May 2024 books read

  • Trustee from the Toolroom – Nevil Shute, 1960. One of my very very favorites by Shute, which is saying a lot. I went back to it because of reading about my friend John’s amazing puzzles – the engineering reminded me of Keith Stewart, the protagonist.
  • Time Shelter – Georgi Gospodinov (tr. Angela Rodel), 2020. Second Monday pick; quotes marked, TBD. V. interesting and meta.
  • Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis – Annie Proulx, 2022. Nature/Enviro pick; quotes marked, TBD. Did not love.
  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit – Sloan Wilson, 1954. Great Books pick; quotes marked, TBD. Extremely readable – not a great book, but compelling.
  • The Broad Highway – Jeffrey Farnol, 1910. I’m not sure where I saw this recommended, but it was supposedly the best-selling book in the US in 1911. Confirmed in the excellent Making the List (Michael Korda, 1992) but not even rating a mention in the text. I was interested to read that Farnol is credited with initiating the Regency romance along with Georgette Heyer. This was delightful! A will conditional on a marriage, identical cousins, mistaken identities galore, colorful rural characters as far as the eye can see… nothing surprising, but fun to read.
  • March: Book 1 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, 2013. The May Center for the Book challenge was “a graphic novel.” I made myself a list of ones that sounded intriguing, but most of them were checked out. This is a series I’d been meaning to read… and it’s OK, but I didn’t feel inclined to go on. My favorite bit is that Lewis loved chickens as a boy – there was a delightful amount of detail around that. “An interesting window into civil rights history” – sorry, I’m kind of phoning it in there!
  • Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions – Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, 2022. I tried this one as well, but it’s so slight that it wasn’t worth reviewing for the challenge. I do enjoy Bliss’ drawings, especially those of his poodle Penny, and I learned that Paul McCartney sang Martin’s song “Best Love.” but that’s about it.

April 2024 books read

  • Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton, 2023. I picked this up again, less than a year after I first read it, because I enjoyed the NYT Book Review podcast interview. It’s so good, and knowing the shocking ending helped make more sense of it this time. The thriller plot combined with psychological acuity is remarkable, and I find the New Zealand setting fascinating.
  • The Quiet American – Graham Greene, 1955. Second Monday choice – I missed the discussion but read it anyway. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Thirty-Eight: The Hurricane That Transformed New England – Stephen Long, 2016. Nature and Environment; quotes pulled, TBD. This also counted for the Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge, “A book about nature, the environment, or climate change.” I wrote “A wide-ranging investigation about the effect of the hurricane on forests and timber, with effects lasting to the present day.”
  • Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert Heinlein, 1957. I re-read this for the umpteenth time, prompted by something but I don’t remember what. The more I love a book, the more random incidents or thoughts will remind me of it and make me want to go back. My ability to re-read brings me a lot of pleasure!
  • Nine Things I’ve Learned about Life – Harold Kushner, 2015. We visited my mother-in-law for the eclipse and during our ample downtime on 4/8 I read the whole thing. I’ve enjoyed the other Kushners I’ve read as well. He’s the exemplar of why I find Judaism attractive despite being an atheist.
  • The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading – Francis Spufford, 2002. One of the best books-about-books I’ve ever read. I need to buy myself a copy and read it again. I added Land under England by Joseph O’Neill (Spufford credits it with part of the plot of Lewis’ The Silver Chair), Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, and The Perilous Descent by Bruce Carter to my TBR-someday list.
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866. Great Books group finally got me to read this! Kinda hated it. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Elevation – Stephen King, 2018. I like King’s short books and it features running, hurray! But it’s sloppy, like a lot of his work. For example, people look at the protagonist and say “you’re doing a 5K?” You really can’t tell by looking who’s a speed demon and who’s back of the pack like me; a 5K is not a big deal; so many folks run that it wouldn’t be that notable; and that was just one of the false notes. Did not love.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts – M.R. Carey, 2018. A wonderful exemplar of SF where you’re in the head of the protagonist and slowly realize things-are-not-as-they-seem (see Under the Root, Never Let Me Go). I very much enjoyed it and see there’s a sequel, The Boy on the Bridge. TBR!
  • Les sept boules de cristal and Le temple du soleil – Hergé, 1948. I’ve read these multiple times – Seven Crystal Balls a few, Temple of the Sun many times – and they still hold up because the art is so striking. The eclipse prompted me to revisit TotS but 7 Balls is the prequel.

March 2024 books read

  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald, 1872. Comfort re-read after Phantastes, on the plane to Puerto Rico – I forgot my Nook so had to download something at the airport.
  • The Princess and Curdie – George MacDonald, 1883. Continuing to the sequel with its wonderful monsters.
  • This Other Eden – Paul Harding, 2023. Second Monday; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet – Kristin Ohlson, 2014. Nature/Enviro; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald, 1871. Of course I was pulled to re-read this one as well. The horses Diamond and Ruby must have inspired Strawberry in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.
  • The Warden – Anthony Trollope, 1855. Great Books; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver, 2022. Amherst Book Group, so quotes pulled and TBD, but I also read this for the Mass Center for the Book March challenge, “a book whose protagonist has a different culture or lifestyle from you.” My one-sentence for that was “A compelling novel of Appalachia even if you haven’t read David Copperfield – but extra-fun if you have, to pick up on all the references.”
  • Otto, El Oso de Libro – Katie Cleminson, 2011. I’m studying Spanish with Duolingo and particularly like the bear (Falstaff), so this picture book on a cart at the library drew me right in. I enjoyed reading it aloud to Jonathan.
  • Dune – Frank Herbert, 1965. I re-read this when the first Villeneuve movie came out, and again now after seeing Dune Part 2. It’s a good adaptation but makes me want to go back to the atmosphere I imbibed as a teenager.
    • Words to add to the list of unfamiliar-yet-evocative terms: cherem, farufreluches, kanly.
    • Real words: pan and graben; he took liberties with the German spannungsbogen.
    • A Bene Gesserit saying that doesn’t show up in the lists I googled: ““The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” – it is in the 3,084 (!!!) Frank Herbert quotes at GoodReads.
    • “It is possible to see peril in the finding of ultimate perfection. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things move towards death.”

Short story

Neighbors” by Zach Williams (The New Yorker, March 18, 2024):

Anna had said once that it fascinated her to have the ocean so near—it was as if infinity were just outside our bedroom windows. I felt something similar in that garage, the perceptual illusion of boundlessness. I no longer needed to announce or explain myself. There was nothing to study or question. And I was too scared to think. In fact, it sometimes seems that I’ve applied conscious thought to that moment only retroactively. I took a breath and held it. A paradoxical calmness came over me. And what I felt, then, was that my life was not in me but diffused across the darkness, which was an unbroken field containing everything. Me and him. Anna, the girls. Bing. Everything. And so, no matter what happened next, there could be no consequence, because I had no identity separate from that field. No one did, nothing did. Everything just was, together, without boundaries or names. This appeared to me as a plain description of reality and not a moral or personal judgment. I had never felt anything like it, nor have I since.

February 2024 books read

  • Instructions to the Cook : A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters – Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields, 2013. I was hoping for something like Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings (Edward Espe Brown, 1997), which I loved and ought to re-read, but this one eh… a little too self-congratulating. I did love this quote: “The Jewish mystics say that at the very beginning of creation, the holy flame burst into billions and billions of sparks and that these sparks have to be brought back into the holy flame.”
  • The Ends of the Circle – Paul O. Williams, 1981. I picked up this paperback somewhere recently. Even though I was reading a ton of SF in the early 80s, this hadn’t come across my radar. Quite good and refreshingly interesting about gender roles.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum, 1900. The Far Out Film group watched the 1939 movie so I was drawn to read again, and then it turned out Lory was hosting #Ozathon24. I love that the book doesn’t have the deep back-story/”it was all a dream” baggage of the movie, and how weird it is, like when the Tin Man chops off the head of a cat because it’s chasing a mouse.
  • A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887. I picked up the Sherlock Holmes short stories I started with, when I was 10 or 11, and segued to this to read in order and because the Utah/Mormon scenes are so vivid in my memory.
  • Flights – Olga Tokarczuk, 2007.
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures – Merlin Sheldrake, 2020. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz – L. Frank Baum, 1904. The Gump is great, but the sexism is not.
  • The Sign of the Four – Arthur Conan Doyle, 1890. The short stories are best because they are so concise, but I still love the long-form stuff as well.
  • Le Temps Retrouvé – Marcel Proust, 1927. I first read all of A La Recherche in college, and started it again a number of times, but this is the first time I revisited volume 7, which blew me away as an undergrad. The highs were still as high, but there was some slog in there. Quotes pulled, TBD. Reading the whole thing with two friends, and talking about it almost every week for several years, has been a highlight of my 50s. Thank you, Anne and Fran!
  • Green Doors – Ethel Cook Eliot, 1933. For the February Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge, “A book with a color in the title.” I wrote “A strange almost-romance from 1933, by an author I knew from her children’s books. A psychoanalyst falls in chaste love with a teenage patient referred to him by her sweet-seeming wicked stepmother.” I loved The Little House in the Fairy Wood so much that I digitized it for Project Gutenberg after re-discovering it, and I enjoyed The Wind Boy as well (referenced in this novel, which is a bit cringe). But the adult work doesn’t live up to that standard. This one does tie together with her most collectible book, Roses for Mexico, which is the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in that a main character is Catholic and we hear about the Little Flower. It intrigues me because Little House feels very pagan. A weird/annoying quote: “A painting by Georgia O’Keefe [which] Petra couldn’t possibly understand.” But this book did get me to finally read Phantastes! In thinking over the book I was confused about the age of the male protagonist – aha, he’s supposedly 33. Ugh, and the love interest is for sure under 20.
  • The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton, 1913. For Great Books. I first read this for Second Monday last year, and those quotes are also still TBD – I’ll be interested to see if they match up.
  • When Grumpy Met Sunshine – Charlotte Stein, 2024. Charming and hot, but it takes hella long for the protagonist to twig that the Roy Kent character is not only the most ridiculously sweet fella evar, but also very into her.
  • Phantastes – George MacDonald, 1858. Very strange, very interesting. Green Doors (above) points out how super-creepy the Maid of the Alder Tree is, beautiful in front but rotten and hollow behind. That’s only one of many haunting, fascinating images; the doors in the island cottage remind me a bit of the hidden library in Le Guin’s Voices. I don’t think many people read MacDonald anymore, but his influence lives on.

Flights – Olga Tokaruczuk, 2007 (tr. Jennifer Croft)

An interesting and weird read for the Second Monday book group – I enjoyed the theme of biological specimens.

In this book I learned

  • Makes me want to read some Emil Cioran
  • I’ve heard of the Ghent Altarpiece but didn’t know it’s also called Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and I hadn’t looked at it closely before
  • Sarira relics

Short quotes

  • The protagonist says she can’t put down roots: “I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement – from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.”
  • Interesting pity for native English speakers: “How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the buttons in the lift!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths.”
  • “I am certain that we cannot recognize the fate grooved into the other side of life for us by the divine Engravers. They must appear to us only once they’ve taken a form intelligible to mankind, in black and white. God writes with his left hand and in mirror writing.”
  • “The more experienced a biologist you become, the longer and harder you look at the complex structures and connections in the biosystem, the stronger your hunch that all animate things cooperate in this growth and bursting, supporting one another. Living organisms give themselves to one another, permit one another to make use of them. If rivalry exists, it is a localised phenomenon, an upsetting of the balance.”
  • “The books set on the shelves show only their spines to people, and it’s as though, thinks Kunicki, you could only see people in profile. They don’t tempt you with their colourful covers, don’t boast with banners on which every word is a superlative; as though being punished, like recruits, they present only their most basic facts: title and author, nothing more.”
  • Message from Polish students traveling to Ireland, written on a air-sickness bag; the narrator wants to find out how it turned out for them. “But I know that writing on bags is something people do only out of anxiety and uncertainty. Neither defeat nor the greatest success are conducive to writing.”

January 2024 books read

  • The Book of Form and Emptiness – Ruth Ozeki, 2021. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Whalefall – Daniel Kraus, 2023. Liked but didn’t love this “The Martian inside a whale” science thriller. Cool ideas, but the writing was just way, way too purple, and the peril/damage so over the top. The premise (scuba diver trapped inside a sperm whale) would have worked on its own without daddy issues and reputational repair.
  • How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing – K.C. Davis, 2022. I would have gotten a lot out of this several decades go; it was really cheering/amazing to reflect how I’ve come so far with my ADHD that this was mostly second nature already, although most credit goes to Jonathan for doing the bulk of the stuff I struggle with.
  • The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career – L.M. Montgomery, 1917. Reading The Blue Castle last month got me thinking about which Montgomerys I hadn’t read yet; I started The Story Girl but am not loving it, so I turned to this memoir partly because I adore Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The One I Knew the Best of All, which I must have neglected to record because I’ve certainly read it in the past six or seven years. Anyway, this was a little interesting but not very insightful and a bit disjointed.
  • Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest – Suzanne Simard, 2021.
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays – Thomas Hughes, 1857.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954.

Didn’t finish

The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor – Howard Marks, 2011. This came up because I was searching for a copy of Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack, which doesn’t seem to be available in library systems (because out of print now, and was originally too expensive, and/or self-published and not available through distributors?) But wait, now a copy has shown up on order through CW Mars – people must have been asking since his death gave a spurt of publicity. But wait again, now an abridged version is online? Anyway, somewhere a version of this book came up in association with that one (it’s blurbed by Warren Buffett, but I thought there was more to it) and it was available through the public library. It basically emphasized to me, for the umpteenth time, that individual stock investing is a mug’s game. “The most important thing” is actually 19 different things – “they’re all important,” says Marks – most of which are outside a regular person’s control. However, I got a couple of quotes before abandoning the book:

  • “Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you wanted.” (And just recently I heard a similar saying from a relative who’s a ski guide: “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”)
  • “In basketball they say, ‘You can’t coach height.'”
  • Marks attributes this to Yogi Berra, but per QI it was first written by a Yale student in 1882: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”
  • Marks calls this an adage: “Being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong.” Interestingly, the Internet now mostly attributes it to him!
  • Marks attributes to John Maynard Keynes, but QI traces to Gary Shilling: “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

Wow, that’s a bad – but typical! – ratio on the attribution accuracy!

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954

This was an unusual choice for Great Books, prompted by a long-term member who’s read a lot of mythology. It didn’t get high marks! I enjoyed re-reading it, but I had never been able to get through any Tolkien until the Peter Jackson LOTR movies, and I certainly sympathize with the general critiques that it doesn’t rank with actual myth, it’s a bit tedious and sexist, and the poetry is second-rate. But this time around both the beautiful descriptions of nature, and the WWII atmosphere of end-times (which apparently Tolkien denied referencing) really resonated with me.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

‘I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’

‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf. ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’

I learned

  • glede – a hot coal
  • hythe – landing-place in a river
  • eyot – small island

Example of what makes me roll my eyes

  • “We have now come to the River Hoarwell, that the Elves call Mitheithel. It flows down out of the Ettenmoors, the troll-fells north of Rivendell, and joins the Loudwater away in the South. Some call it the Greyflood after that.”
  • “under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue”

Short quotes

  • Gandalf re what Gollum “deserves”: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
  • “a cup that was filled with a fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon”
  • Goldberry’s response when Frodo asks if the land belongs to Tom Bombadil: “‘That would indeed be a burden,’ she added in a low voice, as if to herself. ‘The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves.'”
  • “Nothing passes doors or windows save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top.”
  • “The wind began to blow steadily out of the West and pour the water of the distant seas on the dark heads of the hills in fine drenching rain.”
  • “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
  • “despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt”
  • “You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous.”
  • “For the fate of Lothlórien you are not answerable, but only for the doing of your own task.”
  • “[Galadriel] seemed no longer perilous or terrible, nor filled with hidden power. Already she seemed to him, as by men of later days Elves still at times are seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.”
  • “The weather was still grey and overcast, with wind from the East, but as evening drew into night the sky away westward cleared, and pools of faint light, yellow and pale green, opened under the grey shores of cloud. There the white rind of the new Moon could be seen glimmering in the remote lakes.”
  • “A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.”

Tom Brown’s Schooldays – Thomas Hughes, 1857

For the Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge, “A book you read years ago that you may feel differently about now.” My brief summing up: “I read this 1857 classic multiple times as a child, absorbing its messages about becoming a stiff-upper-lip cricket-playing British boy despite being a timid American girl. It’s mostly as retrograde as I remember, but with a few flashes of heart and humor.” This time around I looked so many things up!

And a few quotes

  • “There isn’t such a reasonable fellow in the world, to hear him talk. He never wants anything but what’s right and fair; only when you come to settle what’s right and fair, it’s everything that he wants, and nothing that you want. And that’s his idea of a compromise.”
  • “if I go and snivel to him, and tell him I’ve really tried to learn it but found it so hard without a translation, or say I’ve had a toothache, or any humbug of that kind, I’m a snob”
  • “bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong”
  • East: “Now I’ve seen a deal of this sort of religion; I was bred up in it, and I can’t stand it. If nineteen-twentieths of the world are to be left to uncovenanted mercies, and that sort of thing, which means in plain English to go to hell, and the other twentieth are to rejoice at it all, why——” And when he tells his doubts to Arnold, “he didn’t tell me not to follow out my thoughts, and he didn’t give me any cut-and-dried explanation.”
  • Arnold: “Don’t be in a hurry about finding your work in the world for yourself; you are not old enough to judge for yourself yet, but just look about you in the place you find yourself in, and try to make things a little better and honester there. You’ll find plenty to keep your hand in at Oxford, or wherever else you go. And don’t be led away to think this part of the world important, and that unimportant. Every corner of the world is important. No man knows whether this part or that is most so, but every man may do some honest work in his own corner.”

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest – Suzanne Simard, 2021

Read for Nature and Environment. While the research was fascinating, ultimately I didn’t think it was a great book. We loved how she treated Indigenous knowledge respectfully, and used the tribe names.

In this book I learned about

  • enchytraeids (common name is potworms)
  • pauropods – I think I’ve seen these. Excellent quote by Lord Avebury in Wikipedia: “a bustling, active, neat and cleanly creature. It has, too, a look of cheerful intelligence, which forms a great contrast to the dull stupidity of the Diplopods [millipedes], or the melancholy ferocity of most Chilopods [centipedes].”
  • genet – “one fungal individual …, of singular genetic identity, like an individual person”

Short quotes

  • “My instinct has always been to listen to what living things are saying. We think that most important clues are large, but the world loves to remind us that they can be beautifully small.”
  • One of the clunkiest sentences ever (and it ends a paragraph): “‘Mon chou,’ Wilfred exclaimed while knocking the wedge of sapwood out with the back of his axe-head, leaving a yawning grin that resembled their own mouths, since they’d lost most of their teeth to cavities in their teens, now replaced with dentures.”
  • “I understood the pride of claiming what was grandest, the temptation—green-gold fever. The handsomest trees captured top prices. They meant jobs for the locals, mills staying open. I checked out this one’s immense bole, seeing the cut through Ray’s eyes. Once you start hunting, it’s easy to get addicted. Like always wanting to snag the tallest peaks. After a while, your appetite can never be sated.”
  • “I loved the generous rhythm of the way the land and the forest and the rivers came together to refresh the winds at the close of each day. Helped settle us all down for the night. Air purified by the ancient forests hovered, and I let the downdraft cleanse me.”
  • “The lichens and mosses and algae and fungi were also steady as could be, gradually building up the soil, quietly in tandem. Things—and people—working together so that something noticeable could occur.”
  • “Interactions over resources isn’t a winner-take-all thing; it’s about give-and-take, building more from a little and finding balance over the long term.”
  • Her father tells her to “imagine an audience as a bunch of cabbages,” so throughout the book she references “nodding cabbages” or says “the cabbages tilted forward.”
  • “We emphasize domination and competition in the management of trees in forests. And crops in agricultural fields. And stock animals on farms. We emphasize factions instead of coalitions.”
  • “[I] stopped at a sapling shedding its parka of snow. After I swept the last crust of melded crystals away, its supple stem slowly straightened. We are built for recovery, I thought.”
  • “Maybe the fast-cycling fungi could provide a way for the trees to adjust swiftly to cope with change and uncertainty. Instead of waiting for the next generation of trees to reproduce with more adaptive ways of coping with the soils warming and drying as climate changes, the mycorrhizal fungi with which the trees are in symbiosis could evolve much faster to acquire increasingly tightly bound resources.”
  • “The eagle suddenly lifted, caught an updraft, and vanished past the peaks. There is no moment too small in the world. Nothing should be lost. Everything has a purpose, and everything is in need of care. This is my creed. Let us embrace it. We can watch it rise. Just like that, at any time—all the time—wealth and grace will soar.”

Longer quote

Ecosystems are so similar to human societies—they’re built on relationships. The stronger those are, the more resilient the system. And since our world’s systems are composed of individual organisms, they have the capacity to change. We creatures adapt, our genes evolve, and we can learn from experience. A system is ever changing because its parts—the trees and fungi and people—are constantly responding to one another and to the environment. Our success in coevolution—our success as a productive society—is only as good as the strength of these bonds with other individuals and species. Out of the resulting adaptation and evolution emerge behaviors that help us survive, grow, and thrive.

We can think of an ecosystem of wolves, caribou, trees, and fungi creating biodiversity just as an orchestra of woodwind, brass, percussion, and string musicians assemble into a symphony. Or our brains, composed of neurons, axons, and neurotransmitters, produce thought and compassion. Or the way brothers and sisters join to overcome a trauma like illness or death, the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The cohesion of biodiversity in a forest, the musicians in an orchestra, the members of a family growing through conversation and feedback, through memories and learning from the past, even if chaotic and unpredictable, leveraging scarce resources to thrive. Through this cohesion, our systems develop into something whole and resilient. They are complex. Self-organizing. They have the hallmarks of intelligence. Recognizing that forest ecosystems, like societies, have these elements of intelligence helps us leave behind old notions that they are inert, simple, linear, and predictable. Notions that have helped fuel the justification for rapid exploitation that has risked the future existence of creatures in the forest systems.

December 2023 books read

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach, 1970. I read this yet again (last time was Nov ’19); I think because it’s so short, it’s on the bookcase next to the bed, and there’s something about Jonathan’s quest to be a better seagull that still speaks to me despite how cheesy it is.
  • Round the Bend – Nevil Shute, 1951. How strange – I also last read this in November 2019, right after JLS! Ah, I must have started my re-read last month after finishing The Last Temptation of Christ, and when my Nook ran out of charge I picked up JLS; I can see the connection now. I told the Great Books folks that I thought Round the Bend captured what a prophet might be like in real life more effectively than Kazantzakis did (for me at least), and JLS also becomes a prophet to the Flock.
  • The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery, 1926. Another book I was led to by the amazing commentariat at Ask a Manager (a username is “Valancy Stirling” and so many people remarked she’s a great character). Very satisfying revolt of a trod-upon woman who finds herself – and love into the bargain.
  • The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family – Joshua Cohen, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry – Bryan Sykes, 2001. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens, 1850. Re-read. Fresh quotes pulled (many more than in 2016, but I bet all of those will be in there), TBD.
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, 1940. I just re-read this last year – this time is my third book group that’s chosen it (never my recommendation) but it gets better every time.
  • The Running Grave – Robert Galbraith, 2023. “Sorely needed editing – long, slow-moving, boring, and also implausible” (for Massachusetts Center for the Book reading challenge, “a book published in 2023,” but see below).
  • The Daybreakers – Louis L’Amour, 1960. I accidentally did next December’s challenge because I didn’t realize I was looking at the 2024 page: “A well-reviewed book in your least favorite genre.” I picked Westerns and started The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt but didn’t care for it, so I fell back on a highly-rated L’Amour. My write-up: “An entertaining yarn with good characterization; my favorite thread was the importance of reading on the frontier, and Tyrel Sackett learning to write so he can correspond with his love interest” – but I couldn’t submit it and I’ll probably want to pick a different book next December. L’Amour’s reference to Bull Durham books led me down a rabbit hole. I’ll do that as a separate post!
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis, 1942. I wanted an easy comfort re-read (I last have this listed before my 5-year blog hiatus, but I think I may have forgotten one or more times in between… I forgot this one until a week into January!) and this always reminds me of my father. We shared a love/hate interest in Lewis, and he was both amused and semi-horrified that his name was a palindrome of “Screwtape.”
  • Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life – Michael Neill, 2009. A quick read, run-of-the-mill self help, on the woo end of the spectrum, but I loved that he recommends a self-improvement vacation: “Take a week off from working on yourself in any way. Don’t try to change, improve, or fix yourself – just enjoy hanging out with your work, your hobbies, and your loved ones.” I also looked up Syd Banks (a huge source of woo!), and Neill properly attributes the hedgehog/fox contrast to Archilochus instead of Isaiah Berlin, which impressed me.
  • The Birthday of the World – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2002. Read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain. Next month Chris is doing an overview post, but this is the last of the monthly reads; I’ve so much enjoyed it!

Year in review

Goodreads shows 123 books read and 39,233 pages, so a little down from last year. Shortest was Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys (Curious George origin story) at 48 pages, and longest was Maia at 1056 pages. About 3.8 million other people read Jane Eyre (happy for all of them!) and only 11 read Paddle for Water: Canoeing 5000 Miles across America with a Message to Share and a Man I Never Intended to Marry (which means many people are missing out!).

On the blog, I’ve kept up with the monthly lists. I’ve fallen behind on publishing the quote dumps, but I’m closer to being caught up with the actual quote transcription, which is what most matters to me. I still have a backlog on my Nook but I made a lot of progress on physical books I own (except Proust, that’s going to be a bear) and on the many Google docs I had created while bus commuting pre-pandemic. Right now I have 358 published posts and 192 in draft. I think it was over 200 last year but I didn’t record it; now I have a metric at least.