In May 2011, I clipped David Ulin’s “Summers of Discovery” from the Chicago Tribune. (It also appeared in the Los Angeles Times: “Critic’s Notebook: In Discover Mode.”) I had thought I would reread Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that summer, but we know how that goes, right? More than six years later, though, I finally returned to the novel, and as I mentioned in my last post, it still resonates.
And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”
It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it:
Last weekend, between Fun Home at Victory Gardens (highly recommended) — and Machinal at the Greenhouse Theatre Center (excellent but now closed), we visited the bookstore pictured above. It’s even cooler in person.
To celebrate Banned Books Week, I reread Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a book I first read thirty years ago; I am happy to report that it holds up. Although I am still behind on the Sonnets, I am keeping up with the rest of the Shakespeare in a Year schedule, having finished Antony and Cleopatra over the weekend. The only other book I’ve completed since my last post is You by Caroline Kepnes, which was not quite as graphic as I had feared. In anticipation of seeing Steppenwolf’s The Crucible, I have chosen to read Stacy Schiff’s Witches instead of rereading Miller’s play (which I love and have all but memorized).
Two things I can say about my work: These first five weeks have passed so quickly! And, I remain grateful to have found this gig. Actually, three things: It really does take part of the weekend to “get ready for the week.” We visited our daughters yesterday but spent much of today on chores, paperwork, and errands.
Since my last bookish post, I have, among other things, seen the Ivo van Hove-directed A View from the Bridge at the Goodman (get there, if you can), visited my daughters, taken three flute lessons, (nearly) finished four weeks at my new job, and completed six books:
■ Timon of Athens (William Shakespeare; 1605. Drama.)
■ Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
■ Do Not Become Alarmed (Maile Meloy; 2017. Fiction.)
■ Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Jeanette Winterson; 2012. Non-fiction.)
■ Carrying the Elephant (Michael Rosen; 2002. Poetry.)
■ War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy; 1869. (Trans. L. and A. Maude; Everyman’s Library; 1992.) Fiction.)
The plays, both rereads, represent my Shakespeare in a Year progress. I plan to read Sonnets 112 through 120 and the related commentary between now and Sunday evening, which should catch me up.
From Macbeth, which is one of my favorite of the plays:
Act IV, Scene iii
Let’s make us medicines of our great revenge,
To cure this deadly grief.
Seven years ago, I pressed my copy of Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It on someone, promising beautiful prose and original storytelling. I regretted it almost instantly, and I really regretted it a few years later when the same someone mentioned the book in conversation, “Have you read it?” she asked. “It’s pretty good.” Um, yes, I read it. The copy you just finished, in fact. And, “pretty good” seems pretty inadequate, but okay. “Mmmm…” I replied, and reminded myself, again, not to give my books away. Pass them to my daughters, sell them, donate them, yes. But give them away? Not anymore, I don’t. Anyway, while I readily concede that Do Not Become Alarmed does not cast the same spell as Both Ways, it is as impossible to put down as Fierce Kingdom (Gin Phillips), which I read last month, so, recommended.
As I mentioned last time, I reread Fun Home (Alison Bechdel) in anticipation of seeing the Victory Gardens production. I had a notion that Jeanette Winterson’s memoir would make a neat pairing, and I was a little right — and a little wrong. Here are my remaining commonplace book entries for Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
I did not realise that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as a good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.
There’s a lot of talk about the tame world versus the wild world. It is not only a wild nature that we need as human beings; it is the untamed open space of our imaginations.
Reading is where the wild things are.
And extremes — whether of dullness or fury — successfully prevent feeling. I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies — unconscious strategies — to keep those feelings away. We do a feelings-swap, where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead. It can work the other way, too — sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate; sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.
It takes courage to feel the feeling — and not trade it on the feelings-exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person.
Michal Rosen’s Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, is quite possibly the most accurate depiction of sorrow and grief I have ever read. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought to send Rosen a postcard that simply says, “Yes. Thank you.” This week, I read Carrying the Elephant, his collection of prose poems. Again, “Yes. Thank you.”
… Yes, it is unfair and
cruel. It also makes me tired with a
tiredness that hangs on like a dog. It’s nice of
you to say you’ll always remember him. You won’t.
… You see me and you cry, you’re
overwhelmed. You ask me how it’s
possible for me to carry on. I wonder
if I look like someone who looks like
it’s possible to carry on.
And, as I shared yesterday, I have finished reading War and Peace. Here are the remaining commonplace book entries:
Book Three, Chapter 25
As often happens with passionate people, he was mastered by anger but was still seeking an object on which to vent it.
Book Four, Chapter 13
This was his acknowledgment of the impossibility of changing a man’s convictions by words, and his recognition of the possibility of everyone thinking, feeling, and seeing things each from his own point of view. This legitimate peculiarity of each individual, which used to excite and irritate Pierre, now became a basis of the sympathy he felt for, and the interest he took in other people. The difference, and sometimes complete contradiction, between men’s opinions and their lives, between one man and another, pleased him and evoked from him an amused and gentle smile.
Next up? It’s hard to say. Last night, I grabbed a thriller. After the “heavy” reading and work and the yard chores (yeah, I decided to mow and rake when I got home), You (Caroline Kepnes) seemed right. The thing is, I have a feeling that this is going to become graphic in a way that my post-fifty self no longer tolerates well, so I may be in search of something else before day’s end.
On a related (sort of) note: My husband and I have only two episodes of Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect remaining. We were already Ronson fans (The Psychopath Test, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed), so this podcast (free to Prime and Audible customers) interested us. Although Ronson navigates an X-rated world, the podcast is never more than R-rated. Here’s Ronson’s description:
It’s sad, funny, moving and totally unlike some other nonfiction stories about porn – because it isn’t judgmental or salacious. It’s human and sweet and strange and lovely. It’s a mystery story, an adventure. It’s also, I think, a new way of telling a story. This season follows a single butterfly effect. The flap of the butterfly’s wings is a boy in Brussels having an idea. His idea is how to get rich from giving the world free online porn. Over seven episodes I trace the consequences of this idea, from consequence through to consequence. If you keep going in this way, where might you end up? It turns out you end up in the most surprising and unexpected places.