Bookish

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Recent acquisitions.

Read from the shelves.

This is the avid reader’s “Lose weight” or “Join a health club” goal, isn’t it? A resolution made to be broken before Valentine’s Day with rueful chuckles and the nodding acceptance of most fellow readers.

Although my rate of acquisition has certainly slowed, my commitment to reading from the shelves has been something less than steadfast. (Evidence: More than forty of the titles I’ve finished this year were published this year.) As I made room for new friends this morning, I was struck afresh by how many wonderful books already await my attention. Frankly, walking through my house is not unlike wandering through a tiny but well curated bookstore, replete with the same, “Oooo, that looks interesting!” and “Hmmmm, now what’s that about?” discoveries. The abundance of riches is both wildly cool and a little embarrassing. So although we’re a bit out from the “I resolve” time of year, I have been contemplating a personal reading challenge for 2019, something with a bit more stick-to-it-ness than the designed-to-be-broken, “Read from the shelves.”

I began with, “Read one book from every shelf in my library.” Because there are more than two hundred shelves, though, and because it’s been more than a decade since I last finished more than two hundred books in a year, the goal needed refinement. I have decided on one hundred books from my shelves, including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. Since I’ve been finishing between 120 and 150 books annually for the last few years, this goal leaves me a little room for impulsivity. My current plan requires nothing more than that the book have been in my collection before the end of 2018, but I will add more details if or when it becomes less random.

How about you? Do you have any reading plans or goals or challenges for the coming year?

Reading notes

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Recent acquisitions.

Earlier this week, I finished Gorilla and the Bird, Zack McDermott’s 2017 memoir. For the commonplace book:

p. 20
Watching my mom tutor eighteen-year-olds who read at a second-grade level — who considered our humble abode the Taj Mahal because we had a weight bench and a Sega Genesis — showed me that the difference between the track to prison and the track to grad school boils down to approximately a thousand consecutive nights of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Where the Wild Things Are, along with being told by someone who loves you: “A writer is always writing” and “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and, once, “A writer is a liar. A good writer is a good liar. And you’re a silver-tongued devil, boy.” In other words, being lucky enough to have the Bird or someone like her as your mom.

p. 73
I spent my whole life trying to get out of this place. It’s as familiar as an identical twin, and yet I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this is the factory where I was assembled.

The place to which McDermott refers is Wichita, Kansas. One of the books I’m now reading, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, is set just thirty miles outside of that city. From an NYT review of the National Book Award finalist:

A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, “Heartland” is one of a growing number of important works — including Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” and Amy Goldstein’s “Janesville” — that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America’s postindustrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class. It’s a term that Smarsh argues wasn’t mentioned during her childhood in the 1980s and ’90s. “This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it.”

I’m thisclose to finishing the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, and I have recommitted to Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. Now I need to figure out where to put the recent acquisitions: the TBR pile or the shelves?

We live in a library.

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“A house that’s full of books makes a different kind of people.”
(Inheritors by Susan Glaspell)

Elsewhere, I posted a link to the October 10 article “Growing up in a house full of books is major boost to literacy and numeracy, study finds” (The Guardian), to which my daughter replied, “That’s good to know,” a wry observation from a young woman who grew up in a library.

In the comments, someone asked I am able to keep all of the books, or if I face “tough decisions.” I have not kept all of the books, but that did not involve tough decisions; after all, not every book is a keeper. We sold or donated more than a quarter of the library before our last move and nearly that much again when our home education adventure concluded; and my rate of acquisition since then has not yet outpaced the shelving space with which we outfitted the forever home.

The space is finite, though, something my husband and daughters, who often help me shelve and shift, regularly remind me.

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Recent acquisitions.

On my desk

C6008888-0641-43D2-8408-643F4A23B3E8From Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke:

p. 253
She’d always believed that her parents had done right by her, but now, sitting mute at Stanton’s table, she found herself seething over their choices. Why had they kept her life so small? Why had they never asked her what she wanted? At every possible turn, she saw, they’d chosen the path that would keep her weak and dependent. And the fact that they couldn’t see it that way, that they sincerely believed they’d acted in her best interest, didn’t make it any less true, or them any less culpable.

I was certain I had read this novel when it was first published seven years ago, but I have no record of it, nor did it seem terribly familiar after the first chapter, so I picked up a remaindered paperback. While better than some entries to the “If you loved The Handmaid’s Tale, read this!” category of dystopian fiction, When She Woke proffers neither the intelligence nor the pervasive horror that undergird Atwood’s classic.

With some bookstore credits, I purchased Esi Edugyan’s novel, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

A few book notes

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What I’m reading now.

■ This week’s objective for the Kristin Lavransdatter readalong is Part 1 of The Wife, the second book in the trilogy. Because this old-fashioned but well-told story is so engrossing, however, I have been completing about one part per week since the readalong began: Last night I arrived at Part I of the third book, The Cross.

■ Since my last post, I have read a number of graphic fiction works, including:

Grass Kings, Volume 1: New World Order (Matt Kindt; 2018. Graphic fiction.)
Dept. H, Vol. 2: After the Flood (Matt Kindt; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
Dept. H, Vol. 3: Decompressed (Matt Kindt; 2018. Graphic fiction.)
Beverly (Nick Drnaso; 2016. Graphic fiction.)

While waiting for the library to acquire Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (which appeared on the Mann Booker Prize longlist), I borrowed his 2016 work, Beverly, which was alternately damning and depressing. I am also waiting for the library to acquire the fourth volume of Matt Kindt’s Dept. H.

■ I am behind on my Banned Books Week selection, a reread of The Awakening (Kate Chopin), but I have finished The Third Hotel, Laura van den Berg’s meditation on death, grief, falling apart, and staggering on. For the commonplace book:

p. 80
Her husband believed that once the theater went dark and the film began, the viewer was alone — even if they had arrived in the company of others. This solitude was needed to dissolve the logic and laws of the world they had come from, replacing those principles with the logic and laws of the screen; that was how Yuriel Mata’s eels had slipped past. In this way you could descend into the theater with a person you knew intimately and then, once the lights returned, find yourself seated next to a stranger.

p. 88
Her own vast and incurious country often felt alien to her, with its unimaginative pledges and toxic patriotism, its aversion to discomfort and complex thought (the death of her brother-in-law alone had been enough to instill in her a hatred of truisms — what was so impossible about saying, Right now our lives are fucked up and we don’t know exactly when things will get better?), its desire to be recognized as a beacon of justice without ever actually acting like one. At the same time, America was the only country she had ever lived in, and she understood it could be disingenuous, perhaps even dangerous, to allow herself to feel superior to the thing she had always lived inside, the thing that had made her.

p. 93
You are dead, she thought. How could she have forgotten?

She had heard of the syndrome that drove people to believe loved ones had been replaced by fakes, but perhaps an inversion existed, one in which the fake was mistaken for the real, and she was afflicted.

p. 174
She did not know how to grieve her husband’s death or her father’s decline or the choice each day carried her closer to, the choice she was wholly unprepared to make — or would turn out to be more prepared than any person should be.

She did not know how to grieve in the context of her life.

Bullshit, Richard said. No one gets on a plane to see a movie.

Everyone dies at the end, she said, except the hero’s daughter.

p. 200
When a person did not know they were being watched, what they would do when they believed themselves to be in a state of true privacy — that was the lure of of found footage, that clarification of the human mystery, and that was why surveillance was so lethal: a true erosion of self.

■ With only three months remaining, it seems prudent to re-evaluate my reading resolutions for this year.

1. Read from the shelves.
I must make this annual resolution simply to torment myself. Of the 111 books I have read cover to cover this year, 39 were published in 2018. So much for reading from my own library, eh?

2. Complete a close reading of Moby Dick.
I’ve read it once and listened to the spectacular audiobook (William Hootkins; 2004) dozens of times, but I would still like to reread Moby Dick.

3. Reread at least one Vonnegut novel.
Sirens of Titan by Thanksgiving break.

4. Finish reading several books abandoned in 2017 (or *gulp* earlier).
No progress.

5. Read at least thirty non-fiction titles.
I’ve read twenty-three, so far.