Tuesday morning

I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turned radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.

— from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

This view. Our reward for rising at five, finishing the daily chores, and donning our walking shoes before 6 a.m.

Reading life

A few recent acquisitions.

My 2021 reading plan is fairly simple: Read no fewer than 100 books from my personal library (i.e., books acquired before the end of 2020), including 24 or more non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following categories: Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.), poetry, NYRB, Kurt Vonnegut (by or about), Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. At this writing, I’ve read 129 books, 91 of which were read from my shelves (RFS). Twenty-one of those RFS were non-fiction titles, so I must read read nine more books from my shelves, and at least three of those should be non-fiction works. With five months remaining in the year, that seems doable.

How am I doing with those RFS categories, then?

Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.):
In my quest to reread all of the plays this year, I’ve finished 26, so far. I’ve also read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and Matthew Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club. As I mentioned in last year’s summary, though, this category is not met in 2021 unless I have read at least one of the many non-fiction works I’ve collected. So far, I’ve read three:

■ Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (Stephen Greenblatt; 2018. Non-fiction.)
■ How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Scott Newstok; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Falstaff: Give Me Life (Harold Bloom; 1992. Non-fiction.) 

Poetry:
War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad (Christopher Logue; 2015. Poetry.)
Stag’s Leap (Sharon Olds; 2012. Poetry.)
Chicago Poems (Carl Sandburg; 1916. Poetry.)

NYRB:
The Goshawk (T.H. White; 1951. Non-fiction.)

Kurt Vonnegut (by or about):
I have not met this goal, nor have I selected title(s) to meet it.

Joyce Carol Oates:
Pursuit (Joyce Carol Oates; 2019. Fiction.)
The Collector of Hearts (Joyce Carol Oates; 1998. Fiction.)

Philosophy:
Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Zina Hitz; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Meditations (Marcus Aurelius; 180 A.D. (Trans. Gregory Hays.) Non-fiction.)
The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (Stephen Mitchell; 1993. Non-fiction.)

Art:
Linda Lear’s biography of Beatrix Potter is on my nightstand. This and a volume of Potter’s complete tales are how I hope to meet this goal.

Children’s / YA:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie; 2007. Fiction.)
The Mouse and His Child (Russell Hoban; 1967. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 2001. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling; 1999. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling; 2000. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling; 2003. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling; 2005. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling; 2007. Fiction.)

I also planned to read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) and Tom Reis’ The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (2012) this year, as well as biographies of Tom Stoppard, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Fred Rogers. At this writing, I remain optimistic about meeting these “mini-challenges.”

This weekend, though, I’m focused on Book Five of Middlemarch for book group, Gilead (Marilyn Robinson; 2003), and a graphic novel I espied on my way out of the “prize room” from which my husband and I collected our books for completing the library’s summer reading program.

The month in books

65938D85-BA24-4AC9-B135-9604D7E6E885

Some recent acquisitions.

Since 1989, I’ve been promising myself I’d return to Middlemarch (George Eliot; 1871). Thirty-two years later, nearly to the month, I’ve (finally) kept my word: Members of the reading group that attempted to penetrate the mysteries of The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky; 1880) earlier this year are now working their way through Eliot’s wise novel. Although one of our core principles is to avoid secondary sources, I must confess to (quietly) enjoying the companionship of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014), as well as the most recent episodes of The Readers Karamazov podcast.

Book One, Chapter 1
Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

Book One, Chapter 6
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts — not hurt others.

Book Two, Chapter 16
This was one of the difficulties of moving in good Middlemarch society: it was dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office.

Book Four, Chapter 42
Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death — who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we called knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of the water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace “We must all die“ transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness “I must die — and soon,” then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first. […] In such an hour the mind does not change its lifelong bias, but carries it onward in imagination to the other side of death, gazing backward — perhaps with the divine calm of beneficence, perhaps with the petty anxieties of self assertion.

Other books I’m reading are listed in the sidebar.

As we head into August, I realize that I’ve read 128 books so far this year (eighteen since my last annotated list), but I still need to sort through the list to see which of my annual goals / reading challenges remain unmet. Note that in this annotated list, I’ve moved away from presenting the books in the order in which I read them, opting instead to cluster related titles.

As You Like It (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare; 1601. Drama.)
By my count, thirteen works remain in my quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays this year.

Act I, Scene V
HORATIO
O day and night but this is wondrous strange!

HAMLET
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell; 2020. Fiction.)
The Dead Fathers Club (Matt Haig; 2006. Fiction.)
I appreciated both of these books, the former less than most readers, though, and the latter (commonplace book passage follows), more.

p. 113
Its like how in War soldiers are told to kill other men and then they are Heroes but if they killed the same men when they were not in War they are Murderers. But they are still killing the same men who have the same dreams and who chew the same food and hum the same songs when they are happy but if it is called War it is all right because that is the rules of War.

How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Scott Newstok; 2020. Non-fiction.)
What a delight to read John Warner’s recommendation of this and Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (which I read earlier this year).

p. 3
[W]e claim to know thinking when we see it, despite the difficulty of definition. And if we believe cultivating it is a good thing, then we are often perverse. We’ve imposed educational programs that kill the capacity to think independently, or even the desire to do so. While we point to thinkers — Leonardo, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Curie — who modeled the disciplined, independent, questing intellect we claim to revere, we reinforce systems ensuring that our own young people could never emulate them.

Hawking (Ottaviani and Myrick; 2019. Graphic non-fiction.)
The Trojan Women (Euripides): A Comic (Anne Carson; 2021. Graphic fiction.)
Family Tree, Vol. 3: Forest (Jeff Lemire; 2021. Graphic fiction.)
Feynman (Ottaviani and Myrick; 2011) was a stronger work, but Hawking certainly engaged me, as did the offbeat graphic interpretation of The Trojan Women. The conclusion to Family Tree, however, was a disappointing jumble.

Trojan Women (Euripides (trans. E. P. Coleridge); 415 B.C. Drama.)
After reading Carson’s graphic adaptation, I turned to the play itself. Once again, Harvard’s Reading Greek Tragedy Online was a fabulous companion. (Related episode here.)

Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie; 2017. Fiction.)
Review here.
p. 10
She felt, as she did most mornings, the deep pleasure of daily life distilled to the essentials: books, walks, spaces in which to think and work.

Antigone (Sophocles (trans. Don Taylor); 441 B.C. Drama.)
Partway through Shamsie’s gorgeous retelling of Antigone, I decided to reread Sophocles’ play and watch the 2012 production on National Theatre at Home, the latter of which is first-rate.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 2001. Fiction.)
Yes. Again.

Fox 8 (George Saunders; 2015. Fiction.)
If George Saunders wrote it, I want to read it.

Bury Your Dead (Louise Penny; 2010. Fiction.)
Penny’s sixth Gamache novel kept me company on the most recent long drive to see my daughters. (Ralph Cosham is the perfect narrator for these mysteries.) I finally had an opportunity to finish reading it mid-month.

The Hummingbirds’ Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings (Sy Montgomery; 2021. Non-fiction.)
This seemed rather slight, which made sense when I realized it is a repackage of a chapter from Montgomery’s longer book, Birdology (2010).

Postcard Poems (Jeanne Griggs; 2021. Poetry.)
See this entry.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Sam Quinones; 2015. Non-fiction.)
In 2019, I read Beth Macy’s Dopesick (2018), which put Dreamland on my readerly radar. Both will inform my upcoming appointment with the tome that is Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Patrick Radden Keefe; 2021).

Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called “Alien” (Jeremy N. Smith; 2019. Non-fiction.)
What a quick and engaging, if imperfect, read. More information here.

At the University of Michigan Museum of Art

I captured the images above during a recent visit. From the top left:

1. Detail from Jacopo del Casentino’s Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels (circa 1325)
2. Detail from Eastman Johnson’s Boyhood of Lincoln (1868)
3. Detail from James McNeill Whistler’s Sea and Rain (1865)
4. Detail from John Francis Murphy’s Landscape (1880)
5. Detail from Max Ernst’s At the Crossroads (1955)
6. Two Girls Reading (Pablo Picasso; 1934)