A clever girl, but lazy

From Diana Athill’s memoir Instead of a Letter (1962):

p. 40
[T]hey considered a house without books in it uncivilized.

p. 71
Lessons I saw as necessary, often interesting, and sometimes enjoyable. I made friends whose companionship I appreciated. It was the absence of things which had to be endured: the absence of freedom, the absence of home, the absence of privacy, the absence of pleasures.

p. 72
It was at school that my secret sin was first brought into the open: laziness. I was considered a clever girl, but lazy. It has been with me ever since, and the guilt I feel about it assures me that it is a sin, not an inability. It takes the form of an immense weight of inertia at the prospect of any activity that does not positively attract me: a weight that can literally paralyze my moral sense. That something must be done I know; that I can do it I know; but the force which prevents my doing it when it comes to the point, or makes me postpone it and postpone it until almost too late, is not conscious defiance of the “must” nor a deliberate denial of the “can.” It is an atrophy of the part of my mind which can perceive the “must” and the “can.” I slide off sideways, almost unconsciously, into doing something else, which I like doing.

La Marquise Du Châtelet


From the play Emilie by Lauren Gunderson:

Emilie and Voltaire have built “the largest library in Europe… and live in it,” but by the end of Act I, there is discord.

EMILIE: For once consider the idea that you could be mistaken, that you could be fallible in this one scenario, lonely as it may be in the immensity of your usual correctness. Science isn’t theatre, you can’t pick the ending because it sounds nice. Listen to me.


Over the weekend, we saw Boy at TimeLine Theatre (timely, moving, worth your time) and Remy Bumppo’s staged reading of Susan Glaspell’s 1921 play, Inheritors.

From the latter:

SILAS: You took aplenty. Tell in your eyes you’ve thought lots about what’s been thought. And that’s what I was setting out to say. It makes something of men — learning. A house that’s full of books makes a different kind of people. Oh, of course, if the books aren’t there just to show off.

GRANDMOTHER: Like in Mary Baldwin’s new house.

SILAS: (trying hard to see it) It’s not the learning itself—it’s the life that grows up from learning. Learning’s like soil. Like—like fertilizer. Get richer. See more. Feel more. You believe that?

FEJEVARY: Culture should do it.

SILAS: Does in your house. You somehow know how it is for the other fellow more’n we do.

I love that… A house that’s full of books makes a different kind of people.

“You’re standing on a stage…”

From Alexander Maksik’s novel You Deserve Nothing:

p. 87
You always begin the same way. You’re standing on stage, presenting yourself, happy to be back. Which is not to say that you don’t believe in teaching, because you do. There are few things you believe in more and you want to do something good. But along with that comes the wonder of standing before a group of people who love you, who imagine that you are strong and wise.

All that attention, it’s hard to resist. And if you’re honest you acknowledge that before you ever became a teacher you imagined your students’ reverence, your ability to seduce, the stories you’d tell, the wisdom you’d impart. You know that teaching is the combination of theater and love, ego and belief. You know that the subject you teach isn’t nearly as important as how you use it.

p. 169
That’s why the ones who stay are some of the most depressing people you’ve ever met in your life. It has nothing to do with their age. They’ve stayed because of their disposition — bitter, bored, lacking in ambition, lonely, and mildly insane. With few exceptions, these are the people who are capable of staying in a school. This is what it takes to teach for half a life-time. The ones who care, who love the subjects, who love their students, who love, above all, teaching — they rarely hang around.

An Enemy of the People

From Act IV:

Dr. Stockmann (with growing fervor). What does the destruction of a community matter, if it lives on lies? It ought to be razed to the ground. I tell you– All who live by lies ought to be exterminated like vermin! You will end by infecting the whole country; you will bring about such a state of things that the wholecountry will deserve to be ruined. And if things come to that pass, I shall say from the bottom of my heart: Let the whole country perish, let all these people be exterminated!

Voices from the crowd. That is talking like an out-and-out enemy of the people!

Billing. There sounded the voice of the people, by all that’s holy!

The whole crowd. (shouting). Yes, yes! He is an enemy of the people! He hates his country! He hates his own people!

Aslaksen. Both as a citizen and as an individual, I am profoundly disturbed by what we have had to listen to. Dr. Stockmann has shown himself in a light I should never have dreamed of. I am unhappily obliged to subscribe to the opinion which I have just heard my estimable fellow-citizens utter; and I propose that we should give expression to that opinion in a resolution. I propose a resolution as follows: “This meeting declares that it considers Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Medical Officer of the Baths, to be an enemy of the people.”

By the way, if you haven’t already nabbed tickets to A Red Orchid Theatre’s Traitor — an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People written by Brett Neveu and directed by Michael Shannon — stop what you’re doing and get them. Elsewhere, I have described it as think-y, inventive, and, well, feckin’ brilliant.

Book notes

I have recently acquired the top three books on the stack, finished the bottom four plus Conversion (Katherine Howe), and been reading the rest.

From Hard Times (Charles Dickens):

p. 47
It was one of the most exasperating attributes of Bounderby, that he not only sang his own praises but stimulated other men to sing them. There was a moral infection of clap-trap in him.

p. 277
“I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir,” returned Bitzer; “but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person’s self-interest. It’s your only hold….”

From Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson):

MARWOOD: Never discuss your family, do you?

WITHNAIL: I fail to see my family is of any interest to you — I have absolutely no interest in yours — I dislike relatives in general, and my own in particular.


WITHNAIL: Because… I’ve told you why… we’re incompatible. They don’t like me being on stage.

MARWOOD: Then they must be delighted with your career.

WITHNAIL: What d’you mean?

MARWOOD: You rarely are.

The reading life

Since my last “real” post (i.e., a post with more than an image of books), I have seen several plays, including The Belle of Amherst featuring Kate Fry (runs through December 6: get there, if you can); finished all of the Forty Little Pieces in Progressive Order and moved on to the Album of Sonatinas (‘hard to believe that I have been studying flute for three years now); and completed (nearly) twelve weeks at my no-longer-new job. By necessity more than design, my bookish notes from the last six weeks mostly comprise dog-earred pages, screenshots, photos of books, and random lists. With this post, I will try to impose a bit of order.

At this point I have finished reading 140 books:

— 45 plays (33 by Shakespeare)
— 38 fiction titles (not including graphic works)
— 21 non-fiction titles (not including graphic works)
— 5 poetry titles
— 31 graphic works (six of which were non-fiction works)

Coriolanus (“Hear you this Triton of the minnows?”) and King Lear (“O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven / Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!”) were the highlights of my recent Shakespeare in a Year progress. Finishing the Sonnets represents a milestone, I suppose, but what a slog! At least I can say I have met my goal to read more poetry this year. Heh, heh, heh. And the otherwise tedious task was certainly leavened by Don Paterson’s erudite and irreverent commentary. Over the next week or so, I will quickly reread The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII (all of which I have, within the last two years or so (re)read) and then turn to The Two Noble Kinsmen, which I have, to the best of my recollection, never read.

The most recent of the novels I’ve read this year is A Whole Life (Robert Seethaler; translated from the German by Charlotte Collins). In 2015, I noted that Maria Beig’s novel Hermine: An Animal Life (translated from the German by Jaimy Gordon) is perfect, so comparing my experience of A Whole Life to Hermine is the highest praise I can offer this beautiful and deceptively simple novel. See also this review from The Irish Times, which draws parallels to Stoner (John Williams) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (William Maxwell), two books that would, like Hermine, easily earn a spot in my “Essential Bookcase.”

Another of my goals this year was to read at least twenty-six non-fiction works. Monica Hesse’s American Fire and Katy Tur’s Unbelievable represent the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh titles toward that goal. Both books recount fascinating stories that probably would have been better related in long-form articles.

From American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land:

p. 23
[W]hile some of his volunteers thought he was a hard-ass, his military training had taught him that there were right ways to do things and wrong ways, and getting small things correct was the only way to make sure the big things worked when it mattered most.

p. 205
It’s amazing how boring trials can be. How even the most salacious of crimes committed under the most colorful of circumstances can result in testimony that is tedious and snoozy.

From Unbelievable:

p. 201
I think we dislike and ultimately distrust the media because journalism, honestly pursued, is difficult and uncomfortable. It tells us things about the world that we’d rather not know; it reveals aspects of people that aren’t always flattering. But rather than deal with journalism, we despise journalism.

p. 235
We really have to start teaching journalism in elementary school. People don’t even understand the basics of what we do anymore.

Regarding the photo:

— Before seeing The Taming of the Shrew at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (review here), we attended a “Preamble” program during which the lecturer mentioned Scheil’s She Hath Been Reading. Naturally, I had to have a copy.

— I am reading Hard Times in anticipation of seeing the play over autumn break. (Reviews here and here.)

Withnail and I arrived on my stack via its (loose) ties to Hamlet.

— And the rest: Family Life leapt off the shelf at me yesterday. It seems like The Road to Jonestown has been on my stack too long. The Hate U Give is one of the few times I’ve given in to “But everybody’s reading it!” We’ll see how that works out.