dchaikin isn't sure what's ahead in 2019, but has a plan...
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Currently Listening to:
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (started reading Apr 1)
Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare (started reading Mar 30)
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (started reading Mar 17)
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (started reading Mar 9)
Plutarch's lives, The Dryden Translation, Volume 1 (started reading Feb 27)
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, read by Dion Graham (started listening Apr 11)
Themes by year
2012 - old testament
2013 - old testament and Toni Morrison
2014 - old testament
2015 - old testament, Toni Morrison & Cormac McCarthy
2016 - Homer, Greek mythology, Greek drama, & Thomas Pynchon
2017 - Virgil, Ovid & Thomas Pynchon
2018 - Apocrypha, New Testament & Gabriel García Márquez
2019 - Rome to Renaissance & James Baldwin
Links to related tags in my library:
Cormac McCarthy Theme
Gabriel García Márquez Theme
Homeric Theme (includes Greek mythology, drama, Virgil & Ovid)
Thomas Pynchon Theme
Toni Morrison Theme
links to all my old threads:
2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2, 2016 Part 3, 2017 Part 1, 2017 Part 2, 2018 part 1, 2018 part 2
I'm starting with a biography and then two books I just bought: Early Novels and Stories and Collected Essays. Both of these are edited by Toni Morrison. That should get me through August.
April: Giovanni's Room, 1956
May: Nobody Knows my Name, essays 1961
June: Another Country, 1962
July: The Fire Next Time, essays, 1963
August: Going to Meet the Man, stories, 1965
--- Those are the main books I want to get to. I'm going to re-evaluate at this point, and see if I want to approach this differently. But I do have four more months planned:
September: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, 1968
October: No Name in the Street, 1972
November: If Beale Street Could Talk, 1974
December: The Devil Finds Work, essays, 1976
And, if I want to keep going, there is all this:
Just Above My Head, 1979
The Evidence of Things Not Seen (essays; 1985)
The Price of the Ticket (essays; 1985)
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (essays; 2010)
Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems (poems; 1983 and 2014)
The Amen Corner (play; 1954)
A Talk to Teachers (essay; 1963)
Blues for Mister Charlie (play; 1964)
Nothing Personal (with Richard Avedon, photography) (1964)
A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead) (1971)
One Day When I Was Lost (orig.: A. Haley; 1972)
A Dialogue (with Nikki Giovanni) (1973)
Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (with Yoran Cazac, 1976)
Native Sons (with Sol Stein, 2004)
A cobbled theme from miscellaneous classics I want to read. This isn't really a plan so much as an idea. I have no clue how this will actually work out or what I'll end up following. I'm ready to be done with the NT, but want to finish. I'm actually nervous about Apuleius and Plutarch, but think I want to read these Romans. I have no idea what books to read to prep me for any of these books (ideas welcome!).
And then there are translations to choose from. For Plutarch I'm actually using John Dryden...maybe not a good idea. For Beowulf, Seamus Heaney should be really nice. For Dante, I have the Hollanders in mind, but have no real good sense on what's available. For Petrarch, I'm going to try the book by David Young listed below.
March: Plutarch – Parallel lives, Volume 1
April: Plutarch – Parallel lives, Volume 2
May: The Earliest English Poems (Penguin Classics), Michael Alexander (Translator)
June: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
July: Dante: A Life in Works by Robert Hollander
August: Dante Inferno
September: Dante Purgatory
October: Dante Paradise
November: something on Petrarch
December: Petrarch Canzoniere (The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young)
DECEMBER 2018 (the ones reviewed here)
66. **** Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel García Márquez (read Nov 12 - Dec 25)
67. *** Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (read Dec 18-30)
68. **** Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez (read Dec 31)
1. ** Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles (read Dec 13 - Jan 5)
2. ***½ The Book of Revelation (read Jan 9-12)
3. ***** Becoming (audio) by Michelle Obama (listened Dec 7 - Jan 15)
4. **** James Baldwin : A Biography by David Adams Leeming (read Jan 1-19)
5. **** The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (read Jan 21, 2012 - Jan 23, 2019)
6. *** Plutarch by D. A. Russell (read Jan 20-28)
7. **** Autumn by Ali Smith (read Jan 28-29)
8. **** How to Be Both by Ali Smith, read by John Banks (listened Jan 15-31)
9. **** Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (read Jan 6 - Feb 3)
10. **** Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (read Jan 30 - Feb 7)
11. **** There There by Tommy Orange, read by a cast (listened Feb 1-12)
12. **** A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo (read Feb 7-18)
13. **** The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by E. J. Kenney (read Jan 31 - Feb 20)
14. **** Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (read Feb 19-26)
15. **** Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen, read by Paul Boehmer (listened Feb 13 - Mar 8)
16. **** Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (read Feb 26 - Mar 9)
17. **** Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare (read Feb 16 - Mar 17)
18. **** Milkman by Anna Burns, read by Brid Brennan (listened Mar 17 – Apr 11)
~100 Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles
~160 The Golden Ass by Apuleius
1591 Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
1601 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
1927 Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
1953 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
1955 Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
1967 A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
1972 Plutarch by D. A. Russell
1987 The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode
1994 James Baldwin : A Biography by David Adams Leeming
2007 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen
2014 How to Be Both by Ali Smith
2016 Autumn by Ali Smith
Becoming by Michelle Obama
There There by Tommy Orange
Milkman by Anna Burns
Books read: 18
Pages: 3089 Audio time: 66:12
"regular books"**: 12
Formats: Paperback 7; Hardcover 6; Audio 5;
Subjects in brief: Classic 9; Novel 8; Non-fiction 6; Ancient 3; On Literature and Books 2; Essay Collections 2; Biography 2; Drama 2; Memoir 1; History 1;
Nationalities: United State 8; England 3; Turkey 2; Scotland 2; Kenya 1; Algeria 1; Northern Ireland 1;
Books in translation: 3
Genders, m/f: 11/5 unknown: 1; mixed 1;
Owner: Books I own: 13; Library books 5
Year Published: 2010's 5; 2000's 1; 1990's 1; 1980's 1; 1970's 1; 1960's 1; 1950's 2; 1920's 1; 17th century 1; 16th century 1; 0-1499 3
Books read: 1005
Pages: 263,145; Audio time: 1405:09 (58 days)
"regular books"**: 636
Formats: Paperback 538; Hardcover 220; Audio 140; ebooks 68; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 436; Novels 258; Biographies/Memoirs 186; History 168; Classics 112; Journalism 92; Poetry 82; Science 77; Ancient 73; Speculative Fiction 64; Nature 54; On Literature and Books 49; Anthology 45; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 38; Essay Collections 36; Juvenile/YA 34; Drama 22; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 606; Non-American, English speaking 175; Other: 224
Books in translation: 168
Genders, m/f: 647/262
Owner: Books I owned 661; Library books 271; Books I borrowed 64; Online 10
Year Published: 2010's 216; 2000's 271; 1990's 166; 1980's 111; 1970's 52; 1960's 36; 1950's 25; 1900-1949 31; 19th century 15; 18th century 0; 17th century 6; 16th century 4; 0-1499 16; BCE 55
*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990
**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.
I actually like your reading list a lot this year - maybe I should just join you starting February and do some more structured reading... :)
Here's a clip from the second act, where Perdita and Florizel dance with the group of peasants with whom she's been raised: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS1cUOVpxyQ. The emerald she's wearing was put in her basket when she was sent away as a baby and has been given to her as a birthday present by her adoptive father during this celebration, and it's how she and Leontes recognize each other in Act 3.
And the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7iDNgoLIGk
>16 auntmarge64: oh, those videos were great, thanks for posting. I hadn’t realized where the picture had come from, only that I was happy to find one that showed some jealousy. I enjoyed the play a lot, even if partially because Autolycus killed my inner critic and made it fun.
>17 avaland: thanks, Lois. The list has to be motivating, not work. I mean, if it drives me to want to read the next work, then it’s doing it’s thing. Last year it got me through most of the NT, no way I get very far otherwise. But, with it on the list, it became what I wanted to read and everything else became a distraction.
Are you ready to spend a year of your life on Petrarch? The guy is interesting but unless you are making a career out of it, he is not THAT interesting. So yes - more time will be better but then we don't live forever. :) Plus if you like someone's style that much, you can always explore them more later.
I wish I could be so structured: whatever I'm thinking of for the rest of the year, it will have drifted all over the place by the time I get to summer.
I got a critical text of Beowulf and the Heaney translation out of the library today - lets see if I can get started on them within the three weeks.
I'm also vaguely thinking about Plutarch, but I don't know whether I can muster the courage...
66. Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 2003, from Spanish by Edith Grossman
format: 484 page paperback
acquired: August 2017, from Half-Price Books
read: Nov 12 - Dec 25
time reading: 20 hr 45 min, 2.6 min/page
A slow memoir that I had been anticipating throughout the year as the finishing touch to my Márquez theme. It covers the early life of a starving, hungry, shy journalist, who slept in a whorehouse to save money, and was composing his first novel at night in the office of his newspaper, chain smoking. Márquez's life was not exactly harder then I realized, but there was more poverty and hunger. One of eleven children, plus some other half siblings through his philandering father, it seems he was the only one formally educated, being sent away to a boarding prep school. He was only accepted into his primary school because of discussion he had with the principal about 1001 Nights at about age 6.
Alas, he would go on to fail out of law school because of his obsession with writing. The sleepless nights full of prostitutes, and an incredibly well-educated milieu of colleagues, who he recounts in affectionate detail, make for a fascinating world. Generally well regarded, his was actually very insecure. At one point a friend rummaged through his trash and pulled out discarded stories and published them - these are important pieces in his Collected Stories. But the book ends before we have a real author. Instead it closes on a now professional and interesting columnist with just enough income to get by.
I have a memory of being fascinated by a review of this book when it came out, and wondering, for the first time, who Gabriel García Márquez was and what One Hundred Years of Solitude was about, or magical realism. A little naivety, mind you. But, it was nice to finally follow up and get here.
67. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
format: 265 page mass market Paperback (a 2001 edition, and 13th printing by HarperCollins under HarperTorch imprint)
read: Dec 18-30 (I tried once before, in maybe 2008)
time reading: 10 hr 0 min, 2.3 min/page
2008 -- that's the last time I finished a novel by this once favorite author of mine. The brain shifted and the books lost their appeal enough that a little difficulty threw me off. This is, mind you, a tough book to punch through in some ways. It's always smart and clever, but it lacks narrative drive and just kind of hangs around for well over a hundred pages before it finally pulls itself together. So, maybe in 2008, I gave up on this 60 pages in. This time I actually read Shakespeare's Macbeth to prep for the humor here made of it. The book does come together though. At some point the scene shifts, or maybe it was the orangutan librarian swinging life back in, but that charm I remember, unique to Discworld, did kick in. I'm kind of ready to read another.
68. Memories of all my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 2005, from Spanish by Edith Grossman
format: 115 page paperback
read: Dec 31
time reading: ~2 hr, ~1 min/page (I didn't actually track)
I have no idea why I liked this book so much because it's sick. A man, on his 90th birthday, contacts a whorehouse to find him a virgin. It soon becomes clear that love, the emotion, is something he's never experienced in his life, and this book covers his strange search for it now. Whatever this says, the book works and something about it has hung around. This was the last book Márquez published. It's very short, really a novella stretched out by the publisher to 115 pages.
Sounds like a great end of reading through an author's works. How much does he talk about his books?
So, a lot get touched on, with some great info thrown in, but, with the exception of two books, not in much detail. Those two books, are his earliest, the novella Leaf Storm, and a book made up of a series of columns he wrote (which i haven't read), The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.
>43 janeajones: Thanks Jane, a fun author to read through. LTTTT is slow, just to warn you. I read somewhere, without any good source, that he may have planned that as a part one if three.
written ~60-120 ce
format: 51 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Dec 13 – Jan 5
time reading: 7 hr 39 min, 9 min/page
List of letters, the links to go my notes thread from 2018
--. *** Hebrews (read Dec 15) link: post 67
--. *** James (read Dec 21-22) link: post 75
--. ** 1 Peter (read Dec 22) link: post 81
--. ** 2 Peter (read Dec 23) link: post 86
--. ** 1 John (read Dec 23) link: post 88
--. *½ 2 John (read Jan 4) link: post 95
--. *½ 3 John (read Jan 4) link: post 96
--. ***½ Jude (read Jan 5) link: post 97
I'm creating a book out the non-pauline letters and it becomes my first book of the year. Catholic Epistles, in this instance, means roughly "general letters". They read mostly like a miscellaneous collection of bits and pieces. 1 John tells us "God is love", and James tells us "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.", which is a little interesting after reading Paul say we only need faith. (It's not really a contradiction). Hebrews has more substance, and reminds us the Genesis 14 is actually a really interesting chapter, but it's ultimately pretty limited. Jude, on the other hand, is actually thought-provoking. The one letter, all of 25 lines, that I'm still thinking about. For more details, see the links to my 2018 bible read thread above.
Which translation of "Golden Ass" are you going to read? I had been looking at translations this afternoon and wondering which one to get (although I also have access to the Bulgarian translation which has some pretty good notes so I will probably read that as well...)
written ~90 ce
format: 29 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Jan 9-12
time reading: 3 hr 57 min, 8.2 min/page
Again, no review, but this is a big deal for me personally. It completes my NT read, from last year. And it completes my bible read that kicked off in 2012 (I took breaks in there, notably to focus on Homer-to-Ovid in 2016-2017).
Revelations itself is an oddball. You can find my notes on my NT thread: post 99 here. The closest I get to a review is post 101, which isn't long.
I'm thinking about an NT and full bible overview post.
The New Testament
format: 450 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: June 2018 - January 2019
time reading: 70 hr 43 min, 9.4 min/page
Fair Warning: Yes, a review of the NT. I'm a little nervous posting this. I think everyone here who knows me may or may not read or like this, but probably will get over it if they don't. But there are a few who don't know me and might stumble across it. To these, I apologize. No offense intended, but I'm quirky reader and you might not like this, especially if your sensitive to this kind of stuff.
Reading the old and new testament are two very different experiences. There is a lot of boring and annoying stuff in the old testament, but there are also numerous fascinating, terrible, disturbing stories that capture the imagination. There is, to put it differently, a lot of weird stuff. It’s a lot different in the New Testament. Take out Revelation, and there is only one story – the story of Jesus told in different ways in the gospel. It’s not a collection of stories in the same way, it’s not a world of mythology. Actually, I think the core of Christianity… no, that’s the wrong word. I think the core of the New Testament writings lie the oldest texts, not the ones about who Jesus was and what he did, but the Pauline letters written by one who was working to spread the religion.
I’m not promoting Pauline Christianity…I’m not promoting anything religious, actually, as religion by itself was not my focus and I’m not Christian and I don’t believe in God (although that was flexible for a moment today at the dentist). My motivation for reading this text is at a remove from any religious search. I’m being vague here (Paul might appreciate that). My focus was to get to know the text for whatever purpose I might use it for – whether to better understand Dante or James Joyce, or my religious neighbors or online religious friends or history, politics, etc. It’s that kind of reading, whatever that is. My point with Paul is he’s first, before the gospel.
In sense there are four parts the New Testaments – the gospels, Paul’s letters, other letters and Revelation. That’s it and that’s really not that much. And there is oddly little in Paul, which I’m arguing is the textual core, the oldest piece. Paul doesn’t talk about Jesus the person, or quote him or promote what we might think of as Christian ideas or value. He’s very conservative. Instead, what Paul does is stay vague and accessible. Forget ritual and law and certain ways of living holy, whether circumcision or some other thing that Jews may have valued but that might not work in other cultures. Paul talks about faith. The Messiah has come, he’s offered you a rebirth, a cleansing, and you, now, you have to have faith.
This makes the gospels an afterthought. I think for most of us in the west, that’s a weird comment to make. As I said above, the New Testament has one story and you can only find it in the gospels. Jesus was human, he was humble and wise and said wise things, he was spiritual and spiritually powerful and insightful, and he died in agony, victoriously, on the cross, in painful contradiction – the sanctification and cleansing of our spiritual inner world. He’s the guy who gave the social justice speech in his Sermon on the Mount. This is the Jesus we think about when we laugh at Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
But the gospels came later, or so it seems. That is to say that when Paul was writing, there was no gospel. Early Christians were left with myths of some sort, ones that likely varied in a myriad of contradictory ways. Then later, these stories were collected or maybe constructed and added to the story. They must have been tied together to match the various hints in Paul. It’s curious that there while there are really interesting arguments that Paul took over and redefined Christianity, it might be just the opposite. It might be that the gospel took over Paul’s spark and gave in a human story, overshadowing the missionary.
The Gospel of John probably deserves some extra attention, and there is a collection of other letters not authored by Paul (3 named John). I’m sure how important those letters really are. I see them as just plugs to fill in various theological or historical holes, or maybe just a sweeping up of knickknacks, or, maybe more likely, a selective preservation of all the circulating writing. In any case, I’m going to skip ahead to address the oddball text, Revelation.
Revelation is not a Christian text. It’s not exactly a Jewish text in the religious sense, but it is something derived from later Jewish writings. The Christianity, the warrior Jesus, born like Apollo, and riding his white horse, dressed in white with blood on his robes during the day of Judgment is an edit, slightly Christianizing a variety of pre-Christian myths. Revelation takes us step by step through Judgement Day in contorted flow with seven headed dragons and locusts that sting like wasps, and God in a temple surrounded by worshipers taken, almost, out of Isaiah or Ezekiel. It’s a weird kind of thing designed to make the reader nervous, told with absolute confidence. Some might call it a poem, or a horror story. But the content isn’t necessarily its significance. Its sole purpose might be to make the reader nervous enough, just by its existence, that they really thing about how important all this faith stuff might be, and thereby to make Paul, the haranguing lecturer, more appealing and making this second coming something more real, even if it’s not real.
So what to make of all this, one gospel in four flavors, one threat at the end, and a guy in middle saying the Messiah has come, have faith. I think it’s both a funny thing that falls apart in any literary sense, in also a messy and powerful vessel, where the flaws are part of what make it effective. It’s a story that I’ll spend the rest of my life being annoyed at. I don’t like to be lectured. But also thinking about. It reverberates through our culture in so many ways.
As someone who has actually read the whole thing, I think you did a great job. Much better than I could have done (granted, I was 17 the last time I went through it all). Kudos. Like the saying goes, nothing makes an atheist like actually reading the whole Bible (quoting a saying, not labelling you personally).
>57 thorold: there are lots of books on that - the Bible as literature/ the Bible as a mismash of texts. One I read, and on the OT, was by a woman who just assumed the texts weren’t flawed. She wasn’t religious exactly, she just assumed (on faith?) that the authors put in all these details exactly as intended. What was interesting is she had really good (and controversial) insight.
>58 lisapeet: that’s been my view from the beginning. Robert Alter helped me there, too. His bible-as-literature takes it as a text to criticize and is also really respectful of it. (Interesting both you and Joyce read it in your teens. I guess that’s probably not so uncommon. ??)
>59 Petroglyph: That’s funny. I liked Kings, lots of oddball history and crossover with archeology. But next might be Chronicles (depending on your order), the same thing all over again...but less interesting. That was brutal for me. Psalms was the hardest for me - that led to a long break. Do you think you might try again (now that I’ve thoroughly discouraged you)?
Hah, I just checked, and it turns out I
I can't imagine when I'll have the time, but yes, I would. And I'd have some good companion literature along with me (not the Bible apologetics I grew up with).
I too am not Christian, but I have read the Bible three times through, trying to understand more about Judaism and Christianity. I once wrote a paper comparing the vengeful god of the OT with the forgiving god of the NT. I admire the thoroughness with which you read and your thoughtful comments. Almost makes me want to do a re-read. But not quite.
>26 dchaikin: Despite it's sick theme, I found Melancholy Whores to be a rather funny book at times. Definitely different. I have read several other of his books, but One Hundred Years of Solitude remains my favorite, with this one my second.
>5 dchaikin: My freshman seminar was a two-trimester course tracing Odysseus throughout literature. Here's the reading list (or as much as I remember)
Iliad & Odyssey by Homer
Aeneid by Virgil
Poems by Sappho
The Golden Ass by Apuleius
Metamorphoses by Ovid
The Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso by Dante
Milton's Paradise Lost
Joyce's Portrait of a Young Man and, of course, Ulysses
I can't remember all of the later ones we read, perhaps also Ulysses by Tennyson. Anyway, it was one of my favorite classes in college, for two reasons. First, it acquainted me with classic works I might not have read without the class, and, second, I loved tracing the theme through all of these works, beginning with Homer and ending with Joyce.
As for translations of the Golden Ass, I read the Jack Lindsey translation, but I read it in 1986, so options were more limited (and now dated). I remember the book as being quite funny.
That Odyssey track. First, well, cool. Also, although I’m on a much longer time scale than your class, I have been following that trend. I wasn’t sure if Apuleius should be on that track or not. Of course Dante must lead me to Milton, no? And eventually Joyce, when I’m brave enough.
Márquez - Sounds like you’ve read a lot of his stuff. Do you think you’ll read more? Have you read his short stories or novellas, those, together, were my favorite part of what I read. A world of stuff in them, and each talking to the other as all his books do, too. And, yeah, Melacholy Whores was a lot funny. Strangely effective, that one.
Bible - of course, my perspective is Jewish. The topic of your essay sounds like it was fascinating to explore. I read the NT wondering what the OT authors would think. What would they say when accused of writing a story of a failed chosen people, that failed god over and over again? And what would they say to the Christian who points it out to them. The mythical Moses and mythical Paul might have one very heated conversation. Glad neither had Facebook.
Ugh! Just don't. You'll only be annoyed.
Joyce's Ulysses was a killer, especially for a young person with little life experience. He uses 12? languages and endless sentences. Back then you couldn't Google anything. Wowzer.
I've read maybe half a dozen of GGM's works, but not his novellas and short stories. I'm not sure when I'll get to more of his works. Not this year with my D-Day reading. (I might also re-read Henry James' Mont St Michel and something more about the Bayeux tapestry. I've been to both, but since I'm going back, I would like to do so with more background knowledge.) If you liked Melancholy Whores, you might want to read the short work by Bohumil Hrabal, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age. It too features an old man and prostitutes, but in a very different style. I liked it too.
As for OT god versus NT god, personally I find I can relate to the OT god better. He makes mistakes, and tries to rectify them, he loses his temper, and he apologizes. I find him a much more interesting literary character too. He has growth over time. The all-benevolent, distant, unknowable NT god seems less like someone I would like to invite to dinner. Although that might not be the best way to evaluate gods: whether they would make interesting dinner guests...
Love the quip about Facebook!
>71 labfs39: Sadly old men and prostitutes aren’t an appeal of mine. So clue how GGM made it work. I once recommended Isaac B.Singers autobiography to you and it didn’t work, so I won’t recommend GGM’s stories, especially as his earliest collection it kind of annoyingly immature, but maybe something to think about if you liked his other works and find the right time somewhere down the road.
Hmm, maybe I’ve read too much Greek mythology, but inviting a god over for dinner sounds iffy. But it’s a good point about the static God in the NT. Jesus has variations but they are mainly on human side. (It didn’t go over so well for the Pharisees who invited him to dinner)
I will definitely keep an eye out for GGM's stories. My reluctance is more a matter of time and reading themes than distaste. I've read four of his novels, including MW, and liked all but Love in the Time of Cholera.
Haven't you ever played the "if you could invite ten guests to a dinner party," who would they be? I didn't mean to be disrespectful.
I really liked LitToC. : )
Thinking on my dinner invitation list. I always have trouble deciding. I think Aristophanes would be there, and maybe Toni Morrison and now I might add James Baldwin, but I’m afraid he would dominate the atmosphere. And Toni and James already met in the early 70’s.
I always get into trouble with placement problems when I try it. You can’t really sit Virginia Woolf next to W.S. Gilbert and expect to get interesting conversation from both of them, especially if they are sitting opposite the Schumanns. And I see now that I’d be fighting you for James Baldwin!
>76 thorold: I don't even know the name W.S. Gilbert. Had to look him up. Aristophanes - well, I might have some expectations. Baldwin really was someone to meet in person.
3. Becoming (audio) by Michelle Obama
reader: the author
format: 19:03 audible audiobook (normally ~529 pages equivalent, but 426 pages in hardcover. I guess she reads slow.)
listened: Dec 7 – Jan 15
It's a little difficult for me to see under the impact this book had on me and into the book itself. Listening to Michelle Obama during my commutes to and from work everyday around the holidays put a spell on my mental state. The moving stories of her life and her husband's, and the sincerity and, so valuable today, the reasonableness, left a kind of force field of hope and optimism for the world hovering around me. The government shutdown and its self-destructive minions faded into a temporary crime that should pass, because out there there are many people like this, dedicated, genuinely good and motivated to make the world a better place. They just need their window and our support. It was a nice drug, and I'm giving her five stars for it. This book is cathartic.
Underneath that spell is the story of child brought up by dedicated working-class Chicago parents, who learned to always try to be good, to earn her gold star of approval, through Princeton and Harvard Law and corporate law, and, unknown to me, to walking out of corporate law to work through a variety of jobs that were more fulfilling to her and more rewarding to her community. The truth is I knew very little about the first lady other than that everyone seemed to like her and she seemed to only accumulate good news. I didn't know what was behind all that, and went into it. I didn't know she was so adverse to politics. Or so likable and admirable up close.
I did, of course, know about all the criticism and negative spin from Fox and that part of the population that never even tried to find something to like in what was one of the most likable first ladies ever. She mentions about Barack how black Americans had learned you have to be twice as good to get half as far. It's something that stood out to me here, seeing up close how Barack was really ten times as principled as any other president since at least the Civil War, and yet has generated a population a devout haters. We are living an American tragedy where the victim is the accuser. As I've learned James Baldwin said, it's white America that has a racism problem and in the response to this couple it's painfully evident.
I didn't mean to end on such a sour note. And I've thought about deleting that last paragraph. But, it is our reality.
I've heard a lot of people like this book. It's on my list.
>80 NanaCC: I need to go read your review. And thanks and I agree with both comments here about the book - the hope she gives and what it means under her own experiences.
>81 baswood: Thanks B!
She really does point up the instances and effects of systemic racism she uncovers without ever getting into a morals-based polemic, which I think is so strong. At least for me, a person who's at a place where I can hear what she's saying. I hope more folks along that spectrum can as well.
She also hammers home (at least so far) how much she hates politics, which makes me, sadly, want to retire my "Michelle Obama 2020" button that I've been wearing since 2016.
Personally, from what I've read about her elsewhere I do share the general impression that she is a decent human being, but I can't help but wonder if there's a hidden agenda behind this book. And even as I type that I'm thinking 'well, let's hope that there is'.
>83 lisapeet: I wouldn't throw out that "Michelle Obama 2020" button just yet...
>84 AlisonY: I saw the conversation on Colleen’s thread and don’t want to duplicate that here. MO seems sincere. She emphasizes how she doesn’t like and never liked politics, but also how she knew, and quickly learned anyway, that she either had to define herself or she would get defined by others. I think that’s the real purpose of this book—making sure she is the one to define herself. And that’s actually really important now under the current bitter US political atmosphere. If you like, she’s being responsible. Honestly, I would love to see her run for office. She’s my first choice for president because she could win* and we could trust her, but she really squelches that idea in the book.
*the current crop of presidential candidates hasn’t been generating any buzz.
It's exactly the same in the UK, especially at the moment with this Brexit nonsense. Our MPs are creating delays upon delays, fighting within themselves with no decisions being made. And here we are - 66 days and counting until we're supposed to leave Europe with absolutely no plan in place. And don't get me started on Northern Ireland. It was 2 years last week since our Assembly collapsed, and until relatively recently our MPs were still collecting full pay whilst not doing the job they were being paid for.
I can see where Michelle O. is coming from....
UK politics is a complete mystery to me. Wishing sanity on politics everywhere. Would be nice.
4. James Baldwin : A Biography by David Adams Leeming
format: 420 page hardcover
read: Jan 1-19
time reading: 18 hr 3 min, 2.6 min/page
I read this to get me excited about reading Baldwin this year and learn more about what kind of person he was. And it did get me excited at first because Baldwin is fascinating. He was that kind of energetic personality that can never settle down. It seems he always felt to the need to be bold, and do something slightly unexpected, and somehow to hover on the edge of some kind of self-destabilization, while at the same time always craving a stability. When he wrote, it was from his life. It seems his personality, boldness and incisive self-analysis provided the power behind his fiction and essays. And, on top of all that, he was black and gay in an electric time and threw himself into the midst of the Civil Rights movement.
It curious because my view of Baldwin isn't as a prominent Civil Right leader, but as curious highbrow writer I didn't know much else about. It's not like I ever thought MLK, Malcolm X and James Baldwin in same formative way. And there was something different about him. He was raised in Harlem, became a preacher at 14 (significantly influencing his writing and speaking styles), but his life led him to a kind of bohemian 1940's Greenwich Village and then to a Paris of expats, hanging out with a more liberal and largely white crowd. He would be mocked as not being black enough, and it seems he was always writing to ear of the liberal white (and very Jewish) crowd. That is to say he was both prominent and on the edge.
(I should note I'm liberal, white and Jewish, so maybe I'm the right kind of reader.)
Leeming met Baldwin in Istanbul in the mid 1960's, at the height of his fame after The Fire Next time. He become close with Baldwin and his milieu in Istanbul, and later worked for Baldwin organizing his papers. So, he writes from some intimacy and knowledge about his writing and world, including some anecdotes on their relationship. After he wrote a letter to Baldwin complaining about how his lifestyle was hurting him and his writing, Baldwin wrote him back, where, paraphrased by Leeming, "He declared...I must understand that disorder was in a sense a necessary aspect of his life as a writer. He could not afford to be tamed." He draws a life of Baldwin through a collection of small details, not so much bringing his subject to life as letting the reader construct it from the information. Every book Baldwin published gets a chapter, and every moment in his and his various intimate relationships, many platonic, gets covered. Sometimes chapters end in what practically amount to lists of various people he met while in one city or another. It's treasure trove of compressed information and oddly works to construct this unusual personality. And, of course, it's a little overwhelming. Instead of rushing out to Baldwin's first book, I need a little break to recover.
Recommended to those interested in Baldwin and willing the put in the time this book may take.
ETA a picture and a quote.
5. The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode
format: 672 page Hardcover
read: Jan 2012 – Nov 2015, June 2, 2018 - Jan 23, 2019
time reading: ~50 hr ~4.5 min/page
Contributors: J. P. Fokkelman, David Damrosch, James S. Ackerman, Robert Polzin, David M. Gunn, Joel Rosenberg, George Savran, Luis Alonso Schökel, Herbert Marks, James G. Williams, Moshe Greenberg, Francis Landy, Jack M. Sasson, Shemaryahu Talmon, John Drury, James Robinson, Michael Goulder, Gabriel Josipovici, Bernard McGinn, Jonas C. Greenfield, Helen Elsom, Edmund Leach, Gerald L. Bruns, Gerald Hammond
-- Read OT chapters from January 2012 to November 2015
-- Read NT chapters and other essays from June 2018 to January 2019
"The faithful maintain that the whole of the bible is true; for this to be possible, the truth has to be aesthetic rather than literal."
I should have more appreciation of the scholarship contained within these pages, and all I got out of them. Some essays were terrific. But, goodness, this was tough reading.
That was my entry into Litsy and I think it pretty much captures this collection of literary criticism essays, one for each book of the canonical old and new testament, with a wink at the midrash and translations. It does feel like a statement for this kind of perspective on the bible, although it's not a good statement for the entertainment value of literary criticism essays in general.
>84 AlisonY: No, there is no hidden agenda. Her book is sincere and genuine. Let's hope we see Malia or Sasha in the political arena some day.
6. Plutarch by Donald Andrew Russell
format: 178 page hardcover
read: Jan 20-28
time reading: 8 hr 8 min, 2.7 min/page
An odd sequence of historical occurrences seems have led to Plutarch becoming a major influence on later Tudor England, especially on Shakespeare, and throughout western Europe for several hundred years. (Just scanning online I stumbled across a copy of his work in Thomas Jefferson's library, in Greek, with handwritten notes, also in Greek)
Plutarch was Greek scholar under imperial Rome (c. 46 – 120 CE) who wrote exclusively in Greek. There are 227 known titles of his works, most of which are lost. His main philosophical treatises were scattered, occasionally collected by scholars with resources to make copies until a Byzantine Monk Maximus Planudes (c 1255-1305) pushed a critical collection of the eventual 78 treatises we still have (several of which were likely not actually his). His main and most popular work, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, fared better and most of these lives, but not all, have come down to us. Translation to Latin came late. The first major vernacular translation was in French by Jacques Amyot in 1655, and this version was translated into English by Thomas North in 1579, just in time for it to be news for William Shakespeare (who turned 15 in 1579).
Plutarch was maybe a difficult author, or maybe his readership had as much trouble with his Platonic rhetoric as I did reading about it. His works are rhetorical attacks on Stoicism and Epicureanism (see, for example, Lucretius) in favor of his own Platonic ideas, with maybe an undercurrent of Greek moral superiority. It seems in Lives he hit the right tune, mixing some of his natural flourish with his moralisms for nice literary balance. The moralism would make him really popular in Shakespeare's day, and lead him to fade away later on, his literary skills apparently not really appreciated by conventional wisdom. His writing was considered plain.
Donald Russell is an active Oxford professor at age 98, and this was apparently his second book. The first chapter was nice, explaining the context of where Plutarch lived and how he interacted with Roman intelligentsia, possibly never really learning Latin himself. Then comes chapter 2. Most of this book was tough reading, especially if rhetorical arguments for and against Stoicism and Platonism are not something your mind effortlessly adapts to. But it was nice to get an overview, a context and a sense of the history of the preservation and translations. He spends several pages comparing the dramatic difference in style between the original Greek with what Shakespeare read in English, and it's actually fascinating. So, scholarly work of general appeal, but still a little beyond my philosophy-resistant self.
I’ve just realised that when I said above that I was vaguely thinking about Plutarch for 2019, I actually meant to write ‘Petrarch’...! Oops! Not that Plutarch isn’t very interesting as well, as your review makes clear - by the sound of it he would fit in well with some stuff about Epicureanism I was looking at last year - but he didn’t do much for the sonnet...
Considering all the damage the NT has done, I have a hard time thinking of it in purely literary terms. Just the horrendous acts brought on by centuries of illiterate and ignorant preachers teaching that Jews crucified Jesus makes me so upset I could spit. And given how few people even today read it for themselves, even as they espouse their justifications, blows my mind. Hello, people!, read it yourself and see what it actually says! (I will say of my parents' church that they considered themselves "brethren of Christ" and were very pro-Israeli/pro-Jewish, so I'm glad I grew up without that particular brand of hate taught at me and, if fact, we were taught that hate of any group was unacceptable and that we should think for ourselves.) Aside from purely humanitarian reasons, it makes me crazy that people are just so illogical about it.
Anyway, your review gave me a chance to reconsider the thing from a disinterested perspective, and I thank you for that. I don't read reviews of the Bible often, but yours drew me in. Delightful.
7. Autumn by Ali Smith
format: 264 page hardcover with a lot of white space
read: Jan 28-29
time reading: 5 hr 6 min, 1.2 min/page
Read this while home sick, and it was a great sick day read. Smith has an effortlessly clever writing style which by itself makes her books fun, easy to pick up and quick to read. I suspect she could write almost any story she wanted and I would be happy to follow along. Here she takes on the massive dark cultural force behind and around Brexit, and all the pessimism that comes from it, and attacks it with... an underappreciated pop-artist who died tragically in her 20's and whose oeuvre of paintings were lost for some 30 years?
Visual arts are clearly a focus of Smith's and she does a lot of interesting things with them here, mainly through artist Pauline Boty's optimism in art and life. But she also does a lot with a couple really interesting main characters and their curious relationship. And she uses tons of literary references, including, by name, Brave New World, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and A Tale of Two Cities...hmm. What was she doing by putting these titles in, and in that order? And should we think of them mainly in light of Brexit? And I don't know why her opening scene lies oh so close to Odysseus's arrival on the island of the Phaeacians. Spent the whole novel thinking about that, and I still am.
Hopefully you get the idea, there's a lot to think about inside here. Ali Smith has immediately become one for my favorite authors. So, thank you to anyone who has recommended Ali Smith in the past. And to anyone who hasn't read her, you might be missing out.
I do seem to remember other people not enjoying The Accidental, though - perhaps it's not the best starting point.
details from Francesco del Cossa's contribution to the hall of months, c1470
8. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
reader: John Banks
format: 8:29 audible audiobook (~235 pages equivalent, 372 pages in hardcover)
listened: Jan 15-31
The audiobook explains that in print the two sections of this book come in alternate orders, the buyer unaware until they open it, but in audio it always opens with George, an adolescent girl stuck in the car with her mother to go see a painting. This was actually my first introduction to Ali Smith, even if I finished it second, so what struck me, as a first impression, is that Smith is being clever, everywhere, always, and it gives the whole book a playful feel that makes it both very thought-provoking and very entertaining to read. That's good, because I never really got what she was doing here...I didn't mind though. (Since I own it, I might listen to it again.)
In any case, George is relayed to us in third person, thinking in flashbacks on her recently deceased mother, while in the present explaining to her grief counselor in school that she thinks she is doing OK because she doesn't really feel anything. Francesco del Cossa will narrate the the other part (second part here) as a disembodied voice that has come out of his own painting and finds itself somehow tied to George. The voice assumes it's in purgatory, amused on this world of it, and begins to think back on its own life. As it goes, George will see the lovely painter's famous hall of months in Italy, but she will never be aware she is also being seen.
A lot of layers of play, a close look at visual arts, pictures and seeing, and a decent introduction to Ali Smith. (Mark, thorold, recommended somewhere here that this was a good place to start with her. I can say it worked.)
9. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
originally performed: 1601
format: 136 page Royal Shakespeare Company edition from 2010 (entire book is 195 pages)
editors: Jonathan Bate & Eric Rasmussen
read: Jan 6 – Feb 3
time reading: 7 hr 43 min, 3.4 min/page
The latest play from the little Litsy group I'm following - one act a week, so I tend to spend Sunday morning reading Shakespeare, a pleasant habit. This was good fun, and a lot of silliness. A comedy where Shakespeare pulled out humor in every which way, including endless innuendos, a brilliant and cruel practical joke, a lot of confusion with twins, eyes falling rapturously in love instantly (and then out of it), and a lot of very sharp wit from the fool and the ladies, one disguised as a man. The Fool explains the play best: "Look then to be well edified when the fool delivers the madman."
I love this play, but find it a little less fun than you did -- I find an underlying melancholy overall and the treatment of Malvolio is a little too cruel. But then again, I haven't read the play in a while and am more likely to revisit through Trevor Nunn's movie with Ben Kingsley as Feste and Helena Bonham-Carter as Olivia.
I think the intent of the play is fun, and especially making fun of the idea of people just falling in love. Malvolio is curious because he is actually hurt cruelly, apparently unusual in a Shakespeare comedy, and he’s the only one hurt (well, Antonio doesn’t come off so well either). Someone pointed out, he is also unusual in being a character trying to rise into a higher class - maybe a big no-no in Shakespeare and maybe that’s why he gets punished. But, if you think about it, there are lots of issues you could take seriously from this play. Recently these was a whole legal spoof, with Marrick Garland presiding, on whether Olivia has the right to deny the legality of her marriage to Sebastian (who, of course, she thought at the time was Ceasario, who was actually Viola...see, it’s never easy to be entirely serious here).
I’m interested in the Nunn movie, and saw there are a couple newer adaptations.
Michael Billington on Ken Dodd and Shakespeare: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2005/sep/15/theatre3
>95 thorold: >96 dchaikin: There’s definitely something strange going on in my mind about P___arch. The first of the books on the Italian poet from my recent ABE Books spree arrived today, and I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t find it with “Add Books”, until I saw that I’d typed in “Plutarch and his world”... I just hope that I didn’t order any actual Plutarch-related books by mistake as well...
10. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
format: 215 pages inside Early Novels and Stories
read: Jan 30 – Feb 7
time reading: 8 hr 21 min, 2.3 min/page
Baldwin brings the reader straight into an intense and tangible sense of 1930's Harlem, and immediately establishes that the reader better pay close attention to each word. It's not hard to follow, but it is a sentence by sentence creation, demanding readers immerse themselves. And then he gets more and more serious. Faulkner came to mind, even though I've only read quotes from him here and there, and referencing him is a bit ironic. My mindset followed with a little resistance, immersing, admiring, appreciating, but not willing to go all in. Eventually the book relents a bit, the irony gets a little more entertaining, as do the implications and the clever comments. I like the think Baldwin winks just a little bit.
"Yet, trembling, he knew this was not what he wanted. He did not want to love his father; he wanted to hate him, to cherish that hatred, and give his hatred words one day."
This falls into semi-autobiographical fiction. It opens on the morning of John Grimes 14th birthday--the age where James became the child preacher. And John's family closely resembles that of Baldwin's real life family, especially John's stepfather, the angry preacher from the south with some unresolved personal contradictions and a mixed protective step-fathering/your-not-really-my-son approach to his parenting. This book could be seen as a personal attack on James Baldwin's then deceased father, except it's nuanced and not without some bitter affection.
"What were her thoughts? Her face would never tell. And yet, looking down at him in a moment that was like a secret, passing sign, her face did tell him. Her thoughts were bitter."
Of course, he goes into this John's mother, presumably much like his own, and the siblings. And then there is John, on the brink of an adolescent awakening that is clearly gay and unrealized and that contorted into a confused and powerful religious experience.
"She knew through what fires the soul must crawl, and with what weeping one passed over. Men spoke of how the heart broke up, but never spoke of how the soul hung speechless in the pause, the void, the terror between the living and the dead;"
The reader takes in vividly a sense of the strain of black American life. There are almost no white characters, and none significant, but Baldwin conveys both the isolation of black Americans, and the limitations and stresses put upon them, the volume amped up in the fictionalized recreation of his biological father, who, as far as I know, he knew only very little about. It a society confined, tortured in complicated way that goes into the psyche, and one trying to make do psychologically, and desperately looking for help in religion.
An interesting first foray into Baldwin. Had I read this on its own, without my plan to read through his works, I would have appreciated it, but it would not have driven me to read more from Baldwin. This is, along with Giovanni's Room, Baldwin's main fictional classic. I'm curious what comes next, and whether the author will wink at us again, or drive hard and straight in his dark explorations.
>130 lisapeet: Thanks Lisa. That oddly where I’m at, except pretty much all I know came last month through Leeming’s biography and a movie I caught about Baldwin (I’m Not Your Negro - from 2016). Before that I didn’t really know anything, so it’s all very new and under-processed. Obviously, I don’t know if this was a good entry point - for me it was just first. But it’s a good book.
>131 OscarWilde87: Nice to see you OW. It’s never really late here, is it? Anyway, slumps stink. Hope your is coming to an end.
>128 dchaikin: Enjoyed your review. Go Tell It on the Mountain is probably the Baldwin book I will try at some point.
>134 valkyrdeath: I think Autumn opens: “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times” (Unfortunately I used a now returned library copy.) In any case, the reference had me smiling despite the obvious not happy scene. Thinking about reading Winter soon. I really enjoyed Ali Smith’s books.
>135 Jim53: Welcome and thanks.
>136 torontoc: : )
>137 thorold: - I saw a reference somewhere about that and read a really nice positive review. Not sure how widespread the showings will be, my local theaters being blockbusters-only. Ideally I would want to read the book first...(it’s November on the plan)
11. There There by Tommy Orange
readers: Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, Kyla Garcia
format: 8 hour audible audiobook (294 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Jan 31
listened: Feb 1-12
I enjoyed this collage of urban native American life, even if it was a little challenging to follow all the connections in audiobook form. Orange takes twelve characters in Oakland, CA, all with Cheyenne tribal connections, and builds a sympathetic picture of this world that brings up its many problems both in day-to-day life and in identity. He connects them all through a powwow and a 3D-printed version of Chekhov's gun. He got my attention immediately with his opening section, and, since I listen on my commutes, left me very annoyed to arrive at work 20 minutes from the end and things happening. I finished really wanting to know more.
This a both a well-presented and a tough audiobook. The readers are good, and led me to chose the book, but they have twelve characters to cover between the four of them, and some in 3rd person. Personally, I found it awkward to have a character read in 3rd person from the same voice that read that earlier read the character in first person - or, at least I think that happened. It was just a lot of perspectives for audio, and it doesn't help that the various connections between the characters are all subtly presented. Of course, I can listen again.
Overall, recommended, especially for contemporary fiction readers, but use audio with caution.
>143 lisapeet: Different readers have different skills or tolerances with audio, but I find I need the text pretty simple. I have trouble with many types of subtleties. So, this one pressed me. What I wanted, was to write down a character list and then go back and check. No recommended while driving.
12. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
published: 1967, revised 1986
format: 247 page paperback
acquired: 2010 from a now closed little bookstore in Brenham, TX
read: Feb 7-18
time reading: 9 hr 20 min, 2.3 min/page
My Litsy review:
Not sure how to review this, although for some reason I like the sound of the description—"a book on post-colonial Kenya". For all there is about Kenya's Mau Mau Rebellion, it's the way he is able to capture the emotional state of the characters that really struck me—especially jealousy and disappointment.Even though there is a lot more to say about this than that above, I find it hard to capture what I want. This is a story, through a village, of the Mau Mau Rebellion, the cruel British prison camps where suspected rebels were sometimes tortured to death, reprisals against this village, and the various humiliating ways people found to get through it. And then it's viewed in hindsight, as the day of independence from the UK approaches. But, when I closed the book, my main impression wasn't this history, it was tied specifically to the handful of main characters and their own states. They were what I was left thinking about.
13. The Golden Ass, or, Metamorphoses by Apuleius
translation from Latin by E. J. Kenney
Originally written: ~160 ce
format: 295 page Penguin Classics paperback
acquired: December, from a Half-Price
read: Jan 31 – Feb 20
time reading: 13 hr 55 min, 2.8 min/page
I don't think I ever fully appreciated what I was reading here. This is a pleasant read, especially as translated by Kenney, but probably also for native Latin speakers of its time as well. Lucius is a nice guy, he loves to observe and hear and tell stories, he likes sex, gets a little carried away, and he is really curious, especially about magic. All in one instant he takes the wrong potion, finds himself turned into an ass (similar dual meaning in Latin as in English), just as the house is robbed, and he is taken away as part of the booty. He winds up the pack animal for a den of thieves without anyone he even knows other than his horse, also captured. And that's just the beginning. There is much more to come: adventures, horrible deaths, tragedy, humor, performance, deceit, religious con-men, mythology, more sex (even in donkey form!), and finally a humorous window into a mystery cult, the cult of Isis.
Every time I picked this up I tried to remind myself that this is the only existing Roman novel (well, wikipedia says "Latin" novel). And every time I read the notes, which are really nice, Kenney would remind me of the meanings relevant to the era, but while reading I couldn't figure out a way to keep that in mind, I just wandered along with Lucius, my own humor a little less tolerant than his, but still I could appreciate it; I could especially appreciated his love for stories. He would let us know he heard a story he really wanted to write down to preserve (but obviously had to wait till he figured out a way to undo the potion) and then pause the other action to relate this story.
Apuleius was apparently quite a character in real life. Raised in northern Africa, educated in Carthage, and later in Greece where he studies Platonism, he would travel much of the Roman Empire in his life, become involved in the mystery cults in Rome, return to Africa where he married a wealthy widow and was, famously, charged with using magic to win her. His defense was equally famous, and has been preserved for us. His whole story takes place in Greece, which makes sense since he took the story, it's first person perspective, the leading character's name and all its main plot points from an earlier, now lost, Greek novel. In a sense, he translated into Latin, but he embellished a great deal, and most of his side stories, including a wonderful lengthy mythological bit on Cupid and Psyche, are additions. He named his novel Metamorphoses, referencing Ovid who he imitates to a small degree. (Apuleius was not writing poetry, or even difficult prose. He wrote in a simple, straight-forward Latin.) His style, this first person casual confessional, was imitated by St Augustine, who was also from northern Africa, and who derisively called Apuleius's book The Golden Ass. The name has stuck.
I think I first got that book out of the school library when I was about 16, and I’ve had it on my pile several times since, but never got past the introduction... Maybe you’ve encouraged me to have a try.
For the moment I’m moseying along. Theseus was basically a story of the zillion variations of the myths and what each means as to what might have actually happened. Now I’m on the Romulus chapter. Less crazy, but a story of a zillion names I’ve never heard of. One of the charms is reading someone seriously try to pick out a history from all this, just based on the available contradory and tall-tale-infested literature. He does cite sources, to an extent.
>159 auntmarge64: - Hoping you enjoy if you get there. Not sure of the archive.org version has notes, but then I was mixed on the notes. They were very good, but they demanded I read much closer and more carefully than I would have otherwise, and for this book that might have actually dulled the affect. It might have been better to just take in what’s on the surface.
>160 AlisonY: I’m really intrigued. Wondering how it will work (and I’m happy it will be in Spanish - assuming I can get subtitles)
14. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
format: 300 page Vintage paperback from 1971
acquired: from my in-laws, who probably bought it in 1971
read: Feb 19-26
time reading: 6 hr 51 min, 1.4 min/page
My Listy review: My first Cather hits all sorts of uncomfortable spots - missionaries, superiority of the religious and of western European culture. But Cather won me over because she was a great writer, humbled to the historical facts and to the landscape. She captures New Mexico, centered on Santa Fe, both in its 19th-century isolation and its natural timelessness. Will read more by her.
Cather writes about two French Jesuit missionaries coming to New Mexico after it was taken from Mexico by the US in the 1848 Mexican-American war. The new Archbishop, originally from France, comes from Ohio to fill-in for the now foreign Mexican archbishop in Durango. Told in a series of stories, our bishop is notable for his melancholy, his diplomatic restraint and his sensitive adjustment to his people, who he observes and respects in a sincere kind of way - his people are Mexicans and natives, all Catholic. The natives are notable for some violence against their own priests. His assistant, also French, makes a different kind of heroic character, adds a bit of humor, and paves over a lot problems for the archbishop.
Cather keeps to the factual oddities of 1850's New Mexico, especially in the landscape. She presents them as if a discovery, and describes what was essentially a wild isolated territory, with priests that have children, get very wealthy and otherwise abuse their role, or break Catholic priest behavior, and yet have the respect of their Mexican followers, and some tense cooperation with their native followers. It's a vivid picture of a place and time.
The subtext drove me crazy. And the contrast between my discomfort with it, this "charming" of the French Jesuit missionaries, and my appreciation of the actual text really affected my reading and confuses this review. I thought about it the whole time I was reading, but I wish I could have worried about it less. In hindsight I think she had a real integrity. I suspect she wasn’t really aware of this unspoken dark side from the perspective we have now, and that she really meant to show everything as it was. But, of course, it's still there.
I did really like Cather and plan to read more.
Below is Acoma, an isolated native settlement, and a natural and essentially impervious fortress that protected the small tribe from attack. It was my favorite place described in the book.
>173 thorold: DCftA might be a good preface to DL, and a good intro to Cather. Two-fer?
>173 thorold: it’s, of course, a different NM, but I liked her take in the landscape. Curious what your take might be.
15. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen
reader: Paul Boehmer
format: 16:30 Audible audiobook (415 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Feb 12
listened: Feb 13 – Mar 8
Thanks, Edwin, for leading me here.
Bergreen follows Marco Polo's journal, working out the history he walked through, giving some critical analysis to what was valid and what was fiction, and, playfully tying it all into Coleridge's Xanadu.
There are almost endless fascinating details crying to be told here. Such as how Marco's father and uncle stumbled their way to China to meet Genghis Khan, then returned to Venice, then, bringing Marco along, returned a second time - making Marco merely passenger along the 3 year trail back. Or how Genghis Khan used the Europeans, trapping them despite keeping them awash in riches, or all the details of Genghis Khan's personalities, quirks of the type that Chinese chroniclers did not, apparently, record, making Marco's story a window found nowhere else. Or just how a naive Venetian viewed this great Chinese civilization, vastly richer then his own, learning, in detail, about Beijing and Hangzhou from spending almost 20 years there. And so on.
Marco Polo composed his stories while in a Genoese prison, a prisoner of war. It seems a romance writer, Rustichello da Pisa, also imprisoned, wrote it down and then added his own fictional literary flourishes. And, actually, there is no single authoritative manuscript, as this was written around 1298, before European printing presses, and all copies were made by hand, with less than pristine efforts of integrity, completion or even belief in this accuracy of the stories. (Many of the crazier parts are entirely accurate and likely true reporting.) So, we have only a patchwork from various manuscripts, with some original parts lost.
I don't want to give the impression this was a perfect work of history. His details on Mongols, Beijing and Hangzhou will only keep the really interested from being bored from too much detail and too much chronological cycling. And his theories on Marco Polo's evolving perspective, developed from the tales, despite the tales all having been written down after the fact and together as one, seem a bit far-fetched. If there is an evolving perspective, one would imagine this is likely of author-intent. But regardless, fascinating history and fun listening. Enjoyed this a lot.
16. Notes of a native son by James Baldwin
format: 129 pages inside James Baldwin : Collected Essays
read: Feb 26 – Mar 9
time reading: 5 hr 57 min, 2.8 min/page
From Litsy: Having trouble putting thoughts together on this. His autobiographical essays are pretty powerful, especially the title essay about his 19th birthday spent dealing with his father’s death, the birth of his youngest sister and the Harlem riots of 1943. However, his non-autobiographical essays on racism made me uncomfortable because I didn’t get them or like reading them and was left wondering what’s wrong with me.
That, unfortunately, is all I can squeeze out of the keyboard just now.
17. Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
editor: Claire McEachern, for The Pelican Shakespeare series
published: originally performed 1596/7. Introduction for The Pelican Shakespeare 2000.
format: 153 page Pelican Shakespeare paperback
read: Feb 16 – Mar 17
time reading: 7 hr 21 min, 2.9 min/page
The latest in the Shakespeare readalong I'm doing on Litsy, one act per week. Henry IV part 1 is probably most famous for the overweight foil to the crown prince, Falstaff, pure humor of the sort without morals. There is also (in Act 2) a spectacular display of Shakespearean insults. Not my favorite Shakespeare play, but curious in its way, and entertaining. It's an only vaguely accurate take on the challenges to the throne of Henry IV, who had usurped the thrown and disposed of the previous king, Richard II.
There is, of course, a Henry IV, Part 2, which is part of a four play sequence: Richard II, Henry IV I, Henry IV II and Henry V. We'll read Henry IV, part 2 next. (Unfortunately I joined the group after they had read Richard II).
Slowly working my way through Plutarch's Lives. I think I'm enjoying it, I must be getting something out of plunging through these pages, and then spending a lot of time on wikipedia and similar sites, and lot of time looking up the right kind of maps. It's a lot like reading the bible...maybe most like Kings, except that Kings is a somewhat efficient presentation of essential information, whereas Plutarch is massive dump of tons of information. Plutarch doesn't worry about what's essential, it's all essential (no matter how hokey), so he puts it all down. This makes each page a little exhausting, and the brain frittery*, except when Plutarch takes his little philosophical wanderings and the blitzed part of the brain that has to decide what the heck to preserve can rest for a fit.
I thought I might try out adding a few notes on the various parallel lives, to give me a chance to review and a moment to think about the big picture. I'll try a few below.
*that's not actually a word. Still, it seems to make sense.
"As geographers, Sosius, crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect, that beyond this lies nothing but the sandy deserts full of wild beasts, unapproachable bogs, Scythian ice, or a frozen sea, so in this work of mine, in which I have compared the lives of the greatest men with one another, after passing through those periods which probably reasoning can reach to and real history find a footing in, I might very well say of those that are farther off: 'Beyond this there is nothing but prodigies and fictions, the only inhabitants are the poets and inventors of fables; there is not credit, or certainty any farther.'"
left: Theseus and all his most famous accomplishments. right: Romulus from a tile in Pompeii.
dates: mythical, 13th century bce??*
- mythical king of Athens who defeated the Minotaur.
- So, he represents beginning of Greek mainland autonomy
- mostly a summary of the Theseus myth, which I didn't take notes on.
dates: also mythical, mid to late 8th century bce
- mythical first king of Rome
- cheated his brother, causing Remus's death, founder of the Senate, dealt with the rape of Sabines ("the foundation of after friendship and public stability"**), the first Roman Triumph (on foot)
Mythical founder of Greek mainland autonomy with mythical founder of Rome
(note: Plutarch does his own comparisons, but they aren't, so far, typically very interesting. He loves gossip and intrigue and focuses on petty causes for large events (many of which are very entertaining), and he tends to not specify or even to blur the big picture. Maybe it's self-evident, or he just wants to reader to judge.)
*Theseus kidnapped a child Helen maybe ~10 years before the start of the Trojan war. Herodotus put the Trojan war at ~1250 bce. Hence the date.
**seriously, his take on the rape of the Sabines: "...by the respect and tenderness and justice shown towards them, he (Romulus) made it clear that this violence and injury was a commendable and politic exploit to establish society; by which he intermixed and united both nations, and made it the foundation of after friendship and public stability." !!
left: Lycurgus ~500 bce sculpture. right: Numa Pompilius on a Roman coin from time of Augustus.
dates: ~820 bce
- mythical lawgiver of Sparta
- credited with establishing Spartan military system and ethics (equality, military fitness, austerity)
- Gave the unwritten Rhetra - the Spartan constitution in verse
- discovered the works of Homer (in Ionia)
- So, he represents beginning of Greek ethics and government structure
- The words "spartan", and "laconic" go back to this myth.
dates: 753-673 bce
- mythical second king of Rome
- A Sabine
- connected to Pythagoras
- gentle and stoic, know for piety and wisdom
- peaceable and credited with placating the war-like Rome (gentling the Romans)
- founder of key Roman religious sects and rites - notably the Vestal Virgins
- sets up where the king instructs the priests
Mythical founders of Greek and Roman civility and cultural norms.
left: Solon right: Poplicola (sources unknown)
dates: 638-558 bce
- mythical foundation of Athenian Democracy - in verse
- Led to formation of main rivalries in Athens: economic-based, regional and aristocratic
- Reformed law codes of Draco (Draconian laws)
- Cancelled all debts (Seisachtheia), with lots of controversy
- Succeeded by the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus
dates: died 503 bce
- One of four founders of the Republic
- (Another was Lucius Junius Brutus, who had his own sons tortured and executed for treason to the Republic).
- Deposed Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, 7th king of Rome.
- The setting up of the Republic was no simple thing, involving many stages and many wars. It seems Rome was fighting everyone.
- Born Publius Valerius. Received the name Publicola later. It means "one who courts the people" or "people lover"
- The American Federalist Papers were signed "Publius“, referencing Poplicola
Mythical founders of popular government. The first to found a democracy and a republic.
left: Themistocles (source unknown) right: Camillus (from 16-century Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum)
- Athenian general, and a pre-sophist wisdom philospher
- non-aristocratic, a beneficiary of Athenian Democracy (re-established in 510 bce)
- pushed Athens to build a powerful navy and man it (using almost all common male citizens)
- changed the world by leading the defeat of Persian fleet in naval Battle of Salamis in 480 bce.
dates: 446-365 bce
- "second founder of Rome"
- established Roman ascendancy in the peninsula.
- defeated the Gauls after they sacked Rome in 390 bce (which happened during his exile)
- note - at this time Rome was still fighting wars in every direction, constantly.
- note2 - confusing chapter
Generals during major regional power shifts.
left: Pericles (Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 430 BC). right: Fabius (Roman coin, c. 233 BCE)
dates: 495-429 bce
- Greatest Athenian statesman, but also started the disastrous Peloponnesian War
- The main builder of the Acropolis, oversaw the flourishing of Athenian culture.
dates: 280-203 bce
- Famous Roman general who helped hold off Hannibal during the 2nd Punic War (218-201 bce)
- Famous for method of not confronting Hannibal, but attacking his supplies.
- George Washington was characterized as using a "Fabian strategy"
These are practically opposites. Athens would lose it's war and Rome would win, changing the history of each in opposite ways. So Pericles represents the high point of Athens before the fall. Fabius fought in the war that marked the spread of Roman power beyond the peninsula.
That does look like an interesting read. The only substantial work by Cather I read is The professor's house, a short novel that also features a Native American pueblo high up on a hill; it quite resembles that picture. If you want to read more by Cather, and that was your favourite setting, give The professor's house a try! (It's free on Project Gutenberg Australia)
Re: Shakespeare's Richard/Henry plays, have you seen the BBC series (The Hollow Crown)? I was mesmerized by both Richard II and Henry V, and enjoyed the Henry IVs too (not Falstaff, particularly). Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, especially his Saint Crispin's Day speech, is something I'll never forget, and Ben Whishow as Richard II was marvelous. Jeremy Irons as the older Henry IV (different actor in Richard II when Henry was younger) is towering, but pure nasty towards his son.
On the other hand, I'd love to see all the Richards/Henrys in one place. But not with any kind of grouped-up modern spin, just as the soap operas Shakespeare wrote.
>192 auntmarge64: I’m reading a 1683 translation ascribed Dryden, but not actually translated by him, than edited in 1859 by Arthur Hugh Clough. The weird thing is that it reads fine, although I wish there were notes.
>192 auntmarge64:, >193 baswood: I haven’t actually looked up any performances of these histories. Although I wonder constantly about the different ways it might be done. Prince Henry could come off very gracefully with the right performance. Maybe, Marge, I should spend some time looking up Shakespeare from the BBC.
Willa Cather is one of my favourite authors, but I haven't read all that many of her books, and wouldn't know where my copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop is.
As to Cather -- she's one of my favorites. I think I've read all of her novels EXCEPT Death Comes for the Archbishop -- put off by the missionary aspect, but I might be drawn in by New Mexico, one of my favorite states.
Her childhood home is open to literary tourists in Redcloud, Nebraska, and well worth the visit if you're ever in that neck of the plains.
>199 edwinbcn: wait, you have the 1838 edition - as in an 1838 print?! That’s really special. (Can’t help pointing out they predate Clough’s editing of Dryden’s version.) It’s made curious reading. I haven’t read Herodotus or Thucydides - or Livy or Tacitus (I read Suetonius for class way back when). So I’m having trouble understanding why I’m reading Plutarch. But I’m enjoying it.
>200 janeajones: You captured my imagination wondering about the impression of Baldwin in the 60’s and 70’s. Seems he was a powerful force of personality.
>199 edwinbcn:, >200 janeajones: Cather. I’ll start O Pioneers! Monday (with other books in progress...sigh.). Reading with a group on Litsy (poor group has me planning it)...really looking forward to it.
left: Alcibiades (Roman copy after a Greek original from 300's BC). right: Coliolanus confronted by his mother (1869 painting by Soma Orlai Petrich.)
dates: 450–404 bce
- talented Athenian general who switched loyalties. He joined Sparta against Athens and than later worked with the Persians before later returning to Athens and leaving again just before Athens fell to the Spartan general Lysander.
- corruptible, but adaptable and well liked until he wore out his welcomes.
- he was successful in about all his military campaigns, to both the benefit and injury of Athens, but was part of the reason Athens fell.
dates: early 5th century bce (mythical)
- brave Roman soldier who received his name after leading the capture of the Volscian city of Corioli.
- In the Patrician-Plebeian "conflict of orders" he was so intolerant of Plebeians, he was expelled from Rome.
- In vengeance he led a Volscian invasion of Rome, but turned his army back after his mother and wife confronted him, and pleaded him to stop. He was then killed by the Volscians.
- inflexible personality, respected as a brave fighter, but otherwise not liked by anyone.
- source of Shakespeare's play Coriolanus
Both were talented military leaders who became traitors. "The one, in spite of the harm he occasioned, could not make himself hated, nor the other, with all the admiration he attracted, succeed in being beloved by his countrymen."
left: Timoleon (from 16-century Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum). right: The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus by Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet, 1789
dates: 411–337 bce
- Corinthian who liberated Syracuse from its tyrant. He also conquered the surrounding area from other tyrants and from Carthaginian influence
- He stayed in Syracuse becoming undisputed unofficial leader of the city, but leaving behind a democratic legacy.
dates: 229-160 bce
- Led the conquering of Macedon for Rome in the 3rd Macedonian war, taking the king and family back to Rome for his triumph.
These are the stories of good conquerors who were seen as heroes at home. Plutarch explains they are role models for his own conduct, so that "I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life", through "the study of history". Having no real issues around them to deal with except success and praise, they make up two of the dullest lives so far.
Great review of James Baldwin: A Biography. Jimmy is my favorite North American writer, and I've read most of his books, but not this biography, even though I've owned it for several years. I'll be sure to get to it sometime this summer.
Nice reviews of Go Tell It On the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. If you haven't read Giovanni's Room you're in for a treat; it's one of a tiny number of books that I've read twice, and I'm eager to get to it again. Baldwin is my favorite essayist, regardless of country, and Notes of a Native Son is exceptional, although nowhere near as good as The Fire Next Time, which is brilliant, searing and brave, especially given when it was written.
Nice review of Autumn. I'll read several books by Ali Smith this year, particularly Winter, Spring, and How to Be Both.
A Grain of Wheat is my second favorite novel by Ngũgĩ, after Wizard of the Crow. I'd love to reread both books, but I should finish all of the others I own by him first. I'm glad that our late friend Rebecca introduced him to me, as he is my favorite African writer, living or dead.
Ali Smith’s Winter awaits a window in my suddenly overwhelming reading. Ngũgĩ was terrific. I should read Wizard of the Crow. And, yes, I thought about Rebeccanyc a lot while reading it.
left: Modern sculpture of the Sacred Band (2016 by Malcolm Lidbury). right: Marcellus (ca 25 BC. from Kea island).
dates: d 364 bce
- Theban statesman and general who led the Sacred Band and, along with Epaminondas, was key to the Theban revolt that overthrew Spartan domination over Greece.
- The Sacred Band was a fighting group made up of 150 pairs of Theban lovers. They were considered unbeatable.
- Won the Battle of Tegyrae over Spartans despite being out-numbered.
- Played a key role in the Battle of Leuctra, the key victory of Sparta, won by strategic trick of Epaminondas. Greek fighting was designed such that the best fighters were best used on the right, which became a place of honor. Epaminondas put his best warriors, including the Sacred band, on the left, directly against Sparta's best.
- Pelopidas would later be killed in a battle where he outran his forces, exposing himself (they won the battle)
dates: 268-208 bce
- Roman general famous for the spoila optima, the spoils gained because he killed the opposing general himself in battle
- A colleague of Fabian (see above) in the 2nd Punic War
- Took Syracuse in a siege resisted by the mathematician Archimedes and his machines. Archimedes died in the siege.
- Killed in an ambush while scouting Hannibal's army
These are two pretty good stories. Plutarch considers them two good generals who were killed in poor, maybe foolish decisions. But they are quite different. Pelopidas was a key part of in a miracle that upended the power balance in Greece. And he did it with a gay army that still and forever fascinates. Whereas Marcellus, while a Roman hero, known for being "addicted to war", was, in a way, just another leader of the Roman war machine.
>212 AlisonY: >213 NanaCC: Plutarch doesn’t go into that detail here. He is focused in Pelopidas, who was not part of the Sacred Band, but the general they followed for a time. It’s a fascinating premise. (Should have stopped my post here before the hand waving started) Let’s say it was actually true and not just myth, I would guess that these were elite fighters who were looked up to and honored and that the love relationship was something they willingly adapted as an initiation and bonding. But also, since effectiveness of these fighting groups was tied to how well armies coordinated all maneuvers as a group, you might suspect some mixing of myth and truth in a particularly close-knit effective unit.
>218 Dilara86: I knew of an (almost) unbeatable Theban army of gay lovers, but not their name or context. And I’ve always wondered about them and what their role was in all this. Mostly all new to me. Fun stuff.
>209 dchaikin: I guess it's one of those habits that just grows on you. I've been riding the subway for 30-something years, although there were times I was lucky enough not to have to commute by public transportation—I went through a bunch of happy bike-riding years. But I never even think about the one-handed, standing-up reading unless the book is heavy enough to make my hand cramp up. The medium iPad is the ideal size for me—any smaller requires too much page turning, a challenge in itself when reading one-handed, and my phone is just too small for my old eyes (though I mostly read without glasses, which is something—I have 'em, but I need to be reading up close at my desk for them to be useful; otherwise they give me headaches).
Hey! In my next life, I'm going to have a high-paying job in NYC and live on the Upper West Side. Only for a year or two though. Let's meet up! I'll take you for lunch somewhere swanky.