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dchaikin isn't sure what's ahead in 2019, but has a plan...

Club Read 2019

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Edited: Feb 3, 5:07pm Top

Illustration from Apulieus's The Golden Ass, by Jean de Bosschere (source)

Edited: Yesterday, 10:41pm Top

Currently Reading:                                                  ​

Currently Listening to:

Henry IV, Part 1 (The Pelican Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, edited by Claire McEachern (started reading Feb 16)
The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by E. J. Kenney (started reading Jan 31)
Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen, read by Paul Boehmer (started listening Feb 13)

Edited: Jan 1, 10:30pm Top

This year my plan has two themes, Rome to Renaissance & James Baldwin

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:

Bible Theme
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

Edited: Jan 1, 9:29pm Top

The James Baldwin plan

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.

January: James Baldwin by David Leeming, 1994
February: Go Tell It on a Mountain, 1953
March: Notes of a Native Son, essays, 1955
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)

Edited: Jan 1, 9:44pm Top

The Rome to Renaissance

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.

January: Finish the New Testament (2 John, 3 John, Jude & Revelation)
February: Golden Ass Paperback by Apuleius
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)

Edited: Yesterday, 10:41pm Top

2019 covers:

Edited: Feb 12, 8:23pm Top

Audiobooks listened to recently

Edited: Yesterday, 10:43pm Top

The list of books I've read. Links go to my review post on this thread.

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)

Edited: Yesterday, 10:43pm Top

Edited: Yesterday, 10:52pm Top

Some stats:

Books read: 12
Pages: 2212 Audio time: 35:32
"regular books"**: 8
Formats: Hardcover 5; Paperback 4; Audio 3;
Subjects in brief: Novel 5; Classic 5; Non-fiction 4; Ancient 2; On Literature and Books 2; Memoir 1; Biography 1; Essay Collections 1; Drama 1;
Nationalities: United State 5; Turkey 2; Scotland 2; England 2; Kenya 1;
Books in translation: 2
Genders, m/f: 7/3 unknown: 1; mixed 1;
Owner: Books I own: 8; Library books 4
Re-reads: 0
Year Published: 2010's 4; 1990's 1; 1980's 1; 1970's 1; 1960's 1; 1950's 1; 17th century 1; 0-1499 2

Books read: 999
Pages: 262,268; Audio time: 1374:29 (57 days)
"regular books"**: 632
Formats: Paperback 535; Hardcover 219; Audio 138; ebooks 68; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 434; Novels 255; Biographies/Memoirs 185; History 167; Classics 108; Journalism 92; Poetry 82; Science 77; Ancient 72; Speculative Fiction 64; Nature 54; On Literature and Books 49; Anthology 45; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 38; Essay Collections 35; Juvenile/YA 34; Drama 21; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 602; Non-American, English speaking 174; Other: 223
Books in translation: 167
Genders, m/f: 643/260
Owner: Books I owned 656; Library books 270; Books I borrowed 64; Online 10
Re-reads: 18
Year Published: 2010's 215; 2000's 270; 1990's 166; 1980's 111; 1970's 52; 1960's 36; 1950's 24; 1900-1949 30; 19th century 15; 18th century 0; 17th century 6; 16th century 3; 0-1499 15; 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.

Jan 2, 3:36pm Top

I’m always so impressed by your theme reads and your ability to follow through and complete them. Congratulations on completing the Marquez read!

Jan 2, 4:15pm Top

Starring this thread for the future!

Jan 2, 4:30pm Top

Dropping off my star - have a great reading year!

Jan 2, 9:03pm Top

>11 arubabookwoman: Thanks, on Marquez. He provided a really nice year of reading. We'll see how this plan turns out.

>12 Dilara86:, >13 AlisonY: much thanks. : )

Jan 3, 9:58pm Top

>5 dchaikin: Depending on how deep you want to go, Petrarch: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works is an anthology of essays about him (and mainly his work). Or you can even try The Cambridge Companion to Petrarch :) Both are quite academic but they do give you an idea - especially the early essays.

I actually like your reading list a lot this year - maybe I should just join you starting February and do some more structured reading... :)

Jan 3, 11:37pm Top

Dan, I just saw that you read The Winter's Tale last month. The photo you have in your post is from the recent ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet. The issue of how to show jealousy in a play without words was certainly a problem for the choreographer and composer, but along with Principal Dancer Edward Watson, who has a talent for darker roles, they came up with movements and expressions which actually make the viewer feel the jealousy as it spreads through Leontes' body. There's a short clip of Watson as Leontes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4HG52FiXME. I wish there was a clip of the actual moment he starts to feel jealous because it's so sudden and overwhelming, and so clear what's happening to him. But this clip gives an idea of how miserable he is.

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

Jan 4, 7:03am Top

I am always very impressed how some here on CR, including you, structure your intended reading. I'll stop in from time to time to see how it's going :-)

Jan 4, 1:00pm Top

>15 AnnieMod: that’s not the reaction I expected to that list, which left me wondering about my ability to make choices. : ) You’re welcome to join. Would be fun, Annie. Thanks for the Petrarch references.

>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.

Jan 4, 1:15pm Top

>18 dchaikin: Now I am curious what reaction you did expect? :)

Jan 4, 1:37pm Top

>19 AnnieMod: something along the lines of, what the hell are you reading? My internal critic tells me these books aren’t really connected and that they are just too many focuses and I won’t actually spend enough time to really immerse myself in any of them. Of course, my internal critic also says, would you go and them all already, goodness, what’s taking so long? Its (this internal critic) not particularly interesting in resolving its own contradictions.

Jan 4, 2:12pm Top

>20 dchaikin: :) Well, you know that group by now - you should have expected that someone else WILL be interested enough :) I've been meaning to come back to Beowulf since high school and I had read Plutarch, Petrarch and Dante (selections only in all 3 cases) around the same time - so time to go back to them. :)

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.

Jan 4, 2:16pm Top

Sounds like quite a plan you've got going there. Good luck, and have fun!
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...

Jan 4, 8:48pm Top

>21 AnnieMod: No, not ready to spend to half year on Petrarch...

>22 thorold: courage? hmm. I'll need a option b, myself. I'll keep an eye our for what pops up on your thread.

Jan 4, 10:23pm Top

66. Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 2003, from Spanish by Edith Grossman
published: 2002
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
rating: 4

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.

Jan 4, 10:34pm Top

67. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
published: 1988
format: 265 page mass market Paperback (a 2001 edition, and 13th printing by HarperCollins under HarperTorch imprint)
acquired: 2007
read: Dec 18-30 (I tried once before, in maybe 2008)
time reading: 10 hr 0 min, 2.3 min/page
rating: 3

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.

Edited: Jan 4, 10:45pm Top

68. Memories of all my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 2005, from Spanish by Edith Grossman
published: 2004
format: 115 page paperback
acquired: August
read: Dec 31
time reading: ~2 hr, ~1 min/page (I didn't actually track)
rating: 4

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.

Jan 4, 10:48pm Top

That closes out 2018 for me.

Jan 5, 3:23am Top

Happy New Year, Dan. I’m impressed, as ever, by your reading plans (how can you say they aren’t ambitious?), and by the fact that I know you’ll stick to them. Happy reading!

Jan 5, 10:03am Top

>28 rachbxl: happy new year to you too, R, and thanks for the encouragement!

Jan 5, 1:51pm Top

>24 dchaikin: I love a good biography, and that sounds terrific. I love the backgrounds of these author giants - most of them have some crazy backdrop story going on, and it seems Marquez was no exception.

Jan 5, 3:06pm Top

>24 dchaikin:

Sounds like a great end of reading through an author's works. How much does he talk about his books?

Jan 5, 8:10pm Top

I love themed reading lists (for others, not myself—I'm just not that disciplined in my reading life) and yours are very cool, Dan. Looking forward to hearing more.

Jan 5, 9:23pm Top

Your ability to follow through on themes is so impressive. Looking forward to hearing about your reads.

Jan 5, 9:55pm Top

>30 AlisonY: His, Marquez's, was somehow different than what I had imagined. I mean the starving column writer makes sense, but I had kind of assumed some things about his family life that were off the mark. He was more a self-made intellectual than I knew.

Jan 5, 10:07pm Top

>31 AnnieMod: I wrote a whole post about how little he talks about it, and, in doing so, realized how much he actually does cover. He only discusses either what he was writing during the time he covers, or some of the true stories behind his later fiction. For example, Love in the Time of Cholera is based largely on true aspects of his parents, especially their entertaining courtship. Also, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a brilliant novella, gets a mention because the true story it's based on and his original writing happened at this time. (His mother asked him not publish anything until some key people involved passed away. So it wasn't finalized and published until many years later).

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.

Jan 5, 10:08pm Top

>32 lisapeet: I've developed a weird feedback loop with this lists. Hopefully it happens again this year

>33 mabith: Thanks Meredith!

Jan 5, 10:30pm Top

>35 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. I had been looking at it for the last few years but was wondering if I should read some more of his fiction before that. Thus the question.

Jan 5, 10:40pm Top

>37 AnnieMod: hmm. No recommendation from me in terms of order. I'm not sure it ultimately made a difference for me. I do preferred his fiction over this memoir, for what it's worth.

Jan 6, 4:08am Top

>26 dchaikin: And so onto James Baldwin this year Dan..............

Jan 6, 7:04am Top

I always come to your thread for interesting discussions, Dan. It looks like this year will be no different. :-)

Jan 6, 5:22pm Top

>39 baswood: Yes. Biography is trying my patience, just makes me want to get to his writing (that's intended as a compliment to it)

>40 NanaCC: no promises. : ) Thanks, though.

Jan 6, 6:11pm Top

Looking forward to following your reading again this year. I'll be interested to see your opinions on the James Baldwin books. I've only read Giovanni's Room and didn't really get on with it, but I've a feeling I wasn't starting with one of his best works.

Jan 6, 7:30pm Top

I've loved your GGM reviews. I've read many of his books, but not in such a structured and complete way as you have done. I'm really intrigued by Living to Tell the Tale.

Jan 7, 1:40pm Top

>42 valkyrdeath: funny, Gary, but Giovanni’s Room is precisely the book that l’m most interested in. Noting your reaction.

>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.

Jan 8, 7:33am Top

1. Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles
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
acquired: 2012
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.

Jan 9, 10:19am Top

I like your James Baldwin plan. I keep meaning to read Baldwin but have been consistently distracted, which is not a bad thing really, just different. And I'm not prone at this point in my life to actually follow a plan preferring the "ricochet" reading approach. I will be following your reviews, though :-)

Jan 9, 2:18pm Top

>46 avaland: I enjoy tracking your reading path. Hoping the Baldwin plan is a good one. I’m enjoying the biography, which is sparking my already sparked interest.

Jan 11, 7:14pm Top


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...)

Jan 11, 7:56pm Top

Hi Annie - I picked up a copy by E J Kenney, but not with any care. On one hand I suspect the translation won’t be critical, at least not at the level I’ll be reading. But, on the other I hadn’t put any thought into to notes. That was maybe a mistake. I guess I’ll be stumbling in. Glad you’re bringing it up... and really glad you’re joining.

Jan 11, 8:12pm Top

You are probably right that the translation does not matter that much but as I don't have any just sitting around and was looking at Penguin (Kenney) and Oxford (Walsh), decided to stop by and check on what you are planning :) Both translations are from the 90s (although Kenney did revise his slightly in 2004) and both are considered good ones (for comparison the Bulgarian translation is from 1961 - so the notes are mainly on the symbolism and language...).

Jan 11, 10:35pm Top

I picked up the Kinney at a half-price bookstore because it was Penguin. The copyright is 199? And 2004. Hoping the notes are ok. (For Plutarch I bought nice copies only to figure out later it was an old translation (Dryden) with 19th century editing, and freely available on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere. But - at least it’s a physical book, instead of an ebook.)

Jan 14, 12:13am Top

Super interested in your Rome to Renaissance read. I took a bunch of courses in university that would fit into this, and on aspect I was fascinated by was how Rome became a ruin after the fall of the Empire. One of my professors gave me a reading list, and when I find it I'll compare it to what you're reading or perhaps make some suggestions.

Jan 14, 8:58am Top

>52 Nickelini: The list sounds fascinated and I'd love to see it. My own Rome to Renaissance theme is simpler than the title. It just means the earliest two books are Roman and last books helped kick off the Renaissance. I'm skipping to little specific little stones across the broad era. But, I would also like to read around these books and I'm also fascinated by Romes path to ruin.

Edited: Jan 14, 9:08am Top

2. The Book of Revelation
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
acquired: 2012
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.

Jan 14, 10:35pm Top

The New Testament
written ~60-120ce
format: 450 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
acquired: 2012
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.

Jan 15, 1:49am Top

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.

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).

Jan 15, 4:07am Top

>55 dchaikin: Thanks for that, Dan - really interesting to see how the NT looks when you step back from it a little way. And striking how flimsy the whole notion of "Bible-as-literature" seems to be when you actually try it on such a heterogeneous, unstable set of texts. Clearly you can usefully look at it in the specific light of how it does what it does, but it seems to miss the point when you try to pretend that you can read it the same way as you would a finished, unified aesthetic creation like Paradise Lost.

Edited: Jan 15, 7:18am Top

Like Nickelini, I haven't read the Bible straight through since high school, but I think your reviews are great. It is, no matter what else you consider it, a text (or, yeah, series of texts)—and therefore, at least in my own apostatic view, fair game as such.

Jan 15, 9:22am Top

On my readthrough of the bible I got bogged down in Kings somewhere. That was years ago, and I still haven't removed the book from my "currently reading" collection. I really should just bite the bullet and get on with it.

Jan 15, 1:11pm Top

>56 Nickelini: thanks Joyce! My atheism predates reading this. : ) Would you read it again?

>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)?

Jan 15, 5:44pm Top

>55 dchaikin: Interesting Dan. I have not read the bible (new Testament) since Sunday School when I was a pre-teen. Your overview leads me to believe it has little literary merit. I do remember some good stories from the NT some of which will be very familiar to so many of us in the Christian west.

Jan 15, 7:51pm Top

>61 baswood: when I started theaelizabet mentioned that she couldn't see reading the NT as literature. I thought about that as I read. First I felt that the gospels had a lot of literary aspects to them. What seemed to happen was that as I read on, and maybe because I came across things about the NT or maybe just because as they fell back as I read more, the gospels got reduced somehow. I think convincing myself that they are the later addition lessened them in my mind. So, that leaves Paul, and he's tough to think about through a literary perspective. Some people find Paul brilliant. If the NT is about Matthew, where it begins, then I think it has a lot of literary merit. I really got a lot out of Matthew.

Edited: Jan 15, 7:57pm Top

>60 dchaikin:
Hah, I just checked, and it turns out I quit went on hiatus at 2 Chronicles 20. I guess it's easy for a casual reader with a casual memory to confuse the two...

Jan 15, 8:05pm Top

This is a note to self - to be completest and have all this in one place:

First Five Books review (2012): http://www.librarything.com/topic/138560#3472119 (post 35)
OT review (2015): https://www.librarything.com/topic/197329#5364332 (post 124, but also see posts 115, 118 and 134)

Jan 15, 8:06pm Top

>63 Petroglyph: Now I fully understand. !!

Jan 15, 10:53pm Top

>60 dchaikin: Would you read it again?

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).

Jan 16, 10:35am Top

In reverse order:

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.

Jan 16, 1:01pm Top

>66 Nickelini: no doubt, it would be a much different experience! Hmm, actually I haven’t read any bible apologetics.

Edited: Jan 16, 1:17pm Top

>69 dchaikin: I’m going to respond in reverse of your post...

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.

Jan 16, 8:28pm Top

>68 dchaikin: actually I haven’t read any bible apologetics.

Ugh! Just don't. You'll only be annoyed.

Jan 16, 9:20pm Top

>69 dchaikin: It was a very cool class. And the professor, James Tatum, is the person who taught me to write. I wrote him a few years ago, thanking him, and he said, oh, yes, of course I remember you. Not sure if that is good or bad!

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!

Jan 16, 11:25pm Top

>70 Nickelini: ha! of course

>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)

Jan 17, 10:50am Top

>72 dchaikin: Well, I'm not particularly drawn to old men and prostitutes either. :-) What made the novella interesting to me was that it was written in what Hrabal called a palavering style; that the old man grows into dementia; and that it pokes fun at the powers that be in a funny way.

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.

Jan 17, 11:37am Top

>73 labfs39: wasn’t disrespectful, I just having fun, or meant to.

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.

Edited: Jan 18, 2:37pm Top

I just received a great birthday present from my brother- the three volume set of Robert Alter's translation and commentary on "The Hebrew Bible" - the set is sitting on my kitchen table ( in a really nice box) as I try to figure where to put it and when to start reading!

Jan 18, 4:19pm Top

>74 dchaikin: Aren’t you afraid that Aristophanes would inflict some terrible bad-taste practical joke on all the other guests?

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!

Jan 19, 11:22am Top

>75 torontoc: that cool, C. I really enjoyed Alter's Five Book of Moses and The David Story (1-2 Samuel) and his notes are always terrific - that's the best part of his translations. His translation of poetry is...well...he can't do everything right.

>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.

Jan 19, 10:24pm Top

3. Becoming (audio) by Michelle Obama
reader: the author
published: 2018
format: 19:03 audible audiobook (normally ~529 pages equivalent, but 426 pages in hardcover. I guess she reads slow.)
acquired: December
listened: Dec 7 – Jan 15
rating: 5

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.

Jan 20, 12:56am Top

> It's hard not to be depressed about the state of the world now. I find myself apologizing to my (now grown!) sons "It wasn't always like this. Politics used to be boring!" We've turned it into a show and .... well, *sigh*

I've heard a lot of people like this book. It's on my list.

Jan 20, 8:34am Top

>78 dchaikin: Lovely review, Dan. I said in my comments about the book that she gave me hope. The fact that she has endured all of the negative and hateful stuff, and still remains hopeful was uplifting.

Jan 20, 4:01pm Top

>78 dchaikin: Enjoyed your review

Jan 20, 4:25pm Top

>79 avidmom: I say similar things to my kids. What must they be thinking, what is their normal? Definitely recommend the book, good for our outlook.

>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!

Jan 20, 6:18pm Top

>78 dchaikin: That's a great review, Dan. I really like the concept of the force field of hope. I'm only halfway through but it's really buoying me up, just hearing her voice (and his) in my head.

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.

Jan 21, 4:44am Top

>78 dchaikin: Like I commented on Colleen's thread, playing Devil's advocate (which is much easier being outside of the States, so don't shoot me for this) is Michelle O. being very smart and deliberately capitalising on current US sentiment?

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...

Edited: Jan 21, 1:43pm Top

>83 lisapeet: The spell has stayed with me a bit, still. Glad you’re enjoying. I appreciated how she responds to the various things she and her husband were up against, and I wish she would think more on the 2020 button. Seems not.

>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.

Jan 22, 3:25am Top

>85 dchaikin: it's interesting that some of the reasons she seems to not like politics which I learnt from Colleen's thread (i.e all the nonsense between parties, and the 'politics' which make it difficult to get anything achieved) are all the things most sensible voters hate as well. It feels somehow tragic that the price we have to pay for democracy is accepting the political time-wasting and fighting between parties that goes along with that.

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....

Jan 22, 1:25pm Top

>86 AlisonY: I’m sure there are theories out there that suggest Obama’s (both) principles compromised their political effectiveness. The myth is that the pure of heart are eaten alive in the lower levels of American politics, but Obama only had one difficult election in his career before running for president, so he evaded whatever truth there might be in that.

UK politics is a complete mystery to me. Wishing sanity on politics everywhere. Would be nice.

Edited: Jan 25, 7:06am Top

4. James Baldwin : a Biography by David Adams Leeming
published: 1994
format: 420 page hardcover
acquired: library
read: Jan 1-19
time reading: 18 hr 3 min, 2.6 min/page
rating: 4

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.

Jan 25, 12:36pm Top

>88 dchaikin: I hope it's not going to put you off your Baldwin project Dan; even if you are liberal, white and Jewish

Jan 25, 1:18pm Top

>89 baswood: think I’ll regroup. : ) I think I may have been better off reading this last, when I could appreciate these details, rather than first, leaving my mind to frantically try to process it all.

Edited: Jan 25, 9:31pm Top

5. The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode
published: 1987
format: 672 page Hardcover
acquired: 2012
read: Jan 2012 – Nov 2015, June 2, 2018 - Jan 23, 2019
time reading: ~50 hr ~4.5 min/page
rating: 4

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.

Jan 26, 11:31am Top

>78 dchaikin: Loved your review of Becoming by Michelle Obama and gave it a thumb. I've just finished the book (I'm in a long waitlist for the audiobook) and agree that this was her attempt to define herself before others did it. Well worth reading. I gave it 5 stars.

>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.

Jan 26, 6:37pm Top

>92 VivienneR: Thanks! I'm still counting on this book carrying me through a while (even if Friday was a good news day)

Edited: Jan 29, 6:53pm Top

6. Plutarch by Donald Andrew Russell
published: 1972
format: 178 page hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Jan 20-28
time reading: 8 hr 8 min, 2.7 min/page
rating: 3

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.

Jan 30, 1:24am Top

>22 thorold: >94 dchaikin:
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...

Jan 30, 8:50am Top

Ha! I expect Petrarch and his Laura will be more fun.

Jan 30, 8:59am Top

I'm looking forward to your year of reading Baldwin. He's a writer I'm planning on exploring too, at some point (I've only read Go Tell It on the Mountain).

Jan 30, 10:08am Top

>97 Dilara86: Thanks! Someone pointed me to a documentary I watched yesterday - I’m Not Your Negro (2016). It was really good and has some great video of Baldwin. (Not sure if this applies for you, but it’s free with Amazon Prime).

Jan 30, 10:32am Top

>98 dchaikin: Ah yes, I saw it at the cinema! It was indeed really good and very moving.

Jan 30, 10:05pm Top

>55 dchaikin: Dan, I read your review of the NT with great interest. Except to read aloud to family members near the ends of their lives, I haven't read the Bible in 50 years. Before that, OT once a year and NT twice a year as part of our household schedule. I've never felt I could go back and read it as plain literature as you have, but maybe it's been long enough to give it a try. I do love the King James' version of both the OT and NT. Whether it's accurate or not is of no consideration to me. I just love the language.

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.

Jan 30, 10:27pm Top

7. Autumn by Ali Smith
published: 2015
format: 264 page hardcover with a lot of white space
acquired: Library
read: Jan 28-29
time reading: 5 hr 6 min, 1.2 min/page
rating: 4

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.

Jan 30, 11:05pm Top

>100 auntmarge64: Such a lovely post, AuntMarge. A thank you. I haven't really dug down into my own discomfort with the NT but it's very difficult to understand what role it plays in those fundamentalism style hatreds and antisemitism (anti-muslim, anti-immigrant, or whatever) because the ideas expressed aren't those of careful readers, but of people happy to be told what to think without complications. I think the idea of a bible of justification is more far important to great deal of people than the perspective of studying or reading it carefully. It's a curious text. I can't say it doesn't make me uncomfortable, but it's not clear to me why or in what manner. It does so differently from how the OT does.

Jan 31, 4:31am Top

>94 dchaikin: Enjoyed your excellent review of Plutarch (its so easy to get your Petrarchs and your Plutarchs mixed up even if there was 13 centuries between them - I blame predictive texts). I keep bumping into Plutarch in my reading so perhaps I ought to read Donald Andrew Russell.

Jan 31, 5:09am Top

>101 dchaikin: your review made me eye up Ali Smith's The Accidental that's been languishing on my bookshelf for many years now after I tried a few pages and hated it. My reading habits have changed (especially since reading CR), so given so many rave reviews of Autumn and others in that series, I think I'll have to have another go.

I do seem to remember other people not enjoying The Accidental, though - perhaps it's not the best starting point.

Jan 31, 1:14pm Top

>103 baswood: How’s you Roman philosophy, Bas? I think Russell is a decent entry into Plutarch, and there probably isn’t a whole lot out else out there. (I poked around on Amazon and google but got very frustrated going through endless translations of his work without finding much on criticism. My library had less to go through and this was one of two of this sort of book there. I tried the other - from 1948, but found Russell’s text more engaging and less speculative. Anyway, point of ths parentheses is that, honestly, I’m not sure.). Also, those names are terrible confusing and the millennium between them isn’t exactly filled with multitudes of well-known giants. And, thank you.

Jan 31, 1:21pm Top

>104 AlisonY: hmm, not sure Alison. Haven’t read that one, but you might give her another try when in the right mood. Autumn, despite the apparent more serious purposes, was mainly fun from the opening. Same with How to Be Both, which I’m about to finish on audio. I hope you you connect with her - but there are always plenty more books out there.

Jan 31, 10:14pm Top

The Accidental is the only book by her I've read and I loved it.

Feb 1, 3:09am Top

>107 Nickelini: you're persuading me to give it another go, as I know we like a lot of the same books.

Feb 1, 1:04pm Top

Joyce - Good to know. Seriously considering trying to read through all her books.

Feb 1, 5:51pm Top

>105 dchaikin: Talking about confusing names, your post made me realise that I have Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy sitting on my shelf. I have had it since I left work; it was part of my leaving present. I have only opened the book a couple of times to look at the table of contents, perhaps I should read it this year.

Feb 1, 8:12pm Top

>110 baswood: this is a dangerous site, Bas.

Feb 2, 2:25pm Top

>101 dchaikin: I loved Autumn too!

>104 AlisonY: It seems The Accidental by the same author, is one of those books you love or hate. I hated it.

Feb 2, 4:34pm Top

details from Francesco del Cossa's contribution to the hall of months, c1470

Feb 2, 5:00pm Top

8. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
reader: John Banks
published: 2014
format: 8:29 audible audiobook (~235 pages equivalent, 372 pages in hardcover)
acquired: January
listened: Jan 15-31
rating: 4

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.)

Feb 3, 5:49pm Top

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
acquired: library
read: Jan 6 – Feb 3
time reading: 7 hr 43 min, 3.4 min/page
rating: 4

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."

Feb 4, 7:50am Top

>115 dchaikin: You found a photo of poor cross-gartered Malvolio!

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.

Feb 4, 1:24pm Top

>116 ELiz_M: my Litsy post picture is better : ) Doesn’t work as well in this thread context.

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.

Edited: Feb 5, 1:33am Top

>117 dchaikin: I’ve often regretted that we never went to see Ken Dodd playing Malvolio in Liverpool in 1971. Probably pure chance that we didn’t - my parents did occasionally go to plays there, and I would have been old enough to come. It would have been quite something, I'm sure.

Michael Billington on Ken Dodd and Shakespeare: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2005/sep/15/theatre3

Feb 5, 1:59pm Top

>118 thorold: I’m not familiar with Dodd, but fun article. Shakespeare did like his comedy. Would love to know how his group presented it.

Feb 5, 3:47pm Top

>118 thorold: I'd no idea that Ken Dodd was an actor. I thought he was just a silly comedian. Now that I think about it, he would be a natural for Malvolio.

Feb 5, 4:03pm Top

>120 VivienneR: I don’t think he was an actor, really, apart from that - a clever director talked him into doing it, he played it as straight as he could, and apparently it worked and it got the theatre a lot of good publicity.

Feb 5, 4:17pm Top

Ah, that explains it. Although I do remember he had a couple of hit songs proving he could be straight at times.

Feb 5, 10:34pm Top

>115 dchaikin: Haha, what a great photo!

Feb 6, 6:15am Top

>55 dchaikin:, >56 Nickelini: Rather late to the party....As someone who has also "read the whole thing" (albeit in the 1970s), I also think you did a fabulous and interesting review.

Feb 8, 1:22pm Top

>123 auntmarge64: just google yellow crossed garters - and up comes a zillion references to Twelfth Night. : )

>124 avaland: thanks so much, Lois. Appreciate it.

Feb 8, 5:50pm Top

I don’t think I ever said how relieved I was that your Ali Smith experience worked out favourably :-)

>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...

Feb 8, 10:21pm Top

>126 thorold: oh, no worries, I adore Ali Smith. And, if Plutarch does show up, you know...you could read him. : )

Feb 9, 6:16pm Top

10. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
published: 1953
format: 215 pages inside Early Novels and Stories
acquired: December
read: Jan 30 – Feb 7
time reading: 8 hr 21 min, 2.3 min/page
rating: 4

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.

Feb 9, 6:21pm Top

>10 dchaikin: Great review! This is an author I plan on reading too, but haven't yet.

Feb 9, 10:19pm Top

Really nice review. I know much more about Baldwin’s history than his actual work, and that seems like a good entry point.

Feb 10, 7:26am Top

Hi there, Dan! Just dropping by to say hello! I'm very late to the group in 2019, but the beginning of the year was just one giant slump. Glad to be back, though!

Feb 11, 1:01pm Top

>129 avidmom: Thanks Susan. I would love to read your take on Baldwin.

>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.

Feb 11, 6:29pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Go Tell it on the mountain I probably read this over fifty years ago.

Feb 11, 8:09pm Top

>101 dchaikin: Your line "I suspect she could write almost any story she wanted and I would be happy to follow along" sums up how I felt on first reading Ali Smith. Your mention of A Tale of Two Cities has reminded me that the opening line and some of the passages throughout Autumn reflected that book. I hadn't made the connection before, but Winter does the same thing with A Christmas Carol. I'm now curious if there's going to be another Dickens book running through Spring.

>128 dchaikin: Enjoyed your review. Go Tell It on the Mountain is probably the Baldwin book I will try at some point.

Feb 11, 8:19pm Top

>128 dchaikin: I, too, have been thinking about Baldwin, and this might be the nudge I need. Nice review!

Feb 12, 9:46am Top

Yes, I will have to put the Baldwin book on my wish list!

Feb 12, 12:28pm Top

...Just saw that there’s a new film of If Beale Street could talk that’s getting good reviews, so that might be the Baldwin we all get to re-read next.

Feb 12, 1:02pm Top

>133 baswood: thanks Bas. Taking a moment to try to process 50 years, or the ~66 since the book came out.

>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)

Edited: Feb 16, 2:50pm Top

11. There There by Tommy Orange
readers: Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, Kyla Garcia
published: 2018
format: 8 hour audible audiobook (294 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Jan 31
listened: Feb 1-12
rating: 4

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.

Feb 17, 12:08pm Top

>139 dchaikin: you hit me with a book bullet with this one. Sounds like an interesting read.

Feb 17, 2:41pm Top

>140 AlisonY: It's very well meaning bullet. This is a perfect book to check out a sample (text or audio)...

Feb 17, 4:00pm Top

The connections between the characters are hard to keep track of when reading the physical book as well. Still, I thought that There There was a strong book, astonishingly so for a debut. Orange will be someone to watch.

Feb 17, 5:25pm Top

>139 dchaikin: That seems like it would be a challenging audiobook, though I'm probably not a good judge of that because I'm not an audio format reader. The characters were great on the page, but I'm not sure how that would translate... so much of it was between the lines, for me.

Feb 17, 7:24pm Top

>142 RidgewayGirl: I agree, Kay. I liked his work. He looks really young in pictures (I didn’t check his age)

>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.

Feb 17, 7:26pm Top

... Tommy Orange is 37, younger than me, but not a pup.

Yesterday, 2:59pm Top

Ah, now I'm extra sad my book club didn't go for There, There as an upcoming read (I voted for it myself). Will put it on the person list for 'eventually...'

Yesterday, 10:38pm Top

>146 mabith: It's not a perfect book, but I enjoyed it a lot. Hope you get there.

Group: Club Read 2019

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