Attendance in the book group picked up after the holiday weekend, so I am hopeful that at least five readers (maybe more?) will make it the end of this journey. This week, we will discuss Book IX.
Book V: Pro and Contra Chapter III: The Brothers Make Friends Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward. I’ve led the conversation to my despair, and the more stupidly I have presented it, the better for me.
Book VI: The Russian Monk Chapter I: Father Zossima and His Visitors The thing is so simple that sometimes one is even afraid to put it into words, for fear of being laughed at, and yet how true it is! One who does not believe in God will not believe in God’s people. He who believes in God’s people will see His Holiness too, even though he had not believed in it till then. Only the people and their future spiritual power will convert our atheists, who have torn themselves away from their native soil.
Chapter II: The Duel He had said, “Mother, my little heart, in truth we are each responsible to all for all, it’s only that men don’t know this. If they knew it, the world would be a paradise at once.”
This weekend, I plan to finish Joyce Carol Oates’ latest short story collection and Book Eight of The Brothers Karamazov. (Book group participation has been dwindling, but this week’s meeting, the seventh, was jarring: For the first fifteen minutes, it was only the two moderators and yours truly. Eventually, two other readers logged in, but one left early.) I have pulled a few other books from the shelves, but I’m not yet ready to commit to a plan.
Between March 14 and the end of the month, I read eleven books, bringing my year-to-date total to fifty-nine.
As part of my effort to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2021, I tackled:
■ Love’s Labour’s Lost (William Shakespeare; 1598. Drama.) ■ Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare; 1597. Drama.) RFS ■ A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare; 1596. Drama.) This time through I was struck by the rages into which Capulet and Egeus fly when confronted with the preferences of their respective daughters. Apparently, each would prefer a dead daughter to one with agency.
CAPULET: But, as you will not wed, I’ll pardon you: Graze where you will you shall not house with me: Look to’t, think on’t, I do not use to jest. Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise: An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend; And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good: Trust to’t, bethink you; I’ll not be forsworn.
EGEUS: Full of vexation come I, with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia. Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord, This man hath my consent to marry her. Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke, This man hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child; Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, And interchanged love-tokens with my child: Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, With feigning voice verses of feigning love, And stolen the impression of her fantasy With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers Of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth: With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart, Turn’d her obedience, which is due to me, To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke, Be it so she; will not here before your grace Consent to marry with Demetrius, I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, As she is mine, I may dispose of her: Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death, according to our law Immediately provided in that case.
■ The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie; 2007. Fiction.) Following Tommy Orange’s excellent There There, I browsed my shelves for other works by Native American writers.
■ Octavia Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (Damian Duffy; 2017. Fiction.) A follow-up to Butler’s novel.
■ The Memory Police (Yoko Ogawa; 2019 (1994). Fiction.) Years ago, I read and loved Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, which is also concerned with the nature of memory. This is just as wonderful. Reviews here and here.
■ Olive, Again (Elizabeth Strout; 2019. Fiction.) No, it is not as good as Olive Kitteridge, but it is a terrific book.
■ Pursuit (Joyce Carol Oates; 2019. Fiction.) While awaiting my copy of The (Other) You, I pulled this slim thriller from the Oates collection. The Chicago Humanities Festival hosted a talk with the author on March 25, archived here.
■ The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Kate DiCamillo; 2006. Fiction.) Gorgeously illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, this was a lovely, if bittersweet, story.
■ Drawing Lines: An Anthology of Women Cartoonists (2021. (First published in 2006, as Sexy Chix.) Graphic fiction.) Picked it up for the JCO content.
■ Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking (D.Q. McInerny May; 2004. Non-fiction.) Think The Elements of Style for logic.
When the last gray-white mounds melted, we swapped snow shovels for yard tools in order to rake and dethatch the lawn, pull leaves from beneath bushes, scrub squirrel baffles, and scrape winter seed from beneath the feeders. The house wash team scheduled our roof and hardscape cleaning, taking advantage of the sun and warm temperatures earlier this month. Later this year, the house will be painted. The color selection process, which began in earnest just after the winter holiday, alternately interested and irritated me, so our painter paired us with a knowledgeable consultant, after which, I promptly selected the color I had chosen back in January. I do not recall my parents or the parents of my friends washing their roofs or agonizing over shades of paint. Did they? I was a terrifyingly observant child who grew into an adult with a terrifyingly reliable memory. I do not think they did. They didn’t wash roofs. And while they may have debated light or dark blue, green or gray, they were not confronted with an infinite crayon box of shades. They had their troubles, our parents did, but roof washing and “greige” were not among them.
Why haven’t I been reading more? Between walks in the neighborhood, exercise videos, and the stationary bike, I move two or more hours daily. Previously, I read while on the bike, though, and lately, I’ve been talking with my daughters, listening to the news, or watching a show (recently, Olive Kitteridge and Allen v. Farrow).
And it’s not just reading. My flute practice schedule has also been somewhat inconsistent. My plan calls for 90 to 100 minutes daily; I have been doing 60. My current selections are wonderful, and my tone quality has improved markedly over the last six months. I’m nearly ready to record my contribution to the virtual spring recital, Joachim Andersen’s Scherzino. But I feel I’ve done enough once I’ve prepared for my weekly lesson.
It’s something about March, I think. A restlessness, maybe. The sort that leads to misguided romance — or spring cleaning. Washing the windows and screens. Scouring the woodwork. Scrubbing the bathroom walls. Reviewing the budget. Determining garden purchases.
March also lends itself to more standing and staring than, say, June or November.
When I stand and stare, I think about what L. asked in the last meeting of our book group — How do we gauge the sincerity of Fyodor’s various pronouncements about his own character? — and my own comments about the role of women in this complicated novel. (Dostoyevsky’s is not a particularly charitable view, is it?) I remember the rituals and rhythms that were the hallmarks of Marches past, like ordering praying mantis egg cases and looking for signs of spring in the neighborhood and nearby conservation areas. I recall that March signals the conclusion of winter swim season, a cycle that defined our family’s calendar from 2004 until 2016. No evening practices, no weekends at meets for nearly two months. Bliss. I watch the dog across the street. Does the neighbor know he’s having hip trouble? I notice the juncos whose arrival each fall and departure each spring inspires a blend of sorrow and delight that is a close cousin to the caressing ache I experience when looking at baby photos of my children. What is that feeling? The acknowledgment of time’s passage, yes, but I taste a pinch of something else. Is that… regret? No, not exactly. Fear? No. It’s… what is it? I consider my daughter’s observation that the tone of the piece she will illustrate is not quite right. How will I rewrite it? I’ve been stymied for months. Is this how creative projects die? I play scales in my head; rather, I say them in my head, around the circle and back. Again. Again. Again. And again. Learning music as an adult is hard work: repetition until it becomes (if it ever becomes) part of you.
In February, I joined a reading group comprising two moderators and, depending on the week, seven to ten other readers (thinkers, learners) who are tackling the twelve books and a three-chapter epilogue of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov one book a week. Before the first meeting, I asked which edition we would use and was advised to choose whatever worked for me. The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation has been on my shelves since 2003 when I joined an online group that fell apart after Book II. After revisiting it and then perusing the Norton Critical edition (which is based on the Constance Garnett translation), I chose the Barnes and Noble edition of Garnett. The Garnett translation is also readily available in audiobook format, and having the book in my ears and before my eyes greatly enhances my deep reading.
Naturally, I’ve been marking memorable passages. Here are some from the first four books.
Book I: The History of a Family Chapter I: Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple‐hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.
Chapter IV: The Third Son, Alyosha He was simply an early lover of humanity, and that he adopted the monastic life was simply because at that time it struck him, so to say, as the ideal escape for his soul struggling from the darkness of worldly wickedness to the light of love.
Chapter V: Elders Oh! no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling‐block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith.
For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to‐day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth. Alyosha would have found it strange and impossible to go on living as before.
Book II: An Unfortunate Gathering Chapter II: The Old Buffoon “And, above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all.”
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing….”
Chapter IV: A Lady of Little Faith “And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once—that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving any one.”
“Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint‐heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions.”
Chapter VI: Why Is Such a Man Alive? With old liars who have been acting all their lives there are moments when they enter so completely into their part that they tremble or shed tears of emotion in earnest, although at that very moment, or a second later, they are able to whisper to themselves, “You know you are lying, you shameless old sinner! You’re acting now, in spite of your ‘holy’ wrath.”
Book III: The Sensualists Chapter VIII: Over the Brandy “There’s absolute nothingness then. Perhaps there is just something? Anything is better than nothing!”
“No, I am not angry. I know your thoughts. Your heart is better than your head.”
Book IV: Lacerations Chapter III: A Meeting with the Schoolboys Alyosha had no art or premeditation in beginning with this practical remark. But it is the only way for a grown‐up person to get at once into confidential relations with a child, or still more with a group of children. One must begin in a serious, businesslike way so as to be on a perfectly equal footing. Alyosha understood it by instinct.
Since closing The Count of Monte Cristo with a satisfied readerly sigh on February 21, I’ve read eleven books, for a year-to-date total of forty-eight.
■ Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.) ■ Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind (Harold Bloom; 2019. Non-fiction.) ■ The Merry Wives of Windsor (William Shakespeare; 1597. Drama.) As I’ve mentioned, I am rereading all of the plays this year.
■ My Man Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse; 1919. Fiction.) A delight-filled reread.
From “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest”: I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping. There’s no doubt the man’s right. It’s absolutely the way with me.
From “The Aunt and the Sluggard”: As I stood my lonely bedroom at the hotel, trying to tie my white tie myself, it struck me for the first time that there must be whole squads of chappies in the world who had to get along without a man to look after them. I’ve always thought of Jeeves as a kind of natural phenomenon; but, by Jove! of course, when you come to think of it, there must be quite a lot of fellows who have to press their own clothes themselves and haven’t got anybody to bring them tea in the morning, and so on. It was rather a solemn thought, don’t you know. I mean to say, ever since then I’ve been able to appreciate the frightful privations the poor have to stick.
■ Hope Rides Again (Andrew Schaffer; 2019. Fiction.) ■ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne; 1871. Fiction.) Two more rereads.
■ Kindred (Octavia Butler; 1979. Fiction.) Read for this month’s Cardiff BookTalk. I was late to the Octavia Butler fan club but am glad to have received my membership card.
■ Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (Katherine May; 2020. Fiction.) Reviews here and here.
■ We Run the Tides (Vendela Vida; 2021. Fiction.) Heard about this on NPR; borrowed it from the library; read it in two sittings.
p. 33 I pass the bushes where butterflies like to flutter and feed. Sometimes we catch them in jars for a minute before releasing them. Sometimes we wait too long to release them and find them dead. We know the names of the girls who keep the butterflies too long, and we have no idea what to do with this information.
■ Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout; 2008. Fiction.) Reread in anticipation of Olive, Again (2019). The title of today’s post occurs on page 162 of my edition, as does the following:
There were days — she could remember this — when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure.
■ Ice (Anna Kavan; 1967. Fiction.) An essay in my edition of Kindred likened Butler’s novel to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which I reread last year, and Kavan’s Ice, which was already on my shelves — genre-defying. Naturally, I had to move Ice up the TBR list. Related article here.