dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty

This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin part 2 - getting a little lost out here.

TalkClub Read 2021

Join LibraryThing to post.

dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty

Edited: Sep 2, 2021, 11:32pm

In the moment, life is changing rapidly in good ways, but also there is tangible uncertainty. Looking for an appropriate wheel of fortune image I stumbled across the one above. Later I found it pictures Theophilus (died c538) who was maybe the first person to make a pact with the devil. The illuminated image is from an English psalter by William de Brailes, c1240. Not sure what this means for my reading other than I'll continue to try to approximate the plan.

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 8:31pm

Currently Reading   

Currently Listening to

Boccaccio by Thomas Goddard Bergin (started reading Dec 25)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (The Oxford Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare (read the intro Dec 17)
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Frances A. Yates (started reading Dec 15)

Edited: Dec 29, 2021, 9:22pm

Books read this year - just covers

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 8:31pm

This year in audiobooks

Edited: Dec 31, 2021, 12:08am

PART 1: Links 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)

PART 2: Links go to my review post in my part 2 thread

MARCH (continued)

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)

PART 3: Links go to my review post below, on this page.


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)
34. ***½ Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (read Jul 19-20)
35. *** Pyramids by Terry Pratchett (read Jul 21-25)
36. ***** Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, read by Ruth Urquhart (listened Jul 15-29)


37. *** Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, illustrated by Marilyn Kahalewai (read Jul 31 - Aug 1)
38. **** Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jul 24 - Aug 2)
39. **** All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (read Jul 5 - Aug 7)


40. ***½ The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton (read Aug 2 - Sep 5)
41. **** The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili (read Aug 6 - Sep 7)
42. **** Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, read by Cassandra Campbell & Alex McKenna (listened Jul 30 - Sep 10)
43. **** Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (read Aug 16 - Sep 19)
44. **** Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop (read Sep 4-21)
45. **** The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, read by William DeMeritt (listened Sep 10-24)
46. **** Sanctuary by Edith Wharton (read Sep 27)


47. **** Ada or Ardor : A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov (read Sep 19 - Oct 12)
48. ***** Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (read Oct 8-16)
49. ***½ Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford, read by Imogen Church (listened Sep 25 - Oct 16)
50. *** Il filostrato by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by Robert P. ApRoberts & Anna Bruni Seldis (read Oct 9-23)
51. *** Cup of Gold : A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History by John Steinbeck (read Sep 21 - Oct 23)
52. **** Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, narrated by Sura Siu (listened Oct 18-26)
53. ***** Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (read Oct 3-31)


54. **** A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam, read by Neil Shah (listened Oct 26 – Nov 7)
55. ****½ The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (read Oct 24 – Nov 8)
56. ***** The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (read Nov 12-14)
57. ***** The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Oct 27 – Nov 14)
58. **** The Promise by Damon Galgut, read by Peter Noble (listened Nov 8-19)
59. **** Roadside Geology of Louisiana by Darwin Spearing (read Nov 20-25)


60. ****½ Véra : Mrs Vladimir Nabokov by Stacy Schiff (read Nov 14 – Dec 9)
61. **** Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov (read Dec 7-11)
62. *** Pericles by William Shakespeare (read Nov 17 – Dec 12)
63. *** Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov (read Dec 15-21)
64. ***½ A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson (read Dec 20-23)
65. **** Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (read Dec 23-29)
66. **** Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, read by Bernadette Dunne (listened Nov 24 – Dec 30)

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 8:32pm

The list above sorted by year published

1340 Il filostrato by Giovanni Boccaccio
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
1595 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (true date unkown)
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
1608 Pericles by William Shakespeare
1900 The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
1902 The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton
1903 Sanctuary by Edith Wharton
1905 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
1912 Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
1929 Cup of Gold : A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History by John Steinbeck
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
1961 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
1962 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
1964 Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters edited by Thomas Goddin Bergin
Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson
Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
1969 Ada or Ardor : A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov
1972 Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
1974 Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov
1982 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
1987 Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
1988 Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
1989 Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
1992 Collected Stories by Willa Cather (1905, 1920, 1932, 1948, 1956)
1994 Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
1995 Roadside Geology of Louisiana by Darwin Spearing
1996 Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa
1998 A History of London by Stephen Inwood
1999 Véra : Mrs Vladimir Nabokov by Stacy Schiff
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
2014 The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
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
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
The Promise by Damon Galgut
A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 8:29pm

Some stats:

Books read: 66
Pages: 15,381 (time reading: 656 hours)
Audio time: 220 hours
"regular books”**: 50
Formats: Paperback 36; Audio 16; Hardcover 8; ebook 6;
Subjects in brief: Novel 41; Classic 19; Non-fiction11; History 8; Drama 8; Biography 6; On Literature and Books 5; Poetry 3; Memoir 2; Journalism 1; Short Stories 1; Essays 1; Religion/Mythology/Philosophy 1; Science 1;
Nationalities: United States 25; England 18; Russia 9; Zimbabwe 3; Italy 2; Scotland 2; China 1; Georgia 1; Tanzania 1; Japan-UK 1; Sri Lanka 1; Somaliland 1; South Africa 1; Canada 1;
Books in translation: 5
Genders, m/f: 38/28
Owner: Books I own: 65; Library: 1;
Re-reads: 1
Year Published: 2020’s 17; 2010's 8; 2000’s 3; 1990’s 6; 1980’s 4; 1970’s 2; 1960’s 7; 1950’s 2; 1940’s 1; 1930’s 1; 1920’s 1; 1910’s 1; 1900’s 4; 1600’s 3; 1500’s 5; 1300’s 2
TBR numbers: 66 acquired, 62 read, 1 abandoned = net +3

Books read: 1182
Pages: 302,672; Audio time: 1966 hours (81 days)
"regular books"**: 766
Formats: Paperback 630; Hardcover 249; Audio 182; ebooks 82; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 474; Novels 355; Biographies/Memoirs 202; History 183; Classics 170; Religion/Mythology/Philosophy 134; Journalism 94; Poetry 92; Science 82; Ancient 76; Speculative Fiction 66; On Literature and Books 61; Nature 59; Anthology 45; Essay Collections 45; Drama 44; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 42; Juvenile/YA 34; Visual Arts 26; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 672; Other English-language countries: 240; Other: 265
Books in translation: 200
Genders, m/f: 751/335
Owner: Books I owned 823; Library books 283; Books I borrowed 66; Online 10
Re-reads: 25
Year Published: 2020’s 22; 2010's 262; 2000's 279; 1990's 174; 1980's 117; 1970's 58; 1960's 51; 1950's 28; 1900-1949 62; 19th century 16; 16th-18th centuries 32; 13th-15th centuries 8; 0-1199 20; BCE 55
TBR: 701

*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: Jul 19, 2021, 2:52pm

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 Booker longlists 2019 & 2020
2021 - Petrarch, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather, Shakespeare, the Booker longlists, 2020 & 2021, and, new, Edith Wharton

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, 2021 part 2

Jul 19, 2021, 2:54pm

The above intro is set. Thread is open.

Jul 19, 2021, 3:33pm

Ooohh.... I get to be first. Hi, Dan!

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 3:44pm

30. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
published: 1900
format: 63-page Kindle ebook
acquired: June
read: Jul 5-8
time reading: 3:00, 2.9 mpp
rating: 4
locations: New York City
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

Having read all of Willa Cather's novels, our Litsy group searched for a new subject, and (influenced by our own arubabookwoman) came up with Edith Wharton. Our plan is to begin reading her published novels and novellas in the order they appear. The Touchstone was her first novella, published in 1900 when the eventually very prolific Wharton was approaching 40.

The title refers to the Philosopher's Stone, the mythological creation by late medieval French scribe Nicholas Flamel, that could turn base metals into gold. The theme echoes in a lot of ways here. Stephen Glennard, struggling financially in New York and in need of a fortune to marry, makes his fortune by publishing a collection of letters he received from a famous and very private author, Margaret Aubyn. But he tries to keep himself anonymous, even from his wife and publisher, as the letters written to him are about his spurning of Aubyn's affection. They are an especially insightful and revealing a character attack on him. When the collection immediately becomes a huge seller, talked about through upper culture New York City, Stephen goes through a personal crisis, spurning his wife and others. The touchstone could be Aubyn, her letters, the curious character who helps Stephen get these letters published, or even his wife, Alexa Trent, who, unlike Aubyn, conceals her intelligence.

This was an interesting intro. Wharton wrote this with a not quite restrained sense of anger, especially within her own frustrated version of feminism and the intolerance with which it was received. And she makes an obvious effort to express her own intelligence, including here some hidden complex philosophy that I was unable to work out. (I did learn that this is a pretty neglected part of Wharton's criticism. A typical source, like Wikipedia, will make a point of highlighting the immense amount of reading she did on religion and philosophy, and then focus entirely on her cultural criticism.) This is not, in my opinion, an amazing novella. But there is a lot here - in style, subject, complexity and in the nature of the author's presence. I'm happy to have this in mind going forward.

Jul 19, 2021, 3:37pm

>10 sallypursell: hi. welcome. Working on adding some amusement for you. : )

Jul 19, 2021, 4:13pm

Hope the summer goes well for you. Looking forward to reading about your reading.

Jul 19, 2021, 4:31pm

>11 dchaikin: Have you read any Edith Wharton before this? I have read four of her novels and enjoyed them all. I hope you will too. I think she's great.

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 4:47pm

31. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1962
format: 303-page Paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 30 – Jul 12
time reading: 13:43, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: an eastern American college and Zembla (“a distant northern land)
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).

Had I known what I was getting into, and done a little mental prep, I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more than I did. Instead, in the midst nice reading flow, I found myself unexpectedly in hundreds of pages of commentary of a 1000-poem. To follow along the reader has to constantly cross-check the poem and the commentary, and, as the commentary has little to do with the actual subject of the poem, keep cross checking to try to read between the lines...and that's just to make surficial sense.

Charles Kinbote acquired exclusive rights to his colleague John Shade's 1000-line poem, nearly finished before Shade's untimely death. This book is the poem and Kinbote's commentary, kept free of any editorial oversight of any kind. Kinbote is in full control. He provides an introduction, oozing with unnamed classical references, telling a little of context of Shade's poem. Shade, who's name is a reference to the word used to describe souls in Dante's Divine Comedy, is presented to us as an overshadowed Petrarch, who, when first met in frozen winter, could not get his car tire "out of a concave inferno of ice". Shade, like Petrarch, provided notes on the dates he started sections of his poem, but not on the the endless editing done until his death. A farce first exposed when we quickly realize Shade only worked on his poem a month. This makes Kinbote an equivalent of an early Petrach commentator... but who? Anyway, this Virgil/Dante/Petrarch nonsense gets dropped out of our introduction, which closes with Kinbote advising us not read Shades poem next, but to read his own commentary on its own first, then read Shades poem, and then read the commentary again. Amused at Kinbote's need to overshadow his subject, I considered this a moment. There are 226 pages of commentary. I read the poem first.

The poem, of course (?), has it's own farcical aspects, but is also a touching and curious autobiographical exploration of Shade's life, marriage, his daughter's suicide and his own hard atheism confronting her ghost. It's all in rhyming couplets. It opens with a couplet now often referenced, "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure of the windowpane;". When I finished reading the poem I was looking forward to some explanative commentary, but should have known better. It takes Kinbote two sentences to switch from Shade to himself. Kinbote is consumed with thoughts on his home country, his fictional Zembla, "a distant northern land", with its own language. Kinbote had talked to Shade extensively about Zembla, none of which Shade put in his poem. So, Kinbote inserts it all in his commentary, and adds Shades death, contriving dark prophetical aspects on this out of Shade's poem - like in that first line.

This is all, in theory, good fun. Critics at the time either praised its elaborate complexity, and criticized its more fundamental simplicity. But whatever it may be, I have left it mostly unresolved in my own head, my extensive cross checking actually kept to a minimum. So I found it a mildly amusing but very frustrating read. I guess it's a classic case of YMMV, or maybe of the idea that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and therefore the less...etc.

Jul 19, 2021, 4:44pm

>13 rocketjk: thanks

>14 labfs39: not really. I know I read Ethan Frome in high school and vaguely remember something boring and then something bad with a sled. So...this was essentially my first Wharton.

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 6:10pm

32. Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
reader: the author
published: 2020
format: 9:29 audible audiobook (336 pages in hardcover)
acquired: June 28
listened : Jun 29 – Jul 14
rating: 4
locations: London
about the author: 34-yr-old London native of Polish parents.

This came out on the Booker longlist over a year ago, but there aren't any reviews on LT yet. I found it, for some reason, the most clouded in mystery of all the books on that list, and had no idea what to expect until I listened to the audible sample and started looking this up. Krauze (he pronounces the last 'e' something like 'eh') is a child of Polish immigrants to England who grew up in London's impoverished South Kilburn, got involved in a very violent criminal life as a teenager and kept at it while attending a university. The novel is heavily autobiographical.

I was immediately taken in by the narrative, read by Krauze himself in his north London accent, influenced by Jamaican English. "Wagwan" is a curiously used greeting. It's a Jamaican version of "what's going on?", but in London has a gang-life implication. In this accent Krauze takes us straight into his criminal life, at a point where he worked with a small team of scouters, a getaway car and partner as ruthless as he his. He basically jumps carefully selected victims, violently takes anything of value from them, and runs off leaving a battered, bruised and possibly partially broken victim whom he doesn't give one thought to. He's not interested in that, because there is too much going on in his quasi-gang life where compromise is a kind of suicide. Any and every perceived challenge is met with violence, knives bloodied, and his main concern afterwards is whether he hurt the other guys enough. In between he goes to classes on literary theory.

This stuff is constant and some readers find it repulsively repetitive and dull. I never did. I was fascinated by him. And a bit shocked when I began to pick up the nature of his own involvement. He was not really like the other people he was doing crimes with because he didn't come from a broken home, with an abusive or absent father, but from a loving, if financially strapped, family, including a twin brother who excelled at playing violin. That is, he was doing all this criminal stuff not because he was desperate but by choice, for some cash and because he loved it. And mostly he got away with it. He does cover spending time in a couple lock-ups, but notes that he was never caught for his worst crimes. And, he doesn't expressively say it, but he really dodged the gangs. This was bad when he would find himself isolated, his partners locked up or on the run, but eventually a blessing because he was free of the warfare and could walk away without anyone looking for him. He's clearly not a typical story.

It leaves me in an ethical conundrum. I really enjoyed this book. It's fascinating, seems authentic and is well written. It‘s also by a guy who really hurt people for no legitimate reason, and is now, later, out of that life, mining those experiences to put into his book. Mind you, I read plenty of authors with terrible personal ethics. And this book certainly has value as a look into this mindset. The reader realizes no corrective policy could have stopped him from doing what he did, and that's maybe instructive in some way. Not sure. Not sure how I judge this one overall.

Jul 19, 2021, 6:48pm

>17 dchaikin: I remember that hitting the Booker longlist and then, you're right, it disappeared from the discussion, maybe because of the same conundrum you felt?

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 11:48pm

>18 RidgewayGirl: I wonder if it's a publisher issue - maybe a smaller publisher (??), or a publisher hesitant to promote this kind of book. If there is an ethical debate over this book...I would love to know where it's taking place and what the thinking is, and how my thinking relates. I haven't found any kind of discomfort expressed.

Edited: Jul 19, 2021, 11:42pm

33. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
published: 2018
format: 280-page paperback
acquired: June
read: Jul 12-19
time reading: 10:01, 2.1 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Zimbabwe
about the author: born 1959 in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)

My Litsy review says a lot in small amount of space:
"This an uncomfortable book. After building up our hero, Tambu, in two terrific novels, Dangarembga essentially tosses that away. Zimbabwe is not such an easily wrapped place and her previous construct is here, maybe intentionally, undermined. This is not a Tambu you‘re going to like, nor will you like seeing her struggles from inside your own head in a 2nd person narrative. I‘m partially horrified and partially impressed. A difficult read."

This novel follows Tambu again, continuing from the previous novels but into a very different Zimbabwe. The first two books took place in the 1960's and 1970's, during the "War". ( The Rhodesian Bush War—also called the Second Chimurenga as well as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation, 1965-1979). I don't think we are ever given a date for the time period covered here, but at one point a 2002 movie is mentioned, and we have email but not smart phones. This Zimbabwe is peaceful, somewhat prosperous, and has a flourishing tourist industry. It also has its tensions: an accepted but corrupt government, a kind of tense cooperation between the mostly wealthy whites and the rest of the population, and, notably, a significant set of psychologically scarred veteran freedom fighters who tend to be discouraged with the results of their victory. Thematically this builds on the last chapters of The Book of Not where Dangarembga began to explore the dangers of the post-war urban capitalisms and its underlying emptiness. There it almost felt like an add on. But here Tambu's struggles within this environment are the main plot.

I'm really glad I read the first two books before this (Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not). They aren't essential plot-wise, but they provide a context, and a background for Tambu, adding a kind of resonating shock value here. Also the first two books are really rewarding, and, unlike this one, are easy on the reader.

Jul 19, 2021, 11:48pm

Caught up for the moment.

Jul 20, 2021, 3:57pm

I should read more by Edith Wharton. I’ve loved the ones I have read.

Jul 23, 2021, 3:04pm

Happy third thread!

>16 dchaikin: I like your summary of Ethan Frome. It's the only book by Edith Wharton that I have read (and it was not part of a curriculum). I enjoyed it better than you did (maybe high school was not the right time to read it though)!
I have followed your Willa Cather trip with interest. I'll do the same with your Edith Wharton journey.

Jul 25, 2021, 11:28pm

>22 NanaCC: You're welcome to join. We begin The Valley of Decision next week, reading about 70 pages a week.

>23 raton-liseur: Thanks and thanks for stopping by. I'm sure I read Ethan Frome entirely against my will, fighting against every page. Hopefully I'll like it more when I revisit.

Jul 26, 2021, 4:30pm

>24 dchaikin: I'm sure I read Ethan Frome entirely against my will, fighting against every page

I quite liked Ethan Frome and thought Wharton captured some New England-ishness in it. It is not at all like the other books by her that I have read, which are about upper crust New Yorkers, but it is short and perhaps that is why high school teachers assign it. Certainly the plot is not geared toward teens, being about an unhappy marriage, temptation, self-sacrifice, and despair.

Jul 26, 2021, 6:28pm

>25 labfs39: It’s tough for teens. I was particularly ornery though, since at the time any reading was a unpleasant. And this reading was necessary for my grade. In my iffy memory it was the nature of the prose of turned me off. I remember it was difficult. But temptation and despair … surely these were draws.

Edited: Jul 27, 2021, 10:32am

The 2021 Booker longlist was released today

2021 Booker Prize longlist - (order is longest to shortest)
Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead (USA: California, born 1983) 25:16, 608 pp
The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (UK: born in 1981 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Moved to London 1986, age 4.), no audio, 384 pp
The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris (debut novel, USA: a Michener fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, Tx) 12:08, 368 pp
Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford (UK: born 1964. teaches writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London and lives near Cambridge.) 12:37, 336 pp
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan/UK: Faber, born in Nagasaki, Japan, moved to Britain 1960, age 5.)10:16, 304 pp
A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lanka, Tamil novelist born 1988. Degrees from Stanford and Columbia) 9:15, 304 pp
The Promise, Damon Galgut, (South Africa, born 1963) no audio, 304 pp
A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (Canada, born 1946) 7:32, 302 pp
Bewilderment, Richard Powers (USA, born 1946 in Evanston, IL.), 7:00 (release Sep 21), 272 pp
An Island, Karen Jennings (South Africa, born 1982), no audio, 192 pp
Second Place, Rachel Cusk, (UK/Canada: born in Saskatoon to British parents in 1967, spent early childhood in Los Angeles. Moved to the UK in 1974) 6:18, 186 pp
China Room, Sunjeev Sahota (UK: born 1981 in Derby), 5:57, 256 pp
No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (USA: born in a trailer in Fort Wayne, Indiana,1982), 4:43, 210 pp


My first thoughts is that these are much shorter than last year and there is only one debut novel, whereas last year there were several. Also, odd that at least six authors were born in the 1980's. It seems, on a first look, a good list. I've only read Rachel Cusk and enjoyed what I read. I've wanted to read Kazuo Ishiguro & Richard Powers for a while. I should start the very long Great Circle on audio soon, maybe next week.

Jul 27, 2021, 10:49am

I loved Klara and the Sun and have had the Mary Lawson book on my TBR and buy list.

Jul 27, 2021, 11:10am

>16 dchaikin: I know I read Ethan Frome in high school and vaguely remember something boring and then something bad with a sled.
You're sure you weren't watching Citizen Kane, right?

I like your wheel of fortune at the top of the thread, Dan. Always good to remember that the wheel turns, both for better and for worse, but in constant motion, anyway.

>27 dchaikin: There are a few of those I'm interested in—and I think my first will probably be Great Circle, because I really like the premise. That's a long one, though—600 pages or so.

Oh, and I DO have a copy of Pnin (shown here with part of floofy cat). That's on the list too, then.

Jul 27, 2021, 12:13pm

>29 lisapeet: That's such a cool edition... floofy cat definitely adds some appeal. And, no, re Ethan Frome and Citizen Kane, based on my memory this sled would not fondly recalled... I'm going to be thinking about this until I finally re-read Ethan Frome!!

Great Circle will take me 4-6 weeks on Audio. : )

Edited: Jul 27, 2021, 1:55pm

>28 torontoc: I've noticed lots of positive and intriguing posts on Klara and the Sun. I haven't heard of Mary Lawson, but seems she gets a lot of praise.

Jul 27, 2021, 1:23pm

Booker lengths

2021 list = 4,026 pages
2020 list = 4,816 pages (plus, for early parts of trilogies, 1730 pages = total 6,546)

So, last year was only 20% longer, or this year is 17.5 % shorter. The length difference is significant, but also might have been exaggerated in my perception. Also, two from 2020 were the 3rd book of a trilogy. So, if those four are added, 2020 was a whole lot longer. But that's maybe not fair.)

Edited: Jul 27, 2021, 1:48pm

While I'm at it, my personal ranking of the 2020 Booker longlist entries.

The ones I enjoyed the most:

The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (UK), used print, 757 pp - very long
Real Life by Brandon Taylor (USA), used audio, 9:25 (329 pp)
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (UK), used audio, 9:29 (336 pp) - but see my ethical quandary above

The ones I thought were good but didn’t enjoy as much:

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (USA), used audio, 7:29 (240 pp)
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), used print, 280 pp - I'm really glad I read this.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA), used audio, 17:30 (448 pp) - very long

The ones that were harmless and enjoyable but also really simple:

Redhead by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler (USA), used ebook, 194 pp
Such a Fun Age Kiley Reid (USA), used audio, 9:58 (310 pp) - about as sophisticated as a decent sitcom.

The one I can’t decide if I liked or not (this is not a recommendation):

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (USA), used audio, 12:46 (416 pp) - felt long

The one I found really dull, although the topic was interesting:

Apeirogon by Colum McCann (Ireland/USA), used audio, 15:20 (463 pp) - very long

The ones I really didn't enjoy:

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (USA), used audio, 9:08 (288 pp)
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA), used audio, 16:09 (448 pp) - very long

The one I haven’t read because it has no official US release yet:

Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward, 7:30/256 pp (UK)


Overall I found the list interesting but I don't really look back at it all that fondly. I didn't really like most of these books. And, yes, that makes me question if I should have pursued it. However, I was really grateful to read the trilogies. Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not were all terrific, and I think I liked each better than any of the books on this list. So maybe reading the 2020 list was worth those four books.

Jul 27, 2021, 4:55pm

>30 dchaikin: "And, no, re Ethan Frome and Citizen Kane, based on my memory this sled would not fondly recalled... I'm going to be thinking about this until I finally re-read Ethan Frome!!"

Re: Ethan Frome, you are right about the sled. Not a happy element. I read the book in a grad school course called "Highbrows and Lowbrows" in the the "highbrows" were Edith Wharton and Henry James (don't get me started) and the "lowbrows" were Mark Twain and Theodore Dreiser. We read a novel a week. It was my first semester of grad school after seven years away from school entirely. Yikes! I don't have clear memories of Ethan Frome, though I remember having to push through it. Lots of luck!

Jul 28, 2021, 8:44am

>34 rocketjk: entertained by the title of your course. Sounds like a whole lot of reading and a great experience. I’m hoping to actually enjoy EF this time.

Jul 28, 2021, 11:17am

>35 dchaikin: Yes, it was a great course and the professor was terrific. I, too, hope you enjoy EF, and I'm looking forward to reading about how you eventually get on with the book.

Jul 28, 2021, 10:06pm

>36 rocketjk: I'll have to be patient. EF is her seventh novel. I think we will read the first four this year.

Edited: Jul 28, 2021, 10:48pm

34. Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
published: 2020
format: Apple Books ebook (194 pages in paperback)
acquired: July 19
read: Jul 19-20
time reading: 4:02, 1.2 mpp
rating: 3½
locations: Baltimore
about the author: Baltimore-based author. Born in Minneapolis, 1941. Grew up Quaker communities in North Carolina.

This was fine. Short, harmless, pretty thin. Micah Mortimer makes a small living as the Tech Hermit - I think "mort" and "time" and "hermit" give a pretty heavy handed perspective on what's not going on, actually living. Micah is really nice and likeable but has trouble seeing what he‘s missing or how he's limiting his own life. There is one chapter where we meet Micah's family that is chaotic in a really terrific way and I really enjoyed it. But it's just a cameo. The rest was ok. I didn‘t mind it.

This was my first by Tyler, and my 12th of the 13 books on the 2020 Booker list.

Jul 28, 2021, 10:27pm

Edited: Jul 28, 2021, 10:45pm

35. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
published: 1989
format: 323-page paperback
acquired: 2007
read: Jul 21-25
time reading: 9:35, 1.8 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Discworld (in a version of ancient Egypt with magical forces)
about the author: 1948-2015, from Buckinghamshire, England

I love discworld, still, but this one was tough. Terrific ideas, terrific world, great characters and ideas. Pratchett has so much fun playing on ancient Egypt, classical Greek philosophy, death (and mummies), religion and, just discworld,. But the plot drive isn‘t there, and when it is, the pacing is terrible. It makes for a sluggish read.

(my cover is so boring, I had to post some Josh Kirby art above)

Jul 29, 2021, 6:53am

>17 dchaikin: Late in catching up, but interesting thoughts on Who They Was. I definitely get the ethical dilemma you felt - I think that bothers me more the older I get. Hmm - I think it swings me into the 'don't read it' camp, although your review makes it sound very tempting. I find it hard to get past someone profiting from a violent past, especially when it's not tied to a 'so here's what I did with my life to atone for the misery I caused' message.

Jul 29, 2021, 7:49am

>40 dchaikin: I think I rated Pyramids a bit higher, because I read it after just finishing Small Gods. The latter being one of Pratchett's best in my opinion. I do remember feeling it was a bit more disjointed and slow.

And totally agree, I have a whole stack of those boring covers. They in no way reflect the contents of the novel. Josh Kirby's artwork is so much better in every way. I don't quite understand the trend of generic, boring covers' genre fiction has undergone for the last decade. Generic cover design doesn't make a book more literary.

Jul 29, 2021, 8:58am

>41 AlisonY: on Who They Was: right. Krauze’s book is a kind of atonement but also not exactly. He never expresses any sense of internal guilt. It should be annoying, but when he is reading, he is captivating and his voice is hard to pause. So I was only insecure about it when I wasn’t listening.

>42 stretch: ah, Small Gods. So just terrific. (And, of course, turtles and the religion make a couple distinct appearances in Pyramids). As for the covers, I find those post-Kirby covers deadening, as if they are trying to avoid acknowledging the electricity inside. I really don’t like them.

Jul 29, 2021, 9:13am

>43 dchaikin: I do get that (and I'm still tempted). It's that fly on the wall amazement of an inside track on a life led in a totally different way to how you lead your own.

Jul 29, 2021, 6:21pm

Just catching up here, and I'm a little bit amused by the discussion of Ethan Frome. I also had to read it in high school, but while I deeply resented almost everything I was forced to read for school, I was the only single person in my class who actually really liked Ethan Frome. I think I was emotionally repressed enough as a teen that I could really relate to the main character.

I re-read it again a couple of years ago and liked it all over again, too. Maybe I'm still emotionally repressed. :)

Jul 29, 2021, 8:27pm

>44 AlisonY: yes. Totally different life and despite the awful stuff, fascinating.

>45 bragan: I think I have about six months to build up some emotional repression - you know, as prep. Seriously, hope you don’t have any serious issues of the sort. And also glad to have some encouragement. Thanks.

Jul 31, 2021, 4:49pm

Great reviews of Who They Was and This Mournable Body, Dan. I hope to get to both books later this year.

Nice summary of the 2020 Booker Prize longlist! I'll start on the 2021 longlist next week, as I only have to work Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, versus all seven days this week.

Jul 31, 2021, 5:47pm

>47 kidzdoc: I need to catch up on your thread and see your thoughts on this year's list. I think last year's list was not so highly regarded (??).

Aug 1, 2021, 9:31am

Happy August

My 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

How it played out:

13:05 - Pale Fire by Vladimr Nabokov - finished
5:01 - All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare (acts I-III)
2:59 - The Touchstone by Edith Wharton - finished
9:35 - Pyramids by Terry Pratchett - finished
10:01 - This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga - finished
4:10 - Redhead by the side of the Road by Anne Tyler - finished
1:12 - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson - in progress
10:41 - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov - in progress

Beat my time! And I finished a lot of shorter books this month. So a good month in that way. I'm interested in how far off my estimates were. I underestimated these later difficult Nabokov books, and over-estimated Terry Pratchett.

My August plan

5 hours - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (Litsy group read)
4 hours - Measure for Measure, acts 1&2 (Litsy, and I lead)
3 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, last 61 pages (Nabokov theme)
17 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III (Litsy Wharton theme)
1/2 hour - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages
23 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratichvili - 1st half (TBR)
52.5 hours

My original August plan included Cup of Gold, the first novel by John Steinbeck.

Aug 3, 2021, 9:20am

>48 dchaikin: I think that's a fair statement, Dan. I wasn't enamored of the 2020 Booker Dozen, and I don't know of anyone personally who was fond of it. I haven't started this year's longlist yet, but it looks promising on paper.

Aug 3, 2021, 1:36pm

>50 kidzdoc: as i try to make sense of these Booker decisions I’m getting more interested in the group selecting. Interesting that of the five judges, only one is a novelist this year. (Horatia Harrod is an editor at the Financial Times Weekend. She has written widely on arts and books… Natascha McElhone is a actor…Dr Rowan Williams is a theological writer… and Maya Jasanoff is a historian. Only Chigozie Obioma is a novelist.) That’s curious to me. It seems it could give a pushy author too much weight, if they harp on their writing experience with no one to counter. Or it could really tamp down on the writers perspective, since he’s outnumbered. Or maybe it’s all a lot more normal than that.

Anyway, Chigozie Obioma’s presence encourages me a lot. I really enjoyed his Orchestra of Minorities, which I thought was a lesson in storytelling. So I’m guessing he values that aspect. The press releases all seem to harp on the emphasis of storytelling in this year’s list.

Edited: Aug 4, 2021, 9:14pm

36. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
reader: Ruth Urquhart
published: 1987
format: 7:51 audible audiobook (224 pages in paperback)
acquired: July 14
listened: Jul 15-29
rating: 5
locations: Cairo 1942, England and Massachusetts
about the author: English author born Cairo in 1933, who moved to England in 1945.

I really enjoyed this. It's smart, fun, moving, thoughtful, with sweeping history and terrific language, and I stumbled across it by accident, making it all the more of all of that.

I found it looking, indecisively, for audiobooks, trying samples. This sample begins with a the narrator telling me, roughly, "my John Aubrey is not your John Aubrey." And actually that was enough for me the pick the book. I stopped the sample there. The narrator is Claudia, lying in a hospital bed, dying, and writing a history of the world. Claudia is everything that proper, intellectual England English can do to raise one above the rest of humanity. Arrogant, narcissistic, brilliant, elegant, separate, and full of information. And she tells of her life, a lost father a World War I, working as a war reporter during World War II, a defier of all gender conventions and limitations. Early in the book she is dragged across the pond by her brother, a Harvard professor, and visits a recreation of the original Plymouth settlement, with character actors playing the time period and answering visitor questions. Claudia begins to warn these confused actors all their consequences, of all the American future flaws, begging them not to be so greedy as to import slaves. It's a scene worth the book.

But actually the heart of this book takes place over a brief period in Cairo, in 1942, on the brink of El Alamein, where the book turns romantic and builds in many details of Penelope Lively's own life. Lively was born to an expat British family in Cairo, and lived there until Rommel threatened in 1942, when she was about twelve. Her childhood experience seems to have struck a nerve.

This book breathes history. The way Lively/Claudia undermines it, plays with it, toys with the philosophy of it - all with extreme arrogance, adds another wonderful color to already terrific novel. One of my best audiobook experiences.

Aug 4, 2021, 9:21pm

37. Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson
Illustrations: Marilyn Kahalewai
published: 1966, with illustrations from 1988
format: 84-page paperback
acquired: July 31
read: Jul 31 – Aug 1
time reading: 1:42, 1.2 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Hawaii
about the author: couldn’t find anything….

A 1966 collection that‘s been reprinted several times, including this new printing with 1988 illustrations. Didn‘t do much for me, but it was short and it was nice to get a small sense of the mythology.

Aug 4, 2021, 9:43pm

38. Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1966
format: 302-page paperback
acquired: August 2020, from a Goodwill
read: Jul 24 – Aug 2
time reading: 13:15, 2.6 mpp
rating: 4
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).

This one I was happy to finish. Because it was difficult and slow to work through, and really evasive, although rewarding in its own odd way.

I saw reviewers comment on how self-indulgent this is, and also how evocative it is. It was mainly, for me, impenetrable. I learned a lot about the natural magic of well-maintained wealthy Russia summer estates, of hunting butterflies, of the awkwardness of English and French governesses and the eccentric personal tutors of various backgrounds. Nabokov's family was crazy wealthy, even as his father was politically liberal (and influential). But this left him prominently caught between or outside the Russian red and white forces in the Revolution, and forced the family to flee into a ruined exile. His father was later assassinated, or actually shot while shielding a colleague from an assassin (an assassin who apparently did well later in Nazi Germany). Vladimir Nabokov was left a permanent exile, and caught into a life of before and after. This is mainly about that lost Russian childhood, and his lost summers in the family's country estate.

Nabokov tells us he doesn't regret the loss of that fanciful life and, as he tells us so little about how he feels, I'm tempted to believe him. This is a very frustrated book for anyone looking to learn about the formation of this author. I was looking for that, and found my desperately looking to pin down anything solid. I was grasping at fog. Within this curious atmospheric construction, he reveals nothing.

Aug 4, 2021, 10:57pm

>52 dchaikin: I read Moon Tiger a few years back and also liked it quite a lot. I didn't realize how much of it reflected Lively's own life. Terrific review.

Aug 5, 2021, 12:38pm

>55 rocketjk: Thanks. Seems a lot of people have read, and really liked, this Booker winner (Moon Tiger won in 1987). I had never heard of it before.

Edited: Aug 5, 2021, 1:01pm

>52 dchaikin: Moon Tiger has popped on and off my radar for years. I'll have to library it up—it sounds neat.

Aug 5, 2021, 1:02pm

>52 dchaikin: Hm - sounds like I need to pick this one up. It had been on my radar since forever but every time I was looking at it, something else came up. Your review makes me want to read it :)

Aug 5, 2021, 3:40pm

>57 lisapeet: >58 AnnieMod: Happy to encourage. It’s a fun book, maybe unusually so.

Aug 5, 2021, 7:20pm

>52 dchaikin: That was the only Golden Booker nominee that I didn't read. Sounds like I missed a good one. I may have to rectify that soon. Thanks for the review!

Edited: Aug 5, 2021, 9:39pm

>60 Yells: I had to look up what the Golden Booker Prize was. Interesting! I’ve read three of the 5 in the shortlist. Might have to read those other two. I think own The English Patient (great movie).

The shortlisted works were:

In a Free State (1971) — V.S. Naipaul
Moon Tiger (1987) — Penelope Lively
The English Patient (1992) — Michael Ondaatje ==> eventual winner
Wolf Hall (2009) — Hilary Mantel
Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) — George Saunders

Edited: Aug 18, 2021, 8:52am

My mother has been trying to get me to read Penelope Lively for ages, including I'm pretty sure Moon Tiger. Maybe I should listen to her now... ;-p

I have heard it said that if you read The English Patient before seeing the film you love the novel and dislike the film, and vice versa. They are certainly very different beasts. (I'm in the first category btw - absolutely blown away by the novel and so the film was a bit disappointing in contrast).

Sep 1, 2021, 6:33am

>62 wandering_star: hi. Sorry for the slow response. Thanks for the note on The English Patient. Hope I enjoy it when I get there. And I second your mother on Lively. :)

Edited: Sep 1, 2021, 6:58am

Monthly summary

My August plan

5 hours - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (Litsy group read)
4 hours - Measure for Measure, acts 1&2 (Litsy, and I lead)
3 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, last 61 pages (Nabokov theme)
17 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III (Litsy Wharton theme)
1/2 hour - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages
23 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - 1st half (TBR)
52.5 hours

How it played out

4:39 - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (finished)
5:27 - Measure for Measure. Acts 1-3 (I will re-read Act 3)
2:34 - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. last 61 pages (finished)
17:39 - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III, plus half of IV
0:30 - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages (finished)
23:15 - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - 2/3 read
54:04 hours

A success, but with forty hours dedicated to two long books the I didn't finish (or plan to finish), plus another 18 hours on a long audio book I also haven't finished, I felt a little lost

My September plan

18 hours - Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
9 hours - Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff
4 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, last 86 pages
12 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - last 300 pages
12 hours - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - first half, or around 300 pages
55 hours

In my original sketched plan September included Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler and Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov

Sep 12, 2021, 8:36pm

39. All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
written: 1st known copy is First Folio in 1623, but usually dated 1603-1606
format: 280-page Signet Classic paperback
acquired: June
read: Jul 5 – Aug 7
time reading: 9:40, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: France and Florence
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Sylvan Barnet – series (c1963, 1965, 1988, 2005)
William Painterfrom The Palace of Pleasure (3rd edition, 1575)
Samuel Johnsonfrom The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
M. C. Bradbrookfrom Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry (1951)
Joseph Westlund – Longing, Idealization and Sadness In All’s Well that Ends Well (1984)
Bruce Smith – What Doing it In the Dark, Without Words, Tells Us About Early Modern Sexuality (2005)
Sylvan Barnet – All’s Well that Ends Well on stage and screen

short version: Shakespeare‘s heroin scores an unwilling, promiscuous, maybe syphilic, but upperclass husband and tricks him into impregnating her.

Possibly titled Love's Labour Won at some point, this a problem play in that it's a comedy, but not exactly. It involves a flipping of gender roles, and bed trick. Here the heroin, Helena, choses the husband, and he, Bertram, rejects her sexually. Hence the bed trick. Helena takes the place of Bertram's desired mistress in bed, in the dark, without him ever knowing. (Which says?) Anyway, Helena plays the tricks, marries her unreachable man, and then gets pregnant by him, then finally gets him to commit. Happiness seems very unlikely.

Sep 12, 2021, 8:57pm

40. The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton
published: 1902
format: 461-page Kindle ebook, public domain
acquired: July
read: Aug 2 – Sep 5
time reading: 19:57, 2.6 mpp
rating: 3½
locations: Mainly fictional late 18th-century Pianura in Northern Italy somewhere between Turin (in Savoy) and Milan. Also Turin, Naples, Venice, and other Italian places.
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

Wharton‘s first full length novel from 1902 looks at 18th century northern Italy and reform movements in the Age of Enlightenment. Through unanticipated accidents of succession Odo rises from a neglected spiritual boy to educated idealistic wannabe reformer, to a Duke able to implement his reforms (partially driven a by lover). But do his subjects want them? It‘s a curious complicated setup; a long, interesting, if somewhat forced novel of ideas, or maybe of failed ones.

It's in a way a kind of an oddball first major novel. It's not bad, but readable and interesting. A maybe awkward opening where a reader has no idea where she is going leads to long chunks feeling as if they were written in one breathe, full of ideas and observations and energy. And it asks some hard questions. I would only recommend to completists, but I don't think they will mind it.

Sep 12, 2021, 9:27pm

41. The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili
published: 2014
translation: 2019, from German by Charlotte Collins & Ruth Martin
format: 934-page paperback
acquired: April 2020
read: Aug 6 – Sep 7
time reading: 34:05, 2.2 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Mainly 20th-century Tbilisi, Georgia. But also St. Petersburg, Moscow and elsewhere.
about the author: A German citizen born (1983) and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I had one of those LT Club Read moments. Someone raved about a book (rachbxl), this one, and I got sucked in and now had to read it. Except...this time I actually followed up on that response. It's a great book, but I was never quite as taken as the Rachel.

This is a 934-page sweeping historical romance on Georgia - the country. It basically covers the 20th century, opening around 1900 and closing around 2003, a pivotal and hopeful year for this place. That means we open with a Russian controlled Georgia, watch the Bolshevik revolution, and then spend 70 years under Soviet rule, many with Georgian-born Stalin ruling (with his Georgian-born lecherous henchman, Lavrentiy Beria.). We see Glasnost and the Soviet collapse and Georgian independence and the wars and massacres that went with that, but were largely hidden in the back pages of the western press.

The story is told by Nika, an unmarried Georgia-born women in her 30's living Berlin with the wonderfully named Aman Baron (not sure if it's as entertaining in the original German). Brilka, her 12-yr-old niece, travelling with a dance group in Holland, has run off and, after a few days, been found in Vienna. And Nika's mother asks her to deal with it. So, Nika goes to Vienna and picks up rebellious Brilka, and then she feels the need to tell Brilka her family history, and all these broken stories, in a largely romantic moving tone. The nature of writing a history through a romantic family means we can't just have every day characters. Some need to interact closely with major historical figures, or become powerful or famous in improbable ways. Through the first 2/3 of this book, this bothered me a lot. But the last third is Nika's own life, and she switches to first person and focuses on the 1980's (when the author was born in Georgia) and suddenly there is all this life detail. The book opened up for me (and Georgia as a place opened up for me) and I didn't mind the flaws so much. So, cumulatively, I liked it a lot.

Haratischvili started by writing Nika's story, or something like that, but she felt she had to bring a lot history before anything worked. So she went back to 1900. That maybe explains the somewhat dual feel of the book...well, that and the change from 3rd person to 1st person.

I‘m not going to rave about this, as I was never carried away, but it‘s nicely written and I enjoyed it all.

Edited: Sep 12, 2021, 10:24pm

42. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
readers: Cassandra Campbell & Alex McKenna
published: 2021
format: 25:16, 608 pages in hardcover
acquired: July 30
listened: Jul 30 – Sep 10
rating: 4
locations: Hollywood, Missoula, Montana, Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska, England, Antarctica, and other places.
about the author:from Mission Viejo, California. Born 1983

Another long book I liked but didn't love. Great Circle is the story Marian Graves, a (fictional) pilot who tried to be the first to fly around the world by crossing both poles in 1949-50, but disappeared somewhere off the New Zealand side of Antarctica. Now the overlooked pioneering pilot is a the subject of a movie under production.

No simple story, Marian and her twin brother must survive a shipwreck, lose their parents, and grow up somewhat wild, and be raised by an uncle in Montana. When Marian first sees a airplane she becomes obsessed, drops out of school to make some money and makes a number of other sacrifices to pursue her goal of flying.

In Hollywood an off-kilter brazen actress suffering bad press, who lost her parents to a plane that disappeared, and who was raised by her uncle, feels a connection to Marian, and is selected to play her in a movie.

The stories are told in contrasting tone (and two different narrators on audio), but interact through the mystery that was Marian.

It was not a wow for me. And I thought it lacked a hook. I never really understood why Marian was so special to spend time with. I mean I liked her. Just, she didn't draw me in. On a different note, I didn't like that she was such a passive character. It seems a little wrong that a pioneering pilot was so passive, but mainly it's just an overdone thing. So many contemporary novels live off outrageously passive characters. Maybe this was just a little too conventional for me. But it‘s still a good novel, and Shipstead creates some wonderful moments, with some striking prose.

Sep 15, 2021, 6:51am

>38 dchaikin: Loved your Tyler review! It made me laugh. i read Tyler regularly up to and including the 1990s but then stopped (...long before LT. It would have been nice to see what I might have written in reviews for those books).

Sep 15, 2021, 8:29am

>69 avaland: thanks! I have another Tyler in the TBR stacks - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I had actually planned to read it this month. I’m still following that plan, but behind it.

Edited: Sep 15, 2021, 10:27am

>70 dchaikin: I'll be interested how it reads generally ...what...thirty years after first publication? Meanwhile, I've started a book by a geologist who worked with a team in Greenland (I thought I could alternate with the Icelandic history/cultural book I've been picking at.

Sep 15, 2021, 12:46pm

Lois - i saw you were reading that title and I’m really curious. (I’m really far behind on your thread and was hesitant to comment before I caught up.)

Sep 15, 2021, 6:43pm

Nice review of Great Circle, Dan. (I have absolutely no idea why the touchstone for the book goes to Great Ground-Beef Recipes.) Since it was selected for the Booker Prize shortlist I'll read it next month.

Edited: Sep 15, 2021, 9:23pm

Ground beef = burger - which is circular? The touchstones are weird. I’ll look forward to your response to Great Circle. It mostly gets rave reviews - but also see Deborah’s (Cariola) review.

Sep 15, 2021, 9:50pm

Yes, I remember Deborah's review of Great Circle from last month; that's why I'm saving it as my last shortlisted book to read. Based on her comments and yours I suspect that I would enjoy reading Great Ground-Beef Recipes considerably more. Hmm...could it be that the touchstones are trying to steer me toward that book?

Sep 16, 2021, 2:29am

>70 dchaikin: I'm curious that Anne Tyler is on your reading list at all - she's a very different author to the type of books you normally read. What led to her inclusion in your plan?

Edited: Sep 16, 2021, 4:10pm

>75 kidzdoc: I’m fasting today. I probably should be thinking about something other than burgers, or meatloaf, or…

>76 AlisonY: I guess I branch out a little. 🙂Anne Tyler comes up here a lot, and usually positive. So i was curious enough that I picked up a random novel I found at a bookstore. That’s how i got Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Whereas Redhead by the Side of the Road is on the 2019 Booker longlist, and i’ve read all but one book on that list.

Sep 16, 2021, 7:16pm

>77 dchaikin: Ah, right. G'mar Chatima Tovah.

Sep 16, 2021, 8:34pm

>78 kidzdoc: thanks Darryl. It’s funny I only recognize that because I once googled it. I’ve never actually said it to anyone myself. ☺️ Also, fast is over! Phew…

Edited: Sep 17, 2021, 3:32am

>77 dchaikin: Fair enough - I was just curious given the types of reading themes you normally do.

I've not read any Anne Tyler yet - I picked up one in a free library in a hotel some years back but the first few pages didn't grab me so I put it back. Not that that's saying anything - I've ready many, many books where it takes 50 - 100 pages before I'm hooked, but then I really do get into them, so I should give her another try.

Sep 18, 2021, 1:02pm

>80 AlisonY: my first experience with Tyler was that she was a harmless easy read, but it wasn't anything like a super amazing reading experience. I do think about Redhead by the Side of the Road here and there, so there's that, but it's probably not a persuasive recommendation. I think if she doesn't grab you, there are plenty other authors to try. (Like Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, just, you know, for example....)

Sep 25, 2021, 5:10pm

43. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
originally performed: 1604
format: 223-page Signet Classic
acquired: June
read: Aug 16 – Sep 19
time reading: 14:27, 3.9 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Vienna
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Sankalapuram Nagarajan – editor (c1964, 1988, 1998)
Sylvan Barnet – series editor (c1963, 1988, 1998)
G. Wilson Knight – Measure for Measure and the Gospels (1949)
Mary Lascelles – from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1953)
Marcia Reifer Poulsen – “Instruments for some more mightier member”: The Constriction of Female Power in Measure for Measure (1984)
Ruth Nevo – Complex Sexuality (1987)
Sankalapuram Nagarajan – Measure for Measure on Stage and Screen (c1964, 1988, 1998)

Our latest Shakespeare group read on Litsy. It's odd that this is considered one of Shakespeare's better plays. It's mainly provocative, generating frustration from an involved audience or reader. The play centers on a sexual assault, a sleep-with-me-or-else scenario, and a ruling duke playing director, resolving all the problems. But this duke creates problems for the audience. We aren't satisfied. The bad guys aren‘t punished and the good one is strained by dilemma, and then mid-play she becomes a humble role player in the Duke's production. Our good guy is Isabella, a young attractive nun who spends the whole play trying to preserve her chastity in a impossible situation controlled by the surrounding men. The play ends with the duke marrying her...

A more detailed synopsis here: The setting is a Vienna whose general character is captured by the wide spread of syphilis. The ruling Duke takes a leave to visit some other place, and places the city in the hands of the a known extremely upright citizen, Angelo. The Duke doesn't actually leave, he disguises himself as a friar and stays in town to see what will happen. Angelo starts enforcing Vienna's neglected draconian laws, and condemns Claudio to execution for impregnating his unofficial fiancé. Claudio begs his sister Isabella's help. She is becoming a nun in an extreme order of St. Claire. She pleads Claudio's case to Angelo, who, after huffing and puffing about how he's just all about the law, gives Isabella the ultimatum, sleep with me or Claudio dies. Isabella, caught in this dilemma, goes to her brother with the intention of his accepting this as unreasonable, but Claudio wants to live.

At this point the play takes a turn. The Duke in disguise works out resolutions, and then has to figure out what to do when everything starts to go wrong. He becomes something of a harried director, working out how everyone should shake out and then trying to fix whatever backfires. First he uses the bed trick and has Isabella swap herself out with Angelo's own spurned ex-fiancé. (it works) Later he has deal with Angelo's reneging. Instead of releasing Claudio, he moves up his execution to immediate, afraid of Claudio seeking a revenge of honor. In the end the Duke takes off his disguise and places judgment of everyone. No one dies, Angelo is dealt with. Claudio is released, and Isabella's chastity is preserved. And then the Duke slips in that he will marry Isabella.

There are source stories, but Shakespeare manages within the framework for his own purposes. It becomes a look at variations of self righteousness within variations of power and control. Power corrupts. Self-righteousness is flaw. And, the titles notes a prominent theme: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.", Matthew 7:1-2.

I enjoyed this play, but more it riled me up and led to great conversations in my group. It's not artistic and moving, like say Hamlet, as much as it is upsetting. And the play's history doesn't help. In the 1940's the Duke was popularly viewed as a divine, Jesus-like figure, saving everyone. This view was pushed in a 1948 essay by G. Wilson Knight (included in the Signet edition) and performances followed along. That perspective is practically criminal from some standpoints, including my own expressed here. On the surface to Duke is a good guy. Underneath he's really a kind of monster. He creates the problems and then get what he wants out of it, and gets away with it. I think as an audience we're supposed to see that and be really annoyed. And to have a audience critically buy into him and see him as a Jesus-like hero seems to add another level to what he gets away with. Of course, interpretation is all open to social trends and personal perspectives, including those within our self-identified #metoo era. (I think most contemporary performances are more nuanced and more aware of the display of powerplay, and the abuse of the powerless.)

Edited: Sep 25, 2021, 6:04pm

44. Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
illustrations: Alison Mason Kingsbury
published: 1964
format: 380-page hardcover
acquired: December
read: Sep 4-21
time reading: 17:51, 2.8 mpp
rating: 4
locations: 1300’s Bologna, Avignon, Vaucluse, Rome, Milan, Padua, Venice, Arquà…
about the author:1893-1973 An American professor at Cornell, and WWI veteran who grew up in Brantford, Ontario, Geneva, NY and Yonkers NY.

More Petrarch. Maybe this will be the end. This is second biography I have read of Petrarch this year. This one is older, from 1964, and by a 1930‘s translator of Petrarch‘s Canzoniere Morris Bishop (His translation is titled Love Rimes of Petrarch). What I got out of this was a reminder that Petrarch led an interesting life, that he left behind extensive personal writings in the voice of someone who sounds modern and familiar, even exposing their inner insecurities. The first modern man (or at least the earliest one widely identified, or maybe just the first person to come across as relatable). The biography is well done, with extensive interesting, translated sections from his letters and works. (and lovely illustrations by the author‘s spouse, Alison Mason Kingsbury). It‘s not, however, the translator‘s critique of the Canzonierre that I was maybe hoping for.

Pictured is Kingsbury‘s illustration for Vacluse, Petrarch‘s place of self-isolation near Avignon, where he did an extensive amount of his writing.

Sep 25, 2021, 5:33pm

45. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
reader: William DeMeritt
published: 2021
format: 12:08 audible audiobook (368 pages in hardcover)
acquired: September 10
listened: Sep 10-24
rating: 4
locations: late Civil-War Georgia (the US state, this time)
about the author: born 1992, raised in Oregon, lives in Austin, TX

My second from the 2021 Booker longlist. This is a novel on the immediate aftermath of Civil War, beginning days after surrender. It takes looks at a small town in rural Georgia adjusting to defeat and the presence of controlling union soldiers, and full of recently freed slaves and recently returned soldiers.

Strange is the wrong word, but I thought this book had some oddities. The extensive dialogue is colorful and quietly dynamic, except when it's not. The prose in contrast is straight-forward and plain and clean. The contrast, exaggerated on audio, is endearing, and it seemed to me to become a distinct thing, unique, the likable aspects inseparable from its flaws. Anyway, I enjoyed this.

Sep 27, 2021, 2:58pm

I'm glad that you enjoyed The Sweetness of Water, Dan. I'll definitely read it next month, even though it wasn't chosen for this year's Booker Prize shortlist.

Sep 27, 2021, 9:39pm

>85 kidzdoc: I’m glad Sweetness made the longlist so I got a chance to read it. Hope you enjoy.

Sep 27, 2021, 9:50pm

>86 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. I've been very pleased with this year's longlist so far, as four of the five books I've finished or am reading have been superb, and very worthy of consideration for the award, including An Island by Karen Jennings, which I should finish tomorrow. The reviews of The Sweetness of Water I've read have been overwhelmingly positive, so I look forward to it.

Sep 28, 2021, 12:26pm

>87 kidzdoc: five already. I need to check your thread.. and catch up. I'm starting my third. (listened to Great Circle and Sweetness and I've only just started Light Perpetual - about 40 minutes in)

Sep 30, 2021, 10:08pm

Sep update/oct plan

My September plan

18 hours - Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
9 hours - Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff
4 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, last 86 pages
12 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - last 300 pages
12 hours - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - first half, or around 300 pages
55 hours

the actual numbers
17:51- Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop - finished
9:00 - Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff - finished
1:59 - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, last 86 pages - finished (I think it was more like 70 pages)
10:50 - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - last 300 pages - finished
12:31 - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - 265 of 589 pages
2:24 - Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck - first 58 of 227 pages
2:46 - Sanctuary by Edith Wharton (a novella)

A success although nothing here wowed me. (I should reward myself a plodding medal.) I liked Ada a lot for a hundred pages, but it's become entirely sex-fetish self-indulgent. Sanctuary was rewarding.

October plan

16 hours - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - last 300 pages
7 hours - Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck - 170 pages left
8 hours - Romeo and Juliet
16 hours - The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed
5 hours - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
3 hours - House of Mirth - 1st 80 pages
55 hours

My October plan originally included The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli and Strong Opinions by Nabokov.

Oct 1, 2021, 8:11am

>89 dchaikin: I hope you enjoy House of Mirth.

Oct 1, 2021, 12:15pm

I really enjoyed House of Mirth. Will be interested in your thoughts.

Oct 2, 2021, 10:47am

>90 labfs39: >91 AlisonY: House of Mirth is the one I’m looking forward to the most. I’m reading with a (tiny) Litsy group. I’m also excited for Muriel Spark, who I haven’t read.

Edited: Oct 9, 2021, 6:41pm

46. Sanctuary by Edith Wharton
published: 1902
format: 52-page kindle ebook (typically ~ 100 pages)
acquired: September 7
read: Sep 27
time reading: 2:46, 3.2 mpp
rating: 4
locations: California?, New York City
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

Wharton‘s 3rd work of fiction, a novella from 1902, consists of two connected parts around Kate Peyton, née Orme. First a naïve Kate discovers her fiancé has conned an inheritance, and she still marries him. In part 2 her son has a moral quandary. Kate is passionately well-meaning, morality driven and likable, but strained by circumstance, and ultimately humanly flawed. She has to discover for herself her charmed “life was honeycombed by a vast system of moral sewage.” And, she struggles herself to understand her relationship with her son, whose life she is maybe over-involved in. ("As she sat there in the radius of lamplight which, for so many evenings, had held Dick and herself in a charmed circle of tenderness, she saw that her love for her boy had come to be merely a kind of extended egotism.") She never does seem to realize how awkward is what she is doing. I think it's fair to say a lot is going here that she doesn't really understand.

I enjoyed this and reading with a Wharton group on Litsy. It gave me a lot to think about. Our next book with be House of Mirth.

Oct 9, 2021, 6:36pm

(edited out most of review. A shortened review above)

Edited: Oct 17, 2021, 9:18pm

47. Ada or Ardor : A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1969
format: 589-page 1969-edition hardcover
acquired: 2011 – from my in-laws collection
read: Sep 19 – Oct 12
time reading: 26:25, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Antiterra – an alternate world with an America heavily influenced by Russians and Russian culture
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).

An excerpt from Beowulf on the Beach, (about Lolita, which is praised): "...I think Nabokov is overrated... One of my most literary friends told me that Nabokov's novel Ada is among her favorite books, so I "read" it, if pedaling the square-wheeled trike of his prose can be called reading. And I said to her, "You really like this book? What about the 'rhythm'? Didn't it clunk and stagger like a besotted Cossack?" "I guess you're right," she said, "I just liked it for the incest."

This is not a book on the sin of incest. It's a romantic incest, insatiable. And outside our world. Nabokov creates a world that is parallel to ours but different…and happens to be a lot like Nabokov‘s privileged childhood world was. This is an America full of indulgent landowners of households run by all-knowing, psychological damaged but mostly loyal servants. And these well-educated landowners speak in a mixture of English, French (untranslated) and Russian (translated, but probably playfully). So things happen out of sequence with real history. They discuss Proust in the 1880's, and technologies are a little different ours in timing and style. It's main purpose seemed to me to be to allow Nabokov to make things anyway he wanted that was convenient. But philosophically there are games, especially with time, memory and imagination and their interplay.

Ultimately we never really know what happened to Van Veen. He writes this book in 3rd person looking back at the lifelong incestual love of his life, and all its rewards and bitter disappointments. But he's our only source. And he fill his version with playful literary references and linguistic games.

I read the first roughly 80 pages and understood nothing that was going on and loved it. I can't place why, but it was romantic and Nabokov can do some things. But the sex starts and Nabokov can't stop. For large chunks of this book, that, the sex, was not only continuously prevalent and the entire focus, but seemed to be the only reasonable purpose. Plodding through pages and pages of this I got tired and bored. I pick up other books...and that's when this one called and I realized I liked this. It's an oddly endearing parody, and the tone of this parody has a hard to place awkward comfort. I finished the book feeling much better about it, and its ideas and purpose, than I did in that middle section. So, mixed recommendation at best.

(side note - Nabokov's influence on Thomas Pynchon is really clear here, especially that "square-wheeled trike" prose.)

Edited: Oct 17, 2021, 8:59pm

48. Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
published: 1994
format: 247-page paperback
acquired: 2019 – sent from Lois
read: Oct 8-16
time reading: 8:12, 2.0 mpp
rating: 5
locations: circa 1910 Tanzania
about the author: born 1948 in the Sultanate of Zanzibar. Fled to England after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1968. Now a retired professor of English and postcolonial literature at the University of Kent.

This is simply wonderful, but of course not in a way I can capture. Gurnah takes us into the world of caravan trading in what is now Tanzania in southeast Africa, and what was then a cultural mélange, a world of merchants from different parts of Africa, Arabia and India, along with the leftovers around that trade, under German colonial rule. No dates, but there is an automobile, and a war coming; and the traditional ways, along with all their tragedy and risk and romanticism, are coming to an end.

Yusuf (whose significantly biblical name took me about 90% of the book to figure out, because of the spelling) finds himself taken from his parents by a rich uncle, and dumped in a shop, and then later on and off a caravan right out of something Marco Polo might have experienced, but here westward into the very distant heart of Africa. The civilized Islamic traders dealing with isolated pagan Africa tribes. Except this isn't the 1300's. This is a colonial ruled territory in the 20th century. Yusuf grows up, and encounters various characters, and their large personalities, and expounding on their philosophies and playing their tricks and trying to manage the traditions and changes.

My first time reading the new Nobel Prize winner. Lois (avaland) sent this my way in April of 2019, after posting to me in her thread, "If one is going to try to hook someone on an author, one must do it properly!" It took me over two years and that prize to finally open it up and see what she meant. I'm anxious to read more by Gurnah.

Edited: Oct 17, 2021, 9:35pm

49. Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
reader: Imogen Church
published: 2021
format: 12:37 audible audiobook (336 pages in hardcover)
acquired: September 24
listened: Sep 25 – Oct 16
rating: 3½
locations: “Bexford”, which is a fictionalized version of Deptford, in southeast London.
about the author: Born 1964 probably in Cambridge to two academic historians (both have Wikipedia entries).

Some good and bad here, although that of course oversimplifies.

This novel is a collection of stories covering the fictional alternate lives of five children killed by the Woolworth V2 rocket, which killed 160 people in 1944. Spufford takes snapshots of their lives, one day every 15 yrs. What comes out is a post-WW2 history of the cultural changes of a fictionalized southeast London suburb. It‘s in some ways very simple, but also has something to it that is a little hard to pin down. Seems the more I think about it the more I appreciate it.

Readers should take note that there some issues. Among it's not-flawed flaws is an almost perfect schoolboy prose, precise, with an carefully elaborate vocabulary, and that comes out dry, and flat. And it's essentially plotless and a little slow and a little too writer-friendly. I think critics tend to like it more than readers. For me, i spent a chunk of the book wondering whether or not I was enjoying it, and the whole book wondering whether I should be. It‘s better in hindsight.

A curious aspect is that I spent so much time wondering how essential the V2 plot line set up is to the heart of the book. It‘s possible the whole book could exist as just the lives of five WWII era kids, without that setup. Their lives are plain, and yet dramatic and tragic enough. But do these tie, the set-up and stories? I caught a few subtle links built-in while reading, and now, looking at the whole thing I‘m finding they actually tie-in really well in several different ways, especially in the sense of 20th century themes. This is in some ways specific to England and its collapsing social hierarchies, but there is still a universal aspect, and deep worry and wonder of what has become of this post WWII world.

For what it's worth, the book first really captured me at what he calls T + 35, 35 years after the bomb and when the kids are now nearly 40. He caught something here, a sense of mid-career disappointment when there is still time to redirect and begin again, but effort and the habit discourage. Before that my connection with the book was tenuous, after I was very much involved with these five alternate lives.

I'm not sure how I would recommend this, but I am glad it's on the Booker long list and that I read it.

Oct 17, 2021, 8:31pm

Wow. Three hard hitters in a row. I have not yet read Gurnah, but am very much looking forward to it.

Oct 17, 2021, 8:57pm

>98 labfs39: I would strongly encourage you to consider following Lois's advice about starting with Paradise.

(random side note. It's the 3rd book titled Paradise that I have read - the others being Toni Morrison's Paradise and Dante's Paradiso)

Oct 18, 2021, 11:26am

>96 dchaikin: That's a book bullet for me! I read Admiring Silence last week and loved it, but Paradise sounds even better.

Edited: Oct 18, 2021, 12:56pm

>100 Dilara86: Well, ditto then. 🙂 I have By the Sea. I need hunt down more. I’ll look for Admiring Silence.

Oct 19, 2021, 4:14am

>96 dchaikin: Great review. You make me anxious to get to Gurnah.

Oct 19, 2021, 9:50am

Great reviews, Dan. I want to read Gurnah as well, and Paradise seems like a good place to start. And I really appreciated your nuanced thoughts about Ada—I have an old copy that was my mom's, haven't read it, but someday. (Pnin first, though.)

Oct 19, 2021, 10:50pm

>102 AlisonY: mission accomplished : )

>103 lisapeet: Oh, dump Ada. Read Pnin. It’s so sadly sweet and charming. (Not that I’m opinionated here). Regarding Paradise, i can only say I’m glad Lois started me there.

Edited: Oct 22, 2021, 1:42pm

Nice review of Paradise, Dan. I'm glad that you enjoyed your first book by one of my favorite authors.

Oct 22, 2021, 1:55pm

>106 dchaikin: I’ve been encouraged by your listing in your thread what you have read by Gurnah.

Oct 22, 2021, 4:11pm

Reading your last three reviews demonstrates why it is good not to give up on a book. Especially if you are having trouble finding out what it is about. Enjoying your reviews Dan

Oct 23, 2021, 4:25pm

>107 baswood: maybe bas, and good summary. I guess it depends on the book.

Edited: Oct 26, 2021, 2:59pm

50. Il filostrato by Giovanni Boccaccio
Italian text edited by Vincenzo Pernicone (1937), translation and introduction by Robert P. ApRoberts & Anna Bruni Seldis (1986)
written: usually dated between 1335 and 1340
format: hardcover with 74-page introduction and 416-pages with Italian poetry and English translation in prose on facing pages
acquired: Library
read: Oct 9-23
time reading: 8:59, 1.9 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Naples and Troy
about the author: Florentine author 1313-1375 (live in Naples from 1327-1340, where this was written)

The story of Troilus and Criseyde is of medieval origin, from when The Iliad was mostly lost to Europe. Troilus is mentioned once in Iliad, where he is killed by Achilles. Criseyde (or Criseida, or Cressida, like that old Toyota) is a warped derivation of Briseis, the captive Agamemnon steals from Achilles in the opening of the epic. But the story of these lovers, who are separated by war and then follow with different responses, has its own tradition. Boccaccio would have pulled from a Latin translation of Le Roman de Troie (The Romance of Troy) by Benoît de Sainte-Maure. His version then probably became the main source of Chaucer's version, Troilus and Criseyde, considered one of his best works. Shakespeare also has a famous wry comedic version.

The basic framework is that Troilus, a son of Trojan King Priam, falls in love with Criseida, the daughter of a seer, Calchas. Their affair is set up through her cousin, Panderus. Calchas has foreseen the Trojan loss and deserted to the Greek besiegers. Criseida, left behind, is traded for a Trojan worrier, Antenor (later a traitor, but not in these stories). The lovers are divided. Troilus is crushed and mourns. Criseida not only recovers, but falls for the Greek hero Diomede. The jealous Troilus goes on a suicidal rampage, finally killed by Achilles. Intimacy, infidelity and jealousy are always underlying themes.

Boccaccio supposedly wrote this while young, and living in Naples, somewhere around 1335 to 1340. Our narrator, whether Boccaccio or fictional, has fallen painfully in love, in Naples, to a lover who has moved away, and out of reach. "That deprivation has saddened my soul so far beyond any proper limit..." He is writing her this letter, and includes this tragic story of Troilo and Criseida so that she can see "when someone's happiness is seen, the quantity and quality of the misery which comes after may be much better understood."

The story itself is told in poetic stanzas, here translated in prose English, which makes the reading quick. But I still found it a little slow as, despite the plot drive, it dwells so much on exaggerated emotional pathos and tears. But it's interesting in several ways. The focus on the pathos ties more in to Petrarch and traditional love poetry than, for example, into Shakespeare. Also, unlike in Shakespeare, the lovers are each really warmly in love, not just Troilus. The sexual encounters are more explicit that I would have expected, somehow both a little racy and romantic.

Long would it be to recount the joy and impossible to tell the delight which they took together when they came into it; they undressed and got in to bed, where the lady, remaining still in her last garment, with pleasing speech said to him, "Shall I strip myself? The newly married are bashful the first night."

To whom Troilo said, "My soul, I pray that I may have you naked in my arms as my heart desires." And then she: "See how I free myself of it." And her shift thrown away, she gathered herself quickly into his arms; and straining each other with fervor, they felt the ultimate value of love.

O sweet night, and much desired, what were you to the two happy lovers! If the knowledge were given to me that all the poets have had, it could not be described by me. Let him think of it who was ever as much advanced by the grace of love as these were, and he will know in part their delight.
This was a random and kind of cool library find. I'm looking into making Boccaccio one of my 2022 themes, and I found that the only widely available work by him is The Decameron. Anything else is a little tricky to find and maybe for me not worth the time and effort. But I peaked at our library catalogue and found this edition (not available on amazon) and decided to pick it up. It's charming in its typewriter font, and obscure feel. But it's not an ideal version in any sense. The poetry is lost. And it comes with a long cranky introduction which expresses bitter offense at suggestion Boccaccio might have intended some irony. Cleary apRoberts has some kind of ax to grind.

Oct 25, 2021, 4:48am

>96 dchaikin: I read that when it came out (and lost track of Gurnah thereafter...); I remember having the same sort of delayed realisation of why Yusuf has that name.

>109 dchaikin: Interesting. Sounds like more fun than I would have guessed!

Oct 25, 2021, 1:12pm

>110 thorold:
- Yusuf - the torn shirt is where it finally kicked in for me.
- Filostrato - yes, some pleasant surprises. Sometimes it’s good to go into one of the old works blind, and just sense the text without awareness of all the period-specific extra meaning or the historical baggage.

Oct 25, 2021, 7:26pm

Fascinating reading about IL Filostrato. A shame that the poetry has been lost, but it was fun to read your extract.

Oct 26, 2021, 11:58am

>112 baswood: Bas - Thanks. Those stanzas hung around for me. I thought Boccaccio handled the affection better than the tragic aspects to the point that I think more about their mutual affection than anything else. (whereas with Shakespeare, it's Cressida's nifty fluidity within the greater, and male, forces that stays strongest with me - well, and his humor with the Iliad.) There are poetic English translations of Filostrato, including ones not that old and probably decent quality, but they require a little searching.

Edited: Nov 17, 2021, 10:54pm

51. Cup of Gold : A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History by John Steinbeck
introduction Susan F. Beegel, 2008
published: 1929
format: 227-page Penguin Classics paperback, published 2008
acquired: 2020
read: Sep 21 – Oct 23
time reading: 8:34, 2.3 mpp
rating: 3
locations: 17th-century Wales, Caribbean, Panama
about the author: 1902-1968, born in Salinas, CA

What an odd first novel. There some more serious themes and some very striking prose here and there, but they are woven into a kind of adventure story. The mixture is messy; readable, but very awkward.

Sir Henry Morgan was a famous Welsh pirate with unofficial government blessing. He put together huge fleets for major raids on fortified Spanish towns in the Americas in the 1660's, most famously raiding, in 1671, the central city in Panama where all the gold and silver from Pacific side Spanish mines was held, before transfer across the Isthmus to the Caribbean. He was called to trial in England when his raids continued despite a Spanish-English treaty, then, when the treaty collapsed, awarded a governorship in the Caribbean and knighted by Charles II. He was the subject of a contemporary biography that characterized him as a one-time indentured servant who turned himself into an infamous ruthless pirate, horribly treating the Spanish and his own men. He sued for libel and won, but the mythology has stuck. (He was likely navy sailor with connections. He had two uncles with successful military careers, and one was an English governor in the Caribbean. He married that uncle's daughter, his first cousin.)

Steinbeck is writing fiction, taking characters from his own life and putting them into this pirate story. But he pointedly ties to the real history and the mythology. This is such an odd book. There is a sort of druid priest, a dreamy lonely landlord of indentured and permanent slaves lost in this deep reading, a sort of fierce Spanish heroin who defeats our pirate with a pin used in place of a sword, and sends him into spiraling uncertainty. And this pirate, who conquers his slave owner, women, the economic barriers, and the ruthless recruits, still spirals into doubt. It's just odd. I was struck by the sense of reading a really arrogant author, like male-arrogant. It's not the kind of thing I would expect of a future Nobel Prize winner, but it is maybe revealing in ways his later works don't show.

Unlike Filostrato, this comes with a terrific introduction, which I read afterward. Susan F. Beegel goes into where Steinbeck was coming from with this novel, what his influences and inspirations were, what this determined author was doing in writing his first novel, and why it came out this awkward way. I think I found this better than the book. It's here I learned that this is essentially an allegory of some dark aspects of American capitalism, the 1920's robber barons being the contemporary pirates (and it was published a two months before the stock market crash).

While I'm happy to recommend Beegel's intro, I can't recommend the book. It's not terrible, but it was disappointing for me. I was toying with reading through Steinbeck's work. But I'm not sure I like the author who wrote this, and I'm not sure I will do that now.

Oct 30, 2021, 4:19pm

>114 dchaikin: Interesting read. I have never heard of this novel by Steinbeck. I suppose not all great authors start with a bang.

Oct 30, 2021, 9:52pm

>115 baswood: I hadn't heard of it either, but looked up his first novel last year. This is more a feeling than a quality thing. I mean it doesn't bother me that the book was an awkward first novel, I just feel it reveals some author perspective that I find discouraging. (I tried to explain it a bit in Lisa's (labfs39) thread today.)

Nov 1, 2021, 4:23pm

>114 dchaikin: I liked this book better than you did. It could be because I like to read about pirates, and even have a pirate tag. However, when I went back to read my thoughts on it after reading yours, I discovered that my 2018 thread just stopped somewhere around my July reading, and I read this book in August of that year. Not sure where my thoughts were about posting back then, and why I seem to have stopped. If I'm not careful, my reading will suffer the same fate this year!

I do wonder why Steinbeck switched gears after writing this novel.

I do see here https://sits.sjsu.edu/curriculum-resources/cup-of-gold/critical-reception/index.... that the book was considered "thoroughly masculine" when it was first published, which agrees with your "...sense of reading a really arrogant author, like male-arrogant."

Nov 1, 2021, 4:36pm

>114 dchaikin: I never warmed up to Steinbeck.

The only one of his I really enjoyed is Cannery Row (and I am too afraid to read it in English in case the language changes my perception - I read it as a young teen in a combined edition with Of Mice and Men (which I did not like much)). I had to read parts of The Grapes of Wrath in high school for my English classes and it was one of the very few books I did not seek to read in full from that year. And I've abandoned East of Eden at least three times (and I think it may have been in 3 different languages).

I've been thinking of trying him again, now that I am (supposedly) grown up. Sounds like I should stay away from this first novel at least as reintroduction to him...

Nov 1, 2021, 4:45pm

>117 SassyLassy: how cool to have another reader of this curious thing, and another opinion. Thanks for the link, (which reads a lot like that part of Beegel’s introduction)

He changed subject medium but the link notes he kept the same themes. Maybe he didn’t really shift gears so much. ??

Nov 1, 2021, 4:48pm

>118 AnnieMod: huh. Interesting. i’ve only read To a God Unknown, before this. And it’s a very good and thought provoking little novel. A step off the beaten track, maybe. I didn’t pick up on the arrogance when i read it…but now I would be looking for it. Oops.

Nov 1, 2021, 4:58pm

>118 AnnieMod: I hated Of Mice and Men in high school and loathed Grapes of Wrath in uni. I’ve since read those plus a few other Steinbeck novels and they are among my top rated reads. At 50, I’m not sure I’ve grown up yet, but I definitely appreciate him more now :)

Nov 1, 2021, 5:36pm

>120 dchaikin: That's what happens when you read early novels sometimes :) Or read authors too early in my case. Books influence how you read other books - which is what non-readers (or casual readers - the "I read a book when I am on vacation" crowd) don't seem to get sometimes. But it also makes a lot of sense to start with an early novel and move from there. What I had learned for myself is never to start with the first novel of someone (unless they are just starting or all are in the same series) - I'd start with a good one that shows me where they CAN go, then go back to that flawed first one. It gets me all itchy not to read in order but... seems to be working better for me for non-genre authors. :)

>121 Yells: That's why I had been thinking of trying again. I am very well aware that 14-16 years old me did not have the maturity or the understanding of the American history and background to appreciate these books (although East of Eden's last aborted attempt was in my mid-20s but but still I had zero experience outside of my home country) :)

Nov 2, 2021, 12:15pm

>121 Yells: noting on both.

>122 AnnieMod: It's hard to predict the best way to introduce yourself to an author. It was nice when Lois recommended I start Gurnah with Paradise. But i also kind of like that I started Nabokov and James Baldwin blind. In this case, with Steinbeck, I have read To a God Unknown, and I liked that enough to make me interested in reading more. Maybe I should give him a pass on this experience, and try a more well-regarded book next.

Edited: Nov 2, 2021, 3:59pm

October summary and November plan plan

My October plan

16 hours - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - last 300 pages
7 hours - Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck - 170 pages left
8 hours - Romeo and Juliet
16 hours - The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed
5 hours - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
3 hours - House of Mirth - 1st 80 pages
55 hours

the actual times

13:54 - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - last 300 pages
6:10 - Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck - 170 pages left
11:08 - Romeo and Juliet
8:12 - Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
8:59 - Il Filostrato by Boccaccio
2:20 - The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed
4:43 - House of Mirth - 1st 80 pages

So, some decent unplanned books changed my reading a bit. Also House of Mirth wants to be read slower than I expected, and Romeo and Juliet took extra time, and I re-read parts because I really liked it. What was strange was that I was really reading a lot for me up till about Oct 23 when I finished Il Filostrato and Cup of Gold on the same day. Then I just randomly fell off and haven't gotten going again yet. But still I Just made my goal time. So a good month. And Paradise by Gurnah might have made it a terrific month. I really enjoyed it, and I'm enjoying The House of Mirth.

The November plan

3 hours - Pericles by William Shakespeare acts 1 & 2
12 hours - House of Mirth - last 220 pages
10 hours - The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed - last 300 pages
5 hours - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
8 hours - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
5 hours - Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
12 hours - Vera by Stacy Schiff - first half (about 200 pages)
55 hours

My November plan originally included Look at the Harlequins by Nabokov and and Where the Jackals Howl by Amos Oz.

Nov 2, 2021, 3:38pm

>124 dchaikin: I'm glad you are enjoying House of Mirth. I liked that one too.

Nov 5, 2021, 8:36am

Catching up. I agree that you should try another Steinbeck. I think that both of the books that Yells mentions are worth a read.

Edited: Nov 5, 2021, 10:43am

I've read a few of Wharton's books and enjoyed them all. House of Mirth has been my favourite so far.

>122 AnnieMod: Maybe re-start your Steinbeck odyssey with Travels with Charley, his memoir about travelling across the US. It was probably one of the last things he wrote, but it does give you a glimpse into his life.

Edited: Nov 5, 2021, 1:31pm

>125 labfs39: >127 Yells: Half way through The House of Mirth (Selden just caught a ship to Havana) and I’m really enjoying it. It’s part of my Litsy group read, and we’re reading the book over four weeks.

>126 NanaCC: thanks Colleen. I think you’re right that should give Steinbeck another chance (for some reason we had a copy of The Red Pony in my house growing up and I inherited the copy. It’s his 3rd novel, very short. I might try that next.)

Nov 5, 2021, 3:44pm

>128 dchaikin: I would recommend Of Mice and Men. It's short, and I think it's excellent. My family often quotes from it, oddly enough. It's available online at the Internet Archive.

Nov 5, 2021, 4:17pm

>129 labfs39: cool. And thanks for the suggestion.

Edited: Nov 10, 2021, 10:02pm

52. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
reader: Sura Siu
published: 2021
format: 10:16 audible audiobook (303 pages in hardcover)
acquired: October 16
listened: Oct 16-26
rating: 4
locations: maybe somewhere in the US?
about the author: Japanese-British author who was born in Nagasaki in 1954, then moved to Surrey in 1960 and grew up there.

My fourth from the Booker list is a story that reads easy and nicely, but is thinking about a lot.

Klara, our narrator, is not human, but an AF. As she talks to us, we spend a lot of time being detective and trying to pick up clues to how this world works. What exactly is Klara? What is her purpose and what do adolescent children do with an AF? Do they want one? Why does Klara have such elaborate and independent intelligence? Does she have feelings? What are her cognitive or other limits? How worried should we be about what she can or will do? What's with that sun? And what about these humans. What's with Josie? What's a "lifted" kid? Why is a British author highlighting a character as being distinct in having a British accent? And so on.

We slowly pick up on Josie's story, her sickness, her family dynamics and history, and also that of her closest friend, a boy mysteriously looked down upon, sympathetically. But with Klara, it doesn't all come together. We see some surprisingly beautiful aspects about her, but she remains something strange and worrisome, dangerous, and an enigma. But trying to figure her out is maybe the point. It leads us readers into looking at artificial intelligence from a some different angles, and exploring some human psychology while doing so.

When I finished this book I kept trying to understand what Ishiguro was saying, and whether he was making a commentary on religion and faith, and whether is was a critical or embracing message. As far as I can tell, he keeps whatever intention ambiguous and free to reader interpretation, and certainly interesting. For what it's worth, it left me a little concerned.

Hopefully it's obvious I liked this. There's a lot here, and yet it's a really fun reading or listening experience, one that I missed when I finished. So, recommended to anyone thinking about it.

Edited: Nov 10, 2021, 9:59pm

53. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
originally performed: 1595 (or 1594)
format: 226-page Signet Classic paperback
acquired: June
read: Oct 3-31
time reading: 11:08, 3.0 mpp
rating: 5
locations: Verona
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

J. A. Bryant, jr – editor (1964, 1986)
Sylvan Barnet – series editor (1963, 1986, 1987, 1998)
Samuel Johnson – from The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge – from The Lectures of 1811-1812
H. B. Charlton --- from Shakespearean Tragedy (1948)
Michael Goldman– Romeo and Juliette: The Meaning of a Theatrical performance (1972)
Susan Snyder – Beyond Comedy: Romeo and Juliet (** a great essay)
Marianne Novy - Violence, Love and Gender in Romeo and Juliet

Do we all know Romeo and Juliet? I thought of this as a high school thing, something tired and somehow just overdone. But it really is a beautiful play. Of course it's full of raunchy humor, and that balcony, Romeo, oh Romeo. The magnificent scene of Mercutio's death, a tragic ending and many famous lines. But what surprised me was how much more is actually here, how rich the play is, and how beautiful.

It was kind of cool to read this after spending so much time reading Petrarch. There are lots of references, he's even named, by Mercutio of course. "Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo. MERCUTIO: Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a kitchen-wench," What is kind of funny is that Romeo begins the play as a kind of Petrarch, obsessed and sighing over one Rosalind who is not at all interested in him. And he moans all Petrarch. But Juliet, of course, saves him of this. But first, when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they speak a sonnet together.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

Nov 11, 2021, 8:11pm

Lovely post on Romeo and Juliet, Dan.

Nov 12, 2021, 7:54am

>133 rocketjk: thanks. I think that sonnet rewards every time i read it again.

Nov 12, 2021, 5:03pm

Careful Dan, you are beginning to see sonnets wherever you look.
Romeo and Juliet is a great play and I enjoyed reading your review.

Nov 12, 2021, 5:06pm

>135 baswood: People say he’s crazy. He’s got sonnets on the soles of his shoes.

Nov 12, 2021, 5:07pm

>136 rocketjk: LOL. Love it

Nov 12, 2021, 6:27pm

Nov 13, 2021, 3:28pm

54. A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
reader: Neil Shah
published: 2021
format: 9:15 audible audiobook (304-pages in hardcover)
acquired: October 26
listened: Oct 26 – Nov 7
rating: 4 (maybe 4 plus)
locations: Sri Lanka & parts in Delhi and Bombay, India.
about the author: Tamil author born in 1988 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Attended Stanford University and received a PhD in philosophy at Columbia University in 2019.

When this book opens and Krishan learns about the death of his grandmother's caretaker, I assumed he was going to focus on his grandmother and his family. But he then gets side tracked and this goes on and on. It took me a little while to realize these sidetracks were the book. And it also took me a while to realize that this caretaker, Rani, was the key subject - a representative of the tragedy of the Sri Lanka civil war.

My fifth audiobook from the Booker longlist, this is all in the head of Krishan, a Tamil from Sri Lanka who experienced the civil war only from a distance. His passage north is to Rani's funeral. Rani, we learn, lost two of her three children to the civil war, both her boys, one on the last day of the war, a final shelling. She was broken, and never could recover. As Krishan travels, he reflects... on the Tamil loss, the war‘s horrors, and on his own life, all with some philosophical touches. Rani's funeral serves as a kind of focal point. The text is really fine, although it demands your full attention, so is a little challenging on audio. But it's carefully worded, meaningful and readable. I put this on the high end of 4 stars. I enjoyed it.

Nov 13, 2021, 3:38pm

55. The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
published: 2021
format: 372-page hardcover
acquired: September
read: Oct 24 – Nov 8
time reading: 10:23, 1.7 mpp
rating: 4 ½
locations: Cardiff & Somaliland
about the author: Somali-British author born in 1981 in Hargeisa, Somaliland, and moved to London in 1986.

My 6th from the Booker longlist is a clear winning novel. It seems to be universally liked. So it was weird that I struggled at first, in the gritty noir-ish, depressing opening - it was just a lot for me. But I found my pace and this is a terrific thing.

The novel is based on the true story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somaliland immigrant in Cardiff, who was executed for a murder he did not commit in 1952, care of a horrible trial where his own lawyer called him a savage in court. It has a dark opening, but it becomes something beautiful. Mohamed transforms for us a flawed and sketchy, but innocent, Mattan into someone warm, human, and fascinating, all without changing his character. He is ultimately very graceful in the face of the unfathomable.

Nov 14, 2021, 9:31am

I never get tired of that R&J sonnet.

Those last two books are in my pile, and I'm looking forward to them. Really nice reviews.

Edited: Nov 14, 2021, 12:44pm

>131 dchaikin: Dan, you make me want to read Klara and the sun, and I hadn't been planning on it.

I do have A passage north on my hold list at the library.

Nov 14, 2021, 2:35pm

>141 lisapeet: : ) - that sonnet. Hope you get to these Booker list ones. It's been a nice list for me so far this year.

>142 markon: Klara is a nice voice to spend time with. Enjoy Passage!

Nov 15, 2021, 2:25am

>140 dchaikin: Grabbing me with this one in particular.

Nov 16, 2021, 9:41am

I enjoyed reading your Booker reviews, Dan. I hope to get to Klara and the Sun by the end of the year, and I need to post my review of A Passage North.

Nov 17, 2021, 10:44pm

>144 AlisonY: It's terrific. Wondering if something about Cardiff caught your attention, or just the whole thing.

>145 kidzdoc: I hope you enjoy Klara. I'll look for your review of A Passage North, and any other Booker longlist books.

Nov 19, 2021, 7:22am

>146 dchaikin: No, just the whole premise of the book, Dan. Sounds like an interesting story.

Nov 19, 2021, 9:56am

Alison - it is, but was just curious. The Cardiff aspect appealed to me, and the sort of itinerant sailor micro-world there (and Jewish immigrant world, which is touched on. The murder victim is Jewish.)

Nov 22, 2021, 1:46pm

>93 dchaikin: I'm finally catching up on your thread. As always I enjoy your reviews as well as your great sense of planning.
I'm particularly interesting in your Wharton series. I discovered Willa Cather thanks to you. I might have to explore Edith Wharton a bit more now that you are reviewing her novels. I won't start with The Valley of Decision although the theme seems promising, but why not Sanctuary... I keep it in mind for next year's read, and will look forward to other reviews from this author.

Nov 23, 2021, 2:24am

>96 dchaikin: It's strange to discover an author because he's been awarded the Nobel Prize. Abdulrazak Gurnah is scarcely translated into French and anyway his two books are out of print.
Following your review I've investigated again, and a publisher has decided to republish it: it's due on 1st of December! I will soon be able to join the club of those who have read this author, about whom I've only read positive reviews (so why isn't he more famous?).

Edited: Nov 23, 2021, 6:38am

>131 dchaikin: Klara and the Sun, another one that I might have to read... I knew it was dangerous to catch up on your thread.
You seem to have a good reading year, and as usually, really interesting reviews.

Oh, on Steinbeck, I loved East of Eden as a teen. I would like to re-read, but am too afraid to spoil that memory. Your take on Steinbeck does not provide any hint to finally reopen this book§ I'll wait a little longer.

Nov 23, 2021, 11:11pm

>149 raton-liseur: thanks for stopping by and commenting on all this. I'm really glad you have enjoyed Cather. I need to get out my google translator and catch up on your thread too. Thinking about an Edith Wharton recommendation. It's hard not to recommend starting with House of Mirth, an early novel that was an instant success and put her on the literary map. I haven't reviewed it yet, but have finished it, and it's a wonderful novel and that wonderful part is really accessible. I liked all her earlier works and I really liked how they show the themes she is interested in, which mostly carry of over into HoM. But I would hesitate to recommend them other than to someone pretty committed to looking into Wharton.

>150 raton-liseur: I do hope you like Gurnah and glad these translations are getting republished so quickly.

>151 raton-liseur: Klara is terrific. Steinbeck...I'm going to try again.

Nov 24, 2021, 2:09am

>152 dchaikin: Thanks for the recommendations for Edith Wharton. I'll keep them in mind next time I browse my bookshop shelves!

Nov 24, 2021, 7:21pm

>152 dchaikin: I'm glad you liked House of Mirth. I'll look forward to your review. I gave it four stars, but sadly did not review it.

Edited: Nov 26, 2021, 3:59pm

56. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
afterward Hal Hager, 1999
published: 1961 in the New Yorker
format: 150-page paperback, 1999 HarperCollins edition
acquired: March, from a used bookstore
read: Nov 12-14
time reading: 5:04, 2.0 mpp
rating: 5
locations: Edinburgh, mainly in the 1930’s.
about the author:1918-2006. Scottish novelist born in Edinburgh.

Having looked forward to reading Muriel Spark for a while, I was a bit uncomfortable a ways into this. Was this ok? Was I missing something? What perspective should I have here?

The novel is about an unorthodox school teacher and a handful of her devoted followers, the Brodie girls, who remain her girls even as they go on to higher levels of education. But Miss Brodie is a complicated uncomfortable creation. Progressive, inspiring and yet her self-confidence has narcissistic aspect, and she has some other some questionable elements. This reader's discomfort needed a little patience, along with a continual thinking and rethinking, trying to understand what Spark is doing. Spark works her way through the different perspectives, and her portrait begins to come through, first only between the lines. There are a lot of floating elements in this short novel, including some autobiographical ones, and some that can only exist in this window of time, and Spark constructs them in her own way, creating a certain balance of impact. It's really rather brilliant. And the reader may never be fully comfortable. I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading more of her novels.

Edited: Nov 26, 2021, 6:26pm

57. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
editing: editor: Janet Beer, advisor: Keith Carabine
published: 1905
format: 306-page Wordsworth Classic paperback, published 2002
acquired: September
read: Oct 27 – Nov 16
time reading: 16:32, 3.2 mpp
rating: 5
locations: New York and a stop at Monte Carlo, Monaco.
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

I'm working through Wharton's longer fiction with a group on Litsy, and this is her fourth work, and second novel. It's also her first really successful work, an instant big seller in 1905, and now a classic. And it's a wonderful novel. Wharton attacks the culture of New York City's extremely wealth leisure class through fall of Lily Bart. Raised by wealthy parents, Lily's father hit financial ruin, and was basically discarded at that point by her mother. But Lily's mother sees potential in Lily's face, she thinks Lily can marry back into money.

When the novel opens Lily is 29 and still single. And we watch as she plots for marriage and then doesn't carry her plots through. The reader is left to wonder what is going on. Lily is clearly the master of the moment in any setting. She's gorgeous and fluid in higher culture, and attractive on several levels. And, supported by her childless aunt, she has just enough money to stay in that culture, and enough fortitude to keep her financial stresses out of public view and out of her outward character. All she needs is a rich husband, which should be a reasonable object for her. There are offers. But it seems what Lily wants may not want what she thinks she wants. Or there are some contradictions. It many ways this novel is a version of Pride and Prejudice without the happy ending. Ultimately Lily is left to the fate of her name, a flower drifting in the current, maybe even a cut flower, subject to greater and darker forces. She maybe doesn't fully realize the stakes in the kind of money she mixing with, where $10,000 is disposable, an equivalent of over $300,000 in 2021 dollars.

The cultural expose is likely what originally drew readers to this novel. Wharton was part of this leisure class and was writing what she knew. But it's the writing that makes this book still work today. She was masterful with characters, with witty insight and with situational moments. This novel largely jumps from situation-to-situation (with transitions), many with one-on-one conversations of memorable intensity. It makes for an entertaining and meaningful novel. I imagine this one has broad appeal, so recommended to anyone interested.

Nov 26, 2021, 5:29pm

58. The Promise by Damon Galgut
reader: Peter Noble
published: 2021
format: 9:37 audible audiobook (304 pages in hardcover)
acquired: November 7
listened: Nov 8-19
rating: 4
locations: South Africa
about the author: South African author and playwright born in Pretoria in 1957

The Booker Prize winner is a satirical and dark look at white owners of a large South African farm. Galgut‘s writing comes across really confident on audio, but also seems to be searching for the right balance of serious themes, human characters, satirical and simple humor. I wouldn‘t call it perfect, but I enjoyed it.

Nov 26, 2021, 6:03pm

>156 dchaikin: I'm glad you enjoyed House of Mirth, Dan. It was a four star read for me too. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has been on my TBR forever. Somehow it never seems to percolate to the top.

Nov 26, 2021, 6:25pm

59. Roadside Geology of Louisiana by Darwin Spearing
published: 1995
format: 220-page paperback
acquired: August 2020
read: Nov 20-25
time reading: 8:43, 2.4 mpp
rating: 4
locations: 😊
about the author: publisher website says he was exploration geologist in Louisiana and now lives in Colorado.

Louisiana is a pretty young place, without a whole of rocks on the surface, and those mostly being pretty soft and friable, making for terrible outcrops. Everything on the surface, except the salt domes*, is tertiary or younger in age, or less than last 60 million years old. But that doesn't fully capture it. The whole southern part of the state, everything within the lines pictured above, formed in the last 7500 years, all since the last ice age.

What Louisiana lacks in rocks it makes up for in living natural processes, in the interplay and movement and control of massive rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi and Red rivers have never been stable. They have moved dramatically, switching valleys, building large deltas, and then abandoning them to slowly sink. The Mississippi's birds-foot delta is only 600 years old (with documented settlement during half its life, since the 1700's). The Mississippi would have switched itself to the much shorter Atchafalaya river in 1973, a major flood year, if there weren't structures in place to prevent it. (Barely. Those structures physically shook throughout the flood.)

The book itself is an entertaining overview. It is supposed to be designed for a reader to check out the sections they are driving trough. But, as I learned with Spearing's book on Texas, it reads best if read straight through, if you have the time. Recommended basically to those who likely have already decided to read it.

*An extra note on those salt domes: The salt is ~160 million years old, but is light and mobile and gets forced upward though younger rocks. It has formed local diapirs that occasionally reach the surface, dragging older rocks up with them. In places they create local rises, such as what are called the fives islands where the land rises over a hundred feet above the surrounding flat marsh. You can pick them out on Google Maps (Satellite view).

Nov 26, 2021, 6:29pm

>158 labfs39: whoops, actually that was a typo. House of Mirth was a full five-star read for me. : ) As for Muriel Spark, she doesn't seem to get the nudges she deserves on those TBR lists, and this despite the books being rather short. Hope yours catches your attention at the right time.

Nov 27, 2021, 6:04am

>156 dchaikin: An interesting review. House of Mirth does not seem a very famous title from Edith Wharton in France, where Age of Innocence is her big hit (as it is in LT). I'll have to consider if I start with her more famous work or get tempted by the books you review.
I've always shied away from Edith Wharton because I'm not sure I want to spend time reading about the US upper class at the beginning of the 20th century, but your review shows that there is more to Edith Wharton's novels!

Nov 27, 2021, 9:14am

>155 dchaikin: I really loved how Spark showed what the absolute control of authorial touch can do in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie—a tiny bit of guidance here, letting the reader jump to a conclusion there, a little redirection in another place, and she ends up with this really sharp little story that refuses to spell everything out, yet is absolutely clear in its intentions. It's one of those books that's way more than the sum of its parts.

Last summer my Zoom book club read The Girls of Slender Means, which was not quite at that level of ingenious but definitely worth a read. I want to go further into her work—I think I have Memento Mori, Loitering with Intent, a couple of others.

>156 dchaikin: I still haven't read any of Edith Wharton's novels, but I really like her short stories that I've read (as opposed to... those I haven't?). I need to check out House of Mirth, for sure.

>157 dchaikin: The reviews I'm reading of the Galgut, most recently a very detailed one in an older New Yorker, have basically convinced me to read it.

>159 dchaikin: "Recommended basically to those who likely have already decided to read it" is a genius comment.

Nov 27, 2021, 1:06pm

>161 raton-liseur: that's interesting about HoM vs AoI in France. She wrote the latter living in France, where she spent most of her writing life. But in 1905, when House of Mirth was published, she still mainly lived in the US. I wonder if that plays a role.

Nov 27, 2021, 1:15pm

>162 lisapeet: - that's a really nice summary of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It is a sum of its parts. And that makes it hard to review, because any plot summary, no matter how accurate, is inadequate and oversimplifies. I have two Sparks waiting - A Far Cry from Kensington and The Abbess of Crewe, which I just picked up in New Orleans. Memento Mori has suddenly come up a lot.

I'm happy to encourage House of Mirth, and/or The Promise - maybe depending your mindset (classic domestic vs contemporary domestic?). But I don't imagine Galgut's novel will get much traction ahead, outside that award winner status. It's a good but not great novel. I mean, I've forgotten better books. As for the Roadside Geology comment...well, it's probably accurate. :)

Nov 28, 2021, 1:33pm

>163 dchaikin: I did not know Edith Wharton lived or wrote in France! (which just shows how very little I know about her). In my head, she is the personification of the East Coast upper class writer!
I can't say if this plays a role in The Age of innocence's notoriety, or it's just the fact that it won the Pulitzer prize. Literary prizes are still something of significance...

Nov 28, 2021, 1:58pm

>165 raton-liseur: I'm seeing online that Age of Innocence is her most popular novel. Honestly, I didn't know that.

Nov 29, 2021, 5:54am

Enjoyed your most recent reviews. You're making me think about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie again, as I abandoned this 3 or 4 years ago. I remember I was commuting at the time and trying to get into it on the bus and I just couldn't get what everyone was raving about.

From what you've said maybe I needed to stick with it, and perhaps it's a book that needs a bit more concentration than a noisy bus ride.

Nov 29, 2021, 6:05am

>155 dchaikin: etc. — Be careful, I ended up reading the whole of Muriel Spark a couple of years ago, it's an easy rabbit hole to go down... (but a worthwhile one). Memento mori is great, but you might need to read it more than once to work out what's going on. Or read it back to back with The ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, which accidentally overlapped with it on the same theme.

The Abbess of Crewe is a nice bit of standalone silliness, doesn't require much deep thought once you realise what the joke is about.

Nov 29, 2021, 6:41am

>167 AlisonY: I would have struggled with it on a bus, even though that’s better than not trying to read her at all. It’s just that it requires a little more attention to than most novels. But I wonder if you shouldn’t try a different of her novels and see if it’s a style you don’t like.

Nov 29, 2021, 6:44am

>168 thorold: your comments were a big motivation. I would be happy to read more by Spark. Thanks for the note about Momento Mori And Evelyn Waugh is another author I need to check out. Any suggestions on where to start?

Nov 29, 2021, 7:09am

>170 dchaikin: I've only read two books by Evelyn Waugh, so all I can offer is I liked Men at Arms, but Handful of Dust not so much.

Nov 29, 2021, 7:12am

>170 dchaikin: Waugh: Great writer but a very annoying person, and sometimes the two mix a little too much…

You’ve essentially got:
(1) the comic, cynical early books — Decline and fall, Vile bodies, etc., which you can enjoy without too much difficulty (except for Scoop and Black mischief where you have to deal with his attitude to Africans…). A handful of dust is the best, most complex and cynical, but the youthful freshness of Decline and fall is something you shouldn’t miss.

(2) The WWII trilogy, published separately at first (Men at arms, Officers and gentlemen, Unconditional surrender) and later as Sword of honour — that’s probably his masterpiece, all about the collision of romantic notions of war, patriotism and chivalry with the realities of the 20th century, but with lots of good comic characters too.

(3) Brideshead revisited — the same heavy nostalgia, snobbery and aggressive Catholicism as the war trilogy, but less controlled, and mixed with a thick layer of nostalgia. Either wonderfully immersive or impossibly rich depending on how much you are prepared to suspend your critical judgment. The TV version (Jeremy Irons & co.) is a fair representation.

(4) Gilbert Pinfold, Helena and the travel books, which you can file under miscellaneous and leave for a rainy day.

Nov 29, 2021, 7:54am

>171 labfs39: >172 thorold: thanks! You have me thinking Decline and Fall first

Nov 29, 2021, 10:02am

>172 thorold: & >173 dchaikin: I loved the Sword of Honour trilogy. It does get progressively darker toward the end.

Nov 29, 2021, 6:09pm

>165 raton-liseur: I wonder if the Scorcese movie (1993) of Age of innocence had anything to do with the popularity of the book. It's the first title that comes to my mind because of the movie.

Nov 30, 2021, 6:12am

>175 markon: I did not know that. Is it worth watching it after reading the book?

Nov 30, 2021, 6:59am

>176 raton-liseur: I would say yes. Daniel Day-Lewis was great. It was faithful to the book, which I liked.

Nov 30, 2021, 7:36am

>159 dchaikin: Fab review of the geology book -- "an entertaining overview". Love geology from purely an amateur perspective.

Nov 30, 2021, 11:32am

>176 raton-liseur: I think the movie is definitely worth watching. But, gulp, I haven't read the book.

Dec 1, 2021, 8:13am

>174 rocketjk: noting more on Waugh

>175 markon:, >176 raton-liseur:, >177 labfs39: - The movie sounds good, but i will try to hold off until I read it. AoI is 8 Wharton books away for me (2 or 3 of which are novellas). ( >179 markon: i have a little guilt because i loved the moving version of Sense and Sensibility but have never read it).

>178 avaland: thanks! The Roadside books are great terrific for amateurs (as in John McPhee)

Dec 1, 2021, 9:27am

>180 dchaikin: Same, I'll want to read the book first. Let's see if I manage to include Edith Wharton in my 2022 readings!

Dec 1, 2021, 9:46pm

November summary and December plan

My November plan

3 hours - Pericles by William Shakespeare acts 1 & 2
12 hours - House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - last 220 pages
10 hours - The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed - last 300 pages
5 hours - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
8 hours - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
5 hours - Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
12 hours - Vera by Stacy Schiff - first half (about 200 pages)
55 hours

How it worked out

2:48 - Pericles - acts 1 & 2
11:49 - House of Mirth - last 220 pages (overall 16:32)
8:21 - The Fortune Men - last 300 pages (overall 10:23)
5:04 - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
11:33 - Vera - first half (145 pages)
8:43 - Roadside Geology of Louisiana by Darwin Spearing
48:18 hours

I was somehow hoping for 60 hours, 2 hours a day, but that's not reasonable for me, even with a lazy Thanksgiving break. I'm just not able to maintain that. I averaged 97 minutes per day, so not bad. As for the books, a road trip inserted the roadside geology book. And Vera - it called to me, jumping up a few books, and it's crazy slow. I had estimated 22 hours to read it, now I know it will be more like 35 hours.

My December plan

7 hours - Pericles by William Shakespeare acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff
23 hours - Vera by Stacy Schiff - first half (about 300 pages)
8 hours - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
5 hours - Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
15 hours - Strong Opinions by Vladimir Nabokov
58 hours

The reading-drive for December is to stuff-in as many remaining Nabokov's as possible. So Anne Tyler is iffy. But it's very unlikely I will get to Look at the Harlequins... because I don't own a copy yet. My November plan originally included The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (also unowned) and The Periodic Table by Primo Levi.

Dec 4, 2021, 3:58pm

playing with plan ideas for next year...

Annual theme - Boccaccio and Robert Musil
Jan-May - A biography of Boccaccio and peeking into the Decameron
*June-Dec - A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (around 3000 pages)

Booker Prize longlist theme
Jan - A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson
*Feb - Bewilderment by Richarcd Powers
Mar - An Island by Karen Jennings
Apr - Second Place by Rachel Cusk
May - China Room by Sanjeev Sahota
Jun - No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

TBR piles
Jan - The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Feb/Mar - Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Frances A. Yates
Apr - Where the Jackals Howl by Amos Oz
May - El Llano Estacado by John Miller Morris
Jun - The Book of Flights by J. M. G. Le Clezio
Jul - Empires of the Indus : The Story of a River by Alice Albinia
Aug - The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
Sep - A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
Oct/Nov The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence
Dec - By the sea - Abdulrazak Gurnah

Edith Wharton theme (Litsy)
Maybe: Madame de Treyme, The Fruit of the Tree, Ethan Frome, *The Reef, *Custom of the Country, *Summer

Shakespeare theme (Litsy)
maybe: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Coriolanus, Henry VIII, King John, some sonnets

Victorian theme (here)

*I need to buy these - only five, although Musil should be three volumes.

Dec 8, 2021, 9:09pm

A skippable post

Some random thoughts from my main two current books - Véra : Mrs Vladimir Nabokov by Stacy Schiff & Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (on audio). Lots of overlap. Both are biographies of authors/spouse-of-authors who spent the 1940's figuring out how to write for the American public. Nabokov had 12 previous Russian language novels; whereas Jackson, ~17 years younger, had not really published before. This means both are dealing, desperately, with the same publishers, like the same people. Both had interactions with the New Yorker, and dealt with associated prominent literary figures, like Edmund Wilson and the Whites (husband E.B. and wife Katherine). And both were in marriages where one spouse was Jewish. Vera Nabokov was proudly Jewish, and insulted a sister who converted to Catholicism and raised her son Catholic. Jackson's husband, Stanley Hyman, was Jewish, but really a militant atheist.

And both are really long. Vera will take me some 30 hours to finish (I've put 27 hours in) and the Shirley Jackson bio is 19 hours 25 minutes on audio (I've put in about ten hours)

Just up in my previous post I (flippantly?) put out a 2022 reading plan that includes quite a few chunksters: All 5 in my annual theme. Then there's massive Spence book on China. The Yates book and the one on the Llano Estacado (west tx high plains, and New Mexico too) should take time. Edith Wharton's The Fruit of the Tree checks in at around 600 pages.

So... I'm not sure I like long books. In fact I think I might not like them. I find I get lost in the no-light-at-end-of-the-tunnel reading syndrome. And then I force march through chunks of them. I can say that because I did that a lot this year. Three of my audiobooks were over 25 hours...although long books are easier on audio. But of my 44 other books I have finished, nine took over 17 hours to read. and I seem recall that forced march sense with 8 of them. (They are: Wolf Hall - 536 pages - 27 hrs, The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, 461 pages, 20 hours, The Mirror & the Light - 757 pages - 33 hours, Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop (who shows up Nabokov's world), 380 pages, 18 hours, Ada by Nabokov - 589 pages- 26.5 hrs, History of London by Stephen Inwood - 1040 pages - 52.5 hours (half in 2021), Petrarch's Canzoniere - 3 books, 60 hours, and The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, 934 pages, 35 hours (Willa Cather's short stories took 21 hours, but I read them in such a way that I didn't really notice or mind).

And what were my favorite books. They include, on audio, Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own 8 hrs, Who They Was 9 hrs, Moon Tiger 8 hrs, Klara and the Sun 10 hrs (hmm. However i really liked A Promised Land by Barack Obama 29 hrs, and Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life 26.5 hours). And on paper, favorites are none of those long books except Wolf Hall. They also include Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer 8 hrs, Nervous Conditions 9 hrs, Pnin by Nabokov 5.5 hrs, Richard III 10 hrs, The Book of Not 9.5 hrs, Hot Milk 6 hrs, Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah 8 hrs, Romeo and Juliet 11 hrs, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 5 hrs, Bring Up the Bodies 15 hrs, and The House of Mirth 16.5 hours

If I add Wolf Hall in, my favorites average out to about 11 hours a book. Remove 3 outliers and it's 8 hours a book - and that may be my ideal length. So, why did I put in all those long books for next year... ?? And should I nix them from my plan?

Edited: Dec 9, 2021, 6:51am

Long books. I think I'm past my era of 'chunksters' --- I'm much older than you, of course, but unless one is irresistible (like perhaps a reread on one of Oates Gothic saga...), I'd rather now read two different books in the same time period (I'm aware that my reading life is finite). And if you aren't sure you like to read them, why do so...or are they so irresistible you can't stop!

Dan, you have certainly have had quite a literary journey since you first joined this group. It's amazing!

Edited: Dec 9, 2021, 7:34am

>184 dchaikin: So maybe try a year without long books and see how that sits with you? Or 6 months or something.

I like long books and series but there are times when I cannot deal with them. I’ve learned to listen to my gut on that - or I get very badly boggled down.

Dec 9, 2021, 2:21am

>184 dchaikin: Actually these are interesting thoughts, at least for me, as it echoes some of my feelings around this year reads. For me, the issue is not really around large books, as I like them and would like to read more of them (thinking about Middlemarch for example fitting the Victorian theme for CR2022, more than 1000 pages in the paperback edition), but more the sense of forced march that I sometimes have, willing to read always more... I'm thinking about decreasing my reading speed (which I have already started this month) and the number of books I read in one year. This will allow for larger books and for more time to enjoy a particular book. Never mind, reading less but better. It's about quality, not quantity, right?
So I guess it's better if you find a format that suits you and that is the definition of what quality reading is for you! You'll still have an amazing reading journey, as this thread and the previous ones show!

Dec 9, 2021, 7:30am

>184 dchaikin: I used to be enamored of very long books, which was a good thing because I had to read lots and lots of them as a student of 19th century comparative literature. But now, like Lois, I think of all the other books I could squeeze in if I wasn't committed to weeks of reading a particular tome. As an example, as you know, I read the Cromwell Trilogy this year. My favorite was the shortest, but I blew through Wolf Hall, because it was so gripping. Reading Mirror and the Light, however, was torture. My reading pace slowed to naught, but I forged on. Now I wish I had abandoned ship and had a more pleasant time of it for a few weeks. I know you plan your reading carefully, but perhaps listen to your gut and allow yourself more enjoyable (shorter) reading and put off some of your "I should" reads? At least for a while, as Annie suggests?

Dec 9, 2021, 9:12am

>185 avaland: you get significant credit for this journey. I've been eyeing these long books for years and part of the purpose of my over-detailed plan was to get me to actually read them. It just happened to be maybe too effective this year. Mainly, that aspect of being tired of thinking about reading them, and also of not having read them, holds some weight.

>186 AnnieMod: I like the idea of listening to my gut, but of course it wants crackers. Maybe I should put a break in. thinking about it.

Dec 9, 2021, 9:16am

>187 raton-liseur: yeah, the forced march thing. It would great if I could be a little more like tonikat and Lois, just sort of pick them up as the interest and move on as they don't, because they will still be there later. Certainly I want to be able to sit in the book, spend time there, not worry about ends, just hang out in the experience. It does happen. I wish that were the strongest lingering impression - well, sometimes it is. I'm all for reading slower, by the way. I find there is a kind of happy pace for me, and it's not very fast.

Dec 9, 2021, 9:25am

>188 labfs39: Yeah, The Mirror and the Light pressed. I'm glad I read it, but it took a long time. But I have to be careful about the "think of all the other books I could squeeze in", because in a way, in my head at least, that's the same tiny little buried stressor that drives to want to must push through the large books. It just translates from just-push-through-this-book to just-push-through-these-books. It's not that I want to replace Spence with a bunch of shorter novels or memoirs or whatnot, but that I don't want to feel lost there. I want to embrace that (sill purely imaginative) China-through-time experience. It's just harder so maintain that. And... it's oddly frustrating not to be able to update here. Maybe one solution is to post more on my long books as I work through them...of course, in some (silly? anally?) structured way... you know, to keep the balance with all the emotional swings my not-so-stable gut has.

>185 avaland:, >186 AnnieMod:, >187 raton-liseur:, >188 labfs39: these are really nice thoughtful posts. Thanks.

Dec 9, 2021, 3:00pm

Interesting thoughts on long books. Length doesn't usually bother me, unless it is a book by an author I have never read before. Since I am one of those who feels obligated to finish a book once started, I am afraid of what I might be getting into, so no David Foster Wallace for me!

If the Spence book is going to be your first foray into China, could I suggest trying something less overwhelming than that particular one. He has several books with what might be called a micro focus, which don't really require any in depth knowledge, and which would give you a good idea of whether or not you wanted to keep going with him. His writing is entertaining and he does know his subject.

Dec 9, 2021, 3:35pm

I like long good books, but there are certainly more opportunities for a book to go awry in a long book. I often feel that short books are undeveloped for my taste and want more from them. I find myself imagining all the ways the author could have gone more in depth or explored relationships more deeply. But that's not to say that I don't also have some favorites that are short - there is certainly an art to being succinct and still saying a lot. There's also the huge issue of how fast a book reads regardless of length. I've read some short books that I feel will never end and long ones that I can read hundreds of pages a day without even trying.

I do think, as readers, we tend to gravitate to one or the other. And I don't think there's anything wrong with choosing books you think you'll enjoy over ones you feel like you should read. And if that's currently based on length for you, go with it!

You also do so much planning which seems to really work for you, but maybe just being willing to ditch the plan and read something that's speaking to you in the moment would help when you feel bogged down. I'm always in awe that you plan out a year and then each month in so much detail and really stick to it!

Dec 9, 2021, 3:53pm

>True, you don't want to trade one stressor for another. Since I am a serendipitous reader, I read long book, short books, nonfiction, fiction, all jumbled together as the mood strikes. I rarely give up on a book (hence the weeks spent inert in the Mirror and the Light), but I do have a tag "bookmark stuck" for when I do move on.

I like the idea of your giving updates as you go when reading a long book. It's nice to hear about what you are reading, even if it's still a work in progress. And I'm almost always interested in what you are reading. I would love to hear more about Vera, for instance. It's not a book I'll ever read, so getting exposure through you is nice. I learn lots on your threads!

Dec 9, 2021, 8:57pm

>192 SassyLassy: Interesting about Spence. The problem with choosing another book is that The Search for Modern China is the one that's been sitting on my shelves for 10 years, mostly right above my desk. So, that physical book is the one that has the draw.

As for DFW, I did like Infinite Jest, but I had a really good support group, La Salon in its strongest days. The Pale King is another chunkster on the shelves, where it's been resting for some 7 years.

Dec 9, 2021, 9:06pm

>193 japaul22: Another tome lover. Is there really a big/small book divide? I guess it makes sense. Of course, I am actually drawn to the big books. It's just I also second guess them when I'm in the midst of them and start to try to not think about what's next, because it's a long way off. And if they're good, but not really good, I might regret them. But... I'm not sure when I last felt a book was underdeveloped because it was too short. Usually I think more about their need for a good editor to slim out all the extra stuff (this is part of why I have failed with Steven King - all the extra words doing nothing begging for an editor with a sweeping delete button).

Dec 9, 2021, 9:14pm

>194 labfs39: I do not like the bookmark stuck situation. Do you get that reading slump around the corner sensation ever? I'm constantly afraid of that slump. I literally plan as an effort to avoid the slump (and yes, I know the plans can _cause_ them too.)

The problem with Spence, and what will probably not happen with Boccaccio and, hopefully not with Musil, is that it feels random. All my TBR reading always does and I find that really difficult. But the yearly themes, I can let them build and develop their own momentum, and I actually do plan it that way. Nabokov became one single really long novel I have been reading for two years, including a short bio and this Vera book. They are sort of piggyback on each other, one nudging me to the next. Vera was a wonderful book, but I did sometime wish I liked Nabokov, the husband, more as a writer. James Baldwin was a lot more fun (as was Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy and Willa Cather. As is Edith Wharton so far.)

Dec 9, 2021, 11:09pm

I think my love of/tolerance for long books waxes and wanes, and I'm not sure what the reason for either is. The Shirley Jackson bio has been slow going for me—not tortuous or anything, I like it well enough, but maybe not gripping either. On the other hand, I read the 900+-page Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom a couple of springs ago, and it wasn't what I would call gripping either, but it went down smoothly enough—I never had the sense of "oh my god this book." I was traveling for work a lot, and had it on my iPad, both of which were probably conducive to that (memories of reading it on a chaise on a hotel rooftop in Miami, wearing a killer red dress, which feels like a million years ago rather than 2019). Whereas I'm reading the Jackson bio in short shifts in bed at the end of a lot of busy days, which is drawing it out. I'm enticed by those chonky books but they're not always the perfect fit.

All of which is about my reading habits and not yours, but that's what I'm thinking. I do want to try The Mirror and the Light, though I've set myself the task of rereading Bring Up the Bodies first so who knows when that will happen.

Dec 9, 2021, 11:27pm

>198 lisapeet: interesting comparison - the Douglass and Jackson biographies. I think to some extent there may be a quality factor. I’m enjoying the Jackson biography because I adore Jackson and feel that deep curiosity to learn more about her. But IMO it’s not the best piece of writing. The facts are there, the info is there, the flow is imperfect. The Douglas biography was pretty well written.

Edited: Dec 10, 2021, 9:19pm

Sometimes I like to lose myself in the current of a long book without worrying about when I’m going to come up for air. That’s if the book is engrossing, of course. But if a longer book is mediocre or a chore in other ways, it can seem like it’s never going to end. Of course, that can even by true for shorter books. I describe myself by borrowing labfs39‘s phrase: a serendipitous reader. I, too, “read long books, short books, nonfiction, fiction, all jumbled together as the mood strikes.”

Anyway, please don’t give up on long books entirely before reading We, the Drowned. Cheers!

Dec 10, 2021, 2:19am

>200 rocketjk: Oh yes, We, the Drowned was a wonderfull book!

I would like to read more long books, but will try to pick them when I know I have a bit more time to read, in order not to drag for too long (and not be able to imerge myself in it if I read too little each day). It's a difficult balance: having the right reading speed for a book depending on the time you have and the type of reading it requires to be best enjoyed, and adding into the mix the right amount of serendipity!

Dec 10, 2021, 6:55am

I read the Shirley Jackson biography earlier this year and used words like "decent" and "solid". Interesting because of the subject, but not necessarily the writing. So between you, me, and Lisa, I think we're all saying that this long book was ok, but not amazing.

Dec 10, 2021, 7:28am

>184 dchaikin: I think you might be dwelling too much on the year-long reads. It looks like your Booker reads are all relatively short and hopefully will help break up the monotony of Musil (!).

How do you get on with short stories? If you feel like you want to be posting more, maybe spend the year reading a short story anthology and when you feel bogged down read and post a review of one story? Also, you could post a review of each Shakespeare act, to gather your thoughts/impressions before the Litsy discussion.

Dec 10, 2021, 8:12am

>200 rocketjk: >201 raton-liseur: Oh I almost forgot about We the Drowned—I bought the ebook ages ago. Glad to hear good things about it.

Dec 10, 2021, 8:27am

>184 dchaikin: Long books... I don't think there is an unequivocal answer to that. If a long book fascinates me, I don't really care that it takes a long time, quite the contrary. But some books really drag on and then I also long for that short book that you read in an afternoon and an evening. I think audiobooks require more time than printed books anyway, but they are probably more convenient for other reasons. That's why the interim updates seem like a good idea to me.
A few years ago I also asked myself how I would approach long books because they take up a considerable part of the already limited reading time. Sometimes I solve that by reading shorter books at the same time, so I still feel like I'm making progress and can post something now and then. I've also thought about reading some of the books in episodes, kind of like Dickens published his books in the newspaper at the time. I would like to try that with Middlemarch, maybe next year.
If you really can't figure it out, you can just put those long books aside for a while. They will come back to you when you are ready.

>197 dchaikin: In your case, I wouldn't worry too much about a reading slump. As an experience expert, the symptoms are more like "been there, done that, nothing interests me" than "too long".

Dec 10, 2021, 8:47am

>205 Trifolia: it depends. I can be in a reading slump in the middle of a long book - I still read a few pages a day but that’s all I read. The result is the same as with a classical (I don’t care to read anything and keep switching books) - I spend 3 weeks reading 200 pages. Just because for most people the symptoms will be whatever the specialists say they should be, does not mean that other types of reading slumps don’t exist.

Dec 10, 2021, 2:44pm

Ahh, long books. I admit, chunksters intimidate me if it's something I "should"read (or something I think I want to know about, but don't want to put time into learning.) If it's something I'm looking forward to, and the writing is good, I can spend hours reading without realizing it.

Some books have interesting content, but not an interesting writing style. That makes them harder to get through for me. Of course, with your annual theme reads, you're wanting to get familiar with an author's style as well. I like how you say you think of it as one long book - with various parts.

Dec 10, 2021, 7:43pm

Another thing I was thinking about long books—I don't know if this is the case for you, Dan, but one of the reasons I read them is that I really like biographies, and those tend to be thick. Which is only right, if you're describing the arc of an entire life... I mean, would you want to read a 160-page bio? Unless it was something experimental, I wouldn't want to really.

Dec 10, 2021, 8:11pm

>208 lisapeet: Well, the whole Penguin Monarchs series is built around the idea of being even shorter than that and they generally work. :) William I: England's Conqueror was exactly what I needed at the time. So it really depends on what you are looking for in the bio.

Dec 10, 2021, 8:45pm

>209 AnnieMod: Hmm, I haven't read those. I'll have to check those out—the one you linked to looks fun.

Dec 11, 2021, 10:48am

We, the Drowned? What is this title? Who is Carsten Jensen?

Dec 11, 2021, 10:57am

>200 rocketjk: i love the idea of getting lost in a (n exceptionally good) long book. It’s just, personally, in the practical sense, I don’t know how to maintain that sense for the course of the book - a book’s own magic having, of course, varying support of the mood.

The issue is maybe the struggle for the reading mood. Recently on Litsy someone jokingly gave a book 3 stars, but themself 5 stars for reading the difficult thing. And I started thinking about rating my own reading of a book. Entertaining but also depressing as I kept giving myself 3’s (in support of my own claim on sanity, I didn’t document these ratings and haven’t yet started to.) It’s an odd feeling, never quite feeling I’m reading a book well, but only ok. (And it’s an odd context to define any kind of rating. Personal enjoyment or depth to connection with author, or mindset of … whatever). Anyway, the point of this in context is that the longer the book, the more opportunity there is to dwell in this kind of thinking.

Dec 11, 2021, 11:20am

>211 dchaikin: Carsten Jensen is a Danish writer. The novel is the fictional account of several generations of life in a Danish seafaring town. I posted my review in February 2015, so if you go to the book's review page, you can scroll down to see it if you're interesting. The book's got an average rating of 4.17.

Dec 11, 2021, 12:34pm

>211 dchaikin: We, the Drowned is a great book, maybe a bit different from what you usually read, though. I read it at the end of 2011 according to my LT account (review in French in January 2012) and I still remember vividely this book and this great reading experience!
>213 rocketjk:, I've just read your review, that is more complete than mine, and loved how it brought back some memories about this book.

Edited: Dec 11, 2021, 12:59pm

>212 dchaikin: I completely get what you're saying. I suppose to a certain extent it comes down to mindfulness, the ability to be in the moment with the book one is reading. Speaking only for myself, I try to keep in mind my purpose for reading a particular book. If I'm reading a history comprised of information I want but written in a way that's difficult to read in one way or another, I expect to be plowing through and cut myself slack if my "reading rating" doesn't rise above average. But even with an entirely absorbing novel, say, or what would have been entirely absorbing when I was somewhat younger, I do find myself less able to settle completely into the experience of the reading, of the world the author has created for me, then I used to be. Even though I'm retired, I somehow find myself with fewer long stretches of time for sinking into my reading experiences then I used to have. Maybe that's because, at age 66, time seems less infinite to me then it used to. Is there such a thing as senior onset ADD?

I remember when I was both studying creative writing and also learning to teach English composition, both during grad school, in some class or other we read an essay about "the watcher at the gate." This is the voice in your head that keeps you from getting your writing done because it's continually telling you that what you're writing isn't good enough. I suppose what we're talking about now is a watcher at the gate for reading. Which is kind of ironic, at least for me, because reading is what I did then and still do now as a procrastination activity when I'm supposed to be writing! What next? My LT posts aren't good enough!!!

As wonderful as LT has been for me over the last decade since I discovered the site and the community here, there as least one aspect of it that contributes to this phenomenon for me. That's the fact that a longer book, and especially one that is going slowly, forces us to defer the pleasure of reporting on completed books here. Well, your practice of reporting from time to time on in-book progress for your longer books would help with that, I would think. Anyway, stop reading this and go read a book! :)

Dec 11, 2021, 12:58pm

>214 raton-liseur: Thanks! One thing that made the book particularly memorable for me was that I bought my copy, which I still have, in the English language section of a bookstore in a small town somewhere in the middle of Finland when my wife and I were on vacation there.

Dec 11, 2021, 1:30pm

>201 raton-liseur: "the right amount of serendipity" - it's always such a pleasure when that strikes.

reading speed anecdote: A young publisher was reaching to the Nabokov's, in Switzerland, about Ada. Trying to make a good impression, he took a manuscript to his hotel, and with the help of the drug speed, read through it overnight (The published version too me 26.5 hours, which I spread over three weeks)

Dec 11, 2021, 1:34pm

>202 japaul22: re Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life - "decent" and "solid" summarize the writing perfectly. I had forgotten your review, and wonder what role it has played in my perspectives on Jackson. Anyway, yes, agree with your assessment (in your post... also, in your review)

Dec 11, 2021, 1:42pm

>203 ELiz_M: on short stories - I go through phases. I had a wonderful phase where I would read something just before I went to bed that was unrelated to my other reading. It was either a literary magazine with poetry/stories or a short story collection and I really enjoyed that. But I haven't been able to restart it, that mindset has gone off somewhere. The other way I like short stories is to read them the Litsy group way - read some and discuss on Saturday or Sunday. That's how i read Cather's collection and I never felt any sense of being overwhelmed by it. (and, of course, finishing my stories, or story for the week always felt like an accomplishment, which is a nice feeling)

As for the Booker lists - for three years now I've sorted them in length order and tried to listen to them longest first, shortest last. And that has worked really well because it gets easier as my patience wains, and the two senses counteract. (The complications are late releases - like Ducks on audio, bad audios, and my unwillingness to spend an audible credit (~$12) on a short book.) Anyway, that's why all my remaining books are short...and why I will read them and not listen to them.

Dec 11, 2021, 1:50pm

>205 Trifolia: slumps are evil critters that arrive in different sneaky ways. I have strategies in place to avoid them. For example, I try to give the curiosity room to develop because it's a really nice driver. But I can do all this stuff, and then the US populace elects a conman president and my reading goes to hell. So i do worry. :\

But what you describe is how I handle my yearly themes. It took me like 4 months to read Petrarch's Canzoniere, but I limited my reading to mix in other books. It became a ritual (which is what I try to create with the themes). Eventually...it look a long time...the poetry grabbed me and I felt to the drive and put other books aside for a bit. So, I do mix in other stuff, or try to. It doesn't always work (see Ada and Vera), but it is really better when I mix.

Dec 11, 2021, 1:54pm

>206 AnnieMod: yes

>205 Trifolia: back on this, and with Annie in mind - I'm thinking how I will handle the Victorian theme. I actually put in my time plan (not posted above) and gave myself 8 hours a month, or two a week. I think that will be enough for one really long Victorian book over a quarter of a year. But no clue how I will actually implement that 2 hour pace...or how patient I will be if I'm really enjoying a book.

Dec 11, 2021, 1:57pm

>207 markon: yes, that, I'm looking to "get" the style better in the annual reads, and other things too - context, development. I am in full antipathy with the idea that the work should be read independent of the author. For me, the author and their world are fundamental aspects of the book. My yearly themes play into that idea.

Edited: Dec 11, 2021, 1:58pm

>221 dchaikin: A lot of Victorian novels were published in weekly installments. Which gives them natural breaking points that do not exist in modern literature (not chapter breaks - these can contain multiple chapters). If we end up reading Copperfield, I’ll post the break points (because I have an edition with them so that makes it easy enough to do). If we read something else, I’ll see what I can do.

And not all Victorian novels are long (surprisingly). :)

Dec 11, 2021, 2:04pm

>208 lisapeet: >209 AnnieMod: - I like short biographies. :) In my more library-going days before covid I would pick up young adult books on authors I was interested in, because they are short and interesting and break down the general info and popular ideas in very brief space. There are good ones on James Baldwin. For Nabokov, I have so far dodged Boyd's two-volume monster biography, but I did read a wonderful, picture-heavy 140 pages biography by Jane Grayson which was terrific. (but also I read Vera...but it's a terrific biography. Boyds might be too...)

Dec 11, 2021, 2:13pm

>213 rocketjk: >214 raton-liseur: thanks. Denmark. I'm interested in Denmark, actually (even outside Hamlet)

>215 rocketjk: I enjoyed this post much more than I will show in my response here. But I understand "the watcher at the gate", the internal editor who halts and strangles composition. As for elderly onset of ADD, I imagine it's a real thing...

"Anyway, stop reading this and go read a book!" :) This is fun stuff.

And I take a little space here to thank everyone for sharing and all these great posts above.

Dec 11, 2021, 2:14pm

>223 AnnieMod: I'm down with breaks. :)

Dec 11, 2021, 5:11pm

>197 dchaikin: The problem with Spence, and what will probably not happen with Boccaccio and, hopefully not with Musil, is that it feels random.

Perhaps random can be good if it leads you into another topic for follow-up reading. All our reading interests started with one book. Actually that's kind of Chinese now that I think about it, as in 'A journey of a thousand miles (or li) begins with a single step'.

>211 dchaikin: Absolutely read We, The Drowned I might say before you read anything else! I loved it.

>221 dchaikin: You might not have to worry about the time it takes to read the Victorians, as with many of the novels you just find yourself being carried away, and before you know it, hours have passed. Maybe if you read them in paper editions like the readers of their time did, you won't have those percentage things popping up all the time in an effort to defeat you.
Also, as >223 AnnieMod: says, they aren't all long.

As text this post reads in a kind of preachy fashion, but it's meant in a rah rah encouragement tone.

Edited: Dec 11, 2021, 8:15pm

>225 dchaikin: "As for elderly onset of ADD, I imagine it's a real thing..."

Elderly? Who's elderly? ;) "Senior" I can't deny, though, if I want to cash in on senior discounts, of course. (Here's a tip: the IHOP senior discount starts at 55!) I am a member of a group here in my hometown called the Anderson Valley Village. It's part of a fee-based cooperative aimed at helping folks remain self-sufficient in their own homes for as long as possible. Monthly meetings usually include presentations of some sort. One month, the speaker was a woman from our local health clinic. She wanted to know what we wanted to be called. Seniors? Elders? Or what? We all looked around at each other. Who was she talking to? Anyway, with a nervous laugh, she commenced her presentation without getting an answer to her question. A few minutes later, she referred to the clinic's comprehensive care giving as being "womb to tomb." Some smart aleck in the group who might have been me immediately piped up, "Hey, that's what you can all us. We're pre-tombers!" Believe it or not, that actually got a pretty good laugh.

More seriously about your point, though, I would imagine that the disrupted sleep that often comes along with one's "golden years" (blechh) contributes to the phenomenon. In my case, you can throw in the torture of sleep apnea. Sleep deprivation messes with the circuitry in all sorts of frustrating ways.

Edited: Dec 11, 2021, 6:44pm

>227 SassyLassy: i struggle with random but if i read Spence I imagine it will eventually get unrandom and then stay that way awhile. Hope you’re right on the Victorians, but I think it will still go slow for me.

>228 rocketjk: admittedly i had my own father in mind. He’s in his 80’s has full deranged cognitive powers but has seemed to have lost the capacity of pursuing a whim more than a few hours before switching to a pursuit of a completely counter whim. In big things. Like houses and cars. So apologies, did not mean to categorize you in an age bracket. (I actually tried to make the relation to your age nonspecific… but clear failed.)

Dec 11, 2021, 8:13pm

>229 dchaikin: No worries about the age reference. I was amused rather than annoyed in any way, shape or form. Cheers!

Dec 12, 2021, 2:33pm

>230 rocketjk: I'm relieved and glad to know. :)

Edited: Dec 12, 2021, 6:04pm

60. Véra : Mrs Vladimir Nabokov by Stacy Schiff
published: 1999
format: 437-page Modern Library Paperback from 2000
acquired: June 2020
read: Nov 14 – Dec 9
time reading: 28:57, 4.0 mpp
rating: 4 ½
locations: St. Petersburg, Berlin, the French Riveira, Paris, Boston, Ithica New York, some American road trips, the Swiss Alps, to name a few.
about the author: born in Adams, MA, 1961

This is a beautiful book, but I find it a little tricky to review because it's difficult to get the nuance right. The Russian Jew, Vera (née Slonim) Nabokov was something of a contradiction - an extremely proud, intelligent, well-read, mutlilingual scholar of a sort, who proudly made herself humbled to her husband's work, as invisible as possible, except when this was impossible. She took care of every aspect of the Nabokov private and professional life, including typing up and editing and critiquing all his manuscripts, teaching his classes when he was sick, negotiating all their business activities with publishers, all the communication with colleagues, publishers, friends and family, even his family. She was everywhere in his life, and tried to make herself nowhere, even destroying all the letters she wrote him. She exists through his literature in variety of ways - physically, emotionally, intellectually, inspirationally, and has essentially nothing to say about any of it, other than to deny it, as did her husband. She is and is not Zina in The Gift, or Ada in that novel, or the missing V in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Much of what made Nabokov's work beautiful can be linked to her in some way, at least imaginatively.

A biography of Vera must, maybe of course, become a biography of her husband, because he was her life, her ferocious purpose. And, to find her, who never had close friends she could or would open up to, you have look at what he wrote. So much of their intentionally obscured life is in that literature, pretty much all of it publicly denied.

I have had a mixed relationship with Stacy Schiff. Her slow, 500-page, biography of Benjamin Franklin in Paris (The Great Improvisation) is quietly something of a masterpiece, opening up a very a tricky and oddly effective American ambassador at the most fragile point of American existence. Her book on Cleopatra was average, and I found her book on the Salem witch trials unreadable. But here, with so much source material - books, letters, interviews throughout the decades, and the option to interview, herself, many of the key people, she is in her element, picking out a hidden character, one somewhat mythical in the literary world. Vera, as a book, is slow and immersive, long but beautifully done. The 56 pages of notes hide my true pace, which was typically about 5 minutes a page, flipping back and forth between main text and notes, which I found added to the biography greatly.

It's hard to recommend 30 hours of reading to anyone, but this one rewards the curious. If you don't want to read Nabokov, but do want to read about him, this might be your book.

Dec 12, 2021, 6:02pm

>232 dchaikin: Kudos! I've been following along with the snippets you have given away while reading Vera and have been looking forward to your review. A question: Did you come away with a sense of why Vera was so anxious to make herself invisible? I am reminded of The Woman Who Smashed Codes, which I read earlier this year. It also featured a husband-wife team, where she always downplayed her accomplishments and credited her husband whenever possible. Fortunately her husband was unabashed in his admiration for her and her work, which helped balance the scales. Was it a "thing" with women of a certain time period? Was it just their personalities? Were their husbands culpable? I wonder if Schiff gave any insight into the why of it all.

Dec 12, 2021, 6:15pm

>233 labfs39: Thanks. It's a great question without a simple or certain answer. I suspect part of this was hardcoded into her personality and formative years. In many ways she was like her own father in her discrete but unwavering persistence, and I suspect being Jewish played a role in her willing to be under the radar effective. Part of it was the era, the post-war American housewife whose focus was the family. Also she was extremely private and much too proud to ever acknowledge an error and change her mind. I suspect that she set herself a mission to make Vladimir Nabokov a masterful author, and then put all her personal steel into it, and firmly suppressed any doubts. I think we can at least certain of that part anyway.

Edited: Dec 12, 2021, 8:31pm

61. Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1972
format: 104-page paperback
acquired: September
read: Dec 7-11
time reading: 4:56, 2.8 mpp
rating: 4
locations: a small villa in Switzerland and somewhere in US (which either isn’t specified or I missed it. Presumably eastern 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).

This was actually a little anticlimactic after Vera, which left quite an impact. But this is a good novella, a writer's novel that still manages to reach the reader and left me with a lot to think about.

We're in Switzerland and reading about clueless Americans in Switzerland. And maybe this is about clueless readers in general. VN tells us on page one: “Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment.” So, feeling all novice-like and insulted I stumbled through another 25 pages having no idea what was going on. And every couple of pages a new chapter starts and new mindset. (I had put the book down twice in those first 25 pages, and both times could not recall anything I had read and had to go back and read it again.) But there Hugh Person‘s story, his love of the unlovable Armande, begins to come out clearly. Nabokov create's an alter-ego of himself, an old cranky American author identified as Mr. R, who lives in Switzerland. Person, who works for a publisher, travels meet him a couple times. Actually the book is four trips Person takes to Switzerland, and most of the actual moment of the text happen in Switzerland.

Nabokov was a very serious writer who was never really serious, and this aspect comes out here. It's sad, tragically sad, and yet playful, and also uncomfortably thought-provoking. Not sure who I would recommend this to (although those curious about Switzerland come to mind), but I think if you get through those first 25 pages, it rewards.

Dec 13, 2021, 4:11am

What a fantastic thread (sorry I don't have anything useful to say)

Dec 13, 2021, 11:51pm

>236 Dilara86: thanks. That was a fun conversation that just kind of happened this past weekend.

Dec 15, 2021, 5:40pm

having end of the year thoughts - premature as they are. This is another skippable post, or at least, skimmable. Well, actually I don't know because I haven't written it. Expect lots of self-centered reading info.

The plan
I didn't share a plan for 2021, but I had one and it was my guide through the year. It mainly had four parts - (1) my first go at a real TBR plan - which I avoided in the past because I do random well, (2) my Nabokov plan and (3) Petrarch, (4) finish the 2020 Booker longlist.

The TBR plan for this past year and it's fallout
1. A History of London by Stephen Inwood (2nd half) - planned Jan/Feb, finished in Feb, check
2. Summer by Ali Smith - planned March, finished in May, so behind
3. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy - planned April, finished in June
4. Pyramids by Terry Prachett - planned May, finished in July
5. The eighth life by Nino Haratischvili - planned Jun/July, finished in September
6. Cup of gold by John Steinbeck - planned August, finished in October - the last one read
7. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler - planned for September
9. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli - planned for October
10. Where the Jackals Howl by Amos Oz - planned for November
11. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi - planned for December

huh. I'm not surprised I lost a couple months in there, but I didn't realize I just stopped in October. The Tyler is shelved, the Luiselli, Oz and Levi are in my 2022 plan (January, April and August)

The Nabokov plan - English novels
1. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, planned and read in January, check
2. Bend Sinister, planned February, finished in March, so behind here
3. Lolita, planned for March, finished in April
4. Pnin, planned for April, finished in June - another month behind
5. Pale Fire, planned for May, finished July
6. Speak, Memory: An Autobiography, planned for June, finished August
7. Ada, planned for July/August, finished October
8. Transparent Things, planned for September, finished December (well, I skipped to Vera)
9. Vera by Stacy Schiff, planned for September (also), finished December - so, yes, a 3rd month lost
10. Strong Opinions, in a late edit, I planned this for October. I'm reading it but I'm hating it. So maybe a bail
11. Look at the Harlequins!, planned for November. I opened it up today.
12. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, planned for November and December. I won't read these

So, three months behind, and a busy December

Petrarch plan
1. Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer by Christopher S. Celenza - read in January
2. The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young - I added two other translations of the Canzoniere. I finished in May
3. Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop - finally read this in September


2020 Booker longlist - plus trilogy starters
1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - planned and read in January, check
2. Nervous Conditions by Tsitis Dangerembga - planned and read in February, check
3. Bring Up the Bodies by Mantel - planned March, finished in April. So behind
4. The Book of Not by Dangerembga - planned April, finished in June - because I flipped with The Mirror and the Light
5. The Mirror and the Light by Mantel, planned May/June, finished June - anyway, back on pace, check
6. This Mournable Body by Dangerembga, planned and read in July, check
7. Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze, planned for August, but I used an audiobook and finished in July - ahead!
8. Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward, planned for September, but I haven't read it. It's now on audio
9. Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler, planned for October, read in July
that's it. I had read the rest in 2020.

So, all-in-all, Petrarch more or less worked, and the Booker list really worked well. I'm surprised by that. Nabokov was close. The TBR list was rough, 6 of 11. So, now I know which list I let slide... Still, the planning mostly worked. I continually consulted it all year when deciding what to read next. Even if I overruled, I still actively chose to look at the list and then overrule it.

Best reading - June and July, after I finished The Mirror and the Light (phew). I went through Pnin, Richard III, The Book of Not and then Hot Milk and I loved them all. (And I listened to Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude, which was a nice compliment.) The regrets are mild, but the Petrarch, TMatL and Ada took too long, even if I liked them. Vera also took a long time, but that was ok afterwards as it's a terrific book.

Edited: Dec 15, 2021, 7:30pm

My other goal this year was to avoid adding to the TBR, which I find a bit stressful. I like the idea of buy, then read. I no longer like the idea of buy, then wait, because it can become a forever wait. Anyway, I was really good till November, when I bought 14 books. And December will make things worse because (assuming my sickness today gets better like tomorrow) I have some bookstore plans ahead...

Anyway, numbers
So far I have bought 64 books this year, 2021, and read 58 (numbers are messy because of one library book and some Shakespeare signet collections). Anyway, so far six books are added to the TBR.

going further
of those 58 books read
- 37 were bought in 2021 (58% of my purchases have been read)
- 16 were bought in 2020
- 2 in 2019
- 1 in 2018
- 1 in 2011 - Ada by Nabokov - actually, it came from my in-laws collection
- 1 in 2007 - Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

So, about that TBR...it has the wrong title. I read 5 books not purchased this year or last year - out of about 700 on the TBR. So the to-be-read list is more a not-to-be-read list... hmm.

Dec 16, 2021, 1:48pm

>239 dchaikin: sigh... I hear you so well... My numbers are not as impressive as you as I've bought 33 books this year (out of which 13 in December, and one I wanted was not available today at the library...) and I'm currently reading my 31st physical book of the year.
I've done better than you in reading this year's bought books (stats not available yet...), but my shelves have expended again (the 33 bought books only include physical new books, no second hand and no rescues from relatives' shelves!).
I called this objective of reading more from my bookshelves than adding to them my "chimeric goal" then I thought it was feasibly (how naive was I) so I called it my "degrowth goal". For next year, I'm hesitant "a degrowth chimeric goal"???

Your "not-to-be-read list" made me giggle!

Dec 16, 2021, 1:53pm

>238 dchaikin: All in all sounds like you did pretty well. Best laid plans and all that.

I'm so annoyingly close to 50 titles this year, but then I give myself a poke as I don't want to rush my next few reads just to hit a number.

Edited: Dec 17, 2021, 8:16am

>240 raton-liseur: how you say "degrowth chimeric goal" in French. It's a perfect name.

>241 AlisonY: yeah, it was ok of me. I'm content. But I hope you don't rush to 50, and find yourself happily lost in an enjoyable book, oblivious to numbers, come Dec 31.

Dec 16, 2021, 7:45pm

Considering the year you've had, I hope you are feeling good about your success in accomplishing so much reading. In addition to the quantitative statistics, how do you feel about the quality? Did your reading add the enjoyment and fulfillment to your life that you want? I feel like sometimes us number-crunchers forget to factor in the happiness coefficient.

Dec 17, 2021, 2:20am

>242 dchaikin: "degrowth chimeric goal" - no idea how to say this in French (I write my reading organisation only in this group, in English, so I try to think directly in English).
"Un objectif de décroissance chimérique"? But the issue is that in French you don't know if it's the degrowth or the goal that is chimeric.

Dec 17, 2021, 9:37am

>244 raton-liseur: thanks. Both meanings seem ok.

>243 labfs39: the “life” part of your question throws me. It’s a good question, but how to answer that? And will I like the answer?

Quality is easier and a lot less interesting to answer. It’s mixed. (And…oops…my answer got really long and unwieldy. Sorry) I don’t want to read ok books. Mostly I avoid bad books by focusing on more classic, or well-regarded author themes and the Booker list. I avoid netgalley and early reviewers and the flashy new books. And I don’t have time to read potentially worse-than-the-Booker award lists. But what i get is a lot of 4 star books - which can mean really good or…a good book that was more like an ok good book.

So 2021. Nabokov was a little mixed. He’s an interesting author, but not as great, imo, as his biggest fans think, and nowhere near as good as he or his wife thought. He’s a master of parody- so Lolita was his perfect subject- writing intimately about deranged pedophilia without getting deranged or losing sight of the victim and somehow making a broadly interesting book with a lot of commentary on our minds, and on American and 20th-century life. But that’s just a small set of the elements of literature. So reading all his stuff has felt a little limiting. Baldwin was more rewarding, even if nowhere near as precisely complicated an author. Baldwin was just very alive and his books live. But there is something rewarding in being able to make that kind of comment.

Similar with Petrarch. Dante was, for me, a truly amazing experience. Petrarch was curious and provides a little window into the 16th/early 17th century _English_ mind where Thomas Wyatt and Shakespeare and others really embraced him. So, good info to have in my pocket while reading Romeo and Juliet. But not amazing. (I read Plutarch a couple years ago and have no idea why because it was torturous. But it has constantly rewarded since. Petrarch is a better read, but a little like that. But now I’m just confusing similar names.)

The Booker longlist of 2020 was not good. But reading the trilogies was actually great. Mantel and Dangerembga are each terrific in very different ways. If I could have that kind of experience constantly in reading … As for the 2021 Booker list- so far it’s been ok-good. Not amazing.

My audio stuff was fine. Random and entertaining. I’ll take it, even if other years were better.

To be complete I should add I finished Cather, but mostly her only ok stories. And I started Wharton and I’m excited about that and really enjoyed House of Mirth.

So, what I’m getting at is that i read a lot of good stuff, and a lot that will reward my future reading. Occasionally I even hit the really special reading experiences. And yet there’s a sense that I could choose better and have had a better reading experience. I have that sense that is was more of an ok kind of good year. (There must be an element of FOMO in this somewhere)

Dec 17, 2021, 9:42am

>243 labfs39: not sure my answer is readable, but it was a fun question to answer. Thanks for asking. I’m want to ask you the same kind of question. (I think i will. But on your thread) Maybe it’s a good avid reader question.

Dec 17, 2021, 10:37am

>245 dchaikin: I don’t want to read ok books

I agree, although I think we differ on how to find those better-than-ok books. I distrust the Booker Prize longlist these days. And even with the best authors, not every book they write will be stellar (although I think there are other reasons to read an author's entire oeuvre and I applaud your efforts in this area). So of necessity, you will read more only-ok books with this approach.

a lot that will reward my future reading
That's an interesting point that I hadn't considered. You bring so much knowledge forward into your reading, because of your focus on the classics. Or at least into the books from the Western canon. I'm not sure I added to my knowledge base in this way much this year.

>246 dchaikin: I attempted to respond on my thread, Dan. Thanks for challenging me to answer my own questions!

Edited: Dec 19, 2021, 4:00pm

62. Pericles by William Shakespeare
written: 1608
format: 192 pages within a 2006 Signet Classic paperback with Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen
acquired: September
read: Nov 17 – Dec 12
time reading: 8:24, 2.6 mpp
rating: 3
locations: various places in the pre-Christian eastern Mediterranean
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Ernest Schanzer – (1963)
Sylvan Barnet – series editor (1963, 1988, 2006)
John Gower – from Confessio Amantis, Book VIII (1390)
Laurence Twine – from The Patterne of Painful Adventures, Chapters XI-XV (1607)
G. Wilson Knight – from The Crown of Life (1948)
John F. Danby – from Poets on Fortune’s Hill (1952)
Kenneth Muir – from Shakespeare as Collaborator (1960)
Carol Thomas Neely – Pericles: Incest, Birth, and the Death of Mothers (from Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays, 1985)
Michael Dobson – Adrian Nobel’s Pericles, 2002 (from Shakespeare Survey 55, 2003)
Sylvan Barnet – Pericles on Stage and Screen (2006)

How to sum up? This play is weird in several ways. The storyline is deranged, the themes are subtly disturbing, and it has a curious textual lineage. Pericles, here prince of Tyre, goes through a number of travails, first discovering a desired princess is in an incestual relationship with her dad, then fleeing an assassin sent by that dad. On his travels he has a shipwreck, wins a wife, loses her during childbirth, but gains a daughter, who he drops off for fourteen years when he is told she has died. But the play ends as the depressed prince is revived by his not-dead daughter, and later finds his not-dead wife. My summary is botched, but I tried to note that it begins with dad-daughter incest and ends in daughter reviving dad. So, there's an interesting theme.

As for the text, it comes first from John Gower, a Chaucer associate, author of Confessio Amantis, an English poem of several tales written around 1390. A Lawrence Twine published a prose version of Gower's tales in 1607. Then at some point this text shows up, a pirated version. It's not in the First Folio. But it was reprinted several times and forms a messy source text. It has several styles. A character named Gower opens each act with an explanatory narration. That's one style. But then acts 1 & 2 are flat poetry. Heavy plot, dull reading. Acts 3-5 are not. The general consensus is someone else wrote acts 1 & 2, and then Shakespeare finished the play. (And, personally, I wonder what role the incest theme might play within the text's history). It makes for a weirdly uneven and poor read. But, for production, it's a great text because it's not sacred. Directors can do what they like with this text, guilt-free, and they do.

Recommended only for Shakespeare completists (and that's not a bad goal). But I really liked John Gower's original. So, that does get a recommendation (although I only read a really tiny part of book VIII).

Dec 20, 2021, 6:45pm

I have not read Pericles, but it sounds a mess. I tried reading Confessio Amantis, but have to confess it defeated me.

Dec 20, 2021, 6:47pm

>249 baswood: interesting about Gower. it's a possible 2023 idea for me, along with Chaucer..finally.

Dec 22, 2021, 5:59am

Hey, Dan, I was just reading in the Washington Post about your (Austin's) new district attorney and the issues he is dealing with, his approach and how it's going. It sounds hopeful to me.

Edited: Dec 24, 2021, 4:09pm

>251 avaland: Lois, I am clueless. I have no idea who my district attorney is. (I know we had one TX AG convicted of a crime, but still in office and making legal decisions for Trump's election after he lost. He sued the US or something like that.)

ETA - that guy is still in office: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Paxton

Dec 24, 2021, 4:22pm

63. Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1974
format: 253-page paperback
acquired: December 12
read: Dec 15-21
time reading: 10:08, 2.4 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Cambridge England. the French Riviera (or Cote de Azure), Paris, sort of Massachusetts etc.
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).

This was a tough read. It seemed clear until I realized I was getting lost. (I stopped at page 30 and re-read from page 1...and it didn't help). Most of it is a narrator talking crazy, which gets tiresome. There is complexity and it calms down in the last 100 pages. But, i was happy to be done.

One of the interesting things about this novel is how Nabokov writes about himself in variations of apparent integrity and apparent opposition. The narrator here has a number of parallels with the real VN, including a set of parallel novels in Russian and English. He's also crazy and in other ways directly counter to Nabokov. But, not entirely crazy. The counter-real-VN stuff is also revealing about the author...and interesting if you are trying to understand him....but not if you're not.

This was his 17th and last novel. He was working on another when his health very suddenly declined. I have now read all of his novels, plus a novella, a kind of autobiography (Speak, Memory), a small biography and a longer one of his wife - and that may be my favorite of all this. Anyway, closing this chapter.

One extra note. I was reading Strong Opinions, a series of interviews of Nabokov, collected and edited by him. I got a 100 pages in. Roughly, interviewers are trying to understand VN and sometimes asking really considerate thoughtful questions. VN then proceeds to not answer - dodging, being clever, changing the topic. It‘s really irritating. So, I stopped and tagged it abandoned.

Dec 24, 2021, 4:34pm

64. A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson
published: 2021
format: 292-page hardcover
acquired: December 2
read: Dec 20-23
time reading: 6:32, 1.3 mpp
rating: 3½
locations: northern Ontario
about the author: born 1946 in Ontario, raised in Blackwell, Ontario. A distant a distant relative of L. M. Montgomery

A novel embracing a 1970‘s Northern Ontario isolated from the outside world, but not isolated enough. Lawson writes through three narrators, an 8-yr-old girl, her elderly neighbor on her hospital deathbed and a man, a stranger, who now owns the old woman's home. He is newly divorced, childless, has quit his job in Toronto, and is lost. If you like, 8-yr-old Clara opens it innocent and also a little dark, Liam seems to be searching for structure and simplicity, and proper Elizabeth stares at death in the face. And we go from there, reality tangling things.

It's a nice book, clean and balanced. A little Kent Haruf-like, maybe. Lawson is, I think, looking for peace and restoration without denying reality…but she is still holding reality away at arm‘s length. It's for this reason that I‘m not sure it belongs on the 2021 Booker longlist, but I enjoyed it a lot...I snapped through it, really.

Dec 24, 2021, 7:14pm

Congrats on finishing Nabokov! Woo hoo! Who is your author for next year? Wharton?

Dec 24, 2021, 7:27pm

>255 labfs39: thanks. Yay. 🙂 Wharton is kind of Litsy driven. Next year is Boccaccio (1st half) and Thomas Musil (second half). But also Wharton, Shakespeare, the Booker longlist and just a TBR drive.

Dec 24, 2021, 8:04pm

That's quite an accomplishment, and Nabokov is such an interesting author... I hope next year is as good reading for you (and therefore as good reading your thoughts on it for the rest of us).

Dec 25, 2021, 6:39pm

Is there a Vladimir Nabokov completest club anywhere around? Well done Dan

Dec 25, 2021, 7:07pm

>257 lisapeet: thanks. You’re so nice. I wish a great 2022 too - including reading.

>258 baswood: Thanks. I haven’t found one. But I would be afraid of them because I would have to admit not having an interest in working out his elaborate games. Surely that’s criminal. (One review on LT mentions a website that works through all the complexity in Harlequins. I didn’t track it down. Pale Fire is a whole other mess - err, adventure? - in this way. I didn’t pursue.)

Dec 26, 2021, 9:07am

Thanks for this year Nabokov journey. It's an author I've never read (except a short story that I have audio-read), and your reviews do not give me a lot of will to start, but it was really interesting to follow up and to learn about this author.
I hope your next year read will be more fulfilling and enjoyable at the same time.

Dec 26, 2021, 9:52am

I have the Mary Lawson book on my "to be read list for 2022"- glad that you liked it. I read one of her books many years ago.

Dec 26, 2021, 11:23am

Which was your favorite Nabokov? Mine is Pnin. Of course, it and Lolita are the only ones I've read, and I think it will stay that way.

Dec 26, 2021, 12:03pm

>260 raton-liseur: thanks. Maybe it’s good to save you a little from Nabokov, although Lolita has a long call and it’s an entertaining book. I’m looking forward to Boccaccio.

Dec 26, 2021, 12:05pm

>261 torontoc: Lawson certainly loves Canada (even if she no longer lives there). I hope you enjoy Solace. Which of her novels have you read?

Dec 26, 2021, 12:11pm

>262 labfs39: Pnin easily. It’s so charming. I think I would need to put Lolita next, and then Invitation to a Beheading. But i also liked and think about The Gift (difficult), Laughter in the Dark, and The Eye. And I have a soft spot for Glory, which I think is accidentally one of his most honest novels. And Mary, his first, is a terrific one-off novel - has that 1990’s surreal/not surreal feel.

Dec 26, 2021, 2:39pm

toying with the idea of some kind of weekly post... one that is somehow readable. This is an experiment.

I was off all week. We had intended a vacation to New York City, but cancelled in the face of the Covid numbers and I spent the week at home. It was kind of relaxing, except that I got my booster and it wiped me out completely for a day with 102 fever and continuous headache. And then, last night, my daughter tested positive for Covid. !! But I read, for me I read a lot. 20 hours over seven days, covering 600 pages. But also it was a weird reading week for me, as it felt to me as if this was the end of the year (have another week yet). I wrapped up Nabokov, and I feel done with him, completely. I'm really looking at my 2022 reading themes. It's silly, but I can't decide if I should be finishing by 2021 reading or getting a head start of my 2022 reading. I did a lot of both this week.

I started three books this week - A Town Called Solace (planned for January), Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (planned for 2021) and, yesterday, Boccaccio, a biography (planned for the first part of 2022). And I finished two books. Nabokov's last novel, Look at the Harlequins!, was a struggle. A Town Called Solace was a quick read (6.5 hours over four days). I also read a chunk of Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition - averaging around 4 minutes a page and trying to manage paragraph chunks of untranslated Latin. The book is fascinating. I only touched on my audiobook - because no commute - Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

That's a lot of different mindsets. Looking ahead, I'm quarantining, and I have another light work week - Tue-Wed-Thur only. I can work from home (but I don't actually like that). The uncertainty as to whether I'm going to catch Covid from my daughter is stressful. If nothing dramatic happens with my daughter or other exposed family, then I will have a lot of reading time again. No goals, but I would really like to get in at least 2 hours a day, everyday this light work week. I am hoping to make some progress on and maybe finish Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - but I find I can so far only read it small chunks. And I might need to take a bunch of audiobook walks to finish the Shirley Jackson biography.

one other side note - I spent some time peaking at StoryGraph ( https://app.thestorygraph.com/ ). So far, it seems strangely anti-social.

This was a weird overly-self-centered post...

Dec 26, 2021, 4:05pm

Thanks for the update, Dan. I'm sorry to hear about your daughter. Hopefully it will be a teen-typical light case.

I looked at the StoryGraph site and was curious about the recommendation feature. I wonder if their algorithm is any better than LTs.

Trying to finish the book I'm on, then I will start a Turkish book for the 2022 Asia Reading Challenge. It's interesting how the change in the calendar year invigorates our reading, isn't it?

Edited: Dec 26, 2021, 4:16pm

>264 dchaikin: I read Crow Lake I am sorry about your daughter and you in quarantine! Many of my friends are in sort of a semi quarantine because the number COVID cases have risen dramatically in Ontario in the past week.

Dec 29, 2021, 6:23pm

>267 labfs39: actually, that's one thing I like about StoryGraph, their recommendation feature. I like that they classify as someone who likes slow mid-length books.

>267 labfs39:/>268 torontoc: the good news with Covid is my daughter has no symptoms and never had any serious ones. So far no one else has symptoms either.

Dec 29, 2021, 7:02pm

>269 dchaikin: That's good news that your daughter hasn't gotten sick from covid, Dan. A friend of mine here in Maryland tested positive for covid last week. He had mild cold-like symptoms and was going to remain on quarantine for 10 days. Of course, that was last week. Now they changed the quarantine to 5 days and then 5 days of masking. He had been boosted with Moderna prior to catching covid from a dinner at work. The rules change every day. How is one supposed to know what to do really?!

Dec 29, 2021, 9:28pm

>270 SqueakyChu: Hi. I don't know. I was in Maryland in my last book, up through about 1979. There was no covid. (It was Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler)

Edited: Dec 29, 2021, 9:35pm

>271 dchaikin:. Yeah. The good old days! *sigh*

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 9:09pm

65. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
published: 1982
format: 303-page paperback
acquired: 2020
read: Dec 23-29
time reading: 10:29, 2.1 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Baltimore 1930s to 1970s
about the author: Baltimore-based author. Born in Minneapolis, 1941. Grew up Quaker communities in North Carolina.

This was my second novel by Anne Tyler, both read this year, and this was so much more interesting than my first - Redhead by the Side of the Road.

Pearl Tull tells a lot in the opening paragraph, on her death bed, when she tells her son, "Get...You should have got..." Pearl is hard, willful, and she made a tough mom, having three kids, because after one, she thought, "I want some extra." Fiercely confident, "She felt that going to college would be an admission of defeat." The novel, is, in a sense, the fallout of this kind of mother.

The novel is the story of Pearl Tull and her three children after her husband runs off in the 1940‘s. Her kids are each different. Tyler here captures an atmosphere and personality by showering the reader with details. Maximalist, wordy, slow and yet she creates an impression.

One son, grown ponders on time and happiness: "Everything come down to time in the end—to the passing of time, to changing. Ever thought of that? Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn't it all based on minutes going by? Isn't happiness expecting something time is going to bring you? Isn't sadness wishing time back again?"

And that‘s maybe the theme of this novel. I enjoyed it.

Edited: Dec 31, 2021, 12:03am

66. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
reader: Bernadette Dunne
published: 2016
format: 19:25 audible audiobook (608 pages in hardcover)
acquired: November 24
listened: Nov 24 – Dec 30
rating: 3
locations: San Francisco, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont
about the author: An American literary critic, former editor at The New Republic and an Adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Shirley Jackson was fascinating and led a much too short but very crazy life, raising four kids and supporting the family with her income from publishing stories, parenting memoirs, and deeply complex novels. Her husband, Stanley Hyman, a professional critic, was as much a complication as a support. A free thinker, atheist, with Communist leanings, he was also a proponent of free love, spending college chasing other women, and telling Shirley about it. Then, when older, overweight, notably unattractive, and teaching at an all-women's college, he continued to search for other women (although apparently not on campus). He was also the first to discover Shirley, claiming, based off a Syracuse University newspaper short story, that he would marry that author. He was ultimately her best critic, and a decent posthumous promoter, for the few years he outlived her. Shirley Jackson, also overweight and with underdiagnosed health problems, died in 1965, age 48. Her youngest son was 13. Stanly died in 1970, he was 51.

One of the nice things that comes out of this biography is Jackson's development of her themes. All her work has underlying themes of fear and anxiety, and much of it touches on multiple personalities - things Jackson herself was dealing with in real life (albeit she was not schizophrenic). In a diary she wrote,
"I am writing about ambivalence but it is an ambivalence of the spirit, or the mind, not the sex...It is not a he or a she but the demon in the mind, and that demon finds guilts where it can and uses them and runs mad with laughing when it triumphs; it is the demon which is fear...We are afraid of being someone else and doing the things someone else wants us to do and of being taken and of being used by someone else, some other guilt-ridden conscience that lives on and on in our minds, something we build ourselves and never recognize, but this is fear, not a named sin. Then it is fear itself, fear of self that I am writing about...fear and guilt and their destruction of identity. Why am I so afraid?"

The writing process, at least with novels where she would continually rework them, would actually drive her to limits of sanity...but not judgment. As she developed, she ignored Stanley's criticism more and more, so he complained she listened to her daughter's criticism more than him, a professional critic (while she was writing We Always Lived in the Castle). Another cool thing was to see what kind of parent she was. Left to do all the parenting on her own, she was overwhelmed and yet a sincerely warm loving parent. (no Pearl Tull).

This biography is thorough, maybe too thorough. It's all here and covers about everything we know about her. It's not a perfect biography, but I'm really grateful to have listened to it.

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 9:40pm

And that should close my 2021 reviews. (new thread here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/337810 )

Dec 30, 2021, 9:43pm

>274 dchaikin: You finished it in 2021. Hooray! Have you read a lot of Shirley Jackson? Which book is your favorite? The only thing I've ever read by her is the short story The Lottery.

Dec 30, 2021, 9:48pm

>276 labfs39: Just We Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I haven't read The Lottery... !! It was Hill House that got my attention because there is so much construction there. Masterful. It's a brilliant piece of writing. But I see I need to revisit Castle again. I missed a lot.

Edited: Dec 30, 2021, 10:50pm

>274 dchaikin: Wow! That sounds super interesting. I found her novel We Always Lived in the Castle (recommended to me by _Zoe_ and @richarderus) fascinating. It's always fun to learn about authors and then decide if their personality comes through in their writing or not.

Dec 31, 2021, 10:10am

>274 dchaikin: I was reading this for part of the same time as you were, Dan. I enjoyed it—that mid-century literary/intellectual milieu is a sweet spot for me, at the same time that the people involved often make me grind my teeth—but the pacing was slow for me and I feel like I spent a lot more time on the book than it merited. Though that's more a criticism of my reading pace this fall, not the writing, which was fine. Still, I'm glad I read it and found it interesting throughout, if a bit pokey.

Dec 31, 2021, 10:35am

I've not read any Shirley Jackson. Surely 2022 year has got to be the year. Enjoyed your review. Couldn't help thinking how sad for the kids that both parents passed at a young age.

Dec 31, 2021, 11:06am

>279 lisapeet: i saw your review on the book page (but I must be behind on your thread). One thing about audiobooks and only listening while moving (mostly driving, but also I listen while walking and occasionally while grocery shopping) is that I become very forgiving of length. Still, i did notice when Franklin gave a run down of everyone’s gifts one Christmas, one by one. But I agree with your review that something in the atmospheres and relationships were lost or missed among the details.

>280 AlisonY: I was not previously aware that she had four kids, but that aspect, her oldest in college, youngest 13, really touched me too. Curious what you might think of her writing.

Dec 31, 2021, 2:34pm

>266 dchaikin: one other side note - I spent some time peaking at StoryGraph ( https://app.thestorygraph.com/ ). So far, it seems strangely anti-social.

My daughter got me on to StoryGraph this summer as it was promised to be the latest and the greatest, but my interest fizzled. I think our new graphing features here at LT are as good or better, and yes, it does seem anti-social.

Dec 31, 2021, 6:40pm

Happy new year Dan. I’ve just caught up with your thread, and look forward to your reading for the coming year.

Jan 1, 2:24pm

>283 NanaCC: thanks Colleen, ditto. I'll stop by your new thread soon.

Jan 1, 2:34pm

December summary

My December plan

7 hours - Pericles by William Shakespeare acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff
23 hours - Vera by Stacy Schiff - first half (about 300 pages)
8 hours - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
5 hours - Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
15 hours - Strong Opinions by Vladimir Nabokov
58 hours

How it worked out

5:34 Pericles by William Shakespeare - finished
17:24 Vera by Stacy Schiff - last 300 pages
10:29 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
4:56 Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
4:04 Strong Opinions by Vladimir Nabokov - at this point I abandoned it
10:08 Look at the Harlequins by Vladimir Nabokov
10:44 Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Frances A Yates. - first 156 pages
2:51 The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare - intro only
6:32 A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson
5:37 Boccaccio by Thomas G. Bergin - first 93 pages

wow. Well, for me a wow. That maybe the most I time I have spent reading in a single month ever. I had a lot free time. (and I might have trouble adjusting back to reality this month.) Overall, a decent month, with Vera being my favorite book.

Jan 1, 3:49pm

>282 Nickelini: on StoryGraph: It was cool to take all my GR stuff, and just dump it in. I only started GR in 2013 and info there is incomplete, but that was still fun. But, then what?

Jan 2, 11:22am

>273 dchaikin: That was the first Anne Tyler book I read, and I would say my favourite.
That's a great quote you have.

Jan 2, 12:50pm

>287 SassyLassy: Cool this is your favorite Tyler. it opens me to reading more by her. Someone on Litsy suggested I stick with her mid-career novels and also suggested The Accidental Tourist.