Thursday, January 26, 2023

Charles Simic (#poem)


Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


The well-lit,
All-night drugstore
In the sky
Open for business

Something, please,
To ease my fear
Of the dark.

She, not looking up,
Into a vial

Drop after drop
Of that clear
Odorless drug,
They call infinity.

Further Adventures of Charles Simic

Is our Charles Simic afraid of death?
Yes, Charles Simic is afraid of death.

Does he kneel and pray for eternal life?
No, he's busy drawing a valentine with a crayon.

Pale as a freshly chopped onion,
He goes over the wrongs he committed.

His conscience, does it bother him much?
Only when he lies down to get a night's rest.

The hellfires, does he feel them closing in?
No, but he hears the hounds barking.

Does he lift his eyes humbly in forgiveness?
Her love was his judge, her wrath the jury.

Some dark night, praying to the Lord above,
His own tongue will slash his throat.

-Charles Simic

After Charles Simic passed away a couple of weeks ago (Jan. 9), I pulled the book off the shelf and have been making my way through it again. These are a couple that caught my eye on this rereading. (I haven't yet finished it.)

Simic (1938-2023) was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, and moved to the U.S. as a teenager in in 1954. He won a Pulitzer for poetry as well as various other awards, and was made the U.S. poet laureate in 2007. (A two-year term, I think, at that point.) 

'Watermelons' is from his book Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk. (1974)
'Venus' is from They Forage at Night. (1980)
'Further Adventures of Charles Simic' is from Biography and a Lament. (1976)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Yeats' Politics (#poem)



'In our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms.'
-Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I was young again
And held her in my arms!

-W. B. Yeats

In case you didn't guess 😉 this is from the 1930s, late in Yeats' career, and shows up in Last Poems. I assume we're meant to identify the 'travelled man' as Mann, then living in exile. While there aren't so many politicians who have both 'read and thought,' I have no idea who, if anybody in particular, that's meant to be.

I'm still dodging writing about Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus. Quoting a poem that Hazzard has a character quote in the book is a trick I pulled before, and here am I doing it again. Christian Thrale, who's in the British foreign service, remembers the first four lines as he's about to embark on an affair with his secretary. She does end up in his arms. His wife is Grace Thrale (née Bell), one of the two sisters at the heart of the book.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Ngaio Marsh's Death at the Bar

"If thurr's not a corpse on the premises afore long, I'll be greatly astonished."

Don't you worry...

Abel Pomeroy is the proprietor at The Plume of Feathers and he's got a rat problem. He goes off to buy rat poison, but the ordinary stuff is not in stock; the pharmacist has only got the extra strong. But that's not a problem for Pomeroy: he's got a plan. Locked cabinet, gloves, whatever it takes to keep it safe.

Well, you know how that goes. By the time the lawyer Luke Watchman is dead, we've got a good half-dozen suspects lined up: two beneficiaries under his will, a girl who previously had an affair with Watchman, young Will Pomeroy who's in love with the girl, the cousin of a man whom Watchman sent to prison, and the mysterious Legge, whom Watchman knows from somewhere, but nobody's saying where. 

The murder takes place on the coast of Devon, and the local police officials are good, but not good enough. Abel Pomeroy wants this solved, it's ruining his business. So Roderick Alleyn and his trusty assistant Br'er Fox are sent to have a look:

"Yes, look at the colour of the sea, you old devil. Smell that jetty-tar-and-iodine smell, blast your eyes. Fox, murder or no murder, I'm glad we came."

Me, too, Mr. Alleyn. 

It's the ninth in the series and dates from 1940. It's a pretty good entry, though I preferred the opening drollery about the poison; the unwinding of events I think could have been clearer. But in just now looking at the date, I realized this was the one I meant to save for the 1940 Club in April. Oh, well...

Vintage Mystery, Gold, Bottle of Poison. Yup, there's definitely a bottle of poison in this one...

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sunday Salon

Last Week

There were a couple of books, of course: I finished Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus. Post coming soon? We'll see. It is half-written.

Then a slim volume of poetry, The Discarded Life by Adam Kirsch, which came out last year:

Which may be why, in that first eastern winter,
When I looked up to see the silhouettes
Of stripped black branches spidering across
The deeper blackness of a frozen night,...
Our eastern-ish backyard earlier today.
More sunset than frozen night, though...

Kirsch was raised in L.A., but then moved to the east coast, where he writes for The New Yorker. The volume is more or less the story of his move. He writes blank verse well, and yes, that is a bit 'damning with faint praise' in case you were wondering.

Some plays of Plautus, which I'm still thinking about.

Then Try Not To Be Strange by Michael Hingston, a history of the kingdom of Redonda, also out last year, from small Canadian press Biblioasis. Redonda is an actual island in the Caribbean, but the kingdom is a literary in-joke.  M. P. Shiel (born on Montserrat in 1865) was its first king: his father took him to the uninhabited island as a boy and proclaimed him king as a birthday present. Shiel went on to be a popular writer in England; his best known work is the last man sci-fi novel The Purple Cloud. (Pretty good and available from Project Gutenberg.) The kingdom was handed on to the English poet John Gawsworth (friend of Lawrence Durrell and frenemy to Dylan Thomas) before spawning a bunch of claimants to the throne, one of whom was the late Javier Marías.

'Try not to be strange,' is what M. P. Shiel's father told his son as the young Shiel emigrated to the U.K. Not entirely sure the advice was heeded. Pretty entertaining. I preferred the journalistic parts of the book to Hingston's memoir, but your mileage may vary.

Which leads to:

On the Stack

Some of those are the same as last week, but then I added three Redonda-related books to the stack. Am I really going on a Redonda bender? Maybe! The new ones are:

Javier Marías' All Souls
Javier Marías' Between Eternities and other essays
Lawrence Durrell's Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel

I also downloaded M. P. Shiel's Prince Zaleski from Project Gutenberg, which is supposed to be Shiel's answer to Sherlock Holmes, written after Holmes went over the Reichenbach Falls and everybody still thought the great detective was dead.

Linking up with Readerbuzz' Sunday Salon:

Sit down, stay a while. How was your week?

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Sunday Salon, starting off in 2023

Madame de Stael's Salon

New Year

My first book of the new year was the recently released biography of Shirley Hazzard by Brigitta Olubas, an Australian professor. A very good start to the year. It made best biography of 2022 on at least one list.

It's likely to start me off on a Shirley Hazzard bender, and in fact I'm halfway through rereading The Transit of Venus, her masterpiece.

Also last week I read Boris Dralyuk's My Hollywood and other poems. There's some pretty fun stuff in it.


It's the time of year for wrapping up old challenges and signing up for new ones. (And maybe starting doing Sunday Salon blog posts again on a regular basis?) I've done the European Reading Challenge hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader for years, and signed up again. I've also decided to return to Bev's Vintage Mysteries challenge after not doing it for a couple of years. They're both fun ones & I recommend them.

On the Stack

Our host Chuck is demonstrating:

Plautus/The Rope and Other Plays (January readalong here)
Ngaio Marsh/Death at the Bar (first mystery of the year!)
Shirley Hazzard/The Transit of Venus (that one has the most progress in it)
Michael Hingston/Try Not To Be Strange (the kingdom of Redonda)
Paul Muldoon/To Ireland, I (could be thinking about travel...)
The Kural (tr. Thomas Pruiksma) (Tamil wisdom poetry)

The race is on. Which will get finished first?

On the Table

As a Chicago native no longer living there, I can't do without deep dish pizza. So I learned to make my own. Saturday night's dinner:

Spicy chicken sausage and onion

How was your week?

Friday, January 6, 2023

My Reader's Block Vintage Scavenger Hunt Signup 2023

I figure I need another blogging challenge to keep me active, so I'm signing up for Bev's My Reader's Block vintage mystery challenge. I've done it before, but it's been a couple of years. Bev's doing the scavenger hunt model again this year, which I prefer, because it allows me to judge a book by its cover... 😉

The idea is to read books with images that match the various categories on the cards shown below. (Full details given at Bev's post here.) Eight books is the minimum challenge level, and I'll plan on getting to at least that level for both Golden Age (before 1960) and Silver Age (1960-1989) mysteries.

Thanks to Bev for hosting this!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Uncredited (#poem)


No breakout leads--a prisoner of reruns
on local stations high up the dial:
a stray recurring role, a guest appearance
on Perry Mason. Later, Rockford Files.

Her second act? Pure dullsville in Van Nuys.
Chablis with ice. A Chevy dealership
gone belly up. Her paunchy husband's lies:
a broken marriage. Then a broken hip.

None of that matters, if you ever catch her
singing, "How High the Moon"--silvery, misty--
on that one show...She isn't any match for
the stainless Julie London or June Christy,

but through her gauzy voice, as through a sieve,
spare notes of heaven reach you from afar.
For those two minutes, she'll make you believe:
Somewhere there's music. It's where you are.

-Boris Dralyuk

I find this quite tender. As far as I know it's not any actress in particular, but it's utterly convincing of somebody who went to Hollywood, had higher aspirations, but who only had the one moment. 

Boris Dralyuk was born in Odesa (I guess I'm transliterating the Ukrainian these days instead of the Russian) in 1982, but emigrated with his family to L.A. in 1991. He's mostly known as a translator from the Russian (Tolstoy, Babel, Pushkin, Kurkov) but his first book of poetry My Hollywood and Other Poems came out last year. I found it very good.

In fact so good that I thought I'd type out some poems before I need to return the book to the library and then I'd have them available for memorization. So I was typing it anyway. But it's also Thursday. It's a poem. Does that have any implications for the future? I don't know. Maybe.

Somewhere there's music. It's where you are.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

European Reading Challenge Wrapup for 2022's a wrap!

2022 is now over and so are my travels by book to Europe. This is one of the best challenges going as far as I'm concerned and I had a great time again with it this year. Here's my final list of books and countries:

1.) Andrey Kurkov/Death and the Penguin (Ukraine)
2.) Kate O'Brien/Farewell Spain (Spain)
3.) Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun/Memoirs (France)
4.) Charles King/The Black Sea: A History (Romania)
5.) Thomas Pynchon/V. (Malta)
6.) Marc David Baer/The Ottomans (Turkey)
7.) Douglas Dunn/The Donkey's Ears (Russia)
8.) Charles King/The Ghost of Freedom (Azerbaijan)
9.) Heimito von Doderer/The Strudlhof Steps (Austria)
10.) Gershom Scholem/Sabbatai Sevi (Montenegro)
11.) Oliver Goldsmith/The Vicar of Wakefield (U.K.)
12.) Vicki Baum/Grand Hotel (Germany)
13.) Shirley Hazzard/Greene on Capri (Italy)

Over the years I've done this, thirteen is not my best number, and nor is it my worst, but in any case it is well over the five to meet the challenge. These were my first challenge visits to Malta and Azerbaijan, and there continue to be six countries I've visited every year: France, Germany, Austria, U.K., Italy, and Romania. My favorite visits this year were Malta (well, a reread for me), Austria, the U.K., and Italy.

Thanks to Gilion for hosting once again!

Are you visiting in 2023?

European Reading Challenge 2023 Signup


Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts the European Reading Challenge, one of my favorite challenges going (Thanks, Gilion, for hosting again!) and I'm signing up again for the new year.

The idea is to visit European countries by reading books set in them. I'm signing up again for the Deluxe Entourage level, which is five books, but that's a floor not a ceiling...

Will I keep up my Romania streak? Find out! Watch this space.






Are you joining in this year?

Sunday, January 1, 2023

In angulo cum libello... (2022 Reading Wrapup)

"In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nunquam inveni, nisi in angulo cum libello."  (I looked for quiet everywhere and never found it, except in a corner with a book.) 
-Thomas à Kempis


How can I ever find any quiet when you keep chasing me around with that flashy thing?

2022 Year in Review

Last Book of the Old Year: Tony Hillerman's Hunting Badger. The 14th in Hillerman's series of Navajo police procedurals. A reread for me, one of the best in the series. And all the detectives! Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee, and Bernie Manuelito.

First Book of the New Year: Brigitta Olubas' Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life. At least that's what I'm reading today and I expect it will be the first book completed of the new year unless some mystery slips in. Likely to lead to the second and third books being Shirley Hazzard rereads. (The Transit of Venus, The Great Fire).

Number of Mystery and Spy Novels Read in 2022: 20. Gardner, Stout, Hillerman (father and daughter both), Ambler, MacInnes, Van Dine, Allingham, some others, and closing out the year with Wentworth for Dean Street December.

Number of Rereads: 32 

Percentage of Books from the Toronto Public Library: 37%

Best Way to Boost Those Numbers Read: I went on graphic novel binge in the spring. A Five Books interview listed the first Ms. Marvel graphic novel by G. Willow Wilson as one of the best South Asian-American novels, and I'd read and liked another from that Five Books list. The first half-dozen or so were all pretty good; the later ones seemed to be trying too hard to tie into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I know nothing about. I then went on to read her Cairo--very good, I thought--and her Air series, good, but not as good. Then a bunch of other graphic novels until I burned out on those for a bit.

Short (70 pages or so) volumes of poetry are also good number-boosters, too, even if I don't typically read them in one sitting.


Number of Chunksters in 2022: 15. This included S. A. Chakraborty's Daevabad Trilogy, (chunksters all and pretty good!) plus some other fantasy tomes. There were even a few bricks that got posts.

Best Chunkster-y Classic That Should Have Gotten a Post, but Didn't: Alain-René Lesage's Gil Blas. It wasn't on my Classics Club list, and I'd already written a Spain book post for my European Reading Challenge. But it was pretty fun. Which brings up...

Challenges: What have become my normal two: European Reading Challenge and Back to the Classics. And I completed them both! Plus some other classics from my Classics Club list.

European Country I Visited (via books) that I Most Wish I Visited for Other Reasons than Why I Did: the Ukraine, of course. Four novels by Andrey Kurkov, including Grey Bees, his most recently translated, and the one I might very well have thought the best, but didn't post about. Then I tooled around the rest of the Black Sea countries for a bit as well.

European Country I Visited (in person): Spain. Yay! Traveling again!

Other New Releases I Liked a Lot: (although I'm not much of a new release reader...) Magnificent Rebels by Andrea Wulf, The Strudlhof Steps by Heimito von Doderer, and from some of those short poetry books: My Hollywood and Other Poems by Boris Dralyuk (also translator of Grey Bees), and Hail, The Invisible Watchman by Alexandra Oliver.

One New Release I Was Disappointed By: The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. I was quite looking forward to this, too. It made several best of the year lists I've noticed, but I was unimpressed. (Sequels!) And after I'd reread A Visit From the Goon Squad in preparation, which I found equally good on rereading.

And One New Release European Chunkster by a Nobel Prize Winner That I Got a Copy Of and Will Read Soon (Honest!) But Haven't Yet: The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk. I mean it. Really I do!

Total Number of Books in 2022: 164. I'm pretty chuffed about that number. I'm usually north of 100, but that's a personal best, even if it does include 20 or 25 graphic novels. Woo-hoo!

Happy New Year to all! How was your reading year? What are your plans for the new year?