The prompt for the last week for both these challenges is the same: What new books did you learn about and add to your TBR? I'm going to be lazy and lump them both in to one post... 😉
Monday, November 27, 2023
Saturday, November 25, 2023
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood
"At the halfway point of the journey making up real life, we were surrounded by a gloomy melancholy, one expressed by so very many derisive and sorrowful words in the café of lost youth."
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
"I asked around some in re your inquiry about witchcraft cases and it looks only moderately promising."
Monday, November 13, 2023
Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Oh, yes she can.
The narrator is Elizabeth Smart and the poet is George Barker; his wife is Jessica Barker, and the events more or less follow actual events. So, auto-fiction, avant la lettre?
Yes, but. The prose definitely makes this. You see the Psalms there in the title: is that Grand Central Station or the rivers of Babylon? The Song of Solomon is all over the book. So are the Latin and Greek classics, slyly grandiose: "Jupiter has been with Leda, and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars."
There's also interesting things happening with metaphors from the natural world. The main events take place in the late 30s, but Smart is writing the book during World War II in England. Comparisons to natural features from North America--the Mississippi, Niagara Falls--are inundating, but positive as a rule; those of Europe--the pools in Epping Forest, e.g.--smaller, withdrawn. All mostly involve water, or its absence: the Mojave Desert makes a metaphorical appearance.
But the occasional funny pinprick from outside the bubble lets us see another side. A policeman (and yes, the police do get involved): "'What a cad,' he said, 'And the girl's a religious maniac.'" Why, now you mention it, quite possibly yes... "Are all Americans chaste? All, by law." "Like Macbeth, I keep remembering that I am their host."
The book was first published in England in 1945. Smart came from a well-to-do Ottawa family, and her mother, appalled Elizabeth was publishing her shame (as she saw it) bought up as many copies of the book as she could get her hands on. It was also the end of the war, so, between those things, not much happened with the book at the time. But when it was reissued in the 60s, its reputation took off. Smart continued her bohemian life, bearing four children to Barker, but never marrying him. (Barker continued his caddishness.) She wrote other works (which I haven't read) but this is considered her masterpiece. She died in 1986.
Weird and wonderful. "Girls in love, be harlots, it hurts less."
112p. including an introduction by Brigid Brophy.
Boris Pasternak's The Last Summer
Mrs. Anna Tjornskold is the widow of a Danish pastor who died young. Suddenly near destitution she takes a job as paid companion to Mrs. Fresteln, but once she's stuck in the remote Ural Mountain region, she discovers her role is more maid than companion. She feels denigrated and trapped and unhappy.
There's a frame set in 1916, but the main events take place in the summer of 1914, the last summer before everything goes to pieces.
Then Serezha proposes to Anna.
It's a promising enough premise for a story, but I can't recommend it, at least in this form. (Penguin, 1960, reprinted many times.) There's an introduction by Pasternak's younger sister Lydia, interesting, though it doesn't tell you what you want or need to know.
But the main problem is the translation. I guess I'll credit the translator (George Reavey) with trying to reproduce things he found in the original, but it just doesn't read well in English. There's undigested bits of Russian: izvoschik (a cabman, it seems), mahorka (a coarse tobacco), calatch (still not perfectly sure about this one. Kolach? Maybe.) I don't know how you would have sorted those before the Internet. There's awkward bits of English: 'a tent of tremblingly-moist, sultry-laurel birch trees.' And extravagant words, even if they are English. Canicularly? Know that one? Canicular: having to do with the dog days of summer. -ly, adverb. In retrospect, you can probably see the can- of canine in it, but it's certainly a long ways from Basic English. Is the Russian word in Pasternak equally obscure?
Anyway, it needs notes or a new translation or likely both. I don't know if those things exist.
92p, including Lydia Pasternak Slater's introduction.
Sunday, November 12, 2023
A post on the new biography of Lou Reed by Will Hermes. The skinny: if you like Lou Reed, you'll probably be interested in the biography. If not, not...
That sent me to rereading Delmore Schwartz, who was Reed's teacher when he was an undergraduate. One of Schwartz's poems here.
Then Rebecca Solnit's most recent Orwell's Roses. Pretty great, I thought.
I read (The third time? I think.) Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance, the first Nero Wolfe mystery, because...does one really need a reason? It was there. I could blog about it, but I've already finished that challenge. It's a good one.
Two novellas from my list of novella candidates. They should get their own post soon.
Where I Am
This guy showed up. (It doesn't look like the same hawk as previously.) We have seen hawks with their pigeon kills in the back yard before, but lately they've been peaceable enough...though this one doesn't seem to be underfed. (Does the photo make me look fat? Yes, yes, it does!)
The Toronto Public Library has been hit by a ransomware attack, and the website has been down for two weeks (as of tomorrow).
Library branches are open, but my local branch is quite small and was originally built as a children's library. The books I want almost never come from there, but I go to the website and request they're sent to my local branch. Under normal circumstances that works beautifully. But now I'm not likely to go hunt them down elsewhere, and, in any case, I don't have any clue where to find them without the website. (TPL has a lot of branches.) So I'm limited to the books I have.
For myself, I'm not too worried about the data breach. I'm good about passwords, and my PIN for the library is different from every other PIN. My address and phone number wouldn't be that hard to come by anyway, and if they can figure out how to monetize the knowledge that I read a lot of books, well, God bless... It's the fact I can't get more books that's driving me nuts.
The poop on the Internets is it's some outfit calling itself Black Basta. They're shadowy, of course, that's the point, but they seem to be Russian and quite possibly state-adjacent. Not that I didn't already have enough reasons to dislike Putin, but if now he (or his minions) have taken down my library, it's...time for Regime Change!
But it's the rare cloud that doesn't have at least a little silver on the inside... 😉 I read the New York Times via the library. The way it works for us is that you get a three day subscription, and then you have to renew. Maybe you can renew and maybe you get an 'All of your institution's passes are currently in use. Try again later' message. I can play Wordle without the NYT subscription, but I can't use the WordleBot to find out how my guesses stacked up unless I'm connected. But with everything frozen in place at TPL, my three-day subscription has now lasted two weeks. The Other Reader and various friends are locked out of the newspaper, but the WordleBot (and any of the awful news I want...hmm) I can get to.
Hope your week has been good. (And your library is working!)
Saturday, November 11, 2023
"In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses."
And this is law, I will maintain,Until my Dying Day, sir,That whatsoever King may reign,I will be the Vicar of Bray, sir!
Still, the Vicar planted that yew tree. Orwell:
"An oak or a beech may live for hundreds of years and be a pleasure to thousands or tens of thousands of people before it is finally sawn up into timber. I am not suggesting that one can discharge all all one's obligations towards society by means of a private re-afforestation scheme. Still, it might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at an appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground."
Solnit was in England for a book tour and was interested to see what was left of Orwell's plantings. Only the roses survived.
"There are many biographies of Orwell, and they've served me well for this book, which is not an addition to that shelf. It is instead a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses. As such, it's a book about roses..."
An interesting topic for a meander.
So many fascinating things: Emma Goldman, the photographer Tina Modotti, Stalin and lemon trees. Columbia is the source for 90% of North America's commercial cut roses and is infamous for its terrible labor practices. Solnit manages to visit a rose farm there. It's not a long book, but it's fascinating and I won't even try to tell you all the things in it.
One of her main themes is the frequent puritanism of the left. Orwell is sometimes absorbed into this. Is he a dour political writer who can only tell us the terrible things are going to happen, the terrible things that are happening? Maybe not just. Turns out nature is important in 1984 and is written about well. This leads her to Emma Goldman, the anarchist, and Tina Modotti, the photographer and Communist.
It is also about what a political essayist can and should do: in Solnit's case in this book, feminism, labor issues, the creeping return of totalitarianism, climate change.
Pretty great stuff. It's the fourth I've read of her twenty-five or so books. (River of Shadows, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, The Faraway Nearby and now this.) Right now it's my favorite, and is likely to stay so at least until I read the next one.
"Orwell's signal achievement was to name and describe as no one else had the way that totalitarianism was a threat not just to liberty and human rights but to language and consciousness, and he did it in so compelling a way that his last book casts a shadow--or a beacon's light--into the present. But the achievement is enriched and deepened by the commitment and idealism that fueled it, the things he valued and desired, and his valuation of desire itself, and pleasure and joy, and his recognition that these can be forces of opposition to the authoritarian state and its soul-destroying intrusions.The work he did is everyone's job now. It always was."
Thursday, November 9, 2023
For Miss Kathleen Hanlon
"I am cherry alive," the little girl sang,"Each morning I am something new:I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excitedAs the boys who made the Hallowe'en bang:I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:I can be someone else whenever I think who,And I want to be everything sometimes too:And the peach has a pit and I know that too,And I put it in along with everythingTo make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;I know, I know, the true is untrue,The peach has a pit, the pit has a peach:And both may be wrong when I sing my song,But I don't tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,And I want them to laugh just like I doBecause they grew up and forgot what they knewAnd they are sure I will forget it some day too.They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,I will always be me, I will always be new!"
Monday, November 6, 2023
"A hustle here and a hustle there/New York City is the place where..."
New Liver Complains of Difficulty Working with Lou Reed"It's really hard to get along with Lou--one minute he's your best friend and the next he's outright abusive,' said the vital organ, describing his collaboration with the former Velvet Underground frontman as "strained at best." "He just has this way of making you feel completely inadequate."
It's the second week of Nonfiction November and the prompt is, How do I choose which non-fiction to read? I'd say it's generally by topic, as was this. I don't remember where I first saw mention of the biography, but since that review wasn't a pan, and I knew was interested in the subject, I put it on my library holdlist. I've read a few other music biographies, though it's not a large category for me. General-audience literary criticism is a perennial for me, history--a lot of Ukraine and eastern Europe lately, alas--regularly appears by my reading chair, some (non-technical) philosophy. Some books related to professional concerns: computers, finance, containerized shipping. Cookbooks.
I also then to fix on particular authors. I read Robert Gerwarth's most recent, November 1918, because I'd enjoyed his earlier book. I'm likely to read the new Christopher Clark soon. I might also read that earlier Will Hermes. And the next book non-fiction book I'll read will score in two categories: it's the latest by Rebecca Solnit, whom I quite like, and it's about her engagement with George Orwell, so literary criticism.
Project Gutenberg also has some interesting things, and I sometimes just read from there, mostly because it's so simple to come by, and I want something for the eReader.
I'm not completely opposed to judging a book by its cover 😉 though I certainly wouldn't call the cover of this Lou Reed biography much of an enticement...but it *has* gotten harder to browse bookstores: it's a pretty good ways now for me to get to a good new bookstore, when ten years ago there was one a block away. (I should be buying fewer books anyway...) In any case more books in general, and non-fiction in particular, is likely to come from the library where I just order it up from the website and it appears at my local branch magically, after I've just read about it at somebody's blog. I'm expecting to request a whole bunch of books at the end of this month...
Thanks to Frances at Volatile Rune for hosting this week!
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Another of the great November challenges is Novellas in November. The first prompt is an overview of novella-reading from the last year. So, on with a few highlights!here.
Adam Bede.) I'd sort of long known of the book, but read it this spring for the first time, because Alexandra Oliver's most recent volume of poetry, Hail, The Invisible Watchmen, includes a sonnet sequence based on Hetty Dorval. The novella is pretty great. (And well worth a sonnet sequence.)
classics of the genre. It got its own post here.
But, hey! how about a couple of short non-fiction works, too?here.
But what's past is prologue (as the master says...) What novellas might I read this month? We have a picture for that, of course!
|Mr. Dickens says, But these books are all so short!|
Elizabeth Smart/By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Another classic CanLit novella. About her long-term affair with the British poet George Barker. (I believe.)
Cesare Pavese/The Moon and the Bonfires
Our hero leaves Italy for the U. S. early in the Fascist era and returns only after the war is over. What's changed?
Boris Pasternak/The Last Summer
Don't know much. 😉 The back of the book says, "Set in the winter of 1916, The Last Summer has an autobiographical basis." That, and it's shorter than Doctor Zhivago.
Patrick Modiano/So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood
That makes two Nobel prize winners on this list. Hmm...
Which look good to you? Are you taking part in Novellas in November?