Reading notes

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read ten books, for a total of 212. I am currently reading Ruth Klüger’s Still Alive, “an unforgiving memoir of growing up Jewish in Nazi-occupied Vienna and escaping death in a concentration camp.” (NYT, October 16, 2020)

Lakewood (Megan Giddings; 2020. Fiction.) LIB
Terrific premise; lackluster prose. Review here.

Disappearing Earth (Julia Phillips; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This, on the other hand, was gorgeously told. Review here.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler; 1993. Fiction.) RFS
Ordered the sequel after only three chapters. Related article about this prescient novel here.

On Immunity: An Inoculation (Eula Biss; 2014. Non-fiction.) ATY
The following passage (Chicago Tribune; September 1, 2020) prompted me to pick up some of Biss’ work:

To read Eula Biss is to remind yourself that you are relatively illiterate, have never had a clear thought in your life, can’t compose a decent sentence if you tried and should probably just shut up and go into marketing already. Or so I’ve heard. Is this the smartest writer in the Chicago area right now, on this day, in the late summer of 2020? Years ago, before Aleksandar Hemon left Chicago to teach at Princeton University, there may have been an argument. This is a parlor game, after all. But still, who else in the Chicago area, sentence for sentence, thought for thought, writes with more confidence, accessibility and provocation than Eula Biss?

For a number of (perhaps obvious) reasons, I began with On Immunity. She’s remarkable. Review here; interview here.

Theory of Bastards (Audrey Schulman; 2014. Fiction.) RFS
Review here. No question, one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Devolution (Max Brooks; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
Well, it’s no World War Z, but it was a pleasant enough evening of reading. Review here.

New Boy (Tracy Chevalier; 2017. Fiction.) RFS
Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, this retelling of Othello is set in an elementary school. While some may think the premise strains credulity , I think it works well, almost too well.

Miracle Creek (Angie Kim; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
This appeared on a number of best-of lists last year. While I thought it was an engaging courtroom drama, I’m not sure it reached the heights its appearance on those lists suggests.

Class Trip (Emmanuel Carrère; 1999. Fiction.) RFS
The last time I was this unsettled by a work of fiction was on rereading Turn of the Screw.

Fen (Caryl Churchill; 1983. Drama.) ATY
Read to prepare for the third “Theatre & Thought” series presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago, Caryl Churchill’s Fen and the Dramaturgical Process.

Weekend companions

Today, a day on which it feels as if we have an “extra” hour, seemed like a good day to negotiate the timed entries, curbside pickup lines, and security checkins required to complete several errands, so we sallied forth after walking four miles, finishing chores, and assuring the cats that, yes, we would return. At the highway entrance on one of the main routes into the large town in which our activities were centered, the light turned green, but traffic halted abruptly in the wake of sirens and lights. A funeral? we wondered, as a long line of cars streamed off the highway. We then noticed the political flags and recognized that it was not a police vehicle barring our way but a member of the group in a vehicle outfitted with sirens and lights. Little surprises me (well, any of us, right?) these days, but that display of aggression, intimidation, and entitlement shook me.

Because reading is how I breathe

Since my last annotated list, I’ve read twelve books, for a total of 202. With more than two months remaining in the year, it is possible that I will blow through my goal (revised thrice: from 104 to 120 to 156 to 208).

Leopoldstadt (Tom Stoppard; 2020. Drama.)
Read to prepare for Deep Dive: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, presented by the Court Theatre and the University of Chicago.

The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (Wole Soyinka; 1973. Drama.)
Read to prepare for the second “Theatre & Thought” series, Euripides’ The Bacchae and Contemporary Adaptations.

Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith; 1950. Fiction.)
It is hard to believe this brooding, accomplished thriller was her first novel. Related article here.

Solitary (Albert Woodfox; 2019. Non-fiction.)
Review here.

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Milton Mayer; 1959 (2017 edition). Non-fiction.)
Excerpt here. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller; 1949. Drama.)
Reread after watching the stream of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production directed by Goodman Theatre’s Robert Falls.

The Bear (Andrew Krivak; 2020. Fiction.)
As I said to my husband, it is well written and engaging but not as special as the many recommendations had led me to believe.

Who Do You Love (Jennifer Weiner; 2015. Fiction.)
Once in a while, I just need some mental M&Ms.

Survival: Another Story, Vol. 1 (Takao Saito; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
Family Tree, Vol. 2: Seeds (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
I no longer remember who pressed Survival on me, but it was worth the time; and I’m not certain where Family Tree is heading, which is a compliment of sorts.

Don’t Call Us Dead (Danez Smith; 2017. Poetry.)
Reviews here and here.

It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis; 1936. Fiction.)
Read in anticipation of this. Review of the production here.

Still reading

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My weekend stack, which includes recent acquisitions.

I’ve finished twelve books since my last post, for a total of 190; my goal of 208 for the year is within reach.

Seven Guitars (August Wilson; 1995. Drama.) ATY
King Hedley II (August Wilson; 1999. Drama.) ATY
Jitney (August Wilson; 1982. Drama.)
Gem of the Ocean (August Wilson; 2003. Drama.)
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (August Wilson; 1984. Drama.)
The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson (Sandra G. Shannon; 1995. Non-fiction.)
As I mentioned in my last post, Court Theatre’s 2020/21 season includes “Theatre & Thought,” four series of lectures by University of Chicago faculty and other scholars. The first four-week series, “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice,” concluded this week.

The Bacchae (Euripides; 405 B.C. Trans. Nicholas Rudall; 1996. Drama.)
The second four-week series, “Euripides’ The Bacchae and Contemporary Adaptation,” begins next week.

The Walking Dead: The Alien (Brian K. Vaughan; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
He had a brother?

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Isabel Wilkerson; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Review here.
p. 223
This was the thievery of caste, stealing the time and psychic resources of the marginalized, draining energy in an already uphill competition. They were not, like me, frozen and disoriented, trying to make sense of a public violation that seemed all the more menacing now that I could see it in full. The quiet mundanity of that terror has never left me, the scars out living the cut.

We are told over and over again in our society not to judge a book by its cover, not to assume what is inside before we have had a chance to read it. Yet humans size up and make assumptions about other humans based on what they look like many times a day. We prejudge complicated breathing beings in ways that we are told never to judge inanimate objects.

Monogamy (Sue Miller; 2020. Fiction.)
Review here. A satisfying way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Level 7 (Mordecai Roshwald; 1959. Fiction.)
What an odd time to rediscover this fictional diary of a nameless, button-pushing soldier.

Dear Edward (Ann Napolitano; 2020. Fiction.)
Earlier this summer, a friend asked if I had read this. We don’t necessarily read in the same ways or for the same reasons, but when I reached for a simple book earlier this week, I didn’t put it down. Sad without being (too) sentimental, true without being (too) didactic, it’s also filled with quiet humor. The main character may be a bit precocious, but then again, he was homeschooled.

What I’ve been reading

Current stack.

With more than three months remaining in the year, a goal of 208 books seemed reachable, so I readjusted my Goodreads challenge (for the third time); I’m currently at 178.

The New Wilderness (Diane Cook; 2020. Fiction.)
This caught my eye when it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. (It made the short list.) Review here. I wasn’t “dazzled,” but I was riveted.

The River at Night (Erica Ferencik; 2017. Fiction.)
The Truth about Harry Quebert Affair (Joël Dicker; 2014. Fiction.)
Every once in a while, I peruse the shelves, stop on a book, and think, “Hmmm. How did this get here?” So it was with these two. River, was mildly entertaining; Affair, however, was dreadful.

Sentient (Jeff Lemire; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
We Stand on Guard (Brian K. Vaughan; 2016. Graphic fiction.)
Both are solid stand-alone volumes.

The Piano Lesson (August Wilson; 1987. Drama.)
Fences (August Wilson; 1985. Drama.)
Two Trains Running (August Wilson; 1993. Drama.)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (August Wilson; 1982. Drama.)
Radio Golf (August Wilson; 2005. Drama.)
Court Theatre’s 2020/21 season includes “Theatre & Thought,” four series of lectures by University of Chicago faculty and other scholars. For the first four-week series, “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice,” I’m making my way through the entire American Century Cycle.

From Radio Golf, Wilson’s last play:

If it don’t take all the quarters you fix it. Anybody with common sense will agree to that. What they don’t agree on is how to fix it. Some people say you got to tear it down to fix it. Some people say you got to build it up to fix it. Some people say they don’t know how to fix it. Some people say they don’t want to be bothered with fixing it. You mix them all in a pot and stir it up and you got America. That’s what makes this country great.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Svetlana Alexievich; 2005 (1997). Non-fiction.)
Read as a companion to Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019). Haunting.

p. 107
I’ve felt something like this when someone close to me died. The sun is out, and the birds are flying, and the swallows, it starts raining — but he’s dead. Do you understand? I want to explain this whole other dimension in a few words, explain how it was for me then.