September Reading

September was very busy with work and I didn’t read as much as usual. Also, at the start of the month my cousins stayed with us for a long weekend and I didn’t do much reading then. Now, rather late, my reading report:

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for September ̶ one more month and I’ll be done.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Total fail again, as usual.

Poetry:

Daniel Karlin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse
I’m really enjoying this collection and am almost done.

Short stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
    I continued with some of these. They are very interesting, but some of them are very intense, so I’m getting ahead rather slowly.
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection
    These are fun to read. I’m planning on eventually reading my way through all the annual collections.

Non-Fiction:

  • Redmond O’Hanlon, In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon
    Very good, see my report here.
  • Carol Ann Lee, The Murders at White House Farm
    Don’t know why I read this, see my report here.
  • Laura Cumming, On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons
    Also excellent, see my report here.
  • Helen Bevington, The Third and Only Way: Reflections of Staying Alive
    A memoir about life in old age, when one’s loved ones are already dead. What keeps one alive? I like reading about how people go through old age. It’s coming for everyone and, who knows, maybe it will be helpful. It’s a quiet reflection, with lots of vignettes and musings on books and life experiences. I enjoyed it a lot and may read some this author’s other books.
  • Thomas Mallon, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries
    So far, I’ve only read about two thirds of this book. I found a reference to Bevington in it, which lead me to read her memoir. There’s lots of other reading inspiration in the book. I’ll be returning to it again and again, I believe, to find diaries and memoirs to read. And maybe it will help me to keep up with my own blog/diary. I wrote up a few blog entries in September about the chapters I’ve read, too many to link.

Graphic novel:

Total fail. I’m currently not feeling like reading graphic novels.

Novels:

Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge
One of Dickens’ two historical novels. I liked it a lot and mean to write a review.

Toni Morrison, Love
Also a very good read, as usual. Somewhat disturbing, but then, all Morrison’s novels are disturbing. Will write a review.

Lots of non-fiction this month and only two novels. No graphic novel. Not too bad, but I’ve had better reading months.

Crime and Biography

Monday’s dog school was a great success. Curious Dog had a great time scrambling under bars, jumping over them, zigzagging around poles, showing off all his commands, dashing through tunnels. A real star. Maybe because there were only two dogs instead of the normal five or more. He wasn’t distracted by any doggy friends or rivals. The only other dog was not at all interested in him and he wasn’t much interested in her. He also got a lot of friendly time with the trainer, whom he loves, but who is usually much busier with more dogs attending the training. The both of us had a great time.

The week has been hot, up to 28°C until last night. Crisply cool in the mornings, good for lovely morning walks in the woods with Curious Dog, but hot by 11:00 a.m. I did the daily afternoon walks with CD very late, after 6 p.m. and I still arrived back home covered in sweat although we mostly walked in the shade. Today it’s cooler, with temperatures only slightly above 20°C. It’s still sunny and we had a very little rain, so that it’s also muggy. It’s supposed to stay sunny and cooler but without rain for the rest of the week and weekend, which is good, because I still have to mow the lawn and dismantle and get rid of the living room cabinet. That would be miserable if it rained (or impossible in the case of mowing the lawn).

I’ve finished reading the chapter on “Creators” in A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, by Thomas Mallon. This chapter is about diaries, journals or notebook kept by writers or artist or other kind of creators (as the title says). He gives examples of writers, poets, painters, photographers, architects, dancers, scientist and philosophers. I won’t mention all of them, as I’m most interested in writers and poets (at least at the moment). He writes about commonplace books kept by writers such as John Milton, W.H. Auden (published as A Certain World), Dorothy Wordworth’s Grasmere journals in which she keeps a record of the books her brother William read; Mary Shelley’s journal in which she keeps a similar record for herself and her husband. Then there’s Helen Bevington’s Along Came the Witch. She was an English Professors who kept a commonplace book. These commonplace books often morph into a combination of records of reading and diary keeping. I find that intriguing, as it is like my blog. I catalogue my reading, but I also record daily life. Gerard Manley Hopkins also kept such a journal before he started writing poetry. Sylvia Plath’s journal charts her determination (or even obsession) with becoming a successful writer and poet. Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Grahame Greene, Jean Rhys, Kathrine Mansfield and countless more kept diaries in which the seeds of their published works can be seen. Charles Darwin kept a famous journal of his travels on the Beagle that later informed On the Origin of Species. Leonardo Da Vinci kept notebooks or journals… too many examples to list here, so I will leave it at that. Next up is the chapter “Apologists”:

But now, after Leonardo, […], it is time to turn to those diarists – the apologists – whose private books were quite deliberately addressed to unborn readers whose attention they craved and whose good opinion they courted.

A Book of One’s Own, 1984, p 165.

I’ve been reading a lot this week, staying up late, reading during lunch. A bit of a binge. Surfing on Amazon, I found The Murders at White House Farm by Carol Ann Lee. I just stumbled across it and read all the content available online and was hooked. Don’t really know why, because I don’t like real life crime. But it was quite engrossing and I wanted to find out what happened – sensationalism, I’m sure. It was on sale for a good deal less than € 2, so I gave in and bought it. Finished it in one sitting, but it was quite horrible. A son who killed his adoptive mother, father, sister and her two young children just so he’d inherit all their assets. He also tried to and almost succeeded in making the sister appear as the killer, because she had a history of mental illness. Apparently, this horrific act from the 1980s in Britain has just been turned into a TV series. I kind of regret having read it. Did I really need to know about this?

The other book I read was lovely and very well written: On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons, by Laura Cumming. It’s a biography of her mother as well as a family history written by the daughter. It tells the circumstances of her mother’s birth, her adoption and the lies surrounding that adoption. As the mother is an artist and her daughter an art critic, the family history is also viewed through the lens of art, through photographs and paintings. I found that a very interesting approach although the reports on Amazon are divided. Some readers didn’t like the slow pace and reflections on art at all, while others enjoyed it very much. I found it a moving book. It made me want to read at least one other book by Cumming: A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits. It sounds fascinating. Also fits in with my interest in diaries – a self-portrait is, like a diary, a way to show something of oneself to the world. Maybe I’ll select this one for my vacation reading.

I’ve been following the news about the situation with the burnt-down refugee camp Moria, on Lesbos in Greece. I’m glad that Germany has decided to get its act together and admit at least a few of the homeless refugees. I wish our politicians would allow more to come. Lots of cities have said they’d be willing to take in those refugees, but the politicians keep moaning on about waiting for the rest of Europe to help as well. It’s a disgrace for Europe that we can’t decide on a fair immigration policy and that Greece and Italy are left to deal with masses of migrants on their own. What about European solidarity?

Keep safe, world.