p. 13 I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.
p. 69 I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.
And from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:
p. 13 He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.
p. 39 He did not remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he was by himself. He had sung when he was by himself in the old days and he had sung at night sometimes when he was alone steering on his watch in the smacks or in the turtle boats. He had probably started to talk aloud, when alone, when the boy had left. But he did not remember.
p. 48 No one should be alone in their old age, he thought. But it is unavoidable. I must remember to eat the tuna before he spoils in order to keep strong. Remember, no matter how little you want to, that you must eat him in the morning. Remember, he said to himself.
p. 103 “But man is not made for defeat,“ he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only better armed.
“Don’t think, old man,“ he said aloud. “Sail on this course and take it when it comes.“
For the commonplace book, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises:
Chapter I I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together….
Chapter II “Listen, Jake,” he leaned forward on the bar. “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
Chapter IV It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.
Chapter XII “Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave. You know what’s the trouble with you? You’re an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven’t you heard that? Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.”
Chapter XIII It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was such wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent from happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.
Chapter XIV Perhaps that wasn’t true, though. Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.
Chapter XVI “Everybody behaves badly,” I said. “Give them the proper chance.”
Chapter XVIII He was not sure that there were any great moments. Things were not the same and now life only came in flashes.
Chapter XIX “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
It seems to me then as if all of the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?
■ 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.
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.”
“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.
“Looks like Ruth,” said my husband, who recently finished the fifth in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. I could only laugh in agreement. If the fictional poet, my favorite character in the series, were a siamang, she’d look like the one above. Speaking of Three Pines, since my last annotated list, I finished All the Devils Are Here (2020) and am partly through the most recent book, The Madness of Crowds (2021). I accept the repetition, the improbabilities, the continuity errors, the repetition, etc. because I appreciate the world Penny built, in spite of its (many) flaws.
I also finished two books I mentioned earlier this month: In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (Joseph Luzzi; 2015) and Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman; 2011), which means that I have exceeded one of my challenges: at least 24 non-fiction titles read from shelves. The twenty-sixth was Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (James Lasdun; 2013). I began reading it eight years ago and was engaged but set it aside for some reason. A slim volume, it was easy to reread the first forty pages and continue. A fan of those neat moments of synthesis / synchronicity / serendipity, I appreciated Lasdun’s discussion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I also mentioned reading earlier this month, and Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel,” which I read to prepare for last week’s The Readers Karamazov podcast. From Lasdun, for the commonplace book:
A person crosses your path; briefly their story intersects with yours and diverges again, leaving something of itself with you and maybe taking something of yours in return, and they’re gone. These days I have to remind myself that encounters with other people can be both interesting and inconsequential.
When I closed Our Country Friends (Gary Shteyngart; 2021), I turned to what appears to have been one of its inspirations, Uncle Vanya (Anton Chekhov; 1898. (Trans. Peter Carson; 2002)), which I much preferred. (Later in the winter break, I’m planning to watch the production filmed in August 2020 from the Harold Pinter Theatre in London.)
■ The Complete Tales (Beatrix Potter; 2002 edition. Fiction.) ■ God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Kurt Vonnegut; 1965. Fiction.) Two of my reading challenges were unmet in August: art and Vonnegut. Now only the Potter biography remains to complete the art category.
■ The Two Noble Kinsmen ■ Henry VIII ■ Pericles Only five remain in my quest to reread all Shakespeare’s plays this year.
■ The Long Way Home (Louise Penny; 2014. Fiction.) ■ The Nature of the Beast (Louise Penny; 2015. Fiction.) ■ The Great Reckoning (Louise Penny; 2016. Fiction.) These are not perfect books, but the world Penny has created and the people with whom she has populated it both interest and engage me.
■ The Push (Ashley Audrain; 2021. Fiction.) Selected on a whim. Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) covers the same territory far more compellingly.
p. 77 But a woman is continually thwarted. Inert and pliant at the same time, she will struggle against both the softness of her flesh and subjection to the law. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat by a string, flutters with every breeze; there is always some desire luring her on, some convention holding her back.
Last week, I had an opportunity to revisit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The book I chose for the drive there and back was The Beautiful Mystery (Louise Penny; 2012). When I returned home, I finished Migrations (Charlotte McConaghy; 2020), which I loved and particularly recommend to fans of Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel; 2014). Related review here.
Since my last annotated list I’ve finished both Othello (1603) and Timon of Athens (1606) as part of my goal to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays this year.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (Oliver Burkeman; 2021) yielded a number of passages for my commonplace book. (The title of this entry is taken from the introduction.) The premise? If we make it to eighty, we live for about four thousand weeks. How will we spend them? This book, writes Burkeman, “is an attempt […] to see if we can’t discover, or recover, some ways of thinking about time that do justice to our real situation: to the outrageous brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks.”
p. 64 In case this needs saying, it isn’t that a diagnosis of terminal illness, or a bereavement, or any other encounter with death is somehow good, or desirable, or “worth it.“ But such experiences, however wholly unwelcome, often appear to leave those who undergo them in a new and more honest relationship with time. The question is whether we might attain at least a little of that same outlook in the absence of the experience of agonizing loss.
p. 115 The trouble with being so emotionally invested in planning for the future, though, is that while it may occasionally prevent a catastrophe, the rest of the time it tends to exacerbate the very anxiety it was supposed to allay. The obsessive planner, essentially, is demanding certain reassurances from the future — but the future isn’t the sort of thing that can ever provide the reassurance he craves, for the obvious reason that it’s still in the future.
p. 116 [T]his underlying longing to turn the future into something dependable isn’t confined to compulsive planners. It’s present in anyone who worries about anything, whether or not they respond by devising elaborate timetables or hypercautious travel plans. Worry, at its core, is the repetitious experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, then trying again and again and again — as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster. The fuel behind worry, in other words, is the internal demand to know, in advance, that things will turn out fine….
p. 158 The derision we heap upon the avid stamp collector or train spotter might really be a kind of defense mechanism, to spare us from confronting the possibility that they are truly happy in a way that the rest of us — pursuing our telic lives, ceaselessly in search of future fulfillment — are not.
p. 159 There’s a second sense in which hobbies pose a challenge to our reigning culture of productivity and performance: it’s fine, and perhaps preferable, to be mediocre at them.