May Reading

This morning I felt a bit of Weltschmerz. Memento mori and all that … what’s the point of reading or anything really when it all ends in death? I think I was feeling gloomy because Partner isn’t here, but sometimes I just have these sad feelings. However, they went away when I got up, showered and had breakfast and especially during my lovely walk with Curious Dog. CD is the best and the sun was shining, the birds twittering, the flowers in the fields, the crisp morning air… It made me feel thankful and glad to be alive. The point of life is loving-kindness (I think).

Anyway, here’s the list of books I read in May. Most of them I’ve already posted about (a rather astonishing feat of efficiency that I hope to be able to keep up – sometimes I wait so long to post my reviews that I start forgetting the details).

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I’ve managed to catch up. It’s very good, although also very strange. Eventually, I’ll write about the reading experience. I’m glad my friend and I chose this classic to read.

Poetry:

  • Mary Oliver, Dog Songs.
    A lovely little illustrated volume of poetry celebrating the author’s dogs. This one I haven’t managed to post about yet, but it’s on my to-do list. If you like poetry and dogs, it’s for you!
  • Tim Kendall (ed.), Poetry of the First World War.
    A very good selection, with some biographical information about each poet and a good introduction. Due to the subject matter, the poems can be very brutal. They really show up the horrors of war, but also the fleeting joy that is sometimes found in unlikely places. I’m glad I read it.
  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve only read a bit of the first volume and find it very interesting.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. I’m a little more than half-way through.

Non-Fiction:

  • Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography.
    See my review.
  • C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism.
    See my review.
  • John Bayley, Elegy for Iris.
    See my review.

These three books were all very good in their own way.

Novels:

  • Sally Wright:
    • Watches of the Night.
    • Code of Silence.
    • Breeding Ground.
      See my review. I liked these crime novels. They were a good read and I went on a small binge.
  • Laurie King, The Game.
    See my review. I’ve now reread the first seven novels of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Soon I’ll get to ones that I haven’t read yet (but the next couple or so will still be rereads). Also a very good series.
  • Ellery Queen, The Glass Village.
    See my review – an unexpected good read.
  • Louise Erdrich, The Beet Queen.
    Read last weekend, the review is still pending. I enjoyed it a lot.

May was a great reading month. I read a lot, probably due to the couple of long weekends we had, with the public holiday before Whitsun and then Whitsun (or Pentecost) itself. Lots of time for reading and the weather was pretty bad, too. It was nice to hunker down cozily with a hot cup of tea or cocoa laced with rum and read crime and other books. Probably won’t get round to so many books in June, but it’s early yet.

Keep safe, world.

Zami

Recently I read Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. A Biomythography by Audre Lorde. I recommend it, it’s a great read.

Zami is a “Carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers” (Audre Lorde, Zami, p. 255). Carriacou is a Caribbean island from which Lorde’s parents emigrated to New York. It’s important for Lorde’s identity.

The “biomythography” is about how Audre Lorde grows into herself as a black lesbian woman. It celebrates the bonds between woman, between grandmothers, mothers and daughters. Between the women that came before her and shaped her, and her own shaping of herself. I think “mythography” refers to a recognition of the sacred in relationships between lovers. Lorde tells us about a number of women she loved during different times of her life and the way each love shaped her (and also her lover). The last relationship in the book is one with a woman who calls herself “Kitty” but also “Afrekete”, who seems like a goddess. This is the love that brings sacred, life-affirming love to its fulfilment (in contrast to the earlier relationships, which always failed due to some issue on either Lorde’s or the lover’s part). Although the relationship doesn’t last very long, as one day Kitty alias Afrekete disappears to return to her daughter, whom she had left to be brought up by her grandmother in the American South. Lorde never meets her again, but she remains in her memory.

Zami

I don’t know if this sort celebration of lesbian love has been done before. It is absolutely affirming (and can, I believe, be true for any kind of love, but since lesbian love has historically been devalued, the affirmation is especially important).

The mythical parts of the biomythography are mostly addressed at the beginning and the end and only sometimes touched on in the main part of the book. The book covers Lorde’s life from her childhood to her young adulthood. She grew up in New York with her parents and two older sisters. The family, and Lorde herself, experienced racism, but her parents tried to hide it from them which only worked when Lorde was younger. Lorde had a contentious relationship with her parents, especially her mother, and moved out when she was 17. Soon afterwards, she had a painful and dangerous illegal abortion (she could not afford to keep a baby and her lover left her). She worked a lot of jobs, some of them under awful conditions, but she also found her first women lovers. She saved up and moved for a few years to Mexico, where she experienced being accepted and valued by society as a black woman for the first time. All her experiences are presented through Lorde’s relationships with her friends, her family and later her lovers. She also reflects on the effects her experiences had on herself and how her actions were interpreted by the people she interacted with. There are also a lot of details about how life was like from the 1930s to the 1960s, first focusing on her childhood, later on her experiences as a lesbian, always also centered on her being a black girl and woman and what that meant.

The mythical parts of the biomythography are mostly addressed at the beginning and the end and only sometimes touched on in the main part of the book. Lorde had an interesting life, and I enjoyed reading about it. It was very moving in places and powerful. Sometimes funny, also shocking – all that racism. I though she was very courageous. Very independent. I wasn’t half as independent and would have been too scared to move out at 17 (but I didn’t have much conflict with my parents as a teenager, so didn’t need to assert myself in that way). I also wouldn’t have dared to move to another country by myself without much money and not knowing anybody there. I did spend a semester at a university in the UK, but that was all nicely organized and paid for by a scholarship. I also had a lot of jobs to finance my university years (except for that one scholarship and some state loans which I later paid back), so I emphasized with Lorde about that. My jobs weren’t dangerous to my health, though, and I didn’t have to deal with racism. I liked how she cheated the system at one of the horrid jobs.

I was surprised by the ending, because Lorde didn’t include her later life after the early 1960s. I didn’t know that she spent many years in Berlin for instance (found it out via Wikipedia). I did know that she’s an important feminist as well as poet. I would have enjoyed reading about these aspects of her life too. I’m planning to check out her poetry and maybe some of her other work, but not sure when I’ll get around to it.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

May is already one third gone and I’ve only managed one post so far. Work is still very stressful and chaotic. New tasks keep popping up, there’s millions of synch meetings, and preparations for meetings, and rollouts and whatnot. All on top of the usual stuff that has been accelerated so that my team and I have to do one third more of it than last year. This tires me out on weekdays, so that I don’t have enough energy to write a blog post. At the beginning of the weekend (and my weekends are long ones, as I don’t work on Fridays) I always plan to do a post per day and what happens? I do the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the doing things with my partner, the dog walking, a lot of reading, but I can’t bring myself to turn on my notebook. At the end of the weekend, I regret not having written a thing. So, today I’ve decided that come what may, I’m writing a post. I’m worried that if I don’t get back into a groove of regular writing, I’ll stop writing entirely which I really don’t want to happen, because I do enjoy it and I like the idea of having a record of my doings and readings. And maybe some readers will get some enjoyment, too.

What have I been doing? Only the usual. We returned from Bavaria on April 25 and this Thursday, which is a public holiday in Germany (Christ’s Ascension), we will be driving back again. April and May have been mostly still quite cold and wet. I’m still wearing a woolen hat on my morning walks with Curious Dog, even today, although we had 26°C yesterday afternoon (and it felt warmer). I’m quite enjoying the cool spring, but maybe it was sometimes too cold for the birds with their newborn chicks. It looks like the next week is going to have temperatures somewhere between 15 and 20° in the afternoons and between 7 and 9°C in the nights. At last, no more frost.

In Bavaria, last time we were there, it turned out that our next-door neighbours had caught Corona, just a few days before their vaccination appointment. They are in their 60s and I fervently hope they will have come though it without any complications. We will find out on Thursday. We also learnt that another neighbour, an older lady originally from Portugal, with whom we used to share our local newspaper, had passed away in Portugal. Not, I believe, from Corona. But it was shocking news and Mum and I were sad to hear it. Though marked by bad news, our last stay in Bavaria was in other respects quite as usual. We had some good weather; Curious Dog and I had a lot of pleasant walks in the woods and he picked up a few ticks. They don’t seem to mind the inclement conditions – it was in the second half of April, and we still had frost.

Zami

In the first week back from Bavaria, I had a spontaneous day off work and used it to set up a bookshelf that had been stored in pieces behind my wardrobe since my move (almost three years ago) because I didn’t have anywhere to put it. Because I was missing this entire bookshelf, some of my books were stacked against the short attic wall of my bedroom (as my bedroom is basically a large attic room with the sloping roof all along one side). I had originally wanted to get rid of those books, and I did get rid of some, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for all of them. Also, a lot of the new books I got last year were stacked on the floor around my meditation mat (not sure why I didn’t put them somewhere out of the way). Anyway, I came up with the idea to set up my old bookshelf with the short side screwed to the wall next to the door of my room and the long side (85 cm) jutting out into the room. This is quite useful, because it means that I can stack my books on two sides of the shelf (it is just wooden shelves with endpieces, no back). I put all my crime books on one side (with space left over) and all my old sci-fi paperbacks that I had stacked against the wall on the other side. And then I had an empty shelf where the crime novels used to be. So, on the following weekend, I removed all my books from my largest set of shelves, dusted them off, and rearranged them. It was fun. I’ve now got my poetry collection all on one shelf (it’s a small collection) and the books I’m currently reading and planning to read on other shelves, and even some empty shelves which I’m going to use to store my office supplies, which are currently thrown haphazardly into a cardboard box that lives in the corner next to my desk. Amazingly, I only took about three hours to dust and rearrange my bookshelves. I felt very accomplished afterwards (those shelves really needed dusting – I hadn’t noticed quite how dusty they’d gotten).

After all this work, I’ve now got a nice reading nook between the newly put-up shelf and the other ones. The only drawback is that I can’t have Curious Dog up here in my bedroom, because the wall-to-wall carpet would get dirty and he’s scared of the stairs. So, I do most of my reading in the living room, where Curious Dog likes to interrupt (when he’s not sleeping at my feet). But occasionally I do lounge in my reading corner on the bean bag in the attic bedroom. And it’s nice to look at while I’m sitting at my desk all day on workdays.

I still have some other “clean-up and organize” projects to get started on. One of them concerns a couple of moving boxes with odds and ends that I’ve stacked in a corner and hidden underneath a colourful quilt. They need to get unpacked. I think one of them is from my next-to-last move which was 13 year ago. It contains a lot of old hand-knitted socks that my grandma used to make for me. I don’t wear them anymore, but I can’t get rid of them. But this weekend, I lazed around reading and didn’t do anything except for the most necessary housework. I read some of The Tale of Genji and ought to be almost caught up with my reading buddy. I also read the next Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes novel and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde (very good, needs its own post). Also started a new poetry collection of WWI poetry (prompted by the Russell & Holmes books, because they (at least the early ones) mention WWI a lot. I also got ahead with the Arabian Nights’. A very productive reading weekend. The coming weekend will be a long one, since Thursday is a public holiday. We’ll be driving to Bavaria, but once we have arrived, I’ll probably have lots of time for reading. Looking forward to that!

I’m still not vaccinated, but hope Partner and I will get there in June.

Keep safe, world!