury Your Dead (Louise Penny; 2010. Fiction.)
Penny’s sixth Gamache novel kept me company on the most recent long drive to see my daughters. (Ralph Cosham is the perfect narrator for these mysteries.) I finally had an opportunity to finish reading it mid-month.

The Hummingbirds’ Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings (Sy Montgomery; 2021. Non-fiction.)
This seemed rather slight, which made sense when I realized it is a repackage of a chapter from Montgomery’s longer book, Birdology (2010).

Postcard Poems (Jeanne Griggs; 2021. Poetry.)
See this entry.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Sam Quinones; 2015. Non-fiction.)
In 2019, I read Beth Macy’s Dopesick (2018), which put Dreamland on my readerly radar. Both will inform my upcoming appointment with the tome that is Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Patrick Radden Keefe; 2021).

Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called “Alien” (Jeremy N. Smith; 2019. Non-fiction.)
What a quick and engaging, if imperfect, read. More information here.

Books

Recent acquisitions.

It has been a week, nearly to the hour since the painters rolled up the last of their dropcloths and headed to their next site. As it turns out, my assertion that the project would result in rain was correct: Last Thursday night, our area was lashed with thunderstorms. Fortunately, the painters had finished for the day about ten hours beforehand, so all was well. Despite a few showers since then, though, this area remains in severe drought conditions.

Since my last annotated list, I’ve finished eleven books, including four plays:

■ Much Ado about Nothing (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)
■ The Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)
■ King John (William Shakespeare; 1595. Drama.)
Part of my quest to reread all of his plays this year.

■ Titanic: Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912 (Owen McCafferty; 2012. Drama.)
In advance of watching Court Theatre’s streaming production.

The other books:

■ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling; 2007. Fiction.)
As I’ve addressed in previous entries, a comfortable and comforting reread.

■ The Jungle (Upton Sinclair; 1906. Fiction.)
This was the first of two books my younger daughter and I chose for a two-person summer book club.

From Chapter III:
One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it—it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice? Perhaps some glimpse of all this was in the thoughts of our humble-minded Jurgis, as he turned to go on with the rest of the party, and muttered: “Dieve—but I’m glad I’m not a hog!”

■ Chicago Poems (Carl Sandburg; 1916. Poetry.)
■ The Jungle (Kristina Gehrmann; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
Several of the poems in Sandburg’s collection eloquently address the same issues Sinclair raises. The graphic adaptation, however, was pointless.

■ Outcast, Vol. 8: The Merged (Kirkman and Azaceta; 2021. Fiction.)
The conclusion of the series did not work for me. At. All.

■ Saint X (Alexis Schaitkin; 2020. Fiction.)
A satisfying summer read. Review here.

■ The Secret to Superhuman Strength (Alison Bechdel; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
Excellent. Related links here and here.

Riding and reading

We biked again last Saturday and hope to return to the trail this weekend.

Although the city has not yet implemented watering restrictions, our part of the world is experiencing a severe drought. It may not be apparent on the trail, but in our neighborhood, lawns are dormant, lake and creek levels are low, and new plants are dying. According to our contractor, however, this is excellent house-painting weather, so there’s that. Between you and me? I’m willing to wager that if not the snap of burlap stretched over the ornamentals then the slap of primer on the siding will be the magic rainstick that shakes some precipitation from the sky next week.

In other news, I’ve read four books since my last annotated list and am on the cusp of finishing a fifth — Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison), the June selection for the NYT’s T Book Club

Know My Name: A Memoir (Chanel Miller; 2019. Non-fiction.)
[A] devastating, immersive memoir of her sexual assault and its aftermath.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling; 2005. Fiction.)
Perhaps I was a bit harsh when writing about my HP reread last year, “[T]he flaws have become too big to hide under a long sweater of sentiment. They’re just not particularly well-stitched, are they?” This from a woman who has (speaking of sweaters), year in and year out, from the first cool-enough morning in October until the first too-warm morning in April, donned the same tatty, misshapen gray bundle of yarn with sleeves to take her first cup of coffee. Well-stitched or not, both the stories and my ugly old sweater comfort me. And that’s not a bad thing. No, not at all.

The Goshawk (T.H. White; 1951. Non-fiction.)
p. 23
It has never been easy to learn life from books.

p. 38
Here comes (one thought, suddenly catching oneself out) that excellent piece of work called man, with his capacity for looking before and after, his abilities to reflect upon the enigmas of philosophy, and the minted storehouse of an education that had cost between two and three thousand pounds, walking sideways to a tied bird, with his hand held out in front of him, looking the other way and meowing like a cat.

Leave the World Behind (Rumaan Alam; 2020. Fiction.)
[A] disaster novel without the disaster.

Of bikes and books

To the list “Things I did when I wasn’t reading this weekend,” add “Biking.” With the ghosts of two memorable spills in mind, we stuck to walks and the exercise bike last year to avoid the ER and urgent care during the pandemic. Today’s, then, was our first ride in twenty months.

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read eight books for a year-to-date total of ninety-four. At the end of next month, I’ll sort out how this positions me to meet my goals.

Three graphic works:

Imagine Wanting Only This (Kristen Radtke; 2017. Graphic non-fiction.)
Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshops in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories from a New Europe (Ali Fitzgerald; 2018. Graphic non-fiction.)
The Book Tour (Andi Watson; 2019. Graphic fiction.)

A gorgeous (and highly recommended) volume of poetry:

Stag’s Leap (Sharon Olds; 2012. Poetry.)

Two “vacation books”:

The Brutal Telling (Louise Penny; 2009. Fiction.)
The Last (Hanna Jameson; 2019. Fiction.)

The twentieth in my quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays:

Richard III (William Shakespeare; 1594. Drama.)

For the Cardiff BookTalk:

To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf; 1927. Fiction.)
From Chapter XVII of “The Window”:

But what have I done with my life? thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her place at the head of the table, and looking at the plates making white circles on it. “William, sit by me,” she said. “Lily,” she said, wearily, “over there.” They had that — Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle — she, only this — an infinitely long table and plates and knives. At the far end, was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning. What at? She did not know. She did not mind. She could not understand how she ever felt any emotion or affection for him. She had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of everything, as she helped the soup, as if there were an eddy — there — and one could be in it, or one could be out of it, and she was out of it. It’s all come to an end, she thought, while they came in one after another, Charles Tansley — “Sit there, please,” she said — August Carmichael — and sat down. And meanwhile she waited, passively, for some one to answer her, for something to happen. But this is not a thing, she thought, ladling out soup, that one says.

From Chapter V of “The Lighthouse”:

And she wanted to say not one thing, but everything. Little words that broke up the thought and dismembered it said nothing. “About life, about death; about Mrs. Ramsay” — no, she thought, one could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again; then one became like most middle-aged people, cautious, furtive, with wrinkles between the eyes and a look of perpetual apprehension.

Reading notes

A few more new books.

This weekend, I plan to finish Joyce Carol Oates’ latest short story collection and Book Eight of The Brothers Karamazov. (Book group participation has been dwindling, but this week’s meeting, the seventh, was jarring: For the first fifteen minutes, it was only the two moderators and yours truly. Eventually, two other readers logged in, but one left early.) I have pulled a few other books from the shelves, but I’m not yet ready to commit to a plan.

Between March 14 and the end of the month, I read eleven books, bringing my year-to-date total to fifty-nine.

As part of my effort to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2021, I tackled:

Love’s Labour’s Lost (William Shakespeare; 1598. Drama.)
Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare; 1597. Drama.) RFS
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare; 1596. Drama.)
This time through I was struck by the rages into which Capulet and Egeus fly when confronted with the preferences of their respective daughters. Apparently, each would prefer a dead daughter to one with agency.

CAPULET:
But, as you will not wed, I’ll pardon you:
Graze where you will you shall not house with me:
Look to’t, think on’t, I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise:
An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in
the streets,
For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good:
Trust to’t, bethink you; I’ll not be forsworn.

EGEUS:
Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth:
With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart,
Turn’d her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Be it so she; will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie; 2007. Fiction.)
Following Tommy Orange’s excellent There There, I browsed my shelves for other works by Native American writers.

Octavia Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (Damian Duffy; 2017. Fiction.)
A follow-up to Butler’s novel.

The Memory Police (Yoko Ogawa; 2019 (1994). Fiction.)
Years ago, I read and loved Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, which is also concerned with the nature of memory. This is just as wonderful. Reviews here and here.

Olive, Again (Elizabeth Strout; 2019. Fiction.)
No, it is not as good as Olive Kitteridge, but it is a terrific book.

Pursuit (Joyce Carol Oates; 2019. Fiction.)
While awaiting my copy of The (Other) You, I pulled this slim thriller from the Oates collection. The Chicago Humanities Festival hosted a talk with the author on March 25, archived here.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Kate DiCamillo; 2006. Fiction.)
Gorgeously illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, this was a lovely, if bittersweet, story.

Drawing Lines: An Anthology of Women Cartoonists (2021. (First published in 2006, as Sexy Chix.) Graphic fiction.)
Picked it up for the JCO content.

Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking (D.Q. McInerny May; 2004. Non-fiction.)
Think The Elements of Style for logic.

“Who in the world, the strange and incomprehensible world, did she think she was?”

Since closing The Count of Monte Cristo with a satisfied readerly sigh on February 21, I’ve read eleven books, for a year-to-date total of forty-eight.

Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind (Harold Bloom; 2019. Non-fiction.)
The Merry Wives of Windsor (William Shakespeare; 1597. Drama.)
As I’ve mentioned, I am rereading all of the plays this year.

My Man Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse; 1919. Fiction.)
A delight-filled reread.

From “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest”:
I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping. There’s no doubt the man’s right. It’s absolutely the way with me.

From “The Aunt and the Sluggard”:
As I stood my lonely bedroom at the hotel, trying to tie my white tie myself, it struck me for the first time that there must be whole squads of chappies in the world who had to get along without a man to look after them. I’ve always thought of Jeeves as a kind of natural phenomenon; but, by Jove! of course, when you come to think of it, there must be quite a lot of fellows who have to press their own clothes themselves and haven’t got anybody to bring them tea in the morning, and so on. It was rather a solemn thought, don’t you know. I mean to say, ever since then I’ve been able to appreciate the frightful privations the poor have to stick.

Hope Rides Again (Andrew Schaffer; 2019. Fiction.)
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne; 1871. Fiction.)
Two more rereads.

Kindred (Octavia Butler; 1979. Fiction.)
Read for this month’s Cardiff BookTalk. I was late to the Octavia Butler fan club but am glad to have received my membership card.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (Katherine May; 2020. Fiction.)
Reviews here and here.

We Run the Tides (Vendela Vida; 2021. Fiction.)
Heard about this on NPR; borrowed it from the library; read it in two sittings.

p. 33
I pass the bushes where butterflies like to flutter and feed. Sometimes we catch them in jars for a minute before releasing them. Sometimes we wait too long to release them and find them dead. We know the names of the girls who keep the butterflies too long, and we have no idea what to do with this information.

Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout; 2008. Fiction.)
Reread in anticipation of Olive, Again (2019). The title of today’s post occurs on page 162 of my edition, as does the following:

There were days — she could remember this — when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure.

Ice (Anna Kavan; 1967. Fiction.)
An essay in my edition of Kindred likened Butler’s novel to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which I reread last year, and Kavan’s Ice, which was already on my shelves — genre-defying. Naturally, I had to move Ice up the TBR list. Related article here.

Ma foi!

A few recent acquisitions.

With just twenty minutes remaining before we tuned in for the season finale of All Creatures Great and Small, I savored the last page of the “thumping good read” (R.I.P., A Common Reader) that is The Count of Monte Cristo.

p. 191
“Upon my word,” said Dantes, “you make me shudder. If I listen much longer to you, I shall believe the world is filled with tigers and crocodiles.”

“Only remember that two-legged tigers and crocodiles are more dangerous than those that walk on four.”

Reading notes

The view from my desk earlier this month.

❧ To prepare for a new book group, I read (and reread) Book I of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. For a number of reasons, I’m working from the Constance Garnett translation rather than the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (which has languished on my shelves since 2003). Just a scant twenty-five pages in, I am wondering what took me so long to arrive at this incredible book.

❧ Now that I have reached Chapter 76 in The Count of Monte Cristo, I think I may safely report that I will finish this tome well ahead of schedule. What a face-paced (if highly improbable) tale of revenge!

❧ I finished Tommy Orange’s There There (2018) for The Deep Read. Topping a number of 2018 best-of lists, this novel needs no additional recommendations from me, but Orange’s delicate spider web of a plot really does dazzle.

p. 20
Maxine makes me read her Indian stuff that I don’t always get. I like it, though, because when I do get it, I get it way down at that place where it hurts but feels better because you feel it, something you couldn’t feel before reading it, that makes you feel less alone, and like it’s not going to hurt as much anymore. One time she use the word devastating after I finished reading a passage from her favorite author — Louise Erdrich. It was something about how life will break you. How that’s the reason we are here, and to go sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples fall and pile around you, wasting all that sweetness. I didn’t know what it meant then, and she saw that I didn’t. She didn’t explain it either. But we read the passage, that whole book, another time, and I got it.

❧ My commitment to rereading Shakespeare’s plays remains steadfast. Since my last checkin, I finished Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V. To complement the Henriad, I plucked Harold Bloom’s 1992 meditation on the Fat Knight, Falstaff: Give Me Life, from the Shakespeare collection.

p. 50
If there can be a secular Resurrection, it would be Falstaff rising from the dead. The spirit that surges in all of us, even in the face of death, mounts to more life in the presence of the grandest personality in all of Shakespeare.

❧ As I mentioned in my last post, my reawakened Betty Broderick obsession / fascination demanded feeding, so I finished Bryna Taubman’s brisk if builder-grade Hell Hath No Fury.

❧ I’m also reading Maurice Chammah’s Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty, which I heard about on NPR on the (long but worthwhile) drive to Ann Arbor last month.

❧ So that puts me at thirty-six books read since the beginning of the year, twenty-eight of which were read from the shelves.

“It is a refuge from distress….”

A recommendation that I look into Zena Hitz’s The Catherine Project sent me to shelves for Lost in Thought.

p. 58
Intellectual life is a way to recover one’s real value when it is denied recognition by the power plays and careless judgments of social life. That is why it is a source of dignity. In ordinary social life, knowledge is exchanged for money or for power, for approval or for a sense of belonging, to mark out superiority in status or to achieve a feeling of importance. These are our common currencies, our ways of advancing ourselves or diminishing others. But since a human being is more than his or her social uses, other, more fundamental ways of relating are possible. These forms of communion can consist in the joyful friendship of bookworms or the gritty pursuit of the truth about something together with people one would otherwise find unbearable.

p. 110
What good is intellectual life? It is a refuge from distress; a reminder of one’s dignity; a source of insight and understanding; a garden in which human aspiration is cultivated; a hollow of a wall to which one can temporarily withdraw from the current controversies to gain a broader perspective, to remind oneself of one’s universal human heritage. All this makes clear at the least that it is an essential good for human beings, even if one good among others.

Other reading notes:

I finished Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents (1998). If you missed this New Yorker article, when I linked it after reading Parable of the Sower, make time for it now.

I’m on Chapter 51 of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a brisker pace than Robin proposed, but that’s all right.

I’m also reading Tommy Orange’s There There (2018) with The Deep Read.

Dirty John reawakened my dormant obsession with Betty Broderick, so I am revisiting Bryna Taubman’s Hell Hath No Fury (1992) and Bella Stumbo’s Until the Twelfth of Never (1993). Related article here. I love that showrunner Alexandra Cunningham “has been obsessed with the Broderick story since she was a teenager and read journalist Bella Stumbo’s book … so often that she stole it from the library.”