Read from the shelves

71975def-17e0-48e0-9d56-39fe2e09a477We spent yesterday driving to and from and hiking at Starved Rock State Park, but last night, I was able to finish the first book in my “Read from the shelves” challenge — Hanya Yanagihara‘s first novel, The People in the Trees (2013).

p. 73
Genius was no excuse for social ineptitude, the way it is today, when a certain refusal to acquire the most basic social skills or an inability to dress properly or feed oneself is generously perceived as evidence of one’s intellectual purity and commitment to the life of the mind.

p. 93
There is really no satisfying or new way to describe beauty, and besides, I find it embarrassing to do so. So I will say only that he was beautiful, and that I found myself suddenly shy, and unsure even how to address him — Paul? Tallent? Professor Tallent? (Surely not!) Beautiful people make even those of us who proudly consider ourselves unmoved by another’s appearance dumb with admiration and fear and delight, and struck by the profound, enervating awareness of how inadequate we are, how nothing, not intelligence or education or money, can usurp or overpower or deny beauty.

Edited on January 13. Lesson learned: Do not fail to proofread voice-to-text entires.

Euphoria

From Lily King’s 2014 novel, Euphoria:

p. 79
You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don’t have it, how it gets in the way like an overdominant sense. You have to pay more attention to everything else when you can’t understand the words. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words, and words aren’t always the most reliable thing.

Words to live by

1B624876-0326-456F-B748-5FE489F395A9From Kerry Egan’s On Living:

p. 180
When someone tells you the story of their suffering, they are probably still suffering in some way. No one else gets to decide what that suffering means, or if it has any meaning at all. And we sure as hell don’t get to tell someone that God never gives anybody more than they can handle or that God has a plan. We do not get to cut off someone’s suffering at the pass by telling them it has some greater purpose. Only they get to decide if that’s true. All we can do is sit and listen to them tell their stories, if they want to tell them. And if they don’t, we can sit with them in silence.

Book notes

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A few more books.

Over the Thanksgiving break, yes, I acquired a few more books, but I also sold a big bagful, and I finished two non-fiction books (which puts me at twenty-eight, only two away from my goal of thirty non-fiction titles for the year).

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Sarah Smarsh; 2018. Non-fiction.)

p. 13
It would be unwise for me to claim I know how much growing up in a poor family shaped my words. My mother’s strong vocabulary, itself learned alone from books, probably has more to do with my language than any college degree I got. We can’t really know what made us who we are. We can come to understand, though, what the world says we are.

p. 126
In the United States, the shaming of the poor is a unique form of bigotry in that it’s not necessarily about who or what you are — your skin color, the gender you’re attracted to, having a womb. Rather, it’s about what your actions have failed to accomplish — financial success within capitalism — and the related implications about your worth in a supposed meritocracy.

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying (Sallie Tisdale; 2018. Non-fiction.)

p. 32
Most people aren’t wrestling with dread so much as trying to ignore a chronic background anxiety. But Becker would say this is just repression. He believed that we succeed so well at repressing the fear of death that we may deny the fear even exists — yet its energy remains, driving us on to create a network of belief and relationship in which our short, fragile lives will have meaning. We call these networks by various names: philosophy, but also psychology, science, culture, religion, and art. Repressed, anxious but refusing to experience the anxiety completely, humans create civilization.

p. 187
Grief is a disruption. The sound of a footstep on the porch evokes the old world, the other life, and it is only the mail carrier and the new life rushes back. My mother has been gone from my life for more than thirty years, but I hear her voice sometimes when I talk, and I see her in the mirror now and then — sidelong, unexpected glances. There she is. And I think, I should call mom and tell her about that. Grief recurs and spins, a Möbius strip of memory going on and on in a loop. You are in denial about the death. You just keep remembering that it happened.

p. 196
Try not to say: You shouldn’t dwell on the past. Grief is a story that must be told, over and over. Very few people know how to listen to a grieving person without in some way trying to shut down or control the strong emotion.

Notes from the past two weeks

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Detail from Ken Krimstein’s graphic biography of Hannah Arendt.

📚 Today I reached 121 books read this year. Twenty-six of those are non-fiction works, which means I am only four books from my goal of thirty.

Speaking of non-fiction… from Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Ken Ilgunas):

p. 74
It never failed: When I’d gaze at the stars and the aurora, I’d see my problems for what they were. I always told myself that I’d been under the control of other forces: parents, school, work. And I’d convinced myself that my debt was to blame for everything as if I had nothing to do with contracting the debt in the first place). I hated my job even though I worked for a wonderful company. And I told myself that, because of the debt, I couldn’t travel, couldn’t go back to school, and now couldn’t even leave my room.

Part of me liked being in debt. Part of me even wanted to stay in debt, to keep going on random and expensive three-week trips to places like Ecuador so I could spend my hard-earned dollars on halfhearted adventures, instead of staying focused on what should have remained my true goal: busting out of the great American debtors’ prison, steadily chipping away at its walls with each paycheck.

Part of me like being in that position of submission, tied up in leather, willfully cowering beneath a ruthless whip-wielding Sallie Mae. Life is simpler when we feel controlled. When we tell ourselves that we are controlled, we can shift the responsibility of freeing ourselves onto that which controls us. When we do that, we don’t have to bear the responsibility for our own unhappiness or shoulder the burden of self-ownership. We don’t have to do anything. And nothing will ever change.

Also on the subject of non-fiction… I loved Krimstein’s The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. What a fabulous introduction to the philosopher’s life and work! Good customer service story: My copy of Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (Elisabeth Young-Bruehl), ordered not long after I finished The Three Escapes, arrived with a bent cover and chipped pages. Hoping for a modest discount, I wrote to customer service, and Amazon refunded the entire cost of the book.

🎭 Since my last post, I’ve seen two plays — Nell Gwynn at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (meh) and Mansfield Park at Northlight (misguided, at best) — and one opera — Il trovatore at the Lyric (fabulous; review here).

☕️ On Thursday I was sick enough to call out from work for the first time. After dragging my tired, sniffling self in on Friday, though, I began a nine-day break, arriving home just a few hours before my younger daughter, who is here for Thanksgiving. (My husband and older daughter begin break on Wednesday.)

🍂 Autumn visited for about three days. Not kidding. A few of my neighbors were unable to finish leaf removal before the first snowfall. It snowed again this past Thursday. We were lucky: During a break in my fever last Sunday, we cleared many of the last leaves; and on Monday, in a scarf, earmuffs, and warm coat, I did the last mow of the season.

 

Reading notes

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Recent acquisitions.

Earlier this week, I finished Gorilla and the Bird, Zack McDermott’s 2017 memoir. For the commonplace book:

p. 20
Watching my mom tutor eighteen-year-olds who read at a second-grade level — who considered our humble abode the Taj Mahal because we had a weight bench and a Sega Genesis — showed me that the difference between the track to prison and the track to grad school boils down to approximately a thousand consecutive nights of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Where the Wild Things Are, along with being told by someone who loves you: “A writer is always writing” and “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and, once, “A writer is a liar. A good writer is a good liar. And you’re a silver-tongued devil, boy.” In other words, being lucky enough to have the Bird or someone like her as your mom.

p. 73
I spent my whole life trying to get out of this place. It’s as familiar as an identical twin, and yet I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this is the factory where I was assembled.

The place to which McDermott refers is Wichita, Kansas. One of the books I’m now reading, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, is set just thirty miles outside of that city. From an NYT review of the National Book Award finalist:

A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, “Heartland” is one of a growing number of important works — including Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” and Amy Goldstein’s “Janesville” — that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America’s postindustrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class. It’s a term that Smarsh argues wasn’t mentioned during her childhood in the 1980s and ’90s. “This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it.”

I’m thisclose to finishing the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, and I have recommitted to Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. Now I need to figure out where to put the recent acquisitions: the TBR pile or the shelves?

On my desk

C6008888-0641-43D2-8408-643F4A23B3E8From Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke:

p. 253
She’d always believed that her parents had done right by her, but now, sitting mute at Stanton’s table, she found herself seething over their choices. Why had they kept her life so small? Why had they never asked her what she wanted? At every possible turn, she saw, they’d chosen the path that would keep her weak and dependent. And the fact that they couldn’t see it that way, that they sincerely believed they’d acted in her best interest, didn’t make it any less true, or them any less culpable.

I was certain I had read this novel when it was first published seven years ago, but I have no record of it, nor did it seem terribly familiar after the first chapter, so I picked up a remaindered paperback. While better than some entries to the “If you loved The Handmaid’s Tale, read this!” category of dystopian fiction, When She Woke proffers neither the intelligence nor the pervasive horror that undergird Atwood’s classic.

With some bookstore credits, I purchased Esi Edugyan’s novel, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.