Catching my breath

2B129CD5-D012-4E53-9F9E-B4C1899B8E94Earlier this month, my older daughter and I spent a morning reading and birdwatching by the lake. When we arrived at our usual spot, lifeguards were dragging battered rental canoes to the water’s edge, and maintenance crew members were rolling mowers off the truck, so we headed to a less frequented part of the shore and lingered there until nearly lunchtime. It was lovely.

While some summer breaks are, metaphorically speaking, mornings by the lake punctuated by flurries of activity, this summer break has been a flurry of activity punctuated by the occasional morning by the lake. Yesterday over lunch, though, I realized that at least four days of (metaphoric) mornings by the lake stretch ahead of me. Walks, books, and music practice; maybe a movie or two and some games. I don’t even care that it’s supposed to rain. Again. The house is clean. The yards are mowed and trimmed. The refrigerator and pantry are full. This is going to be great!

Speaking of books, here are commonplace book entries from True West by Sam Shepard:

Act Two, Scene Five
LEE: It’s not a film! It’s a movie. There’s a big difference. That’s something Saul told me.
AUSTIN: Oh he did, huh?
LEE: Yeah, he said, “In this business we make movies, American movies. Leave the films to the French.”

Act Two, Scene Nine
LEE: Sounds original now. “Intimate terms.” That’s good. Okay. Now we’re cookin! That has a real ring to it.
[…]
LEE: (continues) “He’s on intimate terms with this prairie.” Sounds real mysterious and kinda’ threatening at the same time.

And from the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf:

Lines 24 – 25
Behavior that’s admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.

With Beowulf, I reached sixty books read this year. So how am I doing with my reading resolutions, particularly my “Read from the shelves” challenge? Well, twenty-seven of those books were from my shelves; seventeen from the library, twelve acquired this year, and four other. With only a little more than half the year remaining, then, it seems unlikely that I will read one hundred books from my shelves. But my acquisition rate has certainly slowed, and I will handily meet my goal of thirty non-fiction titles — I’ve already read twenty-one. Of course, only ten of those were from my shelves, and my goal was twenty-four non-fiction titles from the shelves, so I have some work there. It’s achievable, though.

I also remain optimistic about reading at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. In fact, I reread Hamlet last month and will reread Vonnegut’s Player Piano over the summer. As for my close (re)reading of Moby Dick, that may be a fall project.

Quotable

From The Story of Arthur Truluv (Elizabeth Berg; 2017):

p. 14
Mr. Lyons’s first name is Royal. Maddy thinks that’s hysterical. She wishes she could ask him what’s up with that. Royal. He’s got white hair and he’s a little fat. Maddy likes people who are a little fat; it seems to her that they are approachable. He’s a little fat and he’s got awfully pale skin and the links of his wristwatch are twisted like bad teeth. He doesn’t care about such things. He cares about words. He taught her one of her favorite words: hiraeth, a Welsh word that means homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that maybe never was; it means nostalgia and yearning and grief for lost places. He used the word in a story that he read aloud to the class, and when he looked up, his eyes were full of tears. Nobody made fun of him after class, which was a miracle. Nobody said anything to her, anyway. Not that they would. She’s the girl who sits alone in the lunchroom, acting like her sandwich is fascinating. Or did. She skips lunch now.

She doesn’t know exactly why kids don’t like her. She’s good-looking enough. She has a sense of humor. She’s not dumb. She guesses it’s because they can sense how much she needs them. They are like kids in a circle holding sticks, picking on the weak thing. It is in people to be entertained by cruelty.

p. 18
Arthur thinks that, above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance. He sees that as a good trade. And anyway, Lucille makes those snickerdoodles, and she always packs some up for him to take home, and he eats them in bed, which is another thing he can do now, oh, sorrowful gifts.

From The Wall (John Lanchester; 2019):

p. 139
I suddenly got it. Hifa’s mother was one of those people who like life to be all about them. With the Change, that is a harder belief to sustain; it takes much more effort to think that life is about you when the whole of human life has turned upside down, when everything has been irrevocably changed for everyone. You can do it, of course you can, because people can do anything with their minds and their sense of themselves, but it takes work and only certain kinds of unusually self-centered people can do it. They want to be the focus of all the drama and pity and all the stories. I could tell that she didn’t like it that younger people are universally agreed to have had a worse deal than her generation.

From Dopesick (Beth Macy; 2018):

p. 125
Those of us living highly curated and time-strapped lives in cities across America — predominantly mixing virtually and physically with people whose views echoed our own — had no idea how politically and economically splintered our nation had become. And also how much poorer and sicker and work-starved the already struggling parts of the nation truly were — because we didn’t follow that story.

We may feel more connected by our cellphones and computers, but in reality we are more divided that ever before.

“Physics is not only a history of successes.”

49F2772E-E32F-45D0-878A-DC5C30132020p. 33
This is the world is described by quantum mechanics and particle theory. We have arrived very far from the mechanical world of Newton, where minute, cold stones eternally wandered on long, precise trajectories in geometrically immutable space. Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things, a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippie world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not of things.

p. 37
Physics is not only a history of successes.

p. 63
Time sits at the center of the tangle of problems raised by the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. A tangle of problems where we are still in the dark. If there is something that we are perhaps beginning to understand about quantum gravity that combines two of the three pieces of the puzzle, we do not yet have a theory capable of trying to gather all three pieces of our fundamental knowledge of the world.

“But the result was now ours to live with.”

e764f31f-9808-488c-935d-d7f2dbc999f0p. 144
It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful — a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids — and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.

p. 411
In the end, Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than her opponent, but Trump captured the Electoral College thanks to fewer than eighty thousand votes spread across Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I am not a political person, so I’m not going to attempt to offer an analysis of the results. I won’t try to speculate about who was responsible or what was unfair. I just wish more people had turned out to vote. And I will always wonder about what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president. But the result was now ours to live with.

Read from the shelves

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

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

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

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

Euphoria

From Lily King’s 2014 novel, Euphoria:

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