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dchaikin - forward and backward

Club Read 2017

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Edited: Dec 28, 2016, 1:35pm Top

Tangled up on plans and how to pursue them. Roughly I want to get to Virgil, Ovid and maybe more Pynchon...and then there are lots of loose ends and half thought out ideas.

Edited: Jun 19, 2017, 1:20am Top

Currently Reading:

Ovid : The Love Poems (Oxford World's Classics) translated by A. D. Melville (started June 18)

Currently Listening to:

The Road to Little Dribbling : Adventures of an American in Britain (Audio) by Bill Bryson, read by Nathan Osgood (started June 6)

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

Edited: Jun 19, 2017, 12:58am Top

Recently Read

Recently Listened to


Edited: Jun 25, 2017, 6:11pm Top

My 2017 list of books read


1. ***** The Story of a New Name, Neapolitan Book 2 by Elena Ferrante (read Dec 22 - Jan 1)
2. **** Hillbilly Elegy : A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis" (audio) by J. D. Vance, read by author (listened Jan 3-9)
3. ***** Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Neapolitan Book 3 - Elena Ferrante (read Jan 1-10)
4. ***** The Story of the Lost Child, Neapolitan book 4 by Elena Ferrante (read Jan 10-17)
5. *** The Last Trojan Hero : A Cultural History of Virgil's Aeneid by Philip R. Hardie (read Jan 17-27)
6. **** The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America by George Packer, read by Robert Fass (listened Jan 9-31)


7. ****½ Lost in the City : Stories by Edward P. Jones (read Jan 28 - Feb 5)
8. **** Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Audio) by Sarah Vowell, read by author (listened Feb 3-13)
9. **** The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles (read Feb 6-18)
10. **** Aeneid Book VI : A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition by Virgil, translated by Seamus Heaney (read Feb 19-20)
11. **** Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr (read Feb 20-24)
12. **** Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard (read Feb 26)


13. ***½ Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson (The Myths) by David Grossman (read Feb 26 - Mar 1)
14. **** Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Robin Miles (listened Feb 28 - Mar 3)
abandoned: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others. Read mainly by Linda Lavin (listened to ~9/13 hours Mar 16-28)


15. **** Homegoing (Audio) by Yaa Gyasi, read by Dominic Hoffman (listened Mar 29 - Apr 10)
16. ????? Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (read Mar 1 - Apr 13)
17. ***** March (Trilogy) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (read Apr 15-18)
18. ***½ Behold the Dreamers (audio) by Imbolo Mbue, read by Prentice Onayemi (listened Apr 13-24)
abandoned: The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, read by the author (listened to 32% from Apr 25-27)
19. **** The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon (read Apr 17-29)


20. **** Born to Run (Audio) by Bruce Springsteen, read by the author (listen to ~80% Feb 14-27, read last 74 pages Apr 30 - Mar 1)
21. ---- Ovid: Selected Poems by David Hopkins (read Apr 23 - May 2)
22. ***½ The Undoing Project : A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis, read by Dennis Boutsikaris (listened May1-10)
23. ****½ Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (read May 3-16)
24. **** Commonwealth (audio) by Ann Patchett, read by Hope Davis (listened May 17-26)


25. **** South and West : From a Notebook (audio) by Joan Didion, read by Kimberly Farr (listened June 1-4)
26. ?? A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard (read May 16 - June 17)

Edited: Jun 19, 2017, 12:59am Top

At the moment the half thought out ideas come from what I didn't get to last year and look something like this:

mythology and classics
Virgil’s Aeneid
Ovid’s Metamophoses
The White Goddess - Robert Graves
The Greek Myths - Robert Graves
The Quest for Theseus - Anne G. Ward
The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
Omeros by Derek Walcott
The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
Ulysses - James Joyce, which would need help: The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires and/or James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert

(1997) Mason & Dixon 800 pages
(2006) Against the Day 1104 pages
(2009) Inherent Vice 384 pages
(2013) Bleeding Edge 500 pages

more up-to-date stuff
Elena Ferrante - The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, & The Story of the Lost Child
Here I am by Jonathan Safran Foer
A Time for Everything - Karl-Ove Knausgaard - and so, maybe then also My Struggle??
Outline - Rachel Cusk
The Pale King - David Foster Wallace
M Train - Pattie Smith

Dec 28, 2016, 2:21pm Top

Your plans look interesting again, Dan. I look forward to your posts.

Edited: Dec 28, 2016, 3:37pm Top

>1 dchaikin: I love that image! Do you know the sculptor/name of the piece?

And I am amused with the inclusion of The Long Ships with all the old stuff (I applaud the inclusion of Ulysses, but it doesn't make me giggle).

Edited: Dec 28, 2016, 6:19pm Top

>6 NanaCC: Thanks Colleen, I look forward to following you too!

>7 ELiz_M: Liz, Virgil-Ovid-Joyce doesn't make any clear sense - but, well, maybe, with a stretch Homer-Virgil-Joyce does. : ) It's an excuse, anyway. The Long Ships is also on the Homeric/Odyssey theme.

The sculpture is Bernini - wikipedia link here

Dec 28, 2016, 7:49pm Top

The Long Ships is a great rollicking yarn. I loved it.

Dec 28, 2016, 8:20pm Top

Interesting plan as always :) Happy reading, Dan!

Dec 29, 2016, 12:45am Top

It sounds as though you have a well planned strategy, Daniel. I was waiting to see if you were going to stick with mythology or try another subject. You have more tenacity than I do.

Dec 29, 2016, 5:27am Top

Looking forward to reading about your readings in 2017 :-)

Dec 29, 2016, 7:07am Top

>9 NanaCC: The Long Ships kept coming last year when I was deep into Homer. I do want to read it - although admittedly I haven't got so far as to buy a copy yet.

>10 AnnieMod: Thanks Annie!

>11 This-n-That: Lisa, it's much less a plan than last year when I had books laid out by month. Not sure how it will work out. But, yeah, still want to follow mythology trend.

>12 FlorenceArt: thanks Florence! I was in Miami over the holiday and, although I didn't get to a gallery, I did make the art district - where the graffiti isand Wynnewood Walls - for the first time ever.

Dec 29, 2016, 7:42am Top

>13 dchaikin: I'm going there in a couple of weeks to see my sister. I'm sure we will make the rounds of the usual collections. there's always something new to see, or something old to revisit.

Dec 29, 2016, 2:04pm Top

I loved The Long Ships too. And great plan.

Dec 30, 2016, 11:13pm Top

I'm so happy you're enjoying the Ferrante books. I usually leave long gaps between books by the same author, but I had to read the second and third two books back to back and gnash my teeth until the fourth book was released in English.

Dec 31, 2016, 12:48pm Top

>14 FlorenceArt: Florence - I was talking to my sister about (and my wife, who didn't grow up there), and we were trying to figure out when Miami became such an interesting and energetic arts center. I don't think it was that way when I was growing up...even if it wanted to be. It all seems new to me. I have a lot to explore...unfortunately, I'm far away now.

>15 rebeccanyc: Thanks R!

>16 RidgewayGirl: Kay, it ruined my plans. I have all these other books to read, and I was really planning on diving into the Virgil tomorrow, but I can't touch them, any of them. They have no appeal with Ferrante's sitting around unread. So, I'm blaming her for whatever happens or doesn't happen to my reading in 2017. I can't see myself leaving another gap between the last three books.

Dec 31, 2016, 9:58pm Top

Looking forward to following your reading again this year and all the interesting discussions your thread always seems to inspire.

Jan 1, 2017, 5:09am Top

Looking forward to your reviews again, Dan.

All those Pynchons, I haven't read him yet but will have to as I want to read the 1001 books list, so I'll follow your thoughts on them.

Jan 1, 2017, 6:20am Top

Looking forward to following your reading again!

Jan 1, 2017, 6:40am Top

Looking forward to following your reading, Dan. Your plans look great. I recently acquired a copy of The Long Ships, and am looking forward to reading it soon.

Jan 1, 2017, 7:57am Top

You'll get ahead of me quickly with the Ferrante books. I am reading them in Italian, so it takes a while.

Jan 1, 2017, 11:58am Top

Happy New Year, Dan -- it's impossible to set aside the Ferrante books -- I binge read them in about 2 weeks.

Jan 1, 2017, 3:48pm Top

Happy New Year - looking forward to your thread for 2017.

Jan 1, 2017, 4:29pm Top

Happy New Year to you Dan.

Edited: Jun 19, 2017, 8:03pm Top

Some stats:

Books read: 26
Pages: 5541; Audio time: 104:13 (4 days, ~2894 pages)
"regular books"**: 13
Formats: Audio 10; Paperback 9; Hardcover 7;
Subjects in brief: Novel 12; Non-fiction 9; Biography/Memoirs 5; History 3; On Literature and Books 2; Poetry 3; Classic 3; Ancient 3; Journalism 3; Short Stories 1; Graphic 1; Science 1;
Nationalities: US 15; Italy 6; UK 1; Israel 1; Ghana 1; Cameroon 1; Norway 1;
Genders, m/f: 14/12
Owner: Books I own 13; Library 13
Re-reads: 1
Year Published: 2010's 16; 2000's 2; 1990's 3; 1980's 1; 1970's 1; 00's 1; bce 2;

Books read: 889
Pages: 244,386; Audio time: 981:04 (40 days, or ~27,252 audio pages)
"regular books"**: 579
Formats: Hardcover 205; Paperback 480; ebooks 65; Audio 98; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Novels 229; Non-fiction 394; Poetry 76; Drama 18; Graphic 43; Juvenile 32; Speculative Fiction 65; History 149; Science 71; Nature 53; Journalism 81; Anthology 44; Short Story Collections 30; Essay Collections 30; Classics 85; Biographies/Memoirs 163; Interviews 13; On Literature and Books 46; Ancient 53
Nationalities: US 555; Other English speaking countries 155; Other countries: 180
Genders, m/f: 586/225
Owner: Books I owned 593; Library books 222; Books I borrowed 63; Online 10
Re-reads: 18
Year Published: 2010's 176; 2000's 262; 1990's 154; 1980's 102; 1970's 46; 1960's 32; 1950's 22; 1900-1949 25; 19th century 14; 18th century 0; 17th century 3; 16th century 3; 0-1499 2; BCE 49

*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 1, 2017, 5:09pm Top

Gary, Barbara, Oscar, Rachel, Ursula, Jane, Alison, Lucy - so nice to see all of you here. Thanks for stopping by. Happy New Year all. Can't promise any good conversations, but hope they stumble out.

Ursula, very impressed your reading Ferrante in Italian. And Jane, you're right about these books. You know, they are the worst bedtime reading. I stay awake and think about them endlessly after I finally close a book.

Jan 1, 2017, 8:39pm Top

Dan, it looks like I will be spending plenty of time here.

A statholic after my own heart it would seem.

I have kept records of all my reading since 1994 but usually only list what I have read since signing up to LT and keeping a thread in 2011.

Read Omeros a few years ago and Walcott always rewards our patience!
Song of Achilles is also well worth a read.

If I can coax out my masochistic side, I will join you at some stage with a pinch of Pynchon

Jan 1, 2017, 9:16pm Top

Jan 1, 2017, 9:22pm Top

Welcome over Paul. I don't think Pynchon comes in pinches. Mason & Dixon is a quite the brick. It's on my shelf waiting. I'll have to get copies of the others. As I understand, M&D will be something of a research project.

Thanks for the encouragement on Omeros. I'm a bit intimidated. Song of Achilles I'm hoping will be fun.

And yes, I love stats. It's January 1 and I had to take my excel sheet and set it up for a new year, and then I started creating graphs, because, you know, I have all these numbers just sitting there. Well, of course, I got carried away, again. Somewhere around the house I have a paper-clipped list from high school: crumbled up sheets of stained lined paper of different types, each book written in my terrible handwriting with whatever pen or marker I happened to have had at hand. And I regret I hadn't listed everything else before that!

Jan 1, 2017, 9:23pm Top

>30 The_Hibernator: Thanks Rachel. Need to revisit this post in four weeks.

Jan 3, 2017, 3:34am Top

Hi Dan, as always you have interesting reading plans and I'm looking forward to following them.

I've owned a copy of The Greek Myths by Robert Graves since I was a teenager, but never known quite how to tackle them. One day, one day...

More realistically, after reading My Brilliant Friend in 2015, I'm hoping to complete the quartet this year. I wouldn't say I'm hooked yet, but I've heard that has happened to a few people in the second book, so I've made sure I have all the books before starting it!

Jan 3, 2017, 7:35am Top

Rebecca - I'm just lost in Ferrante. I kind of understand how, but not entirely and hoping I don't look into enough to spoil the magic. These nonfiction Graves books are apparently very difficult. When I bought The White Goddess (at Ann Patchett's bookstore in Nashville, TN), the bookstore clerk gave me whole story of his struggles with it and how it began to make sense. He was quite moved by it...and a good salesman. I bought the book.

Jan 3, 2017, 7:43am Top

>33 Rebeki: I wasn't even hooked after the second one, but the third draw me in completely!

Jan 3, 2017, 11:35am Top

Omeros is wonderful and really not that difficult a read once you get into the poetry.

Jan 3, 2017, 12:30pm Top

Looking forward to following your reading again. I really enjoyed The Song of Achilles, and it's a nice engaging novel, so maybe a good break within the harder reads.

Jan 3, 2017, 1:04pm Top

Hi Dan--I'm looking forward to following your reading once again, and this year I hope to be better at commenting. You've convinced me to try My Brilliant Friend which I have on my Kindle this year.

Edited: Jan 3, 2017, 4:46pm Top

Great thread title, beautiful image and I'm looking forward to your reading once again this year. I tout this book every chance I get, and have on previous threads of yours, so I was really happy to see you mention it here, but do read The Long Ships. It will be great for a reading slump, too many Greeks, or anything else that ails you.

Jan 3, 2017, 10:35pm Top

Barabara, Jane, Meredith, Doborah and Ms. S - welcome. Nice to have so many visitors.

>36 janeajones: Jane, You got me excited about Omeros with one of your slideshows. I am certainly looking forward to it.

>37 mabith: Meredith - that's what I'm hoping, that and spending time with Achilles and Hector again.

>38 arubabookwoman: mission accomplished Deborah. : )

>39 SassyLassy: thank you. The title is, I think, supposed to express my general sense of indecision. I've always loved that sculpture. It came up when I googled Ovid, then later I got attached to that particular photo. But I'm bad haven't even looked up the source (which is, of course, addressed in my own post). And, yeah, Long Ships. If I read it and don't like it, I might have to change my username and go hide from half of CR...

Jan 3, 2017, 11:36pm Top

I wasn't as enthralled by The Long Ships as most were -- but found it an entertaining Norse swashbuckler.

Edited: Jan 4, 2017, 3:58pm Top

I'm with those who absolutely loved The Long Ships! (To my great surprise).

Jan 4, 2017, 6:35pm Top

>42 arubabookwoman: Oh yes, me too, although not the surprise. I held off reading for the longest time, waiting for a time I would really need something fun to get me out of the reading dumps. It did the trick!

Jan 4, 2017, 8:54pm Top

>31 dchaikin: Yes you are right Dan; Pynchon's books are normally fairly hefty tomes aren't they with a few exceptions. I have most of his books on the shelves but must shamefacedly admit to not having read any of them. Must put that right.

Jan 4, 2017, 9:56pm Top

Jane - good to know

Deborah - noting

Maggie - fun? Huh. I think I was expecting gore and seriousness. And welcome to my little place here.

Paul - how dedicated are you? I'll try to put up some warning before I get to Mason & Dixon. It will be a couple months. March might be the time.

I will eventually review a book here, I think.

Jan 5, 2017, 5:07am Top

>45 dchaikin: March should be good, Dan - I will join you for Pynchon all being well.

Jan 5, 2017, 7:08am Top

I'm penciling it in, Paul. For me, Ferrante in January, Virgil in February, then the brick.

Jan 5, 2017, 7:27am Top

I'm glad to read the encouraging comments about Omeros. I bought it several years ago during the annual New Year's Day sale at Book Culture in NYC when I left with four or five bags filled with 40-50+ books, but its size has been daunting to me. I'll add it to my list of books to read this year or next.

Jan 5, 2017, 1:30pm Top

Looking forward to your review on the hillbilly book - sounds intriguing.

Jan 5, 2017, 9:09pm Top

>48 kidzdoc: I haven't actually bought a copy yet, so I'm undaunted that way. I

>49 AlisonY: The hillbilly book is ok. I mean it's nice and reads well, good for my commute. But, it's not like an in depth analysis of, well, anything.

Edited: Jan 5, 2017, 9:38pm Top

>50 dchaikin: I just started the hillbilly book (Hillbilly Elegy) for my bookclub. I think it is not the book I want it to be. I'll be interested in your thoughts when you finish.

Edited: Jan 14, 2017, 3:50pm Top

1. The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan #2) by Elena Ferrante
translation from Italian by Ann Goldstein
published: 2012, translated 2013
format: 456 page paperback (with annoying cover above)
acquired: December
read: Dec 22 - Jan 1
rating: 5

Nothing makes me feel more inadequate writing then trying to review a book I loved. Ferrante swept me away with book one more than any other book I can immediately remember, and certainly more than any of the other books I read last year. And she swept me again, here, with book 2. And I'm fully under her spell now, as I write. I'm in the midst of book 3.

The first two books took some time to grab me (but not the third). This was odd with book 2 in that it starts off so intense. But Ferrante creates atmosphere slowly, it seems. I find myself resistant, and then fully entangled in the many strings of this world, and then I'm off floating away. It has this affect on critics too, who have to fight their intellectual insecurities for a split affect worth pondering. On the book's cover is a quote by John Freeman, "Imagine if Jane Austin got angry and you'll have some idea of how explosive these works are.". Inside book three, there is quote by Jhumpa Lahiri, "I read all the books in a state of immersion; I was totally enthralled. There was nothing else I wanted to do except follow the lives of Lila and Lenú to the end."

Freeman's comment is wonderful, except of course it doesn't make sense. How was Austin not angry? And, anyway, I wouldn't put anger as the first emotion to apply to Ferrante, although it's there. He's trying to make a point the book is more than a story. There is a great deal here, but it's all incorporated within the feeling of the book. It's almost painful to separate them, to force something of concrete importance out, to acknowledge there is substance underneath and the magic.

The books are the story of a cross but close friendship between Lila and Elena as they grow up together in Naples, Italy. This book takes place mainly in the 1960's within a vicious world of a working class neighborhood. Lila and her powerful, if conflicted, mind was pulled from school after elementary school. Elena, or Lenú, with the help of several lucky breaks, will become the only one in her neighborhood to attend a university. The meaning of education is a prominent theme - its advantages and opportunities, and its pretensions, its distance from practical life and complete uselessness in our intimacies. Love is another theme - particularly in its convoluted adolescent ways full of conflict, misunderstanding and outright backstabbing. Sometimes a full and multilayered story can be told in a paragraph.
"{my boyfriend} Antonio's fixation was always the same: Sarratore's son {Nino}. He was afraid that I would talk to him, even that I would see him. Naturally, to prevent him from suffering, I concealed the fact that I ran into Nino entering school, coming out, in the corridors. Nothing particularly happened, at most we exchanged a nod of greeting and went on our way: I could have talked to my boyfriend about it without any problems if he had been a reasonable person. But Antonio was not reasonable and in truth I wasn't either. Although Nino gave me no encouragement, a mere glimpse of him left me distracted during class. His presence a few classrooms away—real, alive, better educated than the professors, and courageous, and disobedient—drained meaning from the teachers' lectures, the pages of books, the plans for marriage, the gas pump on the Stradone."
The poverty in Naples is another theme. The city, particularly this one neighborhood and it's people and their hardships create a memorable atmosphere.
"That day, instead, I saw clearly the mothers of the old neighborhood. They were nervous, they were acquiescent. They were silent, with tight lips and stooping shoulders, or they yelled terrible insults at the children who harassed them. Extremely thin, with hollow eyes and cheeks, or broad behinds, swollen ankles, heavy chests, they lugged shopping bags and small children who clung to their skirts and wanted to be picked up. And, good god, they were ten, at most twenty years older than me. Yet they appeared to have lost the feminine qualities that were so important to us girls and that we accentuated with clothes, with makeup. They had been consumed by the bodies of their husbands, fathers, brothers, whom they ultimately came to resemble, because of their labors or the arrival of old age, of illness."
The main section of this book, which covers many years, takes place during one summer on the island of Ischia. It's worth pondering this choice as it's an island full of history and mythology. Around the time of Homer the island was a Greek trade colony, and archeological finds include Nestor's Cup, the earliest written reference to Homer. And this is the coast where Odysseus sailed down and met the witch, Circe, who turned his crew into animals. Although Circe wasn't likely on Ischia, I think the reference is relevant, as is her sister, the wildest of Greek mythological witches, Medea. And, finally, historically Ischia has been located as a possible landing site of Aeneas, shortly after abandoning Dido, his African queen lover. Unfortunately I haven't read the Aeneid yet, that's next; and yet Dido is most relevant to this story. Lenú even writes her college thesis on her. Relevant to Lila, of course, our supposed witch with penetrating mind, a ferocious intensity, an immediate awareness of any weakness. She is a chaotic force, in line with the mythological traditions.

It's in Ischia, on the beaches, where the seventeen-year-old girls bask their summer away that Ferrante shows most clearly her skills in atmosphere. And it lingers, that atmosphere, well beyond the events, and I still have it in mind now. I loved how she could create similar scenes that felt radically different and each was gripping in its own way. Just a few touches and the reader is whisked away one day, and then the next tension is everywhere - same people, same setting. And yet they're on a beach, and nothing happens. Bolano's The Third Reich comes to mind, how the atmosphere, the sand and sea, make everything pleasant, even seem to encourage characters to provoke within the security of the remove from real world.

One last comment. I'm a pretty placid reader, but Ferrante had me gasping out loud a few times in this book, just kind of shocked on the situations she constructs. The wild seas of accumulated tensions that make the simplest conversations bring in your full attention wasn't enough. She then takes this whole world and stirs it upside down.

Obviously I recommend this one.

(Posted originally Jan 5. ETA fix to touchstone)

Jan 5, 2017, 10:48pm Top

Ferrante just takes you on a wild ride through through the last half of the 20th century via an European lens. It's pretty breathtaking.

Jan 5, 2017, 10:58pm Top

So true Jane.

>51 ELiz_M: Liz - right, I had same feeling. Promising intro, then straight memoir. I could be reading Mary Karr instead (in theory).

Jan 5, 2017, 11:29pm Top

>52 dchaikin: Awesome review, Dan! I still had not had a chance to read her although the first book is on a shelf here (on a real shelf - it showed up from one of the boxes I unpacked last weekend).

Jan 6, 2017, 11:11am Top

I have to read the rest of the Ferrante books. I read the first, and wasn't overly excited about continuing. It was good but nothing earth shattering. But I see all of the positive comments about the follow up books, so I'll have to do my part.

Jan 6, 2017, 1:11pm Top

Such a lovely review of The Story of a New Name! What I liked so much about this series is that despite being set in a deeply patriarchal society, the novels are centered on women. And written in such a way that we breathe with the characters.

Jan 6, 2017, 1:14pm Top

OK - that's it. I will have to read Ferrante. The terrible covers have been putting me off, but too many Club Readers like it now to ignore.

Great review, Dan.

Jan 6, 2017, 2:59pm Top

>52 dchaikin: I think you have persuaded everyone to read it, with this great review!

>56 NanaCC: I felt the same after the first book but now I have read three and I can't wait to read the last, although I keep postponing it because I don't want it to be over.

Jan 7, 2017, 12:14am Top

>55 AnnieMod: Thanks Annie!

>56 NanaCC: i'll be interested in your response on the next books. I think book 2 was more intense. And Book 3, which is more plot driven, seems more intense than that - although I like Ischia better than the revolutionaries.

>57 RidgewayGirl: thanks Kay. Yes, I like that too. She couldn't have accomplished this from any other perspective. And, yeah, I like that phrase - breath with the characters. She really brings you there and really brings in the female personality and the difficulties of being a woman of any kind in that culture. The harassment is everywhere.

>58 AlisonY: yeah, Alison, you do! No pressure : )

>59 Simone2: Simone, my work here is done. : ) But you're already reading and I'm interested in how our responses are different.

Jan 8, 2017, 12:14am Top

Very articulate review, Daniel. Sometimes I am hesitant to read translated books, but you made this one sound very appealing.

Jan 8, 2017, 9:04am Top

Great review of The Story of a New Name, Dan! I see that I'll have to get to this series, although I doubt that it will happen this year.

Jan 8, 2017, 9:33am Top

Excellent review of The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan 2). It seems like that ancient Greek reading is starting to influence your thoughts on more contemporary books.

Jan 9, 2017, 1:23am Top

>52 dchaikin: I don't think that I am an overly placid reader Dan, so this one definitely calls to me.

Jan 11, 2017, 10:53pm Top

>61 This-n-That: Lisa - I think the translation is elegant, but I don't know what they are like in Italian.

>62 kidzdoc: Darryl - you might try book one if you have a weak moment. : ) (That's what happened to me. The first book happened to be available on audio from my library when nothing else I wanted was...)

>63 baswood: Bas - with this one I'm running with the mythology. And I really do think the Aeneid will have me rethinking this series. But, Greek mythology is everywhere in literature throughout time. Surely even in your Tudors.

>65 dchaikin: Paul - yes, add these four to your millions of books to read. Recommended.

cheers all!

Jan 13, 2017, 6:54am Top

>62 kidzdoc: you might try book one if you have a weak moment

But is it like trying to eat one Lay's potato chip?

Jan 14, 2017, 12:08pm Top

: ) no, it's not like a potato chip.

The first Neapolitan book took me some time to get into. I didn't dislike it, but was just listening passively for a long time. So, perhaps you might need a prolonged weak moment. (I later re-listened to the beginning and my opinion was similar. It's not the best part of the book.)

Jan 14, 2017, 12:25pm Top

2. Hillbilly Elegy : A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (audio) by J. D. Vance
read by the author
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 6:49
acquired: Library
read: Jan 3-9
rating: 4

From the NYTimes list of 6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win

I flip-flopped back and forth on how I felt about this while reading it. The beginning is promising. Vance reads well and writes clean and promises insight into what seems to be a sort of rust belt/bible belt culture in Ohio. He's a Yale law-school grad from a broken home. Then, for a long time, the book is just an ok memoir about an insanely unstructured and difficult, but never fully tragic upbringing. His mother was a mess: unstable, constantly fighting violently with the annual husband or boyfriend, borderline abusive, with a serious drug problem. His father, apparently more normal, backed out from his life altogether. This is all interesting, but it's not the best memoir I have read and I couldn't see how this applied to his promise of insight into his culture. (A culture he describes as white Kentucky migrants to Ohio factories. His grandparents made the migration.)

But as he wraps up the book, I found myself thinking about his life and all the characters he encounters and the world he describes. It's, unfortunately, very anecdotal. And there is no effort at serious in-depth research or systematic effort at prying beyond what stumbled across his life. But it feels insightful, nonetheless, and I'm still thinking about it.

As the Trump shadow looms, I'm grasping for something positive. It's getting harder. One idea was to follow on the NY Times idea of books to help understand Trump's win (link above). This was my first effort. I'm listening to The Unwinding now. Not sure it's helping any.

Jan 14, 2017, 12:58pm Top

>68 dchaikin: NYTimes list of 6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win
You know The_Hibernator is hosting a group read of these books over in the 75?

I'll be reading Hillbilly Elegy for my RL book group in February.

Jan 14, 2017, 1:21pm Top

I'd like to reassure potential readers of Pynchon that Mason and Dixon, while incredibly long, is actually quite fun and somewhat silly. He has this weird thing for names and pop references... I read Vineland about 20 or 30 years ago, and remember enjoying it a great deal, but nothing else. I have yet to tackle Gravity's Rainbow.

I suspect he can be either studied or read fairly superficially (as I do) and be enjoyable regardless of the approach. I may have to eat my words when I finally read Gravity's Rainbow.

Jan 14, 2017, 1:39pm Top

Thanks for the insightful Hillbilly Elegy review, Daniel. I think I skip this book.

I hope one of the other books on the NYTimes list provides a more in-depth assessment or that someone is currently tacking the subject and it actually gets published.

Jan 14, 2017, 2:13pm Top

With every review, I'm less inclined to read Hillbilly Elegy. I may pick it up someday anyway, but it's not a priority. I watched a documentary series recently, about several women who were murdered who were all from the same small city in Ohio, and the picture it drew of the state of that part of America was just so hopeless and sad, and without a real cause or anyone fighting for it - people just sinking into a lethargy fueled by drugs and a lack of education beyond high school, or even aspirations for their lives.

Edited: Jan 14, 2017, 10:49pm Top

>69 qebo: Thanks! They are reading The Unwinding now, so I just joined in. I'm curious what you and your group will think about Vance.

>70 ipsoivan: Maggie - Thanks about M&D. Vineland is an easy read, but not really a memorable one for me. I hardly ever think about it and I read it last year. Gravity's Rainbow is tough with notes. He just wanders off in strange imaginary places with strange languages and it's never clear what or why...or even where the breaks are. I used a companion and, if nothing else, it just reduced my stress a lot. But it's not the same as just reading. V. was easier, although has it's issues. I wouldn't recommend GR to anyone - although it has it's own draw. And I wouldn't recommend Vineland or Crying of Lot 49. I wouldn't discourage anyone either. I would, however, recommend V. to an ambitious reader. It's work, but also a gem. And I got a lot out of Slow Learner, his early stories which are accessible and terrific and capture who he is as a writer (although I didn't like one story that re-occurs in V)

>71 This-n-That: Lisa, the problem is that there isn't much else out there. Vance's touches on a cultural mentality that isn't really well understood. But, I understand your wanting to skip. Like you, I want something better. The Unwinding is so far interesting, and fun while I listen, but I don't fully follow the underlying themes.

>72 RidgewayGirl: I totally understand K. I would like to see that documentary.

>71 This-n-That:/>72 RidgewayGirl: - as a general thought - if you just want a memoir (some of us do) don't bother with Vance. Read Mary Karr or someone else who is a writer first. But Vance has value for his contribution to the moment.

Jan 14, 2017, 3:17pm Top

Karr is great. The Liar's Club is well worth reading. And the documentary series I watched is called The Vanishing Women.

Edited: Jan 14, 2017, 3:58pm Top

3. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Neapolitan #3) by Elena Ferrante
translation from Italian by Ann Goldstein
published: 2013, translated 2014
format: 396 page paperback
(This Europa cover is ok, although, like the others, the book itself suffers. It's as if the designer couldn't rid themselves of their inner tween)
acquired: December
read: Jan 1-10
rating: 5

I got so much out of my system with my review of book 2 (>52 dchaikin: above). I'll keep this simple.

This is a bit different in several ways than the earlier books. Elena and Lila are older, and the book covers most of their 20's. It's more plot driven. Both women have left the old neighborhood in Naples (hence the title). Lili is no longer in the center of plot, instead Elena focus's on her world. So, new atmospheres are created, or touched on. I was fully engaged the entire way, but its affects on me were different than in the other books. I closed this which much anxiety based on a plot point - one that left me questioning myself. I mean, I couldn't decide what I didn't like or why or where my principles fit in the matter. Not that my own principles matter for the book, but the discomfort is notable and powerful combined with the other emotions. Because, like Elena Greco, the character, and Elena Ferrante, the author, I love these characters.

Among the various plot points and aspects, two stand out for me. This book covers 1968/1969 and the intellectual turmoil along with the groundswell. Ferrante dives into the chaos, creating an entirely different feel. The other was how she captures the world of an intellectual young mother. The conflicts and stress and connections and disconnections and the passage of time, the lost time, the never ending time, the conflicting tortures on motherhood and the guilt that never goes away - this was all really moving to me. As a father, I witnessed this in my own spouse in our own way. It was all there. It's just an overwhelming thing that, for all it's rewards, simply stands outside everything our lives and cultures otherwise value.

I mentioned the witch theme in my previous review. Lila is, to me, a well-meaning and kind of naive Medea. That is a terrible thing to say, but has enough truth that I keep it in mind while reading. And, Elena is...well, let me finish this and read the Aeneid. I'm suspecting parallels between the two.

I'm reading book 4 now.

Jan 14, 2017, 3:45pm Top

>74 RidgewayGirl: Thanks!! I'll look into The Vanishing Women. The Liars' Club was special.

Jan 14, 2017, 8:34pm Top

Regarding the covers of the Ferrante books - Ferrante chose them herself. Here's an article about it.


Certainly, readers aren’t required to enjoy the cloying sensibility of the images just because they’re intentionally bad, and because Ferrante herself chose them. But to despise the covers—and, by extension, the kind of novel they evoke—in the name of good literature is to buy into the destructive stigma that has long been attached to “women’s fiction” as a genre.

Which is a pretension I fall into - considering books like Commonwealth and A Spool of Blue Thread to be smaller works than less well-written, but showier novels like A Gambler's Anatomy and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.

Jan 14, 2017, 8:51pm Top

Kay - interesting. I'm not sure how to respond to that quote. I feel like the covers imply shoddy, half-thoughtout writing. I think there is a chicklit feel to the covers - as in lite romance. The books have atmosphere, the covers don't. And it's worse because of the extras - the white frames, the thick flaps on the inside covers, the over-designed pages. It all screams the book design is trying to compensate for something. I think the designer felt they were celebrating the book, but the celebration went wrong somehow.

There is a whole question of judging a book by it's cover that this brings up.

But to translate that all as insult, by me, on the better literature by woman seems ridiculous. I would be concerned if that were true, so I don't want to be too flippant. But at the moment I don't buy it. I think they are just defending bad covers.

Edited: Jan 14, 2017, 10:03pm Top

Thanks for the recommendations, Daniel. I'll look forward to your final assessment of The Unwinding. I'd like to read something during the upcoming months that is relevant to the current socio-economic and political climate, whether it be non-fiction or a memoir.

Jan 14, 2017, 10:45pm Top

>77 RidgewayGirl: I think where part of that falls down is that the cover for the first book really doesn't fit any of the events in it. It's not simply a stereotypical cover, or cliched, it just feels random (and the quality of the image is well below the norm for any professionally published work). I get what she wants to say with them, but still feel it didn't work. Plus, plenty of 'literary' fiction is saddled with cliche ridden covers, judging by the cover is just a different battle than judging content into narrow assumption-laden genre titles (which is the part that gets the 'chick lit' label, after all).

Jan 15, 2017, 9:08am Top

>77 RidgewayGirl: Having only ever read the article (nothing to do the lack of interest, but not at place life to find these relatable), it all sounds a bit pretentious. Either you're too smart for school in which case you're talking down to your own readers or they are lazy in search of an intelligent excuse for an inside joke. Surely there has to be a better to make the point?

Jan 15, 2017, 9:50am Top

I just read the article. It's interesting, but it seems flawed to me in hard to specify ways. And I still feel these are simply bad covers.

Jan 17, 2017, 7:33am Top

>78 dchaikin: Not commenting on the cover art, which never bugged me as much as it has other people, but a lot of what you describe (flaps on the cover etc) are standard to the publishing house I think.

Edited: Jan 17, 2017, 3:21pm Top

>83 wandering_star: interesting. I didn't know. I still don't like it...

I have moments lately, as I read, when the picture on the cover of book four works for me. It does tie into the book in a difficult way.

ETA um, "four" instead of "more"...

Jan 17, 2017, 2:42pm Top

Nice to see how much you enjoy Ferrante, Dan.

>77 RidgewayGirl:

Regarding the covers of the Ferrante books - Ferrante chose them herself.

Actually, this does not seem to be true, as far as I can tell. Going to the sources, there's only a statement, in the most general terms, from her Italian publisher that Ferrante "approved the work of the publishing house", while explicitly stating that she was NOT involved in the design process at any stage.

The covers were designed by a man, by the way, Emanuele Ragnisco, and Sandro Ferri, one of the editors, said that "Ferrante's books are a mix of popular and intellectual literature. We wished to confirm this also in the covers..."

>81 stretch:

I've already criticised the covers and the thinking behind them a few times, but your point about "pretentiousness" bears emphasising especially in light of the ridiculous rationalisations offered in that The Atlantic article. The very first presumption that anyone who dislikes "chick-lit" despises women is an offence in itself. From there it just sinks into confused stupidity. Are we supposed to give chick-lit another chance then? Did it miraculously improve from sharing the cover aesthetic with Ferrante's books?

We get it. The covers are ironic, as were previous covers for her work in Europa's editions. Unfortunately, this time the "irony" coincides perfectly with a legitimate branding strategy, creating problems for breaking the book to a naive reader, someone not already "in the know". As Eric Carter (the art director at New Directions) said, they aren't vulgar enough. They are ordinary, they look like real covers of actual books sold to women with a specific message. Only they don't have those messages. Buyer beware.

Jan 17, 2017, 3:20pm Top

>85 LolaWalser: "The very first presumption that anyone who dislikes "chick-lit" despises women is an offence in itself. From there it just sinks into confused stupidity."

yes! That's it precisely. The logic just gets all tangled up.

Edited: Jan 17, 2017, 4:49pm Top

So-called "women's fiction" is what gets these kinds of covers. Chick-lit gets hot pink drawings of shoes and lipstick. Women's fiction being written by women and having a domestic setting, and therefore suitable only for women no matter how intellectually rigorous or challenging or insightful. Think of how we view authors like Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett and even Alice Munro (despite her Nobel) as just a half step below "serious" male authors like Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer or Jonathan Franzen, despite their writing being less bloated and self-indulgent than their male colleagues.

There are authors who write light fiction, intended as entertainment and for less exacting bookclubs, but think of how it's more acceptable to be seen with a thriller than it is with a book with the kind of cover seen in the Ferrante novels, especially for men.

There's a basic, bedrock level of misogyny in publishing and in us just because we're part of this culture. Stuff marketed to women in that cynical throw-a-woman-with-her-back-turned way teaches us that it's a lesser product. And we accept it.

Jan 17, 2017, 5:51pm Top

>87 RidgewayGirl:

Stuff marketed to women in that cynical throw-a-woman-with-her-back-turned way teaches us that it's a lesser product. And we accept it.

Presumably those of us who read Ferrante despite those ghastly covers did so precisely because we don't think the books were a "lesser product". Assuming, as the Atlantic's writer did, that everyone who hesitated or shuddered at those dumb saccharine images is sexist is beyond obnoxious. There's also the question of why should anyone accept such horrible design without criticism, for any genre. Do you think something like the Virago's green line design--books that by design proclaim they are unequivocally by/for/"about" women--would have been received with the same dislike? I think we should allow for a great deal of purely aesthetic revulsion here.

And, I certainly take your point about the pervasiveness of misogyny but I don't know that "women's fiction" is any better than "chick-lit", or more deserving of critical acclaim as a whole, and I don't for a minute believe the majority of "women's fiction" authors is misunderstood and unfairly underappreciated. The problem is that both are commercial genres with established formulaic features, that, in circular fashion, become more entrenched the stronger the identification of genre. Commercial genres work by fulfilling more or less specific expectations. Design both shapes and follows those expectations.

I think putting less blame on the readers and more on the publishers' hunt for "demographics" might have been in order.

Jan 17, 2017, 5:58pm Top

>88 LolaWalser: Taste is a very personal thing - a friend thinks that these covers are gorgeous. I decided not to argue too much on the topic.

Jan 17, 2017, 6:02pm Top

>89 AnnieMod:

Yeah, there's no point arguing with anyone who thinks those are gorgeous. Only note that's exactly the opposite of what the designer was going for. He wanted us to find them vulgar.

Edited: Jan 18, 2017, 12:39am Top

>87 RidgewayGirl:/>88 LolaWalser: these aren't easy posts to respond to. Just saying.

One problem I have in thinking about these issues, and I know they are real and I absolutely believe there are misogyny issues in literature, is that my response and our response here in our club is different than the response of readership in general. And that confuses the thinking for me. Munro, a Nobel prize winner, a half step below Jonathan Franzen, who will never be in the running? How strange.

My own sense of dislike of these covers falls outside the sexism issue...no, that's wrong, it accepts the sexism as fact. That is to say I'm attuned to the nature of covers enough that I feel I can base book selection on them. The cover should coincide with the contents based on how the rules of this match are perceived in my head, marketing manipulation accounted for. It's all very unconscious and it works to a degree. And women authored covers are different than men's in my conditioned awareness. My instinctual problem with these Ferrante covers is that they imply a crappy woman author instead of a very good woman author. That is to say, they failed the rules as I understand them. Irony never crossed my mind. Over-cooked is more the sense I had. This all feels very pointless and like simple-minded nonsense when I think of it this way. It certainly leads to an assortment of disturbing questions.

Jan 18, 2017, 5:08am Top

>77 RidgewayGirl: I don't think I would ever buy a book whose covers looked like those.

Jan 18, 2017, 12:16pm Top

>91 dchaikin:

To me there are two different things here--one, the design choices made at Europa Editions (which, one assumes, Ferrante approved in some sense and degree) and the reasoning behind them; and two, the amplification of that in the direction the writer of The Atlantic's article, for one, took it.

As to former, my objection is simply that this time the cruel joke wasn't pitched well enough, so that the covers are genuinely misleading (as Europa's previous equally "ironic" covers were not), especially if you've never read the author before. That's all--I have no quarrel with the underlying motivation; I only think the execution failed.

But as to the second point, that's where things get confusing for many reasons, including tacit superimposition of the American context on the Italian ("chick-lit" and "women's fiction" are both commercial labels originating in and strongly inflected by the US/Anglophone culture), and somehow holding the readers responsible for responding to marketing as we are trained to, and various other things that would make a whale of a discussion probably not suited for a personal thread. I apologise for contributing to the digression.

Jan 18, 2017, 6:34pm Top

Nice review of Hillbilly Elegy, Dan. I'm participating in Rachel's challenge, and will almost certainly read this book later this year, despite the less than glowing reviews of it I've just read.

I'm reading Evicted now, and will start The Unwinding in February.

Edited: Jan 18, 2017, 9:45pm Top

>93 LolaWalser: digressions are always welcome here

>94 kidzdoc: Evicted is a terrific book, and very sad that as of two days from now our president couldn't care less. The Unwinding is very tough to listen to right now.

Jan 19, 2017, 7:48am Top

Samuel Taylor Coleridge asked, 'If you take from Virgil his diction and meter, what do you leave him?'

I hadn't realized how much negative energy there was around Virgil. Through history, when more republican agencies get momentum, he tends to be seen as the soulless supporter of the first Roman emperor Augustus, in other words a lackey who helped with the PR to end the Republic.

Jan 19, 2017, 7:32pm Top

>95 dchaikin: Yep. I can't believe that trump will actually become our new president tomorrow. I'm working nights this week, including now, and practically everyone in my group has been despondent about the inauguration this week.

Edited: Jan 21, 2017, 6:34am Top

I may have missed the answer somewhere in the thread, but is your header photo Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Apollo and Daphne?

Jan 21, 2017, 8:44am Top

>98 Oandthegang: Yes it is; see >8 dchaikin: :)

Jan 21, 2017, 9:55am Top

>97 kidzdoc: the constant stream of bad news from is hard to take. Interesting, based on NPS photos, how small the inauguration crowd was.

>98 Oandthegang: thanks O. It's nice to see them again and good reminder I have Ovid coming later this year.

>99 ELiz_M: Thanks. : ) I knew I had, but there are a lot of posts to sigt through here.

Jan 21, 2017, 3:39pm Top

>99 ELiz_M: Thanks. Felt certain it must be in there somewhere. Catching up late so reading too fast!

Watched the inauguration live on the BBC. Extraordinary.

Jan 21, 2017, 4:38pm Top

4. The Story of the Lost Child (Neapolitan #4) by Elena Ferrante
translation from Italian by Ann Goldstein
published: 2014, translated 2015
format: 450 page paperback (with controversial Europa cover)
acquired: December
read: Jan 10-17
rating: 5

I have a habit with reviews. I sit down and stare the screen. Then I type out how I have absolutely no idea what to say (er, write). And then I start writing and writing and suddenly I'm really enjoying what I'm writing. And then I look at it and think, "I can't post that!" Let this be a warning.

This may be my favorite set of books ever. That’s an odd thing to say and has a bit of an of-the-moment sense, but I did go and look through my five star books and there are certainly books that are better and that are more impressive in an assortment of ways. But nothing else so fully captured me in such a strong way as I was reading, or at least nothing in this kind of way…this kind of way being something I can’t quite describe. The emotional attachment, the feeling to getting lost and floating away, the weakening that makes me as reader more susceptible to everything in the story, the lasting impression and the sense of wanting to carry that impression around and to stay within it, the sense that something really meaningful and special is not here exactly, but lying around the edges, almost ungraspable; or perhaps lying obscured in plain sight. And all in this kind of way. I’m getting overboard…

As a single book, this book 4 leaves a shadow over the whole series. It is, to me, about disappointment. I was listening to the George Packer describe Raymond Carver recently, and how, in Packer’s words, he writes of characters “gone bust” and brings to mind the disillusioned, those past the prime of life with unfulfilled and now unfulfillable promise. Elena, looking back, even as she will beautify each moment, ultimately cheapens everything she herself has accomplished. And her greatest disappointment is Lila.

Lila is the exceptional character who makes this series special, the brilliant friend in the first book, even if she’s the one who calls Elena that. She is a perfect hero in that fictional sense that writers can create, and her superpower seems to be understanding and perception. She evolves in these books from super-learner who can take on subjects and immediately penetrate their core meanings into one who can do the same to people. Or…is this just Elena’s imagination. She will show natural design expertise, artistic masterliness, writing power, a natural understanding of how to rebuild language from 1’s and 0’s. But she is more than anything one who can penetrate people to their core. She is manipulator undone by herself, but also by a naivety towards forces just too confounding for her to foresee and manage.

It’s this manipulative skill and its destructive trail that brings in the witch comparison, specifically Euripides’ Medea. This ability to get to core ultimately unsteadys her in a way that character Elena Greco cannot and never does fully understand, at least no where near as well as author Elena Ferrante does. Because this insight comes with a Faustian cost. If you can see that deeply, what you may ultimately see is there is nothing. No meaning, no purpose, no truth. And if you can see and understand this at such a deep level that the knowledge embraces you, so that you feel that hole in center, hopeless, then…then I think you have Lila. She comes across as chaotic, emotionally unstable, self-destructive, and manipulative. Emotionally she goes in and out of the world. And, when she is able to harness her strengths and use them she can be magnificent but also devastating to everything and everyone she touches. This is how I see her. A good person with too much insight, too much understanding, who is never able to master enough, be stable enough, and really see far enough along the horizon. Instead of a steady stream of life, she goes in fits and starts and wrong turns and spectacular crashes. Society, Naples, mafia, love, poverty, prejudice, and, most significantly, misogyny, ultimately tie her down to a banal reality.

Elena, our narrator, isn’t as reliable as she seems on the surface. I won’t say she doesn’t lie, but she gives the impression that she is making every effort at truth. But she doesn’t understand what lies beneath the surface of her own words, just as, in life, she couldn’t see futures that were sometimes so plainly there. In this way, she cannot get Lila the way that Lila can understand her, she cannot penetrate that outer shell. It takes her a life to learn what Lila always seemed to know.

The feminism theme is one I’m hesitant to get into, but is prominent here. This global microcosm of Naples is a man’s world with a man’s power structure. And all its problems and injustice lie within this context. Women can only navigate through - by looks, sex, manipulation, marriage, reproduction and, perhaps, by education. The social mores are as confining as this mafia elements, and in many ways they parallel each other in their effects and cruelty. With Elena and Lila, Ferrante attacks this world with two women, one of whom is smarter, stronger, more forceful than any other character in the book. They break with tradition only to see that the tradition is only barely played out in reality. Its another facade, brought in to shame women into submission….but not men.

These are books of atmosphere, and their strength lies in how Ferrante creates, twists and evolves the this atmospheric sense. And it is strongly feminine. It’s highs are women managing this mans’ world, and many their lows are failures somehow unique to women. Ferrante shows the costs of this on these female characters in many different ways. But what she creates seems accessible to any reader.

Jan 21, 2017, 7:18pm Top

>102 dchaikin: Why is the cover controversial? Interesting review. I haven't decided if I think I might enjoy this series or not.

Jan 21, 2017, 7:36pm Top

>103 Narilka: short answer- the style reflects that formulaic chicklit. Long answer see >77 RidgewayGirl: through >93 LolaWalser: above. : )

If you try it, I hope you enjoy.

Jan 21, 2017, 10:25pm Top

Very inspired by women's marches today.


Edited: Jan 22, 2017, 1:17am Top

>102 dchaikin: Love the way you describe how to find Lila. Great review. You must be at a loss what to read next after such an experience, I guess?

>104 dchaikin: I have to admit they do look chick-lit'ish. Dutch translation looks better while using the same theme of the beach and the girls.

>105 dchaikin: Overwhelming, these women' march in your country. And unbelievable how White House press ignored them and lied to journalists about inauguration participants. What is happening to the world??

Jan 22, 2017, 9:02am Top

>102 dchaikin:

Very moving review, thank you.

Jan 22, 2017, 12:07pm Top

Just popping by to catch up. Interesting hot debate on covers and women's fiction...

You have - along with everyone else - persuaded me that I need to read the Ferrante books. That it's your favourite book series yet is high praise indeed. Maybe I'll even start embracing the covers...

At the risk of reopening your "chick lit" and "women's fiction" debate, I have an alternative view - if the Ferrante chick-lit style covers have encouraged a huge number of readers to discover a totally new type of fiction to what they would normally read, surely that can only be a good thing?

BUT, I would totally think this is women's fiction, and fair play to you Dan for ignoring that and embarking on them anyway. To be honest, I can't imagine these sitting on many guys' bookshelves.

Jan 22, 2017, 12:32pm Top

Wow, you are blasting through Ferrante! Those are sitting on my tbr shelf waiting for 'the moment'.

Liar's Club is an amazing memorable read.

And, I happen to be reading (and loving) The Long Ships right now!

Jan 22, 2017, 12:48pm Top

Coming in late to the book cover conversation . . .

>78 dchaikin: The books have atmosphere, the covers don't. And it's worse because of the extras - the white frames, the thick flaps on the inside covers, the over-designed pages. It all screams the book design is trying to compensate for something. I think the designer felt they were celebrating the book, but the celebration went wrong somehow.

But these elements have little to do (I'd argue: nothing to do) with the Ferrante books. All Europa Editions have these design elements, and when put together, the spines do look very nice on the shelf. I collect Europas and have about 10, and I have to say that overall, the cover art is ugly. It doesn't click with my aesthetic tastes at all. So I'm torn -- I like Europa Editions, they feel nice, look nice from the side together, but head-on are usually some of the most hideous covers I've seen. I'd like to know what's going on in the designers' minds.

Jan 22, 2017, 1:19pm Top

>110 Nickelini: They do look nice arranged together on a shelf - which always leaves me conflicted about a book published by Europa Editions (or NYRB, for that matter) that I've read and didn't like enough to keep.

Jan 22, 2017, 2:49pm Top

>11 This-n-That: that I've read and didn't like enough to keep.

I know what you mean. Also, Persephone Classics and Viragos.

Jan 22, 2017, 4:18pm Top

So many interesting posts here. I might sidestep the cover issue as (1) part of my complaint seems to be with Europa and not this particular set of books and (2) I've developed mixed feelings.

>106 Simone2: The marches and DT are very much on the front of my mind. Thank you about the review comments. Still wondering about Lila. I'm reading about the Aeneid, and Nino seems to be an Aeneas figure in many ways. Hadn't considered that while reading.

>107 LolaWalser: thank you Lola

>108 AlisonY: My reviews are having a good affect on you, Alison. : ). Book 4 wasn't actually my favorite, but it's a great end to the quartet. ( full disclosure- I listened to the first book, and it had a less controversial, non-Europa cover)

Jan 22, 2017, 4:23pm Top

>109 sibyx: Lucy -I'm going to have to hunt down your thread to see your thoughts on the Longships. (I get overwhelmed by 75ers. Sorry! I do like you all, just too much information)

>110 Nickelini: />111 RidgewayGirl:/>112 Nickelini: Interesting comments, even if I have nothing to add. I probably should be reading more from Europa...(despite the design).

Jan 22, 2017, 6:34pm Top

>114 dchaikin: I probably should be reading more from Europa...(despite the design).

I think that too. In fact, I have a Europa Editions category over at my Category Challenge thread.

Jan 27, 2017, 10:02am Top

Enjoyed your excellent reviews of the Neapolitan series.

Any thoughts about going to Naples now Dan?

Jan 27, 2017, 11:45am Top

Anywhere but here. But, sure, Naples sounds quite wonderful.

Jan 27, 2017, 12:14pm Top

It's still just as chaotic (or moreso) as described in the books. It's my favorite place in the world.

Jan 27, 2017, 4:35pm Top

>118 ursula: I think that Naples is a place you either adore or hate. I'm firmly in the love category. It's an amazing place. But you have to have a good tolerance for seeming disorder.

Jan 27, 2017, 4:58pm Top

There's no "seeming" about it! :)

But yes, it's not for everyone. I took my daughter there and she was ... nonplussed. She liked it more in retrospect but at the time she really wasn't sure what to make of it all.

Edited: Jan 27, 2017, 6:55pm Top

We visited Naples a few years ago for a conference. No seeming about it - the taxi ride from the airport was terrifying! :)

I'm more of a Florence/Tuscany fan, but would love to go back to Capri and the Amalfie coast.

Edited: Jan 28, 2017, 2:03pm Top

>30 The_Hibernator: this seems appropriate for today too. Happy Chinese New Year!

Edited: Jan 29, 2017, 10:34am Top

Can't argue about the chattiness on the 75, but I seem to have found my niche there and am able to keep it within bounds. I wish I could manage two threads. Anyway, here is a link to my thread:" http://www.librarything.com/topic/245153 I haven't finished The Long Ships yet, so no review.

Jan 29, 2017, 4:50pm Top

5. The Last Trojan Hero : A Cultural History of Virgil's Aeneid by Philip R. Hardie
published: 2014
format: 220 page Hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Jan 17-27
rating: 3?

I shouldn't be too hard on this, even though I found it terribly dull. My mind wasn't there. I'm dwelling on the state of my country, on the lunatic executive and the implications for the future. The daily bad news goes from terrible, to terrible to more terrible. I'm having a lot of trouble with it all. And reading this book that was never really going to capture my attention was kind of an odd way of keeping myself from getting lost in a book so I could stay present. Apologies to Hardie.

As for the book, Hardie spends a lot of time discussing interesting links in key famous works of literature and other things through time. The Homer-Virgil-Ovid-Petrarch-Dante-Tasso-Arriosto-Spenser-Milton connections are quite fascinating, each taking from the other to develop literature and ideas--Gods, mythology, Christian themes, the ideas of the underworld, witches and Dido and her abandonment, etc. (Aeneas himself gets short short shrift) All these works echo outwards into art and culture and politics and philosophy. And Hardie is knowledgeable and provides a strong list of references and this makes for a very informative book. But...he's lifeless. The book doesn't do much other than tell the information. My odd complaint while reading this was that he just says it. Normally that OK. But here it's unfortunate. It's like he talking about a catalogue of items on the shelf instead of works that reverberated through history.

Jan 29, 2017, 10:26pm Top

I've been finding it almost impossible to read anything but stuff on the internet and in the news about what's going on in our country. Never felt like this before.

Jan 30, 2017, 12:50am Top

It really is horrific. Who was it that said the best way to destroy a democracy is fast, while people still think the normal rules apply?

Jan 30, 2017, 8:36am Top

It's so insane that I'm now anticipating the next bad news. Whatever news it is, I know it's going to be bad. Need a more productive place to put all my energy.

Jan 30, 2017, 9:08am Top

I'm having the same issue. On the one hand I don't feel up to depressing relevant-to-now reads, on the other hand very few books are having any appeal. It's not surprising since the current situation is way outside the realm of of normal politics in the US. We're not in Kansas anymore.

Edited: Jan 30, 2017, 11:26am Top

There is a UK parliament petition to stop Trump visiting the UK. Over 100,000 signatures and it has to be debated in parliament. I keep trying to write the number here, but it keeps jumping by the thousands every few minutes. Suffice to say almost 1.3m have signed now (will probably be over that by the time I finish this wee note)....

Totally agree that the world seems a very depressing place this past year or so - I feel so depressed for my kids and future generations.

Jan 30, 2017, 10:16am Top

>129 AlisonY: Hurray UK!

>127 dchaikin:: It's so insane that I'm now anticipating the next bad news.
I have a friend in another part of the country, and every morning and evening we're talking, basically "WTF now?" and "how can this be stopped?". I'm pretty freaked at how fast our institutions are falling. I do have to put in a plug here for the ACLU, whose sole purpose is to fight things like this.

Jan 31, 2017, 4:51am Top

Hi Dan, I'm so sorry about all the upsetting developments. It's affecting my sleep and concentration too and I'm not even in the US, so I can't imagine how it is for all of you. Well, the reasonable majority among you.

My feeling is that it can't go on like this, that something has to happen, but I'm not sure what that something is or whether it will be good or bad. I'm heartened by the protests though. There were protests across the UK yesterday too. Our PM's spineless response to the travel ban is most depressing...

Sorry for polluting your thread with more politics. I wish you peace of mind, and hope you can find a fun book to lose yourself in.

Jan 31, 2017, 7:58am Top

Yesterday my husband said "Can he even do that?" about some latest piece of news and I reminded him that's been a constant refrain since he took office. It's an exhausting way to live.

Jan 31, 2017, 9:43am Top

>131 Rebeki: Perhaps the Queen will refuse to see him. Wouldn't that be a marvel? Or she could bring the corgis and they can bite his ankles.

Jan 31, 2017, 12:23pm Top

It is somehow good to notice how many reasonable people there are around the world. Maybe just maybe DT causes this global unification to become so great that we'll become stronger than he is. The narcist he is, he probably won't notice until it's too late for him. I so hope that. The protests and actions by people, politicians and companies around the world touches me deeply these days.

Jan 31, 2017, 2:49pm Top

>133 sibyx: I fear she doesn't have that much say, but, yes, that would be great!

Jan 31, 2017, 9:23pm Top

>133 sibyx:, >135 Rebeki: What the Queen really needs to do is say "Off with his head!"

Jan 31, 2017, 9:53pm Top

You all are awesome. Just saying. These posts remind me there are good people in the world, people with brains in working order.

>134 Simone2: yes. The public outpouring of decency is uplifting.

Feb 3, 2017, 5:56pm Top

I just read a piece in the NYer from May 9 2016, about tunnels in Silesia dug by the Nazis -- that Pynchon, he never misses a trick!!! He makes up much less than people realize. No one is quite sure what the tunnels (a huge complex) were really for- -hiding things, yes, but also probably making the V1 and V2 rockets. "The Nazi Underground"

Feb 4, 2017, 12:01am Top

Lucy - the article sounds the terrific. The handbook I used, A Gravity's Rainbow Companion, talked about the factual factories and their underground tunnels (that were bombed, but practically by mistake) and the slave labor that worked in them. It also talks about how the American forces discovered these tunnels by accident on land already ceded to USSR. So, they did everything they could to strip all the critical information out on the rockets - to keep it and keep it out of Soviet hands - before Soviet forces occupied the area. That's all in Pynchon too, although in his farcical, hard to follow way. : )

Feb 4, 2017, 12:05am Top

still having trouble reading or looking at LT. Consumed by tracking news. Odd how often I come across someone I genuinely consider a good, nice person, and find out they voted for DT and really like him. Having trouble with this too. Does not compute. brain syntax error or something.

Feb 4, 2017, 12:39pm Top

>140 dchaikin: unfortunately, I think this is a common problem for many of us today.

Feb 4, 2017, 12:59pm Top

>140 dchaikin:, >141 NanaCC:, et al.: At least the administration seems to be obeying last night's court order, as I write.

Feb 4, 2017, 1:40pm Top

Feb 4, 2017, 5:41pm Top

>141 NanaCC: Colleen - I wonder how much it's affecting the group. We aren't very political and don't post on this stuff much as a group, but we do seem quiet, or is that just an impression. In my head I picture a cloud over everything lately, so I put that cloud here too, even though I can't honestly say it applies. It could always just be me.

>142 dukedom_enough: This was nice, and maybe it will mean something. But it all feels like a distraction from Bannon/Satan taking over military strategy. hmm... - that last comment feels like probably too much politics for CR.

Feb 4, 2017, 5:57pm Top

Time to catch up with these posts I've been neglecting. Sorry all. I've been neglecting our whole group...I've been unable to not neglect it. Hopefully some correction here...

>125 janeajones: Jane, I understand this feeling. I wonder, under Nixon, was there this feeling? Under Reagan? I think the cold war really affected how we reacted to Reagan - I think...I was really young. W, for me, was very bad, but not like this. So, I'm right along with you (as you've seen on fb)

>126 auntmarge64:/>130 auntmarge64: The ALCU is the hero of the moment. And, yeah, the speed of this all. I'm very surprised when I check the news and there isn't a bad new story out there. There is a lot of resistance, like the alt-NPS. But I lack of leadership in congress is awful, the acquiescence...feels criminal. I saw that 40% of Americans want to impeach DT and I think, what's wrong with the other 60%?

>128 mabith: Kansas is such a strange place...Part of the problem is we are, in a sense, in Kansas, or at least that blind conservatism is being appealed to. I think we have been in a comfortable place for a long time and we have been reading books that are ok in that comfortable place. Now the world is very uncertain. Should we be reading? If so, what? Should it be more real-world-ish? Should be we scaring ourselves into motivation or should we be escaping for that zen reading time? And how we do justify zen now? All this is going through my head. Maybe you have same kind of stuff. ??

>129 AlisonY: The UK popular backlash has been very inspiring.

Edited: Feb 4, 2017, 6:04pm Top

>131 Rebeki: This is NOT polluting my thread. I appreciate these posts a great deal, and, so do others here. Post away, Rebecca. And, like you, I'm wondering what is going to happen.

>132 ursula: I think that, like your husband. It's a natural first reaction to all this, right? I mean, one story from this last two weeks would have set any other president back for a long time, and we've had like a 100 of them. There is a FB summary circulating of week two, and it goes on with some 60 items from the week.

>133 sibyx:/>134 Simone2:/>136 Nickelini: I haven't heard anything about the queen's take.

Feb 4, 2017, 6:46pm Top

6. The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America (audio) by George Packer
reader Robert Fass
published: 2013
format: audio CD 19:00
acquired: Library
read: Jan 9-31
rating: 4

Packer writes a history through biographies of the changes in the United from 1973 to right about 2013. He mixes in mini biographies of Newt Gingrich, Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Rubin, Peter Thiel, Elizabeth Warren, etc with biographies of lesser known figures who are difficult to summarize. They are, shall we say, representatives of a changing country, experiencing and suffering from the industrial collapse of Youngstown, OH, or the housing market collapse of Tampa Bay, FL. One becomes a successful proprietor and then a failed prophet of bio-fuels. Another spends a long career of disappointments in politics.

The main theme eludes any certain statement. Packer really doesn't say. There is an brief introduction, but little explanation as to what he is doing or why chose the stories he did or avoided so many others. He has interesting insights into Clinton (garroting his administration for its chaos and careless financial deregulation) and Obama (who didn't understand finances that well, and never got what Elizabeth Warren was trying to preach). But, apparently at random, has nothing on the George W. Bush administration. The introduction implies a changing of the rules that were taken for granted in 1973 and that simply don't apply in 2013. But which rules? The focus tends towards financials. And one can track loss of jobs, Wall Street greed, screwing of investors, accumulations of wealth, inadequacy in the WH and at times I was tempted to say that is the real theme. But, ultimately, all I can say is that the messages are many, provided in different lenses from different perspectives, and the conclusions are inconclusive. A kaleidoscope of ideas, a partial history where there missing parts seems striking. And yet an important story lies in here.

My only really positive thing I took home from this is the story of Elizabeth Warren, who is now my hero in the world of politics. Packer captures where she comes from and the knowledge she brings into her position and I was really impressed. But mostly this is a disappointing story and it's so painful to listen to now, after Jan 20, 2017. Sometimes I would get out of the car, where I listened, utterly crushed inside. The most difficult stories where those of people who had comfortably locked themselves into a right-wing world, where they only listened to news organizations and leaders who were friendly to how they already felt. The popular outrage on the Tampa rail system, which was funded and then ultimately defeated (the federal funds were sent to another project) stands out. That lack of logic, the feeling of victory of those who were against it for reasons that did not make sense was so hard to take in. One leader against the rails had an out-of-work engineer husband in a city that desperately needed jobs, and she is furiously working against this rail system that will obviously create engineering jobs and she was even confronted with this logic. Where does one go with stuff like that, in the now darkened world?

I think in 2013 I would l have loved this. Now, in 2017, it's just hard to stand up again after having been hit hard over the head with this. I need to go find the next Warren speech, something inspiring.

Feb 4, 2017, 7:08pm Top

>145 dchaikin: Your "neglect" is my inspiration to be more interactive. You seem to have complimented a review in every thread I visit every time I pop in to CR.

Feb 4, 2017, 7:16pm Top

> 148 : )

I like our group and what we do here a ton, more than I can express. It's special thing.

Feb 4, 2017, 10:53pm Top

I hesitate to be more political here -- it's a haven for readers and those who need to escape. As you know, I'm way more opinionated on FB.

Feb 5, 2017, 2:05am Top

>150 janeajones: yes, I love the haven of intelligent book talk

Feb 5, 2017, 1:47pm Top

Probably a bit late with all the rest of the discussion that has been going on, but can I add that I loved your reviews on the Ferrante books? I read the first three in a row, last spring and started reading the fourth one the very day after it was published last fall. I never quite understood what is so mesmerizing about these books, but somehow I could not stop reading either. Your wonderful and elaborate reviews brought back a lot of the wonderful memories. Thank you!

Feb 5, 2017, 2:16pm Top

>145 dchaikin: Yes, exactly that. How do we find balance between staying informed and not normalizing the situation with protecting our own inner health (which we'll need to stay active and involved). Plus balancing all that with the simple daily needs that have to get done. Also, yes to Elizabeth Warren. She's absolutely wonderful.

Feb 5, 2017, 2:36pm Top

>143 dchaikin: This is my current favorite Sipress cartoon at the moment:

Feb 5, 2017, 3:27pm Top

>154 ELiz_M: perfect!

Feb 7, 2017, 11:14pm Top

>150 janeajones:/>151 Nickelini: I do normally try to respect the haven, and I promise never again, after this one post, to mention how much I hate that DeVos was approved, never again. I won't mention Amway either, promise*. Back to the books.

>152 MGovers: Yes, mesmerizing and, yeah, I never did figure out how. Ferrante was on to something in this quartet.

>153 mabith: Hi Meredith. I haven't found that balance.

>154 ELiz_M:/>155 auntmarge64: yup

*fingers might have been crossed

Edited: Feb 7, 2017, 11:54pm Top

7. Lost in the City : Stories by Edward P. Jones
published: 1992
format: 268 page paperback
acquired: from Borders in 2005
read: Jan 28 - Feb 5
rating: 4½

"...he was left with the ever-increasing vastness of the small apartment..."

Struggling just to get myself sitting and reading and actually blocking out the world a bit, and I picked this up to see if it would help. The collection of stories was the right kind of halfway step. Those ten, twenty, thirty minutes of focus were well rewarded, even if they came here in there, in a spotty way, between long draws on fb and the news and dwelling about where our world is headed—still obsessed.

Jones is special, and one-off personality with a wonderfully one-off take on his stories and their perspectives. You almost don't notice it. Each of these stories take place in Washington, D.C., that other Washington, D.C. Every character is black, each has roots in the south, either by birth or one generation removed, and each has been in D.C. for the majority or the entirety of their lives. The general poverty, limited opportunity, the divide from the white world are all taken for granted, accepted. It's an odd thing how few of these characters rebel, they live and breath this world as if there is no other.

I'm hard pressed to place what it is that makes these stories work. I mean, of course they're interesting and have an odd assortment of characters, orphans, drug dealers, shop owners, suspect parents, convoluted relationship, escape artists of all sorts—getting lost in the city being a goal more than a problem. But, there is something else here that makes these stories work beyond their often terrific opening paragraphs, and despite their anticlimactic and unsatisfying endings. Published in 1992, written, apparently, throughout the 80's, and about characters often from the 1960's, there are a mixture of eras captured in tone, and atmosphere, and none of them our right now. But I enjoyed pretty much every one of these.
"About four that afternoon the thunder and lightning began again. The four women seated about Carmona Boone's efficiency apartment grew still and spoke in whispers, when they spoke at all: They were each of them no longer young, and they had all been raised to believe that weather was—aside from answered prayers—the closest thing to the voice of God. And so each in her way listened."


Feb 8, 2017, 9:21am Top

>157 dchaikin: nice review. Not an author I've heard of before - will check him out.

Feb 8, 2017, 5:00pm Top

>144 dchaikin: You may have something there. I had been watching news channels (mainly CNN it seems) a lot more in the last few weeks - at the times I would usually right reviews... and read. I still do read, I need to get around to talking about it again... And I love >143 dchaikin: :)

>147 dchaikin: Wonderful review. And I agree with you - with this kind of books, years make a lot of difference. Which is why I am happy I am using my local library again - at least I can see and read those books when they get published (or arrive in the library anyway)

>154 ELiz_M: :) Nice one.

>157 dchaikin: And that sounds interesting... On the list it goes.

Feb 8, 2017, 5:22pm Top

Reading your thread and the horror that people are feeling living under a Trump presidency - Well it's going to get worse, but not only in America. Elections all over Europe in the next couple of years and I can only see that the anti-establishment vote that fascist demagogue politicians are attracting is going to be maintained. Here in France I am thinking that Marine Le Pen will be the next president: all the French people I talk to, tell me it won't happen, but that was what they said about Donald Trump.

I am fed up with pictures of Donald Trump on the BBC news website.

I agree reading is more difficult these days.

Feb 8, 2017, 5:55pm Top

>157 dchaikin: I'm interested in this one. I do enjoy short stories and I haven't heard of Edward P. Jones before. I'm wary about the unsatisfying endings, since I've read a lot of short story collections like that, but it sounds like the stories are interesting enough to make up for it.

I saw that he has a second collection called All Aunt Hagar's Children where each story in the book is connected in some way to the story in the corresponding order in Lost in the City. I'm feeling that I might like to read both of those together.

Feb 9, 2017, 10:09am Top

>160 baswood: I am fed up with all the photographs too. It's actually one of the things that has helped me NOT get over involved. I loathe his body language most of all. I am wondering how long it will take him to offend absolutely everyone, including his daft constituency.

Edited: Feb 10, 2017, 7:03am Top

>157 dchaikin: Sounds interesting, I'll have to look up this author. Short stories sound good right now.

Edited: Feb 20, 2017, 9:00pm Top

8. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Audio) by Sarah Vowell
reader: the author and several actors for all quotes
published: 2015
format: Overdrive digital audio, 8:07
acquired: Library
read: Feb 3-13
rating: 4

Vowell is the snarky, entertaining, historian with the funny voice. She is also sharp and thorough, although there isn't really all that much to dig up on Lafayette. The French Lafayette is an obscure hero with a somewhat recognizable name. He played a critical role in the American Revolutionary War/War of Independence, but did not do anything we can specifically point to as heroic and helpful. I suspect we tend to know him, but only as some French helper to George Washington in some possibly important but poorly defined way.

Vowell also doesn't do straight narratives. She does walk us through the war, but with many references out of sequence and many side-tracks along the way, and often having little or nothing to do with our subject at hand.

I'll give this one kudos for being short, entertaining, and informative. It was well worth my time and something of a medicine to current events. I always find this revolutionary era inspiring, irregardless of the baggage I carry when I approach it.

The real Lafayette was quite something, a spoiled orphan with an astonishingly charming, pure, and faux-humble personality. He was a French noble of a military family who came to the not-yet-independent-or-united states at the age of 19 to fight the British, and avenge his father's death. A surprisingly fine and suicidal youth, he would spend several years in the American Revolutionary War/War of Independence, becoming more prominent, taking George Washington as something of a surrogate father. He played a very large role in helping to motivate the French government to provide critical and, for them, self-destructive support of the America states. He matured in America. His biggest military accomplishment appears to have been his decision not to attack Yorktown - long story there, but he chose to wait, sacrifice his own glory, save a lot of causalities, further endanger a French fleet (who, because of this, fought a little known battle - the Battle of Capes, that saved the states...really), and let the Yorktown advantage play out, ending the war. Lafayette was then 24, and a much more mature military leader. He still had a challenging life ahead. He would return to the now independent and united states in 1824, himself and his family having survived imprisonment and likely execution during the French Revolution. He toured the country, a universal hero celebrated by all Americans.

Feb 20, 2017, 7:03pm Top

Interesting to read the back story about Lafayette - a name that is familiar to many people, but only the name and some connection with Washington.

Feb 20, 2017, 9:00pm Top

Thanks Bas. Oddly, I had come across Lafayette in France in a couple books, where his generosity and genuine respect for these quirky Americans was...surprising. And also just nice to read about. So, this filled a gap for me.

Feb 22, 2017, 11:02pm Top

9. The Aeneid by Virgil
published: 19 bce, unfinished.
translation: Robert Fagles 2006
introduction and notes Bernard Knox
format: 423 page paperback (plus 61 page glossary)
acquired: Barnes & Noble, December 2015
read: Feb 6-18
rating: 4

Despite the long post, I don't actually have much to say about the Aeneid. I was a little disappointed and finished without enthusiasm. I think it was books 7-12 that wore me out, a lot of boring fighting with nothing to look forward too. I'm glad I read it, especially book 6 since this reverberates through history. And book 4, on Dido's plight, which lives a bit in Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet (Elana Greco is Dido, and Nino is Aeneas) and Dido's collapse was moving, but Dido was a weak character. I'm reduced to some notes.

A summary, with quotes:
In twelve books Virgil tells the myth of how Rome was founded by a Trojan hero. Aeneas, son of Venus (Aphrodite) survives the fall of Troy with with his father, Anchises, who he carries away on his shoulders, and with his son, Ascanius, but not Creusa, his wife. He wanders the Mediterranean, failing to understand Apollo's very clear prophecies, and is constantly harassed by Juno (Hera), Troy's arch nemesis, until he finally reaches and establishes himself near future Rome. He makes two really interesting stops along the way.

First, he shipwrecks in future Carthage and humiliates its leader, the Tyrean queen Dido. She falls for him, he seduces her and then abandons her. Except, it's cupid that makes her fall in love with him, and it's Juno who sets up the seduction and it's Jupiter and Mercury who force him to leave and head to future Rome. So, clearly no ones to blame. Well, Aeneas is pretty much an a-hole with his five second reflection
Strongly as he longs
to ease and allay her sorrow, speak to her,
turn away her anguish with reassurance, still,
moaning deeply, heart shattered by his great love,
in spite of all he obeys the god's commands
and back he goes to his ships.
Dido curses him, setting up the future Punic wars, and then commits suicide.

Then, in book six, Aeneas first lands in Italy and meets the curious Sibyl, priestess of Apollo. She works herself into a spastic trance.
But the Sibyl, still not broken in by Apollo, storms
with a wild fury through her cave. And the more she tries
to pitch the great god off her breast, the more his bridle
exhausts her raving lips, overwhelming her untamed heart,
bending her to his will.
And then she gives her famous line (roughly quoted in Pirates of the Caribbean, Land's End, among other places) :
Born of the blood of gods, Anchises’ son,
man of Troy, the descent to the Underworld is easy.
Night and day the gates of shadowy Death stand open wide,
but to retrace your steps, to climb back to the upper air—
there the struggle. There the labor lies.
And, finally, she leads him into the underworld with the golden bough. We meet a fascinating underworld of torment, poignant sadness, punishment, reward, and the river Lethe were souls lose their memories and return to earth with new lives. He even meets Dido's spirit and pleads with her for forgiveness. "But she, her eyes fixed on the ground, turned away".

That leaves books 7-12, six books of convoluted battle, politics, confusion and serious dullness. Aeneas wins, marries a Latin, and the blood of the Romans, and of Julius Ceasar and Augustus Ceasar is founded.

What I liked:
The opening and its echo on closing. Virgil opens by asking why. “Muse, how it all began. Why was Juno outraged? What could wound the Queen of the Gods with all her power?” It's mostly unanswered and actually compelling. Then, just before the end, Jupiter turns to Juno, fate assured, Aeneid will be fine, and asks her, how far? “Where will it end, my queen? What is left at last?

Of course, Chapter 6. And, chapter 4, particularly Dido's collapse, which is moving. And chapters 1-3 are all good, especially chapter 2 which tells of the fall of Troy.

Camilla is a worth a note, since she fights with ""one breast bared for combat "

What I didn't like:
Dido. She just isn’t a very strong character. I’m bit spoiled by Homer and, especially, the Greek plays where women play wonderful roles, often as wonderful villains. Dido is so passive and controlled by other forces - a victim of circumstance with no self-initiating power.

Aeneas. He's forgettable.

Chapter 5 - the funeral games.

Chapters 7-12 the battles with Turnus, the silly villain.

Notes on the translation and notes
Fagles is fine and very readable, but not, in my opinion, particularly poetic. He says he has a rhythm, but I rarely sensed it. And, in his clarity, I suspect something is lost. It's almost too easy.

The main notes are essentially missing. Only the very basic stuff is covered and some of that is obvious from the text and just restated. There are 13 pages of notes for 456 pages of text. But then there is a 61 pages glossary, which covers a great deal. So I guess that balances out a bit. The one thing that really bothered me is that the Argonautika is not mentioned once, even as I know some of the cited sources point out how huge its influence was on Virgil. Many other influences are mentioned.

In conclusion
This wasn't the first disappointment for me with the ancients. I had built up Apollonius of Rhodes's Argonautika too much (The Argonautika also has a weak lead character, Jason, and a sadly weakened version of the female antagonist, Medea.) But this was a big let down. Virgil's own Georgics are a lot better...well, outside book 6 here.

Feb 23, 2017, 5:19am Top

>167 dchaikin: Really interesting comments on a book I may never read, although you make me feel better about that!

Feb 25, 2017, 4:03pm Top

>168 Rebeki: : ) Thanks. Aeneid generally gets kudos from those who like classics. It being in support of an emperor who marked the end of the Roman Republic, it's popularity goes in waves. Those under authoritarian systems tend to find it more impressive than those in more democratic systems. The Renaissance era loved it. The later 20th century through today are more neglectful. But, you can't read Dante and Milton without knowing Virgil.

Feb 25, 2017, 4:11pm Top

10. Aeneid Book VI : A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition by Virgil, translated by Seamus Heaney
published: 19 bce, unfinished.
translation: published 2016, Heaney passed away 2013
format: 97 page hardcover, Latin on left, English translation on the right. 52 pages had English.
acquired: Barnes & Noble, January
read: Feb 19-20
rating: 4

Stumbled across this and it seems like a perfect opportunity to both read Heaney in an approachable manner and check on another translation besides Robert Fagles. Also, I kind of like that it has the Latin. It's the right book to experiment with in this way, because book vi is really enjoyable.

I read Heaney slower and his translation is nice. This book meant a lot to him. I had forgotten a lot of the quirks while "suffering" through books 7-12 with Fagles. I can't say Heaney changed the book for me, this was no "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer", per Keats. But it was certainly worth the bit of time I put into it. I think one conclusion I can make is that Fagles did ok.

Edited: Feb 25, 2017, 4:34pm Top

11. Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
published: 1984
format: 214 page paperback
acquired: inherited from my neighbor upon his move
read: Feb 20-24
rating: 4

Doerr's claim to fame seems to be that she published her first book, this one here, at the ripe young age of 74. She outlived her husband, who died of leukemia, and then went back to school to complete her unfinished BA and that led to here.

Gentle and atmospheric are two things I struck me initially on starting this. Richard Everton abandons his career in the US to re-open a family owned mine in the middle of nowhere desert of Mexico. He brings his wife, Sara, and they move into an old run-down mansion in a tiny town, find plenty of locals willing to work the mine. Shortly afterward he is diagnosed with leukemia. Most of this is autobiographical.

The novel isn't like a novel. It has the feel of linked short stories, with each chapter focusing on one character or oddity of the region. Several were published prior to the book. First Sara is generally amused. She struggles to learn Spanish well enough to have clear communication, but wonders and is charmed by the passionate and brutal Catholic community she now lives within. But these stories seems to get darker, and Richard gets sicker, and husband and wife remain non-religious outsiders (called North Americans), wealthy benevolent respected and necessary heathens. Eventually the stories settle more on Sara and her mental and emotional struggles with her husband's sickness, and somewhat with her grief after his passing. There is a cumulative gravitas. And there is a lot of Mexico. Still thinking about it.

Feb 25, 2017, 4:41pm Top

Some quotes from Stones for Ibarra

When they forgot to bring holy water to bless a basketball court before a game:
Padre Raúl stood in the center of the court with the basketball tucked under his left arm. Raising his right hand, he drew down great handfuls of air so pure that, unlike water, it could not be seen or heard. This air he sprinkled in the four corners of the court and along its boundaries.
And later on:

     "Sarah, listen," he was saying. "You've got to stop making things up. Stop making each day up. See it."

     "I do see it," she said

     "You revise it as it comes along. You revise me."

     She pulled back to look at his face. "I don't," she said. "I see you now. Perfectly."

Edited: Feb 26, 2017, 9:59am Top

Love your personal summation of reading the Fagles Aeneid, which I liked better than you did, who knows why?!! I read the Aeneid long ago in another translation (no idea whose, it was in high school) and Fagles brought to life what had been much more wooden in my memory. All things being relative. Particularly resonate with your take on Dido.

Have you encountered Ursula LeGuin's take on Lavinia? I wasn't overwhelmed but I felt it did add another perspective. I do like the idea of reading the Heaney. His side by side Beowulf, with his translation on one side and the Old E. on the other is one of my treasured reads.

Back to add - Stones for Ibarra is a book I really liked back when, and it has remained vivid.

Feb 26, 2017, 2:43pm Top

Thanks Lucy! All things tend to be relative. In another time, a better mindset, I'm sure I could get more out of the Aeneid. I've heard of Lavinia, the novel. The character is, of course, essentially absent from the Aeneid, merely a name, and probably quite disappointed to lose Turnus. That's a maybe for me. I'm more interested in Ovid's response, at the moment. Heaney's Beowulf probably will be the one I use, when I get there. (I read a version in high school. No clue about the translation or edition or really much of anything other than the title.)

Stones for Ibarra was a nice book to spend time with.

Feb 26, 2017, 6:51pm Top

Stuff I learned while reading Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm today

- Obama awarded Dillard a National Medal for the Arts and Humanities in 2015, shown above.

- about this book itself:
One day, Dillard decided to begin a project in which she would write about whatever happened on Lummi Island within a three-day time period. When a plane crashed on the second day, Dillard began to contemplate the problem of pain, and God's allowance of "natural evil to happen". Although Holy the Firm (1977) was only 66 pages long, it took her 14 months, writing full-time, to complete the manuscript. In The New York Times Book Review novelist Frederick Buechner called it "A rare and precious book." While other contemporary reviewers wondered whether she was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, Dillard denies it.

Feb 26, 2017, 7:03pm Top

12. Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
published: 1977
format: 72 page hardcover, large print edition
acquired: inherited from my neighbor upon his move
read: Feb 26
rating: 4

The first part is a self-absorbed praise of every tiny detail of life. She opens "Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time." She goes through an intense bending of language and reality, an almost surreal and poisoned optimism.
"The God of today is rampant and drenched. His arms spread, bearing moist pastures; his fingers spread, fingering the shore. He is time’s live skin; he burgeons up from day like an tree. His legs spread crossing the heavens, flicking hugely, and flashing and arcing around the earth toward night."
Then in part two there is a plane crash, a small plane with a father and 7-yr-old daughter. Both survive, but the girls face is burned off. A sobering clash with the opening. Having contradicted her optimism, she looks for a way forward and looks to god and holiness in various concepts, touching heavily on Catholicism and some of it's more obscure philosophies. She is, I imagined, looking to find something to hold all this together.

Thought provoking and exhausting, a poem in prose, magical and also not. I think this is one that could be read over and over, as one might a poem, perhaps with some reverence.

Some more quotes:

On bringing communion wine:
Here is a bottle of wine with a label, Christ with a cork. I bear holiness splintered into a vessel, very God of very God, the sempiternal science personal and brooding, bright on the back of my ribs.
And, just because I love this line:
The hedgerows ... leafless stems are starting to live visibly deep in their centers, as hidden as banked fires live, and as clearly as recognition, mute, shines forth from eyes.

Feb 27, 2017, 10:52pm Top

Just a quick catch up Dan. Have you started Mason & Dixon yet. I am waiting for the bell to sound to start off the new month!

Feb 28, 2017, 6:17am Top

>177 PaulCranswick: i did, but then didn't. : ) I got to page three, then decided to wait till tomorrow.

Feb 28, 2017, 7:38pm Top

>167 dchaikin: I have often wondered what The Aeneid was about, your review puts that right.
Sorry it was not an enjoyable read for you, but at least you can chalk it off and get to understand the many references to it.

Feb 28, 2017, 9:19pm Top

Bas - Hopefully right in a good way. I'm glad I read it, and I'm pretty sure I will be more happy about that the more I read. There is a lot of Virgil-influenced writing.

Edited: Mar 1, 2017, 12:59pm Top

I first read The Aeneid in high school -- in Latin over a whole school year. Undoubtedly that experience colored my reaction to it. In college I read it in translation and taught bits and pieces (books two, four and six) in World Lit. I always felt sorry for Turnus

Mar 1, 2017, 1:32pm Top

Jane - perhaps I would like it better in Latin. ( I'd have to learn some Latin first.)

Mar 2, 2017, 9:53pm Top

>182 dchaikin: There's always "Google translate" *snort*

Mar 3, 2017, 7:21pm Top

>183 avidmom: the temptation to make that or something like that work is a little embarrassingly strong...

Mar 4, 2017, 3:08pm Top

>68 dchaikin: Great review! I'd like a book to "help explain Trump's win" but I doubt that I'll ever find it. Still in shock up here.

Your excellent reviews of Elena Ferrante books have convinced me to try the series again. For some reason I was put off in the first few pages of My brilliant friend and set it aside.

Apologies for tardiness. I don't think I'll ever catch up on threads this year!

Mar 4, 2017, 4:23pm Top

Welcome, Viv. I'm not surprised by your comment about the beginning of My Brilliant Friend. It took me a while to get into it. Then, after I finished I started listening again from the beginning. And again, I didn't like that beginning section (although it was much more meaningful the second time). She's a story teller. But the beginning is full of literary tricks that I don't think worked so well. For me it was the weakest part of book one.

Mar 4, 2017, 6:17pm Top

Thanks for that advice. I'll keep it in mind and definitely will try again - can't go against the tide of support for Ferrante!

Mar 4, 2017, 8:45pm Top

Viv, since I loved it so much, I'm biased to encourage you to try again. : )

Edited: May 3, 2017, 7:36am Top

20. Born to Run (Audio) by Bruce Springsteen
reader the author
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 18:23 (And 510 page hardcover)
acquired: Library
Listened: unfinished. I listened to about 80% from Feb 14-27, read last 74 pages Apr 30 - May 1
rating: 4

I have every intention of finishing this, but my library audio borrowing period expired and it's a popular book. I have a long wait until I get it back. I'm reviewing it now because I'm pretty sure I'm past the best part of the book and I'm going to forget too much if I wait.

I'm not a traditional Springsteen fan of any sort, but I have become a pretty big fan over (only) the last maybe five years or so. The name isn't new to me, but the magic still is. I love the acoustics, and variety, and the very real sense I get from his music...whatever it is that means. And I'm curious about who he is and was. So, this book really called to me. I was going to like it no matter what. That he reads himself only makes it that much more appealing. I was sold before I started.

What makes Springsteen's story interesting is that so much happened before he found success. He had played a long time with several different bands, developed into a stage and musical presence, for years, all under the radar. So, when Paul Hammond discovered him, this guy who took the bus into New York carrying his guitar over his head the whole way, because it had no case, who came alone, without his band, and played a few acoustic songs he had (Growing Up, and A Saint in the City), Hammond discovered a mature somewhat sophisticated talent. But, I'm getting ahead.

In sort of overwrought language using many maybe too strong words, the way a song writer might phrase it, he covers his childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, growing up in a working class family with an alcoholic father. At ten Elvis Presley was on the Ed Sullivan show, and captured his imagination. Springsteen calls him "a Saturday night jukebox Dionysos". He convinced his mother to rent him a guitar - but he didn't learn to play it. At 18 Springsteen was completely dedicated to music, obsessed. When his parents and younger sister moved to California, he stayed in New Jersey, essentially orphaned, and continue to play and obsess. He played lead guitar with the Castile's, who didn't feel he could sing, and later with Steel Mill, where he did sing. I imagine Steel Mill as some variation of Led Zeppelin, in 1969. Eventually he put his own band together, the Bruce Springsteen Band, originally ten members with keyboards and horns and female singers. All of these bands were successful enough to make some kind of living - albeit, he tells how he could live on $30 a week. But these were significant unknown groups. So, when he walked into Columbia Records to play for Paul Hammond alone, and presented himself as the next Bob Dylan (one of the many at the time), it was something a bit different from his usual. It's the moment that made him, or that allowed him to be made. The future E-Street would play on his first album and tour with him and always remain some part of who he was musically. Later, when Columbia told him his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, didn't have any hits, he went out an wrote Blinded by the Light and Spirit of the Night. He was, and is, that kind of musician.

The rest of the book is an oddball story of success in the 1970's without a map and then superstardom in the 1980's. The musically obsessed Springsteen never took drugs, and didn't touch alcohol till he was 22. But he wasn't college educated, and was easily manipulated in contracts. And having spent his young life homeless, running from place to place, he couldn't settle down, and had a lot of trouble figuring out what to do with his success. That is to say the guy who wrote his breakthrough song, Born to Run, had a lot going on behind that song. (Oddly, his first top ten hit was the, to me, forgettable Hungry Heart).

The story through Paul Hammond takes up half of the 18 hours of the CD, and it's an absolutely amazing story. I liked the rest I listened to—including long sections on each album and the thought processes that went into them. As my borrowing period was about to expire he started on American Skin and I had to sneak away and make sure I at least got through that section. It's all interesting, but not the same wow as his background story, which is really the story behind all his music. Clean, sober, homeless, musically obsessed, mixing with a line of fascinating personalities and going nowhere while living on $30 a week. That is a story.

ETA - The review above is from March 4. Yesterday I finally picked up a hardcover to read the last 74 pages, which covers Clarence Clemmons (probably the most important member of E Street), The Rising and how it ties into 9-11, and where he mentions that he has been writing this for 7 years, on and off. That means he started in 2009, after playing the Super Bowl, and also the year Clarence passed away. (posted in >259)

Edited: Mar 5, 2017, 2:42pm Top

13. Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson (The Myths) by David Grossman
translation from Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman in 2006
published: 2005
format: 184 page paperback, including the KJV version of Samson - The Book of Judges 13-16
acquired: 2012 from amazon
read: Feb 26 - Mar 1
rating: 4

Samson is an oddball part of the Bible, with parallels going east to Gilgamesh and west to Hercules. Gilgamesh and Hercules both kill a lion and wear a lion skin as in identifier; Samson kills a lion, then later finds a honey-rich beehive inside the carcass leading to a riddle and much fun and slaughter in this sugar-free world. Samson also ties in to the later myth of bugonia, "a ritual based on the belief that bees were spontaneously (equivocally) generated from a cow's carcass", a topic Virgil will write about and in the process become the main source of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. But I'm off topic now. There is only a tiny amount of this stuff in Grossman's book.

Grossman gets credit for writing what should be a really boring book and making it quite readable and compelling. He goes step by step through the story of Samson, with a commentary of his ideas at each step. It's repetitive and yet still readable. I love this kind of info, and yet hate reading this stuff, and yet I never felt tormented here. It's pleasant with some narrative drive.

Grossman's Samson is misunderstood, alone, the only one in his time with the spirit of the Lord inside him, setting him firmly apart. His understanding questionable, and his expression minimal, his self-destructiveness the only expression we are able to read off. He is also a bit of an artist, spouting poetic lines and riddles. And having one of the most spectacular suicides in literature anywhere.

I like Grossman's take, even when I felt it was incomplete. For example, he goes into detail on what Samson's mother tells and doesn't tell her husband. The angel of the Lord came on to her - sexual double-meaning working in both English and Hebrew. So, she is maybe a bit compromised by his message of this possibly partially divine son. She gives her husband the entire angel's message, except for two parts - she doesn't tell her husband this unborn son will smite Philistines and she doesn't tell him that this son's weakness is his hair. Grossman goes on and on, and yet doesn't mention once that it's possible she might have been protecting her son from a father who might be exposed to or partial to Philistines. It would seem to be the obvious explanation. They were Danites and therefore in close associated, geographically, with the more powerful Philistines. But it doesn't interest Grossman.

Anyway, that's probably more than you wanted to know. I only recommend this book to those who really want to know about Samson. I wanted to know about Grossman, and I don't feel this book gave me all that much insight into this contemporary Israeli author.

Edited: Mar 5, 2017, 4:12pm Top

14. Another Brooklyn (Audio) by Jacqueline Woodson
reader Robin Miles
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 2:43 (equivalent to ~75 pages. Amazon lists it at 192 pages)
acquired: Library
read: Feb 28 - Mar 3
rating: 4

Simple but quite wonderful.

Maybe that's enough of a review. It's also fiction, which I didn't know until after I had started. It's a little tough on audio at the beginning, since it switches topic without warning several times. I had to listen to the first 30 minutes twice. The reader, Miles, is excellent.

Mar 5, 2017, 7:39pm Top

Enjoyed catching up with your reviews. I'd considered the Springsteen memoir, and you've convinced me now with your comments and the fact that he reads the audio version himself. I was going to put Another Brooklyn on my list but apparently I already had and then forgot about it. I enjoyed Brown Girl Dreaming when I read it.

Mar 6, 2017, 7:06am Top

>190 dchaikin: Hmm - could be interesting. I've only got a couple of books of PL still to read, so Samson Agonistes is getting closer...

Mar 6, 2017, 9:31am Top

Catching up - keep the good reads coming...

Mar 7, 2017, 7:11am Top

>192 valkyrdeath: Gary, they're both good, but in different ways. If you like Springsteen, you might really enjoy Born to Run.

>193 thorold: Mark - what are PL and Samson Agonistes? Grossman does a nice job. Glad someone found that review interesting. : )

>194 AlisonY: Sadly I'm in a rut. Sigh. Temporary I hope. My reading likes structure, but schedule is not cooperating.

Mar 7, 2017, 7:47am Top

>195 dchaikin: Sorry - I'm on a 17th century sidetrack, deep in Milton's poetical works at the moment, so probably suffering a bit of tunnel vision. PL= Paradise Lost; Samson Agonistes is Milton's late verse-drama on the subject of post-haircut Samson.

Mar 7, 2017, 8:03am Top

Ah. I think I recall you had mentioned working through Paradise Lost.

Mar 8, 2017, 3:55pm Top

189> My husband read the Springsteen book, and much the same reaction as yours.

Mar 9, 2017, 9:05pm Top

>197 dchaikin: Dan, I don't know about you but Mason & Dixon is not a novel to read in absence of all others. I am presently trudging though it at a painfully slow pace, I'm afraid.

Mar 9, 2017, 9:24pm Top

I'm struggling too, Paul. It's the lack of clarity that's giving me the most trouble. The information is there, but you have to splice it together from all these oddball sentences. I seem to be having more trouble with this than I had with Gravity's Rainbow. There I felt I could wing through sections and figure it out better by reconstructing in hindsight. Here, I can't wing through anything. If I push through I just get noise have no idea whose talking or what the time and place is. So I have to go slow and concentrate. That's work!

I had targeted 15 pages a day. I'm behind that pace.

Mar 9, 2017, 9:25pm Top

>198 janeajones: definitely a book for devoted Springsteen fans.

Mar 10, 2017, 3:38am Top

>200 dchaikin: I am doing about 2/3 of that per day........we will be about this a long time!

Edited: Mar 10, 2017, 11:07am Top

How far have you two gotten? I remember it being hard at first and then easier and easier until I was totally involved and loving every word: it is one of my favourites and once I acclimated I found it much easier than V or Rainbow. I studied (a tiny fraction of) the (endless) Jesuit Chronicles in college, btw, and those dudes really did bury disc thingies to have a case to claim future turf. Remember that Pynchon never makes up much of anything, so it's always worth looking things up. I spent a lot of time studying and reading about the "semi-circle" that the M & D were required to make right at the beginning of the line, between Delaware, PA, and MD. Huge headache it was. And so on and so forth. Easier to read than to do what they did slogging through the wilderness on this crazy mathematical task.

Back to add, the scene on GW's verandah will make it all worthwhile. Hang in there. Pep talk over.

Edited: Mar 10, 2017, 2:45pm Top

Thanks Lucy. I think about your posts here (well, my 2016 equivalent thread) as I make my way through this. I'm on page 152 - so on my pace! (It's helped that I'm stuck home with sort-of sick child. He has strep- yuck, but easily dealt with) Maskelyne was just giving crazy talk to Mason and I'm caught like a quarter of the importance. Dixon is back in the Cape.


Bradley ask'd Mason to read that part aloud, twice. "Aye, the Star I do recall, —lying upon the Zodiacal path, a Pebble, a Clod, just in front of Castor's left foot, perhaps eternally about to be kick'd," if Bradley, who was never mistaken, was not mistaken, "—hence 'Propus,' though Flamsteed, paronomastickally disposed, call'd it 'Tropus' because it mark'd the turning point of the Summer Solstice."

This comes after a long section on "Dr Zhang", probably this guy here. So, what was read twice? Don't know. I don't even know who wrote the letter. It just appears in the hands of Bradley, a new character from the past. I think it was written by Clive, who is important in the British East India company (see here)...but I'm not sure. And which star? Got Castor. Flamsteed was an English astronomer (see here). And paronomastickally = paronomastically, from Paronomasia, or a pun. So, "Tropus" is Flamsteed's pun on "Propus", based on "turning point of the Summer Solstice". Which means? And Propus is...um, Bradley's name for a star near Castor. Got all that?

ETA - Propus:

Edited: Mar 10, 2017, 2:38pm Top

>202 PaulCranswick: Ah, good, I can relax about my speed.

Paul, I've been thinking on your post up in >199 PaulCranswick:, about reading another book. I haven't done this because I was afraid the 15 pages would be hard enough here. But, now I'm thinking it might help, just to remind me that, yes, I really can read.

Paul - wondering if I should start a thread for us on M&D. ??

Mar 10, 2017, 5:53pm Top

Poking around I found a site on MD called Dinn's notes, that looks fun and useful. I used something similar for Against the Day - a blog that a bunch of readers participated in.

Pynchon has a thing about doubles, anything in two and that would include the fact that things that go up come down (as in GR). In AGD there is this special type of quartz, icelandic spar or something like that . . .

I'm almost itching to join you two -- it's been a long time.

Mar 18, 2017, 12:23pm Top

I do believe my brain is being slowly rewired by M&D. Listening to Ruth Bader Ginsburg provides some, um, correction(?). I haven't added her book yet...My own words.

Mar 18, 2017, 8:27pm Top

I think I just kind of ploughed through Mason and Dixon without worrying too much about not really absorbing much. I found it quite funny. Too bad it is turning into a slog for both you and Paul.

Edited: Mar 19, 2017, 6:37pm Top

Maggie - when ever I pick up the pace I quickly find I have no idea what I just read, I get lost. I have to really pin myself to the ongoing perspective in the text. But your post makes me wonder if I'm missing too much by going to slow, and maybe taking it too seriously...although, honestly, I'm not trying to. I'm just trying to make sense of it.

Mar 20, 2017, 8:21am Top

>209 dchaikin: Maybe this is one of those books that should be read through in a straight forward manner and then read again the way you are currently reading. Of course that at least doubles the reading, but sometimes it is the most rewarding way. You can ignore this completely as I have never attempted Pynchon, but he does call to me periodically. In the meantime, I enjoy following along here.

Mar 20, 2017, 10:43am Top

Don't know about Mason & Dixon yet, but if I had tried to understand Ulysses, I would never have finished it, and I would have missed one of the best moments in literature. I wandered through much of the book dazed and confused, even occasionally bored, but that last chapter was worth it all.
But then that's me, I love understanding things when it comes to reality, but in fiction I feel it tends to be overrated.

Mar 20, 2017, 11:08am Top

>208 ipsoivan: That's the method I used too. I'm sure I missed a ton, but it was an enjoyable reading experience and I still remember lots of details considering I read it ten or so years ago.

Mar 22, 2017, 5:33am Top

Just catching up, and enjoying the discussion.

Mar 22, 2017, 6:43am Top

Inspired by your tenacity, Dan....

Mar 22, 2017, 7:55am Top

It's more fun lately, really. I'm not sure if it's that the discussion here changed my perspective, or if it was Mason, Dixon, George Washington and an intelligent slave getting stoned smoking hemp, while Martha brought them snacks.

Mar 22, 2017, 9:13am Top

I bought Mason & Dixon last night after reading the first chapter on Amazon. It sounds like fun :-)

Mar 22, 2017, 1:29pm Top

Flo - come join our very little group read. Just Paul and myself and a few comments here and there. No dedicated thread.

Mar 22, 2017, 3:12pm Top

OK Dan, thank you :-) I think it looks like the perfect book to go back to reading, for someone who is scared of reality and tired of fiction.

Mar 24, 2017, 12:23pm Top

>189 dchaikin: I'm not the biggest Springsteen fan, but his autobio. has been on my radar for a long time. Interesting that he wrote "Blinded by the Light" and his first Top 10 was "Hungry Heart".

Mar 24, 2017, 2:55pm Top

>218 FlorenceArt: your most welcome. I'm still putting along.

>219 avidmom: I love Wikipedia: "Manfred Mann's Earth Band's recording of "Blinded by the Light" is Springsteen's only Number 1 single as a songwriter on the Hot 100."

: ) Springsteen's came out in about 1973. The Manfred Man's cover was released 1976 and hit #1 in 1977.


Edited: Mar 24, 2017, 6:52pm Top

Daniel - I just had a retro music flashback to when I was a kid. Who knows how many times I heard Blinded by the Light on some radio station?? It seemed like they played it every hour!! Remember radio? It was that thing before Sirius XM and Pandora, lol. Definitely the Manfred Mann's version. I didn't even realize Springsteen had recorded it.

Mar 26, 2017, 10:36am Top

Yes, I didn't want to spoil the GW on the porch scene for you. I think it is a turning point and the book gets more fun from then on, or one is used to it, or something!

Mar 26, 2017, 10:39am Top

Florence - Pynchon provides some warning...

"Time on Earth is too precious. No one has time, for more than one version of the truth. "

"Then, let us have only Jolly Theatrickals about the past, and be done with it..."


"Alas, every reader of the 'Novel' must be reckoned a soul in peril,— for she hath made a D——l's bargain, squandering her precious time, for nothing in return but the meanest and shabbiest kinds of mental excitement. ... "

Edited: Mar 26, 2017, 10:45am Top

>221 This-n-That: before Clear Channel... sigh

Mainly I miss being in college when music was easy to find.

>222 sibyx: or something. The book is different in America, has a different feel. Since it took some 25-ish years to write, I do wonder how spread apart different sections come from in time and in writer's perspective.

Mar 29, 2017, 9:52pm Top

abandoned. My Own Words (Audio) by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
coauthors Mary Eileen Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams
reader Linda Lavins, mainly. There are many voices, include Ruth’s.
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 13:18
acquired: Library
read: ~ 9 hours Mar 16-28

I got about 2/3 through on audio (almost 9 of 13 hours). It was worth the time I put into it, but there were large sections that were essentially repetitive or that didn't add much and that weren't necessary that interesting the first time. So, I decided to move on to another book.

Ginsburg is very interested in women's rights and in women becoming a growing part of the legal field and of the judges. She sees her life where the country went from having almost no female judges to having three on the supreme court (about 1/3 of all judges are women) as sign of progress.

From the basis of her speeches and writings, I'm kind of left with the impression that she keeps things simple. That may be an aspect of the presentation. She is brief, clear and to the point, and this is precisely what she values in a judge.

Among the oddities here was her very close friendship with Antonin Scalia, who was, of course, diametrically opposed to her ideologically. It was also interesting to get a little insight into what Bill Clinton liked about her when he nominated her. He chose her after going through and discarding many other names. His intuition seems to have played a significant part.

Apr 3, 2017, 8:54am Top

2/3 through Mason & Dixon, still just moseying through. I'm momentarily in Quebec with a fantastical Jesuit group of some sort.

Edited: Apr 15, 2017, 12:43pm Top

15. Homegoing (Audio) by Yaa Gyasi
reader: Dominic Hoffman
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 13:11 (~360 pages equivalent)
acquired: Library
listened: Mar 29 - Apr 10
rating: 4

Audio enthusiasm waning, this novel was a nice fix. Gyasi was born in Ghana, came to the United States at ten and mainly grew up in Alabama. She makes good use of both cultures and their histories. Homegoing begins in the late 1700's in Africa where two girls who will never meet, half-sisters from the same mother, end up on different sides of the slave trade. One marries a high level British official working in the Cape Coast Castle (now a World Heritage Site - link here, one of about 40 slave castles along the African coast). The other is captured and held in the same castle and later shipped to America. Gyasi then traces their lineage from generation to generation up to the present, kind of like a James Michener novel. Each generation on each continent gets a short story typically focused on one individual.

A first novel, this is OK writing on an really interesting, to me, historical trajectory. The African sections, on the Ashanti and Fante cultures in Ghana, were fascinating, and all new to me (and the reader does a convincing job with accents). The Ashanti tribe captured surrounding people, and the Fante tribes traded the captives to Portuguese and British slave traders. Later, as the slave trade faded, a protracted and rather bloody war, one that I never fully understood within the novel, took place between the British and Ashanti. On the American side the tragic stories cover well-trod ground and the success of each story was often dependent on setting, character or some thoughtful clever aspect. These expose Gyasi's ability a bit, and I thought some stories worked better than others.

So some complaints, but overall an entertaining novel, especially for those like me who are clueless about Africa and its history.

Edited: Apr 15, 2017, 4:15pm Top

16. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1997
format: 773 page hardcover
acquired: December 2015 from Half-Price Books
read: Mar 1 - Apr 13 (that's 44 days, but who is counting?)
rating: ????? (five question marks)

Don't read this book. That's one conclusion - I mean, if you're like me. I just put a lot of time into this, and there were consequences. For one, I don't know what I got out of it, or what you should. I've read a couple intelligent reviews, and they didn't change my feeling about that. It's massive and it wanders, and it plods, and it never, ever provides a clear picture of anything - whether about the story line, or what Pynchon is really trying to say or mean. He says a lot and undermines what he says a lot. He brings in a endless supply of real historical trivia with real mind-altering stuff in there, and then fills it with wildest of fiction and fantasy, even pulling in on those early science fiction-y novels where characters go to new lands, planets, under the earth or wherever (all those Utopia books StevenTx and Baswood used to review). "The reclusive Pynchon writes as if everything is connected to everything else, and detours so obsessively en route that even the revelation that there is actually no revelation seems extraordinarily significant."* So, I think I confidently say that any pronouncement on this book should be taken to be foolishy overconfident, obviously including this one.

My main take away is that this is Pynchon's play on the Age of Reason when the sciences were flawed with imagination and the occult was merely part of the process. When skills of measurement were refined to quite an extent and yet unknowns could fumble forward ideas, and when making things known had some troublesome imperative with unpredictable outcomes. How else do two rural born children become skilled master-craftsmen, who build nearly perfectly, over four years, a line in the almost wilderness, guided by the stars, that will quite soon become meaningless, and then later on define the American chasm that clashed in that Civil War. And yet, neither Charles Mason or Jeremiah Dixon would manage to become part of the Royal Society, or really amount to all that much. More humble creatures lost in the human machine. Or something.

Pynchon brings out a Mason and Dixon that are tied to facts well enough, are well defined full personalities, and hardly likely to be anything like anyone who ever existed. They bicker as their relationship fumbles forward, their skills taken for granted. They each have their struggles. Mason, the Astronomer, has more internalized struggles as he works through his melancholy and loss of his wife. Dixon, a surveyor, the more practical one, tied better into the real world. Albeit, a world defined by learned talking dogs, invisible angry automaton ducks, and, well, slavery, among other insane and wild encounters.

This is the sequel in process and theme to V. and Gravity's Rainbow. Like them, this is a ball of confusion with wacky happenings and many a drug-trip type scenes. But, it's really toned down in comparison. It's less wacky, less druggy, with less sex. The sex which was both disgusting and all over the place in the earlier two books here is reduced to implication and flirtation. When a group of gnomes or some such creatures want to explore Dixon, and asks him to undress as much as he is comfortable doing so, he takes off his shoes, but leaves his hat on.

I've noticed over the last several years how I struggle to link into the mindset of a book, to get the tone well enough that I can come along for the ride. It's like something I need to figure out, to learn, hopefully before I get too far into the book. I never got it here, never really tied in. The book always seemed to fall through my fingers somehow, remaining a other, and leaving me to plod along uncomfortably and unconfident. Of course it's all in humor and fun, and I could see that and kind of smile at myself. And that does make the book both easier and something other. Ultimately, it's not really intended to be taken in any kind of full seriousness. But, it seemed I fell in, and then couldn't find a comfortable place to sit anywhere. So, I just stumbled on through. The book has ended quietly, but I'm still stumbling along.

*Not sure what original source is, but it's quoted here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v19/n14/jenny-turner/when-the-sandwich-was-still-a-new-inv...

Apr 15, 2017, 5:50pm Top

Congratulations (I think) on finishing Mason & Dixon, Dan. Your comments have been interesting. I've determined that it is not a book for me, as I seem to be having a hard time getting my head into anything too 'deep' at the moment, let alone one that raises so many questions/emotions.

Apr 15, 2017, 10:33pm Top

>230 dchaikin: Colleen, Thanks. And maybe a good call, but I'm not sure I'm a good guide to follow as to whether you might want to read it or not.

Apr 15, 2017, 11:49pm Top

>228 dchaikin: I have been following your struggle and decided I wouldn't read this book - although I should for the 1001 list. I have read half of this list, but never dared picking up one of the 6 Pynchon's on it. Your thoughts while reading Mason & Dixon confirmed my suspicion against him. However, your review is great and even a bit hilarious and definitely enthusiastic... so now I am doubting again. Perhaps I should start with an easier one. If it exist!

Apr 16, 2017, 12:00am Top

>231 Simone2: I really liked V. But it's not easy. Slow Learner is easy - several of his earliest stories and they are really good, if a bit immature for him. Might start with one of those. ?? And, actually, thanks. I'm glad something positive comes out of that review.

Apr 16, 2017, 12:08am Top

Thanks. V is on the list. Perhaps I should start there. Or with Gravity's Rainbow, which is the shortest!

Apr 16, 2017, 8:23am Top

V. Is around 500 pages? GR around 800.

Apr 16, 2017, 9:29am Top

You are right, I meant The Crying of Lot 49!

Apr 16, 2017, 9:46am Top

The Crying of Lot 49 reads easy and is short, but very difficult to make sense of. It's not a bad book to read, but it could end your Pynchon reading. It's just so...impenetrable. ?? Anyway, I don't mean to discourage you. It's also fun in its take on the oddness of 1st world sensibilities - media, millionaires and housewives.

Apr 16, 2017, 12:21pm Top

Aw, are you finished already? I just barely got started! Thank you for making me want to read Mason & Dixon. I read The Crying on Lot 49 ages ago but don't really remember what I thought of it. I'm enjoying M&D so far (loved the learnéd talking dog, who wouldn't?) but will probably take ages to finish it.

Apr 16, 2017, 2:32pm Top

Enjoy Florence. I'm finished, but my mindset hasn't fully separated yet from the book or, especially, the pacing. Friday evening, after I finished, I tried reading March, the graphic autobiography by John Lewis. I fell asleep 26 pages in...it just seemed to go so fast. Do you know how much happens in graphic novel in 26 pages?!

Edited: Apr 16, 2017, 7:39pm Top

Is this your last Pynchon Dan?. 44 wasted reading days? I think I would hate it so thanks for reading for all of us.

Apr 16, 2017, 9:30pm Top

>26 dchaikin: wasted is a strong word. No, not wasted, just a different kind of lesson. I'm still thinking about Against the Day. Depends how readable the prose is. I doubt it's another M&D, which took 25 years to complete.

Apr 19, 2017, 12:05am Top

I had heard of March, and was interested, but this is what really motivated me to read it:

Apr 19, 2017, 12:33am Top

17. March (Trilogy) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
published: Book One 2013, Book Two 2015, Book Three 2016
format: 560 pages over three paperback books
acquired: in March
read: Apr 15-18
rating: *****

John Lewis was one of the big six nonviolent civil rights leaders in the 1960's. He was by far the youngest, only in his early 20's when he became the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC. But on March 7, 1965, he ended up, without the SNCC, leading the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital that provoked Bloody Sunday. Just outside Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state police waited and then attacked the marchers with billy clubs in front of TV cameras. They were so brutal that Lewis ended up with a cracked skull. Public outrage over the event gave Lyndon Johnson the necessary momentum to push through the Voting Rights Act. Lewis did a lot of things, but literally getting his head cracked that day would be his most important.

Recommended because it's well done, and an amazing and moving story, and because we forget how deep the blind racism in the country was, and, apparently still is. And because of the insight into other civil rights leaders and some of the other leaders of the era. I think what struck me was how alone Lewis was, especially the night he was attacked and later was left by himself in a hospital bed, overnight, in pain. He would give an important speech the next day.

Apr 19, 2017, 1:25am Top

>242 dchaikin: I've been wanting to read this one for quite a while. Who were the other five big Civil Rights leaders you mentioned?

Apr 19, 2017, 6:38am Top

Susie, I had to look it up again...

"The "Big Six" organizers were James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League."


Edited: Apr 19, 2017, 1:00pm Top

Thanks for answering my question, Dan. I'm familiar with Lewis & King (of course) but not some of the others. There are a few books I've run across that I would highly recommend on the Civil Rights movement: An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transormation of America by Andrew Young & And The Walls Came Tumbling Down by David Abernathy.

Also, if it helps ease your pain a bit, I can tell you that our library's copy of March is being constantly checked out & requested. My youngest son wants to buy it.

ETA: Maybe it would be a good idea to start a little "Civil Rights" reading group here in Club Read ....

Apr 19, 2017, 6:15pm Top

On Pynchon - Dan, you are the Ironman triathlete equivalent of book reading. I take my hat of to your reading doggedness in the face of literary adversity.

Apr 19, 2017, 9:20pm Top

>245 avidmom: These names are new to me too. Several other names come up, including a sympathetic view on Malcolm X.

Hmmm - A civil rights thread? I've long had in mind reading more black authors from, and leading up to the Civil Rights era. Haven't thought all that much about reading about the movement itself. But I have so much to learn. Probably I'm too noncommittal to reliably contribute to that kind of thread. I would read the thread though. Noting the Abernathy.

>246 AlisonY: Thanks! it was something of a marathon for me. It was also nice to put the book on my little books-read shelf. But I do wish I had mentally aligned and instead really enjoyed it.

Edited: Apr 20, 2017, 7:55pm Top

>189 dchaikin: Catching up! I have a hold on Springsteen's Born to Run at the library, but it's moving very, very slowly. There are still 9 people ahead of me.

edited to correct touchstone

Apr 21, 2017, 8:14am Top

>228 dchaikin: Fascinating review. I liked the way you explore your relationship to the book as well as the book itself. Interesting at >238 dchaikin: that the effect still lingers in some way.

>246 AlisonY: the Ironman triathlete equivalent of book reading Great phrase!

Apr 23, 2017, 10:34am Top

Reading The Crying of Lot 49 about 40 years ago was the end of my Pynchon reading.

I admire your persistence.

Apr 25, 2017, 6:24pm Top

>228 dchaikin: Loved this review! I'm afraid I've never seriously considered reading Pynchon because this is kind of what I hear about his writing in general, and I no longer have the energy to spend. Your review pretty much summed it up - especially the ?????

Apr 25, 2017, 6:25pm Top

>242 dchaikin: Isn't Lewis a saint? I have so much respect for him, and I think the trilogy is wonderfully done.

Edited: Apr 25, 2017, 9:17pm Top

Daniel- I think you tackle books with a dogged persistence, that I don't possess. Kudos to you for continuing on with your reading goals. My goals have slipped to fitting in a few books per month and only what I really, really want to read. What I want to read doesn't always equate with any amount of personal growth, though America's First Daughter might fit the bill this month.

Apr 26, 2017, 8:54am Top

>248 VivienneR: - I'm still waiting for my renewal on Born to Run. Actually I bought a hardcopy and started to read it after Pynchon, but it wasn't holding my attention. But then, I already read all the best parts.

>249 SassyLassy: Thanks Sassy. It certainly had (has?) me wondering on the nature of my relationship to books in general.

>250 janeajones: other Pynchon books are different, but I don't imagine they are your kind of book. You might like Slow Learner?? Just a thought. There are plenty of other books.

>251 auntmarge64: totally understand. He can be work, endless work.

>252 auntmarge64: Lewis was insane, what he went through was suicidal. I think about how he kept at it, kept putting himself on the line. He was an especially dedicated and impressive young man.

>253 This-n-That: Lisa - may you always only read what you really really want to. I have odd persistence, an odd affection for walking slowly through a book that isn't necessarily all that exciting to me. I do parallels in other aspects of life too.

Edited: Apr 30, 2017, 7:01pm Top

18. Behold the Dreamers (audio) by Imbolo Mbue
reader: Prentice Onayemi
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 12:14
acquired: Library
read: Apr 13-24
rating: 3½

I started this blind. I found it on my library Overdrive audiobook list, thought the description had some appeal, put it on a wish list, then promptly forgot the description. After I finished Homegoing my thought process was something like, "look, another new African woman novelist. Sounds good."

It's an enjoyable first novel about Cameroon illegal immigrants in New York City trying to get asylum. It has a mock formal tone, and a lot of humor with a fairly serious underlying message. All the conversations are unrealistic, but they work, and they are consistent throughout. One thought I had, while listening, was that the book could go on and on and I probably wouldn't mind. It wasn't intense, ever. But it was always entertaining. And reader was excellent, managing remarkably varied key voices.

Sadly, with the exception of one notable scene, I think the book was very realistic, to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if Mbue based most of the characters directly off of people she new. They have some unrealistically perfect elements (not perfectly good, but perfectly in character, if that makes sense), but they seem generally very believable. And she carefully avoids judgement, mostly.

A week later much of it doesn't stick. But I liked enough and would read Mbue again.

Edited: Apr 30, 2017, 9:54pm Top

19. The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon
published: 1996
format: 286 page hardcover
acquired: 2009 library book sale at Fondren Library of Rice University.
read: Apr 17-29
rating: 4

I was struggling to find a book after reading Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. I needed something readable, but the books I tried felt too light, and loose, even serious stuff. Then I opened this book, and started the introduction, actually titled "To The Reader". It was so intense, direct, serious. I had found my book.

Gordon had a special and inspirational relationship with her father, who was older and died of a heart attack when she was seven. But he had taught her to read, wrote her poetry and parental love letters, and their relationship would define who she was and tie into what made her into the author she became. "My father died when I was seven years old. I've always thought this was the most important thing anyone could know about me."

She knew he was born Jewish, and later converted to Catholicism and became very devout. It wasn't clear to me whether she realized he had become antisemitic, but she grew up later with insults from her family along the lines of something being "the Jew in her". And yet, "When I was ten, and he'd been dead only three years, I attempted his biography. It began, "My father is the greatest man I have ever known.""

She started writing this book when she was 44, my age now. And what she found was that her father was nothing like what he said he was, or what he appeared to be. Every discovery undermined something else about him. For example, he never worked during her childhood, even as he left the house everyday with a briefcase, and he hadn't gone Harvard, like he said. He hadn't even graduated high school. He was writer, but not a fine one. He published pornography and, during WII, antisemitic articles.

Unfortunately the book as a whole fails to maintain the fascination that the intensity of the early sections conjured up. Gordon is an emotional writer, and she struggles with her Jewish past, which she wants to get in touch with, and her Catholic present which she values deeply but doesn't exactly believe. And she struggles with the relationships with her family, her bitter memories and her mixed discoveries about them later. Yet, somehow the book loses some steam. It's, despite the 37 years or more since her father's death, a book of grief, of finding the man she learns she never really knew...and losing the one she thought she did know. And, I guess that the book just needed to evolve that way. I'm glad I read it, but not in a rush to recommend it on.

Side note: I discovered this book on the radio through Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, on the way to work in December of 2005 (link). It struck me, and I still remember his voice now. I was quite excited when I found a copy at a library book sale 3 plus years later, in 2009. Now I've finally read it, another 8 years later.

Apr 30, 2017, 10:04pm Top

>256 dchaikin: Nice review, Daniel. It almost sounds as though the author might have been better off emotionally, if she hadn't written the book and discovered so many horrible things about her father.

Apr 30, 2017, 11:15pm Top

>257 This-n-That: There are places in the book that make you think that. But I think she was at the point where she needed to know more.

May 1, 2017, 7:42am Top

>189 dchaikin: Yesterday I finally picked up a hardcover of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen to read the last 74 pages. They cover Clarence Clemmons (probably the most important member of E Street), The Rising and how it ties into 9-11, and where he mentions that he has been writing this for 7 years, on and off. That means he started in 2009, after playing the Super Bowl, and also the year Clarence passed away.

May 1, 2017, 11:06am Top

I wonder if it makes it harder or easier that Gordon's father died before she knew any of this. She does not have to confront him, but also cannot confront him.

May 1, 2017, 12:09pm Top

>260 mabith: It's a great question. I suspect...no, I shouldn't speculate. It's a just a really good unanswerable question.

May 1, 2017, 9:29pm Top

Probably one of those choices with pros and cons that just balance out. Like the divide between losing a loved one to a very sudden death (they didn't suffer but you had no idea you needed to say goodbye) or a longer illness (potential suffering but time to find closure together). Whichever way it is you'll think the opposite would have been easier.

Edited: May 4, 2017, 8:31pm Top

21. Ovid: Selected Poems by David Hopkins
published: 1998/2003
format: 123 page hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Apr 23 - May 2
rating: 4

Ovid lived 44 bce to 17 ce

Hidden in the verso: "The translations of Ovid included in this selection are taken from versions by English poets of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. These were chosen because they convey the feel and flavor of Ovid’s witty style more vividly than any other English translations."

The late 17th, early 18th century translators include:
John Dryden - The main translator used and the only one used more than twice.
Richard Duke
"anon. 1725"
“Lord Somers” (John Somers)
John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave
William Massey
Joseph Addison
Laurence Eusden
Samuel Croxall
Edward Vernon
John Ozell
Sir Samuel Garth
Leonard Welsted
T. P.

This was intended as an appetizer by me. I stumbled across it in the library catalogue, and it was a small, cute little book...and it was short. I zipped through, occasionally re-reading, but spending little time on meaning. Every line rhymes, which is charming, and rhythmic, but also a bit strange. But they re-read really nicely. No clue on accuracy. I'm presuming these translations are closer to a performance, a showy thing, than a quest for perfect accuracy (or comprehensibility). But I could be wrong.

I plan to read Ovid, "for real", in June.

Edited: May 12, 2017, 8:40pm Top

22. The Undoing Project : A Friendship That Changed Our Minds (Audio) by Michael Lewis
reader: Dennis Boutsikaris
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 10:21
acquired: Library
read: May 1-10
rating: 3½

Lewis does a lot of interesting and fun things with this book. He has a fascinating chapter on the long time Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and his mixed record in the NBA draft. And then he takes us to the foundation of Israel and its military and the foundations of a new field of psychology, one born within the intertwined, interdependent, and complicated friendship of two groundbreaking Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky. Kahneman I had heard of because he wrote a popular book I tried to listen to - Thinking Fast and Slow (ultimately I found it dull and quit...oops). He also has a Nobel Prize, in economics.

The book is about the friendship.

Somehow I'm a little disappointed in that. Certainly the unique nature of the Tversky/Kahneman was fascinating. But the book left me thinking about the workings of our mind and I wanted more on that. And, I wanted to go back to Morey and see how it all played out for him. Instead Lewis took me through the strains in the Tversky/Kahneman relationship, each a complicated personality, and kind of genius, each needing the other, but ultimately chaffing on something that wasn't quite jealously, but still personal disappointment. Lewis compares it to marriage.

Michael Lewis is good at writing fun books that make you think. This is the third book of his I've read and they have been terrific in that way.

May 15, 2017, 8:57am Top

Been awhile since I came by. Your review of Mason and Dixon is a perfect LT review as as the place for thoughtful and honest responses to what we read. Of course I am disappointed that Pynchon continues to be a slog for you and I wish I could wave a magic wand over everyone who is frightened of him and any of these uniquely challenging writers (say, Joyce, or DFW, or Laxness, Powys, Stead etc.).

May 15, 2017, 9:43pm Top

Thanks Lucy. I have time set aside for more Pynchon, but I'm starting to think of other books I read during those stretches. We'll see where my head goes.

I liked Infinite Jest. And I liked Punchon's V.. Just didn't find the right brain mode for M&D.

May 16, 2017, 9:32am Top

I'm way behind here, Dan. Apologies for not keeping up, but I vow to do better here for the remainder of the year! I'll look at your reviews in more detail later this week.

May 16, 2017, 1:28pm Top

No worries Darryl. And no vows, please. This is for fun.

May 19, 2017, 9:18pm Top

23. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
published: 2016
format: 571 page hardcover
acquired: Library
read: May 3-16
rating: 4½

This novel made me so uncomfortable about my life. It's novel mainly about Jacob Bloch, a forty-something father of three boys in a strained marriage dealing with his parents and cousins; and also a book about being Jewish but non-religious. There are prominent literary ties to the Bible ("Here I Am" is Abraham's answer to God when God is about to ask him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac is Jacob's father - in the novel he's Jacob Bloch's grandfather and a holocaust survivor. One of Jacob's sons is Benji.), and also to the Odyssey, with many journeys and many characters looking to get to different kinds of home.

Jacob is everywhere but here. He lives in a state of constant self-directed distraction, both to himself and everyone around him. I see this as an ADHD novel - although that's exactly what it is, but there are parallels. And it's tragic.

As I watch Jacob's life slip away, I started checking off the boxes with myself - 40-something, Jewish, non-religious, indecisive on fundamental things, and his inability to just focus and or just stand somewhere. The tragedy of the novel is Jacob's inability to ever say "here I am" and mean it. But, to relate to him, and watch things unfold in such a preventable, almost accidental, but yet totally unpreventable way, was kind of tough on me, reading. I would forget to separate myself from the book and spend the rest of the day trying to do everything Jacob didn't do. Than come back to the book and realize none of that helped.

Certainly, I liked this novel. I found it wordy, but it needed to be wordy, and that's part of how it makes it's affect. I think it's a terrific look into modern secular American Jewish life. It's a bit of a brick, but picks up speed as it captures the reader, or captured this one. Not a flawless masterpiece, but there something here. A recommended work for our era.

May 19, 2017, 10:47pm Top

Oh the books that make you relate are the hardest ones. Mine were very different -- about rebellious adolescent girls, but I empathize in an another way.

May 20, 2017, 1:16am Top

>269 dchaikin: What a wonderful and thoughtful review of this great novel. I am no non-religious jewish American man but still I could relate to so many things Jacob thinks and does in this novel and yes, feel uncomfortable. I am in my 40s though and I think Foer is as well, which makes him an expert on our stage in life as well. And he can write about it, I loved his dialogues (as well as his monologues; the one given by the rabbi at Jacob's grandfathers funeral I will never forget).

I can imagine that the novel meant even more to you.

One more thing, I loved your explanation of the title and I think it is smart. I hadn't thought of it myself mostly because I thought Jacob is very much 'here' based on the choices he makes in his discussions with his cousin (I am a bit cryptic to avoid spoilers), do you know what I mean?

May 20, 2017, 10:53am Top

>270 janeajones: - That's a good type to relate to, Jane - young and rebellious. I'm trying to think if I do this often with other books. of course I do relate to characters, but it's usually not like this.

>271 Simone2: thanks and interesting post. I hadn't quite thought of that use of the title - a bit sarcastic...and bitter.

Seriously a spoiler because this comes at the end of the book. But one thing I can't get out of my mind is the wedding at the end where it's clear how happy Julia is. How sad for Jacob. That just really brought the truth home, hard - at least for me.

May 22, 2017, 8:18am Top

>272 dchaikin: Yes this is heartbreaking; I liked him so much (his honesty and humanity and the way he is with his family) that I really thought everyone would.

Edited: May 22, 2017, 8:35am Top

Well, you all have me good and hooked on Here I Am. I loved your review.

The last ten minutes or so I've been racking my brains about what type of fiction I have most heavily identified with. About the best I can do is that I wanted so much to be Ratty, but I knew I was Mole. It's very Mole to want to be Ratty.

What is (maybe?) interesting is that I never have particularly gender-identified as a reader, I do identify with dreamers and thinkers wherever I find them.

May 22, 2017, 9:32pm Top

>269 dchaikin: That sounds like a remarkable experience, to feel so strongly a parallel to a character in a novel, especially one on the trajectory you indicate. An interesting review and one that has me tempted to read Here I Am, (further endorsement by Simone2 noted) but I have a lot of TBRs before I could get there.

>274 sibyx: I always just identified with Mole. Ratty was beyond my aspirational horizon.

May 23, 2017, 5:53pm Top

>269 dchaikin: really interested to read this review. I've skirted around Jonathan Safran Foer books for ages, but the covers keep putting me off. I don't know what it is about them, but they all make me feel like they're try-too-hard jokey / quirky/ laddish, even though many of the synopses have appealed.

I shall have a rethink now based on your recommendation.

May 24, 2017, 12:14am Top

>273 Simone2: Yes. I found it was a book where I found all the characters likable, even when they did things I didn't like.

>274 sibyx: Thanks Lucy. I don't think I normally identify with a character in this way. I think he just touched on a lot of things I experience and worry about. Who knows. (I tend to go for naturalists... but not in this kind of way). Interesting about genders.

Edited: May 24, 2017, 12:21am Top

>275 Oandthegang: it was unusual, O, and not necessarily a positive thing. : ) I'd rather not relate to the character falling apart.

>276 AlisonY: I have avoided Foer and his ilk. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Everything Is Illuminated are the kind of titles that turn me off, strongly. (And I have no idea what these books are about, or anything about their content.) The difference with Here I Am was that I read some nice reviews, including one here by Simone2, and I had a RL friend recommend it...(but, in a good way).

Knowing there was Homer connection also drew me to it. The bible connection would have been a draw...if I had realized before I started.

May 24, 2017, 7:12pm Top

I loved Everything is Illuminated, which was a comic novel about a young man looking for his family's roots in the east of Poland and the driver he hired. I've been wary of more Foer, because of liking his first novel so much, but i'll take a look at Here I Am. A flawed masterpiece is the best kind of masterpiece.

Jun 14, 2017, 6:51pm Top

You have intrigued me with your review of Here I Am. I have avoided Foer since I read (and wasn't impressed with) his first novel many years ago.

Hope you and yours are all well. We had a family reunion of sorts in May when daughter and her family from Houston met up in NYC with us and our other kids.

Jun 19, 2017, 12:40am Top

I had something of a reading crash. I limped through Knausgaard's A Time for Everything at something like 5 pages a sitting for no reason I can say. Trying to patiently let whatever is going on play out.

>279 RidgewayGirl: - Noting Kay. I'm more open to Foer now.

>280 arubabookwoman: - Thanks. Here I Am has some value, and, if my experience is any indication, can capture certain readers. All is well here, thanks. Recently saw a lot of family in Philadelphia. Hope your family is well glad you could collect them all at home. I wish I could be given a choice - NYC or Houston? It wouldn't be a tough decision.

Jun 19, 2017, 11:19am Top

>281 dchaikin: Reading slumps are the worst. Luckily they don't last forever, though it sometimes feels that way.

Jun 19, 2017, 12:37pm Top

It's been strange. It's like a reader depression, like reading lost its meaning and purpose. But, it's not like I'm depressed in any other way.

Jun 19, 2017, 2:30pm Top

When I've had that happen, or just don't feel like reading in general, I usually pick up an alternate hobby for a bit. Last time it was painting. I always cycle back to reading though. I'm sure you will too eventually.

Jun 20, 2017, 8:32am Top

>283 dchaikin: I think I'm a little bit there too, Dan. I've been knitting a lot, and sometimes listening to a book while I do that, but my reading has dropped off a cliff this year. I've mostly been reading mysteries, hoping to get out of the slump. I am so impressed by the amount of reading that others do.

Jun 21, 2017, 9:14pm Top

>284 Narilka: This is a good idea. Instead I just let all those moments that I had squeezed in reading time get squeezed back out again.

>285 NanaCC: What is with us all this year, Colleen?

Reading slumps are pernicious things that evolve to defeat my best pre-planned counters. Each is new and defies everything that has worked before. sigh. I don't know where i am with this one, but I did finish A Time for Everything in fits and sputters. And I'm reading Ovid now - and it's fine-ish. I'm still only reading about 5 pages or so at a sitting, but with Ovid, that's a lot. And, it's better than I expected. (pardon the lack of clarity coming...) I'm reading his Amores, but his take on these love poems has underlying humor and sarcasm. Actually, if you like, he is serious underneath his humor, which is underneath his partially but not entirely faux surface sincerity. The intro tells me he's both enjoying and attacking love poetry - but mostly attacking it. Anyway, the effect is....well, it seems to broaden the emotional spectrum.

Jun 22, 2017, 3:26pm Top

I've been in a slump too. I think it's low level depression and inertia caused by the poisonous political atmosphere.

Jun 22, 2017, 4:44pm Top

>287 janeajones: I think you could be right. Poisonous is a great description.

Jun 22, 2017, 7:17pm Top

>288 NanaCC:, >288 NanaCC: It does affect everything. No inner peace.

Jun 22, 2017, 7:43pm Top

>283 dchaikin: Try to read something from a genre you had not read for a long time (or even never read?). Or try a favorite book again? Although last time I crashed, nothing helped for about a month -- I just ended up working on my puzzles more than usual and caught up on TV series... Let's hope it passes quickly. :)

Jun 22, 2017, 9:25pm Top

My slumps don't involve finishing fewer books particularly, but just not being excited by or involved in the books I'm reading. I have to keep my brain as busy as possible, so not listening to audiobooks for a good bit of the day just isn't an option since I can't do many activities. For me it's definitely a reflection of what's going on in US politics and ramped up anxiety.

Group: Club Read 2017

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