Book notes

Monster (Walter Dean Myers; 1999. Fiction.)
Before his incarceration, sixteen-year-old Steven Harmon was a high school student who particularly enjoyed his film course. In prison, to recover his sense of self, he keeps a diary in the form of a movie script. While watching They Call Us Monsters, I wondered how familiar Ben Lear was with this contemporary young adult classic.

Birds Life Art (Kyo Maclear; 2017. Non-fiction.)
This lovely and meditative volume yielded the following commonplace book entries:

p. 26
My husband is far too loyal and drowsy to doubt me. If I embark on a fantastically ill-conceived journey, I know he will be the guy throwing paper streamers in the air and hooting, “Farewell! Farewell!”

This is what we do. We cheer each other on in our misadventures.

p. 48
Smallness did not dismay me. Big nature travel — with its extreme odysseys and summit-fixated explorers — just seemed so, well, grandiose. The drive to go bigger and farther just one more instance of the overreaching at the heart of Western culture.

I like smallness. I like the perverse audacity of someone aiming tiny.

p. 86
I was a bookish child and grew to be a bookish adult. Books gave me pleasure, but they also gave me permission to isolate myself, to turn away from the world when it bothered or frightened me. Books allowed me to hide from demands, from the day, from family and the immediate world. They provided solace and amusement in the deep night and served as surrogates for friendship when I was far away from home.

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders; 2017. Fiction.)
Whether or not you ordinarily like audiobooks, you must hear Saunders’ first novel to appreciate how original and remarkable it is. My husband and I listened during trips to and from the University and in and out of Chicago, and we are still talking about this beautiful book. (Related article here.) Neither of us were surprised to learn that it will be a film; nor were we really surprised by this bit of synchronicity.

The Art of Practicing (Madeline Bruser; 1999. Non-fiction.)
Much of the advice seemed, well, obvious. Stretch. Be mindful. Work but not painfully. Focus. Do what you love. And so on.

Other notes…
■ After a few fits and starts, I am poised to finish Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation this week. A thought-provoking exploration of what has been lost since people have turned away from each other to connect via phone, this book suffered the fate many of mine do: It was tossed aside, unfinished, when I, a promiscuous reader if e’er there were one, picked up another. And another. And another. And so on. (It’s embarrassing how grateful the books seem when I return to them. Have they no respect for themselves? Chuckle.) Here are two short commonplace book entries:

p. 54

The desire for the edited life crosses generations, but the young consider it their birthright.

p. 147
They decide there should be a rule: A good friend should keep you off your phone when you are together.

■ My husband and I have been rereading Moby Dick; or, The Whale. It began as a desperate bid to sleep through the night but has evolved into a project that provides discussion fodder and new in-jokes. (“Queequeg, my fine friend, does this sort of thing often happen?”) We long ago fell into the habit of leaving a muted radio set to WGN or WBEZ playing as we slumbered. Late last year, though, when frequent awakenings began to affect the quality of our rest, we realized — after changing pillows, thermostats, sheets, and alarms — that the newscasts punctuating our favorite features (and later, the topics to which our favorite features had inevitably turned) were the disturbance. What to do? Ah, an audiobook! Each night, we pick up where we left off, in an endless loop — which is really much more delightful than it sounds. We were already fans of Moby Dick, but William Hootkins’ narration makes us wonder why it is not even more widely read. I am revisiting the text itself, too, (re)marking favorite passages and making new notes. From the opening of Chapter XLIX: The Hyena:

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke.

■ My “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going well, although I somehow fell a bit behind with the sonnets. As National Poetry Month draws to a close, though, I will finish Sonnets 49 through 54. May brings The Merchant of Venice and Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Sonnets 55 through 66 and The Rape of Lucrece. (I wonder if Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name, a book I wantonly set aside last summer, will show me the same embarrassing gratitude Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation has when I return to it next month to complement my reread of Merchant?)

■ Speaking of National Poetry Month, I will close with the conclusion to one of my favorite poems, Tom Hennen’s “The Life of a Day“:

[…] For some reason
we like to see days pass, even though most of us
claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a
long time. We examine each day before us with
barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been
looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for
the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will
start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by per-
fectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the
right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light
breeze scented with a perfume made from the
mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak
leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meander-
ing skunk.

Reading notes

Here are some passages for the commonplace book:

From Before the Fall (Noah Hawley; 2016. Fiction.):

p. 95
The machine he believed himself to be broke down. and Gus found himself immersed in an experience he had witnessed for years in his job with the NTSB, but never truly understood. Grief. Death was not an intellectual conceit. It was an existential black hole, an animal riddle, both problem and solution, and the grief it inspired could not be fixed or bypassed like a faulty relay, but only endured.

p. 101
Convergence. It’s one of those things that feels meaningful, but isn’t. At least he doesn’t think it is. How could it be? A batter in Boston fouling pitches into the stands while a small plan struggles through low coastal fog. How many millions of other activities begin and end at the same time? How many other “facts” converge in just the right way, creating symbolic connectivity?

p. 251
He breaks off, thinking, aware that he is not giving them what they wanted, but concerned that their questions are too important to answer in the moment, to define in passing, simply to meet some kind of arbitrary deadline. What was the experience like? Why did it happen? What does it mean going forward? These are the subjects for books. They are questions you meditate for years — to find the right words, to identify all the critical factors, both subjective and objective.

It’s unsurprising that the flow of this “thumping good read” reminds me of great television; Hawley is a television writer and producer.

From The Last One (Alexandra Oliva; 2016. Fiction.):

p. 58
This adventure I asked for, it’s not what I was expecting, not what I wanted. I thought I would feel empowered, but I’m only exhausted.

p. 90
For all her love of animals, for all her work with animals, she feels little remorse. She is comfortable in her knowledge that humans are omnivores and that securing reliable sources of protein is what allowed the species to evolve its current intelligence. She will not kill to kill, but she will kill to eat, and she sees little difference between the eyes of a dead fish and a live one.

Some reviews mentioned that the book erred in revealing its “twist” in the opening pages. They miss the point. Completely. A central conceit of a “reality” survival show is that the audience has information the participants do not. Here, the reader has knowledge the protagonist does not, so The Last One delivers its gut-punch not in a twist but rather in Mae’s eventual comprehension that what she had thought was the fakery of television is actual her new reality.

From The Hard Problem (Tom Stoppard; 2015. Drama.):

From Scene Five:
Hilary (roused) Being wrong about human behaviour half the time is our guiding star, Leo! It’s what’s telling us the study of the mind is not a science. We’re dealing in mind stuff that doesn’t show up in a scan — accountability, duty freewill, language, all the stuff that makes behaviour unpredictable.

We saw Stoppard’s latest play at the Court Theatre this past weekend. If you’re in the area, both it and TimeLine Theatre’s A Disappearing Number are must-see theater. Both run through April 9.

In other reading…
Election Day (April 4) was a long slog made bearable by Lucinda Rosenfeld’s Class, a book light enough that I could regularly look away but meaty enough that I didn’t feel like I had consumed the mental equivalent of Yodels.

Brian Wood’s The Massive is a pretty terrific post-apocalyptic tale. My daughters, both artists and readers of graphic fiction, say that I should remark on the art when I talk about graphic fiction. It’s generally all about the story for me, but in these volumes, I realized that I do know when a different artist takes over. In a medium dependent on image, why would one change artists partway through the story? Different styles change the narrative in subtle ways. Is that the point? Or is it simpler than that? Is one artist available when one issue or arc is being prepared for publication but unavailable for another? Well, in any event, Danijel Zezelj’s work in the “Sahara” arc was particularly powerful.

For my “Shakespeare in a Year” project, I have read through Sonnet 45 and Line 936 of Venus and Adonis, the latter of which I find the more satisfying endeavor. (No pun, Shakespearean or otherwise, intended.) Don Paterson’s commentary, however, quite nearly makes slogging through the sonnets worth it. Irreverent and insightful and highly recommended.

Since my last bookish post, I’ve also (re)read Richard II, a favorite of mine…

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills….

… and Romeo and Juliet. Is it old(er) age that makes me increasingly immune to this story’s appeal? I must have muttered, “Overwrought,” two dozen or more times while reading and listening. Mercutio, though. What an invention! I think it was Bloom who posited that the Mercutio passages presage the verbal antics of Hamlet. I can believe it.

In advance of seeing the CST’s Tug of War: Foreign Fire last year, I read Edward III, which occurs in the reading plan between Richard III and The Comedy of Errors. I simply have not been able to bring myself to reread it. Since this admission does not appear to have gotten me booted from the group, I plan to move on to A Midsummer Night’s Dream this coming weekend.

A related aside: Over spring break I shared with my daughters my proposal for the CST’s 2017-18 season: Richard II with Scott Parkinson as the deposed king, Coriolanus with Timothy Edward Kane as the (to my mind) underappreciated noble, and Titus Andronicus with Larry Yando in the lead. You heard it here first, folks.

By the numbers

The 2.75-mile trail along which we logged five geocaches.

Number of weeks, more or less, since my last post.

Number of days in our daughters’ spring break, during which they studied, researched, and recharged at home.

Number of geocaches we logged during their break. What a delight to share this new pursuit with them!

Number of trips into Chicago during spring break: one for the Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin (review here) and one for Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (review here).

Number of hours I will have worked (early voting and Election Day) for the Consolidated Primary and the Consolidated Election. The turnout was much larger in October and November, which is both normal (Presidential Election) and puzzling (when you consider that local elections have an immediate impact on a voter’s life).

Number of weeks I’ve completed in my latest MOOC. (Three to go.) This one concerns reading in the digital age and has sent me to the shelves for my copies of The Shallows (Nicholas Carr) and The Gutenberg Elegies (Sven Birkerts).

Number of books I’ve already read this year. This is shaping up to be the first “Big (Reading) Year” I’ve posted since adopting a “reading slowly” approach. I haven’t moved away from that; rather, I simply have even more time to read. Book notes to follow.


Site of our seventh geocache.

In the week since I last posted, I

■ saw Captain Fantastic — and loved it;
■ caught up on all of my comics, including the final issue of Revival (which was lame);
■ realized that Season Five of The Americans begins this week and set my DVR (Woot!);
■ counted the days until my daughters return home for break (Woot! again); and
■ thrice-dreamed that I was mowing the lawn. It cannot be time for that already, can it?

This weekend, I read and then saw Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. National Theatre Live’s rebroadcast of the production featuring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Hirst and Spooner, respectively, earned two enthusiastic thumbs up from us.

From early in Act I:

HIRST: Tonight… my friend… you find me in the last lap of a race… I had long forgotten to run.


SPOONER: A metaphor. Things are looking up.

Later in the act:

FOSTER: We protect this gentleman against corruption, against men of craft, against men of evil, we could destroy you without a glance, we take care of this gentleman, we do it out of love.

And from the play’s conclusion:

SPOONER: No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.


HIRST: I’ll drink to that.

If I were a drinker, I’d toast our seventh geocache find. Yes, we made two entries in our log this weekend, one of which occurred before a leisurely walk/hike in a new-to-us park. We arrived at geocaching long after its surge in popularity, but we are thoroughly enjoying this mini-adventure.

If I were a drinker, I’d also toast my new flute. On the recommendation of my teacher, I’ve graduated from a perfectly delightful student instrument to a bold, responsive intermediate instrument that was designed to surpass a player’s needs through college studies. It’s a treasure.

My flute lessons began two years and five months ago, when my daughters, now juniors, began college. My current studies center on Rubank Advanced Method: Flute, Vol. 1. and Pares Scales. I am also preparing the solo “Song of India” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Sadko. Hadyn’s “Serenade,” which is the fortieth of Louis Moyse’s Forty Little Pieces in Progressive Order, preceded this and is technically more difficult, but working on expression in “Song of India” has been developmentally appropriate for me, and I will be sorry to set aside this beautiful piece. Speaking of Forty Little Pieces, although I’ve already presented the most difficult, we continue to pepper my list of open assignments with the remaining songs. For this week’s lesson, I have prepared No. 33.

As an adult student and a retiree, I bring two things to this pursuit most of my teacher’s other students do not have: experience and time. Experienced learners tend to question, clarify, synthesize, and study — a lot. All of this requires time. During my first year of lessons, I once confessed to having only thirty minutes each day to practice before that week’s meeting. Usually, I made time for at least three fifteen-minute practice sessions daily; often, four. “Forty-five minutes?” my teacher responded, wistfully. “I’m happy to hear that students [in Rubank Elementary Method: Flute] have done fifteen minutes a day.” These days, I’m deeply chagrined when I haven’t put in at least four twenty-minute sessions daily, and I aim for six or more.

Of course, younger students rarely struggle, as I most certainly do, with velocity, and they have fewer problems “translating” unfamiliar music. Generally, too, they will travel further and do more with their music, including performances, than an adult learner will be able to do. Still, this is a worthwhile pursuit, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Coming up: My progress on the “Shakespeare in Year” project; what else I’ve been reading; and more.

Reading notes

img_1546Books about books appeal to me, and in 2012, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club proved to be an amiable enough contribution to the genre, as did his recent Books for Living. One of the delights of the books about books genre is adding to one’s TBR pile, so what a pleasure it was to find that the recommendations that most interested me were already on my shelves.

To read: The Importance of Living (Lin Yutang); A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara); A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry); Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
To reread: Stuart Little (E.B. White); David Copperfield (Charles Dickens); Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)

The only purchase I made while reading Books for Living was The Confession, a John Grisham novel about the death penalty, which, because I read Just Mercy earlier this month, touched a chord of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity.

For the commonplace book:

p. 188
The world is filled now with huggers. Maybe that’s because we live in such a technological age that people crave human touch. Men and women whom you barely know hug you hello and goodbye. Kids in school hug each other. Even in business meetings, people will give you a hug if they’ve sat with you in meetings a few times before (though not if they work at the same company). I really don’t like being hugged by anyone other than my husband. People regard this as a character flaw. One friend even devoted an hour of time with his analyst to discussing why I didn’t like to hug. I gather he takes it personally.

p. 255
Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

(This entry from late last year discusses an excerpt of Books for Living: On reading.)

Speaking of the commonplace book, much of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros might be pressed into mine, but I will content myself with the following bits from Act III, when Dudard and Berenger discuss the way things are:

p. 75
BERENGER: I understand what you mean, at least I’m trying to. But you know — if someone accused me of being a bad sport, or hopelessly middle class, or completely out of touch with life, I’d still want to stay as I am.

p. 78
BERENGER: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, and blue-stockings and artists and people. And the ordinary man on the street, as well — it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you’re involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against the brutal facts you can’t help feeling directly concerned — the shock is too violent for you to stay cool and detached. I’m frankly surprised, I’m very very surprised. I can’t get over it.

The Remy-Bumppo Theatre Company hosted a staged reading of this oft-read but rarely seen play last night, and as I did when watching the Shakespeare Project of Chicago’s King John last month, I thought, This is a play for our time, to be sure. From the conclusion:

People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end. [He shakes himself out of it.] Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole lot of them! I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end.

I’m not capitulating!

I first read Rhinoceros in high school and thought myself so clever for “getting” it and Sartre’s No Exit and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. As so many of us discover when we return to the books we swallowed whole as younger readers, though, I “got” little more than the tattered texts I purloined from the shelves of the English department — well, that and the tacit promise that I would return to the treasures at some point, (which, happily, I have).

On the topic of returning to books, as I mentioned here, The Last Policeman (Ben H. Winters) so pleased me that I was reluctant to begin Countdown City, fearing the second in the trilogy would disappoint. It did not. I plan to read the third book later this week.

Much of the “Shakespeare in Year” project also represents a return of sorts, although I find that I am less chagrined by these past readings than, say, by that of Rhinoceros. This is probably because I have been (re)reading Shakespeare for the last fifteen years; as an adult and an autodidact (as opposed to a cocky, know-it-all, “I ‘get’ it” teen), I have approached the plays and now the sonnets and long poems knowing that so much remains for me to learn.

Other commitments require that I continue to read ahead in order to keep up with the schedule, so at this writing, I have read through Sonnet 27 and Line 576 of Venus and Adonis and completed the following plays:

The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III
Titus Andronicus
The Comedy of Errors
Love’s Labour’s Lost

A few notes: I appreciated Titus Andronicus much more than I had thought I would, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy read. Even if one accepts the idea that the plot is willfully over-the-top, it’s still horrifying. Given the graphic sound effects in the Arkangel recording, I had unhappily anticipated close-ups of violence and bloodletting. The film featuring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was, however, rather restrained, for which I was most grateful. Not all of the production choices appealed to me (frankly, I just didn’t understand a few), but overall, it earned a thumbs-up for both acting and restraint.

Maybe it was my mood, but The Comedy of Errors fared much better in this, my third or fourth, reading. Would that I could say the same about my second reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I’m actually a little concerned because we will see the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production next month; can they make this seem less… ridiculous? Again, maybe it was my mood.

The Sonnets. Sigh. Don Paterson’s commentary, though, makes the journey bearable. And perhaps I am too old to encounter Venus and Adonis for the first time because I have, several times, wondered, Kissing is a polite euphemism, right? What this work has made me realize is that I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (I read some early in our home education days and some more before seeing the Lookingglass Theatre presentation of Mary Zimmerman’s play.) This year’s reading plan is already wildly ambitious, but Ovid is moving up.

Well before I get to Ovid, though, I will reread Edward III for “Shakespeare in Year” and finish The Changeling (Thomas Middleton and William Rowley), which the Shakespeare Project of Chicago will present later this month.

I will also read a few more books about geocaching. To explain: As an election judge, I have met some interesting folks with whom “What are you reading?” has been the perfect way to step around both banalities and (most) politics. Last week, a fellow election judge mentioned a popular fiction novel I had tossed across a hotel room in disgust three years ago, but rather than going there, we moved onto EMPs and emergency preparedness, which is not my usual fare, but in confirming via Amazon that, yes, he was talking about the tossed book, I saw Ted Koppel’s Lights Out, a book I knew was already on my shelves. It was clear-sighted, but I was glad to finish. Since early November, I have felt, well, not unlike Berenger: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers….

The same judge also talked about his family’s interest in geocaching. When I first heard about this pursuit years ago, it seemed like a perfect fit for our family, but our days were already so full. The rhythm of our lives has changed a great deal since then, though, and the judge’s enthusiasm was contagious, so as we parted, he extracted a promise that I would tell him about our adventures when we work together again this week. On the way home from the polling place, I borrowed The Joy of Geocaching (Paul and Dana Gillin) from the library. That evening, I created an account at and downloaded the app to my phone, and this weekend my husband and I found our first cache. Actually, the truth? I found the cache on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t understand what I was looking at. When I brought my husband to the same spot on Saturday afternoon, he indicated that I had read the map and the app’s compass properly (I defer to him in such matters; he is an Eagle Scout), so it should be here…. “I’ve got it!” I hooted softly. “I’ve got it!” Aware that I needed to be discreet, I showed him the contents and the ingenious hiding spot, and we logged the cache in hard copy and in the app. We are late to this but, oh, how it dovetails current pursuits: biking (we took the first ride of the year on Saturday, by the way: thirteen easy miles; it was beautiful), walking / hiking in the county and state parks and conservation areas, and archery.

In addition to Rhinoceros, Books for Living, and The Joy of Geocaching, Calculating God and Diary of a Provincial Lady are pictured above. The latter is a reread. In recommending it recently, I suggested that if one thought Downton’s Dowager Countess was the primary reason to sit through any episode of Downton Abbey after the middle of Season Two, if one fancied the idea of British Bombeck, and if one craved a book that would take him or her completely and utterly out of this place and time, then one might be advised to reach for Diary of Provincial Lady.

Calculating God arrives on my stack via one of those “blind date with a book” gimmicks that popped up around Valentine’s Day. I answered a flurry of questions and landed on this. I read and enjoyed Sawyer’s WWW : Wake in 2010, so I am actually looking forward to my date.

Shakespeare in a Year

Four shelves of Shakespeare.

Four shelves of Shakespeare.

Now knee-deep in this project, I feel confident discussing my progress. So. Using this plan, a number of readers are attempting to read all of Shakespeare’s works in 2017. At this writing, I have completed the Sonnets through 18, Venus and Adonis through line 432, and the following plays:

The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III

Because the Shakespeare Project of Chicago presented King John (a play for our time, to be sure) in January, I have also read that. Why am I off schedule? Early voting for the consolidated primary begins next week. This, coupled with my other pursuits, requires that I work ahead to keep up.

To complement my reading, I chose Tony Tanner’s Prefaces to Shakespeare. Garber, Bloom, and Van Doren were well exercised during our home education years, so it was time to turn to another resource. That said, I may supplement with a rerun of the Saccio lectures. For the sonnets, I am using Don Paterson’s Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the app that features the filmed performances coupled with Paterson’s comments. (By the way, I purchased the Tanner seven years ago. It has given all of the stockpiled companions around the house hope: “Maybe she will read me next!” Heh, heh, heh.)

The plays
Going forward, I will try to be more methodical about my notes. As I recall, my remarks about Taming centered on how I would direct the final act as if Kate were complicit in the wager. I’ve written about my experience of Gentlemen a few times, including here; my reread was swift. The Henry VI plays were not tedious for me (some find them so) because I read them last year to prepare for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Tug of War. (Foreign Fire and Civil Strife covered three plays each: Edward III, Henry V, and Henry VI, Part 1; and Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3, and Richard III. Yes, three plays, one meal, two snacks per event. It. Was. Awesome.) The “read a synopsis or retelling / watch a(t least one) production / listen to an unabridged recording with text in hand / dig into additional resources” approach works well for me, and this go-around, I watched The Hollow Crown, Cycle 2, and read the plays while listening to the Arkangel productions. Margaret interests me greatly; what a role that would be!

Richard III more naturally follows the Henry VI plays than Titus Andronicus (the next play on the plan), so I reread Richard III first. In addition to the CST production in the fall, we saw the Gift Theatre production of Richard III at the Steppenwolf last year. Wow. What a mesmerizing performance. Yes, he rose from his wheelchair and encircled Anne with his walker. Brilliant. (Review here.) Over the weekend, I also watched Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard in The Hollow Crown, Cycle 2. Maybe it was Richard III overload (or Benedict Cumberbatch overload, for that matter), but his Richard lacked the dark wit that usually makes the character such a delicious role.

Speaking of delicious, ahem… ‘gainst my wont, I have begun reading Titus Andronicus, one of the few plays I have not already read and studied, before seeing a production. Amazon Video had nothing, nor was there anything on our shelves, so I await word on my library holds. Spoiler alert: As many folks know, Titus Andronicus is a horror show of a play. Even if you choose to reconcile the violence as purposeful camp, it’s still rough going, especially if, like me, you use the Arkangel recording to complement your reading. You’ve been warned.

The sonnets
It is a reflection of my limitations, obviously, and not the poet’s, but the sonnets, with one exception, hold little appeal for me. The exception is Sonnet 74, which was sent to me with the note:

Below is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 74, where the poet addresses his beloved, advising that his spirit will live on after his death in what he leaves behind (his poem) and his spirit in his beloved’s heart. Bold emphasis is mine.

But be contented: when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

This reminds me to make the following commonplace book entry from King John:

You hold too heinous a respect of grief.

He talks to me that never had a son.

You are as fond of grief as of your child.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.

Yes, I have mentally SCREAMED this:

[S]He talks to me that never had a son.

And this:

Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.

Once I finish Titus Andronicus, I will use the rest of this week’s Shakespeare time to read through Sonnet 27.

The long poems
Which leaves Venus and Adonis. While tame by today’s standards, this is certainly naughty Shakespeare. Chuckle. According to my husband, this poem merits my eyebrow face — when my eyebrows rise so high, they all but disappear. My reading / listening, though, has been a powerful reminder that so much of human narrative — perhaps especially Shakespeare — is meant to be heard. I blame the Q Brothers for this, but my imagination’s ear *totally* heard an ad-rap-tation of the poem! My goal, in addition to Sonnets 19 through 27, is to read through Line 576 this week.