A reading life review

In June, we removed the television from the living room. It’s as if it were never there.

While I typically read between 120 and 150 books each year, I knew that serving as move coordinator for my daughters and spending nearly the entire summer away from home would likely cut into my reading time. I settled on a more realistic goal of 104 books in 2019, and at ninety-five books read and a little more than two months remaining to read at least another nine, I think I chose well. Although I have read fewer books than usual, I did discover some terrific television, some of which I watched in my daughters’ new living room and some of which I watched in the former “girl cave” when I returned home:

Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale
Seasons 1 – 3 of Harlots
Season 4 of Veronica Mars
Seasons 1 – 3 of GLOW
Season 3 of Stranger Things
Seasons 1 – 7 of Orange Is the New Black
Seasons 1 and 2 of Mindhunters

Great stuff, but this is a reading life review, so… about a year ago, I crafted a bold reading challenge for myself: Read one hundred books from my shelves (i.e., books in my collection before the end of 2018), including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. I also planned to make short work of 2018’s unfinished business and to closely (re)read Moby Dick.

So, how am I doing so far?

Total number of books read to date: 95
Read from shelves (RFS): 42
Non-fiction RFS: 15
Shakespeare RFS: Hamlet
Poetry RFS: Lunch Poems (Frank O’Hara)
NYRB RFS: The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)
Vonnegut RFS: Player Piano
Joyce Carol Oates RFS: The Rise of Life on Earth
Art RFS: But is it art? (Cynthia Freeland)
Children’s / YA RFS: Milkweed (Jerry Spinelli)

I finished the seven books I carried over from 2018, and the Melville project is slated to begin next weekend. I selected Letters from a Stoic as my philosophy RFS. By completing it and the three other non-fiction titles on my nighstand, I would reach nineteen non-fiction works RFS. It remains to be seen whether I can read another five non-fiction titles from the shelves before the end of the year. (Although it was not a goal specific to this year, it is worth noting that I have already read thirty non-fiction works this year, even before the four on the nightstand, so I am poised to outpace previous years’ goals in that area.)

Clearly, though, I will not meet the goal of one hundred books read from the shelves. The fact that so many of the books I had been reading in recent years were newly published and / or acquired in the year they were read had largely informed my “Read from the shelves” challenge (that and the embarrassment of riches that is my home library). It was never my intent to cease acquiring new books, only to acquire more thoughtfully and to make better use of the library. That said, of the ninety-five books I’ve read so far this year, only twenty-four were published this year. Twenty-three books on my 2019 list were acquired this year, ten of which were published in 2019. Twenty-three of this year’s books were borrowed from the library.

Genuine interest in art

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Detail of Leonardo Drew’s “Number 185” (2016).

Earlier this month, we visited the Smart Museum of Art before seeing Photograph 51 at the Court. From a distance, the piece pictured above looked to me as if it had been blackened in a fire.

Other notes: Once I finished Parks and Recreation, I moved on to The Good Place and now must wait until fall for new episodes. Related: We had breakfast-for-lunch at the Ron Swanson-inspired Whisk last weekend. It was so awesome that it has effectively ruined our local breakfast nooks for us. And speaking of ruining things for us, William Hootkins ((Moby Dick) and Nick Offerman (Lincoln in the Bardo) set the bar for audiobook narration so high that nearly every other narrator is a disappointment. (And, yes, we loved learning that Offerman is an Illini, too.)

To bring this post home, Ron Swanson on art:

Okay, everyone! SHUT UP and LOOK AT ME! Welcome to Visions of Nature. This room has several paintings in it. Some are big; some are small. People did them, and they are here now. I believe that after this is over, they’ll be hung in government buildings. Why the government is involved in an art show is beyond me. I also think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they can just go outside and stand in it. Anyway, please do not misinterpret the fact that I am talking right now as genuine interest in art and attempt to discuss it with me further. End of speech.

From the shelves

c753c096-14ec-4b0d-b45f-a9268a1ded27Over the winter break, my younger daughter borrowed my copy of the Halperin translation of Michael Bernanos’ wonderfully creepy and unforgettable The Other Side of the Mountain.* Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork caught my eye when I refiled it. What a perfect “Read from the shelves” selection: I received the review copy nearly twelve years ago! The book was good as Stephen King’s EW editorial promised, and it fits neatly onto the mental shelf where I recently placed two other novels about anthropology: Euphoria by Lily King (one of the best books I read last year) and The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (disturbing content but excellently written).

Since my last post, I also finished Upgrade Soul (Ezra Claytan Daniels; 2016), which I borrowed from the library. For those of you who are still resisting graphic works, especially those who enjoy speculative, dystopian, and/or science fiction, this would be a fabulous introduction to the form: deceptively simple art enriches a compelling and original story. Bonus: The protagonists are a vibrant, intelligent couple who have been married forty-five years.

It has been a slow reading month, but many of my bookmarks are in the last quarter of their books, so I hope to add a few more to my list before month’s end. Sure, it would be easy to blame my discovery of Parks and Recreation on Prime Video for the paucity of books read, but I have also been walking more; and my winter break concluded a few days after my last post, so I have returned to work and to music lessons and practice. ASL studies and snow removal have also nibbled on my reading time. Okay, okay. Yeah. I’ve been gleefully enjoying Parks and Recreation episodes — not binge-ing but definitely choosing the series over a book. If you’re a fan, you probably understand. Color me chagrined.

* I recently learned about another translation by Gio Clairval and have added it to my “Want to read” list.

Two weeks

Before they struck out on their own…

How the time passed:

■ two fledged robins and numerous other juveniles, including cardinals, sparrows, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, and goldfinches;
■ one play (Buried Child at Writers Theatre);
■ two museum adventures: the Field and the Shedd;
■ one documentary (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?);
■ fifteen hours of music practice;
■ one music lesson;
■ one American Red Cross course (Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED);
■ four “dates” with the lawnmower, edger, and trimmer;
■ three trips to the car dealership (Bleah!);
■ two hours of volunteer work;
■ two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale;
■ the first week of my current MOOC (music theory); and
■ six books:

Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
Royal City, Vol. 2: Sonic Youth (Jeff Lemire; 2017. Graphic non-fiction.)
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (Patty Yumi Cottrell; 2017. Fiction.)
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare) (Jo Nesbø; 2018. Fiction.)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare; 1602. Drama.)
The Lying Game (Ruth Ware; 2017. Fiction.)

As well as all of the even more commonplace activities (e.g., errands, chores, walks, games) that this parttime educator’s summer months comprise. Apart from car shopping and the excessive heat warnings, the season has been quite kind to me, so far. How has your summer been?

Next up: mid-year reading review.

This and that

The temperatures have been so unlike-August that we decided to give the bikes a rest this weekend and head to a new-to-us conservation area for a hike and a geocaching adventure. What a terrific morning! We logged our seventeenth cache (the seventh of fifteen required for a challenge in which we’re participating).

Earlier this week, we celebrated Herman Melville’s 198th birthday by seeing Moby Dick at the Lookingglass. We first saw this gorgeous production in 2015, when Christopher Donahue dazzled as Ahab. Jamie Abelson offers a more restrained portrayal of the monomaniac, but we appreciated his interpretation. Moby Dick runs through September 3. If possible, do not miss this one.

Speaking of missing theatrical events, only one other patron joined us for the National Theatre Live broadcast of Angels in America Part One: Millennium on July 20; we had the theater all to ourselves a week later for Part Two: Perestroika. Sure, the length of these productions — approximately eight hours including intervals over two evenings — is wildly indulgent, and the Fandango tickets were outrageously priced. But wow. What terrific performances, particularly Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter and Denise Gough as Harper Pitt. If Angels is rebroadcast, consider it a good use of your time and treasure.

Other items in the “recently seen” category: I finally saw the last episode and a half of The Handmaid’s Tale. Brilliant. This is one of those rare occasions on which I will assert that the screen adaptation is as good as, if not better than, the book. I also saw and enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 10 Cloverfield Lane, fun, summer-evening films.

Bookish bits next time.

Notes from the last few weeks

Baltimore Oriole.

The orioles arrived before May concluded, but we have not yet espied the indigo buntings — in the yards or on the bike trail. And now it is June. In fact, it is fiercely June: The rains abruptly concluded about ten days ago, and the grass, which has assumed a slightly o’ercooked tan-green hue, sighs, “More water, please,” as it crunches underfoot.

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We have enjoyed some terrific theater since I last wrote: Not about Nightingales at the Raven, Pass Over at Steppenwolf, and Great Expectations, a Remy Bumppo and Silk Road Rising collaboration.

We had not been to the Raven since All My Sons in 2014. The excellent performances in Nightingales, an early and uneven Tennessee Williams work, ensured that we will make returning a priority.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Pass Over (which features ensemble member Jon Michael Hill — popularly recognizable for his Elementary gig) leans heavily but effectively on the structure of its chief influence, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and its leads, Hill and Julian Parker, deliver compelling, get-out-your-chair-and-applaud performances. (Added bonus: Hill and Parker are Illini!) If you’re in the area, you should see this one.

You should also see the collaboration of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, in which Pip’s “great expectations” take him from his small Indian village to colonized Calcutta. (More information here; review here.)

We also saw the National Theatre Live broadcast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. Catch a rebroadcast, if you can.

Do you listen to podcasts? Our drive in and out of Chicago yesterday was punctuated by the first three episodes of S-Town. Fans of both seasons of Serial, we all agree Brian Reed’s narrative style outstrips that of Sarah Koenig: Hers were great stories adequately told; his is a good story well told.

That said, the spoiler-ish “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?” (The Atlantic, April 9) has made. me. think.

Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption of thousands or millions of listeners. ­­S-Town may be a groundbreaking new kind of podcast; it also, like many poems, memoirs, and articles before it, confesses other people’s pain in a public—and at times questionable—way.

Speaking of episodes, my husband and I must catch up on 8 and 9 of The Handmaid’s Tale before the finale this week. (I hope you’re all watching.)

When I’m not watching (or backyard birding or biking or writing or…), I am, of course, reading, and my participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going particularly well. In fact, finishing The Rape of Lucrece early last month put me ahead of schedule. My remarks on the poem:

Last year, I read Cymbeline in anticipation of seeing a Shakespeare Project of Chicago production; and more recently, I stumbled on a film that imagines Cymbeline as a conflict between a motorcycle gang and corrupt police. As I read The Rape of Lucrece, then, I was immediately reminded of the Posthumus, Iachimo, and Imogen storyline.

Fundamentally, the similarity between Imogen’s story and Lucrece’s, the origins of both of which are ancient, is that their husbands publicly rhapsodize on their beauty and chastity — and thus, embolden their listeners. The husbands’ lack of circumspection leads to the violation of their wives. What a theme, eh? The listener in Cymbeline is Iachimo, who spends an uncomfortable amount of time ogling Imogen as she sleeps before stealing a trinket. He later lies about enjoying her bed. In The Rape of Lucrece, the listener is Tarquin, who also leers at the slumbering wife before violating her.

On hearing Iachimo’s false claims, a jealous Posthumus arranges for Imogen’s death. Of course, when the duplicity is uncovered at the conclusion of the play, Posthumus and Imogen are reunited. Yes, I am aware that we are readers “out of time,” so to speak, but I remain as horrified by their rekindled relationship as I am by that of Hero and Claudio in Much Ado. (Would that Benedict had killed Claudio, but, then, that’s not a comedy, is it?) How does the idea that one’s partner wished her dead inform the union?

Shudder.

Unlike Imogen, who is initially unaware of the attack on her reputation, the raped Lucrece determines to tell her story and name her attacker. That she sees death as the only release from her shame resonates in this, a month in which many are talking about a television show that depicts the rape and suicide of a high school student who, with her recorded note, tells her story and names her attacker. Shame transcends time, apparently, as do jealousy, lechery, and sexual violence.

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In one of those moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, we visited the Art Institute not long after I had finished the poem and posted to the “Shakespeare in a Year” group. Now Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, always unsettling, is forever stitched to my reading.

More soon.