Saturday, July 08, 2023

A bang, not a whimper


Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purchases until I am ready to start the book instead of having it on hand for the future. 

The books that I succumbed to before transitioning totally into this new stage:

The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt. A 700-year history of the novel, this tome concerns itself with "the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English." 

The Way the Day Breaks by David Roberts. Mental illness in 1980s Yorkshire.

One Afternoon by Sian James. This first novel won the Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1975 and has been reissued by Persephone Books.

Space Crone by Ursula K. Le Guin. Somehow I've allowed Le Guin to be a gap in my reading. Must remedy that.

The Love of Singular Men by Victor Heringer. The latest title from my Peirene Press subscription by a Brazilian author who died in 2018 at the age of 30.

I am Homeless if This is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore. Moore's a favorite, an automatic buy. Between the subject matter and some of the reviews, I'm almost afraid to read it.

To Battersea Park by Philip Hensher. A novel set in London during the pandemic.

Cousins by Aurora Venturini. An Argentine novel published when the author was 85 and had already published more than 30 books; it's her first translated into English.

Still Life at Eighty : The Next Interesting Thing by Abigail Thomas. These days I'm interested in books with elderly narrators/protagonists, so when Stephen King himself raved about this memoir on Twitter, I was quick to both order and read it.

The Lie of the Land and The Three Graces by Amanda Craig. I'm currently reading The Three Graces, the story of three women in their 80s living in Tuscany, and The Lie of the Land, an earlier Craig, features some of the same characters.

Windmill Hill by Lucy Atkins. Elderly main characters who live in a windmill. I've already read it and it was delightful.

Who's Your Founding Father? by David Fleming. An exploration of how Thomas Jefferson plagiarized the Declaration of Independence from the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Local history!

The Blazing World : A New History of Revolutionary England 1603-1689 by Jonathan Healey. Heavy sigh. I have so many history books stockpiled I should really try to schedule a year when I read nothing but.

The World : A Family History of Humanity by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I read the sections on Oliver Cromwell in conjunction with Robert Harris's Act of Oblivion last month. 

Oblivion : An After Autobiography by Robin Hemley. Hemley's memoir about his sister, Nola, is one of my favorites. The only reason this joined the stockpile instead of being read immediately is I don't want to subject it to my usual a-bit-here-a-bit-there reading approach. I want time to read it without interruption and it's hard to manage that.

The Lola Quartet and The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel. I started reading Mandel with Station Eleven and need to loop back to her earlier novels.

Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert. English folklore.

Reynard the Fox by Anne Louise Avery. French folklore. 

The Year of the Cat by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. Yet another pandemic novel set in London.

Under the Henfluence : Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them by Tove Danovich. There's a country store within walking distance of the house we're renovating that sells baby chicks; I can't wait until we can put together our flock.

Beaver Land : How One Weird Rodent Made America by Leila Philip. There are beavers in the creek on L.'s mom's farm and I think they're awesome.

At the Table by Claire Powell. I think this is supposed to be in the vein of Meg Mason's Sorrow and Bliss.

In Ascension by Martin Macinnes. I love literary science fiction and I am very much looking forward to this.

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin. I read this one right after purchasing. I enjoyed it, but should probably have waited to get it from the library.

The Woman Who Climbed Trees by Smriti Ravindra. An impulse buy from an actual trip to an actual bookstore instead of my usual online method. The author went to NC State.

Forbidden Notebook by Alba De Cespedes.  I help select popular reading titles at the university library and I put this one down to order in January. It is still yet to be purchased and that's why I obtained by own. I hope to have it read before Her Side of the Story comes out in October.

Humanly Possible : Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope by Sarah Bakewell.  This will join How to Live and At the Existentialist Cafe on the shelf and perhaps they can work it out among themselves which one I should read first.

The Stone World by Joel Agee. The first novel by James Agee's son. For when I'm tired of reading about old folk.





Sunday, March 19, 2023

The penultimate stack post

Let's be dramatic about it: we are entering the dark wood of a transitional stage of our lives. L. is retiring in six weeks! (Unfortunately, I am still close to four years out from my own.) He's been on the verge of retiring for at least a couple years now, but the ability to work from home and the bear market kept him going. His employers now insist on half time in the office and between that absurdity (everyone sits at their office desk to zoom into meetings with people) and his age (68 this summer), he's said enough, and we will just have to hope for the best when it comes to the sequence of returns risk. Perhaps deferring social security until 70 will help offset any financial chaos enough for us not to run out of funds in our later years. I will admit to being quite paranoid about money and the state of the world, now and in the future, and did a bit of lobbying for him to postpone the loss of his reliable paycheck until after we knew if the Republicans would default on the debt, but he's eager to work on home projects, not computer code, and I can't blame him even if I am awfully worried about our 401(k)s.

Anyway, the plan is to completely renovate my parents' 1958 ranch house between now and when I retire. I was adamant that I would never even consider moving back to my home town until we became caregivers for my sister after she was diagnosed with ALS and I had to face some hard facts. We live in a two-story house, on a hill, and even if we put in a stair lift, and added a downstairs bedroom suite onto the back of the house, continuing to live here would be complicated. And there's the change to the traffic flow on the highway our neighborhood feeds out of which stresses me to no end! There are days I drive miles out of my way to avoid it altogether. Let's move where we can hear donkeys and cattle and see the mountains when we look out the windows. Let's raise chickens and have a garden. Let's finally have a basement.

Another thing I've been adamant about: I'd quit stockpiling books when L. retired. Most of my reading consists of library books and Netgalley fare anyway; yet the fact that I've been freewheeling through the 21st century buying books whenever I found something the library didn't have, or couldn't get to me soon enough (usually to sit unread on my shelves long past when it did become readily available), makes this change one that's apt to prove difficult. The books above were supposed to be the last purchases of the year except for a couple automatic buy items being published later in the year and yet I already have another even taller stack with three books still en route. 

I am returning to blogging to bring some accountability to my reading life. Read what's at hand. Plan some projects to counter the urge to buy something new.

Now for the books above:

The Lioness by Mark Powell. Eco-terrorism in the Appalachians. I want to pair this with Eleanor Catton's Birnam Woods.

The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker. I intend to read this along with Sigrun Palsdottir's History. A Mess. and Lucy Ives's Life is Everywhere for an academic life project.

The Bethrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. Reading this now with A Public Space. Somehow I'd never heard of this classic before. It's good!

A Good Horse Has No Color and Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown. Because I love Iceland and Icelandic horses and horses in general. I probably won't read these until after I retire.

The Deluge by Stephen Markley. I am considering devoting my summer to reading nothing but science fiction and dystopian fare. This would be one of the first I'd tackle.

Collected Works by Lydia Sandgren. A Swedish addition to my Scandinavian shelf. I'm reading A System So Magnificent It is Blinding now, so maybe this one should be next?

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Reading by Year, 2023

Keeping a Reading Record

Books Read in 2023

(in backwards order)

To The Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf

The Three Graces. Amanda Craig

The Forbidden Territory of Terrifying Women. Molly Lynch

Commitment. Mona Simpson

A Very Easy Death. Simone de Beauvoir

A Novel Called Heritage. Margaret Mitchell Dukore

Act of Oblivion. Robert Harris 

The Parrot and the Igloo. David Lipsky

Still Life at Eighty : the Next Interesting Thing. Abigail Thomas 

My Stupid Intentions. Bernardo Zannoni 

Windmill Hill. Lucy Atkins

Uncommon Kitchens. Sophie Donelson 

The Years. Virginia Woolf

The Future. Naomi Alderman

Big Swiss. Jen Beagin

Beyond the Burn Line. Paul McCauley

The Dog of the North. Elizabeth McKenzie

Delta Wedding. Eudora Welty

The Last Animal. Ramona Ausubel

Birnam Wood. Eleanor Catton

Let Us Descend. Jesmyn Ward

Games and Rituals. Katherine Heiny

Welcome Home, Stranger. Kate Christensen

The Terraformers. Annalee Newitz

The Vulnerables. Sigrid Nunez

Biography of X. Catherine Lacey

The Betrothed. Alessandro Manzoni

All of Us Together in the End. Matthew Vollmer

Strong Female Character. Fern Brady

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. Jeff Sharlet

Decent People. De’Shawn Charles Winslow

A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding. Amanda Svensson

Call It Horses. Jessie van Eerden

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Shehan Karunatilaka

Barbara Isn’t Dying. Alina Bronsky

Diary of a Void. Emi Yagi

Reproduction. Louisa Hall

What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. Elizabeth Catte

Take What You Need. Idra Novey

The Latecomer. Jean Hanff Korelitz

Generations. Lucille Clfton

Mouth to Mouth. Antoine Wilson

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Gabrielle Zevin

Psalms for the End of the World. Cole Haddon

Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night. Jon Kalman Stefansson

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence. R.F. Kuang

Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland’s Elves Can Save the Earth. Nancy Marie Brown

Singer Distance. Ethan Chatagnier

My Volcano. John Elizabeth Stintzi

Delphi. Clare Pollard

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Coronavirus Chronicles, Entry 1

I've spent a bit of time today trying to piece together when we began to take Covid-19 seriously. L. ordered elderberries to make into syrup to boost our immune systems as early as late January. Tornadoes touched down near us in early February and as warnings continued to pop up on all campus screens and sirens screamed the library dean ordered staff back onto the public desk contra university policy to seek shelter in the basement away from windows. Essential personnel equals expendable personnel, I began to think then, and have had no reason since to modify my opinion.

Not that it was anything I particularly brooded over that month (the dean is now aware of and in line with university policy where tornadoes are concerned); I was busy. I went on an otherwise lovely writers retreat mid-month with WMK where I was attacked by an escaped ram while on a walk down a country road and came home bruised, achy and swollen; friends' parents were ill and required much discussion; Millay's vet saw fit to prescribe her an Albuterol inhaler and I had that to fret over. It was late February, the week of an extended family gathering and an Old Crow show with a friend (we took light rail uptown, something I cannot imagine doing again in 2020), that L. finally pushed me into paying attention to the spread of the virus.

I resisted at first; we'd stockpiled canned food against a coming apocalypse once before and I had no desire to repeat that particular bout of nonsense. Then L. said he had no problem with us starving but he didn't want to live in a house full of starving cats. That was a point I could concede. By Feb. 23 I was placing large orders for food and litter on Amazon instead of purchasing it all locally. I spent $300 at CVS on March 1, although most of that was spent on Millay's inhaler meds. That same day I did the same at Food Lion.

Already too late to buy hand sanitizer, though.

And I was reading more about it. I made my first Facebook post about coronavirus--a link to the Atlantic's "You're Likely to Get the Coronavirus"-- on February 24 and a high school classmate (the one with the inactive medical degree) commented by saying Corona beer was an "affective" vaccine.

I'd concluded that North Carolina would have its first case by the end of the first week in March. I glanced at my phone while working at the polling station Tuesday, March 3, and saw that a case had been identified in Raleigh. That was the point when it felt real, not a mere hypothetical to run through in my mind.

L. worked from home that Friday and had a week of vacation carried over from 2019 scheduled for the following week. His boss told him by the time he'd be ready to come back to work, he wouldn't be coming. (He's still home, working out of our upstairs study.)

Still halfway in denial, I sent a link touting low airfare to London to WMK Friday evening. We closed on a home equity loan before work on Monday, March 9, and by then I was astounded that the closing officer offered his hand to shake. I took it, though. I scrubbed my hands thoroughly once I reached the library.

Oh, the library. The library with its book dust and the students who make me sneeze. I'd stockpiled tissues since I knew I couldn't stop touching my face. We had one container of Clorox wipes out at the desk and we'd been told to make them last since the next shipment was backordered to July. I knew that everyone in admin probably had an unopened container in their office, but it took another week, after admin was sent home to work remotely, for a full box of them to make their way downstairs to the front desk.

Wednesday, March 11, the university community was told we'd be moving to online instruction "wherever possible," beginning March 16 and continuing until the end of the month. Public services had been asked the previous day who'd volunteer to come in if we moved to online classes. The old essential/expendable situation, when everyone else got to stay home. One of my co-workers cried frequently; she didn't have leave to take if she refused to volunteer and wanted to stay home. Another, of the age and with the health problems that indicated she ought to stay home, hated to use her leave when she needed it to visit family over the summer. Our supervisor put together a schedule where no one would have to come in more than twice a week; we'd work from home the rest of the time.

I'd requested Monday off so that I could take my sister, who lives back in our hometown, to a doctor's appointment. Spent the weekend questioning whether we should go out to lunch prior to the appointment with our cousin and a couple of friends. In the end my sister and I met my best friend from high school at 11 am to limit any possible contact with other people. We didn't hug.

My daughter had phoned over the weekend to say she was coming home. Then I talked to her again and she'd said she was staying in NY. By Monday night she'd gotten spooked and had decided she would leave her apartment, but would stay with friends at a lake house outside the city. She's still at the lake house.

Monday night the dean sent an email saying we would no longer process physical items for ILL. When I got to the library Tuesday morning and saw that circ desk was still accepting returns, I got a co-worker to help me move a return bin out in front of the desk so that we wouldn't have to touch them.

That Tuesday would be my last day at work. The number of employees going in constricted, as did the library's hours. Gov. Cooper issued an executive order to close sit-down service in restaurants. The next day the public libraries in Mecklenburg closed at 5 pm.

Our small crew was still expected to provide services for the students who remained on campus. When Mecklenburg issued its stay at home announcement on March 24, the provost said at first it didn't apply to us and that the students on campus and those who lived in the surrounded community needed a place to go. Our dean didn't send the letter saying we would indeed close until 10 pm.

The state stay-at-home order went into effect on March 30.

Learned in an online meeting last week that all instructors are being told to plan to teach their classes online again in the fall. On April 2 we were told that six dorms on campus are to be used as a pandemic field hospital.

I think we're going to be home for quite some time.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

***blows off the dust***

Oh, dear. I'd forgotten all about my attempt to return to blogging last January. Let's hope I'm more successful this time!

Reading plans for the year, I have a few. I completed my 60 by 60 challenge last week. Yeah, I'd wanted to complete that five-year challenge by my 60th back in October, but I procrastinate and I get distracted. I'll continue drawing from the list for suggestions over the next five years instead of coming up with an entirely different pool of books and authors because my real challenge will be to read all 11 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization before I retire. I read the introductory chapters in the introduction on "the nature and foundations of civilization" in December and am ready to devote the next nine weeks or so to the Near East.

I would like to read more non-fiction, particularly history, and more science fiction over the next year. I need to branch out beyond the time travel/parallel universe and the post-apocalyptic fare that I reach for when I do read sf.

Late last January I decided to embark on another long-term reading project, one I'm calling the Decades Reading Challenge. My intention was to read ten previously unread classics published within a particular decade within a calendar year and I started with the 1850s since that would give me a century of books to draw from before my birth at the tail-end of 1959. I was on track until I hit Little Dorrit over the summer, and my dithering on whether to force myself to finish the book or to move on to another brought me to a standstill where the 1850s were concerned. (I do not understand my difficulties with Dickens.) I'm now sporadically reading Trollope's The Three Clerks, published in 1858, but I only finished eight books from the 1850s last year. Henceforth I will consider the Decades Challenge a success if I finish a mere seven books and I will also allow myself a couple of rereads.

I've completed two books since January 1: Hope Jahren's Lab Girl (now anxiously awaiting the release of The Story of More in March) and Elizabeth Gaskell's Lois the Witch, an 1861 novella about the Salem witch trials. I am totally absorbed in Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport and I'm a few pages into Dominic Brownlow's The Naseby Horses. I've also just started Katherine Mansfield's Selected Stories. I have a slew of books on hand that I'm champing on the bit to start, but I can save those for another post.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed larder that I call a study. Buying books and not reading them – or waiting to read them – is a form of hoarding, similar to picking up and hanging on to something because it might one day come in handy, but a book is always both more and less than handy: potentially life-changing and, at the same time, quite useless. In a quasi-Borgesian way, I would ideally draw my last breath just as I turned the final page of the only unread book left in my collection. At that moment my library – my life – would be complete.

--Geoff Dyer, "Better read than dead"

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

I'm back again

Before I discovered book blogs, but after I had realized the internet could be used to place holds on library books and to find other readers in like-minded communities, I enjoyed perusing the comprehensive reading lists that others were putting online. If only I had kept a list of every book I'd ever read--or had maintained consistent lists for my kids that lasted for more than a random school year here and there!

I went to work creating as comprehensive a list of my own could be, sans children's books, using the lists I found as a way of jumpstarting my memory. I made the list I constructed the center of my auxiliary blog once I started this one, and updated it fairly regularly, even after I'd stopped blogging here. It was just so useful to have a list close at hand whenever I needed to make a recommendation but could remember only a partial title or that the author's name had started with an S.

In late November I saw a link to a journalist's lifetime list that dated all the way back to 1949. I loved perusing the years, seeing what had stood the test of time and what had not. It sent me back to my own yearly lists, where I was dismayed to note that for way too many books, I had retained nothing. Clearly, I needed to either return to blogging my reading or begin annotating my lists from here on out.

And because bookish camaraderie is what I need more than the fretting over politics that's made up the largest portion of my social media diet of the past few years, here I am.

I've long intended to reread my Margaret Drabbles in the the order that they were written, interspersing them with my Anne Tylers. These two may seem an odd coupling for most, but my instructor assigned  The Realms of Gold and Searching for Caleb in a lit class my freshman year of college and I've counted Drabble and Tyler as favorites ever since. I reread A Summer's Bird-cage and The Garrick Year in December. I'm now reading Tyler's first, If Morning Ever Comes. Chances are I won't work my way through all their books this year, but I'm hoping to get through the ones written in the 60s and 70s at least.

Otherwise I want to spend the year reading from my 60 by 60 list, a five-year reading plan that ends on my birthday in October, and from which I still need to read 18 books. I've been overly focused on just-published books the last few years.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...