March 2023 books read

  • Dragon’s Bait – Vivian Vande Velde, 1992. It’s been on my shelf for years – I finally read it and will pass it on; good-not-great YA fantasy.
  • A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration – Kenn Kaufman, 2019. TBD
  • La Prisonnière – Marcel Proust, 1925. TBD
  • A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke, 1961. OK science fiction, but the lunar dust is way more interesting than any of the characters.
  • The Enormous Room – E. E. Cummings, 1922. TBD
  • The History of King Lear – William Shakespeare, 1605. TBD
  • Nabokov’s Butterfly: And Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books – Rick Gekoski, 2004.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2006. TBD
  • City of Illusions – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1967. I actually read this again in April, so more details then!
  • How to Make a Slave and Other Essays – Jerald Walker, 2020. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book March challenge, “A Mass Book Awards honoree” (Nonfiction 2021). My one-sentence response was “Brief, powerful essays ranging from funny to fuming, ranging across the dimensions of Black male experience as a person, a parent, and a professor.” I didn’t mean to be quite so alliterative, but once started I kept going… Most of the essays are second person, which ties in nicely to the following book (see below). I was wondering when second person became trendy and thought Jay McInerney was to blame, which Davidson confirms. She adds “it always gives a slight ‘stunt writing’ feel,” which I agree with. But in this context, perhaps it does help to bring readers into Walker’s experiences.
  • Reading Style: A Life in Sentences – Jenny Davidson, 2014. TBD
  • 4:50 from Paddington – Agatha Christie, 1957. The title wasn’t familiar, because it was What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw in the US, but it’s a Miss Marple that came up in an Ask a Manager comment thread for having a strong, competent protagonist (like last month’s Goblin Emperor). Fine but not my favorite Christie.

Articles & short stories

  • How I Became a Vet,” by Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, March 13, 2023. Wow, what an amazing short story. I think I’ve enjoyed previous work by her in the magazine, but this stood out.
    • “Joy is an ethical obligation. I was raised to believe this. I have not abandoned the proposition. Joy is the proper response to the gift of life that God or something has bestowed upon all of us day after day after day, and then at some point for no more days. Sorrow is an obligation, too, and a wonder and a necessity—but sorrow is joy’s servant. … Famously, dogs have a natural gift for the ethical obligation of joy.”
    • “He was a spectacular Irish wolfhound. He looked like the ghost of a horse; he looked like he had worked with headless people in a previous life and had not let those people feel ashamed about having no head.”
  • Good Talk” by Hua Hsu (The New Yorker, March 20, 2023). It’s a review of a book about conversation, but this statement applies to why I love book groups: “These conversations can happen only once: they are improvised and ephemeral, and can never happen again in the same way. You may forget what was discussed, but you will remember the exhilarating experience of the discussion itself.”
  • I digitized my father’s article “What Happened in Paris,” a contemporaneous description of the 1968 student uprising.

Nabokov’s Butterfly: And Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books – Rick Gekoski, 2004

I picked this up browsing the “books about books” shelves (000s in Dewey, Zs at Forbes which uses the rare Cutter classification system) and it looked entertaining. It was, and Gekoski‘s early days as a “book runner” gave me the term for what I also used to do: pick up books at low prices that my instincts told me would sell for more (although I was hitting yard sales and thrift stores, and he was dealing with much fancier stock). I was surprised that the introduction kept referring to Tolkien’s Gown – turns out it’s the same book (UK title), so presumably an oversight.

The best anecdote may be that Edward O’Brien, editor of a series of “Best Short Stories,” featured Hemingway in the 1923 collection, and went so far as to dedicate the volume… to “Ernest Hemenway.”

  • “Tolkien maintained that he never wrote ‘for children,’ as if that were in itself patronizing. ‘Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogenous collection of immature persons,’ he wrote, which presumably was not intended to sound patronizing.”
  • “The further that [D.H.] Lawrence moves from the particularities of his subject, the less successful he is likely to be, and the more likely an undergraduate is to underline the passage.”
  • “[J.D. Salinger] refused to allow proofs to go out to reviewers, and objected violently to having a picture of himself on the back of the dustwrapper. Dismayed, his editor inquired, glacially, whether he wanted the book published, or merely printed?”
  • “[The problem with children’s books is that] children handle them, with grubby little hands. They love the rhythm and repetition of the same story, read over and over until they know it by heart. Rereading is one of the delights of childhood. It makes the world safe and predictable, but it’s murder on the books.”
  • “I often wonder if Hemingway wasn’t simply an adept who found the right prose style both to enact, and to conceal, the limited range of his vision, and the crimped range of his sympathies.”