It is Wednesday, isn’t it? I’m off kilter somehow.
Every now and then one of my littles will shout “ELIZABETH!”—I would say ‘for no apparent reason,’ because it’s always a non sequitur, but there is a reason and it’s very apparent: what they mean is “I want to read My Name Is Elizabeth!“ Elizabeth doesn’t like being called Lizzie, Liz, Beth, or Betsy, and although my two youngest children have short names that don’t lend themselves to nicknaming, they wholly sympathize with Elizabeth’s plight, and approve of her insistence on proper nomenclature.
(They also approve—heartily—of the exception she makes for her little brother.)
Whenever this book is rediscovered, I seem to be called upon to read it several times a day for a week or so. This has been one of those weeks. I’m not complaining. 🙂
Just finished e. lockhart’s We Were Liars. Utterly unsettling. I mean that in a good way. More on it later.
And a heads-up for you.
FINALLY SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME. Literature of the English Country House—University of Sheffield/FutureLearn http://t.co/EP0jAsBTyJ#mooc
We’ll be using a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’. Along the way we will examine sections from a play by Shakespeare, poetry by Margaret Cavendish, and brief passages from novels by Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. We will even look at fiction by a country house resident Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
You know how you have that friend you used to talk to on the phone all the time, every day practically, so that even though you lived hundreds of miles apart, you were totally up on all the daily details of each other’s lives? And then along comes a busy week, maybe two, and you play a few rounds of phone tag, and suddenly there’s SO MUCH to catch up on that you know you’re going to need an hour, probably more, who are we kidding, and so you’re both waiting for a nice long chunk of time and meanwhile more life is happening and you’re never ever going to be able to catch each other up on all of it? Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling about my book log today. 🙂
For a few weeks there I was trotting along at such a nice clip, recording everything—not only books finished, which I’ve been faithfully logging since 2008, but fragments and sections of books, history and science chapters read to the kids, picture books, substantive internet articles, even individual poems. I’ve never kept track of my reading to such a granular degree before, and I was really enjoying it—both as a chronicle of the many branchings of my interests, and as a somewhat, for me, revelatory indication of the sheer amount of reading, challenging and otherwise, that I was doing all along but somehow not “counting.” Sigh, I only read two books this month, I might think, looking a year from now at my GoodReads tally for April 2014, forgetting the quantities of poetry I devoured that month (just no complete books of poetry, so they don’t qualify for a GR entry), the hundred-odd pages of mid-19th century American history and 17th-century science my girls and I tackled together, the Scientific American articles, the half a novel that didn’t hold me, the five or six opening chapters I sampled on Kindle, the dozens of picture books enjoyed with my younger three, the lecture transcripts, the Damn Interesting articles, the AV Club reviews. Of course it all counts. It all goes to the shaping of me, the stretching of me. My old book log, the finished-books-only kind, presents a comically, unrecognizably skewed picture. Presents this skewed picture to me, I mean—I’m not supposing that anyone else is troubling themselves about it 😉 —but future me will be much hazier about what riches were crammed in between those gaps in the record, the blank spaces between The Tuesday Club Murders and The Wheel on the School.
I’ll want, you know, to remember how that April (this April) was the month of Donne and Herbert, and of The Secret Garden, and of The Little Fur Family and The Americans (the TV show, not the James novel) and Beginning Theory—how way led to way, and reading up on Donne turned into teaching a poetry class, and how things we were reading in The Story of Science kept cropping up on the new Cosmos the very next night, and vice versa.
Until I began the granular logging in March (was it March?), I hadn’t realized how much reading was happening in the margins. Then I missed a day, and the next day there was more to catch up on, and so on and so on, and there went April. All this to say I’m going to start over (again) and see how long I can keep it up this time—and if I miss a day, I’ll let it go, like a balloon floating away into the sky, and not lose hold of the next day’s balloon in an attempt to retrieve the first.
(But if I remember what color the lost balloons were, I can say so. I remember some of yesterday’s balloons.)
Yesterday I happened upon a long piece called “Selling Henry James,” a Northwestern University professor’s account (in 1990) of his experience teaching a James seminar to undergraduates one quarter. Very enjoyable read. I got there via a Jamesian rabbit trail, which branched off a Virginia Woolf rabbit trail, which started actually last fall (and now I can’t remember why; didn’t log it!) and was rediscovered—oh, gosh, I’m losing track of the meanderings. I’ve been watching these Milton lectures at Open Yale, and I think it may have been something the professor said in one of those that made me jump back to Woolf, and then to Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic, which I’ve never read til now—it took me most of last week to get through the two introductions and the first chapter, but I don’t mean “get through” in a negative sense, it was fiercely interesting reading, and amusing in that I realized, a little way in, that this is the text which most deeply informed the women’s lit class I took in college, though Madwoman itself was never assigned. That was the fall of 1988, fourteen years after Madwoman was published, and our professor was in her first year of teaching. I’ve had fun fitting these pieces of the puzzle together.
Earlier this week, still on the Woolf trail, simultaneous with Madwoman, I landed on this site and read the “Women’s Images in Literature” lectures in their entirety. Mostly for review, but like everyone I have gaps. Came away with yet more books to cram into the impossible queue.
The Henry James article left me in a James mood (no, I suppose the mood was already creeping over me and that’s why I googled it?) so last night at bedtime I barraged my Kindle with his books, and this morning I fell into The Turn of the Screw, which I’ve never read (I’ve only read Portrait of a Lady, Daisy Miller, and Washington Square) and can’t wait for bedtime tonight so I can (try to) return to it. The parentheses are because I’m still not managing nighttime reading, only crossword puzzles. Two nights ago I tried to read in bed. I remember nothing, but next morning when I opened the Kindle app on my phone, there was the E.M. Forster Collection open to his short story, “The Celestial Omnibus,” which I’d never read before. I fall asleep, and my finger hits the touchscreen, and the next day I find surprises, like this one. Forster was near the top of the library screen because of my binge in March. I read the Omnibus story and the next one, the one about the beech wood, “The Other Kingdom,” I think it’s called?, and then I had to go back and reread the last chapter of Howards End. (A part of me is always rereading the last chapter of Howards End.)
Before I end (with no conclusion), a James note and a James quote. The note is that, settling into (or being inexorably pulled into, I had no choice) Turn of the Screw and working, as one must, to keep up with the twistings of the sentences, I had this sudden rush of comfort—I don’t know how else to put it—of relief, really, in the realization that a thing about Henry James is that you can trust him to get you there in the end. To the end of the sentence, I mean. It’s going to have forty parts but in the end they will all hold together. I didn’t comprehend that the first time I read him, in my twenties. It’s like knowing a piece of music is going to resolve at the end of the phrase. The final chord will bring you back to the ground. Perhaps I’m a more patient reader now (now that I’m resigned to not getting through ALL THE BOOKS), or perhaps I’ve learned enough about craft over the years to know when a writer deserves my confidence. And I mean this observation only about syntax, about style—I don’t expect James to hand me the plot resolution I crave, he made that very clear at the start of our relationship (oh Isabel!)—but I find there’s an unlooked-for joy in trusting him on style.
And the quote: “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.”
Books are easy. Books I log elsewhere. And yet the only book I entered at GoodReads in April was The Wheel on the School. Can that be right? It’s true I went into one of my periodic reading lulls after my ravenous appetite in March. That’s become my pattern, it seems: a feverish binge and then a (usually sudden) inability to settle on anything, a stretch of weeks when I reach for crossword puzzles instead of a book at bedtime.
I think I needed time to digest after the rich feasts of March!
• The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
• The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald
• The Giver, Lois Lowry
• Queen of England: The Story of Elizabeth, Helene Hanff
• And my Forster binge: A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Howard’s End
With Rilla, The Secret Garden—we are a few chapters from the end. And the usual range of history, science, and poetry with Rose and Beanie, and picture books and beginning readers to my three youngest.
Poetry has been delightful; Herbert last week and Herrick and Marvel this week. Next week brings us to Milton, and to prepare, I’ve been watching these lectures at Open Yale. Extremely engaging. Milton’s one of my gaps. Never studied him formally, had only read bits and pieces, and knew him largely through quotes and references—especially Dorothea’s repeated comparisons of her Mr. Casaubon (shudder) to the esteemed poet. This lecture series has been wonderfully illuminating and I’m glad I finally stopped passing it by in favor of other courses.
Also re-read a good bit of Jane Eyre (for discussion with Rose) and watched this lecture on YouTube. I wish the professor had been credited; I’d like to seek out more of her work. Quite good.
Rose and I started off reading Gulliver’s Travels together but she surpassed me and I doubt I’ll catch up now that she’s finished. Gulliver isn’t quite what I want when my head hits the pillow after a crammed-full day.
Hang on! I read Miss Marple stories all through April! Huh, they aren’t showing up on my GoodReads list. Probably forgot to enter the date. Well, it was The Tuesday Club Murders, which I’d read before. I remember now: I had a cold, and Christie is always my go-to reading when I’m sick.
This week’s reading has included a lot of prep for a new endeavor of mine: now that Mystery Class is over, I’m going to do a six-week poetry workshop with my Journey North kids. Very excited about this. Starts tomorrow.
Of course, some of my most fascinating (and challenging) reading has been for my editing job—a delicious gig for a knowledge junkie like me. But it, too, contributes to my late-evening literary slothfulness. By ten o’clock, my brain is quite simply done with words—except the kind that fit one letter at a time into little boxes.
“Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star” by John Donne. Their introduction to the metaphysical poets. We’ll spend the next week or so on Donne, with a little Herbert and Marvell. Read some biographical info on Donne. I always enjoy him so much and it’s been quite a long time since I’ve read him. This meant I put a bit of time in this week reading up, refreshing my memory on these poets. Consequently I haven’t begun a new book yet—but I’ve got the Muriel Spark autobiography burning a hole on my desk.
When we go to Balboa Park I always park in the lot that lets me walk past this tree. This Ent, is more like it.
Jane’s been home all week for Spring Break, and a springy springy spring it is. Got the tomatoes in on Sunday, and the flowers are going crazy. I discovered an amaryllis stalk in the patio flowerbed! I had a bulb indoors some years back, and afterward I guess I planted it? And forgot about it. And now here it is. I hope it blooms.
When Rilla and I planted the sweet alyssum and nasturtium seeds that are now bedecking the front yard with abundant bloom, we planted cosmos as well. Only one came up. I have the weirdest luck with cosmos. Usually I plant them and they’re never heard from again. One year I didn’t plant them, and a pink-and-white army arose along the side fence, in a place where nothing ever grows but pepper tree seedlings. But once, and once only. This one is in a new spot, near a cinderblock wall. Maybe it’ll like the location and decide to raise a family.
The week’s reading:
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. Finished it early in the week and it ruined me for reading. 🙂 Needed some time to sit quietly with it and let the ache subside. (The good kind of ache.) Still haven’t quite committed to anything new.
The usual history things with my girls, and delicious delicious chapters of Secret Garden with Rilla. Mary found the door, she’s just gone inside. Rilla’s reactions make me feel like I’m living it for the first time myself. This spring is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
How quickly the days pass, and the reading lists pile up!
Read with the older girls:
• Landmark History of the American People, the chapter on wagon trains
• Story of Science Vol. 2, the chapter on Rene Descartes
• Poem: “The Cord” by Leanne O’Sullivan (Poetry 180)
• The Faerie Queene Book 1, Spenser, continued
We enjoyed this lovely video of screenshots from the 1894 George Allen edition with illustrations by Walter Crane.
Read to the littles:
• Caps for Sale
• Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes