dchaikin part 2 - getting a little lost out here

This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin part 1 - out of the dark ages.

This topic was continued by dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty.

TalkClub Read 2021

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dchaikin part 2 - getting a little lost out here

Mar 27, 2021, 2:35pm

Not paused, but losing my way a bit and feeling it. Still something should happen on this thread.

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 12:44pm

Currently Reading   

Currently Listening to

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (I plan to start today, Jul 19)
All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (started reading Jul 5)
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, read by Ruth Urquhart (started listening Jul 15)

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 12:44pm

Books read this year - just covers

Edited: Jul 14, 2021, 9:02pm

This year in audiobooks

Edited: Mar 27, 2021, 2:39pm

List of books I've read - Part 1
Links in this post will go to my review post in my part 1 thread


1. **** Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer by Christopher S. Celenza, (read Jan 1-6)
2. **** Real Life by Brandon Taylor, read by Kevin R. Free (listened Dec 22 - Jan 6)
3. **½ How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang, read by Catherine Ho & Joel de la Fuente (listened Jan 7-23)
4. ***** Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (read Jan 1-23)
5. ****½ The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jan 24-30)


6. **** Henry VI Part One by William Shakespeare (read Jan 6 - Feb 8)
7. ****½ History of London by Stephen Inwood (read half Dec 11-31, 2019, the rest Dec 25, 2020 - Feb 14, 2021)
8. ****½ Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Feb 14-28)


9. **** A Promised Land by Barack Obama, read by the author (listened Jan 23 - Mar 13)

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 12:45pm

List of books I've read - Part 2
Links go to my review post below.


10. **** Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (read Feb 28 - Mar 20)
11. **** Henry VI Part Two by William Shakespeare (read Feb 28 - Mar 28)


12. **** Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, read by Sneha Mathan (listened Mar 22 - Apr 2)
13. ****½ Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (read Mar 21 - Apr 11)
14. ***** Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (read Apr 11-24)
15. **** Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles (listened Apr 5-25)
16. ***** Collected Stories by Willa Cather (read Jan 25 - Apr 29)


17. **** Summer by Ali Smith (read Apr 26 - May 3)
18. **** Henry VI Part Three by William Shakespeare (read Apr 7 - May 9)
19. **** Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters edited by Thomas Goddin Bergin (read Feb 19 - May 23)
20. **** Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa (read Feb 18 - May 23)
21. **** The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young (read Feb 1 - May 23)


22. **** Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather (read Jun 5)
23. ****½ The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (read May 4 - Jun 11)
24. ****½ Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch, read by David Rintoul (listened Apr 28 - Jun 11)
25. ****½ Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jun 12-14)
26. ***** Richard III by William Shakespeare (read May 22 - Jun 22)
27. **** The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Jun 15-24)
28. **** Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude jr., read by the author. (listened Jun 14-28)
29. **** Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (read Jun 25-29)


30. **** The Touchstone by Edith Wharton (read Jul 5-8)
31. **** Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jun 30 - Jul 12)
32. **** Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze, read by the author (listened Jun 29 - Jul 14)
33. **** This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Jul 12-19)

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 12:46pm

The list above sorted by year published

1370 The Canzoniere by Petrarch
1590 Henry VI Part Two by William Shakespeare
1591 Henry VI Part Three by William Shakespeare
Henry VI Part One by William Shakespeare
Richard III by William Shakespeare
1900 The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
1912 Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
1939 The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
1947 Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
1955 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
1957 Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
1962 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
1966 Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters edited by Thomas Goddin Bergin
1988 Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
1992 Collected Stories by Willa Cather (1905, 1920, 1932, 1948, 1956)
1996 Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa
1998 A History of London by Stephen Inwood
2004 The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young
2006 The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga
2009 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
2012 Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
2016 Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
2017 Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer by Christopher S. Celenza
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
2019 Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Summer by Ali Smith
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude jr.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 12:57pm

Some stats:

Books read: 33
Pages: 8026 (time reading: 355 hours)
Audio time: 114 hours
"regular books”**: 23
Formats: Paperback 19; Audio 8; Hardcover 3; ebook 3;
Subjects in brief: Novel 19; Classic 11; History 7; Non-fiction 5; Drama 4; Poetry 3; Biography 3; On Literature and Books 2; Memoir 1; Journalism 1; Short Stories 1;
Nationalities: United States 12; England 11; Russia 5; Zimbabwe 3; China 1; Scotland 1; Italy 1;
Books in translation: 3
Genders, m/f: 20/14 unknown: 0; mixed 0;
Owner: Books I own: 33;
Re-reads: 1
Year Published: 2020’s 8; 2010's 6; 2000’s 3; 1990’s 3; 1980’s 1; 1960’s 2, 1950’s 2; 1940’s 1; 1930’s 1; 1910’s 1; 1900’s 1; 1500’s 4; 1300’s 1
TBR numbers: 31 acquired, 31 read = net 0

Books read: 1149
Pages: 295,317; Audio time: 1851 hours (77 days)
"regular books"**: 736
Formats: Paperback 614; Hardcover 244; Audio 174; ebooks 79; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 467; Novels 335; Biographies/Memoirs 200; History 182; Classics 161; Journalism 96; Poetry 93; Science 81; Ancient 75; Speculative Fiction 66; On Literature and Books 58; Nature 55; Anthology 45; Essay Collections 44; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 42; Drama 40; Juvenile/YA 34; Visual Arts 26; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 660; Non-American, English speaking 231; Other: 265
Books in translation: 198
Genders, m/f: 732/320
Owner: Books I owned 803; Library books 280; Books I borrowed 66; Online 11
Re-reads: 24
Year Published: 2020’s 13; 2010's 260; 2000's 279; 1990's 171; 1980's 114; 1970's 56; 1960's 46; 1950's 28; 1900-1949 58; 19th century 16; 16th-18th centuries 28; 13th-15th centuries 6; 0-1199 19; BCE 55
TBR: 699

*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: Mar 27, 2021, 2:42pm

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, Willa Cather, Shakespeare, the 2019 Booker list
2020 - Dante, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather and Shakespeare, the 2019 Booker list
2021 - Petrarch, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather and Shakespeare, the 2020 Booker list

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, 2019 part 3, 2020 part 1, 2020 part 2, 2020 part 3, 2021 part 1

Mar 27, 2021, 2:45pm

Set up complete. I encourage anyone following to forget any of Part 1 you haven't read (or all of it) and start here.

Mar 27, 2021, 2:48pm

Thanks for the thoughtful review of A Promised Land. I know I'll get to it, probably sooner rather than later, particularly with encouragement such as you've offered here.

Edited: Mar 27, 2021, 3:48pm

from Collected Stories by Willa Cather

Old Mrs. Harris

Originally titled Three Women, this is a look at the small town prairie life of Cather's childhood, with a suburban feel, a sense of generations and a heavy autobiographical feel. Old Mrs. Harris grew up in Tennessee and followed her daughter, Victoria Templeton, and her mildly unsuccessful son-in-law to Colorado. Mrs. Harris takes on the house workload and the care of the children, and frees up her daughter to enjoy...being a housewife. The eldest child, Vickie, is trying to get scholarship so she can attend the University of Michigan. The pulls between Mrs. Harris's history and quiet largely unreadable sense of self-sacrifice, experience, responsibility and disappointment are set within Victoria's relative happiness and Vickie's hopes, optimism and adolescent drama and self-concern.

Several interesting elements here. Vickie is a Cather stand-in, making one wonder how true to life in Red Cloud, Nebraska this might be. The Jewish childless neighbors, the Rosens, are prominent in the story, and are non-stereotypical, which I was thankful for. They get a non-Jewish kind of criticism but they also provide the respectful view of Old Mrs. Harris, whereas other neighbors are more judgmental. There is unstated emphasis on the powerlessness of these women, always dependent on the men and their financial success or failure, and also their quiet privacy about the true nature of this. When Vickie needs money, the women have to ask the men, and have to accept whatever vague explanations they receive.

Two Friends

The story of two prominent wealthy men in a small Nebraska town, their friendship and its fallout over almost obscure politics. Cather considered this one of her most perfect stories, which is overstating it and a perspective that almost ruins what is a good story. Told in first person from a pre-teen observer - but who? Cather? A boy or a girl? (The answer may come down to whether or not American boys played Jacks in 1896.) One of the great aspects of this story is how our narrator describes enjoying stage performances strictly through the way these two men talked about them to each other. They could afford to travel and catch these shows in various cities, something few others in town would experience.

The political issue at hand is the Free Silver movement, a probably bad economic idea taken up by 1896 Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. But the real issue is how politics rile up emotions and wreck friendships, even as they are distant concerns. (Making the story timely). Also we get yet another look into small town prairie life, presumably again resembling Red Cloud, Nebraska.

ETA - this wraps up Obscure Destinies (1932), a collection of two longer stories (Neighbor Rosicky and Old Mrs. Harris) and one shorter one, Two Friends.

Mar 27, 2021, 3:45pm

>11 rocketjk: Thanks Jerry. I know we're all dangerous here with encouragement, but also I'm glad to provide it for A Promised Land.

Mar 27, 2021, 3:52pm

Love this photo of VN holding a butterfly in 1947, the year Bend Sinister was published.

Edited: Mar 27, 2021, 4:56pm

10. Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1947
format: 185-page kindle ebook
acquired: February 28
read: Feb 28 – Mar 20
time reading: 10 hr 6 min, 3.4 min/page
rating: 4
locations: fictional autocratic state
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

Nabokov‘s first American novel pokes tragic fun at the Soviet Union and the surreal experience of arbitrary terror and constant warping of reality. It‘s a bit difficult, as he plays games with different languages, obscure English words and syntaxes. And I had trouble getting going. I felt for a while I was just hacking through trying to find some direction. There is a sense here of attack on the English language, and it might be intentional.

But ultimately the plot is clear enough. A philosopher and half-brother of a dictator suffers under this regime of terror both literally and psychologically. And, unwilling to serve and wanting to basically hide, slowly begins to lose his protection and immunity.

The book relishes in surreal absurdities. In his intro, VN says, “automatic comparisons between Bend Sinister and Kafka's creations or Orwell's clichés would go merely to prove that the automaton could not have read either the great German writer or the mediocre English one.” But these two references go a long way to explaining the atmosphere of the novel and its dark humor. Nabokov works the tension of situations especially by mixing an irreverent dryer humor with dreadful happenings. That could be said for most of his novels, although he might go a little darker here. Certainly nothing was sacred in fiction for this author. (Bring on Lolita!)

Mar 27, 2021, 4:15pm

Looking forward to your comments on Bend Sinister. I had to read it in university and wrote an essay on it, so read it multiple times. I got a good grade, I think in part because the TA doing the marking had just read it for the first time, so he hadn't thought about it as much as some of the other books we read.

Mar 27, 2021, 4:25pm

>15 dchaikin: I've enjoyed following your adventures with Nabokov. Is your goal to read all of his works?

Edited: Mar 27, 2021, 4:46pm

>16 Nickelini: LT ate my post. Maybe it will pop up later. But... wow. Part of me sees you a resource and thinks that I should have tossed some questions at you (or, present tense, just "should"), and part of me feels guilty thinking immediately of you as a resource. : ) Still, cool. I would like to read your paper.

>17 labfs39: I'm hoping to read all his novels and his memoir. Maybe his short stories (but I'm falling behind). But I don't plan to read his essays or translations. However, my main goal is to read and enjoy Lolita in the context of his other works.

Mar 27, 2021, 5:05pm

>1 dchaikin: You're not lost, you're wandering? Seven books seems like an awful lot of books to read at once (even if two are reference for a third).

Mar 27, 2021, 5:31pm

>19 ELiz_M: wandering sounds nice. I am reading with less steam though, well, for the moment at least. And yes, maybe a little too much...maybe a little too much Petrarch. : )

Mar 27, 2021, 5:46pm

>18 dchaikin: LT ate my post. Maybe it will pop up later.

I see your post now-- perhaps we were posting at the same time? LT can be weird.

Anyway! I'd pass on my paper if I had any idea where to find it. I do remember though, after struggling through the first time, it got a lot easier on later readings because I imagined the story being acted out by the cast of Monty Python. I seem to remember a character attempting to cross a bridge that seemed quite Pythonesque.

Mar 27, 2021, 5:49pm

>21 Nickelini: What is you favorite color?

Mar 27, 2021, 6:16pm

>1 dchaikin: losing my way a bit and feeling it

That tide will come in again and float you back on your way.

Mar 27, 2021, 6:25pm

>21 Nickelini: yes, Monty Python sounds about perfect. It seems with VN everything is outrageous even as we should take it seriously. I had written a post with some questions for you, and that was the post that lost. On my second try I felt guilty writing the questions. : ) One was about the re-occurring puddle. I haven't made any sense of that yet.

>22 labfs39: well, mine is green, no wai...

Mar 27, 2021, 6:26pm

>23 SassyLassy: clearly a lunar issue.

Mar 27, 2021, 7:03pm

>1 dchaikin:


Mar 27, 2021, 7:48pm

Just catching up here after being out of contact at an honorary daughter's house, she who had had the new baby by caesarean section.

Mar 27, 2021, 8:42pm

>24 dchaikin: had written a post with some questions for you, and that was the post that lost. On my second try I felt guilty writing the questions. : ) One was about the re-occurring puddle. I haven't made any sense of that yet.

Just as well, as I read it over a decade ago, and I don't remember much. I vaguely recall the recurring puddle.

>22 labfs39: What is you favorite color? I'm sure that's a Bend Sinister question, but it's been too long for me to get it. Sorry! I hate missing a chance to say something potentially clever or funny

Mar 27, 2021, 9:46pm

>28 Nickelini: Not at all! Lol. You had said that you envisioned scenes from Bend Sinister being acted out by the cast of Monty Python and that a character from the book crossing a bridge seemed Pythonesque. There is a famous scene in Holy Grail where the knights are asked three questions before they can cross the Bridge of Death. The last question is What is your favorite color? Sir Galahad answers, "Blue, no...aaahhhh" and is cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. You can see the scene here on YouTube for a little British humor.

Edited: Mar 27, 2021, 9:59pm

>26 LolaWalser: I'm thinking wine. Wine sounds good right now.

>27 sallypursell: big congrats to you and your daughter. (I don't know what honorary means in this context, sorry)

>28 Nickelini: this puddle (and its deranged characterization):
An oblong puddle in the coarse asphalt; like a fancy footprint filled to the brim with quicksilver; like a spatulate hole through which you can see nether sky. Surrounded. I note, by a diffuse tentacled black dampness where some dull dun leaves have stuck. Drowned, I should say, before the puddle had shrunk to its present size”

Mar 27, 2021, 10:05pm

>30 dchaikin: She is not my real daughter. She married my favorite nephew, whom I delivered. I officiated at their marriage. Her mother is far away and they are not close; his mother is completely estranged from her son, my nephew, and he treats me as his mother. I did have a great hand in raising him. Her father is in prison for abusing her, so she has no parents to speak of. Anyway, she calls me Mom, and tells people I am her mom or mother-in-law.

Mar 27, 2021, 10:13pm

>31 sallypursell: that's a lot of negative things. You're a good mom.

Mar 27, 2021, 10:41pm

>32 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan.

Mar 28, 2021, 3:39pm

>29 labfs39: I don't know how I forgot that scene from the Holy Grail. Doh!

Mar 28, 2021, 6:20pm

>29 labfs39: so fun to watch again

Mar 31, 2021, 2:29am

Hi Dan!
It's always the same with me, but this year I completely lost touch to LT quite early and for quite a long time. It's been over a month since I last checked in. And now it takes me ages to catch up on the threads I follow actively (if one can call it 'actively' being absent for such a long time). I read your thread with interest, but I find it hard to answer right now as there is so much I liked. So let's just do it like this: I liked your review of the Obama audiobook. Being put in a happy mindset can never hurt and the book has been on my wishlist even before it was published. I hope I'll get around to reading it soon(ish).
Sorry for the rather longish post. Just wanted to tell you I'm still following. ;)

Mar 31, 2021, 9:17am

>36 OscarWilde87: hi, and welcome. I have a similar problem. An issue with CR is its difficult to catch up. Hope you get to Obama’s book.

Mar 31, 2021, 10:27am

Here I am trying to keep up. I need to get back to Obama’s book, Dan. My daughter and I were listening to it on our way to and from my second vaccine. It was a two hour drive each way, and I think we listened to about three hours of it. She had downloaded it from the library, so I’ll have to get a copy so that I can finish it.

>12 dchaikin: I’m not sure if I’ve missed it, but are these short stories the end of your Willa Cather reading? I missed so much last year, that I’m not sure if you’ve read them all.

Mar 31, 2021, 1:02pm

>38 NanaCC: enjoy Obama when you get a copy. On Cather - I’ve now read all her novels except her first (I skipped it by mistake). So, yes, this is kind of wrapping things up, although there is other stuff to read and that I hope to get to.

Apr 1, 2021, 10:30am

A March report

The unrealistic March plan

15 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
5 hours - 101 pages of Willa Cather stories
8 hours - Henry VI part 2 (Acts 2-5, no afterward stuff this month)
10 hours - Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
20 hours - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
14 hours - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
13 hours - Summer by Ali Smith
85 hours

How March played out

8:43 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
4:39 hours - 101 pages of Willa Cather stories
5:41 hours - Henry VI part 2 - finished
9:36 hours - Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov - finished (overall this ran 10:07, but I started Feb 28)
8:03 hours - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (I'm not quite half way)
0 hours - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
0 hours - Summer by Ali Smith
36:42 hours

So, one of my worst months over the past year. Ten days of traveling did not help. But I can't not make an April plan now

April plan, compromised a bit

15 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
6 hours - 132 pages of Willa Cather stories
4 hours - Henry VI part 3 - Acts I-III
9 hours - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
14 hours - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
51 hours

I've fallen well behind. Not on this list are Summer by Ali Smith (intended for March), and my original April planned reads of Pnin by Vladimr Nabokov, The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. To catch these all, I would need another 41 hours of reading in April (92 total hours).

Apr 1, 2021, 11:10am

Good luck for April! Shame about Summer and Pnin: I've been meaning to read them too for some time, but haven't yet. I've mislaid Pnin for a start, which doesn't help!

Apr 2, 2021, 1:55am

>41 Dilara86: i do hope to get to those on May. Just need to push things back a bit. I don’t actually know anything about Pnin.

Apr 2, 2021, 5:47am

I am slow to get around on CR these days, but I like to see what everyone is reading. Interesting comments on the Cather short stories. Also happy to see Tsitsi Dangarembga still being read (I see I read it back in January of '08 during my "African Period").

Love your "stats" and parsing of information.

Apr 2, 2021, 10:54am

>43 avaland: I’m catching up thread by thread myself. Cool about Dangarembga and your circa 2008 “African Period”. I’ve been scatter shot with the continent, in which books and when. Nervous Conditions is a terrific book.

Apr 2, 2021, 11:34am

Are you really that consistent, Dan, with the timing on your reading? And do you read plays as you read other things--just read them right alone, or do you stop every few lines and think out the action/intentions? I don't think my reading speed is at all consistent, except for pretty fast. Books, to me, vary so much in what ways I enjoy them--and I pretty much always enjoy them, even just the mechanical process of reading, which is soothing to me.

I'd be interested to know how close your estimates are to the reality. I have been looking for a while when you
post these kinds of measurement comparisons, and to me you seem pretty accurate.

Apr 2, 2021, 3:01pm

>45 sallypursell: I learned last year (using Bookly) to roughly gage how long a book will take. So they are roughly accurate. I still need to adjust when a book goes slower or faster.

As for Shakespeare - I’m intentionally trying to keep it lite, but it’s harder when I’m the discussion leader, as I will be for Henry VI Part 3. So, I zoom through them, and sometimes go back and reread, sometimes not.

Apr 4, 2021, 4:24pm

>46 dchaikin: Very interesting. I've never thought in hours abiut my reading pace, and am convinced I don't read at a consistent pace. I can read a 500 page book in a few days but then take 2 weeks to read 200 pages.

Edited: Apr 4, 2021, 6:07pm

>47 AlisonY: I can read a 500 page book in a few days but then take 2 weeks to read 200 pages. Same here.

Apr 4, 2021, 7:36pm

>46 dchaikin: >47 AlisonY: >48 labfs39: I can't help but believe that we all read equally variably. That makes Dan an outlier. Maybe his margins of error are large. ;)

Apr 4, 2021, 9:26pm

>47 AlisonY: It's a little bit of an accident with the Bookly app. Once I started tracking, I found it fascinating, then I found that I could work with the predictions. But I've never planned the hours out before like this. It becomes another attempt to manage my guilt over reading less than I want, always. : )

>49 sallypursell: I'm a little strange in my steady slow reading. Occasionally I get in a lot of time on a day here or there, but I read best if I keep it the same every day. :)

>47 AlisonY: >48 labfs39: >49 sallypursell: my wife does spurts, but I do slow and steady - with pretty much everything. My spirit animal is a sloth by pretty much universal family consent.

Apr 4, 2021, 11:04pm

>50 dchaikin: love your spirit animal!

Apr 5, 2021, 2:18pm

>51 dianeham: 🙂 🦥

Apr 5, 2021, 9:07pm

>50 dchaikin: Your spirit animal ... I love that!

Edited: Apr 5, 2021, 11:29pm

11. Henry VI Part Two by William Shakespeare
Originally Performed: 1590
format: 180-pages within a Signet Classic Paperback that includes Parts One & Three
acquired: October
read: Feb 28 – Mar 28
time reading: 7 hr 26 min, 2.5 min/page
rating: 4
locations: 1400’s England
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

These history plays. So much goes on, and it seems to happen so quickly, I spend all my effort trying to follow the plot, figure out who is who, and what they did, and what that means, and what is going on here. This one is possibly Shakespeare's first play*. So, it deserves a moment of reflection, maybe just wondering what the initial audiences thought when this showed up. Was it as distinct, fast, light, and yet deep and meaningful as it seems to us? Was this a different kind of thing altogether, or just a gradational change? (I think Baswood can actually answer that question, and I suspect the answer is that this really was a different kind of thing.)

As plot this play looks at the development of the War of Roses. King Henry VI still depends on his childhood regent, the Lord Protector, his uncle, Duke Gloucester. What he doesn't realize is Gloucester is the only loyal, principled person around him, a kind of last hero. The king is surrounded by ruthless maneuvering, and receives intentionally bad advice from all his closest advisers. His wife is in a long affair with Lord Suffolk, who has his own plans for working over the King. The Duke of York has an elaborate plan to actually become the king himself, and sees himself at rightful heir. York drives almost every plot point, undermining Gloucester, creating a popular rebellion, and finally battling the king's army in the First Battle of St. Albans, the traditional beginning of the War of Roses (1455).

Act 4 here is Jack Cade's rebellion, a peasant revolt that took place in 1450. In Shakespeare's work, York is the mover behind Jack Cade, and the bard uses Cade to spin his own sense of the riled up peasants, their incoherent anger and willingness to kill whoever Cade randomly decides needs killing. Severed severed heads of notable officials are paraded through the London streets, and made to kiss.

The point in all this seems to be that social order depends on a strong king. When the king is weak, others try to take advantage, and there is no longer a center to hold things together. There is a dissolution of order, chaos filling in.

Arthur Freeman – editor – 1967, 1989
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1963, 1989, 2005

Edward Hall – from The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548)
John Foxe – from Acts and Monuments of Martyrs (1563, 1583)
A Shakespearean version manuscript of Anthony Munday’s play – Sir Thomas Moore, undated

Samuel Johnson – from The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
J. P. Brockbank – from The Frame of Disorder—Henry VI (1961)

*The "Part Two" of the title is from the First Folio, the posthumous collection of Shakespeare's plays. The earliest known title of this play was: The First Part of the Contention Between the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster

Apr 6, 2021, 11:40am

>54 dchaikin: Love the idea of a "last hero" Things are about to get really bad out there.

The message of needing a strong monarch wouldn't have been lost on the audience.

I never knew that about the earliest known title. It certainly lets you know what you are in for far better.

Apr 6, 2021, 5:29pm

>54 dchaikin:

One thing that makes me extra lazy about revisiting the history plays is that I don't know how much of Shakespeare's history is valid (and Anglo history bores me). Didn't he have to watch himself, not to tread on anyone's lofty toes etc.?

Apr 9, 2021, 2:58pm

>55 SassyLassy: confused me for ages, the title. How can anyone think part one was written after part two? !! But I understand now. : )

>56 LolaWalser: well... yeah. And, conventional wisdom follows Shakespeare, not the historians. : ) Of course there are important historical elements. These are mostly real historical figures and roughly follow the available historical chronicles of the time, and they also conform to what was safe and acceptable (although I think they play games with that line), what the bard and his team thought, and, finally, to dramatic impact. So they provide an Elizabethan era sense of publicly acceptable history.

Edited: Apr 9, 2021, 7:18pm

>54 dchaikin: "The point in all this seems to be that social order depends on a strong king. When the king is weak, others try to take advantage, and there is no longer a center to hold things together. There is a dissolution of order, chaos filling in".

I agree with you Dan this is pretty much the main theme of the play, which also points to the end of chivalry, it was kill or be killed with no sense of honour.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play when I read it and the BBC production makes a very good video. Seeing the play helps to understand what is going on, or rather who is doing what.

Nobody knows if this was the first play written by Shakespeare, but many critics think it was. In my opinion it did not just come out of the blue there were other plays performed before Henry VI part two that were just as good. Plays by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd even Robert Greene came close. The thing with Shakespeare was that he moved rapidly forward, the characterisation and development that he showed in the Henry VI plays were soon taken up to another level. He was also helped by the fact that he was the new kid on the block and within a couple of years Marlowe, Kyd and Greene were all dead.

I enjoyed reading your review.

Edited: Apr 10, 2021, 6:17pm

>58 baswood: thanks Bas, especially for your insight in the context of these early plays. I read Hvi part 3 act 1 yesterday - I was really into it. And, yes, the end of chivalry. (Cather would really understood that end-of-an-era-of-principles aspect. She cited Hvi Part 1 in the story I read this morning - Before Breakfast. I think they were both conservative romantics. 🙂)

ETA - oops, Cather brought up Henry IV...not VI. Kind of kills my comment.

Edited: Apr 10, 2021, 5:55pm

12. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
reader: Sneha Mathan
published: 2019
format: 8:36 Audible audiobook (240 pages in paperback)
acquired: March 20
listened: Mar 22 – Apr 2
rating: 4
locations: Pune, India and other places in India – 1980’s through current day
about the author: from New Jersey, daughter of Indian immigrants, born 1982

My 8th book from the 2020 Booker long list. I liked this one. I have read enough plotless sentence-level incisive devastating-secret devi novels to know it's a thing and not a thing I'm a big fan of. This is one of those. But it was engaging. I like how the book addresses dementia, which I could relate to, and how it uses local culture in Pune and Mumbai, how it touches on life in an ashram, and how it addresses some of the characteristics of American-born Indians, and their relation to India. I enjoyed it.

It's a mother-daughter story - Tara and Antara. Mom has progressing dementia and Antara is trying to deal with it, and is bitter about it. She still has hurts to respond to, and Tara is there, but there can no longer be a reckoning. It's too late. But also, Tara has less and less control over what she says. She starts hinting at dark secrets about to her son-in-law and Antara, our narrator, is getting a little anxious...and a little unstable.

This is a debut novel by American born Doshi, and takes place in Pune, India. It's read beautifully by Sneha Mathan. (I think there is another version with a different narrator.) Recommended.

Apr 10, 2021, 6:57pm

from Collected Stories by Willa Cather

These three are from The Old Beauty and Others, a posthumous collection, and all previously unpublished. The Best Years and Before Breakfast are the two last stories Cather completed. Willa Cather passed away on April 24, 1947. The collection was published in 1948

The Old Beauty

Henry Seabury is in Aix-lex-Bains, France after 30 years in China. He likes the place because it still has some of the pre-WWI atmosphere. He is surprised to see an old acquaintance, a woman once famous because of her beauty, now older, and living with her female companion. Her companion is a retired actress, once know for playing boy-roles on stage. The story is their new friendship and their past.

Written in 1936, this was submitted for publication and then cut and then Cather sat on it, sending her only copy to a friend, who saved it and later returned it. The story captures an atmosphere of a lost era, of a world before WWI that was permanently lost with the war. It also strongly hints at a lesbian relationship, perhaps inspired by her own relationship with Edith Lewis. Like his woman's friend, Willa Cather once played boy-roles on stage.

The Best Years

Another book about a period of time, specifically 1899. Evangelina Knightly, a regional school superintendent in a rural area in Nebraska, visits her youngest teacher, 16-year-old Leslie Ferguesson, a girl Knightly illegally hired when she was 15 and who teaches in an un-graded country school house. Knightly travels on horse-drawn cart, enjoying these long travels. The story quietly switches focus, and suddenly where looking at Leslie and her exceptionally strong relationship with four brothers, and her mother, and her distant, kind of absurd, father. Then we're back with Evangelina again. There is some bite at the end.

Cather wrote this in 1944 for her brother, who passed away before it could reach him in the mail.

Before Breakfast

I really enjoyed this story. Henry Glenfell is taking vacation alone, on a difficult to reach island in Nova Scotia, with cliff beaches. He's left his bond company, wife, children and in-laws behind in Boston. A hard worker, he's come to escape, and finds himself worked up because a man on his boat over, a geologist, told him about the geology of the island, and Henry didn't want to know these rocks were 136 million years old. This "delightful man" "had, temporarily at least, wrecked Grenfell's life with civilities and information." "Why tear a man loose from his little rock and shoot him out into the eternities?" Glenfell's overly dramatic mind is working furiously, early this still dark morning. And as he wanders the island, "everything that was shut up in him, under lock and bolt and pressure, simple broke jail, spread out into the spaciousness of the night, undraped, unashamed." As the sun rises, Henry reaches a cliff and watches the geologist's daughter walk below along the low-tide exposed beach and the freezing water. Wearing a white bathrobe, she "graciously opened its shell", and her, in her bathing suit, dove in the water for a swim. Henry panics, trying to find a way down to save the girl, but the living Venus is a fine swimmer and does her swim and returns. And like that, Henry's mind spins toward optimism, and he returns to his cabin for breakfast. It's a story full of terrific lines, curious literary references, and dealing with work and family stresses, and release, that we can all relate to, even if Henry seems a little dramatic about it.

Written in 1945, the story takes place on Grand Manan island in Nova Scotia, where Cather owned property with her partner, Edith Lewis. Cather was unable reach this Canadian property at the time because of WWII, and would never see it again.

Apr 11, 2021, 8:17pm

Stopping by to wave hello.

Apr 11, 2021, 9:05pm

Hi back Ardene

Apr 11, 2021, 10:28pm

...peeking shyly out from under my rock...

Apr 12, 2021, 7:21am

>64 labfs39: see you there now. Hi. 🙂 I can offer virtual tea. (Although I’m actually drinking coffee and looking at Petrarch and wondering if the opening lines to Lolita are poking fun at Petrarch.)

Apr 12, 2021, 1:07pm

>65 dchaikin: I wouldn't put it past Nabokov

Apr 14, 2021, 11:39pm

>58 baswood: Do you know the legend of The Fisher King? The movie by that name is really good, but not from the legend, precisely. Robin Williams dancing at dawn in Central Park--naked.

Edited: Apr 16, 2021, 4:37pm

>67 sallypursell: I don't know anything about the legend of the Fisher King, but have seen the movie. King Fisher does appear as a character in one of my favourite operas: Sir Michael Tippett's "The Midsummer Marriage" Is there a connection I wonder?

Apr 16, 2021, 7:41pm

>68 baswood: He appears in some of the earliest Grail stories, wherein he is the keeper of the Grail. He is wounded, and the land around him is the Waste Land. The idea is that the health of the land reflects the health of the King if he was chosen by God, otherwise part of the story of the Divine Right of Kings. Some feel that the wound to the King is in or too near the generative organs, which makes both the King and the Land infertile, obviously a great calamity. In other cases the King is said to have committed a great Sin, and this is what caused the lack of fertility. I can't pin down the memory, but I think this is T. S. Eliot's "Waste Land". Can you see any parallel with the Robin Williams movie now?

Here's a link if you want to know more. The myth, or legend, has been described and defined a number of way.

Apr 17, 2021, 1:41pm

>69 sallypursell: thanks for this link. I also am not familiar with the Fisher King legend -- I know the name, but I don't know anything about it. I'll have to come back and read the link when I have more time.

Apr 17, 2021, 1:47pm

>60 dchaikin: This one sounds interesting, Dan. The fact that you liked the audio version appeals, as well.

Apr 17, 2021, 2:04pm

13. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
published: 2012
format: 407-page paperback
acquired: December
read: Mar 21 – Apr 11
time reading: 15:51, 2.3 mpp
rating: 4½
locations: 1530’s England
about the author: born 1952 in Derbyshire, England to parents of Irish descent.

Part of our CR group read, and part of my trail through the 2020 Booker longlist, which includes The Mirror and the Light.

Considering how deeply I felt I needed to be into Wolf Hall to read it, and how long The Mirror and the Light is, this caught me off guard on how easy it is to read, how quickly it flows, and pulls, plot driving, Cromwell working. This book is a nice, fun, dark read. I had some issues with that. I liked the slowness of Wolf Hall, and the intimacy that created, the forced close reading to catch when "he" meant, otherwise unnoted, Cromwell. Here, she writes, "he, Cromwell", which helps lessen the reader's need for attention.

I have trouble writing about this book. Cromwell is fascinating, I mean this version of him. And the way Mantel does it, she doesn't actually tell you what's going on in his mind. His physically unreadable stone-face is also his literary one, even as he still has flashbacks of intimacy. I imagine Mantel playing with reader. It makes the book distinct. She leaves a few clues as to who this Cromwell is, and how not-normal he has become, but mostly leaves it to us to analyze.

Mind you, this is the story of Anne Boleyn's fall, and all that came down with her, including, of course, her head. I have had moments where I felt like Anne, the world separating from me, undermining me, without my grasping why. I could relate to her as I could not to Cromwell.

A terrific novel historically and fictionally. Both distinct from Wolf Hall, and building on it.

Apr 17, 2021, 2:06pm

>71 NanaCC: Glad to catch your interest. I'm not sure, but I suspect I liked it more on audio than I would as text. At least with this reader.

Apr 17, 2021, 2:10pm

>72 dchaikin: Nice review, Dan. I like how you explained the difference in your connection (or not) to Cromwell in the two books. They are still on my TBR-right-now pile.

Apr 17, 2021, 2:14pm

>74 labfs39: Thank you. I'm curious how you might take to these.

Apr 17, 2021, 2:51pm

>75 dchaikin: You and me both. I've been hearing about them for so long, I'm almost afraid to start them, in case I'm disappointed.

Apr 17, 2021, 3:19pm

>76 labfs39: it may not be your book. I would encourage low expectations. Maybe test a chapter and put it back down a while. (Isn’t CR helpful? 🙂)

Apr 17, 2021, 3:41pm

>77 dchaikin: So very!

Apr 18, 2021, 3:40am

>72 dchaikin: Great review, Dan. Yes, Mantel seems to give just enough insight into the psyche of Cromwell but no more, leaving the reader to draw our own conclusions. I like that - after all she can't tell any better than the rest of us who he really was as a person.

Edited: Apr 18, 2021, 9:47am

>79 AlisonY: I think that's what I loved most about those two books (haven't read the third yet). Mantel doesn't spell a single thing out, but even within that she achieves different effects. Sometimes she wants you to come to a particular conclusion but reach it yourself, and sometimes it's open-ended—there is no conclusion, it's ambiguous in the way that life is, and she does an absolutely genius job of setting that up.

Apr 18, 2021, 3:09pm

>72 dchaikin: Reading what you described so well for sometimes feeling like Anne - the world separating from me, undermining me, without my grasping why- it strikes me that in this book Cromwell himself was beginning to feel himself separating from the world and being undermined, although he certainly knew why, if not always who. It seemed to me that in this book he was beginning to have the sense of the inevitability of his demise, while at the same time still being able to convince himself from time to time that it wouldn't be so.

This for me was the best volume of the trilogy.

Apr 18, 2021, 3:46pm

>72 dchaikin: Yes, there was definitely a change in tone between WH and this. I sped through this much more quickly and it felt fast-paced. Interestingly, in The Mirror and the Light, Mantel has gone back to flesh out some events near the end of BUtB.

Apr 18, 2021, 10:58pm

>79 AlisonY: >80 lisapeet: I appreciate both of these comments and what they leave me thinking about in how Mantel is working.

>81 SassyLassy: wondering what TC knew. I was noticing some of what you’re saying, the signs of his weaknesses and his awareness of them - especially when Henry Norris tells him. But also how he thinks about his fragile position and knows his class position and how that makes him expendable in a way a duke is not. And I was surprised when he realizes moving against Anne actually weakens his position, making him dependent on less reliable people.

>82 RidgewayGirl: I read this a bit faster too. Mentally I’m ready to start The Mirror and the Light. But trying to keep myself into my current reads.

Apr 19, 2021, 12:54pm

>72 dchaikin: I’ve decided to do the audio of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for my reread. Then I’ll do the new one. You and the others in the group read have convinced me with your comments that it’s been too long since I originally read them, to just plunge into the mirror. I agree the BUTB was a much quicker read.

Apr 19, 2021, 12:56pm

>84 NanaCC: great idea, and glad you’re joining.

Apr 30, 2021, 6:44pm

from Collected Stories by Willa Cather

The collection called Five Stories was published in 1956 and included the two new stories, these below, plus also an essay about a novel that was lost.

The Enchanted Bluff

Five young boys camp overnight on an island in the Platt River, in Nebraska, and talk about stuff, including a place in New Mexico called The Enchanted Bluff. They become enchanted, and talk optimistically about going to see it. The story has a touching epilogue on how the boys grow up to mostly uninspiring or troubled lives, having never seen the bluff.

This was an early story Cather wrote that was initially rejected by McClures, the magazine she worked for, because she was told it was only a beginning.

Tom Outland's Story

This story was originally written as a standalone, a fictional take on Richard Wetherill's discovery of Mesa Verde. Later she incorporated it completely into her 1925 novel The Professor's House. So I had read it before. The story relocates Mesa Verde from Colorado to New Mexico, and the fictional discoverer, Tom, becomes an orphaned train worker educated by a priest, and memorizing the Aeneid in Latin. When I first read it, I remembered the discovery of the Cliff Dwellings and the pained and spiritual ending. This time, revisiting, I was able to appreciate the set up of two boys from the armpit of a railroad town who leave the trains for a season to become hired ranchers, and getting refreshed by the landscape around them. It's a wonderful story (even if it only fits awkwardly in the later novel.)

May 1, 2021, 1:42pm

An April report

The April plan

15 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
6 hours - 132 pages of Willa Cather stories
4 hours - Henry VI part 3 - Acts I-III
9 hours - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
14 hours - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
51 hours

How it played out

11:50 - Poetry of Petrarch
6:53 - Willa Cather stories (finished)
6:15 - Henry VI p3
7:48 - Bring up the Bodies (finished)
14:36 - Lolita (finished)
4:58 - Summer by Ali Smith

Oddly, I had forgotten how I had limited my plan in the post above, so I never realized how well I did. :) I've been feeling bad for not completing Summer.

The May plan

15 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
5.5 hours - Henry VI p3, acts IV-V & afterword stuff.
2 hours - Richard III, acts I-II
4 hours - Summer by Ali Smith
37 hours - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel
64.5 hours

I'll be happy to get 20 hours into the Mantel, and finish in June.

My initial plan of May included Pale Fire and Pyramids (by Terry Pratchett). But those will have wait a while.

Edited: May 1, 2021, 7:39pm

picture source https://www.flavorwire.com/560611/artwork-from-the-first-ever-illustrated-versio...

14. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1955
format: 317-page paperback
acquired: February
read: Apr 11-24
time reading: 14:36, 2.8 mpp
rating: 5
locations: France, New Hampshire, and a lot of unspecified, late 1940's US.
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

My first thought as I closed this book was discomfort in how difficult it is to read. It requires close attention to fast moving sections, and it's full of vague or obscure language and also a whole lot of French. I did not cooperate and slow down, I just pushed through. And now I'm wondering how much I got and how much I missed.

Humbert Humbert doesn't actually exist, even in fictional form. His story of his taking a pre-teen girl secretly hostage, isolating her on road trips, and repeatedly raping her in various cheep highway motels is told by him and edited to his liking. He makes up his name and all the story details. He writes his own introduction, and gives it a different author. None of what he writes is reliable. Instead there is a story that has been heavily reworked, leaving things uncomfortably open-ended. Nonetheless a story comes out that, and through HH's various trials, it feels like a true story, as if much of what he is telling is actually happened. There is enough here to guess when HH is telling the truth, or lying, and to guess when he is really seeing and understanding things, or is dealing with something he cannot personally understand... at least there is enough to conjecture about all this. HH is not one to make emotional connections, but, like a sociopath, he plays the act, knows how to behave, and can calculate the situation. And it seems he does, ruthlessly. And this creep is trying to win over you, dear reader. Our Lolita, Dolores Haze, name presumably also made up, manages to make her uncertain and pained presence into the reader's head.

It starts out easy to read and kind of funny, like for 100 pages. Then it transforms. Once Humbert Humbert tells us his version of how he gets this young girl, the book goes dark and difficult. It also transcends something, from a plain story to a fascinating and pretty amazing novel. I‘m actually not quite sure what he did. I should add that I have read The Enchanter, Nabokov's first go at this kind of pedophile story. That novella is funny and then just as it gets dark, the story stalls out right at the point, the point where this novel transforms. It's not clear how the story can be moved forward in either novel. So it was interesting to me to see here how Nabokov handles that. It's masterful. HH comes up with a believable...or almost believable...story of how he overcame Lolita's self-preservation instincts and natural horror of him. I say almost believable because it's all too convenient, and in this novel, that's a flag to the reader to realize HH is doctoring, and that actually something much worse happened.

This is a strange novel for an author's masterpiece, but I think it qualifies. It does things he hasn't accomplished in any of his earlier novels. And it demands a reread.

May 1, 2021, 7:47pm

>88 dchaikin: I hope you reread with the Jeremy Irons narrating the audio book. It's brilliant.

May 1, 2021, 8:10pm

>89 ELiz_M: !! Maybe. Great idea.

Edited: May 2, 2021, 1:14pm

15. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
reader: Robin Miles
published: 2020
format: 14:26 audible audiobook (496-pages in hardcover)
acquired: April 2
listened: Apr 5-25
rating: 4
locations: US and India (and a little of the UK)
about the author: journalist from in Washington, D. C., born 1961

I adored The Warmth of Other Suns. It revealed the storyteller Wilkerson is, and her ability to re-contextualize things, to make you look at the same story in different ways and find that story suddenly entirely new. It's my favorite audiobook.

I had a little trouble with this because it opens with what I felt was a manifesto, an at least four chapter introduction. And when she starts telling stories, they are overshadowed by this introduction and the context. They feel anecdotal. So early on I was uncomfortable with this. But as I listened more, what she was saying started to ring with me and I started to use her ideas in how I evaluated things. And it made a difference, a maybe profound difference. I've begun to rethink much of American culture in this context - Trump, anti-vax, covid-denial, global warming denial, immigration xenophobia, go-it-alone stuff, voting against your own interest financially, or health-wise. It works. The simple idea of seeing white entitlement as a caste system takes a little thought and experimenting, at least it did with me. But ultimately it's very meaningful. Recommended.

May 2, 2021, 1:32am

I enjoyed reading your comments about Lolita. I've owned it for years but I'm not sure I'll ever actually read it.

May 2, 2021, 8:13am

Nice reviews of Lolita and Caste. I've read Lolita a couple of times, and HH still trips me up with his mind games, and I struggle with the ending. I should read some lit crit.

May 2, 2021, 8:41am

I last read Lolita in college, in the early '80s, and I think the conversation around it was very different from what it would be now. But I'm not sure I would want to have it now, so it may be one of those that remain unread, no matter how curious I am about my reaction 40 years down the line.

I have Caste on the pile... not urgent but I do want to get a better idea of her thesis than just through the several author events I've watched her in.

May 2, 2021, 12:37pm

I haven't read Lolita recently but I'm still interested in its evolving reception. Perhaps this will be interesting, Dan, if you haven't seen it already (note it's as much about the book as some wider topics):

Men Explain Lolita to Me (Rebecca Solnit on Literary Hub)

May 2, 2021, 1:03pm

Great review of Lolita. I've not read it, but your review piques my interest, although as Lisa said above I think very different perspectives would be taken of it now compared with 20 or 30 years ago.

May 2, 2021, 1:41pm

>96 AlisonY:

Actually, that's not as obvious as it may seem. On publication Lolita was met with tons of negative criticism, and not all of it coming from the godfearing prudes' brigade. See for example:

Lo, the Poor Nymphet (Donald Malcolm, The New Yorker, issue of November 8, 1958)

There's a sense of uneasiness as Malcolm gives Nabokov his due as a gifted satirist and whatnot, and the ironic tone neutralises what if said straight would appear as mere moralising, but it's clear that Malcolm knows the book is about a crime, about an assault on a child (he even quotes the most poignant and incontrovertible proof of this).

Lots of people in the 1950s saw the story in exactly the same way as we do--HH seducing, grooming, and raping a child, all of which is a crime and a moral evil.

But what happened next is where today is (somewhat) different to yesterday--the adulation carried the day, because (and here it's useful to read Solnit's article) what white men love for millennia became what everyone was supposed to love (for "love" substitute as appropriate "admire", "respect", "study", "learn about"--and also, simply "endure".)

Edited: May 2, 2021, 2:42pm

>92 Nickelini: I'm thinking you might find it great fun, even if you hated it. If you do...I'm toying with a re-read this fall...trying to generate some interest on Litsy.

>93 labfs39: Struggle with the ending in what way? The ending seemed to crystalize things for me. Well, I should clarify. The actual the true ending of the story is, I think, the introduction. But, I mean the kind of afterward by HH at the end. It took some uncertainty out of what I was trying to imagine. Of course, poor Dolores... I can certainly understand why you would read it twice, assuming it wasn't an assignment, which would be another explanation for doing that.

>94 lisapeet: You might be too busy to reread Lolita now! : ) I suspect you would enjoy it again, and think about it completely differently. I think there is enough honesty in the novel that it roughly hangs on as well in 2021 as it did in 1955, or 1980. I hope you get to Caste.

>95 LolaWalser: Solnit on Lolita. OK, link is open. I'll read that shortly. As mentioned to Lisa (Peet) I think it holds up in the woke age. VN would have been at home in these times...assuming he was still allowed to mostly remain in his own head.

>96 AlisonY: I replied to everyone above and then read your post. So, wow, lots of interest in how response evolves and here I am nonchalantly claiming there is something timeless about it, at since its release in 1955, since the US highway system and traffic came about. (so >94 lisapeet:, >95 LolaWalser: see here) - it would be fun to conjecture what the response was to this over time. VN was uncomfortable enough with it in 1955 that he originally tried to get it published only in Europe under a different name. And one has to imagine that 1955 conservative culture would have been shocked (where as 1948 American culture might not have been). It would be interesting to see Lisa's change in perspective, and what she might bring from that 1980 experience. I have this preconceived notion, one I'm much too stuck on, that educated open minds haven't changed that much over time. That education can sow uncertainty, and empathy, and separation from cultural insanities. That a large percentage of people who read this book and appreciate it fall into that category. Anyway, I'm aware my simplified notion won't hold up to scrutiny. (One of the weakest arguments in my simplification here is that feminism would be a response to over-powered idiots and not to that crowd of people who understand that all people are people. And that, of course, is fundamental into how one responds to this novel. So...)

May 2, 2021, 2:20pm

>95 LolaWalser: I read Solnit's essay. I'm sorry these kinds of essays are so necessary. I'm glad I read Lolita before reading her essay.

May 2, 2021, 2:22pm

>97 LolaWalser: this is an interesting comment, especially in light of my iffy comments just above. Checking this link too.

May 2, 2021, 2:40pm

>97 LolaWalser: I'm really grateful to have read a 1958 review of this. Thanks for the link to Donald Malcolm's review.

May 2, 2021, 3:27pm

from Collected Stories by Willa Cather

The fifth "story" in the 1956 posthumous collection Five Stories was an essay by George N. Kates titled “Willa Cather's Unfinished Avignon Story." Cather's last effort of a novel was about two boys mutilated in 1340's Avignon (with Petrarch in his prime around the corner, but he doesn't get mentioned in the essay). It was roughly an exploration of religion and guilt. When Cather realized she wasn't strong enough to work it out, she destroyed the manuscript. At the time of this essay no drafts were available. Recently some pages have come to light with some of her writing for this book.

The essay includes an overview of Cather's entire career. Oddly Kate was not really literary critic. He essay is a mixed bag. He oversimplifies, and I felt he denigrates the female writer in a way he would not have a male writer. I felt that a lot. However, his info is good, and some of criticisms are instructive. So it's one of those things I found annoying and yet with enough there to keep my interest.

This completes Cather's Collected Stories - 19 of her stories and an essay.

May 2, 2021, 3:27pm

Dan, my review of Bring Up the Bodies is up. I will post it in the appropriate place on the Cromwell group read.

May 2, 2021, 3:37pm

>95 LolaWalser: excellent article.

May 2, 2021, 3:38pm

16. Collected Stories by Willa Cather
published: 1992
format: 493-page paperback
acquired: April 2020
read: Jan 25 – Apr 29
time reading: 21:56, 2.7 mpp
rating: 5
locations: New York, London, Pittsburg, Boston, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, France, Nova Scotia, New Mexico...
about the author: born near Winchester, VA, later raised in Red Cloud, NE. December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947

Cather wrote numerous stories published in various magazines, and 19 of them were released in five different collections, two posthumous. This collection includes those 19 and an essay by George N. Kates that was included in the last story collection published in 1956.

Cather was a dynamic author who reveals here much more complexity than her novels indicate. Beginning in a Henry James‘s style, she quickly cultivated her own voice, tying to various experiences in her life and imagination. I liked her novels better, but I love what this collection reveals. So 5 stars.

I have reviewed all the stories in my two threads over the three months. So I won't revisit them here. Below is a list with links to all these posts.

From The Troll Garden (1905)
• Flavia and Her Artists
• The Garden Lodge
• The Marriage of Phaedra

Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920)
• Coming, Aphrodite
• The Diamond Mine
• A Gold Slipper
• Scandal
• Paul's Case
• A Wagner Matinée
• The Sculptor's Funeral
• “A Death in the Desert”

Obscure Destinies (1932)
• Neighbour Rosicky
• Old Mrs. Harris
• Two Friends

The Old Beauty and Others (1948)
• The Old Beauty
• The Best Years
• Before Breakfast

Five Stories (1956)
• The Enchanted Bluff
• Tom Outland's Story
• “Willa Cather's Unfinished Avignon Story," an article by George N. Kates.

May 2, 2021, 3:48pm

>103 sallypursell: thanks for the note. I will go look for it.

Edited: May 7, 2021, 8:11pm

17. Summer by Ali Smith
published: 2020
format: 379-page hardcover
acquired: December
read: Apr 26 – May 3
time reading: 8:15, 1.3 mpp
rating: 4
locations: UK
about the author: born in Scotland, 1962

This finished the Seasonal Quartet and it's along the lines of the previous books, the artist this time a film director and their film of brothers in the wreckage of WWII. Several characters carry over...maybe they all do. But, as I read Autumn, Winter and Spring in the first half of 2019...I didn't really remember them all that well.

Autumn was my favorite these four, and opening I think is beautiful. Next might be the last 100 pages here. The first 280 or so pages are pretty light. Each chapter is like a single event happening all at once. There is a time element, but as a reader I was always rushing to the end of chapter to complete the scene so I could get the overall sense of what I was reading about. She does do a good job of keeping this book up to date to the moment of publication. Covid plays a significant role. (If you look closely, maybe you can pick out how she wrote this with some openings for new information to blend in - like the letters to Hero. But also she works in covid in a little more sophisticated of a way.) The last 100 or so pages focus on Charlotte in what I thought was a very moving situation. She is isolated in what is not her home, during covid, and having a kind of breakdown but not entirely. She is revisiting things and not liking what she is finding. I found this a really moving part of the book, strong enough that when I put the book down I was sad because I wanted to know what happened next. Unfortunately, how she as written this, it pretty much ends now, or at least on that publication date. So the future is yet to be determined, much less reshaped and written about.

I enjoyed this and I hope to read more of her novels. She's is a rewarding author, whatever she writes.

May 8, 2021, 2:27am

>107 dchaikin: .I didn't really remember them all that well. Right? I've read Autumn and Winter, and I rated them highly, and have fond memories of reading them, but ask me any questions about them, and I'm going to be pretty blank. Doesn't make them not good, but definitely not memorable. I still plan to read Spring and Summer, because they are good, enjoyable reads.

May 8, 2021, 8:29am

>108 Nickelini: yeah, it’s an issue with these four. They’re fun, smart and thoughtful and have that Ali Smith voice which I enjoy, but they haven’t hung around. Meanwhile I remember a lot more of How to Be Both (although - not character names).

Edited: May 10, 2021, 11:02pm

18. Henry VI Part Three by William Shakespeare
Originally Performed: 1591
format: 189-pages within a Signet Classic Paperback that includes Parts One & Two
acquired: October
read: Apr 7 – May 9
time reading: 10:30, 3.3 mpp
rating: 4
locations: 1400’s England
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Milton Crane – editor – 1968
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1963, 1989, 2005
Edward Hall – from The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548)
Samuel Johnson – from The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
E.M.W. Tillyard – from Shakespeare’s History Plays (1944)

Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV 1 & 2, Henry V, Henry VI 1, 2 & 3 and Richard III make an 8-drama history of England through the late 1300's and 1400's, covering the 100 Years War and its aftermath, the War of Roses. This, Henry VI Part 3, covers the end of the reign of this lost king, including the Battles of Wakefield, Towton, Barnet and Tewksbury. Part 2 established Henry VI as a non-entity king, the kingdom run by the power struggles of those around him, and left us with the sense that it was mainly controlled by the Duke of York. Here, Margaret, Henry's queen, takes charge, and defeats the Duke of York. Captured, she taunts him with a paper crown and the murder of his 12-yr-old youngest son, and then beheads him - and York is gone in Act 1 (The Battle of Wakefield). York's sons rally, with their strategic genius the Earl of Warwick, and gain a huge victory at Towton. The eldest York, Edward, crowns himself king Edward IV. In a sequence of odd moves Edward spurns Warwick through his choice of marriage, and Margaret lures him to her side. The stage should be set for a kind of showdown, but Shakespeare incorporates more historical detail, and muddies any simple explanation. But eventually they fight - Edward defeats Warwick at Barnet, and Margaret at Tewksbury, and becomes securely king.

Among this fuss between Edward and a strikingly sharp Margaret, is the third York son, deformed Richard. He hints at his calculating ability and at his lack of feeling, but mainly comes across a ruthlessly reasonable and sharp. Then comes his soliloquy in act 3, and out of nowhere he tells us "Well, I can smile, and murder whiles a smile." The Machiavellian prince expressed his goal to make is way to king through the bodies ahead, his brothers and their offspring, and he reveals the ruthlessness of the new age. And, he becomes the character who quietly provokes all the critical events, presenting himself as sincere without a blink. And, at the end, with Edward secure, he sneaks off and murders Henry VI, finalizing Edward's succession. What he doesn't expect is a Henry, previously aloof and pathetic, who sees right through him, and already knows what comes next in Richard III.

There is a lot of plot here. And, as much as Shakespeare simplifies and doctors the true history, he doesn't fully separate this play of the morass of plot. It means a whole lot happens, and, it also means the truly dramatic scenes are mostly brief, and separated, popping up here and there within all that plot. But also he does some wonderful things, especially with Richard, but really all his characters come to life, from the self-principled if overly ambitious Duke of York to the lost and suddenly clairvoyant Henry VI. It's a busy play, messy, but also kind of terrific overall.

May 11, 2021, 12:13am

May 12, 2021, 11:10pm

I am happy to report that I remembered the identity of the book I had formerly forgot. That greatly added to the sense of relaxation that has been growing since I got my second vaccine injection. I haven't written a review yet, but I will get to that soon.

Very impressive work on the Henry plays, but you seem to always be thorough and at home in Shakespeare's History Plays.

May 13, 2021, 10:01pm

(>104 dianeham:, >101 dchaikin:

You're welcome. Unfortunately I forgot what I meant to say about Malcolm & Nabokov--no big loss for sure!--just, sorry to have dropped out of conversation suddenly, I meant to add something and got distracted.)

Edited: May 14, 2021, 1:01am

>111 dianeham: right.

>112 sallypursell: About being "at home" with the history plays...I was thinking I should write more down. One part fascinates me in real life, although it's not so great in the play. In the play Warwick captures Edward IV and sends him to a faraway kind of loose prison. Richard rescues him and then Edward can put together his army.

In the real history a Robin of Redesdale starts a massive rebellion around York. Edward takes his army north to put down the rebellion, and Warwick moves his army into England, from France, and chases Edward, trapping him between his army in the south and the rebellion in the north. Edward is eventually captured and imprisoned. This is both a brilliant maneuver and really shortsighted disaster for Warwick. Now what? Warwick tried various ways of running the country himself - as in ruling through Edward, or replacing him with his brother Clarence. Then he tries to put Henry VI back on the throne, but the newly arisen family of Edward's queen control parliament and prevent it. Warwick has failed and eventually he has to release Edward, and Edward forgives him! Later it is claimed that Warwick had ordered the Redesdale rebellion, as in he very likely did!! That seems to have finalized the break between Edward and Warwick and to have led, eventually, to the battle of Barnet.


>113 LolaWalser: Can't help you there. : ) I enjoyed the link though.

Edited: May 14, 2021, 12:01pm

As I have said, The Wars of the Roses is my bête noire.

Is there any discernible difference between a regular and italic period?

May 14, 2021, 12:40pm

>115 sallypursell: 🙂 testing - 1st is italic, second regular.


based on what I see in the preview, yes! But you have to really zoom in to see.

May 14, 2021, 4:24pm

>116 dchaikin: I see it.

May 15, 2021, 9:28am

>107 dchaikin: (etc.) — I found the structure of the tetralogy made a lot more sense when I listened to them all back to back. The gaps between original publication dates were just a bit too long for my attention-span.

The others in our book club also complained of problems keeping track of what had been in the earlier books when we discussed Summer. We ended up drawing a big colour-coded diagram of how all the characters from the different books were connected! I think a lot of the plot points that are going to hook together finally are quite low-profile when we first meet them, and a little bit concealed between the more showy stuff.

May 15, 2021, 11:51am

>118 thorold: I want that color-coded chart!

May 15, 2021, 1:43pm

>119 dchaikin: FWIW, see below (Technically it contains spoilers, so I won’t put it in a comment as an image):


May 15, 2021, 1:50pm

>120 thorold: thanks!!

May 16, 2021, 1:01pm

>110 dchaikin: Great review. Every year I say I must read some Shakespeare again, but so far you're reviews are as close as I'm getting...

May 16, 2021, 1:17pm

>122 AlisonY: if you need a boost - we start Richard III Sunday (May 23) on Litsy. 😁. Also, thank you.

May 16, 2021, 3:07pm

>123 dchaikin: I suspect I need to ease myself back in with some of his less complex plays!

May 24, 2021, 2:25pm

>124 AlisonY: so I read Act 1 this weekend. I think Richard could pull practically any audience in with the opening monologue.

May 24, 2021, 2:37pm

>125 dchaikin: It is fantastic, isn't it? I love the direct address to the audience and that Richard tells us what his devious plans are and then promptly puts phase one into action, wooing Anne(?)

May 24, 2021, 2:50pm

>126 ELiz_M: what a change from all those Henry’s. He just shocks the audience, and his clarity seems to emphasize the extent that his crazy convictions are real. Kind of like he’s saying hang on, and keep up. Anyway, very fun stuff.

May 29, 2021, 12:38pm

(Feel free to skip these seemingly unprovoked four translations of one poem. If my still unwritten review works, then perhaps you will come back and read them after. ??)

Petrach poem 189 - apparently his most famous.

Thomas Wyatt 1557

My galy charged with forgetfulness
Thorrough sharpe sees in wynter nyghets doeth pas
Twene Rock and Rock; and eke myn enemy, Alas,
That is my lord, sterith with cruelness;

And every owre a thought in rediness,
As tho that deth were light in such a case.
An endles wiynd doeth tere the sayll a pase
Of forced sightes and trusty ferefulnes.

A rain of teris, a clowde of derk disdain
Hath done the wered cordes great hinderaunce,
Wrethed with errour and eke with ignoraunce.

The starres be hid that led me to this pain,
Drowned is reason that should me confort,
And I remain dispering of the port.

Thomas G. Bergin 1954 (also his best translation, imo)

Charged with oblivion my ship careers
Through stormy combers in the depth of night;
Left lies Charybdis, Scylla to the right;
My master—nay my foe sits aft and steers.

Wild fancies ply the oars, mad mutineers,
Reckless of journey's end or tempest's might;
The canvas splits 'gainst the relentless spite
Of blasts of hopes and sighs and anxious fears.

A rain of tears, a blinding mist of wrath
Drench and undo the cordage, long since worn
And fouled in knots of ignorance and error;

The two sweet lights are lost that showed my path,
Reason and art lie 'neath the waves forlorn:
"What hope of harbor now?" I cry in terror.

Mark Musa 1996 (maybe uninspired?)

My ship full of forgetful cargo sails
through rough seas at the midnight of a winter
between Charybdis and the Scylla reef,
my master, no, my foe, is at the helm;

at each oar sits a quick and insane thought
that seems to scorn the storm and what it brings;
the sail, by wet eternal winds of sighs,
of hopes and of desires blowing, breaks;

a rain of tears, a mist of my disdain
washes and frees those all too weary ropes
made up of wrong entwined with ignorance.

Hidden are those two trusty signs of mine;
dead in the waves is reason as is skill,
and I despair of ever reaching port.

Dave Young 2004

My galley, loaded with forgetfulness,
rolls through rough seas, at midnight, during winter,
aiming between Charybdis and sharp Scylla;
my lord, ah no, my foe, sits at the tiller;

each oar is wielded by a quick, mad thought
that seems to scorn the storm and what it means;
an endless wind of moisture, of deep sighs,
of hopes and passions, rips the sail in half;

tears in a steady downpour, mists of hate,
are loosening and soaking all the ropes,
ropes made of ignorance, tangled up with error.

The two sweet stars I steer by are obscured;
reason and skill are dead amid the waves;
and I don't think I'll ever see the port.

May 29, 2021, 1:00pm

>128 dchaikin: very interesting, he's not alone there is he

May 29, 2021, 1:48pm

Petrarch lived 1304-1374, and wrote the Canzoniere from roughly 1327 to his death.

19. Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters by Thomas G. Bergin
published: 1966
format: 146-page paperback
acquired: Feb 19
read: Feb 19 – May 23
time reading: 7:56, 3.3 mpp
rating: 4
about the author: Thomas G. Bergin was an American scholar of Italian literature, 1904-1987

translators (number translated and approximate publication dates)
Thomas Goddin Bergin (29, 1954 &1966), Albert Compton (3, 1898), Basil Kennet (1, 1879), James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont (1, 1882), C. B. Cayley (14, 1879), Charles Tomlinson (2, 1874), Barbarina Wilmot, Lady Dacre (2, 1836), Edward Fitzgerald (1, 1889), Francis Wrangham (1, 1817), Geoffrey Chaucer, (1, 1483), Gilbert F. Cunningham (3, 1955), Joseph Auslander (11, 1931), John Addington Symonds (3, 1890), John Nott (4, 1808), John Penn (1, 1798), James Henry Leigh Hunt (1, 1860), Morris Bishop (41, 1932), Maria Eugenia Wrottesley (1, 1851), Richard Garnett (18, 1896), R. G. Macgregor (6, 1854), Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1, 1557), Susan Wollaston (1, 1841), Thomas Caldecott Chubb (1, 1933), Thomas Wyatt (1, 1557), Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1, 1903), Warburton Pike (2, 1879)

20. Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa
introduction assisted by Barbara Manfredi
published: 1996
format: 795-page paperback with original and English translation on facing pages. I read 497 pages.
acquired: Feb 18
read: Feb 18 – May 23
time reading: 36:06, 4.35 mpp
rating: 4
about the author: Mark Musa was an American translator 1934-2014

21. The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young
published: 2004
format: 288-page paperback
acquired: 2018
read: Feb 1- May 23
time reading: 14:53, 3.8 mpp
about the author: David Young was born 1936 in Davenport, IA, is professor at Oberlin College, in Ohio, since 1986

So my marriage hangs on a thread. The strain broke with Covid in March 2020, and the attempted rescue seemed to die somewhere around New Years Day. I don't want it to end. I love my wife dearly, endlessly, and cannot imagine life without her, or losing the connection to all those years we had together in my 20's, 30's and most of my 40's. My crimes, whatever they were, and I don't fully understand them, are already committed. I'm willing to and trying to do anything to save it. But I'm losing. I'm on two medicines for anxiety and depression. I go through phases of anxiously motivated constant effort, not thinking, doing anything and everything, and I go through phases of despair, where I seem to be helplessly passive and watching things drift apart. What I cannot do in pull out and view this all from a distance. I'm just too close in. But, I'm not sure there is answer. My wife feels done and I wait, trying to find patience for any outcome. It was in this state, watching this all collapse, that I spent my mornings reading Petrarch's unrequited love poems to his mythical Laura. (Don't send me sympathies, guys, there is just no other way to write this.)

It was April 6, 1327 that the 23-yr-old Petrarch fell in lust or love with the sight of a married young woman in Avignon. And he apparently began writing his sonnets and other poems in the moment. For 19 years he would moan over this unrequired love, if not a stalker, certainly a great annoyance. His poems deflect and disarm criticism by personifying love and writing to love, in frustration, in gratitude, in humor, in bitter anger, in tears and distanced resignation. As he puts it in poem 69, "And I am one of those who thrives on weeping". Much of these years he lived in small mountain village, isolated except for servants. And his natural observations, his sense of the beauty of nature in isolation, infuse his poems. Also, there are aspects of time, aging, fate & death ("this way she winds and unwinds/ the spool of life that has been given me") and, in many subtle ways, faith. Then in 1348 the plague arrived in Avignon and took his Laura. The moaning poet changes, something broke. As a writer something deeper seems to happen as his hopes, however false they were, have ended in nothing. It's a bitter contact with reality.
In truth we are nothing but dust and shadow;
in truth desire is both blind and greedy;
in truth all hope turns out to be deceiving.

Petrarch wrote and rewrote and resorted these poems through his life, even the early ones. So, as with much of what's here, much of the in-the-moment feel is fictional. But it coalesces. I never really got on with this younger Petrarch, or the fictional one anyway, and found myself getting annoyed as he waxed on and on. But this later Petrarch I connected with. My own life amplifying his meaning. When I read, "Perhaps there was a time when love was sweet/(although I know not when), but now there’s nothing/more bitter! ", it resonated.

In Litsy I put in this way: What to make of this? Well... it doesn‘t translate well despite inspiring efforts and imitation (like Shakespeare & Thomas Wyatt). P moans, a lot, and then Laura dies and then, well, he moans more. But the 1st ones are melodramatic stalker moans, 2nd ones rooted in something maybe deeper, more meaningful. Overall an odd experience, but an experience.


The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young

This was the first translation I tried. Young uses minimal notes and that didn‘t work for me. So I picked up two other translations. His uses a plain language poetic translation. That‘s odd in places. And his translation sometimes contradicted Mark Musa‘s (who is probably more accurate.) But Young reads easy and will get you through this in a nice way of you are willing to go with his flow. (I wasn‘t entirely willing).

Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters by Thomas G. Bergin

Thanks to Young, I discovered this oddball anthology from 1966. It forms something like a cabinet of curiosities. It collects translations of about half of P‘s full 366 poem Canzoniere. Highlights are the older poets like Geoffrey Chaucer (translating in 1384!), Thomas Wyatt, and Henry, Earl of Surrey. And I really liked all the Morris Bishop and Joseph Auslander. Lowlights are painfully forced rhyming and one where the translator chose the word “blithe” to be used over and over again in a long poem. Overall it has a Victorian feel and very poor translation accuracy. Since i had more accurate translations available I found this great fun.

One add thing about Bergin. Near the end Petrarch introduces a bit of humor, altering the impact of his more serious closing poems. Bergin skips these. So reading only his selections, one is left with a heartful darkness that is far more complete than is truly there.

Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa

Musa was my rock here. He keeps the translation accurate and has extensive, if imperfect, notes. His poetry quality varies and almost always compromises itself in favor of accuracy. It's his notes I both really appreciated, and complained about. If he doesn't explain something, I had no where to turn.

In Musa's credit, there is this stanza from poem 126, an image that maybe has a touch of magic here, but in other translations left me flat. In Italian, it's apparently a highlight.

Falling from gracious boughs,
I sweetly call to mind,
were flowers in a rain upon her bosom,
and she was sitting there
humble in such glory
now covered in a shower of love's blooms:
a flower falling on her lap,
some fell on her blond curls,
like pearls set into gold
they seemed to me that day;
some fell to rest on ground, some on the water,
and some in lovelike wandering
were circling down and saying, "Here Love reigns."

The thing with Petrarch is there can probably be no perfect translation. Each I came across had strengths and weaknesses. Only Musa had good notes...but I have to acknowledge I've come across works with better notes (Dante). So there is probably room for a work-of-love kind of annotation in English.

May 29, 2021, 1:48pm

May 30, 2021, 10:34am

>128 dchaikin: This is what I love about translation. Aside from enjoying the four versions you've posted—and thanks for doing that work!—it makes me want to dig into my copy of Kate Briggs's This Little Art, which has been sitting on my ethereal shelves for a while. I've listened to a few podcasts lately with contemporary translators talking about how they tackled classical texts, and it all interests me a lot.

May 30, 2021, 11:39am

>130 dchaikin: Maybe it's time to learn Latin and Italian?

Seriously, enjoyed your comparing of translations, which wouldn't have happened had you read in the originals!

May 30, 2021, 1:24pm

(off on a tangent...)

For kicks and giggles, I checked my profile and saw that we share 655 books. The random few displayed at the time were an eclectic set:

Journey to nowhere : one woman looks for the promised land by Eva Figes

Stone Crazy (A Crazy Little Series) by Tracy Gallup

The Art of Botanical Drawing : An Introductory Guide by Agathe Ravet-Haevermans

The kids' fun book of Jewish time by Emily Sper

The Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide by Margaret Ajemian Ahnert

The "What Should You Borrow" generator seems to think you would like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie best out of all my books, and I would like Caddie Woodlawn, which I did read as a kid. Out of the top ten recommendations of books you should borrow, the only adult book listed is Lermontov's Hero of Our Time, the rest are children's books. You seem to think I would really love Raymond Feist and Robert Jordan. For literature you recommend Dead Souls, which I liked, and Radetzky March, which I own but haven't read.

Huh. Interesting.

May 30, 2021, 4:19pm

>129 tonikat: some notes on him not alone, possibly not helpful.

-- the galley - his ship of life exposed to the elements of the world.
-- My master = Love, the god or personification, Petrarch being Christian.
-- forgetful cargo or whatnot = no clue. Probably a refresh to cleansing bad thoughts...or needing to.
-- "at each oar sits a quick and insane thought" - that's all in his head
-- the winds or blast = well, life I guess. Certainly that's open to a hundred meanings and if Mark Musa puts one -- -- down, he's probably both right and incomplete.
-- the two lights, stars, signs - those are Laura's eyes, which he sees as his life guide.

May 30, 2021, 4:24pm

>132 lisapeet: - goodness, these translations make me despair of ever getting this stuff. They are so different, and they each, each translator, get the poem differently and put that into their translation. One translation is misleading. Four are either mind-opening or defeating. Curious about This Little Art.

>133 SassyLassy: - I don't get it, learning a second language. I don't know how anyone does it. Really, it's just so far from me to grasp another language as anything other than a sequence of words from a really obscure English vocabulary, with tricky structures. I find myself memorizing and you can only memorize so much...and me maybe less than you. Glad you enjoyed.

May 30, 2021, 4:34pm

>134 labfs39: how fun. Of course some of that is wishlist stuff. I don't remember adding Journey to Nowhere or what it's about, but i like the title. A Knock at the Door is really good. I knew the author a little, as she was a friend of my mothers at time she published it. It's her mom's story of surviving that genocide.

Raymond Feist - oye, that's old personal reading history, back when i first discovered I liked reading (I was already 17, and read Feist at maybe 19 or 20). Robert Jordan - well, he got me reading. I'm very attached to his Wheel of Time. But that doesn't mean it's good, or that it isn't. I have reread him a little, enough to convince my older self that he wrote very well. It wasn't just my adolescent impressionableness. I haven't read Caddie Woodlawn, Radezky March yet, or Dead Souls, so I must leave you to LT's guidance there.

I really did like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. : )

Wish we could do that comparison by collection. Using my Read or To Read collection would be much more interesting, although perhaps not as entertaining.

May 30, 2021, 4:44pm

>135 dchaikin: that is interesting, I had not read the Master as being anything specific in that sense -- just that he had a master of the ship (even himself of his own ship) and that contrasted with it actually being his foe steering -- I guess I was just reading it sort of psychologically, yes I was reading them both as himself in a way, aspects of himself steering himself. He is the boat, galley, crew and cargo -- and he drives it himself. That's what I resonate to, being such a bad steerer of myself.

I have heard that before I think of Laura's eyes, but I wasn't thinking it. It is beautiful. I wonder if they can be anything else too, but i don't know. He seems able to catch many things at once.

Edited: May 30, 2021, 5:15pm

>138 tonikat: It is beautiful, yeah. Laura's eyes can be read as religious guidance in the sense that Laura is his earthly guide. That she is his route to overcoming physical desire and spiritual disappointment. And, of course, the god of love can be filled in with god or Christ, loosely. He's not heretical...well not in any loose way, so I wouldn't take that too far, but it's there. He wrote for many meanings at once.

May 30, 2021, 8:43pm

May 30, 2021, 11:05pm

>140 japaul22: >141 labfs39: also good! And don't overlook the classic If You Give a Cat a Cupcake (which I think was my first one).

Jun 1, 2021, 7:20am

An May report

The May plan

15 hours - Poetry of Petrarch
5.5 hours - Henry VI p3, acts IV-V & afterword stuff.
2 hours - Richard III, acts I-II
4 hours - Summer by Ali Smith
37 hours - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel
64.5 hours

How it played out

21:50 - Poetry of Petrarch - finished
4:15 hours - Henry VI p3, acts IV-V & afterword stuff - finished
3:04 hours - Richard III, acts I-II
3:17 hours - Summer by Ali Smith - finished (total 8:15)
18:28 hours - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel - not finished

Can't exactly complain. It was a decent reading month.

The June plan

7 hours - Richard III, acts III-V & afterword stuff (Litsy Shakespeare group read)
15 hours - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel (Booker theme, and CR group read)
10 hours - Pnin by Vladimr Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
12 hours - Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Booker theme)
9 hours - Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (TBR pile)
53 hours

My initial plan of June included Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov and half of The Eighth Life by Nino Haratichvili.

Jun 1, 2021, 8:58am

Terrific June plan!
I've had The Eighth Life on my TBR shelf since last summer. I had set it aside for when I'd have two weeks' uninterrumpted reading time on holiday. Of course, it wouldn't fit in the car and I had to leave it behind...

Jun 1, 2021, 10:30am

A balanced and interesting plan for June. Having just finished the Mantel, I look forward to your comments. I have the first Dangarembga and hope to get to it soon, although there are always other books throwing themselves in front of it.

Jun 1, 2021, 12:52pm

>143 dchaikin: Congrats on how much reading you did in May despite everything going on in your life. Finished some things too, which always feels rewarding.

What is your next step in your travels through the Western literary canon after Petrarch? Or are you going to stick with your other themes for a bit (Shakespeare, Nabokov, Booker)? I have Pnin, but have never read it. I wonder why he chose Pnin for his protagonist's name? It's such an interesting word.

Jun 1, 2021, 1:42pm

>144 Dilara86: two weeks for The Eighth Life! Power to you. I will need more. Just looking at the physical book and words on the page I was guessing 3 minutes a page for me, which comes out to a 46 hours of reading. That's often a month's worth of reading for me, assuming no other books. I'm so curious about it though. Hopefully... August?

>145 RidgewayGirl: Thanks. For Nervous Conditions, I would encourage you doge a few of those gravity defying other books. It's a surprisingly enjoyable read. (and I had some decent expectations)

>143 dchaikin: thanks. I got obsessed with Petrarch and how it started to resonate, so that drove my reading. Actually, for all the time I spent with him, May was the only month I felt some real enthusiasm for him. Before that, it was just like a morning brain calibration - I mean my thinking was, go meditate on some poetry to structure my brain for the day. It worked for me. But this past month I found I only wanted to read him. And once I finished him, my reading slowed down a lot.

Next must be Boccaccio and then Chaucer. I thought i would get to both by now, so some anticipation. But I don't really know anything about either and at some point I need to find a nice introduction to Boccaccio. Seems i'm going to plug though my iffy 2021 plan through December before I adjust to reality...unless I hit a major reading slump before than. If I do stick to it, I think it won't leave any room for Boccaccio in until January. But who knows.

Very curious about Pnin. I think he wrote it before Lolita took off, so not sure if it will another private bash-the-English-language-and-English-speaker-brain-to-bits book, like Sebastian Knight and Bend Sinister*, or mark a another change. No clue about the name yet.

*these two books inspired a student of his who wrote some (annoyingly?) difficult books, including several that also twisted language and language structure - Thomas Pynchon.

Jun 1, 2021, 4:41pm

I read Hot Milk. I gave it 3.5 stars. Wish I had reviewed it so I could say more. You’ve read her before, right? I think we talked about another of her books that I haven’t finished. I still remember scenes from Hot Milk. It made an impression.

Jun 1, 2021, 6:05pm

>130 dchaikin: its difficult to imagine your feelings when reading Petrarch's unrequited love poems and dealing with your own personal crisis - I hope it was a distraction. The poems are so other worldly and so perhaps they helped. As an online friend I wish you and your family well.

One of the difficulties of plowing through the whole of the Canzoniere is that it is quite repetitive - how many different ways can the poet find to say the same thing and yet you read four different translations!. Probably beyond the call of duty unless you are writing a thesis. There is much to enjoy in some of the individual poems and I enjoyed reading your four different translations. I would go with any translation that mentioned Laura's eyes.

If you are thinking of learning Italian (and I know you are not) so that you can make your own translation then in my opinion that would be a huge effort for little reward, however you could learn enough in order to pronounce the language, so that you could enjoy the sound patterns of reading the original.

Jun 2, 2021, 2:36pm

>148 dianeham: thanks for that about Hot Milk. Among the Booker longlist last year was Levy’s novel The Man Who Saw Everything and I thought it was terrific. So Hot Milk is a follow up to that.

>149 baswood: Thanks for the well wish. I can’t read while stressed, so it isn’t a good distraction, but P worked for me in a lot of ways. I agree those first 263 poems were very repetitive and i did get annoyed. But after Laura dies, I didn’t have that kind of issue. And, yeah - not ready to learn Italian. 🙂

Jun 3, 2021, 5:42am

I really enjoyed Hot Milk - I thought there was a fantastic heady atmosphere to it - but I remember being in the minority in loving it so will be interested in your thoughts.

Jun 3, 2021, 1:23pm

>151 AlisonY: thanks for sharing and nice thanks know. I certainly value opinions like this here far over whatever the general opinion is. I’m starting to get impatient to start Hot Milk. 🙂 (still working through The Mirror and the Light.)

Jun 6, 2021, 5:58am

>87 dchaikin: I can't believe you are tracking your time on each book (well, actually, I can)

>141 labfs39: Another vote for If You Give a Moose a Muffin here.

Dan, I can add nothing to your discussion on any ancient classics, nor at this point, Shakespeare (read so much and so long ago), but I enjoy reading your comments on these and your other reading. It's amazing how your reading has developed over the years!

Jun 6, 2021, 10:32am

>153 avaland: Thanks. In my own head I’m a little amazed too. As for tracking time - another effort to relieve myself of guilt for all I haven’t read, and to remind myself I’m making a kind of progress.

Jun 6, 2021, 11:27am

>154 dchaikin: "...guilt for all I haven't read..." Wow, you're hard on yourself....:-)

Jun 6, 2021, 12:41pm

>155 avaland: and this is just for a fun part of my life. :)

Edited: Jun 6, 2021, 11:57pm

22. Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
published: 1912
format: 97-page paperback
acquired: June 2020
read: Jun 5
time reading: 2:26, 1.5 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Boston, London and New York – especially London.
about the author: born near Winchester, VA, later raised in Red Cloud, NE. December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947

Cather's first novel is one she sort of wanted to take back. She later published an essay on how her real first novel was O Pioneers! (pub. 1913), and this one instead a kind of false start, overly influenced by and designed to impress the literary crowd she had become a part of. It's a nice novel, but one that only hints at Cather's later strengths.

One thing I felt was different here was the persistent exploration of psychology. The book is roughly a tragedy, one of Bartley Alexander, an American engineer. He has made himself something of a heroic bridge builder, called to work in Canada, London, Paris and Tokyo among other places. But his admirers can see how unhappy he is. Early on we're told he probably doesn't remember his own childhood. His admiring one-time professor explains "He was never introspective. He was simply the most tremendous response to stimuli I have ever known." And later, "No past, no future for Bartley; just the fiery moment. The only moment that ever was or will be in the world."

The same professor foreshadows our bridge-builder's future - right to him. He tells him, "The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your facade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from top to bottom...then a crash and clouds of dust." Further, he observes to himself, "... that even after dinner, when most men achieve a decent impersonality, Bartley had merely closed the door of the engine-room and come up for an airing. The machinery itself was still pounding on."

Cather doesn't stop there with Bartely. But the stage is set. This force of nature runs, almost naturally, almost carelessly into an extra-marital affair, and then heads to disaster. The strain of managing his secret second life starts to pull him apart, without him able to understand it. (bridge metaphors intended) As the book goes forward, Bartley's internal tension increases, and the text reflects that.

The main complaint about the book, from Cather herself, as well as other critics, is that themes are oversimplified. And probably they are. But for 2.5 hours reading, it was a nice insight into her early thinking and writing.

Jun 6, 2021, 9:06pm

>157 dchaikin: I had to read My Ántonia in college, in a class filled with the type of American family dramas that I dislike, taught by a professor I didn't respect. As a result, I have avoided Willa Cather like the plague. But every time I read one of your reviews, as you work your way through her canon, I think to myself that I really should give her another go. But there are so many other wonderful things to read, that I never quite get there. I think I'll just continue to enjoy vicariously through your wonderful reviews.

Jun 6, 2021, 11:52pm

>158 labfs39: there are many other wonderful things to read. Thanks for the comment.

Jun 9, 2021, 6:04am

>139 dchaikin: I didn't say the other day, as it seems a bit sacrilegious , but as I am in a Rimbaud mentioning mode, that sonnet made me think of Rimbaud's poem The Drunken Boat (le Bateau Ivre), in case you don't know it.

Edited: Jun 9, 2021, 7:36am

>160 tonikat: just checked out the translation on poetry.org - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55036/the-drunken-boat - That is quite something. (I’m kinda taken with the phrase “unbelievable Floridas). I feel some kinship there that I imagine you mean - although Rimbaud certainly took the hectic elements a whole lot farther.

ETA - i had never read Rimbaud before

Jun 9, 2021, 8:25am

>160 tonikat: cool, I hope you like him. He could certainly do hectic I think. I see what you mean about unbelievable Floridas -- I looked up a bit about him and according to wiki Nabokov translated this poem into Russian.

Jun 12, 2021, 6:16pm

23. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
published: 2020
format: 757-page hardcover
acquired: December
read: May 4 – Jun 11
time reading: 32:47, 2.6 mpp
rating: 4½
locations: 1530’s England
about the author: born 1952 in Derbyshire, England to parents of Irish descent.

After the intimacy of Wolf Hall and the sleek handling of Bring up the Bodies, this third book, The Mirror and the Light, forms a distinct slow down. Time hovers as pages go by, and readers notice the meandering and how they aren't making much progress on the 757 pages to read. She sits us in moment after moment. At some point we readers may realize that history is happening around these moments, major things. Cromwell's career under Henry VIII marked a whirlwind of activity, maneuvering, ruthless vengeance, fundamental changes in religious philosophy and practice, along with a series of inconvenient events, and all with strong willed capricious unpredictable hot headed king. And all these things had unintended and serious consequences. At one point large parts of northern England rose in rebellion against...Thomas Cromwell. (The Pilgrimage of Grace) Worse, it was in response to a religious reformation Cromwell essentially slipped in right under the king's nose. That is, the rebels knew their target (and paid for missing it, Cromwell survived). Mantel has set a the tone in her two earlier books, made us a commitment to stay inside Cromwell's head. Now she must make good on that commitment, and that means she must take us through all of this, each step, to the end. And she does.

The three books may feel different, but Cromwell remains a constant of sorts, and our perspective as reader remains that of a sort of inside his head 3rd person view, as if in a virtual reality game. We get what he sees, hears, feels, and thinks, all in 3rd person, but only that. Nothing more. So major historical events come to us warped not through an unreliable narrator, but through a mind full of a hundred other things and with its own perspective. It's a kind of oblique, or unique single-point of perspective that not only limits to what it can see, but is colored by how this mind understands it.

I had to take my time with this book, give it several failed chances here and there where 5 pages of progress were too much. But I did enjoy it and, much more, I appreciated what I got out of this book. I think it's a wonderful thing and wonderful thing for the reader to work through, as there is so much to take home. I think this story, this version, can only stick to the reader, and it can color history and maybe the oddities of humanity - in life and life politics.

Likely most readers who have gotten through Bring up the Bodies are willing to stick this one out. I think you will be rewarded.

Jun 12, 2021, 6:37pm

>163 dchaikin: As someone who has yet to read Wolf Hall, but is determined to do so, I read your review through scrunched up eyes so as not to get overwhelmed at the thought of three tomes ahead of me. I have two ILL books in the queue, but maybe then I can gird up my loins (what an odd saying) and pull Wolf Hall off the shelf. Light summer reading? Not. Sigh.

Jun 12, 2021, 11:04pm

>163 dchaikin: Great review, Dan. I’m looking forward to reading this one at some point this year. I still need to reread Bring Up the Bodies.

Jun 13, 2021, 12:58am

>164 labfs39: - yeah, not a light summer read. But don't scrunch, and I don't think you need to gird up anything. If you get to Wolf Hall, you will figure out whether you want to finish it, or pursue more on the series or topic (which does seem kind of bottomless)

>165 NanaCC: thanks Colleen. Bring up the Bodies, besides being very good, is also a nice read, actually has some plot driven momentum.

Edited: Jun 13, 2021, 11:39am

24. Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch
reader: David Rintoul
published: 2018
format: 26:38 audible audio (728 pages in hardcover)
acquired: April 28
listened: Apr 28 – Jun 11
rating: 4½
locations: mostly 1520-1540 London
about the author: Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford, born in Kent, 1951

I don‘t think it gets much more thorough than this biography. I listened while reading Mantel‘s The Mirror and the Light. Working through these at the same time was really interesting and helpful, and a little confusing when things didn't quite align. Thomas Cromwell had a whirlwind sort of reign as Henry VIII‘s primary and closest and most powerful advisor. So much happened. Most is actually in Mantel. MacCulloch offers sources, thorough documentation, endless details and some variations in personalities and themes. He very closely reflects Mantel's end of her trilogy, and many of the key things he quotes or sites here are in Mantel, and, I guess, it's a little surprising some are factual.

The first thing I noticed, when listening, was the amount of detail and the endless introduction of new names...something which never seems to slow down till the book ends. David Rintoul reads it all relentlessly, not catching his own breath, and it felt to me like that is the correct way to read it.

The largest theme here is one Mantel first seems to quietly not acknowledge, then later brings in but down plays. Thomas Cromwell was a religious man and a devout Evangelical reformer. This meant he had some specific and heretical ideas about the mass and a few other details, and also that he felt strongly the bible should be translated into English. (He supported William Tyndale, the executed provocative translator who's work makes up about 90% of the King James bible) When he came into political life, switching from his business life, Cromwell wasn't just hired as a lawyer. He had a mission. When his employer and protector, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, once a potential pope, came down, Cromwell stuck with Wolsey to the end of his fall, but miraculously wasn't destroyed. Instead he caught the attention of Henry VIII. He began to gain favor personally with the king. He would eventually become the dominant force in Henry's reign until the capricious king was convinced to turn on him - and did in a manner consistent to how Henry handled his wives. Cromwell is kind of another divorce. But before this fall Cromwell pushed throughout England, Wales and even Ireland his own Evangelical agenda - and he did right in the open, under the kings nose, and yet without the king fully realizing what was happening. Cromwell kept is name out of all this activity, but remained the force, the mover and shaker of English Christian reform.

But it was an odd thing where it everyone except the king seemed to know Cromwell was driving this reform, and there was a lot of fall out. While it's hinted at in Mantels novel, the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising was specifically targeted at Thomas Cromwell and his closing of monasteries (allowing the king and nobles to usurp the wealthy productive church lands); and the intellectual drive of this uprising was a conservative religious movement that ran counter to Cromwell's ideas. (Both evangelical and the religious conservatives of this era supported King Henry VIII fully as both king and head of the church. If they didn't see Henry at head of the church, they were considered papist, closer to today's Catholic). The rebellion wanted Cromwell destroyed. He survived this uprising still in Henry's good graces, but with significantly less power. He would get his revenge (as Mantel covers). Cromwell was eventually undermined by religious conservatives.

Other extra details here were how Cromwell's brewer/blacksmith father was actually respected enough that people spoke well of him, nothing really hinting at Mantel's monster. And the exploration of Cromwell's true character seems to come out a little contrary to Mantel's version. Instead of a cerebral, problem solver, the historical Cromwell seems to have been an obsessive control freak with an uncontainable anger. He badgered everyone verbally and harshly and with an almost angry gusto. Those attacked included very powerful people with whom he need to stay on his good side.

The most moving is Cromwell's fall. His arrest is a dramatic display of anger and physical violence and insulting. Eventually he was physically overpowered and arrested. His letters to the king from his prison in the Tower of London are preserved, including his endnote where he wrote, "Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy!" Cromwell had taken a lot people down, including orchestrating Anne Boleyn's fall, and beheading, along with the execution of her brother and several political enemies of his, all accused of liaisons with the supposedly sex-crazed queen. And he took down, or compromised many of most powerful noble families, and left the others in fear of him, and therefore either active in his fall, or uninterested in assisting him after. Actually Cromwell is essentially abandoned by everyone after his fall, except the archbishop he had worked with so closely, Thomas Cranmer, who wrote Henry a moving plea for Cromwell that avoided exposing himself to danger. Ultimately Cranmer would vote for his conviction, but he had no choice. Those closest to Cromwell could not support him without endangering themselves, including his own son. It's a little tricky to know which of his supporters mainly protected themselves, and which simply were not terribly upset at his fall, but the general silence is notable. Cromwell would make a graceful death, giving important speeches within the tight limits that would not endanger his family, but also gave no ground and ultimately challenged his religious opponents, albeit gently.

Anyway, I've gotten lost here. Tons of overwhelming detail within, and also a lot of fascinating stuff.

Jun 13, 2021, 8:33am

Thank you for this review- I will have to add the biography to my wish list!

Jun 13, 2021, 9:30am

>167 dchaikin: Feel free to get lost, Dan. 😄 I enjoyed your review very much.

Jun 13, 2021, 10:07am

>163 dchaikin: What an excellent review of The Mirror and the Light. You really captured it. I like particularly the idea that Time hovers as pages go by, but I liked this aspect of the book; the sort of suspended animation as everyone knew what the outcome would be, but was just waiting for that final blow. I read this in the same "can't put it down" manner in which I read the earlier two, and like those, went back often, both during the first read and after.

>167 dchaikin: This is on my TBR in all its daunting physical form, but you have given me a prod.

>164 labfs39: Sometimes summer is the perfect time to devote to books like this, when life is often free of other distractions. No matter when you read it though, it is worth every minute.

Jun 13, 2021, 11:23am

(fixed quite a few typos up there in >167 dchaikin: )

>168 torontoc: I'm flattered. : )

>167 dchaikin: Thanks Colleen! (I get lost a lot... 😊)

>168 torontoc: wow. Admiring your enchantment. Not me. I could always put TM&tL and the other two down...with one exception. After his fall I found it hard to put down. Hope you can get to MacCullough or another good biography of Cromwell, just to pin that facts down. I found it nice to know. As for summer, i know, your comment is directed at Lisa, but it makes me wish I had this kind of break, free of other distractions.

Edited: Jun 13, 2021, 11:27am

>167 dchaikin: Great review! I haven't read any of the Mantel trilogy, though my wife did love the whole thing. Right when the first Mantel book came out, I quite coincidentally was reading Naked to Mine Enemies: The Life of Cardinal Wolsey by Charles Ferguson. Looking back on my review (from 2013!) confirms my memory that I enjoyed the book very much, though it took me a good long while to read through it due to the amount of detail Ferguson provided. I don't know if you're interested in reading more about Wolsey, but if so, this would be a good book to pick up. Cheers!

Jun 13, 2021, 11:46am

>172 rocketjk: Thanks for the recommendation. I'm very interested. (too bad it's not on audible. If I search "Cardinal Wolsey", all I get is two versions of George Cavendish's early biography - by the George Cavendish who worked for Wolsey. On audible, I did note one possible more distant follow-up - Emperor: A New Life of Charles V by Geoffrey Parker. )

Jun 13, 2021, 7:53pm

I really enjoyed your comments about the Rintoul biography. I found a few differences between Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety portrayal of Danton and the biography I'd read earlier that were interesting to note and wonder why she chose to diverge from the record in various ways.

Jun 13, 2021, 9:07pm

>174 RidgewayGirl: I would be curious know too, although I wonder if she would say more then, "well, it's a fictional novel." It's also possible she has her own interpretations of things, at least in some cases.

Jun 19, 2021, 11:34am

>161 dchaikin: I never read Rimbaud either, although he has always been on my "someday" list.

Personally, I was taken with "loosened Peninsulas".

Jun 19, 2021, 12:00pm

As you know, Dan, I have not been finding the Mantel books quite as captivating as you have. Perhaps it is only this terrifically long flare I am now ending. I want to pick up The Mirror and the Light again and finish it, as I have the feeling of suspended animation just now. That week when I couldn't even read was torturous, and I am so glad to be back to my very favorite activity. I have read a few good books in my down weeks, and several awful ones. I have had trouble reading even some favorite books in the last few years, so I know it is my brain that is bad. I tried to read The Glass Bead Game shortly before taking up with Club Read, and I couldn't make it through. (I loved that book, and used to read it every 10 years or so, after reading it annually for a few years when I was 35 or 40, and annually in my 20's.) It is truly odd to be a lesser reader than I used to be. I had an event a few years ago, with a period of inability to talk sense, or even discernible English. I had a temperature of 104 Fahrenheit at the time, and a clinically important level of Sodium (too low) in my blood, which I think cause the symptoms of a stroke. That was my initial diagnosis, but the Neurologist who saw me in the hospital ended up with a diagnosis of Complex Seizure. He told me he wasn't happy with that diagnosis at the time. He said my symptoms didn't really match any known entity. (That would be me. I'm always outside the norm.) Anyway, they said it was a fully reversible event, but I have felt a neurological change since then, especially with word usage. It is subtle, but I lose words all the time. I couldn't think of the word "paint" one day last week, for instance.

Were those comments on failing marriage your own marriage? You said it all so matter-of-factly that at first I thought it was in some way related to the book you were reporting on, but I couldn't make that work. I am so sorry! How traumatic! I won't say more, but know that I am thinking of you.

Jun 19, 2021, 12:51pm

>177 sallypursell: I couldn't think of the word "paint" one day last week

Anomic aphasia is incredibly frustrating and demoralizing for a family member of mine. She says it's maddening to not be able to write and speak as she normally would. Fortunately hers is intermittent. The closest I have come to experiencing it is when I was on a medication that made me substitute words without being aware of it. For instance, I told my daughter to turn on the garden, when I meant turn on the gas fireplace. It could be funny and frustrating by turns. Your illness sounds scary, Sally. I hope you continue to improve.

Jun 19, 2021, 10:16pm

>178 labfs39: Thanks so much for your good wish, Lisa.

Jun 20, 2021, 8:16am

>164 labfs39: Great review of The Mirror and the Light, Dan. The meanderings that at times made us glaze over seem somehow necessary all the same by the end, would you agree?

>167 dchaikin: Also very much interested in your Cromwell biography review. I'm curious - Mantel left us to make up our own mind to a degree about whether Cromwell was a monster or not in terms of the Ann Boleyn beheadings. What conclusion did Rintoul come to? Was he simply a man doing his job (and trying to stay off the chopping block himself) or was he a man seeking vengeance?

>164 labfs39: Light summer reading? Not.. Actually I found the Mantel trilogy surprisingly readable and a page-turner, so hopefully you feel the same when you finish your current reading.

Edited: Jun 20, 2021, 12:49pm

>163 dchaikin: Excellent review. I agree being in cromwells head is a very interesting way to view this story, and had no problems with it except for those 5 pages or so that rather stop progress. Still making my way through Schonfields Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell skipping his over defense and getting to the meat of the story. He definitely shares Mantels vision; And even if they are both wrong and got it all ass backwards, its still a great story.

Edited: Jun 20, 2021, 12:50pm

>167 dchaikin: And the exploration of Cromwell's true character seems to come out a little contrary to Mantel's version. Instead of a cerebral, problem solver, the historical Cromwell seems to have been an obsessive control freak with an uncontainable anger. He badgered everyone verbally and harshly and with an almost angry gusto. Those attacked included very powerful people with whom he need to stay on his good side.

Im not surprised; at times through her writing I thought of a male "Mary Sue" that could do no wrong. I suspect both versions have a meeting point; with such a complex man, how could they not?

I think I need to listen to the book you have; I am frustrated by the book I am currently reading about him, where crumb can do no wrong. This will give me more than a little taste of reality

Jun 20, 2021, 1:35pm

>180 AlisonY: & >182 cindydavid4: Reading your comments, it occurs to me that long ago I read John Buchan's biography of Cromwell (Oliver Cromwell), published in 1939. I'm sure there is a whole lot of fresher research, etc., available, but I recall coming away with an impression of Cromwell as forceful and adept at getting his way, but not particularly admirable.

Jun 21, 2021, 12:22am

> 176 "loosened peninsulas" 😊

>177 sallypursell: You have been going through a lot. I feel bad for you, but glad you're reading better now and re-engaging. with The Mirror and the Light. I hope you find something you like as it ends. I found my reading sped up towards the end when I found myself just more into it overall. And, yes, sadly, that was personal to me. Life...

>178 labfs39: I'm not familiar with Anomic aphasia, which sounds annoying and somewhat familiar. I looked it up and one partial description is this: "The feeling is often that of having the word on the tip of one’s tongue, which results in their speech having lots of expressions of frustration." So, if I may gently disrespectful to the human world for a moment in a non-serious way, and for some not so great humor, that's practically my life.

>180 AlisonY:
on the meanderings in The Mirror and the Light - I completely agree they seemed necessary.

on Cromwell's person... i should note Rintoul was the reader, not the author...but McCulloch is really gentle and hesitant to make judgment and appreciates the complexity who Cromwell was and what he did that was impressive, and what he did that was awful. He does make some judgment - which is roughly that Cromwell was admirable in the exceptional amount he accomplished, but also did some terrible things. He doesn't say, but I don't think he ever saw Cromwell as just doing his job. Cromwell was a creator, and most effective when he didn't have a role or title, and was a poorly defined figure who defied definition. Once he acquired official roles, he opened himself up for attack and he dealt with a lot of challenges to his authority from those ambitious and those who were afraid of him. But Cromwell did have to manage a very difficult and emotionally capricious king. But Cromwell was hot headed and forceful and fearless and always felt he had the king's full support, and this is part of why he could be so ruthless, sometimes in ways that ultimately led to his fall. There is not question he pursued vengeances. Getting all the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace eventually executed, after they were all pardoned, was pure vengeance, for example. And his retributive justice often seemed to have an ulterior motive. The Pilgrimage almost destroyed him, and he struck back as hard as he could.

>164 labfs39: - I'll just quietly agree with Alison's last comment in >180 AlisonY: 🙂

Jun 21, 2021, 12:31am

>181 cindydavid4: & >182 cindydavid4: - kind of bummed to read your comments on Schonfields biography of Cromwell. I think Mantel creates the character she wants and does not strive for true accuracy, but certainly her character is heroic in an all-knowing, almost Sherlock-y or Poirot-y way, and in an all-self-control, maybe james bond-like, kind of way. The true Cromwell could not be this way...or any human. Cromwell was effective, but, I imagine, always struggling. (Tom Hanks could play Mantel's Cromwell, but not an historically accurate one.)

>183 rocketjk: think McCulloch may like Cromwell more than John Buchan appears to, based on your comment, but I also think the two historians would get along well overall. Thanks for this comment.

Edited: Jun 21, 2021, 1:17am

>185 dchaikin: "think McCulloch may like Cromwell more than John Buchan appears to . . . "

I wouldn't try taking that to the bank, though. As I said, it was many moons ago that I read that bio. Memory gets hazy. :)

Jun 21, 2021, 1:21am

Well, dog my cats. It turns out my memory was hazy after all. I did a google search for the book and discovered this interesting synopsis of the biography on The John Buchan Society website:

And, yes, it hadn't even occurred to me that this was the same John Buchan who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, et. al.

From the website:

"Buchan's summary of Cromwell declares: 'There is no parallel in history to this iron man of action whose consuming passion was at all times the making of his soul'."


"However, no sixty-five year-old exercise in historical interpretation can be expected not to creak a little with age in places, and Oliver Cromwell is no exception. Despite his own delving in the primary sources of the period, his reliance for background on the published work of historians (a debt freely acknowledged in the preface) makes Buchan, as it were, the unwitting prisoner of the concerns of 1930s historiography."

Jun 21, 2021, 1:29am

>187 rocketjk: a little Cromwelling confusion. I missed it in your initial post and so dragged this out. Apologies. Buchan was writing about Oliver Cromwell, who led England between kings in the mid 1600’s. Mantel and McCulloch are writing about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s key adviser in the 1530’s. All this goes to show, you’ll need to read Wolf Hall 🙂

Edited: Jun 21, 2021, 2:00am

>188 dchaikin: Good grief! I guess you're right and I need to read those books so I can be dead wrong in public about something else next time. :)

Jun 21, 2021, 6:53am

>189 rocketjk: that the spirit! : )

Jun 26, 2021, 1:01pm

25. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1957
format: 185-page paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 12-14
time reading: 5:31, 1.8 mpp
rating: 4½
locations: fictionalized upstate New York college
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

Apparently this is the book that actually got Nabokov his first widespread recognition. While Lolita went through the throws of publisher and author nervousness, Nabokov began to write stories about Pnin, his endearing Russian immigrant. Timofey Pavlovich Pnin is a clueless hopeless comical being caught inside his own head, with intellectual elegance among the pinnacles of Russian scholarship. He is lost in America, handicapped with a bald head, a failed marriage, a permanent butchered-but-charming English, and an unpronounceable name. (Rough pronunciation is Tim-uh-fee Pavlovich P-Neen - a "preposterous little explosion" in English.)

Pnin was a cathartic project for Nabokov after spending so much time in the pedophile head of Humbert Humbert. He needed some good and started writing charming Pnin stories, and the New Yorker started publishing them. What eventually came out in this novel is an endearing tragic figure, beautiful to the reader in a way no one around him can appreciate. He's enjoys his scholarly bliss unappreciated and it creates a repetition of charmed tragic tangible loneliness. I adored him.

As a story, we watch Pnin stumble through as a professor of unpopular enemy Russian in a small-ish American college, where it reaches a handful of students at introductory level Russian. He pushes literally elements as he can, but it's all well beyond his students. Nabokov gives us a moment where Pnin spends time with Russian émigré scholars in America, where his language is pristine and he effortlessly provides us a brief interesting analysis of the structure of Anna Karenina, and where Pnin is social, and can feel, and reach moving depths of emotion at his own history. We also get a mockery of academic life, based on Nabokov's own experiences.

The novel Pnin was published in America before Lolita and caught some positive critical attention, and some significant sales. It's the book that finally got Nabokov some attention and onto the literary map. It's probably a nice introduction to Nabokov, for anyone interested.

Edited: Jun 26, 2021, 2:06pm

>191 dchaikin: Pnin sounds wonderful. I'm off to pull it off the shelf and put it in the queue (right on top of Wolf Hall lol).

Jun 26, 2021, 2:23pm

>192 labfs39: LT is dangerous. But cool that you’re thinking about reading these two.

Jun 26, 2021, 2:44pm

huh - reading LT reviews it seems readers found Pnin a very under-whelming intro to Nabokov...maybe nix that last sentence in my review.

Jul 2, 2021, 8:17am

Dropping by after far too long to say hello. I am disappointed not to have kept up with the group read of The Mirror and The Light (I'm still only just over halfway through) but I'm very glad you inspired the whole thing back in January.

Jul 3, 2021, 2:22pm

Great review of Pnin, Dan. I'll move it considerably higher up my TBR list, ahead of Lolita.

Jul 3, 2021, 5:06pm

>195 rhian_of_oz: Hi Rhian. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you can work through and enjoy the rest of TMatL, as it's a kind of slow but rewarding book. And, thank you...for setting up are threads and making the group read happen.

>196 kidzdoc: Thanks, and funny about your Nabokov order. Lolita is good stuff too, but uncomfortably so.

Edited: Jul 3, 2021, 5:22pm

My June report.

The June plan

7 hours - Richard III, acts III-V & afterword stuff (Litsy Shakespeare group read)
15 hours - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel (Booker theme, and CR group read)
10 hours - Pnin by Vladimr Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
12 hours - The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Booker theme)
9 hours - Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (TBR pile)
53 hours

How it played out:

7:08 - Richard III, acts III-V & afterword stuff - finished (10:12 overall)
14:18 - The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel - finished (32:47 overall)
5:31 - Pnin by Vladimr Nabokov - finished
9:29 - The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga - finished
6:01 - Hot Milk by Deborah Levy - finished
2:26 - Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather - finished
0:38 - Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
45:31 hours

So, I way over-estimated three books. I read far less than my goal time and yet had a moment, on June 30, realizing I had completed my June books and needed to figure out what to read next (Pale Fire).

The July plan

10 hours - Pale Fire by Vladimr Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
7 hours - All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare (Litsy group read)
3 hours - The Touchstone by Edith Wharton (Litsy group read)
15 hours - Pyramids by Terry Pratchett (TBR)
9.5 hours - This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Booker theme)
11 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
55.5 hours

My original July plan included Ada by Nabokov.

Jul 3, 2021, 5:27pm

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Edited: Jul 3, 2021, 6:09pm

26. Richard III by William Shakespeare
Originally Performed: 1592
format: 255-pages Signet Classic
acquired: May 11
read: May 22 – June 22
time reading: 10:12, 2.4 mpp
rating: 5
locations: 1480’s England
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Mark Eccles – editor – 1965, 1988, 1998
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1965, 1988, 1998
Sir Thomas More – from The History of King Richard the Third (written 1513-14, published 1557)
Raphael Holinshed – from Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, second edition (1587)
Charles Lamb
– Letter to Robert Lloyd (1801?)
– from an essay called Cooke’s Richard the Third (1802?)
– from On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for Stage Representation (1811)
A. P. RossiterAngel with Horns: The Unity of Richard III (1961)
Robert OrnsteinRichard III - from A Kingdom for the Stage: The Achievement of Shakespeare’s History Plays (1972)
Coppélia Kahn“Myself Alone”, Richard III and the Dissolution of Masculine Identity – from Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (1981)
Mark EcclesRichard III on Stage and Screen

One of the great joys of casually reading through Shakespeare is having a personal experience of discovery like this play was. With one of the best openings, maybe the best opening of his plays, and one of his best written monologues, Richard III rants to us, privately exposing his demons and intelligence, and laying out his ruthless practical but flawed mindset. He doesn't stop there, meeting other characters, wooing (successfully!!) the widow of prince whose murder he himself took a hand in. And between each scene, alone on the stage, he has a wry comment for us alone. I wrote on Litsy, "Our murdering villain confides in us, opening his empty heart, generating a real stage-audience bond. Act I is riveting and funny and wonderful and this is easily one of my favorites from our #shakespearereadalong".

Causally stumbled across sources insist this was breakthrough play for Shakespeare, and it just makes so much sense. Three entertaining, but imperfect and plot-hobbled histories of Henry VI predate this. Plays that can be appreciated. But this opening is a wow, really on a different level. Maybe too powerful, as Richard III, loser to Tudor founder Henry VII at Bosworth Field in 1485, murderer of Edward VI's young sons and heirs (and another brother's younger children), is forever villainized by the impression left by this play. The real Richard was a sharp character, committed to England, undermined by ex-queen Margaret's family (key members of whom he also murdered), and eventually entangled in a losing power struggle. He was a villainized loser, his grave lost until it was found under a parking lot in 2012.

This dark play is designed to be fun on the stage. A well done Richard III should take over the show and, quite frankly, be funny. He's just so much more clever than everyone else. And he is always acting, except when confiding to us, and for a scrooge-like dream sequence with a collection of entertaining ghosts. It's a performance of a performance, transparent only to us. Lost in his shadow are some terrific female roles, his own mother lamenting his character, the queen, once Lady Gray, who is his sister-in-law, and the ex-queen, widow of Henry VI, Margaret, who does her own bit of scene stealing (and yet commonly gets edited out.) This is also one of Shakespeare's longest plays. Editors must work with it for any performance. But there aren't really any unnecessary parts. Remove some lines, and part of the impact is missing.

As I said on Litsy, easily one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and certainly my favorite of the English histories.

Jul 3, 2021, 6:34pm

>200 dchaikin: Have you seen Richard III performed? Is there an actor you particularly like in this role?

Edited: Jul 3, 2021, 6:43pm

>201 labfs39: nope. Purely imagining it. (I saw the movie Looking for Richard. Al Pacino goes way overboard, but it still left a good impression.)

Edited: Jul 3, 2021, 7:12pm

27. The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga
published: 2006
format: 302-page paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 15-24
time reading: 9:29, 1.9 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Zimbabwe
about the author: born 1959 in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)

This begins where the wonderful Nervous Conditions ended, but with a different the atmosphere. Tambu attends a privileged white girls school as a charity-case black African, one of six the school accepts by government regulation. Within the school she deals with deep racism, adolescence and the stress of expectations. The school, however, is a protective but isolated place. Outside the majority black population of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, including Tambu‘s family, is rebelling in bloody war against ruling minority whites in a newly independent country.

This book was written 20 years after Nervous Conditions by an author who finally took a break from her extensive film career. And yet she gets immediately right back in where she left off. I found it a terrific sequel and enjoyed it throughout. I've been on a really a great reading stretch these past three weeks and this was part of it.

For a thorough review, I'm not sure you can find anything better than what lt-er rebeccanyc posted in 2012 - https://www.librarything.com/review/90196550

Jul 3, 2021, 7:03pm

This film version is fun, though a more orthodox rendering may be more to many folks' tastes.


Jul 3, 2021, 7:06pm

>203 dchaikin: 104 minutes? I'm aghast... : ) Seriously, thanks for highlighting that. BBC has a television version from 2016 that runs almost 4 hours.

Jul 3, 2021, 9:15pm

Nice review of The Book of Not, Dan. I've added it to my wish list, and I'll plan to read it after I finish Nervous Conditions.

Jul 3, 2021, 9:20pm

There was a modern adaptation of Richard the Third in film- lots of Fascist symbolism- I forgot the name of the film and the actors but it was very good!

Jul 3, 2021, 9:28pm

>207 torontoc: That's the Ian McKellan version that I linked to above in >204 rocketjk:.

Edited: Jul 4, 2021, 5:07pm

28. Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude jr
reader: Eddie S. Glaude jr
published: 2020
format: 7:44 audible audiobook, 272 pages in hardcover
acquired: June 11
listened: Jun 14-28
rating: 4
about the author: born in 1968 in Moss Point, Mississippi. Currently Department Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton.

While in the midst of really nice reading streak, this was my commute audio and it fit right in. Glaude reads it himself. He's measured and passionate and reads it perfectly and he creates a nice space to think about James Baldwin.

For all his anger, Baldwin‘s The Fire Next Time has an optimism his later, more realistic works, don‘t…especially after he saw Reagan elected in 1979 and understood what it meant. And that‘s covered here. Gaude applies Baldwin to our times and it works both as an ode to one of my favorite humans ever and a passionate pointed analysis of where we are and what Trump meant and our role within (even us horrified by trump and his white-privilege base). This, altogether, is kinda wonderful.

On a personal side note, I read through James Baldwin's works in 2019, but I stopped at the end of that year and never read his later essays and novels from the late 1970's and 1980's. Glaude focuses mainly the works I hadn't read, going into a little detail in them - the novel Just Above My Head (1979) and the essay collection The Price of the Ticket which covers everything through 1985. (I might have all the essays, not sure). So...I have new motivation to get back to Baldwin and read these later works.

Edited: Jul 4, 2021, 5:12pm

>206 kidzdoc: you're in for a treat with Nervous Conditions

>207 torontoc:/>208 rocketjk: - is that a good thing? Endearing murderous sociopath as a nazi? hmm.

Jul 4, 2021, 5:34pm

'Sofia is a waitress, for the time being,' my father said in Greek.

I am other things, too.
I have a first-class degree and a master's.
I am pulsating with shifting sexualities.
I am sex on tanned legs in suede platform sandals.
I am urban and educated and currently godless.

29. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
published: 2016
format: 218-page paperback
acquired: December
read: Jun 25-29
time reading: 6:01, 1.7 mpp
rating: 4 (maybe 4+ ??)
locations: Almeriá, Spain & Athens, with memories of London and Yorkshire.
about the author: British novelist born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1959.

Among the blurbs in the front of my paperback is this perfect one from Lionel Shriver: "Deborah Levy conveys an atmosphere of out-of-kilter surreality without ever violating the rules of realism."

This book is hyper that, that "out-of-kilter surreality". So much so that, not quite in the mood for constant thought-provoking lines, each word needing attention and warping the meaning, I had to tell myself to have a little patience. And that worked. If thoughtful "out-of-kilter surreality" is a thing, or is it negative capability(?), this book does it masterfully and joyfully.

Sophie, an anthropologist who works in a London coffee shop, is far away from that, showered by the sun in Almería, southern Spain. She is there with her needy single Yorkshire mother, who has mysterious numb feet, to seek treatment with a questionable specialist. The atmosphere is everything here - the sun, the parched landscape, Medusa jellyfish, many playful references to Greek mythology, a newfound experimental inhibition...and the sense that nothing is reliable here. And the carefully crafted lines and odd-associations just keep coming. Combined, it‘s all one step removed, dreamy, uncertain, and, yes, thought-provoking. This is my second terrific book by Levy. I really like how that atmosphere here has hung around beyond the few days it took to read.

Jul 4, 2021, 5:39pm

That finishes the first half of 2021. Thinking about a new thread... later...

Jul 4, 2021, 5:42pm

>200 dchaikin: Richard III is pretty much my favourite Shakespeare play and I’ve seen it a number of times on stage, including the Ian McKellan version that’s mentioned above. I’ve also seen versions with Anton Lesser, Anthony Sher and Kevin Spacey.

Edited: Jul 5, 2021, 12:23pm

>209 dchaikin: Nice review of Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Dan. I read it earlier this year but I haven't reviewed it yet; I'll do my best to post my thoughts about it later this summer. Like you I haven't read Just Above My Head. I don't know what is contained in The Price of the Ticket, and I'll have to see if some or all of it is in The Library of America's James Baldwin: Collected Essays, which I own.

>210 dchaikin: Sounds good. I look forward to reading Nervous Conditions.

>211 dchaikin: Nice review of Hot Milk. It seems that nearly everybody but me liked that novel, so I may give it a second try at some point.

>213 SandDune: Ah, what I wouldn't give to see plays in London again...

Jul 5, 2021, 12:42pm

>209 dchaikin: Seconding Darryl's praise of your review of Begin Again. Another compelling book for my "need that" list.

Jul 5, 2021, 2:49pm

>211 dchaikin: Loved Hot Milk too, Dan. It was that heady atmosphere that did it for me too - I liked it much more than I expected to.

Edited: Jul 5, 2021, 5:04pm

>213 SandDune: wow. that's really cool Rhian. Is this the only Shakespeare you have seen so many varieties of? And, I'm curious what draws you to Richard.

>214 kidzdoc: you were my inspiration for Begin Again. You kept mentioning is and I kept thinking, that looks great. (I thought you had posted some kind of review on it). I have the same Baldwin collection you do, and I suspect it has more than what's in The Price of the Ticket, but I'm not sure about that. The essays are grouped into different books and than the ones uncollected during his lifetime follow. I read all the books, but not the uncollected set. I saw your review of Hot Milk. You caught me off guard, but of course it's not for everyone (as if any book is). You might try another book by Levy to get a broader sense of what she's like before re-reading...given that risks that what may come out is a more broadly negative perspective. The only other I've read by Levy is The Man Who Saw Everything, which I adored. If you happen to read that one be sure to read it twice. Because, unless you're a much sharper reader than me, you will miss half the book the first time through. (But, if you are that sharp of reader, you might lose the first half of the book and maybe not like it.)

>215 rocketjk: thanks. And Glaude manages to dodge the "need" list. He's just really pleasant if you get there.

>216 AlisonY: Yay. And "heady atmosphere" is another good phrase for it.

Jul 5, 2021, 7:06pm

>217 dchaikin: I'm glad that I inspired you to read Begin Again, Dan. I did talk about it a fair amount, but I didn't write a review of it (I just checked to be sure). I'll have to get out my copy of James Baldwin: Collected Essays, and see how it compares with The Price of the Ticket, which I don't own.

I've read two of Deborah Levy's books, Hot Milk and Swimming Home, as both were longlisted for the Booker Prize. I gave two stars to each book, so I did not purchase The Man Who Saw Everything. even though it also made the Booker Prize longlist. If any of her subsequent books are shortlisted for the Booker I'll give her another try.

I seriously doubt that I'm a sharper reader than you.

Jul 5, 2021, 7:44pm

>213 SandDune: I've seen the Spacey version—that was something, watching him act upside down not the least of it.

These are great reviews, Dan, and I've got all of them (other than Richard III, which I've read) on my wish list now. I keep thinking I already have Hot Milk, but what I'm thinking of is Milk Blood Heat, which I also really want to get to. I think I have an edition of Pnin here somewhere, and you've motivated me to search it out and put it on the pile.

Edited: Jul 6, 2021, 5:57am

>217 dchaikin: Richard III is the Shakespeare play that I’ve seen most often, but I have seen several others as well, probably about 15 in total. Henry V is another one that I’ve seen several times and really enjoyed, and also Julius Caesar.

As to why I like Richard III as much, that’s difficult. He’s a great character, and I do enjoy the history plays. Helps that I have a history teacher husband who can always explain any details of the historical plots if necessary!

Jul 7, 2021, 9:25pm

Hi, Dan! You may know by now that life didn't go the way I planned recently. There's an explanation on my thread if you care to find out what I mean.

Jul 8, 2021, 2:21pm

You probably don’t want any more Richard III stuff flung at you, but I enjoyed Anthony Sher’s rehearsal diary Year of the king last year — and there’s the Olivier film as well, a classic in its way (that’s the one where the battle of Bosworth takes place in a Spanish olive grove…).

Jul 9, 2021, 1:21am

>218 kidzdoc: Levy may not be your thing, Darryl. :)

>219 lisapeet: I'm flattered. What is Milk Blood Heat?

>220 SandDune: That's terrific. Fifteen, wow. I've seen, live...two? (a casual outdoor version of The Taming of the Shrew and a terrific one of Othello). I love that you married a historical resource.

>221 sallypursell: Oh, I saw. Left me speechless - not your role, which sounded thoroughly exhausting, but the poor mom who lost so much of her intestines because of scar tissue. I hope she is doing well.

>222 thorold: That sounds fascinating. Thanks Mark.

Edited: Jul 9, 2021, 8:20am

>223 dchaikin: Milk Blood Heat is a new short story collection by a debut author that I haven't read yet, but that's getting enough good buzz that it's been nudged up to the top of my virtual pile. I'll report back once I've gotten to it.

Jul 12, 2021, 9:05am

Richard III rocks, nice review Dan and I enjoyed reading your review of Pnin so much I will get a copy.

Jul 19, 2021, 2:54pm

>225 baswood: Thanks Bas! Excited you're thinking about Pnin.

Jul 19, 2021, 2:55pm

My 2021 part three thread is set up: https://www.librarything.com/topic/333774
This topic was continued by dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty.