What I’ve been reading

Current stack.

With more than three months remaining in the year, a goal of 208 books seemed reachable, so I readjusted my Goodreads challenge (for the third time); I’m currently at 178.

The New Wilderness (Diane Cook; 2020. Fiction.)
This caught my eye when it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. (It made the short list.) Review here. I wasn’t “dazzled,” but I was riveted.

The River at Night (Erica Ferencik; 2017. Fiction.)
The Truth about Harry Quebert Affair (Joël Dicker; 2014. Fiction.)
Every once in a while, I peruse the shelves, stop on a book, and think, “Hmmm. How did this get here?” So it was with these two. River, was mildly entertaining; Affair, however, was dreadful.

Sentient (Jeff Lemire; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
We Stand on Guard (Brian K. Vaughan; 2016. Graphic fiction.)
Both are solid stand-alone volumes.

The Piano Lesson (August Wilson; 1987. Drama.)
Fences (August Wilson; 1985. Drama.)
Two Trains Running (August Wilson; 1993. Drama.)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (August Wilson; 1982. Drama.)
Radio Golf (August Wilson; 2005. Drama.)
Court Theatre’s 2020/21 season includes “Theatre & Thought,” four series of lectures by University of Chicago faculty and other scholars. For the first four-week series, “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice,” I’m making my way through the entire American Century Cycle.

From Radio Golf, Wilson’s last play:

If it don’t take all the quarters you fix it. Anybody with common sense will agree to that. What they don’t agree on is how to fix it. Some people say you got to tear it down to fix it. Some people say you got to build it up to fix it. Some people say they don’t know how to fix it. Some people say they don’t want to be bothered with fixing it. You mix them all in a pot and stir it up and you got America. That’s what makes this country great.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Svetlana Alexievich; 2005 (1997). Non-fiction.)
Read as a companion to Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019). Haunting.

p. 107
I’ve felt something like this when someone close to me died. The sun is out, and the birds are flying, and the swallows, it starts raining — but he’s dead. Do you understand? I want to explain this whole other dimension in a few words, explain how it was for me then.

Still reading

A summertime photo: Last August, my daughters and I spent an evening at the beach not far from where my husband and I grew up. The sound of the waves washing in and out… one of my favorites.

As back-to-school season drew near, I craved the sort of books that slide down like a glass of Hi-C and some Oreos, a snack Debbie D.’s mother often served when we climbed out of the pool following a long afternoon of lazily spinning on floats and gossiping. What can I say? We were young and unworried. Anyway, that yen for the bound version of refined sugar explains these two selections:

The Gifted School (Bruce Holsinger; 2019. Fiction.)
A Good Marriage (Kimberly McCreight; 2020. Fiction.)

Good luck and a great conversation with my older daughter explain the four graphic works I finished since my last post:

Family Tree, Vol. 1: The Sapling (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Something Is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 (James Tynion IV; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Undiscovered Country, Vol. 1 (Scott Snyder; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Adrian Tomine; 2020. Graphic non-fiction.)

After revisiting our admiration of Jeff Lemire’s work, I poked around to see what he’s been working on lately. Say what you will about algorithms, I am grateful for the two recommendations that followed my discovery of Lemire’s Family Tree; I have enjoyed other titles by Tynion and Snyder and found these pretty solid. Tomine’s wry memoir arrived in my stack via a Goodreads recommendation.

This month, I concluded my Harry Potter reread:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling; 2007. Fiction.)

The only book I’d go out of my way to recommend, though:

Lost Children Archive (Valeria Luiselli; 2019. Fiction.)
Gorgeously written, thinky, harrowing. I really loved it. Reviews here and here.

p. 29
Conversations, in a family, become linguistic archaeology. They build the world we share, layer it in a palimpsest, give meaning to our present and future. The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? A soundscape? Or will it be all sound rubble, noise, and debris?

Notes

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This image was taken last August, when we visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History. How the time has… yes, flown.

Now that our daughters live within a five-hour drive, we are able to see them more easily and more often: We were out earlier this month and plan to return in early September, if travel restrictions permit.

Where did the last year go, though?

It’s August.

Again.

When the afternoon light achieved the autumn-approaches slant on the living room floor earlier this month, I called the company that services the heater and air-conditioner to schedule our annual clean and check. The tech we prefer is older and, concerned about his health, has greatly reduced his time in the field, so a new tech was assigned to our routine maintenance appointment.

He arrived on time, but the mask he wore looked like the dust protection my husband and I use when cleaning the garage, and his non-stop patter all but spelled “Look at my germ-laden droplets!” in the air around his face, so while our favorite tech may enter the common areas of house, the new guy was confined to the utility area. Trying to ensure he did what needed to be done from six feet away was tricky, but I caught two issues that would have resulted in a return visit that first cool morning in October. (Fingers crossed that there were only two.)

We are also catching up on postponed medical and dental appointments. I joked with my husband after one of my appointments that I would have rather been that up close and personal with my hair stylist (no, I haven’t been to the salon since February) than with the lab techs and radiologist. Haircuts are optional, he reminded me; healthcare is not.

In other news, with the Women of Trachis, I reached 159 books read this year.

Lanny (Max Porter; 2019. Fiction.)
Not as memorable as Grief Is the Thing with Feathers but worth reading. Related article here.

The Trial (Franz Kafka; 1914/1925. Trans. Breton Mitchell 1999. Fiction.)
Nightmarish and brilliant.

The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath; 1963. Fiction.)
According to the Jackson bio I finished last month, Plath’s autobiographical novel was inspired by Hangsaman. Serendipity / synchronicity / synthesis abounds: I read Ted Hughes’ Crow earlier this month because it informed Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.

The Old Guard, Book One: Opening Fire (Greg Rucka; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
After hearing about the Netflix movie on NPR, I decided to watch it. As I said to my husband, what I would have loathed at a theater was harmless enough for a Saturday night couch date. Rucka also pens the Lazarus series I follow, so I decided to read the book.

Zone One (Colson Whitehead; 2011. Fiction.)
Review here.

p.183
He was a mediocre man. He had led a mediocre life exceptional only in the magnitude of its unexceptionality. Now the world was mediocre, rendering him perfect. He asked himself: How can I die? I was always like this. Now I am more me. He had the ammo. He took them all down.

p.266
We never see other people anyway, only the monsters we make of them.

Philoctetes (Sophocles; 409 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
Women of Trachis (Sophocles; 425 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
Read in anticipation of another Theater of War production.

Survivor Song (Paul Tremblay; 2020. Fiction.)
I loved A Head Full of Ghosts and thought The Cabin at the End of Woods was a solid page-turner, a perfect poolside read. So was this. As many other readers have noted, his prescience about just how badly we would fumble the response to an outbreak was more than a little eerie.

Reading notes

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Current stack.

With The Good Soldier, I reached 151 books read this year, 120 of which were from my shelves. Over on Goodreads, I had selected 104 as my original challenge goal but eventually updated that to 120. More recently, I changed it to 156, but now I wonder: Is 208 a realistic goal?

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Ruth Franklin; 2016. Non-fiction.)
My unplanned Jackson unit began in May with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I read and then watched. In June, after reading Sheila’s review of Shirley, I promptly grabbed Merrell’s novel from the shelves, then watched the film. What am I waiting for? I asked myself in late June and pulled Franklin’s tome from the shelves. I finished this meticulous and engaging biography in July and followed it with The Haunting of Hill House.

p. 172
Writing in the interstices — the hours between morning kindergarten and lunch, while the baby napped, or after the children had gone to bed — demanded a discipline that suited her. She was constantly thinking of stories while cleaning, cooking, or doing just about anything else.

Richard II (William Shakespeare; 1595. Drama.)
To complement this excellent programming. One of my favorite lines of Shakespeare:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings….

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson; 1959. Fiction.)
See above.

Say, Say, Say (Lila Savage; 2019. Fiction.)
Review here.

Ajax (Sophocles; 442 B.C. Trans. Bryan Doerries; 2015. Drama.)
In anticipation of this excellent presentation.

Gideon Falls, Vol. 4: The Pentoculus (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers (Max Porter; 2015. Fiction.)
Reviews here and here. Remarkable. Two passages for the commonplace book:

BOYS
She told us that men are rarely truly
kind, but they were often funny, which
is better. ‘You would do well to prepare
yourselves for disappointment’ she said,
‘in your dealings with men. Women are on
the whole much stronger, usually cleverer’
she said, ‘but less funny, which is a shame.
Have babies, if you can’ she said ‘because
you’ll be good at it. Help yourselves to
anything you find in this house. I want to
give you everything I have because you
are the most precious and beautiful boys.
You remind me of everything I have ever
been interested in’ she said.

DAD
Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling; 2005. Fiction.)
Revisiting these books that my son and I so enjoyed has been sweetly nostalgic, but with this, the penultimate volume in the beloved series, the flaws have become too big to hide under a long sweater of sentiment. They’re just not particularly well-stitched, are they?

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (Adam Higginbotham; 2019. Non-fiction.)
I watched the HBO series and thought, Why haven’t I read Midnight yet? For the record, the non-fiction account is many, many times more frightening than the cable program.

In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration (Shane O’Mara; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Related link here. A quick read, O’Mara’s survey of the brain-body connection complemented my own experience: as my mileage increased, so did my active and engaged reading and practicing.

An aside: When I tendered my resignation from my tutoring gig, I was asked — so many, many times — what I planned to do with myself. To most, I said, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll find something.” To those closest to me, though, I confided that I wanted nothing more from re-retirement than the time to read more, write more, study more, practice more, and walk more. And, boy, have I had the time, eh? That’s what happens, I suppose, when one’s re-retirement begins exactly twelve days before the world presses the PAUSE button.

Crow (Ted Hughes; 1970. Poetry.)
Of course, after reading Porter’s novel, I had to read the poetry that inspired it.

An aside: Each New Year’s Day, my family engages in the bird of the year game outlined in Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. (Related link here.) To mix things up a bit this year, we decided to move the date of our game to the first day back to work after the winter holiday, January 6. We could choose a bird from our respective backyards or a bird we saw at work. That morning, I awoke to the sound of crows conversing loudly beneath our bird feeders. My favorite bird! Finally, the year of the crow!

Speaking of backyard birding, a rock dove landed in the yard the day before yesterday. I’ve never seen a pigeon at our feeders; it dwarfed the mourning doves and blue jays. How capacious they are! A second pigeon made a few passes over the yard but didn’t touch down. Later, I saw both on my neighbor’s roof. This is a wooded neighborhood, so the pigeons looked quaintly out of place.

The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford; 1915. Fiction.)
Related link here. How did I arrive at (mumble) years of age without reading this book?

There and back again

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This photo was taken on the way to Michigan from Massachusetts. I think we were crossing the Hudson but freely admit that most of the trip was a well-organized blur.

Last Wednesday, we returned home after driving from Illinois to Massachusetts to Michigan and back to Illinois. The last bit was in an empty sixteen-foot rental truck, along a construction-riddled route, during a torrential rainstorm. Perhaps fickle gods thought Covid 19 too weak a trial for us and decided to strew additional challenges across our path.

Well, we persevered and have largely recovered our respective grooves, Mr. Nerdishly and I. Our cats, who were boarded at a tony kitty hotel that I once innocently (and obviously mistakenly) referred to as the Pussy Palace, recovered their equanimity much more rapidly than I could have hoped and certainly more quickly than I, who needed several sleep-ins before feeling like myself again.

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Since my last list, I’ve finished four books, bringing my total to 139 books read to date.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Mary L. Trump; 2020. Non-fiction.)
This was the soundtrack of most of the second leg of our travels (Massachusetts to Michigan); I finished listening during one of our walks once we returned home. I agree with this reviewer: keenly observed, well written, and “the most convincingly empathetic chronicle of Donald Trump I’d ever read.”

A Separation (Katie Kitamura; 2017. Fiction.)
This was well-reviewed by critics but not necessarily by readers, if the mixed reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are an indication. I really liked it, though. It reminded me of The Third Hotel (Laura van den Berg), a book I read and admired in 2018.

The Sorrows of Young Werther (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; 1774. Trans. Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan; 1990. Fiction.)
Yes, he’s troubled and self-absorbed, but I don’t belong to the reading club that maintains we must like the protagonist to like the book. I will say, though, that I am old enough to have wanted to be “quite severe” with Werther, to insist that he get a grip and meet a few more suitable companions. Heh, heh, heh.

p. 9
There is a certain monotony about mankind. Most people toil during the greater part of their lives in order to live, and the slender span of free time that remains worries them so much that they try by every means to get rid of it. O Destiny of Man!

Antigone (Sophocles; 441 B.C. Trans. Ian Johnston; 2016. Drama.)
Read in anticipation of an upcoming Theater of War production.

 

“[T]he sole solution of all of the riddles of life and death”

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A sixth bloom has emerged, but I will instead share an image of my current stack.

With The Farm I arrived at 135 books read this year; 110 from the shelves.

The Return of the Soldier (Rebecca West; 1918. Fiction.)
In May, when I finished Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge (1912), I remarked that it was difficult to believe that was her first novel; it was so assured and true. West’s first novel is even more so — remarkable and memorable.

p. 65
Even though I lay weeping at it on the dead leaves I was sensible of the bitter rapture that attends the discovery of any truth. I felt, indeed, a cold intellectual pride in his refusal to remember his prosperous maturity and his determined dwelling in the time of his first love, for it showed him so much saner than the rest of us, who take life as it comes, loaded with the inessential and the irritating. I was even willing to admit that this choice of what was to him reality out of all the appearances so copiously presented by the world, this adroit discovery of the dropped pearl of beauty, was the act of genius I had always expected from him. But that did not make less agonizing this exclusion from his life.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder; 1927. Fiction.)
This was a reread.

p. 138
The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Leo Tolstoy; 1886. Trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude. Fiction.)
This, too, was a reread, my fourth time encountering Tolstoy’s novella. The first was in AP English, thirty-nine years ago. What do typical seventeen-year-olds take away from reading Tolstoy? Oh, I was more than capable of parroting a teacher (or a study guide) on Tolstoy’s biography, the key characters, the basic plot, the essential themes and symbols, but I’m not sure I had actually read The Death of Ivan Ilyich until my third encounter, in my forties.

“Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,” it suddenly occurred to him. “But how could that be when I did everything properly?” he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all of the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.

A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry; 1958. Drama.)
I had planned to read this in Spring 2003 for the “One Book, One Chicago” program. Better late than never.

The Farm (Tom Rob Smith; 2014. Fiction.)
A run of so many terrific books rendered this meh novel even more mediocre.

Still blooming

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Yes, that’s a fifth flower. I am amazed. And, yes, if those two buds open, at least one, perhaps two more mediocre orchid photos will follow.

The count now stands at 130, with 105 read from my shelves.

The Amateurs (Liz Harmer; 2019. Fiction.)
Review here.

Postal: Deliverance, Vol. 2 (Brian Edward Hill; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Ascender, Vol. 2: The Dead Sea (Jeff Lemire; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
Hoopla has enabled me to keep up on series that interest me.

The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff; 1982. Non-fiction.)
This is a somewhat different book now than it was when I first read it. The story of the author’s difficulties with the publisher are chronicled on his website.

The Pearl (John Steinbeck; 1947. Fiction.)
It seems impossible that I have not read this before, but I could not remember anything more than the horrific conclusion.

p. 25
For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. This is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.

Death in Venice (Thomas Mann; 1912. Trans. Michael Henry Heim; 2004. Fiction.)
Again, how is it possible that I have not read this? The Heim translation is introduced by Michael Cunningham, who writes, in part, “All the writers I respect want to write a book so penetrating and thorough, so compassionate and unrelenting, that it can stand unembarrassed beside the spectacle of life itself. And all writers I respect seem to know (though no one likes to talk about it) that our efforts are doomed from the outset. Life is bigger than literature. We do the best we can. Some of us do better than others.”

How about this for serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity?

p. 84
The cases were kept secret. Within a week, however, there were ten of them, then twenty, thirty, and in different districts to boot. […] The Venetian authorities issued a statement to the effect that health conditions have never been better then took the most essential precautions against the disease. […] But fear of the overall damage that would be done — concern over the recently opened art exhibition in the Public Gardens and the tremendous losses with which the hotels, the shops, the entire, multifaceted tourist trade would be threatened in case of panic and loss of confidence — proved stronger in the city than the love of truth and respect for international covenants: it made the authorities stick stubbornly to their policy of secrecy and denial.

Interesting aside: The word legerdemain is used in the description of one of the pearl dealers in Steinbeck’s short novel. It’s not a common word, so it struck me when I encountered it again in the Heim translation of Mann’s work.

Two goals met

883EF32C-54C1-41FE-BC51-C4C987C1471CWith White Fragility, I reached my goal of reading 100 books from the shelves this year. Diangelo’s treatise also put me at a total of 122 books, which exceeds my Goodreads challenge goal of 120 (recently increased from 104). With six months remaining in the year, the suggestion that I raise the goal to 240 did not go unconsidered, but July will be a busy month for me, and I would like to tackle a few reading “projects” later this summer and into autumn. More about that in another post.

Here are the books I’ve read since June 15.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party (M.T. Anderson; 2006. Fiction.)
A brutal but deeply moving novel from the author of Feed, a family book club selection from a few years back. Related link here.

Citizen: An American Lyric (Claudia Rankine; 2008. Non-fiction.)
Even more powerful when reread.

The Blood of Emmett Till (Timothy B. Tyson; 2017. Non-fiction.)
Related links here and here.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein; 2006. Non-fiction.)
Did I read this when it was first published? All of the jokes are familiar. And maybe that’s the problem.

Thick and Other Essays (Tressie McMillan Cottom; 2019. Non-fiction.)
This book grabbed me by the collar, and it still hasn’t set me down and straightened my shirt. Remarkable. If it were feasible, I would press the entire text into my commonplace book.

p. 72
They say the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that ugly is as ugly does. Both are lies. Ugly is everything done to you in the name of beauty.

Knowing the difference is part of getting free.

Make Your Home Among Strangers (Jennine Capó Crucet; 2015. Fiction.)
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter (Cassandra Rose Clarke; 2016. Fiction.)
Books that might have appealed to my much younger self still show up in my stacks and occasionally on my shelves. What can I say? A bag of Jax cheese curls or a box of Nabisco sugar wafers will sometimes end up in the pantry, too. Let’s just be grateful I don’t pull out a tube top or my neon green belt, eh?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling; 2003. Fiction.)
Speaking of my younger self, it has been sweetly nostalgic to revisit these books my son and I so enjoyed.

Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes; 2014. Fiction.)
Review here.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Robin Diangelo; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Flawed? Or diagnostic?

Still reading

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Current stack.

Lists like this, this, and this have sent me to my shelves to reshape my summer reading list.

For a number of reasons, my reading pace has slowed since my last annotated list. I have read five more books, though, for a year-to-date total of 109, 88 of which are RFS. That puts me a dozen books from reaching my goal of one hundred read from shelves.

Rodham (Curtis Sittenfeld; 2020. Fiction.) ATY
A sympathetic portrait and engaging what-if. Reviews here and here.

p. 47
I liked being around other people during the day, and I was relieved to be alone late at night; it was the latter that made the former possible. In fact, setting up my nest often made me think if a Wordsworth phrase I’d learned in English class as a high school junior: emotion recollected in tranquility.

p. 165
But as a president, would he be ethically casual, irresponsibly magnanimous, vulnerable to his enemies due to weaknesses he erroneously believed he could conceal or at least be forgiven for?

p.236
I usually liked other human beings and they usually liked me. I liked their specificity, their often unfashionable clothes, their accents and enthusiasms and the things they cared about enough to seek me out and tell me about, and I liked their belief that I could help them in a measurable way. I wanted — I had always wanted this — for their belief to be accurate.

p. 355
So often, people let you down; so often, situations turn out disappointingly. But occasionally someone recognizes, acknowledges, your private and truest self.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling; 2000. Fiction.) RFS *
p. 605
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat up late in the common room once again that night, talking it all over until Harry’s mind was reeling, until he understood what Dumbledore had meant about a head becoming so full of thoughts that it would have been a relief to siphon them off.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw; 1923. Drama.) RFS
Recommended here.

SCENE II
THE ARCHBISHOP: A miracle, my friend, is an event which creates faith. That is the purpose and nature of miracles. They may seem very wonderful to the people who witness them, and very simple to those who perform them. That does not matter: if they confirm or create faith they are true miracles.

LA TREMOUILLE: Even when they are frauds, do you mean?


THE ARCHBISHOP: Frauds deceive. An event which creates faith does not deceive: therefore it is not a fraud, but a miracle.

Shirley (Susan Scarf Merrell; 2014. Fiction.) RFS
Plucked this from the shelves after reading Sheila O’Malley’s review of the new film. Of course, I was delighted by the serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity at work: I read Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle last month and watched the film earlier this month.

King Lear (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.) RFS *
If pressed, I would cast my vote for Lear as the best of the plays. It is certainly the one that awes me more and differently each time I read it. (The first time was thirty-two years ago in a graduate course at Temple University.)

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

* Denotes a reread

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