September 2023 books read

  • Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope – Megan Phelps-Roper, 2019. I’ve been transcribing my aunt’s draft memoir of growing up in the Exclusive Brethren, so this was full of meaning for me. I remember Megan’s exit from the Phelps family, and how remarkable and hopeful it felt; it fascinating to read the back story, and it communicated especially well how hard it was to leave.
  • Our Missing Hearts – Celeste Ng, 2022. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us – Ed Yong, 2022. Quotes pulled – SO many quotes! TBD.
  • Double Star – Robert Heinlein, 1956. I can’t remember what got me to re-read this excellent Heinlein, beyond getting the taste of the late period ones out of my brain… it’s short and delightful. The Martian culture is both alien and believable. “I see you, Rringriil.”
  • Till We Have Faces – C. S. Lewis, 1956. Quotes pulled, TBD (re-read).
  • What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School – Susan Coolidge, 1872 and 1873. Umpteenth re-read of this series my dad introduced me to. I always think of him when I revisit these books, and this time around I wondered how much they influenced his positive view of women. I also compared the first one to Little Women – same publisher, just a few years later, clearly addressing the market need – and realized I think it’s better in some ways, especially the quirkiness of the children.
  • You Could Make This Place Beautiful – Maggie Smith, 2023. Wow, this was quite a ride. It was more bitter than I expected, but also more experimental and interesting.
  • Lulu and the Dog from the Sea – Hilary McKay, 2011. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book September challenge, “A book by an author with your first or last name.” Challenging for me – one-L-Hilary is rare enough, but Jonathan and I are the only two Caws-Elwitts in the world. I had a lot to read this month so picked something super-short. My one-sentence description: “A sweet tale of two intrepid friends, an old tired dog, and a young wild dog.”
  • The Wind’s Twelve Corners – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1975. Read (re-read) for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Dragon’s Egg – Robert Forward, 1980. A classic I’d never head of until just recently. Fascinating ideas – a truly remarkable and believable alien species you see evolve – written in pedestrian style, but the creativity wins over the writing.

August 2023 books read

  • Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Laurence Gonzales, 1998. A fascinating exploration of disasters and how people cope with them. Children six and under have among the highest survival rates, presumably because they listen to their instincts. The people who do best accept the situation, stay calm, get organized, make a plan, execute manageable tasks well, and keep a positive mindset. There was a whole chapter on Steve Callahan, whose book Adrift I’ve read twice. It also motivated me to start re-learning the poems I have known by heart in the past, and to add some more, because of the comfort that kind of mental furniture can provide. Sobering and inspiring. For my future reference here’s the list of poems I have known at one time, in the order I learned them (to the best of my recollection):
  • The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton, 1913. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – Elisabeth Tova Bailey, 2010. Charming small book read for Nature and Environment, which evoked many memories of the pet snail we had in Paris when I was a kid. Bailey’s illness tunes her in to the small snail scale. Bailey quotes from many books, and thanks to her I added Helen Keller’s The World I Live In to my TBR pile because of her descriptions of touch and smell. I only pulled two quotes so no separate post.
    • “The previous spring, when I could do almost nothing, spending time with a snail had been pure entertainment. But as my functional abilities improved just a bit, watching a snail began to take patience. I wondered at what point in my convalescence I might leave the snail’s world behind.”
    • “With only thirty-two adult teeth, which had to last the rest of my life, I found myself experiencing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion. It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species that had evolved natural tooth replacement than to belong to one that had developed the dental profession.”
  • The Cat Who Walks through Walls – Robert Heinlein, 1985. Over the past few years I’ve re-read most of the late Heinleins and keep telling myself “no more” – they are so tedious – but my completist streak wins out. This one I picked up again from a random comment on Ask a Manager about limburger cheese. I remembered the bonsai tree and not much else – understandably so, I’m afraid.
  • The Guest – Emma Cline, 2023. Of course I kept hearing about this “book of the summer,” but it was the New York book group that prompted me to request it from the library. Unfortunately I got busy and didn’t follow along in real time, but I’ll enjoy catching up at some point. The book itself was a compelling read – not quite can’t-put-it-down, but close – without enough depth to stick in my mind much.
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes, 1966. I’d read the story on which this was based many times before, but I’m not sure I’d actually read the whole novel before. It’s much weaker than the story, padded with a lot of unnecessary rumination. The original story is concise and memorable; it sounds like Keyes was a one-hit wonder.
  • Z is for Zachariah – Robert C. O’Brien, 1974. I re-read this when thinking about epistolary SF my sister might like. I loved loved loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H, which was probably my favorite novel when I was 12 or so (time to re-read!), and I remember my excitement as a young adult when I realized O’Brien had written more books. It holds up pretty well, especially in the female protagonist’s resistance to being controlled, but it’s on the bleak side – I think also true of his other books, The Silver Crown and A Report From Group 17, which I’d also like to revisit.
  • The Telling – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2000.  Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • The King of the Golden River – John Ruskin, 1851. I picked this up at a relative’s house in the UK, looking for something brief to read before bed. I’d heard of it for years, both as a children’s classic and because my mother is/was a devoted Ruskin fan. It fits seamlessly into the gazillions of tales I absorbed from the Andrew Lang fairy books – not distinctive to me in the way George MacDonald or Oscar Wilde’s fairy stories are. But I’m a little shocked I had never actually read it before.
  • Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre – Max Brooks, 2020. Read because my sister and I compared our enjoyment of his earlier oral history novel, World War Z. This wasn’t as great, but an OK page-turnerish read.
  • Leaves of Grass (deathbed edition) – Walt Whitman, 1892. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Becky Chambers, 2021. Last of the Wayfarers series – I loved this one too! But then I realized I never read the third, so I’ll do that next. I very much enjoyed this tale of travelers temporarily stuck at a galactic truck stop, building community and solidarity. These books are warm-fuzzy wish-fulfilment, but the qualities of the different aliens are so specifically and believably rendered that they have become part of my mental furniture. A tour-de-force of a very particular kind.

I am bummed that I forgot about the Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge this month. Often I’d be able to count one of the books retroactively, but for August it’s “a book in translation” and I didn’t have one! I’m missing out on the raffle, but there are so many people participating that the chances of winning are tiny anyway.

July 2023 books read

  • The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974. Another re-read (since April 2022), this time for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie, 1981. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Colony – Audrey Magee, 2022. For Second Monday – good discussion, but I didn’t love it and didn’t flag a single passage.
  • In Spite of All Terror – Hester Burton, 1968. A comfort re-read of an old favorite that holds up very well. Burton was prolific – Castors Away! is probably the most well-known of her books – but this is the only one I’ve read. I should try more!
  • Permaculture Promise: What Permaculture Is and How It Can Help Us Reverse Climate Change, Build a More Resilient Future on Earth, and Revitalize Our Communities – Jono Neiger, 2016. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book July challenge, “A book borrowed from your local library.” It was also the Nature & Environment selection for the month, so there are quotes TBD, but here’s my one sentence review for now: “With brief text and lots of color illustrations, this book gives a high-level overview of dozens of ways the principles of permaculture design can help address climate change, strengthen communities, and build resilience into systems from water to energy to finance.”
  • Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection – A. J. Jacobs, 2012. Very entertaining, like all of Jacobs’ self-experimentation books, and I learned a few things. His wife, Julie, sounds awesome.
  • Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress – Charles Dickens, 1838. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation – Alexandra Horowitz, 2013. I’ve been meaning to read Horowitz’s book on smelling, specifically (she is a dog researcher), but didn’t realize she’d written this – I loved it! It’s a wonderful exploration of noticing all kinds of input, through the senses but also learning how to understand what’s going on. The intro is a description of a brief walk in New York City, and each chapter revisits aspects of that walk alongside an expert in a relevant field (e.g. sound design, typography, geology). I gasped out loud and grinned like a maniac when a chapter on insect signs introduced my acquaintance / local hero Charley Eiseman. Plus she’s describing where I grew up, so my enjoyment was overdetermined.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers, 2016. This, #2 in the Wayfarers series that I discovered in May, stands on its own, barely overlapping with the characters of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but it’s equally delightful.
  • The Eye of the Heron – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1978. Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Footfall – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1985. An old favorite I picked up again because of seeing Oppenheimer – there’s an equivalent to the Manhattan Project I wanted to revisit. I finally assembled a list of the roman-a-clef science fiction writers who appear here (what wish-fulfillment: SF authors are brought in by NASA to help deal with an alien race, and they are the key to victory!), thanks to this discussion:
    • Robert & Virginia Anson: the Heinleins (this one I knew)
    • Wade Curtis & Nat Reynolds: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (this one I guessed)
    • Sherry Atkinson: presumably C. J. Cherryh
    • Joe Ransom (“he had a gaudy mustache”): probably Joe Haldeman based on commenter dlc1119 saying “you ‘Hold a Man’ for Ransom”
    • Bob Burnam: either Greg Benford or Robert Forward

June 2023 books read

  • The Trees – Percival Everett, 2021. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time – Ben Ehrenreich, 2020. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Dead Zone – Stephen King, 1979. One of my favorite novels, which I re-read in 2016 because it’s partly about the rise of an unhinged politician. Relevant again now, alas. On the positive side, it has a great depiction of a teenager overcoming a reading block, and a star-crossed couple who can’t be together and yet have an emotionally satisfying resolution.
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1886. Comfort re-read.
  • Ginnie and Her Juniors – Catherine Woolley, 1963. Another childhood favorite, but I hadn’t re-read this in a long time. It’s number 6 in a series (“Ginnie and Geneva”) – this is the only one I’ve read and I’m not driven to check the others out, despite the vivid writing. What I most enjoy is the climactic moment when Ginnie soothes a high-strung toddler that her parents can’t manage. Poor Ginnie’s mother gives good advice, but all she herself does is cook…
  • The Song of the Lark – Willa Cather, 1915 (although Cather revised it later – details in the post I’ll eventually build around the quotes)
  • Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton, 2023. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book June challenge, “a book set in a country you’ve never visited.” I wrote “Compelling, well-written thriller that gives a real feel for New Zealand’s people and countryside.” It was more place-educational than I expected; I learned the terms hapū, hui, iwi, Oamaru stone, Pasifika, rūnanga and some indigenous plants (harakeke, horopito, toetoe, totara). Plus this slang: “‘Tu meke is, like, thanks. In the sense of, you didn’t have to do that. Above and beyond.’” “‘And hard out is, like, impressive,’ Jessica said. ‘Like, awesome, I’m impressed.’”

Short stories

Seven members of the Amherst College slow read group went on a camping retreat together and read four stories. We tackled them in order of length, with hiking and eating in between. It was delightful! We read:

May 2023 books read

  • LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell – Casey Johnston, 2021. Motivating, but I haven’t embarked on the program yet. Johnston is a delightful writer.
  • Light in August – William Faulkner, 1932. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard – Douglas Tallamy, 2019. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers, 2014. I loved this and I’m glad it’s the first in a series I can continue! It’s feel-good, character-driven SF with realistic alien species working together as an oddball found-family crew on a small ship – reminiscent of the feel of Firefly but without the Whedon violence-driven tension. But it does have some deep themes about societal guilt and responsibility.
  • Dragonsinger – Anne McCaffrey, 1977. Comfort re-read, this time sparked by recommending it to some younger friends while discussing Tamora Pierce.
  • A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute, 1950. According to my previous records I last read this in 2016, but I wonder if I missed a comfort re-read in there, because this is one of my favorites. The saga of Jean Paget leading a troop of other captive women and children on a forced march through Japanese-occupied Malaya is the part most people remember (the movie focuses on it, not sure about the miniseries – I haven’t seen either), but it’s the section where Jean starts a shoe factory, ice-cream shop(!), and grocery in rural Australia that I come back to. I love books about small businesses and wish there were more of them. Maeve Binchy often has a subplot about a dress shop or catering business; I might go back to those…
  • La Fugitive – Marcel Proust, 1925. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Word for World Is Forest – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1972. Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind – Dana K. White, 2016. I read her decluttering book and enjoyed this too.
  • Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus, 2022. So many people I know loved it that I finally picked it up. And yes, an enjoyable read, but on the lite side. I was trying to describe to a friend why I found it, and a number of other recent novels, “fluffy.” I had trouble putting my finger on it. They (this, along with The Midnight Library, All the Light We Cannot See, at least one other that’s not surfacing) have a kind of vividness that feels shallow to me; they are well-crafted and all the gears mesh seamlessly, but the narrative doesn’t seem organic and the character arcs feel predictable.
  • No Highway – Nevil Shute, 1948. Comfort re-read – my records last show 2006, but I’m sure that’s wrong (and I labeled it as “closest to Shute’s real life” when I must have meant Kindling; did Shute work on metal fatigue?). It’s got great suspense, and raises interesting questions about whether to trust someone in one domain when they have bizarre ideas in others.
  • On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory – Thomas Hertog, 2023. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book May challenge, “a book on nonfiction on a subject new to you.” I wrote: “Mind-melting book about the ‘no boundary’ big bang, quantum/string/M theories, imaginary time, the holographic universe, and other fascinating concepts; surprisingly accessible despite the inherent challenge of ‘understanding’ anything in it.” Makes me want to take more advanced physics classes!

Articles, short stories, etc.

  • J.R. Moehringer’s “The Ghostwriter” (New Yorker, 5/15/2023) reminded me of loving both his own memoir, The Tender Bar, and Andre Agassi’s Open which he ghost-wrote. Now I want to read Shoe Dog as well as Spare.

April 2023 books read

  • Re-read City of Illusions (Ursula K. Le Guin, 1967) again just a few weeks later, in order to better participate in Calmgrove’s #LoveHain. Unlike the first two of her Hain novels, I want to do a separate post on this one… TBD!
  • Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirlees, 1926. A friend sent me this fascinating article. I recently found out about Mirlees because of her surrealist poem, Paris, which my mother quotes in a forthcoming book of essays I’m helping her copy-edit. But I had never heard of this remarkable fantasy, which I enjoyed quite a bit. My favorite aspect was the delightful names, up there with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle but not intended to be funny:
    • Ranulph and Prunella Chanticleer
    • Polydore and Dreamsweet Vigil
    • Florian Baldbreeches
    • Ambrose Fliperade
    • Moonlove Pyepowders
    • Peregrine Laquer
    • Goceline Flack
    • Endymion Leer
    • Ebeneezor Spike
    • Lettice Prim
    • Captain Mumchance
    • Clementina Gibberty
    • Primrose Crabapple
    • Diggory Carp
    • Hyacinth Quirkscuttle
    • Christopher Pugwalker
    • Ivy Peppercorn
    • Farmer Jellygreen
    • Sebastian Thug
    • and some exclamations: “Toasted cheese!” Busty Bridget!” “By my Great-Aunt’s Rump!”
  • Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys – H.A. Rey. This came up when we were looking up what kind of monkey Curious George is – this is his origin story. It’s very weird, especially the monkeys each having a pair of skis in their belongings, and making stilts for the giraffe (then she “doesn’t fit on the page”).
  • Spring – Ali Smith, 2019. Read for 2nd Mondays, post TBD
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale – Rebecca Giggs, 2020. Read for Nature Enviro, post TBD.
  • The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year – Spring Warren, 2011. An impulse checkout from the garden display at Forbes. Right up my younger self’s alley, but now it’s just vicarious interest – and a bit of jealousy that in California the author can grow artichokes, citrus, figs, and olives in her back yard. Yummy-looking recipes!
  • The Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain, 1869. Read for Great Books, post TBD.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969. Read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain – another one I commented on but want to turn into a full post at some point.
  • Residues – R. S. Thomas, 2002. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book April challenge, a poetry collection. My one-sentence response: “Brief, evocative, melancholy poems on themes like religion, WWII, and marriage, assembled after the poet’s death.” “Dreaming” is the only poem I actually liked:
    I lean over the fire; a smell
    as of frost comes, sparks embroidering
    the soot. It is a tapestry
    of the past. How many men
    have leaned, spat, dreamed
    by a fire, remembering love,
    youth, victory, happier
    times, and the uselessness of remembering?

    There is a flower of bright flame
    asleep in a log, one, many
    of them. It is a garden
    to sit by, for thought to wander
    in seeking for the lost innocence
    at the centre, where the tree
    was planted for the naked
    conscience to conceal itself under
    from the voice calling.

Articles, short stories, etc.

  • In the New Yorker story “Alisa” by Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a “hefty candy” is called “Russian Bears in the Pine Forest.” Presumably it’s this “Clumsy Bear,” which sounds delicious – I will look out for it.
  • I skimmed Losing Ourselves: Learning to Live Without a Self (Jay L. Garfield, 2022) – the author teaches at Smith and they tweeted about a podcast interview with him. Very interesting ideas, but the philosophy was a little too dense for me.

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.”

February 2023 books read

  • The Panic Fables: Mystic Teachings and Initiatory Tales – Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2017. This is a collection of Jodorowsky’s weekly full-page color comics that ran in a Mexican newspaper from 1967 to 1973. We watched El Topo for Far Out Film and have referenced him since (was he interviewed in some other film?), so I grabbed this from the featured new books. It’s… very interesting. If I didn’t find Jodorowsky’s style ugly, I would have enjoyed it more. He’s very creative with speech bubble shapes and parable creatures; what was not so successful was over-analyzing other cartoons and stories, and single-panel guru statements (although the repetition of “what an uncomfortable position!” by the disciple Jodorowsky stand-in is funny). I liked the arguments between cubes and marbles, microbes, and simple head-and-legs creatures of different sizes. His created mythology, including “gragrofes” (useless objects that are craved and then consume others) and the holy idiot Ben-Sara, stick in my mind.
    • “Life without death is immobility”
    • Persian proverb: “Be a tiger – if you are prepared to solve a tiger’s problems.” I really like this but can’t find it documented.
    • Panel where Jodorowsky says “I read this fable in a book by Baba Ram Dass and felt that it was I who had written it” – “anywhere I stood, the chicken saw me
  • Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts – Evan Ross Katz, 2022. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this – maybe Overdrive suggested it? – but I’d been thinking of rewatching Buffy and this was a good complement. Coincidentally, one of the people interviewed is Claire Saffitz, who I had just heard of the week before I read this book (I found Gourmet Makes down some rabbit hole and enjoyed them very much) – love those little intersections. It’s all over the map and a little too much about the author, but I found the interviews with cast members very interesting and the analysis of the show’s legacy (complicated by Joss Whedon’s trajectory) thought-provoking.
  • Paddle for Water: Canoeing across America with a Message and a Man I Never Intended to Marry – Nancy DeWitte Condon, 2022. I bought this to support the writer, a member of the Nature/Environment book group, and I was delighted at how good it is! A compelling and fascinating story, well-written, and a new classic in the vicarious-enjoyment-of-experiences-I wouldn’t-want-to-do-myself genre ( e.g. Wild, Driftwood Valley, etc.).
  • The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect – Wendy Williams, 2020. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Paradise City – Archer Mayor, 2012. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book February challenge, “A book set in your home town/city or state” (mostly set in Northampton). My brief response: “I enjoyed the setting of this otherwise-middling police procedural. Mayor did his research – I was especially pleased to see the Amherst College/Five Colleges bunker on Military Road in Amherst featured.” I know the bunker because it’s the Five Colleges library repository, which I’ve gotten to tour (as well as do IT troubleshooting!). There was also a scene set at the Summit House before it was re-opened to the public – I didn’t realize it was boarded up so recently.
  • The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison, 2014. Recommended by several Ask a Manager commentators, and they were right – a wonderful fantasy.
  • Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo, 2019. A Second Monday selection but not enough quotes for a separate post. I liked the novel better after the excellent group discussion, but still dislike the writing – it was like reading stage directions.
    • “if she can’t get a proper boyfriend at nineteen what hope is there for when she’s older?”
    • “Dominique can never quite believe that her friend still smokes, that anyone over twenty does”
  • Maia – Richard Adams, 1984. Umpteenth re-read, but I actually marked some quotes this time, so may make a post out it.
  • The Golden Bowl – Henry James, 1904. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Planet of Exile – Ursula K. LeGuin, 1966.  Read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.

Articles & short stories

  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, one of my all-time favorites, in the New York Times:
    • “Humility that brings that sort of joy and belonging as opposed to submission”
    • “I’ve often had this fantasy that we should have Fox News, by which I mean news about foxes.”
  • New York Times article on the Studio Ghibli theme park:
    • He has long told parents that children should not watch his films more than once a year. (“Whatever experiences we provide them,” Miyazaki has said, “are in a sense stealing time from them that otherwise might be spent in a world where they go out and make their own discoveries or have their own personal experiences.”)
    • “Totoro drops acorns everywhere as a kind of calling card. To love Totoro is to love not just a single creature but a whole habitat.”
  • Short story, “The Third Law of Magic,” by Ben Okri (The Atlantic, March 2023) and interview about it:
    • “Value ought to be related to being and consciousness. In real terms, the sight of one’s child in a moment of unique happiness ought to be greater in value than a fur coat. The joy one feels in the presence of the one we love ought to be greater in value than a new car.”
    • “I have always felt that if we have a proper grasp of what reality is, we will better know what to do with this tremendous gift of life, this infinite energy compressed into a mortal frame. I think all literature at its best tries to do that.
    • “Reality is all we have to work with, but we don’t really know what it is. The truth about reality is that its subdividable aspects can yield results which can be faithfully replicated while we remain completely in the dark about its other aspects or the whole itself. This is odd, for it gives us the illusion of control, when in fact what we have is merely the control of contingent conditions. Therefore, much of our confidence is provisional. One can be wrong and yet some things we do seem to work. One can be right and yet some things that we do appear not to work. Often it is a matter of perspective, of time, of truths concealed from us.”
  • Amazing essay “In the Beforetime” by Yiyun Li (The New Yorker, July 4, 2022) “So rarely do we look at the present, innocent of fresh disaster, as a rosy beforetime: we live in the aftertime of events, some more catastrophic than others.”
  • A short story in the same issue, “A King Alone” by Rachel Kushner: “The magic of a thing you’d normally see only from a distance disappears when you see it up close. But a new magic takes its place.”
  • I digitized two of my father’s articles: “The Decline of Conceptual Thinking” and “The Humanities in a Technological Age.”

January 2023 books read

  • Milkman – Anna Burns, 2018. Re-read; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses – Daniel Chamovitz, 2012 updated 2017. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Tar Baby – Toni Morrison, 1981. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Rocannon’s World – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1966. Read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success – Andy Andrews, 2002. This came up in Your Best Year Ever where someone’s job title was listed as “brand manager for Andy Andrews” and I wondered “what’s that?” I’m surprised I didn’t encounter him back in the Susquehanna County Library days, as the simplistic Christian-ish inspiration genre was big there. It’s decently written but the conceit (despairing guy is sent back in time to visit seven famous people and get a very 1950s resolution from each of them) is laughable and the historical liberties are breath-taking. I marked this passage:
    • “If I touch a thistle with caution, it will prick me, but if I grasp it boldly, its spines crumble to dust.” I think he means a nettle. Boldly grasping a thistle will end badly, I’m pretty sure – even goats lick them to soften the spines before they eat them, don’t they? Maybe not – I’m not finding any evidence – but in any case, thistle spines are no joke.
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë, 1847. Many times re-read, this time for Great Books. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do – Jennifer L. Eberhardt, 2019. I’d heard a lot about this book, but what prompted me to finally read it was a book group on Post. I deleted my Twitter account last year and Post is the closest replacement so far. But I should have realized that the format isn’t what I’m looking for in terms of reflecting on a book, so I probably won’t do it again. I didn’t learn much new, if anything, from the book, but it’s well-written and well put-together.
  • The Hidden Power of F*cking Up – The Try Guys, 2019. Like many people I had never heard of the Try Guys before the Fall 2022 Ned Fulmer scandal. I was mildly interested, and this very colorful book caught my eye in the new arrivals at the library. It’s OK. If you don’t care about these people there’s too much of their personal journeys, but there are also plenty of attractive photos and slightly funny anecdotes. C-grade self-help in an A graphic package.
  • Lady Into Fox – David Garnett, 1922 – Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book January 2023 challenge, “A book less than 100 pages in length.” The one sentence response I sent in: “Strange and touching fantasy about the irrational power of love.” It had been kicking around on my e-reader because I knew of the title as a fantasy classic and the author as a Bloomsbury group member.
  • A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’ – Rachel Held Evans, 2012. I used to follow Evans’ blog, as part of my general curiosity about religions – her voice was sensible and interesting, and I always appreciated her perspective on feminist and LGBTQ issues. Her critiques of Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill were particularly pointed, and I was remembering how much I missed her (she sadly died at only 37) when listening to the fascinating The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. I enjoyed this book, although the humor was a little forced.
  • The Hollow – Agatha Christie, 1946. I picked it up because of this thread on Ask A Manager, which compared the character Henrietta to Sayers’ Harriet Vane. I don’t really see it, but the book was OK though tainted with anti-semitism and racism (par for the course for Christie).
  • Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff – Dana K. White, 2018. Forbes Library is offering virtual author talks and this is the first one that caught my fancy. It was really delightful so I followed up with the book, which is basically the same content. The two main points I picked up from both are a) how to declutter without making a mess even if you’re interrupted (basically, use a donatable “to donate” box and put things where you would look for them as you go) and b) to treat containers as limits. White is very funny and relatable.


  • Humanists All” – James Engell, Harvard Magazine Jan-Feb 2023.
    • “In life as in academic disciplines, the arts and humanities, rightly conceived, draw freely from the single nectars of other fields to create a honey none alone produces.”
    • “Did we lose the Vietnam war, flail in Iraq, and occupy Afghanistan for two decades before letting it revert to the Taliban in two weeks all for lack of superior science, technology, engineering, or math? For lack of computers? Weapons? For lack of trillions spent? How many would have lived had our leaders known the history, religion, language, and culture of those countries?”
  • Restored to Nature: Landscape architect Mikyoung Kim’s healing arts” – Lydialyle Gibson, Harvard Magazine Jan-Feb 2023.
    • “Ecologically, the Ford site collects a huge volume of stormwater (finding artful solutions for excess water turns out to be a frequent creative challenge for Kim). which in her design will be cleansed and ‘daylighted’ into pools or perhaps a ring of mist that people can walk through—something sculptural and interesting, she says, but not hidden: ‘Part of the job of a landscape is to teach, and I think it’s important for people in a city to understand that this is a system that’s constructed, to see what the parts are, and how it works.'”