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.

Memoirs and Poems

Owing to the public holiday we had on Monday, this working week has been a short one, only three days for me, as I don’t work on Fridays. Next week will also be only three days, as there is another public holiday on Thursday (Corpus Christi), but that’ll be it for public holidays until November, I believe (since October 3, the Day of Unification in Germany falls on a Sunday this year). Since quite a few colleagues have taken one or both of these weeks off, and there were no particularly onerous deadlines, work has been somewhat relaxed. A relief after the ridiculous business of the previous weeks. No doubt it will pick up again, but I’m enjoying the lull while I can.

Iris

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I read John Bayley’s memoir of his marriage with Iris Murdoch, Elegy for Iris. I picked this book up earlier this year because I read a review or watched a BookTube recommendation (can’t remember which) and thought it sounded interesting. And it was. It’s Bayley looking back at how he first met Iris Murdoch, remembering their early marriage and some of the highlights in their lives. It’s about how they led a somewhat unconventional marriage, about their work and friends and about how Bayley coped as Murdoch sadly sank into Alzheimer’s. It’s very moving.

One little detail that filled me with glee was Bayley’s account of how their homes always got covered in dust and their gardens went wild because they never had time or much inclination for cleaning or gardening. I have much sympathy for that, as I struggle with these annoying chores myself and frequently both my home and my garden look rather bedraggled.

I found that Bayley has written two more memoirs, one called Iris and the Friends about Murdoch’s last year of life and how Bayley dealt with that and the third part Widower’s House about Bayley’s life after Murdoch’s death. I haven’t read the other two memoirs, but they are on my TBR list.

I read the first memoir Elegy for Iris, because I like memoirs in general (as well as autobiographies and biographies) and ones about writers in particular, and in addition have a special interest in how people manage in old age. We all grow older and might as well get some pointers on how to lead a good life in old age. Of course, I hope I’m not going to get dementia… but I still like reading about how people cope with the negative stuff as well as the positive.

Weirdly, I haven’t yet read anything by Murdoch although she is a well-known author, both of works of fiction and works of philosophy. Since I found her life so interesting, I’m hoping to read some of her work sometime (not sure when, as usual… there are so many books to read).

I’ve finished reading the poetry anthology Poetry of the First World War, edited by Tim Kendall (Oxford World’s Classics). It’s very good. Very powerful about the horrors of WWI, about the unexpected and fleeting pleasures, about the daily dreadfulness of the trenches, about courage, fear, gallows humour, love and death. I found it a well-made anthology, with short biographical details about the poets (so many of them tragically killed in the war) and useful explanatory notes.

Since somewhere in that anthology I read someone’s opinion that Germans didn’t have great poetry (a statement inspired by the enmity naturally felt by the English and their allies during the war), I decided that I didn’t know enough of German poetry. I haven’t read German poetry since high school as I’m always very focused on English language literature. Thus I did some research and bought myself a two-volume collection of German poetry Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte (Reclam’s Book of German Poetry, Reclam being a respected publisher of German literature). It’s organized chronologically and I’m currently reading poetry from the Middle Ages in Middle High German. Actually, I read them, kind of guess at the meaning because Middle High German is quite different from modern German, and then read the modern German translation which is fortunately provided below the poem as a kind of footnote. It would have been easier to read if the original poem had been on the right page and the translation on the left, but I guess that’s a minor quibble.

Here’s a cute little poem in Middle High German by an unknown author that I remember from my high school days (it’s really well known and probably in every anthology of German poetry that covers the Middle Ages):

Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn
des solt dû gewis sîn.
dû bist beslossen in mînem herzen.
verlorn ist das slusselîn,
dû muost och immer dar inne sîn.

My unpoetic attempt at a translation:

You are mine, I am thine,
Of this you should be sure.
You are locked in my heart,
The little key is lost,
So now you have to stay forever.

I’m quite enjoying my foray into German poetry. It will probably occupy me for a couple of months at least, as I usually only read a few poems each morning before getting up.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

We’re back at my place after having stayed at the family home in Bavaria last week. We drove back on Sunday, and it was a bit of a pain. First we had to drive the long diversion that has been in place for a few weeks on the country roads, and then, when we were on the Autobahn, we couldn’t cross from one to the other Autobahn, because the junction was closed for roadworks. We had to continue on the original Autobahn, till the next exit, then drive back in the other direction and then get on the motorway we needed to be on. If the junction remains closed, I will really have to take the longer route alternative route that doesn’t involve changing motorways. It can’t take longer than all these other diversions. At least it was Sunday, and not much traffic.

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The week in Bavaria was very wet and windy. Usually, it stayed dry in the mornings, so that Curious Dog and I could finish our long morning walk without getting wet. In the afternoons one shower followed another, but we usually managed to time a shorter walk in between the downpours. We also had thunderstorms and one extended hailstorm although the hailstones were smallish (between pea and chickpea size). I used the snow shovel to clear a doorway where the wind had piled them up.

I took Wednesday afternoon off work because I wanted to get some plants for our garden and worked on Friday morning instead (it worked out perfectly, as I had a task that needed to be done then). Mom stayed at home with Curious Dog, as we were worried about thunderstorms. We didn’t want him to be alone during one, because he hates them. It would have been a nice outing for Mum, the first for ages, but we’ll check out a garden centre here in Baden-Württemberg one of these days. I only meant to buy the plant we usually put on our family’s grave, but I got (slightly) carried away. I got the flowering plant for the graveyard, a red Mandevilla (also known as rocktrumpet according to Wikipedia). It’s only lasts for one summer since it doesn’t tolerate cold, but it survives without regular watering, has nice flowers, and it doesn’t get eaten by slugs (a big problem – lots of lovely plants are apparently the favourite food for slugs). I also got a couple of sweet potato plants for our garden, in the hope that they will survive without much supervision. A few years ago, we had a very respectable harvest from just two plants (but Mum was still living in Bavaria at the time and looking after the garden). I also bought a couple of lavender plants, one of which we also planted on the grave, in the hopes that it will keep the ants away. They keep building small ant heaps in one corner of the grave plot although they have the adjacent woods to colonize. It’s very annoying that they seem to prefer the grave plot. Then I got a small rosemary plant to replace the big bush that didn’t survive the winter. Removing the old rosemary bush was quite the chore. It had deep roots and was hard to pull and dig out. Lastly, I picked up a small hazelnut bush (only about 50 cm high) and a small Greek tea plant (it intrigued me and was described to need little water). Quite a few new plants and lots of clean-up to do in our garden, but it rained almost all the time and we didn’t get round to it during the week.

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We ended up planting the grave and new plants in the garden on Saturday morning, when it luckily didn’t rain. So, we spent until noon doing gardening, then had a longish lunch break and then I vacuumed the house and cleaned the bathroom while Mum baked a cake to take with us and did the kitchen. We were quite exhausted by the end of the day. When we return to Bavaria in June, I’m planning to take most of the week off, so that I can do some work helping Mum in the garden (before it gets completely out of hand). I’m too lazy to do it after work (and after two walks with Curious Dog) and it’s too much to do all of it on the weekends (certainly for me – I need my weekends at least partly for reading).

I had to pull myself together last Saturday. Spending all day gardening and cleaning the house wasn’t very appealing, but I didn’t want to spend all day in a bad mood. So, whenever I felt myself getting annoyed, I mentally talked myself out of it. It was quite effective, being mindful in that way. I actually had fun and felt accomplished at the end of the day. Also, I managed to do some reading during our lunch break and at night, aided by the fact that I hadn’t procrastinated on cleaning the bathroom until I had to do it in the evening. I hope I manage to keep this mindset about chores going now that we are back at my place. It’s weird how small things can derail my mood if I let them, but it’s also strange how I can stop myself from spiraling into a bad mood if I work at it. Mindfulness and meditation help me to control my mood, but they don’t do so automatically, unfortunately. I have to work at it. I don’t hate gardening or cleaning per se, but I dislike it when they take up most of the day. I often think that when I am retired, these tasks will no longer be a problem, I’ll just allocate a certain time each day to them and spend the rest of my time with whatever interests me, because I will have so much more time… But who knows what the future will bring? I have to live in the present. The present needs gardening and cleaning as well as more pleasurable things. I might as well like those chores and do them well and quickly, without procrastination and grumbling. Sooner said than done, though.

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Monday was a day off, Pentecost Monday (or Whitsun). It was lovely and relaxed. The weather was nice (for once). It started out sunny and soon became overcast but didn’t rain. It was very warm for our cold May, 20°C. Today it’s raining again, very windy (a level two storm warning), and cold for May, only about 12°C. I wore a thick long-sleeved T-shirt and my woolen shawl while working at my desk to keep me from shivering. At least we didn’t get wet during the walks with Curious Dog. I think I’ve worn a short-sleeved T-shirt only once this spring. Still, no doubt it will get warmer soon, and then I’ll be complaining about the heat. All that rain is beneficial for the soil (it was well wet when we were planting our new plants, not just a couple of centimeters at the top).

Yesterday we started watching The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime. It’s based on Colson Whitehead’s novel of the same name about slaves escaping from their inhuman slaveholders in the American south using a real underground railroad. An escape from slavery narrative with fantasy elements. The series is very powerful (so far) and makes me want to read the novel. So far, I’ve only read The Intuitionist by Whitehead which I once proposed for my book club. It was good, but I think that I’d like The Underground Railroad even better.

On a lighter note, we continued watching The Bad Batch on Disney+ and The Clone Wars. Very entertaining in the usual Star Wars way. In the evening, we watched a Tatort (on Monday, instead of Sunday, because Monday was a public holiday). On Sunday they showed a rerun, which we didn’t watch. Anyway, the Tatort, episode “Neugeboren” (“Newborn”) was set in Bremen and introduced a new cast for that city, three police detectives: Mads Andersen (played by Dar Salim), Linda Selb (Luise Wolfram) and Liv Moormann (Jasna Fritzi Bauer). It was about a murder and a missing baby and how it all tied together. Not bad. The character of Linda Selb reminds me of a slightly down-toned version of Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Not as zany and anti-social, but similar.

I did manage some reading on the long weekend. Not as much as I could have but for gardening and cleaning and driving places: C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism and John Bayley, Elegy for Iris. The latter describes the marriage of Bayley with Murdoch, the famous writer, and how he dealt with her decline into Alzheimer’s. Both books were excellent. I hope to write a review of them in a future post.

Keep safe, world.