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 Newstock; 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.

To be shelved

A few new books.

Depending on the hour, two to five painters are in the process of transforming the forever home’s exterior. Although beyond the scope of the original proposal, the interior of the three-season room will be updated, too. The drought continues, despite my predictions, but the temperatures have been more reasonable, at least. While I will certainly be glad when the project is completed, right now, I’m stretched out on the couch with a pile of books, a cup of coffee, and an attitude of gratitude.

Postcard Poems

I’ve reblogged the following post to encourage you to purchase Postcard Poems by Jeanne Griggs.

Necromancy Never Pays

My book is now available for ordering from Broadstone Books! (You will be able to order it from other booksellers, including Amazon, but it will cost a little more so why not support the small press?) It will be out on July 15!

“In days before selfies and social media, postcards were a ubiquitous feature of travel, providing both means of communication with friends and family while away, and souvenirs of journeys once back home. Even if not quite gone, they seem more than a little nostalgic now, as do many of the poems in Jeanne Griggs’ new collection,Postcard Poems. By choosing to present her poems as short notes that could fit on a postcard, she has opted for a formal brevity; and the conceit of holiday communication allows her to write both about place (so that her poems are often both ekphrastic and epistolary – a…

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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.