dchaikin part 3 - thinking about the nine circles of hell

This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin part 2 - lost somewhere in the Roman Empire.

TalkClub Read 2019

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dchaikin part 3 - thinking about the nine circles of hell

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Edited: Oct 14, 2019, 3:28pm

Dante is the plan. I was thinking of taking three months to read him - one for Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, but now I'm thinking of spreading out more and adding more books on Dante and by him. Some more Baldwin, Shakespeare, Willa Cather, and, on audio, Booker listed books planned too.

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Edited: Jan 1, 2020, 6:44pm

Currently Reading   

Currently Listening to:

64294::Mary by Vladimir Nabokov (started reading Jan 1)
25918::The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translation by Jean Hollander & Robert Hollander (started reading Jan 1)
84598::A History of London by Stephen Inwood (started reading Dec 11)
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak, read by Alix Dunmore (started listening Dec 16)

Edited: Dec 29, 2019, 9:04pm

Books I've read this year:

Edited: Dec 14, 2019, 1:48pm

Books I've listened to this year

Edited: Oct 13, 2019, 7:29pm

Part 1 of the list of books I've read. These links are not tags. They link to my review in my part 1 thread.


1. ** Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles (read Dec 13 - Jan 5)
2. ***½ The Book of Revelation (read Jan 9-12)
3. ***** Becoming (audio) by Michelle Obama (listened Dec 7 - Jan 15)
4. **** James Baldwin : A Biography by David Adams Leeming (read Jan 1-19)
5. **** The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (read Jan 21, 2012 - Jan 23, 2019)
6. *** Plutarch by D. A. Russell (read Jan 20-28)
7. **** Autumn by Ali Smith (read Jan 28-29)
8. **** How to Be Both by Ali Smith, read by John Banks (listened Jan 15-31)


9. **** Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (read Jan 6 - Feb 3)
10. **** Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (read Jan 30 - Feb 7)
11. **** There There by Tommy Orange, read by a cast (listened Feb 1-12)
12. **** A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo (read Feb 7-18)
13. **** The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by E. J. Kenney (read Jan 31 - Feb 20)
14. **** Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (read Feb 19-26)


15. **** Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen, read by Paul Boehmer (listened Feb 13 - Mar 8)
16. **** Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (read Feb 26 - Mar 9)
17. **** Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare (read Feb 16 - Mar 17)

Edited: Oct 13, 2019, 9:47pm

Part 2 of the list of books I've read. These links are not tags. They link to my review in my part 2 thread.


18. **** Milkman by Anna Burns, read by Brid Brennan (listened Mar 17 – Apr 11)
19. ***** Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (read Mar 9 - Apr 19)
20. ****½ O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (read Apr 1-25)
21. *** Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare (read Mar 30 - Apr 28)


22. *** Plutarch's Lives, The Dryden Translation, Volume 1 (read Feb 27 - May 2)
23. ***** Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (read April 20 - May 3)
24. *** Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, read by Dion Graham (listened Apr 11 - May 3)
25. **** Winter by Ali Smith (read May 4-19)


26. ?? Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (read Ma7 27 - Jun 1)
27. **** The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather (read May 12 - Jun 8)
28. ***** A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (read May 12 - June 10)
29. ** Plutarch's Lives, The Dryden Translation, Volume 2 (read May 4 - Jun 27)
30. ***½ The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo (read May 5 - Jun 29)


31. **** Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight, read by Prentice Onayemi (listened May 4 - Jul 5)
32. **** Nobody Knows My Name : More Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (read Jun 30 - Jul 6)
33. ***** The History of Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare (read Jun 22 - Jul 20)
34. **** Another Country by James Baldwin (read Jul 7-26)
35. ***½ Spring by Ali Smith (read July 26-30)


36. ****½ The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (read July 30 – Aug 2)
37. ****½ My Ántonia by Willa Sibert Cather (read Jul 1 - Aug 9)
38. **** Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, read by Christopher Dontrell Piper (listened Jul 8 - Aug 14)
39. **** The Earliest English Poems by Michael Alexander (read Aug 9-16)
40. ****½ Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (read Aug 16-28)
41. *** The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare (read Aug 4-31)


42. **** Beowulf : a new verse translation by Seamus Heaney (read Aug 29 - Sep 6)
43. **** An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, read by Chukwudi Iwuji (listened Aug 14 - Sep 15)
44. ****½ One of Ours by Willa Cather (read Sep 2-21)
45. ***** The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (read Sep 23-28)


46. ****½ Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone by James Baldwin (read Sep 6 - Oct 3)

Edited: Jan 1, 2020, 7:11pm

Part 3 of the list of books I've read. These links are not tags, they link to my review below, in this same thread.


47. **** Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, read by Vikas Adam (listened Sep 16 - Oct 4)
48. **** Dante : A Life in Works by Robert Hollander (read Oct 3-12)
49. ***** The Tempest by William Shakespeare (read Sep 7 - Oct 13)
50. *** Dante for Beginners by Joe Lee (read Oct 12-14)
51. ***** No Name in the Street by James Baldwin (read Oct 15-18)


52. **** Dante's 'Vita Nuova' : A Translation and an Essay by Mark Musa (read Oct 20 - Nov 1)
53. *** The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, read by a cast (listened Oct 6 - Nov 6)
54. *** Dante : A Life by R. W. B. Lewis (read Nov 3-9)
55. **** If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin (read Nov 1, 11-13)
56. *** Rime by Dante Alighieri (read Nov 16-19)
57. ***** Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, read by a cast (listened Nov 6-19)
58. ***** King Lear by William Shakespeare (read Oct 26 - Nov 21)
59. ***** A Lost Lady by Willa Cather (read Nov 2-22)
60. **** Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend Country by Paul V. Chaplo (read Nov 27-28)


61. ***½ Big Bend Vistas: A Geological Exploration of the Big Bend by William MacLeod (read Nov 25 - Dec 2)
62. *** The Devil Finds Work: An Essay by James Baldwin (read Nov 30 - Dec 8)
63. ***½ Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, read by Anna-Maria Nabirye (listened Nov 19 - Dec 8)
64. **** Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw (read Dec 3-11)
65. **** Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (read Dec 29)

Edited: Dec 29, 2019, 9:12pm

The books I've read this year in order of date published

~90 Revelation
~100 Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles
~120 Plutarch's Lives, The Dryden Translation (translation 1683)
~160 The Golden Ass by Apuleius
~750 Beowulf (translation by Seamus Heaney, 2000)
1293 Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri (translation/essay Mark Musa 1973)
1308 Rime by Dante Alighieri
1595 A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
1596 Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
1597 Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
1597 The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
1601 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
1601 The History of Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
1605 King Lear by William Shakespeare
1611 The Tempest by William Shakespeare
1831 The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
1913 O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
1915 The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
1918 My Ántonia by Willa Sibert Cather
1922 One of Ours by Willa Cather
1923 A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
1927 Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
1953 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
1955 Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
1956 Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
1961 Nobody Knows My Name : More Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
1962 Another Country by James Baldwin
1963 The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
1965 Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
1966 The Earliest English Poems by Michael Alexander (1977/1991-2nd/3rd eds. Orig poems early middle ages)
1967 A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
1968 Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone by James Baldwin
1972 Plutarch by D. A. Russell
1972 No Name in the Street by James Baldwin
1974 If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
1976 The Devil Finds Work: An Essay by James Baldwin
1986 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1986 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
1987 The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode
1994 James Baldwin : A Biography by David Adams Leeming
2001 Dante : A Life in Works by Robert Hollander
2001 Dante : A Life by R. W. B. Lewis
2002 Big Bend Vistas: A Geological Exploration of the Big Bend by William MacLeod
2007 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen
2011 Dante for Beginners by Joe Lee
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend Country by Paul V. Chaplo
Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw
Autumn by Ali Smith
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
2017 Winter by Ali Smith
Becoming by Michelle Obama
There There by Tommy Orange
Milkman by Anna Burns
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
Spring by Ali Smith
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Edited: Dec 29, 2019, 9:14pm

Some stats:

Books read: 65
Pages: 13,663 Audio time: 204:44
"regular books"**: 47
Formats: Paperback 27; Hardcover 18; Audio 13; ebook 7;
Subjects in brief: Classic 32; Novel 29; Non-fiction 20; Drama 8; Essay Collections 7; History 7; On Literature and Books 7; Ancient 5; Poetry 5; Biography 5; Visual Arts 3; Science 2; Memoir 1; Short Story Collections 1; Nature 1
Nationalities: United State 29; England 12; Scotland 5; Turkey 2; Greece 2; Canada 3; Italy 2; Kenya 1; Algeria 1; Northern Ireland 1; Russia 1; France 1; Nigeria 1; India 1; Mexico 1; Australia 1;
Books in translation: 10
Genders, m/f: 43/19 unknown: 2; mixed 1;
Owner: Books I own: 49; Library books 12; Books I borrowed 2; Online 1
Re-reads: 2
Year Published: 2010's 20; 2000's 4; 1990's 1; 1980's 3; 1970's 4; 1960's 7; 1950's 3; 1920's 3; 1910's 3; 19th century 1; 17th century 4; 16th century 4; 14th century 1; 13th century 1; 0-1199 6

Books read: 1052
Pages: 273,719; Audio time: 1543:41 (64 days)
"regular books"**: 670
Formats: Paperback 558; Hardcover 232; Audio 148; ebooks 75; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 450; Novels 278; Biographies/Memoirs 189; History 174; Classics 136; Journalism 92; Poetry 87; Science 79; Ancient 75; Speculative Fiction 64; Nature 55; On Literature and Books 54; Anthology 45; Graphic 43; Essay Collections 41; Short Story Collections 39; Juvenile/YA 34; Drama 28; Visual Arts 26; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 626; Non-American, English speaking 189; Other: 233
Books in translation: 175
Genders, m/f: 679/276
Owner: Books I owned 698; Library books 278; Books I borrowed 66; Online 11
Re-reads: 20
Year Published: 2010's 231; 2000's 274; 1990's 166; 1980's 113; 1970's 55; 1960's 42; 1950's 26; 1900-1949 36; 19th century 16; 16th-18th centuries 16; 13th-15th centuries 2; 0-1199 19; BCE 55

*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990

**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.

Edited: Oct 13, 2019, 9:45pm

This year my plan has two themes, Rome to Renaissance & James Baldwin (only problem is I can't seem to get out of Rome)

Themes by year

2012 - old testament
2013 - old testament and Toni Morrison
2014 - old testament
2015 - old testament, Toni Morrison & Cormac McCarthy
2016 - Homer, Greek mythology, Greek drama, & Thomas Pynchon
2017 - Virgil, Ovid & Thomas Pynchon
2018 - Apocrypha, New Testament & Gabriel García Márquez
2019 - Rome to Renaissance, James Baldwin, and, accidentally, Willa Cather and Shakespeare

Links to related tags in my library:

Bible Theme
Cormac McCarthy Theme
Gabriel García Márquez Theme
Homeric Theme (includes Greek mythology, drama, Virgil, Ovid and Dante)
Thomas Pynchon Theme
Toni Morrison Theme
Willa Cather Theme
William Shakespeare Theme

links to all my old threads:

2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2, 2016 Part 3, 2017 Part 1, 2017 Part 2, 2018 part 1, 2018 part 2, 2019 part 1, 2019 part 2

(page counter just cause I'm curious)

Edited: Nov 2, 2019, 5:25pm

The James Baldwin plan

January: James Baldwin by David Leeming, 1994
February: Go Tell It on a Mountain, 1953
March: Notes of a Native Son, essays, 1955
April: Giovanni's Room, 1956
May: Nobody Knows my Name, essays 1961
June: Another Country, 1962
July: The Fire Next Time, essays, 1963
August: Going to Meet the Man, stories, 1965
September: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, 1968
October: No Name in the Street, 1972
November: If Beale Street Could Talk, 1974
December: The Devil Finds Work, essays, 1976

I might stop there, but there is all this:

Just Above My Head, 1979
The Evidence of Things Not Seen (essays; 1985)
The Price of the Ticket (essays; 1985)
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (essays; 2010)
Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems (poems; 1983 and 2014)
The Amen Corner (play; 1954)
A Talk to Teachers (essay; 1963)
Blues for Mister Charlie (play; 1964)
Nothing Personal (with Richard Avedon, photography) (1964)
A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead) (1971)
One Day When I Was Lost (orig.: A. Haley; 1972)
A Dialogue (with Nikki Giovanni) (1973)
Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (with Yoran Cazac, 1976)
Native Sons (with Sol Stein, 2004)

Edited: Oct 13, 2019, 9:26pm

that post I carefully saved and then just kinda skipped...

Oct 13, 2019, 9:25pm

The Rome to Renaissance (adjusted)

A cobbled theme from miscellaneous classics I want to read. Note - I'm open to ideas on how to prep any of these or on what translations to use.

January: Finish the New Testament (2 John, 3 John, Jude & Revelation)
February: Golden Ass Paperback by Apuleius
March-April: Plutarch – Parallel lives, Volume 1
May-June: Plutarch – Parallel lives, Volume 2
July: The Earliest English Poems (Penguin Classics), Michael Alexander (Translator)
August: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
September: Dante: A Life in Works by Robert Hollander
October: Dante Inferno
November: Dante Purgatory
December: Dante Paradise

later on...
something on Petrarch
Petrarch Canzoniere (The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young)

Late adds:

Willa Cather

1. Alexander's Bridge (1912)
2. Pioneers! (1913) – April 2019
3. The Song of the Lark (1915) – June 2019
4. My Ántonia (1918) – August 2019
5. One of Ours (1922) - September 2019
6. A Lost Lady (1923)
7. The Professor's House (1925)
8. My Mortal Enemy (1926)
9. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) – February 2019
10. Shadows on the Rock (1931)
11. Lucy Gayheart (1935)
12. Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)


William Shakespeare

1. The Taming of the Shrew (before 1592)
2. Henry VI Part II (probably 1591)
3. Henry VI Part III (probably 1591, published 1595)
4. The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590s, listed by 1598)
5. Titus Andronicus (Written in 1591/92)
6. Henry VI Part I (1592)
7. Richard III (1592 or 1594)
8. The Comedy of Errors (December 1594)
9. Love's Labour's Lost (1595-96)
10. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-96) – read 2002 & June 2019
11. Romeo and Juliet (1595-96)
12. Richard II (1595-96)
13. King John (between 1595 and 1597)
14. The Merchant of Venice (late 1596 or early 1597)
15. Henry IV Part I (1596-97) – read March 2019
16. The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) – read August 2019
17. Henry IV Part II (1597-98) – read April 2019
18. Much Ado About Nothing (Late 1598)
19. Henry V (1599)
20. As You Like It (1599) - read 2005
21. Julius Caesar (1599)
22. Hamlet (1600) – read 2013
23. Twelfth Night (1601) – read January 2019
24. Troilus and Cressida (1601-02) – read July 2019
25. Othello (1604) - read 2008
26. Measure for Measure (1604)
27. All's Well That Ends Well (1603-06)
28. Timon of Athens (1604-06)
29. King Lear (1605-06)
30. Macbeth (1606) – read October 2018
31. Antony and Cleopatra (1606-07)
32. Coriolanus (1608)
33. Pericles (1608)
34. Cymbeline (1610)
35. The Winter's Tale (1611) – read December 2018
36. The Tempest (1611)
37. Henry VIII (1613)
38. The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613-14)

Oct 14, 2019, 11:48pm

47. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
reader: Vikas Adam
published: 2019
format: 16:01 audible audiobook (416 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Sep 14
listened: Sep 16 – Oct 4
rating: 4

Shortly after finishing Quichotte, I came across this line on Dante's Divine Comedy: “It is Dante‘s book, and we are allowed to share it only on condition that we become his willing collaborators, not merely choosing to understand that a given narrated event is “impossible,” but learning to comprehend why the author is asking us to grant its “truthfulness.” (from Dante : A Life in Works by Robert Hollander)

That line struck me because it applies so well here. Rushdie is playing on Don Quixote (alternately “Don Quichotte”). He creates a fictional Bombay-born American author who creates his own fictional character, a delusional but eloquent Bombay-born American traveling salesman named Quichotte. And Quichotte, on a quest of love, creates out of thin air another character, a grown son who leaves with him in his car driving away from Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The sons name is, of course, Sancho. Quichotte's love, his Beatrice if you like, is named Salma R...

It's a little odd here how attached we readers get to this selfish son, who doesn't quite grasp his relationship to reality or to his father or all the knowledge he inherited from his father, much from watching endless television. But we do, or well, I mean, of course, I did. So, I was entertained before Rushdie gets serious with the Oxycontin epidemic and American racism, and I was thoroughly involved when he toyed, semi-seriously, with Indian spiritual mythology, the American physical and psychic landscape, love and obsession, and finally mortality and the fabric of reality. But not really finally.

I hope that gives a little flavor of this book. I was worried it would be too clever for me. And in the beginning it felt that way. But once I bought it, became Rushdie's willing collaborator if you like, I was thoroughly entertained and had a lot to think about and was sad to see it end. Recommended to Booker enthusiasts, the Rushdie-curious, and maybe anyone in a 400-page whimsical mood.

Oct 15, 2019, 3:00am

>14 dchaikin: Well, he seems to have missed out on the Booker...
We were discussing Quichotte in our book-club on Sunday. Everyone had enjoyed reading it, but there was a sense that Rushdie was maybe a little bit too glib, especially with the ending, and that there wasn’t as much substance there as we’d been hoping for. I’m not sure — you always come out of these discussions with a mix of other people’s ideas and your own — but I think on reflection that I got more out of the previous one, The Golden House.

Edited: Oct 15, 2019, 8:17am

>14 dchaikin: "Recommended to Booker enthusiasts, the Rushdie-curious, and maybe anyone in a 400-page whimsical mood." Hmm, that's just not me at the moment, none of them. I really enjoyed several of Rushdie's books when I read them about 20 years ago (Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses, and in particular The Moor's Last Sigh), but I've gone off him since. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Quichotte, though.

Oct 15, 2019, 12:58pm

>15 thorold: This was my introduction to Rushdie, so I can’t compare with his other works. But I pretty much agree with that assessment. I thought it was more than just fun, it made for really nice painless and yet interesting reading. I’ll take those books. Shakespeare does that too sometimes. But also, I finished and moved on. There wasn’t anything I really felt I should dwell on, other than how I can really take to narrative regardless of the outrageous setup.

Oct 15, 2019, 1:05pm

>16 rachbxl: thanks. It’s funny how unappealing whimsical can become when you put a big page number on it. I would like to try those three you listed - The Moor’s Last Sigh is a new title to me.

Edited: Oct 19, 2019, 4:55pm

48. Dante : A Life in Works by Robert Hollander
published: 2001
format: 212 page paperback
acquired: September
read: Oct 3-12
time reading: 9 hr 49 min, 2.8 min/page
rating: 4

I picked this up as my introduction to Dante because I'm planning to use the Hollander translation of the Divine Comedy. Jean Hollander published a verse translation, and Robert Hollander, the author here and her spouse, edited it, writing all the notes. So, I wanted to get a sense of what he's like and his thought process.

It's not exactly a fun read, but it's well constructed, clean, slim, and a very readable walk through of Dante's works. It's also heavy on sources in the citations, and probably a great place for someone studying Dante in 2001 to start. Now, they would be better off using Hollander's online Princeton Dante Project - ( http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/index.html ). I liked the balanced* take and closed the book feeling I had gotten off to a good start. So, recommended if this interests you.

Born in 1265 in Florence, Dante wrote a number of works that got spread around. In his twenties he began writing Vita Nuova, an Italian work that was a mixture of verse with prose explanations. It's here that he first works out the Beatrice story, how he saw her when she was nine, and then again nine years later, and apparently barely said a word to her before the real Beatrice died of an epidemic that was passing through Florence in 1290 (She was 25). This first collection was published in 1292.

Other than this, his other preserved works for about the next decade are individual Italian poems, eventually collected and now known as his Rimes. But Dante was becoming politically active, gaining a key political position in Florence, one that left him vulnerable when the winds changed suddenly. Dante was in Rome when his anti-papal, pro-emperor White Guelphs were suddenly run out by the papal Black Guelphs in 1302, and found himself permanently exiled from Florence.

It's at this point, politically sidelined, and dependent on benefactors, that Dante would begin to focus on writing again. He began, but never finished, Convivio, a major Italian work where he criticizes Italian and praises Latin. Convivio is distinct from Vita Nuova partially in that much of the prose is independent of any verse. Also, shockingly, because here he says he has a new love...in place of Beatrice is a Lady Philosophy. Then in Latin he wrote a long essay praising the vulgar languages and their use in De vulgari eloquentia. This was a medieval game of praising a language only in another language, but regardless the sum total is roughly a defense of his creation of the Comedia, the main work of his life, famously in Florence's Italian. He would finish the Comedia shortly before he died in 1321. But meanwhile he would keep writing other works, including De Monarchia, a Latin prose political argument for a new Roman-style Emperor to rule, but still follow in spirit the clearly corrupt pope. He apparently had great hopes for the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, who came into northern Italy in an effort to conquer. But Henry VII died suddenly of malaria in 1313, probably leaving a very unsettled and disappointed Dante, who seems to deal gently with this in his Comedia. And Dante also wrote some Eclogues in Latin, in some imitation of his hero, Virgil (who was, of course, also pro-emperor).

But Comedia, later characterized by Boccaccio as Divina, is clearly his major work and masterpiece, and his effort to essentially collect all the philosophical knowledge of his time, and put it together in a kind of compelling narrative in verse: a one week visit to Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, guided, mainly, by a flawed pre-Christian Virgil, and protected by the spirit of Beatrice, who becomes a kind of Christ figure.

I found it interesting that as Dante matured beyond and evolved in ways different from his younger works, he never repudiated them. Instead, it seems all his later works were, in way, a continuation of all his other works and the bibliography should be considered in sum, at least to a degree.

My takes from all this is that I want to read more (but probably not all) of Dante‘s work. I'll start Vita Nuova soon (have two translations from my library). Some of his work is a bit hard to find, but it's all available in translation on Hollander's Princeton Dante Project website. So, I'll use that for his Rimes, for example. And, I‘m going to slow down my plans and set aside more time before and while reading his works to read about this work.

*I was entertained when one of Hollander's notes cites himself, and then in 3rd person points out what Hollander got confused.

Oct 19, 2019, 5:19pm

Good luck with the Dante Dan. Its worth getting a copy of the Divina in the original Italian just to get a feel for the poetry.

Oct 19, 2019, 5:45pm

>20 baswood: I had that in mind. I don't think you can replicate the poetic feel in English, just get the meaning across. It's something I've worried about. Hollander is dual-language, definitely part of the appeal. The Princeton website is dual language too, but it's not the easiest way to read this.

Oct 19, 2019, 8:09pm

Edited: Oct 19, 2019, 10:05pm

49. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
editor: Burton Raffel (also has an essay by Harold Bloom)
originally performed: 1611 (this edition is 2006)
format: Hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Sep 6 – Oct 13
time reading: 5 hr 33 min, 1.8 min/page
rating: 5

A new favorite for me. This was my first time reading this and I instantly took to it and the atmosphere Shakespeare is creating. Power and control - maybe the main themes. The language pushes this play forward elegantly.

These are, mind you, not pleasant themes. But in the moment they flow. And there is probably something of a, well not exactly autobiographical, but of a sharing of the life as a stage-director. This was one of Shakespeare's last plays (and the first in the First Folio) and it's often seen as a send off. Prospero controls everything, he uses magic to control spirits, the weather, the one native on his island, his enemies, even his daughter, Miranda, and at one point the gods themselves, and he creates some magnificent things. But everything has to go as planned. (As Harold Bloom put it, time is his only real antagonist). He is, if you look at it this way, the stage director controlling all the other characters. It's rewarding, and stressful and very frustrating when characters fail to act as he needs them to...and, oddly, it's apparently ultimately unrewarding. Prospero has change of heart at the end, and maybe, a sense of guilt...well, tongue-in-cheek guilt, since he gets everything he wants.

Control isn't the only thing that bothers modern viewers. The one native on the island, Caliban, catches the post-colonial, racially sensitive eye. No, he's a big fat finger in that eye. Prospero dominates Caliban like all the others, and justifies it with what is essentially a laundry list Colonialist propaganda against foreign populations. Caliban is impossible. Prospero can educate him, but he can't change his nature, ugly as his visage, and he can't ever relax his watch - as Caliban unwatched will be lazy, filthy, morally degenerate, quick and obsessive to drink, ready to turn on his master in an instant, and, to cap it all off, once tried to rape Miranda. I felt there was a point where Shakespeare winks and begins to make fun of the colonial stereotype, but I'm not sure. And it's uncomfortable to see this same perspective applied throughout history. I just read James Baldwin‘s No Name in the Street where he is describing his perspective of the then French attitude towards Algerians (in the 1950‘s). The language he cites, “unable to civilize”, “couldn‘t trust”, “in a word they were rapists”, it echoes Shakespeare's characterization of Caliban. As does the language of the current American president. It‘s somehow more deeply disheartening with this play in mind.

Not that Harold Bloom minded any of that. I've never read a Harold Bloom essay before this. Here, in the play of most interest regarding this colonial perspective, he simply discards the whole theme as getting away from what Shakespeare meant to say. I know Bloom has big problems, both as a western-centric critic, and in his personal life. But, he passed away only last week, just after I read his essay. And so to give him a little credit, I have to say, this essay was excellent. Discarding this element of the play allows him to look into what Shakespeare has done with Caliban, the earth to another character's spirit (Ariel). And he had me rethinking and appreciating this character. Along with Prospero, Caliban makes two distinct and unforgettable characters of Shakespeare's own creation, up there, arguably, with the likes of John Fallstaff, both in this play.

I think it goes without saying, that I recommend this one.

Oct 20, 2019, 3:31am

Excellent thoughts on The Tempest It is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. As you point out the atmosphere of the play is something unique. Some difficult language though and there is a lot to unpack. I am at the moment reading The Taming of the Shrew in one of the Norton Critical editions and there is an essay by Harold Bloom. His views could be described as forthright.

Oct 20, 2019, 8:32am

This is a Shakespeare play I really need to reread—not much has stuck with me since ninth grade, when I believe it was treated as a bit of a dark fantasy for us suburban white kids. I'm pretty sure the concept of colonialism never made it into any of our discussions, and I'd really like to take a look at it with a more seasoned, jaundiced eye. I'd like to read the Harold Bloom essay, too. I didn't agree with him on plenty of things but I think he was a fine writer and opinion-spouter.

Oct 20, 2019, 1:34pm

I'd also like to reread The Tempest. It was one of my texts for A Level at school (i.e. the exams you sit before university or leaving school at 18), and I'll admit to not giving it my full effort. In fact, I need to revisit much old and new (to me) Shakespeare generally.

Dante sounds like a great and ambitious project - good luck!

Oct 20, 2019, 5:59pm

>24 baswood: It was such a nice experience, reading this for the first time. I'll reread down the line, but now I just took it in on the surface. Good fun. I saw a free, and enjoyable production of The Taming of the Shrew years ago. It's a very difficult play to watch today and not cringe...and yet it was really entertaining.

>25 lisapeet: 9th grade...wow. I think we did Romeo and Juliet then, not sure...not sure I actually read it, but movie we watched was fun.

>26 AlisonY: That's a better age, but Shakespeare is better without a grade hanging over it. I think you and Lisa have something fun to look forward to. I'm tempted to suggest a group read somewhere down the line. Dante - I'm hoping to take it slow and make it not ambitious, but lazy and enjoyable. Vita Nuova starts off wonderfully.

>24 baswood:,>25 lisapeet: Harold Bloom - just don't google him and see all the sexual harassment allegations, or, I guess, maybe it's important to do just that. I'll read him again and I suspect I'll like having his perspective, but I might not exactly search him out.

Edited: Oct 20, 2019, 6:18pm

50. Dante for Beginners by Joe Lee
published: 2011
format: 180 page paperback. Not a graphic novel, but heavily illustrated
acquired: Library
read: Oct 12-14
time reading: 3 hr 46 min, 1.3 min/page
rating: 3

My Litsy review : "More Dante prep, easier reading this time. 🙂 (It‘s kind of like schmoop with illustrations)

These books are actually helpful to me, but not much more to add to that above.

Oct 20, 2019, 6:47pm

Oct 20, 2019, 6:57pm

51. No Name in the Street by James Baldwin
published: 1972
format: 123 pages inside Collected essays
acquired: December 2018
read: Oct 15-18
time reading: 5 hr 39 min, 2.8 min/page
rating: 5

While not Baldwin‘s best essay collection (see The Fire Next Time), this is a favorite for me. It‘s melancholy, an end of an era book. Baldwin writes about the assassinated (Medgar Evers, MLK, Malcom X and others), the incarcerated (Huey Newton, etc), and about his failed attempt to make a movie on Malcolm X (his script was the basis of the 1990‘s movie). By 1971 the beaded hippie era has faded, and their failure reflects in other American failures.

To some extend Baldwin is continuing his usual themes—attacks on the the lunacy of American conservatives, the American south, the inauthenticity of American liberals (his main readers?). Add Hollywood. But he had met, spoken with, debated with all these lost heroes of the Civil Right era and sees it all as a failure and as both a national and personal loss. America is still sick and in denial. Trump would not surprise him. It‘s a slow, single essay mulling on this, with an intense and powerful conclusion that still very relevant. Glad to have read it.

Oct 27, 2019, 12:46pm

Finally caught up here. Very interested in your thoughts on Dante and Quichotte, which went right onto my wishlist.

Oct 27, 2019, 8:59pm

Thanks Oscar. Quichotte is fun.

Nov 2, 2019, 9:04am

Dante's Inferno is #4 on Bowie's top 100 books that changed his life list. It's a pretty impressive list (which he caveated as not his top 100 favourite books, but the the ones he considered most important and influential.

Nov 2, 2019, 3:19pm

>33 AlisonY: I need to look up Bowie's list, intrigued. Looking forward to Inferno. I just finished Vita Nuova while traveling yesterday and it's complex in a way I hadn't anticipated. Entertaining book.

Nov 3, 2019, 1:09pm

>34 dchaikin: it's a pretty cool list, Dan, and I think a lot of the titles on there would be right up your street. There was a great article in yesterday's UK Times magazine about it (my perfect article - Bowie and books...). Apparently he used to travel by train when on tour in the States, and would bring 1,500 books with him in special trunks as he was a voracious reader.

Here's one reference to the list:


Nov 5, 2019, 2:33pm

>35 AlisonY: Thanks!! (read this when you posted but followed the link and forgot to respond...)

Nov 5, 2019, 3:17pm

Edited: Nov 6, 2019, 11:10pm

52. Dante's 'Vita Nuova' : A Translation and an Essay by Mark Musa
published: 1293?
translation, essays: 1957 & 1973
format: 214 page hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Oct 20 – Nov 1
time reading: 11 hr 14 min, 3.2 min/page
rating: 4

A little 13th-century intensity here:
"...she turned her eyes to where I was standing faint-hearted and, with that indescribable graciousness for which she is rewarded in the eternal life, she greeted me so miraculously that I seemed at that moment to behold the entire range of possible bliss. ... I became so ecstatic that, like a drunken man, I turned away from everyone ..."
After this image, Dante tells us his 18-year-old self runs off to his bedroom and...well, has a vision. This is Dante's first published work, written presumably over several years, a mixture of supposedly autobiographical prose and poems he wrote at the time he's covering, in the moment. He claims these poems were passed around his home of Florence, and so already well known. For a text full of some formal turgid prose, it's surprisingly light and attractive and I found myself fully engaged right at the beginning. And then, as that feeling fades, I remained quite fascinated by the mixture of prose and poetry. It's a beautiful work about love, if the love of a self-obsessed stalker.

Dante, who was married at age 11 and would have begun living with his wife as a couple around age 20, captures here his obsession with the divinely beautiful Beatrice, his neighbor in the close quarters of 13th-century Florence. He falls for her at age nine (he was less than a year older then she was), and then much more deeply at age 18, to the point that the sight of her sets him into something of an ecstatic breakdown. He craves her sight, seeks it out, and then embarrasses himself, once collapsing against a nearby wall. He puts it all down, including conversations with other women who are confused by his obvious obsession, and ask questions he can't really answer. Then captures it again in poetic form.
"O voi che per la via d'Amor passate,
attendete e guardate
s'elli è dolore alcun, quanto 'l mio, grave;

O ye who travel on the road of Love, pause here and look about for any man whose grief surpasses mine.
The ladies' questions leave him stuck in a conundrum, finally giving voice to his feeling in a canto that begins famously, "Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore,", or roughly he addresses "Ladies who have intelligence of love". The lost young Dante claims to be taken over by the god of love, Amore, even has he acknowledges this god is only something created in his mind, a manifestation of his feeling, longing and obsession. Within this state, having said barely a word to his Beatrice, he learns of her death at age 25, the age the real Beatrice died in a Florence epidemic. Dante, who tells us heaven longed for her, goes silent on his initial reaction, then captures his extreme self-pity. It's both moving and ridiculous. He ends it in a kind of failure, claiming he will try to capture Beatrice again in a better way. "there came to me a miraculous vision in which I saw things that made me resolve to say no more about this blessèd one until I would be capable of writing about her in a nobler way." He will make good on this.

I enjoyed this but it was hard to read without wondering about this Dante. Of course, he's a stalker and one imagines a very irritated Beatrice feeling very harassed. And of course, he sounds self-destructive. What would his wife think? (She's not mentioned in any of his writing). If you believe R.W.B. Lewis writing in 2001, and I think most traditional critics, this is a pure and honest autobiographical work of one deeply in love and trying to capture his feelings. Mark Musa, my translator here, felt quite differently in 1973 (and probably 1957 too). He sees Dante as a sophisticated writer, putting on believable and moving fictional story, flavored with decent but limited poetry, but that was carefully designed to undermine itself. That is, first, don't believe any of this. And second, Dante has read his Ovid. He's not building on the dolce stil novo (sweet new style), but undermining it. He's captured himself as a ridiculous, mockable, self-obsessed young man. Musa sums it up this way:
"The Vita Nuova is a cruel book. Cruel, that is, in the treatment of the human type represented by the protagonist (Dante). In the picture of the lover there is offered a condemnation of the vice of emotional self-indulgence and an exposure of its destructive effects on a man‘s integrity."
Musa, if you buy into him, writes an excellent essay and picks up on a humor and complexity. It seems very obvious, and quite something, once he points it out. (Lewis maybe lacked the right sense of humor). I should add, on a practical note, that Musa's old book is also very nice in hardcover, and I appreciated that it includes the original Italian of all the poetry.

Dante's book, of course, can be read in several ways and leaves itself open to the times and mentality of the reader. And it should probably be read as the reader likes. Dive in and enjoy the feeling, intensity and tragedy of the text, or sit back and think about the poet's other ways of disarming his readers and critics. Recommended to anyone curious as I think it will reward.

Nov 5, 2019, 6:24pm

Dante a Stalker! whatever next, you will be claiming soon that Petrarch, sir Philip Sidney and Shakespeare were all stalkers.

Nov 6, 2019, 4:08am

Great review. It made me think of Novalis - these young poets did seem to have a tendency towards OTT obsessive love. But without that temperament, would we be interested in reading anything that they wrote?

Nov 6, 2019, 9:54am

>40 AlisonY: >39 baswood: Of course, there is some truth to the text. It’s a sincere work, it’s just also, I think and here I’m buying Musa’s argument, playful and self-chiding. Without the obsession, there’s nothing to say, and we can all relate to that obsession, to the god of love, Amore, however each of us personally draws it up. But we also all step back and can think it through to and make fun of its silliness. It’s all one thing, contradictions too. Poetry tends to embrace a spectrum.

>39 baswood: Shakespeare? I’ll get back you on Petrarch, and take your word on Sidney. And, you know, Sting would get it. But yes, on the surface he’s a damn irritating stalker. 🙂

Nov 6, 2019, 4:34pm

>38 dchaikin: - >41 dchaikin: Fun!
Petrarch was probably just as much — or as little — of a stalker as Dante, also 20 years allegedly desperately in love with a married woman he'd barely spoken to. I'm sure a lot of it for both of them must have been a purely conventional pose and meant to be seen as such. And Petrarch had Dante's example. (But Musa would know better, as he's translated both.)

Nov 6, 2019, 5:53pm

>42 thorold: looking forward to Petrarch. Will be next year, I hope. I’ll be looking to see if he winks.

Nov 6, 2019, 9:02pm

What a fantastic review. You have me wondering if "runs off to his bedroom and...well, has a vision" is a euphemism. I enjoyed this somewhat irreverent take on Dante.

Nov 6, 2019, 10:09pm

>44 RidgewayGirl: Thanks! He had a memorable vision, and actually it is really cool. Any euphemism was merely my own implication.
I sought the loneliness of my room, where I began thinking of this most gracious lady and, thinking of her, I fell into a sweet sleep, and a marvelous vision appeared to me. I seemed to see a cloud the color of fire and, in that cloud, a lordly man, frightening to behold, yet he seemed also to be wondrously filled with joy. He spoke and said many things, of which I understood only a few; one was Ego dominus tuus {I am your lord}. I seemed to see in his arms a sleeping figure, naked but lightly wrapped in a crimson cloth; looking intently at this figure, I recognized the lady of the greeting, the lady who earlier in the day had deigned to greet me. In one hand he seemed to be holding something that was all in flames, and it seemed to me that he said these words: Vide cor tuum {See your heart}. And after some time had passed, he seemed to awaken the one who slept, and he forced her cunningly to eat of that burning object in his hand; she ate of it timidly. A short time after this, his happiness gave way to bitterest weeping, and weeping he folded his arms around this lady, and together they seemed to ascend toward the heavens. At that point my drowsy sleep could not bear the anguish that I felt; it was broken and I awoke.
(translation is from the Princeton Dante Project, http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/vnuova.html , not Musa)

Edited: Nov 6, 2019, 10:18pm

>38 dchaikin: You know, "stalker" is just what I would have thought about Dante and Beatrice, if I had known that word when I thought about it. I always thought it was unfair of him to hang around her and never give her a chance to decide yea or nay about him. When I was 17 or 18 I was working in the Public Library, and there was a guy who used to follow me to work and then sit there at a table and watch me. He would occasionally leave me a present, like rocks from a rock tumbler in a jewelry setting. It made me quite uncomfortable, although I do remember also feeling a little flattered. We didn't use that word then for a guy who followed you and never approached you.

Edited: Nov 6, 2019, 11:24pm

>46 sallypursell: It makes me curious how it all played out in real life and what Beatrice or whoever he had in mind, if he has someone specific in mind, felt about it. Surely she must have been frustrated on some level, but maybe she was flattered both in how he acted and how he wrote about her, maybe she liked the strange looking guy. Or maybe she was just plain annoyed by the whole thing. But, as you note, seems she didn't have any say.

Nov 7, 2019, 9:56am

Hi Dan, caught up on the end of your last thread and this one. I like the summaries of your reading at the top. I'm impressed that you read so many 4 and 5 star books. I don't have as much luck choosing the books I read.

Going back to earlier posts:

I'm tempted to pick up The Orchestra of Minorities for my next read, as I recently read Half of a Yellow Sun. I often read in themes. But since I've switched gears and moved on to The Gift of Rain, I'm not sure it will be the best time. Your review makes the book enticing though.

A Grain of Wheat has been on my to-read list forever; well, at least since rebeccanyc recommended it. In fact I can see the title peeping out from me where I sit. Your review makes me think I should finally pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and crack it open.

Nov 7, 2019, 1:28pm

>48 labfs39: So nice and poetic book titles all packed in one post!
A title can definitely be enough to make me wish to read or buy a book. That was a dangerous post!

Nov 7, 2019, 5:58pm

>49 raton-liseur: You spoke my thoughts very clearly, Raton!

Nov 10, 2019, 5:06pm

>48 labfs39: Interesting observation about my 4 & 5 star reads. Has me wondering too, hadn't really thought about it. I think part of that is I'm very conservative about what I chose to read lately. Not many new books, for example.

The Orchestra of Minorities is a great book you don't have to read. It will be forgotten about in two years, but he's a nice author and has a lot of story line control and I'm really glad I listened. Grain of Wheat is of course a classic, which can make it intimidating. For what it's worth, I was expecting a serious dark and dreary book and what is actually there is a playful book (with a serious dark and dreary theme...). I recommend both : ) (I know my record with recommendations for you is kind of spotty...)

>49 raton-liseur:, >50 sallypursell: 👍

Nov 10, 2019, 6:10pm

53. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
readers: Margaret Atwood, Ann Dowd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Tantoo Cardinal
published: 2019
format: 13:18 audible audiobook (hardcovers ~420 pages)
acquired: October
listened: Oct 6 – Nov 6
rating: 3

OK, this is a negative review. Thought I should put that up front. Really, I was annoyed when I finished. I was tempted to post a review on Litsy that simply said something like "decent dytopian thriller", which I thought would be nice rye bashing. But, while I was annoyed, I really never felt this was a bad book, I just didn't really like it. (On Litsy I ended up posting: "Not for me. Easy enough to listen to, but I finished feeling I had read a bit of a thriller with limited substance, unlikely scenarios and gaping plot holes. I just didn‘t manage enough buy-in. Apologies to all the fans...")

I don't like the idea of dwelling too much on the problems and Star Wars-level plot holes...but that's the rest of review. Stop here unless you really want to know.

Problem 1: Aunt Lydia. I simply never bought in. The evil genius who is supposed to maneuver cleverly to have the real power and control everything is, one, a tired stereotype already, and two, actually completely dependent on author setup, gifted situations and a cast of stooges around her.

Problem 2: Gilead is too small to be most of the United States. Everyone knows each other and comes across each other in multiple ways and there are no outsiders of any kind. It's a little confined place. Rewrite it to be, say, the size Charlotte, NC, and it maybe makes sense (and Charlotte has a big stadium). This is true of The Handmaid's Tale too, so maybe not a killer.

Problem 3: The scary, relentlessly overwhelming Gilead of The Handmaid's Tale turns out to be ship of fools. Oops, no villain.

Problem 4: But the real problem for me was that the world of The Handmaid's Tale was logically flawed in a hundred different ways. Few people really cared because that's not the point of the novel, the point is the mindset and the mentality of being in this terrible world. The plot is really secondary. But this novel is plotted and plot-dependent, a fundamental change that makes it become dependent on all those logical flaws in the world. So it exposes the problems, foregrounds them if you're thinking about it, and pushes hard on our tolerance of them.

Having said all that, I feel conflicted. No recommendation or conclusive attack, or roughing up of the Booker panel. It is what it is and they chose what they wanted to choose. I guess my best conclusion is YMMV.

Edited: Nov 10, 2019, 9:48pm

54. Dante : A Life by R. W. B. Lewis
published: 2001
format: 205 page paperback
acquired: Library
read: Nov 3-9
time reading: 5 hr 45 min, 1.7 min/page
rating: 3

From Litsy: "A pretty edition and a nice writer, but there‘s not much here. Bibliography is thin, and it devolves into a chapter by chapter Schmoopy book report of the Comedia. Maybe I would have liked it better if it was the first book I had read on Dante. (side note - never thought of reading the bibliography first. Maybe I should do that more often. Here it‘s four not-really-filled pages.)"

That maybe says enough. I'll add that on a good note he filled in/clarified some biographical details, left some sense of Dante's neighborhood, his experience as military man in the cavalry in a couple battles, his role in Florence, as a leader given weight from opposing forces, his personal relationships with poets, his life traveling and settling post-exile, and a little about his sons and descendants. Lewis tried to give a sense of Dante's influence on 19th and early 20th-century poets, but it felt recycled. A lot of the book's information felt recycled, as in he is reporting other's research without really being intimate with the "raw data" behind it. The slim bibliography hints at that being more than a feeling.

Nov 11, 2019, 6:28pm

>52 dchaikin: Well I never liked the Handmaid's tale and so I won't be going anywhere near The Testaments

Nov 14, 2019, 10:14pm

Nov 21, 2019, 8:09pm

>51 dchaikin: "I know my record with recommendations for you is kind of spotty..." Really? I feel as though you have made a significant impact on my reading, in a good way.

>52 dchaikin: I am always leery of sequels, especially of books I've enjoyed, and I did enjoy (if that is the right word), the Handmaid's Tale. But it does require a bit of squinting to get past the "Star Wars-level plot holes." I have also watched some of the series, inspired by the original book, but which has gone beyond its confines. To now have a sequel from the original author would complicate things further, I would think. Sort of like Martin's final installment of Game of Thrones appears, long after the series has been wrapped up and put away. A schism of endings.

Nov 21, 2019, 11:01pm

Curious about how Martin will manage. One day I'll read his series and, hopefully, actually watch (would require me to watch a series...my success rate is zero there so far).

Appreciating your first comment. Thanks! LT is a big part of our reading lives...and I should mention it's nice to have you visit and comment here.

As for The Testaments...I'm wondering if it might be best not have The Handmaid's Tale fresh in mind when reading it - which I did. They're very different kinds of books. Not sure though.

Edited: Nov 22, 2019, 9:13pm

55. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
published: 1974
format: 197 page paperback, 2006 edition, 25th printing
acquired: July (from Joseph Fox Bookshop, with CR member kidzdoc)
read: Nov 1, 11-13
time reading: 5 hr 0 min, 1.5 min/page
rating: 4

The essay collection No Name in the Street includes the story of a friend of Baldwin's who was charged with a murder he couldn't have committed and spent over ten years in prison, despite the high-paid lawyer Baldwin found for him. That experience is the inspiration for this fictional look at the criminal justice system in New York through Tish, a young woman from Harlem who got pregnant just before her fiance, Fonny, got locked up as a suspect in a black-on-white rape.

Here Baldwin tones down his writing. There are a lot of sort of pyrotechnics I have associated with Baldwin that are simply stripped out of this story. There is no showmanship, or performance, or hip society, or counter-culture relationship, or anything shocking to the reader or societal norms. That's new. Tish is just a nice simple kid from a nice family with issues, and Fonny is the same - and Baldwin, who loves issues, piles them on. The sexist Harlem culture almost seems to get a blessing. But in here with Tish and Fonny is a straight-forward love story, except that it takes place in a strange world where police are really dangerous and arbitrary. Fonny will get pinned for a rape he couldn't have committed by a bad cop, and as the system evolves, where blacks are basically guilty-till-proven-innocent, he ends up in prison a long time waiting, hoping, dealing, pondering options.

This sort of a humbled Baldwin creates a structure piece, but which I mean the the way the story is presented adds up and manages, in the end, to powerfully convey its message - the stress and suffering of prison experience, not only for the innocently incarcerated losing his youth, but for his family and his lover and soulmate separated for some indeterminate and desperate long time.

Nov 24, 2019, 1:02pm

>52 dchaikin: You said it much more clearly than I did! I was fine while I was reading The Testaments but when I got done and looked back I was disappointed. This is Atwood? The characters weren't well developed, and I don't think anything I've ever read by Atwood was so plot rather than character dependent.

Nov 29, 2019, 2:50pm

Ardene - Thanks. I got a lot of your comment on Kay's thread, which I read before I wrote my review, and had in mind while writing it.

I spend some time wondering about my own perspective. I'm not exactly wondering what I might have missed, I think I got it...to a degree. I mean, I think I understand the appreciation, and I certainly understand that it's a different book. The Handmaid's Tale has a powerful tone and atmosphere the Atwood makes no attempt to replicate here. It's not a continuation of the same experience, but a different perspective. (And it's possible I would have liked this better if I had NOT re-read THT just before...as a prep) But... I guess it confuses me that many readers were able to overlook all the things I see as problematic and focus in on the aspects they appreciated. (I should note that I get the sense that the split response may be a little more on the negative side outside the world of Club Read...but then awards bring out the criticisms) I couldn't think "This is Atwood", because I haven't read enough of her. But the ones I've read, THT and The Blind Assassin, as very different books.

Edited: Nov 29, 2019, 5:40pm

56. Rime by Dante Alighieri
originally composed: 1283?-1308?, collected later, here edited by Michele Barbi, 1960
translation: from Italian by Kenelm Foster & Patrick Boyde, 1960
format: 119 poems, on website: http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/rime.html
read: Nov 16-19
time reading: 4 hr 18 min
rating: 3

Hmm. So I did read all 119. Most are sonnets, along with several longer poems. About 30 or so are also included in Vita Nuova, which I had just read. Several are poetic conversations with contemporaries and their responses. All of these are about love, typically playing with the personification of love as the god Amore, and the rewards and suffering that come with his taking over one's heart. They tend to be extreme in emotions, although sometimes the implication is clearly playful, especially in poetic conversations where letters written to Dante may ask his advice as the foremost expert in everything about love, and he responds in kind, obliquely, not quite addressing the impossible main questions. Perhaps it’s all playful, but it seems to be mainly sincerely trying to capture the emotional experience of love. The object could be Beatrice, but Dante certainly has religious and philosophical experiences and meanings in mind too.

Not sure what to make of it all, and I hope reading Petrarch is a little different. These are all on the same theme and they felt a little repetitive reading them as I did, in sequence and kind of quickly. At least few stood out from the others. There are some marked changes in tone, especially with the four longer poems are known as Rime Petrose (C-to-CIII in the link above) where Dante’s love interest suddenly becomes cruel and heartless, as if “made of beautiful stone”. I liked Vita Nuova, which means I guess I really liked the mix of poems with the prose commentary there. Here I had trouble figuring out what to make of these. Just putting the experience in my pocket for now.

Edited: Nov 29, 2019, 6:23pm

57. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
readers: Valeria Luiselli, Kivlighan De Montebello, William DeMeritt, Maia Enrigue Luiselli
published: 2019
format: 11:16 audiobook (385 pages in hardcover)
acquired: November
listened: Nov 6-19
rating: 5

One of the best audiobooks I've listened too. Luiselli writes beautifully and she reads it herself with a elegant type of Mexican accent that is perfect for her text. The book, and the audiobook, take an abrupt turn when the fictional son narrates, but it rounds out and works, especially in audio where the voices alternate over the final pages.

When I finished I had a kind of wow feeling, that kind of all over emotional feeling when you just completed something that has you thinking and maybe feeling or whatever it is. I couldn't capture it, I just kind of thought, "wow", and wondered if it would last. A few days later I posted this on Litsy:
Perhaps Luiselli was trying to reach the children caught and forgotten within the inhumane US immigration policy, to feel them as real, to personalize their suffering and fragility by using her own fictional loss of a marriage and child. Whatever it was, it felt very personal and I was mesmerized listening and I miss it now. Special novel.
Now it's been a couple weeks and I still think about it and I still miss it. The narrator (is she named?) and her husband capture sounds of New York City for a academically funded project. He records the ambient noise while she does interviews, especially recording the different languages (about 800). But then her husband wants to live briefly in Appacheria, in Arizona, in the Chiricahua Mountains where the last independent Apaches resided, and capture the sounds, or the ghost sounds of the lost Apaches, but she has no interest in this. They take a family road trip, the family falling apart, the husband distant and our narrator wondering about the border-crossing children, those lost forever in the desert or found and deported without a family. And, as I note above, the book takes a twist somewhere down the line, which will throw the reader/listener a bit until it comes together.

What I liked, or think what I liked, was how she lets the reader ponder the whole variety of the experience even as she talks and talks. It's a pace slowed for reflection and I never wanted it to speed up. I really didn't want this one to end. Obviously I adored it. Highly recommended to those interested.

Chiricahua Mountains

Nov 29, 2019, 8:00pm

It really is an extraordinary novel. I'm glad the audio version does it justice.

Nov 30, 2019, 12:46pm

Hey Dan,

Just catching up here after a while away. The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, along with, off the top of my head, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Macbeth. I took a great Shakespeare course during my grad school days at San Francisco State University. For my final term paper, I rewrote The Tempest as a straight-out tragedy, killing off just about everybody. I rearranged the text as needed, and my professor even allowed me to sneak in a few original lines of my own when absolutely necessary. Sacrilege, I know, but it was fun and my professor went along with the idea and gave me a high grade for the effort. (The point being that the project allowed me to show a knowledge of the themes in Shakespeare's tragedies as discussed in the course.)

Enjoyed your other reviews as always. Cheers!

Nov 30, 2019, 2:16pm

>57 dchaikin: This one is on my to read list, and since you've given the audio a thumbs up, I'm putting it on my hold list at the library.

Nov 30, 2019, 3:22pm

>63 RidgewayGirl: I agree and the audio was terrific. (It is a little strange working through the Booker list on audio, strange in a somewhat entertaining way. It's a little unfair, especially for Ducks, Newburyport, which doesn't have an audio and may not work that way, but also for the rest as the audio production impacts how I take in the books. Most authors probably don't read well, and certainly very few as well as Luiselli, which must mean they are never read quite right. This one was a really nice exception.)

Nov 30, 2019, 3:27pm

>64 rocketjk: I so needed the Tempest as my Litsy group works through Shakespeare. New, brilliant and kind of an unexpected gem for me...well, I mean I know it's reputation. We just read Lear and it's not the same. Lear isn't brilliant on the surface the same way this is, it requires reflection and interpretation...and lets in room for endless thinking. But The Tempest is really entertaining before anything else.

I think your tragedy idea was brilliant. Another thing about The Tempest is it's fun to tear it apart. Selfish, colonialist, male-dominated, etc. Making it a tragedy sounds great fun, and doing it only with Shakespeare's lines, or mostly so, sounds like it took some creative work. Kudos...without having read your version.

Nov 30, 2019, 3:32pm

>65 markon: yay! I hope your library wait list is short. I'm curious to read more perspectives and would love yours.

Nov 30, 2019, 4:12pm

Edited: Dec 1, 2019, 10:49am

58. King Lear (Folger Shakespeare Library) by William Shakespeare
editors: Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (also has an essay by Susan Snyder)
originally performed: 1605 or 1606 (this edition is 2015)
format: 349 page Kindle ebook
acquired: October 26
read: Oct 26 – Nov 21
time reading: 14 hr 56 min, 2.6 min/page
rating: 5

My first time reading Lear, and like all the other plays I've read this year I just assumed I would steam through it, getting the gist and some sense of the pace, and language and humor...you know, just enjoying it. Lear is not friendly this approach. It's long, worded for effect and meter, which means the sentences are complex and difficult follow; and it's really busy. Lots of stuff happens constantly. Each act felt like it had enough plot to be a whole play, and at least one scene felt that way (Act 4, scene 6). All I knew of the play before pretty much happens in Act I.

Lear is the play where the old king gives his kingdom away to his daughters while he's still alive, while fully intending to still live out his life as a king. He demands words of affection before dividing the land among his three daughters, but one daughter, Cordellia, finds words inadequate. That's a no go, and Lear makes the mistake of banishing her and giving her inheritance to his other two more calculating daughters. And there is the Glouchester's parallel story where illegitimate son Edwin tries to hoodwink legitimate son Edgar out of his inheritance...and the clever boy has other grand schemes too. Alas, things don't go as anyone intends, and resulting in a lot of anger, wars, killings, eyes getting gouged out and smashed on the stage, loyal servants and subjects of various levels playing various key roles, a moment at the maybe only metaphorical edge of the White Cliffs of Dover, and a very dark and not funny but actually really funny fool. Life lessons are learned, the arrogant are bitterly enlightened and humbled, but only a few are left standing.

It's all exhausting, but also really fascinating and there are many levels, some of them deeply psychological. My edition included a bibliography with an actual summary of all the key points in each work cited(!!). That was pretty cool and gave me insights like this, from Susan Snyder's “King Lear and the Psychology of Dying.” (Shakespeare Quarterly 33 (1982): 449–60).
"Structuring her analysis of the play around the tenets of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s influential Death and Dying (1969), which outlined five stages in the dying process—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—Snyder locates naturalistic and symbolic correspondences to these stages in Lear’s and Gloucester’s loss of power (“ which is . . . what dying is about”)"
Shakespeare doesn't need a recommendation, at least this one certainly doesn't. I think we all know of it. But this one does need some further re-reading and exploration.

Nov 30, 2019, 6:28pm

I'm enjoying your comments on Shakespeare's plays, Dan, and you really tempted me with Lost Children Archive. By the way, I did read the first act of Troilus and Cressida, and I did not find reading a play to be as laborious as I remember it. Still, I haven't been moved to back and finish it, and I may have to push myself. Push myself to read! How queer. I never need to do that.

Dec 1, 2019, 10:08am

>67 dchaikin: "Making it a tragedy sounds great fun, and doing it only with Shakespeare's lines, or mostly so, sounds like it took some creative work. Kudos...without having read your version."

Just to be absolutely clear, the paper was only 20 pages or so long. Mostly it was a (new) plot synopsis with Shakespeare's lines inserted when necessary to make the point.

It would be just like me to have that paper sitting around in some box somewhere (it was banged out on a typewriter, of course). If I ever run across it, I'll make a copy and ask for your mailing address.

My only two clear memories are that in my version, not just Prospero, but also Caliban, could see and hear Ariel. Ariel convinces Caliban that Prospero is never going to set him free and that he must take matters into his own hands. Caliban, like everybody else, gets his in the end. His dying words are, "'Ban, 'Ban, Ca-caliban. Has a new master. Get a new man."

Dec 1, 2019, 10:46am

>71 sallypursell: Thanks Sally. Troilus and Cressida is a bit of work. It does reward if you catch the humor. It’s kind a straight humor, comes across sincere. But once you see it, other levels come out too. I really enjoyed it. Hope you find it worth your time.

Dec 1, 2019, 10:48am

>72 rocketjk: smiling at Caliban’s dying words. Don’t start unpack boxes for my benefit, but I am a little curious.

Dec 1, 2019, 1:21pm

>72 rocketjk: :-)

Couldn’t you have kept him alive to look for a better boss, like Leporello at the end of Don Giovanni?

Edited: Dec 1, 2019, 3:34pm

>75 thorold: Ha! Sorry, I'm not really an opera fan, though I get that that's a failing on my part. But, no, I was going for the full Macbeth effect. Everyone must go! (I can't remember whether I left someone standing a la Macduff, though.)

Dec 4, 2019, 7:26pm

Over 14 hours on King Lear - good on you Dan
It's one of the plays I have not read or seen a performance of. I am looking forward to it.

Dec 5, 2019, 7:14am

Catching up, Dan. I've also not read King Lear, but I should. My husband and I started to watch a very good TV adaptation of it earlier in the year, but the going was tough with the language and sentence structures, tougher than I expected. We bailed - I think it's something I need to read first and take my time over the writing as you've suggested, and then I'd get more out of watching a performance of it.

I've also added Lost Children Archive to my wish list - you've sold me on that one.

Dec 5, 2019, 1:38pm

>77 baswood: it’s funny how i get through some plays with a hour a Sunday (or less), and others can take two or even more. Also, introductions/afterwards add varying amounts of time. But this one I found took the most time. Also... I’m looking forward to your commentary.

>78 AlisonY: interesting. In general with Shakespeare I would recommend reading first so you. With Lear - you might want to read twice. 🙂 I’m not surprised you had trouble, but I’m curious what it was like, trying to follow without the text. (Over on fb Janeajones suggested I need to watch it performed to get it). Also, Yay! for Lost Children Archive.

Dec 5, 2019, 1:45pm

Luckily for me, I first read King Lear in that same Shakespeare grad school seminar I mentioned above, so I had plenty of support. It's been a good long while, though. I remember the strong impression that the Fool was one of the great characters in all of Shakespeare.

Dec 5, 2019, 10:07pm

Jerry, you had a wonderful Shakespeare seminar. I adored the fool. He makes it so dark and so bitterly, ridiculously, funny because of that... a necessary little pulse to carry us through some of the sluggish dreariness in parts of the play.

Edited: Dec 5, 2019, 10:30pm

>81 dchaikin: The fool is almost always the best character. I love the fool in As You Like It and Feste in Twelfth Night.

Dec 6, 2019, 4:48pm

>82 ELiz_M: Descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, perhaps, I note that the fool is a notable character in modern fantasy literature too. And is still the best character. I can't help but think of the enigmatic fool in The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, and the The Tawny Man, also known as "Beloved", in the Elderlings novels by Robin Hobb.

Dec 6, 2019, 6:01pm

>82 ELiz_M: : ) Love clever Feste. I haven't read As You Like It... Having a foolish character in a play seems, well, its humor. But having an actual professional fool as a character I somehow find fascinating (and entertaining). (This sent me a wikipedia chase... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespearean_fool )

>83 sallypursell: I haven't read any of these. Witches Abroad (from Terry Pratchett's discworld) has some fun with it too.

Edited: Dec 6, 2019, 11:13pm

59. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
published: 1923
format: unpaged ebook from obscure publisher (typically ~150 pages)
acquired: September
read: Nov 2-22
time reading: 3 hr 26 min, 1.5 min/page
rating: 5

I struggled and I think mostly failed to figure out how to capture this powerfully compact little book. We're still in Nebraska, "in one of those grey towns along the Burlington railroad, which are so much greyer today than they were then". But Cather's style and perspective are evolving. There is a bitterness to her writing, which is new. She is attacking the zero-principle, zero-ethics destructive evolution of American capitalism. And her prose here has what I think is a new sharpness. But she maintains her deep interest in character and natural surroundings. Her characters are still complex, flawed, limited and yet full and wonderfully surprising. Her lost lady, Marian Forrester, is quite magnificent, really only fallen in the eyes are our viewpoint, that of a young local orphan, Niel Herbert. Niel is raised by his uncle, a local lawyer. He gets lost in books and has a mixture of smalltown principles and scholarly inclination. Through his relationship and observation of Marian he experiences his own kind of gut-wrenching fallen innocence, but he's naive and growing up.

Cather's prose is something else here, whether showing nature as a reflection of the story they surround or capturing Marian's impact. Marian can lighten a room, disarm the serious, and she creates energy in disarray, but she is also not to be underestimated. When pressed to false cheerfulness she "burned through the common-place words like the colour in an opal." Elsewhere in some restrained passion with a visitor, the married Marian "put her hand on the sleeve of his coat; the white fingers clung to the black cloth as bits of paper cling to magnetized iron. Her touch, soft as it was, went through the man, all the feet and inches of him."

It's unfortunate how tied-up or incapable I feel at capturing what is really a terrific little book. When it was published reviews claimed it was her best book up to that point, and that's how I felt having read four of her previous five. It's an evolving author. But I do wonder how this one will hang around, and if I'll retain the same memories and impressions her earlier works have left with me. There is a cost to this compression. In all the other books of hers I've read she paces, counting on her story telling to keep you in the flow. This one, sharp, quick, doesn't have the same room for this, and there is maybe a little loss of the experience of being in the book.

Well, regardless of all that, this is a special book on the changing American ethical landscape, on both a loss of innocence and the nuance of human adaptation. Recommended.

(PS: I have no idea why the lady on the cover appears to have a sniper laser point on her head)

Edited: Dec 6, 2019, 11:25pm

>85 dchaikin: I rhink I mentioned before that I had read very little Cather. I always meant her for some "later" not yet defined. With which work should I start, do you think?

Dec 6, 2019, 11:37pm

Sally - It's a good question. So far I have liked everything. She always overcomes my (involuntary) skepticism and her prose always has something special to it. I started with Death Comes for the Archbishop, a later book. That's what got me going. But I really liked O Pioneers!, another good one to start with. And One of Ours is stands out, if you only want to read one book. It has a terrific and probably unique take on the WWI experience. (She interviewed a lot of American veterans.) A Lost Lady is really good and quick work, but she's a good slow story teller, and it doesn't show that side of her, so it might not be an ideal first book.

Dec 7, 2019, 6:45pm

>87 dchaikin: I already own Death Comes for the Archbishop, so maybe I'll start with that one. I like the sound of One of Ours when someone was talking about it.

Edited: Dec 14, 2019, 5:01pm

Santa Elena Canyon, from Paul V. Chaplo's Marfa Flights

Dec 14, 2019, 5:15pm

60. Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend Country by Paul V. Chaplo
introductions/forewords Lawrence John Francell, T. Lindsay Baker
published: 2014
format: 192 page coffee table style paperback
acquired: found in our vrbo house in Marfa, TX
read: Nov 27-28
rating: 4

Pretty spectacular stuff from a pretty spectacular place.

Dec 14, 2019, 5:25pm

my lucky picture from Sotol Vista in Big Bend National Park (far west Texas)

Edited: Dec 15, 2019, 12:22am

61. Big Bend Vistas: A Geological Exploration of the Big Bend by William MacLeod
published: 2002
format: 247 page paperback
acquired: 2005 from a store within Big Bend National Park
read: Nov 25 – Dec 2
time reading: 11 hr 51 min, 3.0 min/page
rating: 3½

This area is geologically bewildering. The big picture geology is this is where the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains (well, Ouachita Mountains really), come together. Don't look at a map, because the Ouachita mountains disappear underground in eastern Oklahoma. The old buried mountain range continues underground to the west where it zigzags through Texas and then suddenly pops up in Marathon, Texas as an early Paleozoic window, known geologically as the Marathon Dome, and forming the edge of Big Bend country. These rocks are massively folded, and twisted and contorted (like parts of the Appalachians). Next they were buried by a thick section of much younger and flatter Permian and then Cretaceous rocks. Then about 60 million years ago came the early Rocky Mountains (not really the ones you see today) lifting everything up. After this, some 40 million years ago, came a series of volcanic stuff. Molten rock flowed everywhere - between layers, cutting through in vertical walls (dikes), out on the surface creating volcanic cones, spreading ash and lava everywhere. This happened along with a lot of what is called Basin and Range faulting. Then it all went quiet and erosion took over for 30 million years. That's the simple story 😉 (you don't need MacLeod's book for this).

Driving through it over the Thanksgiving Break, knowing everything above, I could look around and have no clue what was going on. This book, a roadside geology, is crazy detailed, but it laid it all out for me, and answered a lot of my questions. The geology here is far far more complex than I realized. But geologists have actually worked a heck of a lot of this out.

I couldn't find much on William MacLeod other than a very brief obituary written by his son, who apparently worked for the Marfa paper that published it. MacLeod is educated in Scotland, but was not a professor, just a geologist who found the area interesting, lived there for many years and read everything he could. I appreciated in his brief intro where he says, "I have read most of the material published on the geology of the Big Bend in the last 120 years". That means something. The text reads as if like he's driving and you're a passenger in the car. At each point he direct you by saying "at 9:00 o'clock is...", which means you have to constantly figure out which way the car is facing, since that's 12:00 o'clock. The maps are beautiful and he pretty much covers every single outcrop along his drive, as well as what you can see from several vistas (requiring a lot of clock-face directions).

Recommended to those interested.

Edited: Dec 15, 2019, 10:34am

62. The Devil Finds Work: An Essay by James Baldwin
published: 1976
format: 94 pages inside Collected essays
acquired: December 2018
read: Nov 30 – Dec 8
time reading: 3 hr 57 min, 2.5min/page
rating: 3

James Baldwin was a life-long film lover from his early childhood, and here he attacks racism in the film industry... in his own way, of course. Unfortunately for me he focuses on several classic films I've never seen. He hits hard on the pro-KKK (!!) film The Birth of the Nation. Then works through supposedly race-boundary breaking films like In the Heat of the Night, Guess Whose Coming to Dinner, and Billy Holiday. He attacks them all. They all get his brutal version of the black perspective and they are all, of course, pretty awful from that perspective.

I would have gotten a lot more out of this if I had seen all (or any) of these films, and would only recommend it to classic film buffs. But, I do wonder what would he say about film today, 40 plus years later.

Edited: Dec 16, 2019, 10:47am

63. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
reader: Anna-Maria Nabirye
published: 2019
format: 11:06 audible audiobook (464 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Nov 19
listened: Nov 19 – Dec 8
rating: 3½

I feel a little bad I didn't like this as much as most other readers seem to and as much as the Booker panel did. It's a timely novel looking hard at issues of race/gender/sexuality from women's perspectives. Just because she starts out with perhaps the most out-there character, an anti-establishment, openly promiscuous, black lesbian director on the opening day of her major work on black amazon warrior lovers, doesn't mean this book is simply outlandish. It expresses an openness, but one that is probably the norm for most of its readers - that is, none of us readers are probably shocked or offended by much of anything here. Evaristo is looking deeper, trying to bring out a full picture, and she undermines some popular perspectives enough to keep the reader on their toes.

As an author, Evaristo is focused on identity. She told NPR, “I think it's important to name us according to how we experience the world.” And she doesn't just mean race/gender/sexuality, but also career and lifestyle, etc. Here she writes about the intersecting lives of twelve women in the England, pretty much all associated in some way with the UK's mixed African heritage. Just having African features has a strong impact on how they are viewed and how the relate to English culture in general. But each of these women are quite different and each has grown up in different circumstances and responds in their own way. Here each gets their life story told, with emphasis on their identities and their various relationships. There are several mother-daughter relationships and they are very interesting, told from both points of view.

What comes out is a whole lot of information, a bit of a data overload maybe. That's a strength, but also, if not a flaw, a kind of limitation. There is no question there is a lot here, and she creates a flow you can get carried along with. And it helps that it's clear where she's driving and that she constructs some really powerful moments, (especially the epilogue, which revolves around genetics). But all this information can feel very shallow, saturating the reader in what is essentially a long checkbox of issues and making it very hard find some depth. She does find real depth, but – how can I put it – the depth to information ratio is very low simply by construction. It's not a maximalist work, there aren't endless diversions and digressions, but it does march through all the basic events of these lives. Readers will be saturated.

My personal response was that I was rarely deeply invested in this. Most of the time it just felt, as I listened, like a lot of mildly interesting noise coming out of my car speakers. Of course, I'm just one reader. It's an important work. Each reader will have their own response.

Edited: Dec 15, 2019, 2:27pm

64. Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw
published: 2014
format: 308 page hardcover
acquired: Library
read: Dec 3-11
time reading: 13 hr 6 min, 2.6 min/page
rating: 4

This is the best of the (now 4) Dante overviews I‘ve read. The Divine Comedy plot line is packed and overviews can be overwhelming if they try to go step by step through the whole story. Alternately essays can choose to write on parts of it. Writing on themes, Shaw manages to cover a ton while keeping her essays paced and well written. It works. I kept reading and was always interested and never overwhelmed or left with that feeling of rushed information. It doesn't hurt that she includes several beautiful illustrations, including early manuscripts and sketches by Botticelli. I'm glad I read this and recommend it to anyone looking for an intro.

Dec 15, 2019, 8:33pm

>95 dchaikin: I need this one, having never been a great enthusiast over Dante. I always felt that I was missing something. On the other hand, I am fond of Lorena McKennitt's song "Dante's Prayer". I read a lot of serious things when I was too young for them, and failed to appreciate them. I did the same thing to Moby Dick, but when I re-read it in adulthood, I loved it.

Dec 16, 2019, 10:54am

>96 sallypursell: I’m in the odd place of not knowing what I need or what will help. So I’m reading stuff like this to just try to generate a more resilient curiosity that will help me in dry or unfocused stretches when I read it. What I’ve learned so far is mainly that I’m losing a lot by not reading it in Italian. No translation will really capture the lightness and freedom of his Italian. But hopefully I’ll still enjoy it. Prue Shaw loves the translation I selected, by the Hollander wife/husband team, so that’s a good thing. Also, Shaw did a good job of making it interesting on many levels.

Dec 16, 2019, 2:56pm

>90 dchaikin: Interesting. I hadn't realized that the Appalachians went underground and got mixed up in the Rockies.

Dec 17, 2019, 3:50am

>94 dchaikin: I haven't read Girl, Woman, Other yet but have been keeping my eyes open for a copy in the secondhand bookshop. I completely get what you mean when authors put too much into books and leave you feeling increasingly detached as a result. Disappointing that this was your takeaway from this book, but I'm not surprised. Many Booker winners often seem to have too much of something or other. This ticks prize boxes but not investment in story / characters boxes.

Dec 17, 2019, 1:08pm

Alison - everyone loves it but me. Don’t know. But wish I never had that sense of ticking boxes, because once I had that in mind, I started applying it to every story line, whether I wanted to or not. Wrong mindset...again

Dec 17, 2019, 2:10pm

Au contraire - I think you've probably read it with real honesty rather than what you're supposed to think of it.

Dec 17, 2019, 5:57pm

Honestly, it's great to hear dissenting voices on books that get the big kudos. Lockstep is boring, and more to the point that's what literature (and writing in general) is for--to stir reaction, to get people thinking, etc.

Edited: Dec 26, 2019, 6:07am

>101 AlisonY: thanks! I certainly like to think this ... but I also know sometimes I just don’t have the right approach to a book. It’s curious I haven’t liked either Booker winner all that much, but really liked the other three I’ve read from the short list.

>102 lisapeet: totally agree, Lisa! I like the counter opinions even for books I like. The discussions and variations of opinion make literature a lot more fun.

Dec 21, 2019, 8:10pm

What an interesting, albeit brief, discussion on "winning" a literary prize. I was pleased to be exposed to it. Thank you all.

Dec 26, 2019, 6:06am

Edited: Dec 31, 2019, 6:30pm

>94 dchaikin:. Unless you are gay, this protagonist couldn't be more different than you (different to you in England). Maybe you couldn't invest because it was too much to bridge. It sounds as if I might have the same trouble, but I don't feel much inclined to read it. I don't often like the Booker winner, although I frequently like the ones from the long list. I think the Booker panel are looking for something that makes their winners "literary", which is too restrictive to me. I prefer less self-conscious works. I am fully aware that I am not on the top level of appreciators of literature. I prefer something enjoyable, although I have been able to enjoy some, and I specify, some of the best works. You don't seem to be as limited in the same way I do. But just as I am somewhat triggered by rape and abuse of women's stories (since I was raped at age 19), you may be averse to their content of that type. I think I may be more sensitive to it in my old age. I don't remember being triggered in my youth, but a lifetime of being minimized by men has made me more sensitive.

I wonder why she thinks it is important that we be labelled as to "type". I think that if you do that to everyone you would miss a lot. It wouldn't be very useful to tell people I am a married retired nurse with fibromyalgia. What does that tell you about me? Something, to be sure. But it wouldn't tell you much about how I spend my typical days. How would you describe yourself? Would it tell you that you read Dante? Would it even tell you that you read seriously? I don't remember if I know your occupation.

I expect I don't understand what she means by "lifestyle, career".

Dec 29, 2019, 6:40pm

I always enjoy catching up on your thread, Dan. There is always an interesting discussion.

Edited: Dec 29, 2019, 8:54pm

>106 sallypursell: I found her comment on naming ourselves interesting. As you note, it's limiting, simplifying to label yourself or anyone else. It can also be strengthening, by putting something of yourself out there instead of hiding or trying to not deal with it.

I was going to say I don't feel anything about this opening character is all that much to bridge. But what I'm thinking about when I say that are things like sexual orientation, feminism, race and whatnot. But actually the real bridge I have to cross is that she is an out-there character who needed to shock. The personality--hyper-extroverted, hyper-confident, and hyper-confrontational--that does require me to adjust, find a way in to cross and see, if you like. I think...I think I take a personality that likes to be spectacle, and react by treating them as a spectacle. hmm.

"I prefer less self-conscious works. - well put, Sally. This. I find it a tough thing with literature today. I want to read great writing, but I also want the author to be humble before their creative art. That's a contradiction.

ETA - if anyone is following along, Sally means book 63 (here >94 dchaikin:), not message 63.

Dec 29, 2019, 8:55pm

>107 NanaCC: Thanks. I enjoy the conversations that come up here quite a bit.

Edited: Apr 18, 2020, 3:27pm

65. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
published: 2018
format: 132 page hardcover
acquired: February
read: Dec 29
time reading: 3 hr 34 min, 1.6 min/page
rating: 4

This came up a lot early last year here with several wonderful reviews. I mentally flagged it as a book I really wanted to read and picked up a copy in February. I finally read it a few days ago on my 11-hour flight home from London.

Well, it‘s really good. Reads like a short story, has an oppressive feel, kind of like The Handmaid‘s Tale, but it has humor too. The story is about an effort in "experimental archaeology", as in spending some time living like pre-history Britons. So there is some real nature, along with ridiculous compromises to contemporary life and a mixture of responses by all involved. The atmosphere of the book is set and given a very dark tone by the professor's assistant, an abusive controlling father. We're told the story by his teenage daughter and her odd, maybe unreliable perspective. Contemporary life interfering with a serious and silly attempt at authentic isolation and a controlling abusive parent...and prehistory and a little nature...and an open ending, I would say an ending that expands the book. Good fun. I enjoyed it.

This wraps up my 2010's.