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 Retrouv√© – 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.”