Friday, March 5, 2021

February Wrapup

Hmm. Am I going to be a person who now writes monthly wrapup posts? I doubt it, but I'm trying it on for size.


Michael Pollan's How To Change Your Mind

About recent research into, and experimentation with, psychedelics. A friend's been recommending this for a while. (Who has acted on it.) It was also, through the weird channels in which my brain works, related to a project I was reading on. When I got it from the library, I wasn't actually sure I would read it, but then the first chapter was full of people I knew, and so I was hooked. I worked, as a computer programmer, for the pharmacology department at the University of Chicago in the mid to late 80s. All those people were no longer researching psychedelics by then, for reasons expounded by Pollan, but they had been.

Pollan strikes me as a pretty good writer of non-fiction, and while LSD and mushrooms aren't really my thing, I'm now inclined to read The Omnivore's Dilemma. Eating meat, while maybe feeling you shouldn't, is my thing, and now I'm curious to see what Pollan has to say.

Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

Unsurprisingly this is an important book in Pollan. It didn't do much for me when I first read it thirty years ago, and it still didn't. I have loved Brave New World on each of several readings, and I keep thinking that some other Huxley book will mean as much. None has yet. I was surprised how much art criticism was in this; that probably all went over my head the first time.


Cees Nooteboom's Venice

Visiting Venice. Important living Dutch writer and this was really very good. More here.

Donna Leon's Death at La Fenice

That sent me off to Donna Leon. The first Commissario Brunetti story. The mystery was so-so, but the characters and setting are fun. I might also read/reread some Michael Dibdins at some point.


Megha Majdumar's A Burning

I really ought to have written about this one at length, but it arrived from the library after a long wait and I wasn't going to be able to renew it. Molotov cocktails are thrown into a commuter train in India, and what happens to various characters peripherally associated with this terror attack. Her debut novel, there's been some buzz, and I definitely enjoyed it. I read somewhere that it has done better in North America than in India. That makes sense to me. Her politics are well-intentioned, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that an Indian found them shallow while a North American thought them insightful. It's the voice that interested me. It's possible the same criticism could be made (felt shallow there, but impressive here) but I was impressed. I'd read another of hers.

Susanna M. Smith (#ReadIndies)

Susanna M. Smith's How The Blessed Live

It was #ReadIndies month hosted by Kaggsy and I really should have blogged about these on time. I already had the idea of digging into a couple of small Canadian publishers and had these when I saw her announcement. How The Blessed Live is about two fraternal twins and their father. The daughter goes to Vancouver and hangs out with artists; the son goes to Montreal to university. The mother died at their birth, and the father lives in lamentation on an island in Lake Ontario. Isis and Osiris are mentioned. There may have been brother/sister incest.

I mention that mostly because I tend to dislike it in a novel and still I liked this novel. Brother/sister incest goes back to Egypt, to Greece; anything after about Malory starts to feel derivative. I was willing to forgive it here, so that means it must have been pretty well done. A fairly poetic style. This came out with Coach House books in 2002. If I'd written that Coach House books post (this one came from the public library, but I have several other of their books here already) I would also have mentioned how I love, love, love the paper stock they use.

Susanna M. Smith's The Fairy Tale Museum

This book (her second and only other book I believe) came out with Invisible Publishing in 2018, the press I was more interested in (and knew less about) when I ordered them up from the library. A collection of stories on similar somewhat magical themes: a fairy tale museum. (Truth in advertising.) I liked this even better. She retells various fairy tales with a twist and in different contexts. Think, I suppose, Angela Carter.

More stuff related only in my own mind to Propertius

Shakespeare's Henry V

I started it looking for that speech about tennis balls and mockery--and found I had misremembered the line I was looking for. That speech is in Act I and I could have stopped there, but it is Henry V. The second act is weird, but otherwise such a great play. I carried on. We few, we happy few. We are the makers of manners.

Robert Herrick's Poems

Herrick has a more obvious connection to Propertius, maybe not just in my mind. ("Come, I will drink a tun/To my Propertius.") My edition is not complete, a compact thing from Blackie and Son that I probably bought in the U.K. years ago. But it does have a good couple hundred of his (mostly short) poems. Reading it this time, though I was supposed to be thinking about Propertius, the pandemic kept coming to mind:

Stay then at home, and do not go,
Or fly abroad, and seek for woe.

I ask you: could I help it? And, Ted Cruz, were you listening?


Antonio Tabucchi's Indian Nocturne

Another book I should have blogged about. Novella length. Pretty great. A character much like Tabucchi himself travels to India, both for academic reasons, but also to hunt up an old friend who may be in trouble. We learn about the back story with the friend; we learn about the writing of books. Does he find the friend? Well. Tabucchi was a professor of Portuguese and the story ends in Goa. It's not the equal of his Sostiene Pereira, but then, so very few things are.

Trixie Belden

Julie Campbell's The Secret of the Mansion

I found this in a Little Free Library a few months ago, and thought, wow, I could recapture my childhood. It hung around my reading chair for those few months and then, one night, when nothing else was working, I reread it. I was surprised how well it held up.

I had not yet read Little Women when I read these as a child--I only read that as an adult--and I was surprised at how much this owes to Little Women. Julie Campbell likes the poor little rich kid next door motif so much she uses it twice. It's Honey Wheeler in this one; Diana Lynch is only mentioned in the second book and joins the gang still later. Oh, the chores! And is that Moms? Or Marmee?

Just who is it living in the old Frayne mansion next door? And is there treasure hidden in there? Sleepyside-on-Hudson...not so sleepy any more!

Julie Campbell's The Red Trailer Mystery

I enjoyed that one so much, I ordered up the next several from the library. The Red Trailer Mystery is practically one novel with the The Secret of the Mansion. Jim Frayne disappears at the end of the first; Trixie and Honey and the ever-competent Miss Trask hunt him down--in order to tell him he's inherited a million bucks--in the second. And find some trailer thieves. And help a poor family, who aren't yet dying of tuberculosis, but could be.

More of these to come!


Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus

Let us continue the I-should-have-blogged-about theme. Maybe I even did so, though pretty danged obliquely.

Two Australian orphan sisters, Grace and Caroline, move to England. Their lives. Grace, the sweeter and blonder one, marries the son of an astronomer. Caro leads a life with more detours. This is a novel one needs to read several times before saying anything, but it is a novel one wants to read several times, so maybe that's OK.


E. M. Cioran's On The Heights of Despair

Cioran's first book, (1934, tr. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, 1992) originally written in Romanian.

Ha. My heading is probably not entirely fair. Oh, wait, of course it is. I mean, look at the title. "On the heights of despair," the introduction suggests, was a stock phrase from Romanian suicide notices of the time. 

Cioran is an essayist/aphorist in the Nietzschean/Schopenhauerian pessimist tradition.

By no means his best. It felt a little windy. While it's his themes, his later writing in French forced him to pare down. (I suppose. Or maybe he just learned to.) This is also more clearly derivative. Nietzsche is never very far from Cioran, but this reeks of it. Though, correspondingly, there is more appreciation of the Dionysiac in this, it's not all gloom and doom, more than in later Cioran. Nevertheless Cioran strikes me as standing more on his own feet afterwards. It wasn't bad--if you like Cioran--but The Trouble With Being Born remains my favorite. If favorite is quite the right word to use...

That's a month's worth of reading. Actually, for me, probably more than a month's worth under normal circumstances, but what else can you do these days? I'm also in the middle of rereading Wolf Hall and The Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Well, when I say middle, that's appropriate enough to Wolf Hall, somewhat less so to Nickleby.

The books that are still around the house

How was your February reading?


  1. wow. diverse selection... Crome Yellow is hilarious, i thought if you're in the mood for more Huxley...

    Ram Das, T. Leary? great humans and a partial inspiration, here...

    1. Diverse? or discombobulated...

      Leary is a big figure in the Pollan book, but not exactly a hero, at least for the people Pollan talks to. Too much of a showman, gets in the way of serious investigation. Pollan's more sympathetic to Ram Dass (still Richard Alpert for most of the timeline of the book.)

  2. It's probably just me, but I love monthly or weekly summaries of one's reading.

  3. Your mention of Trixie Belden totally made me smile. I had a bunch of those mysteries growing up. Kind of wish I still did. Have a good weekend! :)

    1. Weren't they so much fun? Turns out they still are!

  4. Oh Trixie!
    I was a HUGE Trixie fan in my early teens. I recently gifted my box of Trixie's (I had all but two of the 39 books) to my 10 year old niece (my aunt gave me the first 2 books for my tenth birthday). I read the first few again before passing them on...and was delighted with how well they held up & took me back to a more innocent reading time.

    1. There were still only 16 of them by the time I got too old, but I loved the series, too. My favorite of the kid's mystery series.

  5. Excellent wrap up! I have trouble managing to blog about even one book each month, so I am most impressed.

    I only read one Trixie Belden book as a kid but enjoyed it. I have recently been re-reading between "adult" novels, The Melendey family books by Elizabeth Enright which takes me back to my 9 year old self.

    1. Frankly this was a bit lazy in comparison to blogging about each book...

      I've never heard of the Melendey family books. They sound like they might be fun.