Notes, quotes, and links

63020038-7DF2-4E85-9890-E7D5BCD37E9BIn this, as in the other annotated lists, the order is roughly that in which I finished reading the books, although I do sometimes cluster related titles to remark on them as a set. The object is to gather the mental slips of paper I’ve tucked into each book — passages I hope to remember, articles and / or images I sought while reading, my reasons for choosing this volume or that, etc.

After I’m Gone (Laura Lippman; 2014. Fiction.) RFS
I’d Know You Anywhere (Laura Lippman; 2010. Fiction.) RFS
In 2008, I read Lippman’s What the Dead Know (2007). Although I do not remember much about it, the fact that I read it is all that explains the two additional Lippman titles on my shelves. In a different time, After I’m Gone would have been an adequate poolside companion.

The Journalist and the Murderer (Janet Malcolm; 1990. Non-fiction.) RFS
Most know this book’s first sentence, which is also its argument: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Related links here and here.

Tales from the Loop (Simon Stålenhag; 2014. Graphic fiction.) LIB
I had thought the stories would be too slight, but, in fact, they amplify the weird beauty of his paintings. Related article here.

p. 77
The one thing he was admired for was his accurate penalty shots when we played soccer during recess, so his stories may have been designed to get some attention during the winter months, when the soccer field play frozen and empty. What follows is what he told us.

Mother Night (Kurt Vonnegut; 1961. Fiction.) RFS *
Revisiting my Vonnegut collection requires reassurance, “Ah, it holds up,” as if I were crossing a footbridge that readily supported my younger, lighter self but might buckle under the weight of my older, solid self. This book argues strongly for the bridge’s inherent reliability.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling; 1999. Fiction.) RFS *
A comforting reread.

The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
What can I add to the chorus (e.g., here, here, and here) that has praised this and his earlier The Underground Railroad?

Bartleby, the Scrivener (Herman Melville; 1856. Fiction.) RFS *
From “Herman Melville’s Bartleby and the steely strength of mild rebellion” (The Guardian; January 9, 2017):

There are very few stories that, on re-reading after re-reading, seem to become impossibly more perfect, but Herman Melville’s eerie, aching story Bartleby, the Scrivener is one such. Like a parable without an obvious moral, it is defiance raised to the metaphysical.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties (Tom O’Neill; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link here.

p. 84
I was writing a story about Charles Manson that had, so far, very little Manson in it. It was more about the way that events, in all their messy reality, boiled down to canonical fact; the way that a narrative becomes the narrative.

The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka (1915); Bantam ed. 1972. 201 pages. Fiction.) RFS *
Have seven years passed since I read this with my daughters? Below are images they created in the wake of our discussions.

Kafka (Robert Crumb; 1993 / 2013. Graphic non-fiction.) RFS
James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner (Alfonso Zapico; 2011. Graphic non-fiction.) RFS
Excellent, both.

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead; 2016. Fiction.) RFS
Related link here.

The Book of Delights (Ross Gay; 2019. Non-fiction.) ATY
Following Melissa’s recommendation, I finished this collection of essays in 1.5 sittings. Related link here.

p. 32
[T]he process of thinking that writing is, made disappearable by the delete button, makes a whole part of the experience of writing, which is the production of a good deal of florid detritus, flotsam and jetsam, all those words that mean what you have written and cannot disappear (the scratch-out its own archive), which is the weird path toward what you have come to know, which is called thinking, which is what writing is.

p. 49
“What if we joined our wildernesses together?” Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow, meet. Might, even, join.

p. 195
I’m from the Northeast, I hear myself say. Or, I’m a Northeasterner. Meaning, linguistically, that the appropriate plural of “you” in certain contexts is “yous.” Meaning the beach is called the shore, and you go down to it. To swim in the wooder.

Aside: If I had a dollar for every quizzical look I have endured when asking for a glass of water, I could buy a large house on the shore.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Terry Pratchett; 2001. Fiction.) RFS
Part of an informal summer book club with my older daughter.

A Very Easy Death (Simone de Beauvoir; 1964. Non-fiction.) RFS
A friend recently shared that she thought her mother might be making surreptitious cigarette runs to the corner store. It wasn’t that the woman, who is in her late seventies, had resumed the habit that so upset my friend; it was that she was venturing out during the pandemic and not letting the people in her circle know.

I listened, because in such conversations, that is all that is generally required. When her anger had abated a bit, I ventured, “You have officially entered the ‘parenting your parent’ stage, eh?” Later, in one of those odd moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, I realized that Beauvoir’s memoir of her mother’s illness, hospitalization, and death was the book I planned to read next.

p. 92
Well-intentioned readers urged, ‘Disappearing is not of the least importance: your works will remain.’ And inwardly I told them all that they were wrong. Religion could do no more for my mother than the hope of posthumous success could do for me. Whether you think of it as heavenly or as earthly, if you love life immortality is no consolation for death.

p. 98
Everyone knows the power of things: life is solidified in them, more immediately present than in any one of its instants.

Providence of a Sparrow (Chris Chester; 2002. Non-fiction.) RFS
Unfinished business from last year. Related link here.

p. 7
Baseline for me has always been slightly below sea level. Too modest a depth in which to drown but deep enough to suggest what life must be like for those truly debilitated by anxiety and sadness that doesn’t go away. I suspect my mother and I have this in common and that her rather non-specific complaints of “not feeling well” I recall from childhood were tendrils snaking out from that buried route. She died of cancer when I was twenty-three, long before I developed enough compassion and insight to know her better. A pity, it’s likely we’d have found lots to discuss.

p. 182
The realization that we volunteer for many of our sorrows has helped me a good deal. We acquire them in seed form with each new attachment and shouldn’t be surprised when they sprout one day. Speaking as a person whose biochemistry manufactures gloom as a matter of course, it’s taken me years to understand that fate has never singled me out. The universe has better things to do than plague me with loss or go out of its way to make my life miserable. A perverse egotism is one of the problems with free-floating depression. It sits on your psyche calling attention to itself until you have to believe you’re important enough and special enough for the gods to persecute.

The Blue Castle (L.M. Montgomery; 1926. Fiction.) RFS
This had been in my shelves for a decade. Thanks to Jeanne’s review, I finally read (and loved) it.

Alexander’s Bridge (Willa Cather; 1912. Fiction.) RFS
It is difficult to believe that this was her first novel.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote; 1958. Fiction.) RFS *
I first read this book more than thirty years ago, but I actually read it last week. Capote was a genius.

I, Juan de Pareja (Elizabeth Barton de Treviño; 1965. Fiction.) RFS
This satisfied my Children’s / YA RFS sub-challenge. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Velázquez most likely executed this portrait of his enslaved assistant in Rome during the early months of 1650. According to one of the artist’s biographers, when this landmark of western portraiture was first put on display it “received such universal acclaim that in the opinion of all the painters of different nations everything else seemed like painting but this alone like truth.” Months after depicting his sitter in such a proud and confident way, Velázquez signed a contract of manumission that would liberate him from bondage in 1654.

Incident at Vichy (Arthur Miller; 1965. Drama.) RFS *
This fit in so well with recent (re)reading: The Plot Against America (Philip Roth; 2004), Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Viktor E. Frankl; 1946), and Mother Night (Kurt Vonnegut; 1961).

Gilgamesh: A New English Version (Stephen Mitchell; 2004. Poetry.) RFS *
Gilgamesh is the story of a hero’s journey,” writes Stephen Mitchell in the introduction; “one might say that it is the mother of all heroes’ journeys, with its huge uninhibited mythic presences moving through a landscape of a dream.” He explains:

The archetypal hero’s journey proceeds in stages: being called to action, meeting a wise man or guide, crossing the threshold into the numinous world of the adventure, passing various tests, attaining the goal, defeating the forces of evil, and going back home. It leads to a spiritual transformation at the end, a sense of gratitude, humility, and deepened trust in the intelligence of the universe. After he finds the treasure or slays the dragon or wins the princess or joins with the mind of the sage, the hero can return to ordinary life in a state of grace, as a blessing to himself and to his whole community. He has suffered, he has triumphed, he is at peace.

So Gilgamesh is a quest story, maintains Mitchell, but on close inspection, it’s a “bizarre, quirky, and postmodern” one.

Revisiting Mitchell’s remarkable version of “the oldest story in the world, a thousand years older than the Iliad or the Bible,” I was again undone by Book VIII. Enkindu, Gilgamesh’s best friend, has died. “Hear me, elders, hear me, young men,” laments Gilgamesh,

[M]y beloved friend is dead, he is dead,
my beloved brother is dead, I will mourn
as long as I breathe, I will sob for him
like a woman who has lost her only child.
O, Enkindu, you were the axe at my side
in which my arm trusted, the knife in my sheath,
the shield I carried, my glorious robe,
the wide belt around my loins, and now
a harsh fate has torn you from me, forever.

As they did sixteen years ago, the cadences of his profound grief recalled to me W.H. Auden:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Einstein’s Dreams (Alan Lightman; 1993. Fiction.) RFS
Patterns often emerge in my reading, and I find that this oddly complements Flatland, which I read last month.

Aside: When I pulled the book from the shelves, I noticed a bookmark. I figured it was from the bookstore, but it was a commemorative item from a wedding, which meant I purchased this book used — perhaps at a library sale or a Half Price Books location? Of course, I Googled the couple and found that they had purchased a house in Illinois a few years after marrying. A yen to mail them their bookmark with a note about how awesome it was that they distributed bookmarks — bookmarks! — as a reminder of their special day seized me and would not let me go — until I realized that while the discovery may have delighted me, the reminder might not necessarily delight them. I wonder how many moments of joy are aborted by “On second thought…”?

The Odd Woman and the City (Vivian Gornick; 2015. Non-fiction.) RFS
I began this several years ago but apparently never finished it (although much to my chagrin, it appears in my 2016 books read list). I removed the bookmark and began again, finishing in one sitting. This reading experience reminded me of the deep delight (that word again!) I experienced when I first read Diana Athill’s Stet: An Editor’s Life nearly twenty years ago: More! I want to hear more of this voice! Related article here.

p. 20
One’s own best self. For centuries, this was the key concept behind any essential definition of friendship: that one’s friend is a virtuous being who speaks to the virtue in oneself. How foreign is such a concept to the children of the therapeutic culture! Today we do not look to see, much less affirm, our best selves in one another. To the contrary, it is the openness with which we admit to our emotional incapacities — the fear, the anger, the humiliation — that excites contemporary bonds of friendship. Nothing draws us closer to one another than the degree to which we face our deepest shame openly in one another’s company. Coleridge and Wordsworth dreaded such self-exposure; we adore it. What we want is to feel known, warts and all: the more warts the better. It is the great illusion of our culture that what we confess to is who we are.

p. 100
Good conversation is not a matter of mutuality of interests or class concerns or commonly held ideals, it’s a matter of temperament: the thing that makes someone respond instinctively with an appreciative “I know just what you mean,” rather than the argumentative “Whaddaya mean by that?” In the presence of shared temperament, the conversation almost never loses its free, unguarded flow; in its absence, one is always walking on eggshells.

We Have Always Lived in a Castle (Shirley Jackson; 1962. Fiction.) RFS
Although it received mix reviews, I may watch the film later this week. From NPR:

But calling Castle [the novel] “horror” would be a misrepresentation of the work, which is really a Gothic psychodrama that eats itself from the inside. The story centers around the peculiarities of the Blackwood sisters, the ones in the giant gabled manor up on a hill. They were orphaned years ago after their parents succumbed to a dinnertime poisoning. Who poisoned them?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman; 2013. Fiction.) RFS
From A.S. Byatt, writing in The Guardian (July 3, 2013):

Gaiman is a master of fear, and he understands the nature of fairytales, the relation between the writer, the reader and the character in the tale.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers (Deborah Heiligman; 2017. Non-fiction.) RFS
By the author of the lovely biography Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, this satisfied my Art RFS sub-challenge.

p. 50
They promise to always be close, to keep the bond between them strong and intimate. They will always walk together. They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art. Together they will achieve lives filled with a purpose. And they will, when needed, carry each other’s parcels.

Cassandra at the Wedding (Dorothy Baker; 1962. Fiction.) RFS
This satisfied my NYRB RFS sub-challenge and completed my Goodreads goal of 104 books, and now Cassandra and Merricat, the unreliable narrator of Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, are paired in my readerly imagination. From Nicholas Lazard’s review (The Guardian, October 30, 2012):

Thanks to the tireless raising of the point by Howard Jacobson and others, it seems just possible that the notion is sinking in that not to like a novel because one does not find the central character likeable is not, actually, a sophisticated way of reading. I need hardly add that I wholly endorse this view – but this doesn’t mean that I think there’s something immature or unworthy in taking pleasure in the characters a writer creates, whether you’re the reader or the writer.

p. 81
I love our bedroom, but it was designed for us as we once were, not as we are now.

—————————————
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library (including Hoopla and Overdrive)
OTH Other
RFS Read from shelves

* Denotes a reread

Another annotated reading list

0969EC26-2BB3-4C38-BD69-AC8AE1BCBBA9I’ve read 23 books since my last list, which puts me at 75 for the year, so far.

Parnassus on Wheels (Christopher Morley; 1917. Fiction.) RFS
I meant to read this ten or fifteen years ago, but I’m glad I didn’t because its innocence, humor, and bookish fun were something I needed now much more than then.

p. 43
“Judging by the way you talk,” I said, “you ought to be quite a writer yourself.”

“Talkers never write. They go on talking.”

How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (Seneca; ed. James Romm; 2018. Non-fiction.) RFS
How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management (Seneca; ed. James Romm; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life (Marcus Tullius Cicero; ed. Philip Freeman; 2016. Non-fiction.) RFS
How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life (Epictetus; ed. A.A. Long; 2018. Non-fiction.) RFS
These four books are part of Princeton University Press’ “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers” series. I was particularly delighted by Cicero’s anecdote about Sophocles defending himself against his sons’ claims that he was experiencing age-related feeble-mindedness.

p. 49
[T]he old man then read to the court his Oedipus at Colonus, which he had just written and was even then revising, asking when he finished if it sounded like the work of a weak-minded person. After his recitation, the jury acquitted him.

It’s no secret that I am an abiding fan of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity: We had tickets to Court Theatre’s now-rescheduled production of The Gospel at Colonus. Of course, then, Oedipus at Colonus was in my reading plan for April. How neat to have this tie-in.

The Bookshop (Penelope Fitzgerald; 1978. Fiction.) RFS
When I added Parnassus on Wheels to my Goodreads, this came up as a suggestion — another book I had meant to read a long time ago. The ending broke my heart, but I loved The Bookshop. Lively, whose Moon Tiger (1987) I greatly admire, is a wordsmith.

The Haunted Bookshop (Christopher Morley; 1919. Fiction.) LIB
This was nowhere near as beguiling as Parnassus on Wheels.

Chemistry (Weike Wang; 2017. Fiction.) RFS
I’m not certain I am actually the audience for this book about a young woman who experiences personal crisis after her partner proposes, but I thought it was terrific — smart and bittersweet. Check out this interview with the author.

The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes; 2011. Fiction.) RFS
Most folks read this years ago, when Barnes nabbed the Man Booker Prize. Again, this was just the book I needed now. It’s exquisite… perfect.

p. 65
Later on in life, you expect a bit of rest, don’t you? You think you deserve it. I did, anyway. But then you begin to understand that the reward of merit is not life’s business.

p. 104
How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — told to ourselves.

p. 115
Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Jonathan Gottschall; 2012. Non-fiction.) RFS
Naturally, this fan of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity appreciated hearing an echo of Barnes’ narrator in Gottschall’s exploration of narrative and psychology.

p. 161
We spend our lives crafting stories that make us noble — if flawed — protagonists of first-person dramas. A life story is a “personal myth” about who we are deep down — where we come from, how we got this way, and what it all means. Our life stories are who we are. They are our identity. A life story is not, however, an objective account. A life story is a carefully shaped narrative that is replete with strategic forgetting and skillfully spun meanings.

Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles; 406 B.C. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald; 1969. Drama.) RFS
See above.

Scene IV
OEDIPUS:
I am perfectly content, so long as you
Can neither wheedle me nor fool these others.

CREON:
Unhappy man! Shall it be plain that time
Brings you no wisdom? that you shame your age?

OEDIPUS:
An agile wit! I know no honest man
Able to speak so well under all conditions!

Truth and Beauty (Ann Patchett; 2004. Non-fiction.) RFS
This complemented Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face (1994), which I read last month.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Zachary Mason; 2007/2010. Fiction.) RFS
April may prove to be the month of perfect books. Boy, was this fabulous. Reviews here and here.

p. 83
Finally, I saw myself, how my wit exceeded that of other men but gave me no leverage against fate, and how in the time to come it would avail me nothing but possibly an understanding of the full scope of my helplessness.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 1998. Fiction.) RFS
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling; 1998. Fiction.) RFS
I had expected that returning to these would prove too bitter… but it was sweet comfort.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (Richard Kolker; 2013. Non-fiction.) RFS
After watching a trailer for a new movie of the same title, I headed to the shelves where this terrifically written entry in the unsolved mystery / true crime genre has awaited me (for *shhh* seven years). Review here.

The Tempest (William Shakespeare; 1610. Drama.) RFS
Years ago, when I first read The Tempest, I noted that Miranda was homeschooled. As I wrote elsewhere those many years ago, Prospero the schoolmaster serves his own needs at the expense of his student’s; and his dubious classroom management skills coupled with his troubling use of “wench” as term of endearment irritated in both that first reading and this most recent. Yet, when nearly every kid in the United States is “suddenly homeschooled,” rediscovering Shakespeare’s take on homeschooling provided another dose of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity.

Act I, Scene 2
PROSPERO:
Now I arise:
[Resumes his mantle]
Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
Here in this island we arrived; and here
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princesses can that have more time
For vainer hours and tutors not so careful.

Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Viktor E. Frankl; 1946. Non-fiction.) RFS
This was the fourth or fifth time I’ve read this book.

p. 56
Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.

p. 68
Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.

p. 122
We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

Give Me Your Heart (Joyce Carol Oates; 2010. Fiction.) RFS
It was a bit of a chore to work through this one.

Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living (Anna S. Redsand; 2006. Non-fiction.) RFS
A suitable introduction to Frankl for middle-school students.

American Predator (Maureen Callahan; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link here. This was one that made me check the window and door locks. Again. And again.

Flatland (Edwin A. Abbott; 1884. Fiction.) RFS
Trippy blend of satire, math, and physics. Related link here.

Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare; 1603. Drama.) RFS
The Shakespeare Project of Chicago hopes to move its production of Measure for Measure to next season.

Act I, Scene 4
LUCIO:
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

Act II, Scene 2
ISABELLA:
So you must be the first that gives this sentence,
And he, that suffers. O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.

—————————————
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library (including Hoopla and Overdrive)
OTH Other
RFS Read from shelves

An annotated reading list

0497D280-6518-4F0A-8431-D80CBBD7F138Since my last list, I have read fifteen books, which means that I have completed Robin’s “Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks” challenge. But let’s keep going, eh?

Autobiography of a Face (Lucy Grealy; 1994. Non-fiction.) RFS
p. 7
The cruelty of children is immense, almost startling its precision. The kids at the parties were fairly young and, surrounded by adults, they rarely make cruel remarks outright. But their open, uncensored stares were more painful than the deliberate taunts of my peers at school, where insecurities drove everything and everyone like some looming, evil presence in a haunted machine. But in those backyards, where the grass was mown so short and sharp it would have hurt to walk on it, there was only the fact of me, my face, my ugliness.

The Plot Against America (Philip Roth; 2004. Fiction.) RFS
I had thought this would be a reread but then realized I had confused it with American Pastoral. The book is practically perfect, so although the first episode of the new HBO series was solid, it’s unlikely that I will continue watching.

p. 114
Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as “history,” harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.

p. 300
Whether outright government-sanctioned persecution was inevitable, nobody could say for sure, but the fear of persecution was such that not even a practical man grounded in his everyday tasks, a person who tried his best to contain the uncertainty and the anxiety and the anger and operate according to the dictates of reason, could hope to preserve his equilibrium any longer.

p. 316
To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world’s greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!

Aimless Love (Billy Collins; 2013. Poetry.) RFS
Billy Collins is a treasure.

My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
Read in two sittings. Timely and disturbing. Related links here and here.

Severance (Ming La; 2018. Fiction.) RFS
Prescient and gorgeously written. I cannot recommend it enough. Mr. Nerdishly agrees, wryly adding, “It’s also scary as hell.” Review here.

Trees, Vol. 3 (Warren Ellis; 2020. Graphic fiction.) LIB
Strong addition to the series.

Oblivion Song, Vol. 4 (Robert Kirkman; 2020. Graphic fiction.) LIB
Less so.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Patrick Radden Keene; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related links here and here.

Catch and Kill (Ronan Farrow; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
This reminded me of my experience reading Bad Blood: I could not put it down; hours disappeared. A review and an article about the related podcast.

The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway; 1952. Fiction.) ATY
This is another of those books that I have reread as an adult and realized, “Wow, that was clearly wasted on my teenaged self.”

No one should be alone in their old age, he thought. But it is unavoidable.

Postal: Deliverance, Vol. 1 (Brian Edward Hill; 2019. Graphic fiction.) LIB
The owner of the comic book store we patronize has fruitfully recommended several series to me, so it’s odd that he didn’t mention that Postal, a series on my shortlist, had continued. Well, it was a treat to discover the first volume on Hoopla.

The Nose (Nikolai Gogol; 1835. Fiction.) RFS
We saw some of William Kentridge’s The Nose Series at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but a search of the museum’s website yields only a tax document mentioning that the prints were there. Weird. Well, in any event, I now plan to watch the Kentridge production of the Shostakovich opera via Met On Demand.

But nothing lasts long in this world, and so even joy is weaker one minute than the last, and by the third it has become something fainter still, until finally it fades imperceptibly back into the more usual state of one’s mind, just as a ripple on water, born from the drop of a pebble, will gradually merge back into the smooth surface of the lake.

The Book of M (Peng Shepherd; 2018. Fiction.) RFS
Too long by one hundred pages, and, boy, is the chapter for each narrator device one of the most overused in contemporary fiction, or what? Add to that the fact that I grew impatient with the fantastical elements by the final third, and you have the recipe for a Meh rating.

The Lion in Winter (James Goldman; 1966. Drama.) RFS
Reread one of my favorites because this is a season that requires such indulgences.

Act II, Scene 1
Eleanor: I adored you.
Henry: Never.
Eleanor: I still do.
Henry: Of all the lies, that one is the most terrible.
Eleanor: I know: that’s why I saved it up for now.
(They throw themselves into each other’s arms.) Oh, Henry, we have mangled everything we’ve touched.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Kij Johnson; 2016. Fiction.) RFS
My ticket stub from Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s 2016 production of Tug of War: Friendly Fire marked page 41. My best guess, then, is that I began this unusual book four years ago and set it aside. Written as a feminist counterpoint to H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, this short novel is certainly not my usual fare, but I returned to the beginning and gave it another shot. Still not my cuppa, but, hey, I finished it this time. Related article here.

—————————————
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library (including Hoopla and Overdrive)
OTH Other
RFS Read from shelves

An annotated reading list

27987404-51E0-4E06-97EB-E783C463D15C

Talk about serendipity, synthesis, and synchronicity…
Not long after I finished reading Mary Beard’s slim volume, Women & Power, I visited the MFA, where the Head of Medusa (Arnold Böcklin, 1894) held my gaze.

I’ve finished fourteen books since my last list.

The Truants (Kate Weinberg; 2019. Fiction.) LIB
A quick, entertaining read. I particularly relished the idea of Agatha Christie as a subject of academic inquiry.

Women and Power (Mary Beard; 2017. Non-fiction.) RFS
Mary Beard is a genius. Related link here.

Men Explain Things to Me (Rebecca Solnit; 2017. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link: “Before there was mansplaining, there was Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 critique of male arrogance. Reprinted here with a new introduction.”

p. 10
Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.

p. 62
Gay men and lesbians have already opened up the question of what qualities and roles are male and female in ways that can be liberating for straight people. When they marry, the meaning of marriage is likewise opened up. No hierarchical tradition underlies their union. Some people have greeted this with joy.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark; 1961. Fiction.) RFS
Muriel Spark was a genius, too.

The Lady from the Sea (Henrik Ibsen; 1888. Drama.) RFS
Read in anticipation of seeing the Court Theatre production.

Five Days at Memorial (Sheri Fink; 2013. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link here.

The Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare; 1592. Drama.) RFS
Reread in anticipation of seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company at Chicago Shakespeare.

Zeitoun (Dave Eggers; 2009. Non-fiction.) RFS
This was the perfect companion to Fink’s Five Days at Memorial and Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler earlier this year.

As You Like It (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.) RFS
Read in anticipation of seeing the Chicago Shakespeare production.

Act III, Scene V
But, mistress, know yourself: down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love:
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can: you are not for all markets:
Cry the man mercy; love him; take his offer:
Foul is most foul, being foul to be a scoffer.

American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
From the NYT review by Parul Sehgal:

But does the book’s shallowness paradoxically explain the excitement surrounding it? The tortured sentences aside, “American Dirt” is enviably easy to read. It is determinedly apolitical. The deep roots of these forced migrations are never interrogated; the American reader can read without fear of uncomfortable self-reproach. It asks only for us to accept that “these people are people,” while giving us the saintly to root for and the barbarous to deplore — and then congratulating us for caring.

It certainly was “enviably easy to read.”

p. 50
What a waste of time it had all been. Lydia feels annoyed that her niece won’t get to see the music box she purchased for her special day. How expensive it was! She realizes, even as this thought occurs to her, how bizarre and awful it is, but she can’t stop it from crashing in. She doesn’t rebuke herself for thinking it; she does herself the small kindness of forgiving her malfunctioning logic.

p. 276
He’s a philosopher, she thinks. He’s rough, but he means what he says, and his openness is a provocation. Despite everything, he likes being alive. Lydia doesn’t know whether that’s true for herself. For mothers, the question is immaterial anyway. Her survival is a matter of instinct rather than desire.

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey (Alberto Manguel; 2007. Non-fiction.) RFS
We’ve had our tickets to the Court’s sold-out, site-specific remount of An Iliad since September. It was more than worth the wait and the price.

p. 2
We don’t know anything about Homer. It is otherwise with Homer’s books. In a very real sense, the Iliad and the Odyssey are familiar to us prior to opening the first page. Even before we begin to follow the changing moods of Achilles or admire the wit and courage of Ulysses, we have learned to expect that somewhere in these stories of war in time and travel in space we will be told the experience of every human struggle and every human displacement. Two of our oldest metaphors tell us that all life is a battle and that all life is a journey; whether the Iliad and the Odyssey drew on this knowledge or whether this knowledge was drawn from the Iliad and the Odyssey is, in the final count, unimportant, since a book and its readers are both mirrors that reflect one another endlessly.

p. 88
A book’s influence is never straightforward. Common readers, unrestricted by the rigours of academe, allow their books to dialogue with one another, to exchange meanings and metaphors, to enrich and annotate each other. In the reader’s mind, books become intertwined and intermingled, so that we no longer know whether a certain adventure belongs to Arsilaous or to Aquiles, or where Homer ends Ulysses’ adventures and the author of Sinbad takes them up again.

p. 226
The scene of war, says Homer, is never only that of war: it is never only that of men acting out in the present the events of the day. It is always the scene of the past as well, a display of what men secretly once were, revealed now in their ultimate moments. Confronted with the imminence of violent death, war also confronts them with the memory of days of peace, of the happiness that life can, and should, grant us. War is both things: the experience of an awful presence and the ghost of a beloved past.

The Iliad (Gareth Hinds; 2019. Graphic fiction.) RFS
I did not appreciate this volume as much as Hinds’ graphic retelling of The Odyssey, which I read last year.

Why We Can’t Sleep (Ada Calhoun; 2020. Non-fiction.) LIB
p. 221
Could we even see our newfound midlife invisibility as a source of power? In Harry Potter’s world, one of the most prized magical tools is an invisibility cloak. There are great advantages to being underestimated. Two of the best reporters I know are women in their fifties. They look so friendly and non-threatening, if you notice them at all. They can lurk in any room without usually wary people remembering to keep their guard up. Then they write devastating whistleblowing articles. The world ignores middle-aged women at its peril.

Vinegar Girl (Anne Tyler; 2016. Fiction.) RFS
Read as a companion to my Shrew reread. This was also “enviably easy to read,” and that’s not a criticism.

—————————————
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library
OTH Other
RFS Read from shelves

An annotated reading list

BEBAC6F2-0CFC-499C-9EEF-C9AC33C715B4Once upon a time ago, I would cobble together a monthly (or so) review of books I’d been reading with notes, quotes, and / or links. I thought I’d do that today to get back into the posting groove. So far, I’ve read twenty-three books this year, fifteen of which are from my shelves and eleven of which are non-fiction titles. I’m off to a promising start, eh?

Highlights of the Collections of the Oriental Institute (Jean M. Evans; 2017. Non-fiction.) RFS
We revisited the Oriental Institute in December in anticipation of seeing An Iliad there next month.

The Mousetrap (Agatha Christie; 1952. Drama.) RFS
Read in advance of seeing the Court Theatre production.

Trust Exercise (Susan Choi; 2019. Fiction.) RFS
Interesting review here.

Rutherford and Sons (Githa Sowerby; 1912. Drama.) RFS
Read before seeing the TimeLine Theatre production.

Richard III (William Shakespeare; 1592. Drama.) RFS
Reread before seeing the Shakespeare Project of Chicago production.

In the Heart of the Sea (Nathan Philbrick; 2000. Non-fiction.) RFS
In a weird twist, I watched the movie before reading this terrific book. My interest was, of course, fueled by my Moby-Dick reread late last year.

Dear America (Jose Antonio Vargas; 2018. Non-fiction.) RFS
Related link here.

A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah; 2007. Non-fiction.) RFS
Arrived at this book a bit later than most. Here’s a related link.

Frogcatchers (Jeff Lemire; 2018. Graphic fiction.) LIB
Another of Lemire’s meditations on death, regret, and letting go.

On Tyranny (Timothy Snyder; 2017. Non-fiction.) RFS
Again, arrived at this later than most. I began marking passages for the commonplace book and soon realized I’d copy the entire text. Review here.

Tomten Tales (Astrid Lindgren; 2017 ed. (1960 and 1966). Juvenile fiction.) LIB
Small gnome ornaments topped the holiday gift bags I distributed this year. In a lovely note, my music teacher thanked me for, among other things, “the adorable tomten.” In pursuit of a definition, I stumbled on this delightful children’s book.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Chris Hadfield; 2013. Non-fiction.) RFS
My younger daughter (insistently) recommended this.

p. 267
If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on.

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates; 2015. Non-fiction.) RFS
p. 51
Poetry aims for an economy of truth — loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions — beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

Keep It Moving (Twyla Tharp; 2019. Non-fiction.) LIB
Meh.

The Passengers (John Marrs; 2019. Fiction.) ATY
Flawed and a bit predictable but an altogether entertaining way to pass a Sunday evening.

Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
This book is partially responsible for the gap in entries here.

We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; 2014. Non-fiction.) LIB
p. 18
Today, we live in a vastly different world. The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, innovative, creative. We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.

Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey; 1951. Fiction.) RFS
I reread this after rereading Richard III.

p. 33
It was shocking how little history remained with one after a good education.

p. 196
“No, that doesn’t matter at all. Most people’s first books are their best anyway; it’s the one they wanted most to write….”

Blood Dazzler (Patricia Smith; 2009. Poetry.) LIB
Excerpts here.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (Carolyn Criado Perez; 2019. Non-fiction.) RFS
Wow. Wow. Wow. This will certainly top my list of memorable reads this year. Related link here.

The Whisper Man (Alex North; 2019. Fiction.) ATY
Another meh.

The Warehouse (Rob Hart; 2019. Fiction.) LIB
Although I’m weary of the narrative device of alternating voices, it worked in this near-future dystopian novel.

Emma (Jane Austen; 1815. Fiction.) RFS
Austen’s prose sparkles; her wit pierces. But I wonder if I am too old to appreciate Emma. I reread the novel before seeing the new Chicago Shakespeare musical.

—————————————
ATY Acquired this year
LIB Borrowed from library
RFS Read from shelves

 

“Hast seen the White Whale?”

E4B5FD48-598E-4C45-81D0-7C1F44A883D4

My November 2013 image of the sperm whale sculpture by Preston Jackson.

Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale
One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.

Chapter 113: The Forge
“Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should’st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can’st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can’st not go mad?—What wert thou making there?”

Chapter 115: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor
“Hast seen the White Whale?” gritted Ahab in reply.

“No; only heard of him; but don’t believe in him at all,” said the other good-humoredly. “Come aboard!”

“Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?”

“Not enough to speak of — two islanders, that’s all; — but come aboard, old hearty, come along. I’ll soon take that black from your brow. Come along, will ye (merry’s the play); a full ship and homeward-bound.”

“How wondrous familiar is a fool!” muttered Ahab….

Chapter 135: The Chase
“Cherries? I only wish that we were where they grow. Oh, Stubb, I hope my poor mother’s drawn my part-pay ere this; if not, few coppers will now come to her, for the voyage is up.”

Don’t be afraid, my butter-boxes

6DF9F86D-56B3-4B72-85C0-C1126DE8AE83Chapter 81: The Pequod Meets the Virgin
:: “Don’t be afraid, my butter-boxes,” cried Stubb, casting a passing glance upon them as he shot by; “ye’ll be picked up presently—all right—I saw some sharks astern—St. Bernard’s dogs, you know—relieve distressed travellers….”

:: For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.

Chapter 85: The Fountain
Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living. Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!

Chapter 86: The Tail
It never wriggles. In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority.

Chapter 93: The Castaway
So soon as he recovered himself, the poor little negro was assailed by yells and execrations from the crew. Tranquilly permitting these irregular cursings to evaporate, Stubb then in a plain, business-like, but still half humorous manner, cursed Pip officially; and that done, unofficially gave him much wholesome advice. The substance was, Never jump from a boat, Pip, except — but all the rest was indefinite, as the soundest advice ever is. Now, in general, Stick to the boat, is your true motto in whaling; but cases will sometimes happen when Leap from the boat, is still better. Moreover, as if perceiving at last that if he should give undiluted conscientious advice to Pip, he would be leaving him too wide a margin to jump in for the future; Stubb suddenly dropped all advice, and concluded with a peremptory command, “Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind, and don’t jump any more.” Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.