Currently reading

For the commonplace book, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises:

Chapter I
I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together….

Chapter II
“Listen, Jake,” he leaned forward on the bar. “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”

Chapter IV
It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.

Chapter XII
“Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave. You know what’s the trouble with you? You’re an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven’t you heard that? Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.”

Chapter XIII
It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was such wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent from happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

Chapter XIV
Perhaps that wasn’t true, though. Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.

Chapter XVI
“Everybody behaves badly,” I said. “Give them the proper chance.”

Chapter XVIII
He was not sure that there were any great moments. Things were not the same and now life only came in flashes.

Chapter XIX
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Appointments to keep in the past

It seems to me then as if all of the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?

For the Newberry course, “Under the Sign of Saturn: The Enigmatic Work of W.G. Sebald,” I’ve read The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz, as well as Carole Angier’s biography of Sebald. (The Readers Karamazov hosted a terrific episode on The Rings of Saturn.) Next up is After Nature.

 

The flip side of ignorance

Image captured last week at the Conservatory at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Since my last post, I’ve read:

■ Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
In advance of watching Joel Coen’s film. Related story/review here

■ Six Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello (Trans. Edward Storer; 1921. Drama.)
Cannot recall the precise path that led me to Scallydandling about the books, but I can say that I enjoy poking about in her video lists. Six Characters was her January drama selection.

■ Late Migrations: A Memoir of Love and Loss (Margaret Renkl; 2019. Non-fiction.)
For the commonplace book:

p. 7
But the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s twin.

p.17
Holding a useless camera, I suddenly realize that something extraordinary is happening right before me, a great serpent slowly on the move and all the songbirds aware of its presence and calling to each other and telling each other to beware. The miracle isn’t happening in the sky at all. It’s happening in the damp weeds of an ordinary backyard, among last year’s moldering leaves and the fragrant soil turned up by moles.

p. 73
[…B]ut the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment.

p. 155
When I didn’t die, however, and then didn’t die some more, I came one day to understand: I wasn’t dying; I was grieving. I wasn’t dying. Not yet.

p. 186
Human beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being. In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift.

What we feel always contains its own truth, but it is not the only truth, and darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine, to reveal it in its deepest hiding place.

With the month closing and only nine books on my list, I’d say this year has begun at a far more leisurely pace than last year (twenty-five books). That said, I’m reading quite a bit. With 100 Days of Dante, I’ve nearly climbed Mount Purgatory. With book groups, I’m reading Anna Karenina, Moby-Dick, and Debt (see sidebar). I’ve just begun A Clockwork Orange, the February Cardiff BookTalk selection. And my husband and I have embarked on a read-the-bible-in-a-year schedule. (It pains me to confess that I haven’t read the complete bible. Do you have a recommendation for a “bible as literature” resource? We’ll take it.)

I began listening to State of Terror (Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton) on the drive to and from  Michigan last week — not Chief Inspector Gamache but certainly entertaining. While away, I also tried to finish Noah Hawley’s latest novel, Anthem (review here), but no luck. Unlike S. Kirk Walsh, I’m finding it a bit… tedious.

Before heading out on my mini-vacation, I gave a Zoom* performance for an audience of one, playing the Rondeau, Polonaise, and Badinerie from Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. Was it flawless? Nope. But while I was away, my teacher wrote, in part, “Really, really excellent work on the Bach! So pleased and proud that you put your all into it and did such a great job.” Yes, I’m still grinning. My new solo piece is Howard Ferguson’s Three Sketches for Flute and Piano. I’m also working on the ninth of 18 Studies for Flute by Joachim Anderson, Op. 41, in Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies from Andersen, Gariboldi, Koehler, and Terschak for Flute, Book 1, and “From Duetto No. IV” (W.F. Bach) in Selected Duets for Flute, Volume II (Advanced). My practice schedule remains much as it was in the fall.

Our walking schedule, however, does not: The snow and ice (to say nothing of the extreme cold of days like yesterday) make early morning walks in the neighborhood untenable, so we’ve been using workouts on DVDs, after which, I hop on the exercise bike while my husband gets ready for work. We have the equipment needed to walk the conservation district paths, though, so we head there on the weekends during which the weather cooperates.

* Given the continuing uncertainty surrounding the virus, I requested that we return to the virtual format until at least February.

Reading

In September, I made a note to read Murder in the Cathedral (T.S. Eliot; 1935) following this from Louise Penny’s A Beautiful Mystery:

“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest,” Gamache repeated. “It’s what Henry the Second said about Thomas à Becket.”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Gamache grinned. “Hang in there, young man. This story ends in murder.”

“Better.”

“This was almost nine hundred years ago,” the Chief continued. “In England.”

“I’m already asleep.”

“King Henry promoted his good friend Thomas to be archbishop, thinking that would give him control of the Church. But it backfired.”

Despite himself, Beauvoir leaned forward.

(By the way, if pressed, I’d say Bury Your Dead and A Beautiful Mystery are my favorite books in the Chief Inspector Gamache series.) I finally read Eliot’s play last week, at which point, I also toggled two novels, The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Carmiel Banasky; 2015) and Anthem (Noah Hawley), which was just released. A couple of unexpected intersections emerged, including two Claires (titular and Simon Oliver’s sister in Anthem) and discussions / plot points concerning mental health (including suicide), political activism, and religion.

Here’s another intersection:

In Part I of Murder in the Cathedral, the Fourth Tempter asks Thomas, “What can compare with the glory of the Saints,” coaxing him to “Seek the way of martyrdom,” to which Thomas responds, “Others offered real goods, worthless / But real. You only offer / Dreams to damnation.” Although the archbishop knows that to aspire to sainthood is sinful, unsaintly, he cannot help himself; he has thought about it.

Then, this from pages 149-150 of Anthem:

“Martyrs believe their suffering makes them holy. That sacrifices made in this life will gain them reward in the afterlife. They get romantic when they talk about dying for a cause. His name was Duncan. Her name was Ashli. His name was Tim McVeigh. This is the difference between the martyr and the saint. Sainthood requires selflessness. One cannot aspire to sainthood, because the very desire to be a saint is in and of itself unsaintly….”

Tonight I plan to finish Banasky’s novel before settling in to watch the Season 2 premiere of All Creatures Great and Small, and tomorrow I hope to finish The Prince (Machiavelli; 1532). (I began reading this to prepare for a “First Friday Lecture.”) The year began with Summerwater (Sarah Moss; 2020) and Lost Everything (Brian Francis Slattery; 2012), both of which are bleak but worthwhile.