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.”

Some reading notes

I reread three more Shakespeare plays:

Titus Andronicus
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, Part I

And read these:

Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy (Talia Levin; 2020. Non-fiction.)
NYT review here.

The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler; 1939. Fiction.)
In So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan makes much of The Great Gatsby’s debt to hard-boiled detective stories, which led me to this classic. Thanks to Corrigan, I plan to read The Maltese Falcon, too, and, for other reasons she explores, to revisit Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai (John Tayman; 2006. Non-fiction.)
This has been on my shelves for fifteen years. NPR interview here.

Herakles (Euripides (trans. R. Potter); 416 B.C. Drama.)
Read in anticipation of an upcoming Theater of War event, Hercules in Pennsylvania. In my search for supplementary resources, I stumbled on Reading Greek Tragedy Online.

The Old Guard, Book Two: Force Multiplied (Greg Rucka; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
What fun to discover a second volume of this series on Hoopla.

“Unity is an anomaly.”

From Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authority by Anne Applebaum (2020):

p. 56
Unity is an anomaly. Polarization is normal. Skepticism about liberal democracy is also normal. And the appeal of authoritarianism is eternal.

p. 171
For some people, loud advocacy of Trump helps to cover up the deep doubt and even shame they feel about their support for Trump. It’s not enough to express tepid approval of a president who is corrupting the White House and destroying America’s alliances. You have to shout if you want to convince yourself as well as others. You have to exaggerate your feelings if you are to make them believable.

“Good night, old sport…. Good night.”

This morning, as the snow fell faintly through the universe and faintly fell, I remained burrowed in my bedcovers to finish Corrigan’s insightful book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (2014).

It’s all over, Nick decrees on the very last page of the novel.

But he does so in the most beautiful sentences ever written about America. Gatsby’s fall from grace may be grim, but the language of the novel is buoyant; Fitzgerald’s plot may suggest that the American Dream is a mirage, but his words make that dream irresistible. Gatsby has it both ways. Far from being an easy read sized just right for quick digesting by our nation’s high-school students, The Great Gatsby is an elegant trickster of a novel, spinning out all sorts of inspired and contradictory poetic patter about American identity and possibilities.