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.

November 2023 books read

I didn’t read much (for me) this month! Two of the book group books (Great Circle and Last Temptation of Christ) were doorstops, I was very busy, we traveled, and I watched more streaming TV than usual. I’ll be interested to see how the year-in-review stacks up.

  • Great Circle – Maggie Shipstead, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future – Elizabeth Kolbert, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Last Temptation of Christ – Nikos Kazantzakis, 1955. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness – Ursula Le Guin, 1994. One of my very favorites, re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • A Bullet in the Ballet – Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, 1937. November’s Massachusetts Center for the Book‘s challenge was “A book recommended by a local bookseller.” I had forgotten to get this lined up until the last few days of the month, so I turned to my in-house (former) bookseller Jonathan, who had recommended this to me ages ago among a bunch of others and picked it as the best bet. I wrote: “A delightfully funny mystery full of eccentric and dramatic characters. ‘Inspective Detector’ Adam Quill tries to figure out who has killed the Petroushka in Vladimir Stroganoff’s production, but his lack of ballet understanding is one of many obstacles.”

October 2023 books read

  • Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers, 2018. Number 3 in the Wayfarers quadrilogy, the one I accidentally skipped. I really like this one as well, but they do start to blur a bit. The focus on funeral rites was very interesting.
  • Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir, 2021. My sister loved it and recommended it, and it did not disappoint. A very similar tone to The Martian but on a bigger scale. Unputdownable, and the ending was satisfying and touching. In the cold light of day I don’t 100% buy the way the alien encounter evolves, but Weir’s narrative drags you along pell-mell.
  • Black Boy – Richard Wright, 1945. But the edition I had didn’t include the second part, so I need to finish it. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Brilliant Abyss – Helen Scales, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Great Short Books – Kenneth C. Davis, 2022. I love books about books, and this seemed especially helpful for my Great Books group. We’ve read a lot of doorstops and people are thrilled when one of our titles is short! I added a few to the suggestion list. A mildly enjoyable read – a bit too much of a survey (for each title, there was a bio of the author, a description/review, and a list of other books by them) without much personality.
  • You Only Live Twice – Ian Fleming, 1964. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book October challenge, “A bestseller from the year you turned 18” – oh no, I screwed up! This was a bestseller from the year I was born! It sure seemed like a challenge to pick one…. I turned in my submission without realizing I did it wrong, so here’s my description: “The first James Bond novel I’ve read – much stranger and less of a typical thriller than I expected. I’m not sure how accurate the Japanese setting is, but the garden of poisonous plants is fascinating.”
  • How to Be Perfect: the Correct Answer to Every Moral Question – Michael Schur, 2022. I learned about this book from a profile in Harvard Magazine, and since I loved The Good Place I requested it from the library. It’s quite good – the humor seldom landed for me, but the philosophical review seemed good as a lay person. I wish I could have talked about it with my dad.
  • Dorp Dead – Julia Cunningham, 1965. The creepy cover of this book drew me in as a child when I was reading my way through the public library, and I checked it out a couple of times. I haven’t seen it since and didn’t remember much about it except that it was strange and scary. Re-reading it as an adult – hoo boy, I cannot believe this was on the middle-grade fiction shelves between Susan Cooper and Roald Dahl, although those can be scary in their own ways. Dorp Dead is super-dark and twisted, but also feels like it’s 90 degrees from a traditional story. Still unsettling after all these years. I remember being equally fascinated and mystified by her other title on the shelves at the 79th St. library, Burnish Me Bright. I see it’s illustrated by Don Freeman, author of one of my all-time favorites, the heart-warming picture book Norman the Doorman (as well as Corduroy, Dandelion, and Tilly Witch), which must have added to my confusion. I’d love to re-read that too, and now I wonder what her other books are like.
  • In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss – Amy Bloom, 2022. I heard Bloom read an excerpt on This American Life and I was mesmerized. It’s amazing.
  • There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love – Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, 2017. I had some extra time in downtown Amherst and spent a very enjoyable half an hour browsing the Jones Library shelves. This impulse pick-up was bite-sized encouragement with colorful illustrations.

Short stories

Calmgrove’s #LoveHain is finishing up with Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories in the Hainish cycle, October focusing on A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. I don’t have that book but the Library of America boxed set has the Hainish stories from it: “The Shobies’ Story,” “Dancing to Ganam,” and “Another Story.” I left a comment on the blog.

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.