New books redux

My book-buying binge has abated, now that I’ve exhausted my accumulated points, discounts, and account credits, etc., and only three or four titles remain on my wishlist (for now). 

Other news: After a day of nearly fifty degrees and abundant sunshine, we have returned to below-twenty on our walks. This is an observation, not a complaint, as I much prefer to run cold than run hot.

And yesterday I squandered nearly two hours on a film in which the leads had no chemistry, and the plot had more holes than the mesh bags in which I wash my favorite sweaters. It was a romantic comedy sans love and humor. But, gosh, isn’t Jennifer Lopez something? Still, the time could have been better spent watching any of the items on my watch list (e.g., Flee, The House, Season 4 of Ozark) — or, perhaps better still, practicing my music or reading.

The flip side of ignorance

Image captured last week at the Conservatory at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Since my last post, I’ve read:

■ Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
In advance of watching Joel Coen’s film. Related story/review here

■ Six Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello (Trans. Edward Storer; 1921. Drama.)
Cannot recall the precise path that led me to Scallydandling about the books, but I can say that I enjoy poking about in her video lists. Six Characters was her January drama selection.

■ Late Migrations: A Memoir of Love and Loss (Margaret Renkl; 2019. Non-fiction.)
For the commonplace book:

p. 7
But the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s twin.

p.17
Holding a useless camera, I suddenly realize that something extraordinary is happening right before me, a great serpent slowly on the move and all the songbirds aware of its presence and calling to each other and telling each other to beware. The miracle isn’t happening in the sky at all. It’s happening in the damp weeds of an ordinary backyard, among last year’s moldering leaves and the fragrant soil turned up by moles.

p. 73
[…B]ut the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment.

p. 155
When I didn’t die, however, and then didn’t die some more, I came one day to understand: I wasn’t dying; I was grieving. I wasn’t dying. Not yet.

p. 186
Human beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being. In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift.

What we feel always contains its own truth, but it is not the only truth, and darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine, to reveal it in its deepest hiding place.

With the month closing and only nine books on my list, I’d say this year has begun at a far more leisurely pace than last year (twenty-five books). That said, I’m reading quite a bit. With 100 Days of Dante, I’ve nearly climbed Mount Purgatory. With book groups, I’m reading Anna Karenina, Moby-Dick, and Debt (see sidebar). I’ve just begun A Clockwork Orange, the February Cardiff BookTalk selection. And my husband and I have embarked on a read-the-bible-in-a-year schedule. (It pains me to confess that I haven’t read the complete bible. Do you have a recommendation for a “bible as literature” resource? We’ll take it.)

I began listening to State of Terror (Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton) on the drive to and from  Michigan last week — not Chief Inspector Gamache but certainly entertaining. While away, I also tried to finish Noah Hawley’s latest novel, Anthem (review here), but no luck. Unlike S. Kirk Walsh, I’m finding it a bit… tedious.

Before heading out on my mini-vacation, I gave a Zoom* performance for an audience of one, playing the Rondeau, Polonaise, and Badinerie from Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. Was it flawless? Nope. But while I was away, my teacher wrote, in part, “Really, really excellent work on the Bach! So pleased and proud that you put your all into it and did such a great job.” Yes, I’m still grinning. My new solo piece is Howard Ferguson’s Three Sketches for Flute and Piano. I’m also working on the ninth of 18 Studies for Flute by Joachim Anderson, Op. 41, in Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies from Andersen, Gariboldi, Koehler, and Terschak for Flute, Book 1, and “From Duetto No. IV” (W.F. Bach) in Selected Duets for Flute, Volume II (Advanced). My practice schedule remains much as it was in the fall.

Our walking schedule, however, does not: The snow and ice (to say nothing of the extreme cold of days like yesterday) make early morning walks in the neighborhood untenable, so we’ve been using workouts on DVDs, after which, I hop on the exercise bike while my husband gets ready for work. We have the equipment needed to walk the conservation district paths, though, so we head there on the weekends during which the weather cooperates.

* Given the continuing uncertainty surrounding the virus, I requested that we return to the virtual format until at least February.

Reading

In September, I made a note to read Murder in the Cathedral (T.S. Eliot; 1935) following this from Louise Penny’s A Beautiful Mystery:

“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest,” Gamache repeated. “It’s what Henry the Second said about Thomas à Becket.”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Gamache grinned. “Hang in there, young man. This story ends in murder.”

“Better.”

“This was almost nine hundred years ago,” the Chief continued. “In England.”

“I’m already asleep.”

“King Henry promoted his good friend Thomas to be archbishop, thinking that would give him control of the Church. But it backfired.”

Despite himself, Beauvoir leaned forward.

(By the way, if pressed, I’d say Bury Your Dead and A Beautiful Mystery are my favorite books in the Chief Inspector Gamache series.) I finally read Eliot’s play last week, at which point, I also toggled two novels, The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Carmiel Banasky; 2015) and Anthem (Noah Hawley), which was just released. A couple of unexpected intersections emerged, including two Claires (titular and Simon Oliver’s sister in Anthem) and discussions / plot points concerning mental health (including suicide), political activism, and religion.

Here’s another intersection:

In Part I of Murder in the Cathedral, the Fourth Tempter asks Thomas, “What can compare with the glory of the Saints,” coaxing him to “Seek the way of martyrdom,” to which Thomas responds, “Others offered real goods, worthless / But real. You only offer / Dreams to damnation.” Although the archbishop knows that to aspire to sainthood is sinful, unsaintly, he cannot help himself; he has thought about it.

Then, this from pages 149-150 of Anthem:

“Martyrs believe their suffering makes them holy. That sacrifices made in this life will gain them reward in the afterlife. They get romantic when they talk about dying for a cause. His name was Duncan. Her name was Ashli. His name was Tim McVeigh. This is the difference between the martyr and the saint. Sainthood requires selflessness. One cannot aspire to sainthood, because the very desire to be a saint is in and of itself unsaintly….”

Tonight I plan to finish Banasky’s novel before settling in to watch the Season 2 premiere of All Creatures Great and Small, and tomorrow I hope to finish The Prince (Machiavelli; 1532). (I began reading this to prepare for a “First Friday Lecture.”) The year began with Summerwater (Sarah Moss; 2020) and Lost Everything (Brian Francis Slattery; 2012), both of which are bleak but worthwhile.

Reading plans

My current stack.

My 2022 plan: Read no fewer than 100 books from my personal library (i.e., books acquired before the end of 2021), including 25 or more non-fiction titles; at least two books from each of the following categories: Shakespeare (about and/or retold; the plays will not satisfy this category), poetry, NYRB, Kurt Vonnegut (by or about), Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA; and at least one book about my bird of the year (American Crow).

This morning, I joined our local library’s winter reading program, which awards virtual badges for minutes of reading. (I usually satisfy their requirements for a prize (a free book) within a week.) I will join Yiyun Li, who led both iterations of Tolstoy Together (I participated in 2021), when she begins Moby Dick this year, and I will continue my journey with Dante in 100 Days. Otherwise, I have not yet locked in any other reading projects, although I do hope to continue my studies with The Catherine Project.

I read 233 books in my first year of retirement and 208 in my second. As I eye the list of tomes on my list for this year (e.g., Tom Stoppard: A Life (Hermione Lee; 2020; 896 pages), Van Gogh: The Life (Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; 2011; 976 pages; and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life (Jane De Hart; 2018; 752 pages)), I wonder if it’s wise to put a number out there. Granted, last year I managed The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas; 1844), The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky; 1880), Middlemarch (George Eliot; 1871), The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (Louis Menand; 2021), and War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy; 1869). Still, I think I will let the year unfold a bit before making a projection.

What reading plans are you making?

The year in books

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and I have no intention of rushing through any of the several books I’m currently enjoying, so I am calling it at 208 books read this year. (As always, I have included only cover-to-covers.) Here is my complete list, here are all of the posts annotating that list, and here are a few numbers:

♦ 208 books read this year
♦ 84 fiction titles (not including graphic works)
♦ 48 non-fiction titles (not including graphic works)
♦ 7 poetry selections
♦ 49 plays
♦ 20 graphic works (6 of which were non-fiction selections)
♦ 55 rereads (i.e., books that I had first read sometime in the past, not this year)

As I’ve shared, my goals for this year were to read 100 books from my shelves (i.e., books in my collection before the end of 2020), including at least 24 non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following categories: Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.) poetry, NYRB, Kurt Vonnegut (by or about), Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. I read 123 books from the shelves, 27 of which were non-fiction titles, and, I met each of the category challenges.