“That’s one of the risks you take.”

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From the poem “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday”:

You’ll never be mentally sober.

From The Summer House:

p. 80
That’s strange, Grandmother thought. I can’t describe things any more. I can’t find the words, or maybe it’s just that I’m not trying hard enough. It was such a long time ago. No one here was even born. And unless I tell it because I want to, it’s as if it never happened; it gets closed off and then it’s lost. She sat up and said, “Some days I can’t remember very well. But sometime you ought to try and sleep in a tent all night.”

p. 127
“I didn’t know that,” Grandmother said. “No one told me.” She went into the guest room and tried to read. Of course, you moved a potted plant to wherever it would get on best. It would do fine on the veranda for a week. If you were going to be gone longer than that, you had to leave it with someone who could water it. It was a nuisance. Even potted plants got to be a responsibility, like everything else you took care of that couldn’t make decisions for itself.

p. 131
“Oh, you mean he’s dead,” said Grandmother. She started thinking about all the euphemisms for death, all the anxious taboos that had always fascinated her. It was too bad you could never have an intelligent discussion on the subject. People were either too young or too old, or else they didn’t have the time.

And from George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy:

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Yes.

E7082997-B99A-4021-8548-2150A2EB9FE8According to Goodreads, I began my reread of Ulysses on April 7 and had covered fourteen of the eighteen chapters by mid-May. Even with the accompaniment of James Heffernan’s lectures (four remaining now), however, the project was bit of a slog. My bookmark (by then a ticket from Remy Bumppo’s production of Bloomsday) camped at the boundary of the Circe episode until I had stamina to wander into Nighttown in mid-September. Once I crossed that 150-page expanse, though, completing this project was a matter of a week’s time.

Chapter 5, p. 66
Yes, bread of the angels it’s called. There’s a big idea behind it, kind of kingdom of God is within you feel. First communicants. Hokypoky penny a lump. Then feel all like one family party, same in the theatre, all in the same swim. They do. I’m sure of that. Not so lonely. In our confraternity. Then come out a bit spreeish. Let off steam. Thing is if you really believe in it. Lourdes cure, waters of oblivion, and the Knock apparition, statues bleeding. Old fellow asleep near that confessionbox. Hence those snores. Blind faith. Safe in the arms of kingdom come. Lulls all pain. Wake this time next year.

Chapter 13, p. 309
Curious she an only child, I an only child. So it returns. Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way around is the shortest way home. And just when he and she. Circus horse walking in a ring. Rip van Winkle we played. Rip: tear in Henny Doyle’s overcoat. Van: breadvan delivering. Winkle: cocks and periwinkles. Then I did Rip van Winkle coming back. She leaned on the sideboard watching. Moorish eyes. Twenty years asleep in Sleepy Hollow. All changed. Forgotten. The young are old. His gun rusty from the dew.

In anticipation of seeing A Doll’s House at Writers Theater next month, I also reread the Rolf Fjelde translation of Henrik Ibsen’s play.

Act I
HELMER: Well, but what of the people I’d borrowed from?
NORA: Them? Who cares about them! They’re strangers!
HELMER: Nora, Nora, how like a woman! No, but seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debts! Never borrow! Something of freedom’s lost — and something of beauty, too — from a home that’s founded on borrowing and debt. We’ve made a brave stand up to now, the two of us; and we’ll go right on like that the little while we have to.

Act III
HELMER: Before all else, you’re a wife and a mother.
NORA: I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that, before all else, I’m a human being, no less than you — or anyway, I ought to try to become one. I know the majority thinks you’re right, Torvald, and plenty of books agree with you, too. But I can’t go on being satisfied with what the majority says, or what’s written in books. I have to think over these things myself and try to understand them.

Were there books?

F480DF2B-242F-45C4-AA6E-B7DA1A372A56From Louise Penny’s third Chief Inspector Gamache novel, The Cruelest Month:

p. 79
Gamache loved to see inside the homes of people involved in a case. To look at the choices they made for their most intimate space. The colors, the decorations. The aromas. Were there books? What sort?

How did it feel?

He had been in shacks in the middle of nowhere, carpets worn, upholstery torn, wallpaper peeling off. But stepping in he also noticed the smell of fresh coffee and bread. Walls were taken up with immense smiling graduation photos and on rusty pocked TV trays stood modest chipped vases with cheery daffodils or pussy willows or some tiny wildflower picked by worn hands for eyes that would adore it.

And he’d been in mansions that felt like mausoleums.

p. 80
Grief sometimes took time to tell. The first days for relatives or close friends of murder victims were blessedly numb. They almost always held together, going through the motions of a normal life, so that a casual observer would never know disaster had just rammed into them. Most people fell to pieces gradually, like the old Hadley house.

Who indeed.

B75B1E05-6781-4D85-ADE4-500F5A7BE9E5From An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (Daniel Mendelsohn; 2017):

p. 41
This strangely tentative careering between concrete specifics and unhelpful generalities gives you a familiar feeling: the feeling of what it’s like to be lost. Sometimes it’s as if you’re on familiar territory; sometimes you feel at sea, adrift in a featureless liquid void with no landmarks in sight. In this way, the opening of this poem about being lost and finding a way home precisely replicates the surf-like oscillations between drifting and purposefulness the characterize its hero’s journey.

p. 149
Children always imagine that their parents’ truest selves are as parents; but why? “Who really knows his own begetting?“ Telemachus bitterly asks early in the Odyssey. Who indeed. Our parents are mysterious to us in ways we can never quite be mysteries to them.

p. 215
For the best teacher is the one who wants you to find meaning in the things that have given him pleasure, too, so that the appreciation of their beauty will outlive him. In this way — because it arises from an acceptance of the inevitability of death — good teaching is like good parenting.

p. 277
You never do you know, really, where education will lead; who will be listening and, in certain cases, who will be doing with teaching.

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.