November 2021 books read

  • Agent Running in the Field – John Le Carré, 2019. Second Monday book group selection, and very enjoyable – especially once the plot really picked up – but not enough quotes for a whole post. Just these two:
    • “Dom doesn’t do confrontation… His life is a sideways advance between things he can’t face.”
    • “In Moscow he was older than his years. Now youth has caught up with him in a big way.”
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou, 2018. I loved the podcast The Drop Out (although now I see they have a whole new season on the trial! must listen!) so much of this was familiar to me, but the details are equally compelling. What a crazy, crazy story. I am fascinated by human delusions, especially people who believe they can will their desires into reality, but the Theranos saga also makes me marvel that complicated devices that work are actually designed and built by similar humans.
  • Walden – Henry David Thoreau, 1854. I enjoyed this much more as a Great Books selection than as a Nature and Environment title when we read it in 2015 – at least I think it’s the change of lens and not just the six year gap. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Wife Apparent – Dornford Yates, 1956. I really thought I had read every single Yates, but this was unfamiliar (I mean, same old Yates tropes of deserving former officer gets amnesia, love interest has gray eyes and small feet, etc., but the actual story was unfamiliar). Extra doses of weird with the protagonist talking to a literal elm tree on the daily – not just talking to, unburdening his heart. Apparently Yates himself did the same thing with a picture clock, so it’s quasi-autobiographical.
  • A Radiant Life: The Selected Journalism – Nuala O’Faolain, 2010 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920. This was the title I should have read for Great Books last month! Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Finders Keepers – Stephen King, 2015. Another very readable King outing that inexplicably elevates a fictional author by describing or inserting writing that is so much worse than its frame. In this case it’s a Salinger stand-in, Jimmy Gold (his last published story is entitled “The Perfect Banana Pie” – I mean, come on…). Also, what is his deal with Jerome Robinson, a Harvard student whose alter-ego is “Tyrone Feelgood Delight”? One of the most tone-deaf and insulting characterizations I’ve ever read. But the plot, which revolves around Gold’s long-buried notebooks, is compelling.
  • Out of the Silent Planet (1938) and Perelandra (1943) – C. S. Lewis. I don’t remember what, if anything, prompted me to pick these up for the umpteenth time, but I love them, especially their vivid and imaginative descriptions of “Mars” and “Venus,” respectively.

October 2021 books read

  • The Rescuers – Margery Sharp, 1959. I loved these books as a child but only the Garth Williams illustrations really hold up, so I actually let this copy go! Yay one fewer book (they flood back in so quickly…).
  • Five Bushel Farm – Elizabeth Coatsworth, 1939. A new-to-me children’s book (The Cat Who Went to Heaven I’ve loved and re-read many times, and I’ve read The Enchanted at least once, but that might be it) which is good-not-great. It also has what would have seemed to most (white) readers at the time like a “sympathetic” portrayal of Native Americans, but is actually classic erasure. Another to purge!
  • Hot Milk – Deborah Levy, 2015 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World – Andrea Wulf, 2015 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1971. No matter how many times I read it, it still strikes me as a perfectly done novel.
  • The School for Scandal – Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1777. For Irish Writers, but not enough quotes for a full post. I enjoyed reading it but would like to see it performed even more.
    • “Wit loses its respect with me, when I see it in company with malice.”
    • Lady Teazle: “I’ll swear her color is natural—I have seen it come and go—” Crabtree: “I dare swear you have, ma’am; it goes of a Night, and comes again in the morning.”
    • avadavat: a small songbird imported from India
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevksy, 1879 (David McDuff translation, 2003). Second read this year – this translation is much better. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America – Clint Smith, 2021 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934. Read by mistake for Great Books instead of This Side of Paradise – I’ve worried about doing that before but this is the first time it happened. I actually embarked on several minutes of discussion before we all realized we were talking about two different books! Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier, 1938. I think this is a re-read but not positive, since I’ve seen the movie several times and now want to re-watch it. One of the reasons I picked it up again was to compare Rebecca to the similar character Rowena in the next book on the list:
  • This Publican – Dornford Yates, 1938 (re-read) I was wondering which of the two influenced the other if at all, so it’s fascinating they came out the same year. Rebecca is better-written, of course, but This Publican builds equally gripping psychological suspense without recourse to shipwrecks and corpses and what-have-you. Especially intriguing that there’s a Thackeray novel titled Rebecca and Rowena – but aha, they are the two women in Ivanhoe (which I’ve read but isn’t top of mind, and neither of them was evil to the bone…).

September 2021 books read

  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race – ed. Jesamyn Ward, 2016. A great assortment of essays. Read for Mount Holyoke’s Examining Privilege group.
  • This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar, 2019. Picked up because of a rave review. Innovative and interesting SF, but not my kind of thing – overwritten and too vague/abstract to appeal to my old-school self.
  • The Blessing – Nancy Mitford, 1951. Umpteenth re-read – the humor never stales.
  • Devil’s Den to Lickingwater: The Mill River Through Landscape and History – John Sinton, 2018 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • L’Écume des Jours – Boris Vian, 1947. An old favorite, re-read because the Far Out Film group watched the Gondry adaptation. The movie wasn’t bad at all but couldn’t quite capture the surreal and beautiful melancholy of the book.
  • Strange Flowers – Donal Ryan, 2020 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Ten of The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer, 1400 – quotes marked but lost in a Nook accident (had two editions with the same title, BAD)
  • The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby – Charles Kingsley, 1863. I’ve read this a few times since I was a kid, but not as many times as my very favorites. It’s so so weird, often with an arch tone that feels like Kingsley talking to other adults – or just to himself – over the reader’s head (on top of the to-be-expected reactionary and racist attitudes), but there’s nothing else like it.
  • The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made – Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, 2013. I read this when it came out, remember loving it, and checked it out again when I got the chance to see a screening of The Room followed by a Q&A with Sestero. He’s really charming and a natural story-teller, the opposite of Tommy Wiseau, and once again I couldn’t put it down.
  • All the extra content from The Books of Earthsea: the Complete Illustrated Edition (2018, illustrated by Charles Vess), followed by re-reads of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), The Farthest Shore (1972), and Tehanu (1990) – Ursula K. Le Guin. The collection is a giant doorstop (seriously, so many reviews mention that it’s too big and heavy to hold, and they are not exaggerating) and the illustrations are nice. I read everything that was new – the highlights were Le Guin’s introductions to each of the novels – and then returned the monolith to the library and started on my umpteenth re-read of the series, which is one of my favorite works of art ever.

I also started re-reading Middlemarch since I led a Second Monday book discussion on it, but after the first dozen or so chapters I fell back on the quotes I pulled last time – which I still haven’t posted, but I have all the draft posts to search and refer to in the WordPress back end. One of the big reasons I plug away at this blog even if no one reads it but me!

August 2021 books read

  • Anne of Windy Poplars – Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1936. My Aunt Jean mentioned this was her favorite, and I extra enjoyed re-reading it for that reason.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick, 1968 – quotes pulled, TBE\D
  • Time Shifting: Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life – Stephan Rechtschaffen, 1997. A little formless and repetitive, but good on “entraining” into different time senses. Not enough material for a whole post, just a few extracts:
    • Analysis of why children constantly ask “Are we there yet?” when it contradicts the idea that children live in the present: “We are the ones who have announced the destination, put it into our head that we are going somewhere. The problem is that they can’t wait, they expect the destination ‘now.’ They are present. It’s that the destination isn’t present yet.”
    • Joke about 90-year-old man going to the doctor: “What seems to be the problem?” “I just want to show off.”
    • Good quotes in chapter headings:
      • Jean Giono “The days are fruits and our role is to eat them.”
      • Peace Pilgrim: “Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.”
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig, 2020. Very enjoyable and made me extra-grateful for having so few regrets about paths not taken.
  • The Friend – Sigrid Nunez, 2018. I appreciated that she referenced My Dog Tulip, but that’s a much better book.
  • The Sea Around Us – Rachel Carson, 1951 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston, 1976 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Full Tilt: Ireland to India on a Bicycle – Dervla Murphy, 1965 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • My Life in Middlemarch – Rebecca Mead, 2014. I enjoyed reading this quite a bit after a slow read of Middlemarch (April-July, 2020) and before a fast, partial re-read of the beginning for a book group session I led in September. Just pulled one quote about her relationship: “Lewes adored Eliot… with an intuitive kindness and a gratitude in which there was no trace of resentment. … The sense of grateful, joyful indebtedness was mutual.” This is exactly what I feel about Jonathan. I’m so lucky!
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy, 2006. I had started this when it came out but actually never finished it – strange since I love post-apocalyptic fiction, but I was afraid both of how dark I had heard it was, and how much I’ve disliked other McCarthy books. But it was great, and the end touched more than any book in quite a while.

Short pieces

  • Re-read of two Hemingway stories I loved as a teen: “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” They don’t have the same impact now, but I am interested in how specific Hemingway’s voice is.
  • Evidence and Testimony: Philip Henry Gosse and the Omphalos Theory,” Peter Caws, 1962. I’ve been reading my father’s articles as I digitize them (very slowly) – this was absolutely fascinating and not at all too scholarly for the general reader. I wish I could write with one-tenth the clarity and economy of my dad.

July 2021 books read

  • Harding’s Luck and The House of Arden – E. Nesbit, 1909 and 1908. I was looking for comfort reading on my e-ink reader and realized I didn’t remember Harding’s Luck. I had actually never read it! Finding a new-to-me E. Nesbit, and realizing it was good – wow, that was a thrill. It’s actually a sequel to The House of Arden so I read them out of order, but they are self-contained stories. I had heard the word “Mouldiwarp” but didn’t realize it was from these. It’s a magical white mole, a typically-Nesbit cranky and cryptic mentor, but in Harding’s Luck we also get the Mouldierwarp and the Mouldiestwarp! Not quite as great as Five Children and It or The Phoenix and the Carpet, but wonderful. I look forward to re-reading these.
  • Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up—and What We Make When We Make Dinner – Liz Hauck, 2021. I loved this sort-of memoir of cooking and eating dinner weekly with the residents of a communal foster care home. Touching and compelling.
  • Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc – Hugh Aldersey-Williams, 2011 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Periodic Table – Primo Levi, 1975- quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien, 1960 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi, 1880. I re-read this because the Far Out Film group watched A.I. and then Mind Game, both of which have Pinocchio references, and I remembered it as being super-weird and dark, like the Mary Poppins books (as opposed to the movies).
  • In the Wet – Nevil Shute, 1953. Oh my. I remembered this was a strange Shute (one of my favorite good-but-bad or bad-but-good novelists). It’s centered around a future England where the Queen takes refuge in the colonies, and I’ve been watching The Crown and was reminded of it. The novel also continually raises and doesn’t answer the question “but WHY should this ordinary woman be assigned this arbitrarily powerful role?” But it’s full of crazy-bad stuff I had forgotten, like the mixed-race protagonist willingly adopting the N-word as his nickname (!?!??!!), and plural voting justified because “the people” were voting wrong.
  • Souls – Joanna Russ, 1982. Since I’ve been more-or-less keeping up with these lists, I see I’ve re-read this novella annually for at least the past three years. It captures something about the human condition in a way no other artwork does for me.
  • Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1908. I watched the first few episodes of Anne With an E with my dad and stepmom a few years ago. I have access to Netflix now so finished the first season, but its darkness (combined with that of Souls!) sent me back to the original, one of my ultimate comfort re-reads.

June 2021 books read

  • The Only Story – Julian Barnes, 2018 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Beyond the Black Stump – Nevil Shute, 1956. Fourth or fifth re-read, this time prompted by seeing the spine on a shelf of “mountain/climbing books” in the best MOOC I’ve ever taken, Mountains 101. I questioned whether it really featured mountains, as I didn’t remember that at all. Wikipedia identifies the setting as the Ophthalmia Range in Australia, and the male protagonist goes camping in his native eastern Oregon, but yeah, just a backdrop. It’s memorable for the clash of mores between Australia and the U.S. – the Americans, who write off someone dying in a reckless driving crash as “just something that happens,” come off pretty badly.
  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming – David Wallace-Wells, 2019 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • I Marched with Hannibal – Hans Baumann, 1971. Umpteenth re-read, also prompted by Mountains 101 because of crossing the Alps. I love this book – there’s no other juvenile historical fiction quite like it.
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1879 (P&V translation, 2002). Read quickly for Great Books, quotes pulled, but reading again more slowly for Amherst’s book club (the David McDuff translation) – TBD one post or two! I prefer the McDuff so far.
  • Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland – edited by W. B. Yeats (combines Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 1888, and Irish Fairy Tales, 1892) – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Aspirational Investor: Taming the Markets to Achieve Your Life’s Goals – Ashvin B. Chhabra, 2015. Aimed at very rich people, not particularly helpful for ordinary folks aside from some basic cautionary advice (beating the market doesn’t matter if markets are plunging and you need income).
  • How to be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books – Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer, 2020. Since I love both self-help and books-about-books, I was overdetermined to embrace this, and yes—so much that I read it in a single sitting. Next I subscribed to the podcast, which is also delightful, but it’s amazing how much a book packs in where audio is more… baggy. I especially enjoyed the format of “13 Things that Worked,” “8 Things that Didn’t Work,” and “8 Things We Wish More Books Recommended,” as well as their very frank criticism of a lot of the self-help genre’s major issues (working best for middle-class white people, for example). They don’t hesitate to trash books like The Secret and French Women Don’t Get Fat, and point out victim-blaming and racism. It’s minor, but the most mind-blowing bit to me was Jolenta getting diagnosed with ADHD along the way and saying there’s a negative connection to estrogen, which is why girls are not often diagnosed properly (don’t start early enough) but begin to experience problems around puberty. Not only does that exactly match my experience, but it explains why my symptoms have gotten so much better since my early (surgical) menopause. I was on medication for a while after finally getting a diagnosis at 45, which was helpful initially, but stopped after just a few years and feel like it’s mostly under control now.
  • Set My Heart to Five – Simon Stephenson, 2020. My stepmom highly recommended this when we discussed how much I disliked Machines Like Me and she felt the same way about Klara and the Sun. It’s really delightful, both funny and touching, and the voice is contagious. (“Humans—I cannot!”)
  • Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning – Tom Vanderbilt, 2021. I both loved and identified with this saga of learning skills in middle age. Vanderbilt embarked on singing, surfing, chess, juggling, and drawing. I’m very slowly learning juggling (my hand-eye coordination has never been very good, which is one of the reasons I want to learn but I’ll be content with just a three-ball cascade) and drawing has been on my list forever as something that I’ve tried off and on but would ideally want to focus on. He’s inspiring and his insights (for example, about why it’s so easy to bond with the other singers in his chorus) are fascinating.

May 2021 books read

  • Math with Bad Drawings – Ben Olin, 2018. Loved it and want to re-read! Re-learning and going further in math (straight As in Calc I, II, and III in my 50s after failing I in college) has been one of my great joys of the past decade, and this is a wonderful, approachable overview no matter what level you’re at.
  • Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds – Bernd Heinrich, 1994/1999 [2nd edition] – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death – Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, 1988. I first read this soon after it came out. I’m fascinated by LDS stuff anyway (part of a general interest in religions and cults), and the overlap with the rare book trade and forgery made it irresistible. I very much enjoyed it then but didn’t expect to learn a life lesson about toxic positivity (the first victim’s company was failing but he thought if everyone just had faith and worked harder it would succeed). It stuck with me over the years, and after watching Murder Among the Mormons I went back to it for more background – it’s amazing that the documentary interviews all the major players. What a crazy story.
  • Autumn – Ali Smith, 2016 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Beyond This Horizon – Robert Heinlein, 1948. I thought I had read every Heinlein, but somehow this one slipped into my “yeah, I remember that one” list when actually it was new to me. But it’s quite terrible – worse-than-even-RH-usual social stuff, and also doesn’t hang together well or make much sense.
  • If It Bleeds – Stephen King, 2020 – Four new stories which I enjoyed quite a bit. One of them, “Rat,” stuck out because it’s about an author (King often writes what he knows) writing a Western he thinks – and we are supposed to agree, I’m pretty sure – is going to be brilliant. But the excerpts are terrible, just one trope and cliche after another. It reminded me of how the play that is going to make Jack Torrance’s career in The Shining sounds like a piece of junk. Fiction-within-fiction is probably not that easy to pull off…
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark, 1961 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride, 2014. Too experimental for me (and others in the Irish Writers book group), but I did mark two lines: “I must turn myself to the great face of girls” (about the protagonist entering the schoolyard) and “his voice tiny diamond cutting strips out of air.”
  • The Officer’s Daughter: A Memoir of Family and Forgiveness – Elle Johnson, 2021. One of my college roommates wrote a memoir! It’s good – a touching and thought-provoking story about her cousin’s murder and its ripple effects.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967. Re-read; quotes pulled afresh, TBD.
  • The Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza – Colin Atrophy Hagendorf, 2015. I enjoyed this saga of eating a plain slice at every joint in NYC, and looked up our favorite local slice from childhood (Don Filippo’s) on the actual blog. I’m a sucker for projects like this anyway, but the writing and memoir aspect were decent too.
  • Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 2020. A mish-mosh, alas. I want to read her books about the San because I loved this story: “If lions appeared by night at an encampment, some of the men would take burning branches from their fires and shake them at the lions while saying politely, ‘Old lions, we respect you, but this is our place. We ask you to leave.'”

April 2021 books read

Running teddy bear
  • The Secret World of Teddy Bears: A Rare and Privileged Glimpse into the Lives They Live When You’re Not There – Pamela Prince, 1983. A compendium of photographs of teddy bears doing various human things, accompanied by cheesy poems about them as characters. Not really worth listing except for my own future reference: I came across this in a bookstore when it was new and the photo of the jogging teddy bear stuck in my head. Years later, when I became a runner, I tried to find it again, but there are so many teddy bear books that I couldn’t ID it. About a decade ago I stumbled across it in an antiques shop in Florida, decided it was not worth what they were asking, but either didn’t record the details or lost track of them. The research was easier now – thank you Internet! I do love that the running teddy bear (Howard) has a “dog” (Rudy) who is also a teddy bear.
  • Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Use About Our Future – Peter Ward, 2007. This was on my to-read list for a long time, and the content is interesting, but alas the writing is horrible – very long, confusing sentences. I did learn about Canfield oceans, the Manicouagan crater, and an unlikely-sounding theory that people living in tropical latitudes all need drugs to get through the hot and humid days (kava, betel nut, khat, coca) – don’t all human societies have intoxicants?
  • Firefly: Legacy Edition, Book One – 2018 (compilation of the Serenity comic book #1-3). I love the TV series, and these stories are a bridge between them and the movie. I enjoyed them, especially the variety of artist takes on the characters, but it doesn’t quite scratch the itch and I didn’t rush to request the sequel.
  • Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter – Ben Goldfarb, 2018 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Howards End – E. M. Forster, 1910 – For Second Monday. Quotes marked but lost.
  • A Fatal Grace – Louise Penny, 2006. I’m really enjoying the Chief Inspector Gamache series so far, and this is only the second. Three Pines is delightful even though it feels quite unrealistic based on my experience of small rural towns (but maybe Quebec is different!).
  • Asimov’s Annotated Paradise Lost – text John Milton 1674, notes by Isaac Asimov 1974 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Number of the Beast – Robert Heinlein, 1980. Re-reading late Heinlein feels more and more like eating processed snack foods – I enjoy it enough to keep going, but I know there are better things out there I’ll like even more. This time the pull was revisiting the wish fulfillment of being able to access fictional places, especially Oz and the Lensman universe (which I only know through this book – I’ve tried a couple of times but the pulp content has proved too high for me in the raw form…)
  • Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America – Kerby Miller, 1985. Such a dense book I mostly skimmed it, but still pulled quotes so TBD.
  • The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own – Joshua Becker, 2016. OK but not memorable compared to other declutter books I’ve read. Every opportunity to re-awaken any miminalist instincts I have are welcome, though, as I incline more to maximalism (with a family tendency to hoard).
  • Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change – Maggie Smith, 2020 – The author of the amazing “Good Bones” tweeted these thoughts to herself in the aftermath of a devastating divorce. It’s somewhere between self-help and poetry, and 100% great.

I’m the literary executor for my father, Peter Caws, and I’ve been scanning and uploading his articles that weren’t already digitized. (Then I’ll go back and OCR the ones that are just image scans so there will be full text for those as well.) He was a philosopher who strove to write clearly enough that a general audience would understand his work, so I’ve been enjoying the reading as I proofread and remove the word-dividing hyphens. The two I did in April:

  • “What is Structuralism?” (Partisan Review, Vol 35 #1, 1968). I started with this one because it was requested by a researcher. “All works have constantly to be rethought if they are to be more than archaeological curiosities.” It also features an amusing caricature of four leading lights of structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Levi-Strauss, and Barthes) by Maurice Henry.
  • “Mathematics and the Laws of Nature” (Bulletin of the Kansas Association of Teachers of Mathematics, Vol 35 No 2, 1959).

March 2021 books read

  • Dragonsinger– Anne McCaffrey, 1977 – comfort re-read, still/always holds up.
  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker, 2018 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors – David George Haskell, 2017 – quotes pulled, tbd
  • Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust, 1908 (Lydia Davis translation, 2003) – re-read for the Amherst College slow read group. I read it for Great Books in 2018 and still haven’t posted those quotes; new ones now!
  • Kim – Rudyard Kipling, 1901 – a very old favorite re-read but this time for Great Books, so I marked quotes, but lost them in a Nook reset.
  • Esther Waters – George Moore, 1894 – quotes marked but lost
  • In the Days of Rain: a Daughter, a Father, a Cult – Rebecca Stott, 2017. A memoir of growing up in the Exclusive Brethren, a generation later than my own father; of interest to me for that reason, but not very compelling otherwise.
  • A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write – Kenneth Atchity, 1995 – quotes pulled, tbd
  • The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing – Margot Livesey, 2017.
  • The King, the Princess, and the Tinker – Ellen Kindt McKenzie, 1992. A children’s author recommended by a co-worker friend. This wasn’t the title she mentioned, just the first one that I could get, in a genre I normally like. It was fine, nothing special, but I will try the highly recommended one when I get a chance.
  • The Word Is Murder – Anthony Horowitz, 2017. Enjoyable and I’ll go on to the sequel, which is one my stepmother recommended.
  • Just Kids – Patti Smith, 2010. I’ve heard so many good things about this and I’d been meaning to read it forever. The hype is deserved!

The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing – Margot Livesey, 2017

I no longer remember where I heard about this book, but the title grabbed me. I enjoyed it, especially the analyses of great novels, but it didn’t quite deliver on the explanation of how the machinery works. There were some useful tips – now I want to read Forster’s Aspects of the Novel for his description of flat characters who can become three-dimensional – and I’m also going to seek out Livesey’s novel The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is a reworking of Jane Eyre. (Tangent: the Wikipedia article on Aspects of the Novel has two great quotes, one from Maughm – “I learned that the only way to write novels was like Mr. E.M. Forster” – and one from Woolf – “So then we are back in the old bog; nobody knows anything about the laws of fiction.”)

A few bits I took away:

  • Livesey says memorable characters need attributes that convey their attitude: “No amount of details—eyes, teeth, hair, jobs, dreams, relationship to mother, history of dog ownership, horoscope—will avail unless it conveys attitude. Indeed, long lists of detail without affect may simply make the task of imagining the character harder, for both writer and reader.” This sounds plausible but I want to chew on it a bit.
  • “Dialogue is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—often pretending to be woolly and vague, actually all teeth and meaning.”
  • She explains why re-reading can be exciting by distinguishing between two kinds of suspense: what’s going to happen, or how and why it happens.
  • I was intrigued by her suggestion that fiction can sometimes be made more believable by employing what she calls “antifiction” – techniques that make the narrative “messier, more confusing: in other words more lifelike.”

A great list of signals that indicate you’re reading fiction, specifically about the introductory paragraph of Ulysses:

1. There is no visible narrator.
2. The act of writing is concealed. We are made to believe that the words sprang up on the page without effort.
3. Characters are shown to us through action and dialogue.
4. There is no initial attempt at explanation.
5. There is considerable specificity of detail and a kind of heightened density to the style.
6. Both narrator and characters are unnaturally eloquent.

And finally, she asks an artist friend, Gerry Bergstein, why one would rewrite a famous book and he tells her:

1. To provide a contemporary update of older themes that often contradicts the original
2. Sheer love
3. To make a cultural critique
4. To demonstrate political, or other forms, of social evolution
5. To distill the earlier work
6. To develop the traditions of a beloved forebear
7. Any combination of the above
8. As a joke

But that leaves off what I’m afraid is the most frequent reason, even if it’s unconsciously motivated and not sheer crassness: To get more attention than naturally accrues to a less-famous creator.

Subsequently I searched for reviews, and found this very helpful one, which contains a list of other writing books I could add to a request list:

  • Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House
  • Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
  • Sarah Painter’s Stop Worrying, Start Writing
  • Robert Boswell’s The Half-Known World
  • Graywolf Press’s The Art Of series
  • Tin House’s Between the Covers podcast
  • Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft
  • Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction