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.

Woodlice and Pilgrims

Last night, I again read the next chapter of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries (1984), by Thomas Mallon in bed. It was the chapter “Pilgrims”. These are diaries by authors who wish to wrestle with God, get to know themselves, find their calling (spiritual or worldly), or bear heavy burdens or blows of fate and wish to test or increase their strength. Some succeed in their efforts, some fail, some deceive themselves. Mallon categorizes Henry David Thoreau as one of these type of journal keepers, also May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude; Anais Nïn (Mallon keeps referring to her as “Miss Nïn”, which I found condescending and irritating). He tells of a Dr. Ira Progoff who made money by teaching Intensive Journal workshops in the 1980s for people wanting to grow into their potential and change their lives. Self-realization for everyone who can afford the courses.

There’s also the diary of Josh Greenfeld, A Place for Noah, about the hardship of caring for his mentally handicapped son. Aram Saroyan’s journal about the last illness of his estranged father, Last Rites. C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed about the death of his wife Joy and his subsequent grief and crisis of faith (I read this one years ago but can’t really remember much about it). Then there’s Laurel Lee’s Walking Through the Fire about dealing with Hodgkin’s disease while pregnant. Alan H. Olmstead, a newspaper editor who wrote Threshold, about his struggles after retirement. And Florida Scott-Maxwell, who started a diary at 82 to record opinions on questions that debate the human condition about which she suddenly felt passionate, after a tranquil phase in her seventies.

Then there are the spiritual diaries, written for example by Richard Mather, Johnathan Edwards, Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Merton. Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm. Then there are the journals of Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) and that of Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings (he was Secretary-General of the UN in the 1950s). Mallon has judgements about each of these diaries and some of them don’t sound like I’d like them, but most of them seem interesting. If I put all of them on my TBR, it’ll be huge. Maybe next year I’ll come up with a plan to read a few diaries.

Despite it’s being Sunday, I was quite busy today. First, I got up late (read Barnaby Rudge in bed) and had a long walk in the woods with Curious Dog. It was pleasant in the morning but got too hot during the afternoon. I met or saw a few people collecting mushroom. One neighbour had half a potato net full of what looked like porcini mushrooms. I said, “Good pickings”, he said, “There’s no end of them” in passing. I saw a lot of what I took to be parasol mushrooms, but as I’m not an expert, I couldn’t swear to it. Maybe they were something else and poisonous. Anyway, I don’t collect wild mushrooms in Bavaria, because they are still contaminated with radioactivity from Chernobyl.

After the morning’s walk, I became quite active and partly disassembled the living room book cabinet (which never contained many books only crockery and keepsakes and other stuff). Mum has emptied it out and wants to get rid of it, as she says she’s never liked it. It’s a large one, with glass doors in the top part and either cupboards or drawers in the bottom part. It’s made up of two wide elements (about a metre) and one narrow one (about 50 cm). They are two metres high. I took apart the narrow one and carried it up to my room (with Mum’s help), where I already have one of the wide elements. It was originally a huge cabinet. My parent bought it secondhand years ago, and I’ve had that one element in my room for years, too. Now I’ve got the narrow one as well. I need to align them with a mason’s level and attach them to each other with screws, but to do that I have to take the stuff out of the existing element and I didn’t feel like doing that today. It’s probably going to be a pain and maybe I’ll wait until next time in Bavaria when I’m on vacation to do it. My room is currently a mess. The rest of the cabinet will either go to the neighbours if they want it, or I’ll take it apart and get rid of it at the municipal waste collection point. It’s not really a style that anyone wants in their living room anymore, but it’s a bit of a pity, as it is good quality.

There were a lot of dead woodlice under the part of the cabinet that I dismantled. I bet there’s more under the remaining parts. Yuck!

Keep safe, world.

Traveling Journals

Last night, I read the next chapter of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries (1984), by Thomas Mallon in bed. Called “Travelers”, it is about diaries or journals written by people on journeys, to keep a record of the extraordinary occurrences in their lives (instead of the ordinary ones of the chroniclers covered in the first chapter ̶ of course, the two categories can overlap). Mallon mentions diaries, journals or logbooks written by diarists such as Stephen Burrough (searching for the northeast passage from Britain to Asia in 1556), the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-1806), Amelia Stewart Knight (journey from Iowa to Oregon in 1853), Lydia Allan Rudd (also journey to Oregon in 1853, Jane Gould (from Iowa to California in 1862), Boswell’s and Johnson’s accounts of their travels in Scotland in 1773, the journals of Queen Victoria on her trips to the Scottish Highlands, Julia Newberry (trips to Europe from Chicago in the 19th century), Gauguin’s journals of his voyage to Tahiti, David Gascoyne’s Paris journal. Louis Philippe (future king of France, traveling in America), the actress Fanny Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, Simone de Beauvoir and André Maurois both visiting America. Lewis Carroll and Henry Parry Liddon, who traveled together to Russia to experience the Russian Orthodox Church. The WWII diaries of Clara Milburn, who stayed at home, but whose life changed from the ordinary analogous with the upheaval of going on a journey, which is why she is lumped in with the travelers. Other authors were also mentioned, for example Siegfried Sassoon’s WW I diary. All fascinating. Lots of interesting diaries to look up and read one of these days.

I’ve never really thought about it, but it seems clear that there are hundreds of published diaries to read and uncountable ones that never got published but languish in archives or attics. Nowadays, of course, blogs. One could spend years reading nothing but journals. I certainly won’t do that, but I do believe that I’ve found a new-to-me genre to spend reading time on. Mallon’s book is a good aid in finding some interesting ones, so I’m glad I’m reading it.

Having stayed up in bed reading Mallon last night, this morning I lazed in bed reading the last few short stories in my copy of The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, edited by A. S. Byatt. Now, I really liked most of these stories, but I’ve already forgotten quite a lot the details of those I read in July and August. When I flip through the pages and dip into one or the other story, I do remember that I read it, but no details. I do a lot of reading, but I have a terrible memory. That’s partly why I started the blog, to keep a record of what I read. I do remember stories and books that I read more than once, so I’m sure I will be rereading these stories. Some books, like The Lord of the Rings, I almost know of by heart I’ve read them so often. I enjoy rereading, even if I remember the plots once I get into them. Sometimes I think that I should just keep rereading the books I own and stop getting new ones, but then, there’s so many interesting books in the world… I couldn’t do it. Maybe I ought to do a challenge, no new books for a certain period of time. Maybe next year. I do have quite a number of books both on Kindle and as hardcopy that I haven’t found time to read yet.

Today was a quiet day. I’d already gone grocery shopping yesterday, so didn’t need to go anywhere. Mum and I did, however, drive to the graveyard to check on the plants on the family plot. It’s still looking nice; we just removed a few fallen leaves and blossoms. We’ll probably have to do the winter planting in October, when I’m back from my vacation. We’ve got the plot covered in evergreen periwinkle. That’s a very hardy plant that stays green in winter and gets lovely small purple and white flowers in spring. We basically just change the potted plant. In late autumn we remove the pot and plant a Christmas rose instead. They can deal with frost and flower in winter and early spring. The flowers kind of curl up during frost and uncurl again when it’s warmer. We always try to use plants that flourish without much care since can only check on them once a month.

The morning walk with Curious Dog was pleasant. Didn’t need a jacket this morning, but it was already 9:00 a.m. when we started and quite hot in the sun by the time we returned. It got a bit cloudy in the afternoon and was pleasant, but when we went for the afternoon walk, the clouds disappeared, and it became too hot to go far. I was too lazy to go up into the woods, so we walked along the bike path in the valley. Lots of bicycle traffic. Heaps of electric-powered ones. They always come up at high speed and I have to make sure CD doesn’t get in their way. It’s a bit annoying really. The path is supposed to be shared by pedestrians and bikers and isn’t a racetrack.

Otherwise I started reading Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge. I’m rather liking it, it’s full of murder and mayhem and I’ve only read about 60 pages so far. Hope it stays interesting.

Keep safe, world.

Diaries

Although I was quite tired yesterday and went to bed early, I still stayed up till 11:00 p.m. reading the first chapter of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries (1984), by Thomas Mallon. The book was recommended by someone on BookTube and I found a copy via www.abebooks.de, my go-to online resource for out-of-print or used books. I’m interested in it, because I think it may give me pointers for my blog writing. Blogs are, after all, a kind of diary. The book categorizes diarists as chroniclers, travelers, pilgrims, creators, apologists, confessors, and prisoners and those are also the chapter titles. Last night I read the introduction and the first chapter. It’s very interesting.

The chapter “Chroniclers” is about people who write diaries to tell the day-to-day story of their lives. Mallon mentions Samuel Pepys, Samuel Sewall, James Woodforde, Elizabeth Wynne (married Fremantle), Edmond and Jules Goncourt (brothers who kept a diary together), George Templeton Strong, Virginia Woolf, and Evelyn Waugh. He tells us what their diaries are like and gives some quotes. I’d never heard of half of these people, but I would like to one day read Pepys’ and Woolf’s diaries. I’ve never read anyone’s diary (though I do read a lot of blogs and those are probably similar to diaries), but I imagine it’s like reading people’s published letters. Letters, I find, are good to dip in and out off, not to read a big collection in one go. Reading diaries, I imagine, would be similar. I’m looking forward to reading the other chapters and finding more diarists to check out.

This morning I woke up to a countryside wreathed in fog. Autumn has arrived. Lots of bedewed spiderwebs festooned in the bushes at the wood’s edge. Lots of mushrooms in the moss under the trees. It was a lovely morning walk with Curious Dog. On our return, in the valley, the sun was already dispersing the fog and I had to take off my fleece jacket. It was comfy and warm in the shady woods, but too hot in the sun.

Logging in to work, I again had problems with the blasted VPN. It kept disconnecting and reconnecting until, after a couple of hours, it stabilized. At least now I know that it isn’t a problem with my new Internet plan in Baden-Württemberg, but some other problem, because I never had this problem here in Bavaria before and my Internet plan is still the same as it’s been for the past few years. Thinking back, I believe the issues started with an update of the VPN software a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, I searched the company’s IT portal and found some tricks that may fix or improve the issue. Some are quite complicated, and all require a restart, so I didn’t try them out this morning after the VPN had stabilized. I’ll either try them on the weekend, or next week if the problem persists.

Had my synch call with my manager, but there wasn’t much to discuss, as I’m up-to-date with all my tasks despite the problems with the VPN. They are going on vacation next week and after that it’s almost my turn. So, we chatted a bit about our respective vacation plans.

After a late lunch, I went out grocery shopping. One crate of mineral water, one box of food and two carrying bags. Should see us through the week. Potatoes, sweet potatoes (the first ones we’ve had for ages, they are not always available and often they’re too expensive), Brussel sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, a small celeriac, kohlrabi, carrots, a small pumpkin, onions, garlic, leek, romaine salad, tomatoes, mushrooms, frozen spinach. Apples, pears, plums (just a handful), bananas. Tea, pasta, lentils, bread. And some odds and ends, some biscuits and a bag of sour vegan gummy things. A box of chocolate as a gift for the neighbour who always kindly picks up our mail so that it doesn’t overflow our mailbox. No dairy or meat because we’re mostly vegan. No plant milks and juices, because we are stocked up, ditto with tofu and tempeh (you can’t get tempeh here anyway). No dog food, because we brought that along from my place (and the supermarket doesn’t carry it). Curious Dog also gets his share of vegetables. He likes cucumber (raw) and zucchini, kohlrabi and carrots cooked with his normal kibble (not vegan). He also loves broccoli and cauliflower (oddly, both raw and cooked) and always gets some when we have those. He also gets bits of apples, which he loves, but not pears or bananas ̶ he acts like he wants those and then spits them out. He also loves watermelons and mango (of which he only gets small bits, because I think they are too sweet). Also papaya, but we almost never have them, because they are way too expensive except occasionally when they are on sale.

I say this guy in the supermarket, a family father with his kids, wearing his mask wrongly. It annoyed the heck out of me. How hard is it to pull the blasted mask over your nose for the time you spend in the supermarket? If you’re not going to cover your nose why verdammt noch mal are you even wearing one? Argh.

In the afternoon it got rather warm, too hot to work in the garden and still warm when Curious Dog and I took our second turn through the woods. No more fog, but a lot of mosquitoes or midges. Got at least two stings and found a tick taking a walk on CD’s back. So far none that have attached themselves, but it’s early yet. I’ll have to keep checking for them, but it will soon be the end of tick season.

Keep safe, world.