April Reading

A lot earlier than last month, my monthly reading report.

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in April either, but I’ve pulled myself together and got started again now, in May. So, I should have a better progress soon. I do enjoy it, so I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to this book in the last couple of months.

Poetry:

Adrienne Rich, Selected Poems 1952 – 2012.
I started and finished this book in April. I enjoyed it, but I’m sure I haven’t understood everything. If I pondered each poem I read (especially the modern ones) until I understand it completely, I’d never get ahead. I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one sometime in future and then I may get more and other things out of it that I did with this first reading.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. I’m making progress, night by night.

Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I finished the last half, and especially liked Rasselas (a kind of fable about finding the right way to life – it’s apparently impossible, there’s always something to complain about) and A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland – now I want to read James Boswell’s report of the same journey. It would be interesting to see how the two accounts differ. I also read some of Johnson’s short biographies from Lives of the Poets. These didn’t do much for me, because I haven’t read many of the works he discusses (Johnson gives an overview of the poets’ works), and those that I have read I’ve mostly forgotten. Except for Milton. I might reread those biographies if I ever give those poets a go. I still kind of liked the biographies because I like Johnson’s style.
  • Patrick King, The Science of Getting Started: How to Beat Procrastination, Summon Productivity, and Stop Self-Sabotage.
    This was a cheap Kindle edition that I found by chance and bought to see if it had any bright ideas on how to organize my work load more effectively. I didn’t have high hopes, but I was positively surprised. It was a quick read and had some good ideas (not all of them new to me, but also a good reminder of the things I already knew). If you want some pointers about dealing with a high workload and working productively, I recommend this book. I like that it is science-based, not just somebody’s pet ideas without any scientific backing. I always get my task at work done (if sometimes last minute), but this year there’s a lot of chaos at work and I needed some ideas to get things back under control and stop feeling overwhelmed. It’s still chaos, but I’m dealing with it and the book helped.

Novels:

  • Robert Dugoni, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.
    A book club read that I didn’t care much about. I wrote about it here.
  • David Weber, In Fury Born.
    This one I read one weekend in April because I needed some light space opera escapism. I wrote about it here.

April wasn’t a great reading month. Work was rather hellish and as a result, I was sometimes too tired to read. Quite annoying really. Things aren’t really looking up. I think the work situation is going to continue being a pain at least until fall. Therefore, I need to pull myself together and find a modus vivendi in which the work situation doesn’t carry over so much into my private life. I think I’m getting there, but some days are better than others.

Keep safe, world.

March Reading

Considering that I’ve been and still am very busy at work and sometimes felt too tired to read, I did manage to read quite a bit in March. Here’s the list:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in March – probably what made me feel that I’m in a slump. I was too tired to immerse myself into this complicated Japanese society. I’m falling behind, my reading buddy is at least 200 pages further along. I need to catch up, so we can continue discussing it. I haven’t read a single page in April yet, either…

Poetry:

  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.
    Finished! A very good anthology.
  • Emily Dickinson and Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest.
    Also finished – I love Emily Dickinson’s poems (even if I don’t always understand them). This was only a selection. One of these days I will get her entire collected poems.

Short Stories:

  • J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories.
    Old-fashioned ghost and horror stories. Some of the stories were more like novellas. I enjoyed them, but I prefer the short stories by M. R. James, which are in the same vein and which I read last year. I’m never going to feel the same way about green tea again – apparently it can make you susceptible to harassment by supernatural creepy monkeys who are terrible for your life expectancy. 😉
  • Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
    This Oxford Worlds Classic paperback has been on my shelves for years and I’ve only ever browsed in it a little. I’m reading it all through this time. Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. Sinbad the sailor sure wasn’t scrupulous about killing other people to further his own survival on his adventures!

Perth_Dog

Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I got to the half-way mark in March, about 600 pages.
  • May Sarton, The Fur Person.
    Absolutely delightful story of a cat’s life, written from the point of view of the cat and with a few fabulous “cat song” poems in it. I stumbled across it, because I was looking for another poet to read after Emily Dickinson, and Sarton is a poet that I was considering (actually, I’m reading Adrienne Rich at the moment, but Sarton is an option for another day). Very short and quick read, but lovely.
  • Peter Martin, A Dog Called Perth: The Voyage of a Beagle.
    Another interesting story of a pet’s life. This time a dog. Also shortish and a quick read. The dog had a very eventful life, and I loved her, but her owner was a sometimes arrogant person who did quite a few idiotic things with poor Perth that I wouldn’t do with mine. It was pure luck that things turned out fine. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, O Jerusalem.
    Installment 5 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Another reread, and very enjoyable. Russell and Holmes doing undercover spy stuff in Palestine during WWI.
  • Sally Wright, Pursuit and Persuasion and Out of the Ruins.
    Books 3 and 4 in the Ben Reese crime series I stared in February. Anti-stress (for me) crime novel. Kind of dark academia in that the protagonist works as an archivist for a university. I’m still planning to write a more detailed review of the series. There’s only one more book to go.

Two pet stories and three crime novels. A fun reading month!

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

On the weekend, we watched WandaVision on Disney+. WandaVision is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the tale of what happened to Wanda and Vision after the events shown in the film Avengers: Endgame. It’s a miniseries consisting of 9 episodes. It’s very well made, with a strong meta-fictional element: Wanda and Vision seem to be living TV sitcom episodes through the decades, starting in the fifties in black and white. Odd things happen and later we also get an outside view of the situation, though the eyes of Agents of S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) and the FBI. Apparently S.W.O.R.D. is S.H.I.E.L.D. in space, who’d have known?!

We also watched the films Shoplifters and Paterson, both the complete opposite of the blockbuster Marvel Universe. Shoplifters is about a Japanese family of outcasts who shoplift to supplement the granny’s pension and wages from exploitative dead-end jobs. They love each other and take in a young girl who is neglected and abused by her parents. It all comes unraveled, though, when the granny dies. It has a softly tragic end. Paterson is about a bus driver named Paterson who lives with his creative and optimistic wife and their grumpy bulldog in the town of Paterson. Paterson the bus driver is also a poet. We follow a week in his life. Nothing much happens and yet a lot happens. It’s like a poetic version of normal life. The poems in the movie were written by a real poet, Ron Padgett. The film is just lovely, with humour and sadness. Both films are kind of warm and life-affirming.

The weather was kind of April-like, very changeable in the past few days. It was quite windy, occasionally rainy, sometimes sunny, but not very warm. Monday morning Curious Dog and I got drenched on our walk. Considering walks: I think I’m seeing some improvements with Curious Dog’s behaviour on the leash. I think he’s beginning to pull a bit less. I’m inspired by seeing a series on TV about a German dog whisperer. It runs every now and then on Sunday afternoons. The dogs shown in the show are much worse behaved than Curious Dog, but they still mostly improve (if they don’t, it’s the owner’s fault for not being consistent and assertive enough). Curious Dog’s pulling on the leash is annoying, but he doesn’t pull all the time, and he’s generally good with other dogs (except for some, especially male terriers, whom he really can’t stand). But it would be nice if he stopped pulling for more of the time, so I’m working on it. I also got a muzzle for him to wear on public transport where it is often required by law. He’s not keen on that at all (no wonder, who would be?). I hope I can get him used to it by the time we are planning on going on vacation in October, as we may need it on a cable car. I’m not convinced that taking Curious Dog on a cable car is a good idea, but we’ll see how the muzzle thing works out.

We had elections in my state of Baden-Württemberg on Sunday: the Green party won, which I’m happy about (but they will need a coalition, as is usual in German politics). I hope that they will really concentrate on politics to alleviate climate change during their turn in office. I’m also delighted because the AfD (a party of far-right, potentially if not actually anti-democratic bigots) lost 5% and fell to just under 10% of all votes – hope this decline continues in autumn, when we have the federal elections.

Work has been a pain in the last couple of weeks. There’s lots of things to do but our main content management software was on the blink. Unstable and horrifically slow. We had a few emergency downtimes for repairs that didn’t help much. At least this week things seem to have improved. I’m taking Thursday off and will therefore be only working three days which is great. We’re driving to Bavaria again on Thursday afternoon (probably, we may already leave on Wednesday after work – depends on the weather). Our three weeks at my place passed very quickly as usual.

Mum’s got her second vaccination appointment on Friday. She was a bit under the weather for a few days after the first jab. Hope it won’t be worse after the second. It will be great when she’s done with the vaccination and hopefully safe from Corona. Unfortunately, it looks like a third wave is slowly building up in Germany. Vaccination isn’t progressing fast enough. Very worrying again. Just as things were looking up, it seems that we may need to extend the lockdown again.

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Inspired by James Boswell’s Life of Johnson that I read in December and January, I’ve been reading Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings edited by David Womersley. It’s full of variety: some poems (not much my cup of tea, although I otherwise do like poetry), a couple of short biographies of people I’d never heard of but found diverting anyway, lots of short essays written for periodicals, the preface to his dictionary, a bit of literary criticism… He’s also written plays and novellas, but I haven’t got to them yet as I’m only halfway through the collection. I’m really enjoying it, but the style is so dense that it is taking me a lot longer to read than literature written more recently. But I do think I’m getting faster and reading more fluently. I’m enjoying it a lot; Johnson is an interesting writer and I like his style. Here’s a fascinating quote about the Seven Year’s War 1756 – 1763 part of which was carried out between England and France in their North American colonies:

It is allowed on both sides, that hostilities began in America, and that the French and English quarrelled about the boundaries of their settlements, about grounds and rivers to which, I am afraid, neither can shew any other right than that of power, and which neither can occupy but by usurpation, and the dispossession of the natural lords and original inhabitants. Such is the contest that no honest man can heartily wish success to either party.

“Observations on the present State of Affairs” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p.536.

I guess that this opinion wasn’t shared by many in his time, otherwise American history might have turned out quite differently. He views colonization critically because the land was gained by immoral practices.

In one of his essays for The Adventurer, a periodical, he writes about readers and their motivations for reading as well as the influence books may have on the readers’ minds:

It is difficult to enumerate the several motives, which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.
[…]
Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study, is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour and the weather.
[…]
But, perhaps, it seldom happens, that study terminates in mere pastime. Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas; he that reads books of science, though without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.

“No. 137 of The Adventurer. Tuesday, 26 February 1754” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p. 484f.

Myself, I’m not sure about the entertainment value of “moral or religious treatises”, but in the rest of the essay Johnson mentions that he isn’t totally against reading lighter fare for pure amusement. 😉

Johnson writes about all sorts of topics and most of his pieces are just a few pages long, so reading my way through this volume of collected works is entertaining. Even if I come across something that’s totally uninspired (and I haven’t yet), it’s soon done with and the next piece is a new start.

Keep safe, world.