a reader

an eudæmonistreading



Christopher I. Beckwith. The Scythian Empire: Central Eurasia and the Birth of the Classical Age from Persia to China. narrated by Jim Lee. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2023. [220.a]*
A celebration of ‘the central Eurasian culture complex’ that delivers a sharp blow to the historical ‘unicorns’ that spring up when one ignores data. Things that are, apparently, Scythian in origin: monotheism, empiricism, Buddha, Laozi, the Cimmerian bow, the Chinese state, the Persian Empire, Greek philosophy, and all classical civilizations anywhere in Eurasia. Beckwith does not go so far as to say that the Scythians came up with the original recipe for Coca-Cola, but it’s a near thing. (The reader of the audiobook did quite an impressive job with the many different languages quoted.)
Mike Greenberg. All You Could Ask For. New York: William Morrow, 2013. [219.d]*
Randomly checked out from the library ebook app; an unexpectedly solid novel about three women and breast cancer written by a sports commentator. (Does the author’s job matter? No. But it was a surprise.)
Christopher J. Berry. Adam Smith: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2018. [218]
Picked it up mostly to have a short, current bibliography, but it is a decent overview. It was comforting to confirm that my reading of Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, though hurried, was not entirely wrong-headed. Odd use of commas.
C.G. Jung. On the Nature of the Psyche. trans. R.F.C. Hull. New York: Routledge, 2001 (1948, 1954, 1969). [217]
‘Even if it were a question of some great truth, identification with it would still be a catastrophe, as it arrests all further spiritual development. Instead of knowledge on then has only belief, and sometimes that is more convenient and therefore more attractive’ (p. 153).
Wolfgang Bauer and Herbert Franke. The Golden Casket: Chinese Novellas of Two Millennia. trans. Christopher Levenson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967 (1959; 3rd C. BCE–18th C. CE). [216]
An English translation of a German version of Chinese short stories (rather too short, in fact, to be novellas) in a wide range of styles; as uneven and odd as one would expect.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi et al. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977. [215]
The background book for Flow, which provides some of the earnest academic groundwork for the popular book. Uneven, as the studies had different coauthors, who all had a different sense of how to write and what to emphasize. It was soothing to rest against the comfortable framework of APA style.
Matthew Salesses. Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping. New York: Catapult, 2021. [214]
What does workshop do? Workshop perpetuates workshop. Salesses’s comments on audience and authority are acute, but there is also a sense that a would-be architect has wandered into a program for journeyman plumbers and found it unsatisfying because it did not consider electrical engineering as well. Structures of power are like that. If you want to write, write. If you want to be published, well, that’s something else entirely.
Ellis Peters. The Hermit of Eyton Forest. New York: Mysterious Press, 1988. [213]
Goodness and seeming goodness; different types of treachery, some serving good and some less laudable ends.
Jami Nakamura Lin. The Night Parade: A Speculative Memoir. New York: Mariner Books, 2023. [212]
About writing, folklore, grief, and mental health; perhaps a bit too focused on the process of its composition, which gives it the feeling of a manuscript already well-worn, though it is new.
Jon Fosse. A Shining. trans. Damion Searls. Berkeley, CA: Transit Books, 2023. [211]
‘To Build a Fire’ meets Murakami.
Muriel Spark. Curriculum Vitae. New York: New Directions, 2011 (1992). [210]
Conceals more than it reveals, despite being apparently confessional. Spending an entire chapter (out of seven) on the internecine quibblings of the fissiparous Poetry Society might have been a bit self-indulgent, but where else can one indulge oneself, if not in one’s memoirs?
Rosemary Edghill. Bell, Book, and Murder. New York: Forge, 1998 (1994–1996). [209]
The incidental atmosphere (New York in the 1990s) of more interest than the mysteries. The main character is not, as blurbed, either sassy or sexy, but seems to be an unfortunate bundle of not-quite-cool-girl neuroses; very wave-a-clove-cigarette-around vacation reading.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. [208]
A more intriguing book than the phrase ‘national bestseller’ would lead one to believe; much that has become commonplace (cf. remark in Strawson from the philosophy student who hoped that his ideas might become commonplace).
Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide. New York: Harper, 2008. [207]
Perhaps less amusing than the authors intended; at times the examples they have concocted almost subvert their overarching point, because they were so clearly so much more fun to write than the ‘serious’ text.
Christina Tudor-Sideri. If I Had Not Seen Their Sleeping Faces. Sheffield: Erratum Press, 2023. [206]
Rather builds on Disembodied. A writing exercise.
Galen Strawson. Things That Bother Me. New York: NYRB, 2018. [205]
In one of Aesop’s fables, I think, the sun and the wind see a man in a cloak and compete with each other to see who can make the man take off his cloak. The wind blows hard, but the man just holds the cloak tightly closed; the sun beats down, and the overwarm man takes off the cloak. Anyway. Strawson has a very breezy style.
Henry James. The Spoils of Poynton. edited by Bernard Richards. Oxford: OUP, 1982 (1897, 1908). [204]
‘He wouldn’t be there with a cigarette in his teeth, very handsome and insolently quiet: that was only the way he would be in a novel across whose interesting page some such figure, as she half-closed her eyes, seemed to her to walk’ (p. 37; ch. VI).
Deborah E. Harkness. The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2007. [203]
Interesting and personable history of scientific practices in sixteenth-century London. Academic posturing is often the least successful component of such books; certainly one’s work must be situated, but explicit statement of that situation is limiting (or dating) rather than enlightening.
Lee Seong-bok. Indeterminate Inflorescence: Lectures on Poetry. trans. Anton Hur. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023 (2015). [202]
A charming book in need of more proofreading.
Helen Turston. The Torso. trans. Katarina E. Tucker. New York: Soho Crime, 2006 (2000). [201.d]*
The person who decided that all metric measurements and Celsius temperatures in a fairly commonplace (if entirely improbable) police procedural should be footnoted word problems instead of either (a) being converted to Imperial measurements and Fahrenheit or (b) being left without explanation so people who cared could look them up if they wanted is a person who likes to receive irate letters and/or is entirely lacking in common sense.
Tillie Olsen. Tell Me a Riddle. London: Virago, 1980 (1960, 1961, 1964). [200]
Melancholy and earthy.
Matt Bell. Refuse to Be Done. New York: Soho, 2022. [199]
Some good advice, some absurd advice, but that is the nature of advice.
Helen Turston. Night Rounds. trans. Laura A. Wideburg. New York: Soho Crime, 2012 (1999). [198.d]*
First time I have ever guessed the murderer the first time they are introduced in the text. (I tell a lie, not the absolute first time, but the first time I have read the book anyway.)
Amélie Nothomb. Thirst. trans. Alison Anderson. New York: Europa Editions, 2021 (2019). [197]
A good companion to any reading of apocryphal or gnostic gospels. More humanity and less Barbelo.
Helen Turston. Detective Inspector Huss. trans. Steven T. Murray. New York: Soho Crime, 2003 (1998). [196.d]*
The departmental politics a bit heavy handed, but it could just be the translation.
Aishwarya Iyer. The Grasp of Things: Poems. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023. [195]
‘A book is not a book until / you dismiss / the etymology of your life in it’ (p. 86).


Ursula K. Le Guin. The Wave of the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2004. [194]
A more uneven collection than Dancing at the Edge of the World (or perhaps less tightly focused). She makes acute observations, but sometimes the hokiness of the tone palls (it does not, for example, suit anger that well).
Michael John Franklin. Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi. (Writers of Wales Series.) Cardiff: Univ. Wales Press, 2020. [193]
A good short biography that is a fine corrective to excessive Boswelliana. Her personality may not be fully rendered, but her humanity is.
Ellis Peters. The Rose Rent. New York: Mysterious Press, 1986. [192]
For some reason the sentimentality of this one bugged me, although it could have been irritation with the loose binding of the used copy I was reading.
Richard E. Antaramian. Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire: Armenians and the Politics of Reform in the Ottoman Empire. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2020. [191]
Really fascinating examination of religion and politics in the Armenian community in the nineteenth century unfortunately marred by some of the worst copy editing I have seen in a while (e.g., in a very short paragraph, the phrase ‘In so doing’ should probably not appear more than once and comma period [,.] should be a standard search before sending the file to press).
Ellis Peters. The Raven in the Foregate. New York: Mysterious Press, 1986. [190]
Spoiler (highlight to view): Kind of like Murder on the Orient Express, except no one did it.
Herbert Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man. London: Routledge, 1991 (1964). [189]
‘Prediction becomes prescription; the whole communication has a hypnotic character. At the same time, it is tinged with a false familiarity—the result of constant repetition, and of the skillfully managed popular directness of the communication’ (p. 95).
Michelle Zauner. Crying in H-Mart. New York: Vintage, 2023 (2021). [188]
Better than I thought it would be, and good of its kind. A bit women’s-magazine-ish.
Leah Price. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2012. [187]
An interesting object lesson (re: the book), but the threads holding the argument together were a bit loose and the whole could have been, as it were, rebound.
Andrew Jotischky. A Hermit’s Cookbooks: Monks, Food & Fasting in the Middle Ages. London: Continuum, 2011. [186]
As it sounds. A little unclear about its audience (wanders in the weeds separating creative nonfiction, cookbookery, and Pelican-style popular academic history), but enjoyable for all that.
Eileen Chang. Written on Water. trans. Andrew F. Jones. New York: NYRB Classics, 2023 (1968, 2005). [185]
Belletristic, but full of character. Light reading.
Ellis Peters. An Excellent Mystery. New York: Mysterious Press, 1985. [184]
One of my favorites in the series for no very good reason that I can see.
Christina Sharpe. Ordinary Notes. London: Daunt Books, 2023. [183]
Hard to read. Owes a lot to Barthes’s Mourning Diary (and of course to many other texts as well), but shoves hard against its limitations.
Dan Sinykin. Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2023. [182]*
Essentially a very long tweet-thread on how publishing has changed from 1950 to the early 2000s (the sections on publishing after the 1990s are much weaker, because they have been less well covered elsewhere and thus needed more room than they received; taking the firing of Schiffrin from Pantheon as the starting point was not a bad idea, but providing the ‘necessary’ backstory perhaps was). Gossipy (chatty?) and inclined to the allegorical. Already feels out of date.
David Roberts, ed. Lord Chesterfield’s Letters: Oxford: OUP, 1998 (1728–1772; 1929). [181]
‘Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their ages’ (letter to his son, 22 February [old style] 1748).
Ellis Peters. The Pilgrim of Hate. New York: Mysterious Press, 1984. [180]
It sometimes seems silly to list these separately.
Plato. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo. edited and trans. Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb 36), 2017.[179]
Not logical conversations, but exercises in psychology.
Joan Jacobs Brumberg. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa. New York: Vintage, 2000 (1988). [178]*
Solid history written for a popular audience; captures the annoying aspect of retrospective psychiatric diagnosis of historical figures and deprecates the practice. An interesting contrast with Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession (2023): two different historians looking at the same period see (and emphasize) completely different things.
Elaine Leong. Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England. Chicago, IL: Univ. Chicago Press, 2108. [177]
Vivid and rich; a delightful social history within the defined scope. Excellent targeted bibliography.
Ellis Peters. Dead Man’s Ransom. New York: Mysterious Press, 1984. [176]
Rather too many moving parts – would not work outside of a series, because more information would need to be provided in detail, rather than lightly suggested; neatly reflects the chaotic political situation.
Elinor Lipman. I Can’t Complain. New York: Mariner Books, 2013. [175.d]*
There is something to be said for quiet competence. Comfortably mid-list, middle-brow, or whatever middling adjective you prefer, solidly so.
Christine Baumgarthuber. Why Fast? The Pros and Cons of Restrictive Eating. London: Reaktion Books, 2023. [174]
A bit thin on substance, but a decent (if short) bibliography.


Ellis Peters. The Devil’s Novice. New York: Mysterious Press, 1983. [173]
More of an exploration of psychology and family dynamics than would be expected. Falling a bit into the habits of a series, with the familiar characters becoming sketches rather than fleshed out, but this may be forgiven and is better than the alternative (i.e., the excessive provision of back story and details about figures tangential to the plot).
Lorraine Daston. Rules: A Short History of What We Live By. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2022. [172]
One of the best books I read this year; clearly written, clearly thought, clearly argued, and, if somewhat given to slight overstatements (Cicero might be surprised to hear himself described as a Stoic), a thought-provoking examination of canons, laws, models, paradigms, algorithms, and other such rules and their exceptions.
Osip Mandelstam. Black Earth: Selected Poems and Prose. trans. Peter France. New York: New Directions, 2021 (1913–1937). [171]
Like gently exploring a sore tooth or bruise – interesting and tender.
Mariama Bâ. So Long a Letter. trans. Modupé Bodé-Thomas. Oxford: Heinemann, 1989 (1980, 1981). [170]
Examination of what makes a relationship tick, particularly in the aftermath of loss. The letter aspect perhaps less successful (‘twisting the knife’ in the correspondent’s pain seems improbable for the character, but necessary to explain things to the reader), but an interesting conceit. Utterly foreign, but not romanticized.
Ellis Peters. The Sanctuary Sparrow. New York: Mysterious Press, 1983. [169]
The varieties of (in)justice. The romantic elements handled in the normal fashion, but the requirements of the plot highlighted the falsity of that handling – perhaps intentionally (although probably not).
Ágota Kristóf. The Illiterate. trans. Nina Bogin. New York: New Directions, 2023 (2004, 2016). [168]
On reading, writing, and being a refugee. Pointed.
Lewis Hyde. A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. [167]
The different reasons for holding on to the past – not all (or many) of them are healthy. A book I enjoyed – both form and content.
Ellis Peters. The Virgin in the Ice. New York: Mysterious Press, 1982. [166]
And sometimes one wants to read mysteries about monks.
Margaret Mizushima. Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. 8 vols. New York: Crooked Lane, 2015–2023. [165.d]*
Sometimes one wants to read mysteries about dogs.
Radcliffe G. Edmonds III. Drawing Down the Moon: Magic in the Greco-Roman World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2019. [164]
An editor asked Edmonds to write the book based on a course he had long taught; the course is probably great, but the book contains rather too many of the props and sops needed to wheedle undergraduates through the semester. A lot of good information: would that it had been presented differently!
Sayaka Murata. Convenience Store Woman. trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori. narrated by Nancy Wu. New York: Grove/Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2018 (2016). [163.a]*
Sharp – occasionally to the point of pain.
Ellis Peters. The Leper of Saint Giles. New York: Mysterious Press, 1981. [162]
Got bogged down in a cringey moment halfway through, but managed eventually. Improbabilities and all.
Katherine Angel. Daddy Issues: Love and Hate in the Time of Patriarchy. London: Verso, 2022 (2019). [161.d]*
As it sounds, but with more literary criticism than was perhaps necessary.
Margaret Renkl. Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed editions, 2019. [160.d]*
Framing structures for memoirs – natural history is not a bad one, but it can give too big a picture, even when minutely observed (cf. the overly large field of vision in Gillian Obsorne’s Green Green Green).
Frédéric Dard. Bird in a Cage. trans. David Bellos. London: Pushkin, 2016 (1961). [159]
A slight thing, but doomy. A Christmas story.


Annie-B Parson. The Choreography of Everyday Life. London: Verso, 2022. [158.d]*
Meditations on movement and meaning.
Simon Gathercole, trans. The Apocryphal Gospels. New York: Penguin, 2021. [157]
Has the same off-beat sensibility as most fan-fiction. Oh the aeons.
Jules Renard. The Journal: 1887–1910. edited and trans. Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2008 (1964). [156.d]*
Decent writer’s notebook.
Guglielmo Cavallo and Robert Chartier, eds. A History of Reading in the West. trans. Lydia G. Cochrane. Amherst, MA: Univ. Mass Press, 2003 (1995, 1997, 1999). [155]
Somewhat uneven, but an interesting overview of the topic.
Mark Twain. The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Oxford: OUP, 1996 (1904, 1906). [154]*
‘There are too many stars in some places and not enough in others, but that can be remedied presently, no doubt’ (Eve’s Diary, p. 7).
James Lipton. An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition. New York: Penguin, 1991 (1968, 1973). [153]
Intended to be humorous. Unsuccessful.
Mary Douglas. Natural Symbols. New York: Vintage, 1973 (1970). [152]
I was hoping for more purity and danger and was thus not quite satisfied.
Galen. On Temperaments, etc. trans. Ian Johnston. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb 546), 2020. [151]
A temperamental book (ha!), with good notes but odd translation choices. Not quite as solid as the new Loeb Hippocrates.
Sara Paretsky. Indemnity Only. New York: Random House, 1982. [150.d]*
Have been missing a lot of running days due to bad air quality, so wanted to read a mystery in which the detective goes jogging. It’s the little things, I guess.
J.D. Robb. Payback in Death. New York: Macmillan, 2023. [149.d]*
Meh. Procedural as Dwell advert in need of copy editing.
Elena Ferrante. In the Margins. trans. Ann Goldstein. New York: Europa Editions, 2022 (2023). [148.d]*
Throughout the faint whiff of falseness, except for the final essay, which was very interesting but not marked by any sense of the individual.
Elias Canetti. Notes from Hampstead: The Writer’s Notes, 1954–1971. trans. John Hargraves. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998 (1994). [147]
A jumble of small meanings, diverting and delightful.


Catherine Bell. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford: OUP, 2009 (1992). [146]
Exactly what the title states – which means it is not a book about ritual as such (which is what I thought it was when I first tried to read it ages ago). Live and learn.
Verlyn Klinkenborg. Several Short Sentences about Writing. New York: Vintage, 2012. [145.d]*
Rather annoying, although the critiques of bad sentences were amusing (but unkind). See post.
Akiko Busch. Everything Else Is Bric-a-Brac: Notes on Home. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2022. [144.d]*
Minutely observed and also unobservant. The limits to the field of vision.
Umberto Eco. Serendipities: Language and Lunacy. trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998. [143]
Witty and engaging, learning worn lightly. I was not interested as such, and yet my interest was sustained.
Ursula K. Le Guin. Dancing at the Edge of the World. New York: Grove, 1989. [142]
A very casual tone, easy-going, in a way that would be condescending but somehow manages not to be, although it still does not suggest a very high opinion of the reader – but that’s ok because the tone seems equally dubious about the author. A tone that implies more exclamation points than it uses.
Ellis Peters. St. Peter’s Fair. New York: Mysterious Press, 1981. [141]
Not my favorite in the series, but all of the elements of a Cadfael mystery are present.
C.G. Jung. Synchronicity. trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011 (1952, 1969, 1973, 2010). [140]
‘Synchronicity is no more baffling or mysterious than the discontinuities of physics’ (p. 102). The appendix essay on synchronicity presents the main points/highlights, although the ‘quaternio’ of causality/synchronicity—indestructible energy/space–time was pretty cute – one wonders how Jung would map the humors and/or elements onto that…
Julie McElwain. Ripples in Time. Self-published, 2023. [139]
There is a way of doing historical fiction that makes the past seem real and strange – vivid, alive, and interesting; this is not that type of historical fiction.
James Bridle. New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future. London: Verso, 2019. [138]
In short: ‘Nothing makes sense and everything is wrong’ (p. 227).
Sigmund Freud. Studies in Parapsychology. trans. Alix Strachey, C.J.M. Hubback, and Edward Glover. New York: Collier Books, 1973 (1919, 1922, 1923, 1963). [137]
‘Have I given you the impression that I am secretly inclined to support the reality of telepathy in the occult sense? If so, I should very much regret that it is so difficult to avoid giving such an impression. In reality, however, I am anxious to be strictly impartial. I have every reason to be so, for I have no opinion; I know nothing about it’ (‘Dreams and Telepathy’, p. 88).
Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones. 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2005 (1986). [136]
‘Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make on definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write’ (p. 110). Which is all very well and good, of course, but not particularly helpful.
Jessie L. Kwak. From Chaos to Creativity. Portland, OR: Microcosm, 2019. [135]
A charming guide to organizing one’s time and energy, although one would have wished that the author had more respect for the reader’s ability to remember things from one chapter to the next; as it was intended to allow desultory reading (hopping from section to section), one can perhaps overlook this weakness (while wondering if there might not have been a better way to present some of the cases).
Ellis Peters. Cadfael: 1–3. 3 vols. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (1977–1980). [134.d]*
At once better and worse than I remember them being. More conventionally within their genre, but well done for all that.
Andrew H. Miller. On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2020. [133]
FOMO + YOLO = n ± 1.
Bruce L. Venarde, ed. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Dumbarton Oaks), 2011 (6th C. CE). [132]
Delightfully soothing, with crunchy bits.
Sigmund Freud. Complete Psychological Works, Vol. 14: 1914–1916. edited by James Strachey et al. London: Vintage, 2001 (1914–1916; 1957). [131]
More interesting in the application of his system than in staking it out – that is, better as a literary critic (i.e., a close reading of the psyche) than as a rule maker. Rules are so often unconvincing, because they mark out boundary conditions and so become debatable. A little ambiguity is often in order.
Joseph Monninger. Goodbye to Clocks Ticking. Lebanon, NH: Steerforth Press, 2023. [130.d]*
A book about dying that needed another round (or two or three) of editing (author has not yet died, so that is less callous than it may sound). Of course Riggs’s memoir (#128 below), equally focused on the mundane but somehow managing to be less banal, would be a hard act to follow.
Paul Kingsnorth. Savage Gods. Columbus, OH: Two Dollar Radio, 2019. [129]
Words, stories, and meaning.
Nina Riggs. The Bright Hour. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. [128.d]*
Mentioned in passing in The Sum of Trifles. ‘Whatever you do, don’t rush it. The best parts happen when you have stepped away’ (25%).


Roland Barthes. Mourning Diary. trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010 (2009). [127.d]*
‘Mourning: a cruel country where I am no longer afraid’ (24%).
Ilarie Voronca. The Centaur Tree. trans. Christina Tudor-Sideri. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023. [126]
Oddities and absurdities; whimsical.
Julia Ridley Smith. The Sum of Trifles. Athens, GA: Univ. Georgia Press, 2021. [125]*
Nicely done memoir about clearing out her parents’ house. Very lady-like.
Claire Fanger. Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Biography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk. University Park, PA: Penn. State UP. 2015. [124]
‘If the writing within is important, the writing without cannot be neglected; neither can be valorized at the expense of the other, since meaning is dependent on relation’ (p. 157). On knowledge making and knowledge systems (dare one say, ‘meaning-making’?), with the excitement of a suspense novel.
Rūmī. The Masnavi, Book One. trans. Jawid Mojaddedi. Oxford: OUP, 2008 (ca. 1262, 2004). [123]
Surprisingly funny and quite charming.
Boethius. The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy. trans. H.F. Stewart, E.K. Rand, and S.J. Tester. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 1973. [122]
A melancholy charm, but I could do without the Platonism.
Darian Leader. The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression. London: Penguin, 2008. [121]
Charming and readable account of the limits of medicalization and cognitive behavioral therapy. Plumps strongly for psychoanalytical approaches, but as the author is a psychoanalyst, that is perhaps to be expected. Reminded me, curiously enough, of the Frieda Klein mysteries in tone, though not in drama.
Lauren Slater. Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir. New York: Random House, 2000. [120.d]*
Jesting Pilate would wash his hands of this one – and one would hesitate to consult the author as a therapist.
Mary Ann Lund. A User’s Guide to Melancholy. Cambridge: CUP, 2021. [119]*
A charming, brief introduction for Burton’s Anatomy.
Diana Holman-Hunt. My Grandmothers and I. London: Slightly Foxed, 2018 (1960). [118]
A quaintly funny look at childrearing, class, and art, from a deliciously childish perspective. A masterpiece of elision.
Ann M. Blair. Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2010. [117]
An interesting book, which I am too ignorant to review.
Józef Czechowicz. The Story of the Paper Crown. trans. Frank Garrett. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023 (1923). [116]
Queer. And odd.
Adam Kirsch. The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future without Us. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2023. [115]*
A breezy overview of a somewhat doomy subject.
Ashley Weaver. Electra McDonnell. 3 vol. New York: Minotaur, 2021–2023. [114.d]*
C.G. Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. edited by Aniela Jaffé. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1973 (1961). [113]
A peculiar person, who made use of the image of the mystic to mystify. About a good a memoir as one is likely to encounter – not for its incidents, but for its presentation of character. Does not suffer from a problem common to memoir of seeming partial; it presents the whole of a part.
Henry Miller. The Book of Conversations with David Edgar. edited by Michael Paduano. Seattle: Sublunary Editions, 2023 (1937). [112]
Warmed milk for the lactose intolerant, or letters to a young neurotic.
Lawrence Durrell. Esprit de Corps: Sketches from Diplomatic Life. London: Faber, 1957. [111]
Would pair well with Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. It’s been a while since I laughed so much at a book.
David Kishik. Self-Study: Notes on the Schizoid Condition. Berlin: ICI Press, 2023. [110]
Pathological philosophizing – or solipsism, it’s not quite clear which. See post.
Ysenda Maxtone Graham. Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939–1979. London: Slightly Foxed, 2016. [109]
A rather charming, Studs Terkel–ish account that is useful background for anyone reading mid-twentieth-century British fiction of a certain sort.


Shinsuke Hosokawa. Zen Wisdom for the Anxious: Simple Advice from a Zen Buddhist Monk. trans. Makiko Itoh. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2020 (2018). [108.d]*
I think I have exceeded the maximum dosage of Zen for the month. Maybe for the year. Cute, but kind of made my teeth hurt.
Kevin Kelly. Excellent Advice for Living. New York: Viking, 2023. [107.d]
I am sucker for advice and aphorisms. This delivered both, although nothing out of the common way. Also a chance to revisit an old interview.
Philippe Delerm. Second Star and Other Reasons for Lingering. trans. Jody Gladding. New York: Archipelago, 2022 (2015, 2019). [106.d]*
Productive of ambivalence.
Aristotle Athenian Constitution; Eudemian Ethics; Virtues and Vices. trans. H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 1935. [105]
While ChatGPT tends to divide things into four, Aristotle sticks threes, which feels more satisfying if equally arbitrary. I have reached the age, however, at which I can no longer read Aristotle on an empty stomach. Make of that what you will.
Alfred Douglas. The Tarot: The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. [104]
Your standard Jungian interpretation; deeply earnest and accordingly silly.
Alan Watts. The Wisdom of Insecurity. New York: Vintage, 2011 (1951). [103.d]*
Another example of midcentury mindfulness. Faddish but not necessarily wrong; best taken in very small doses at very long intervals, unless it’s your thing. (It is not, as you could perhaps guess, my thing.)
David Cole Gordon. Overcoming the Fear of Death. Baltimore, MD: Penguin/Pelican, 1972 (1970). [102]
An impulse purchase at the Goodwill because the title was amusing. Not a particularly sophisticated book; the author also wrote a book on masturbation (also published by Pelican under the title Self-love), which somehow does not come as a surprise. ‘Deaths for all ages and occasions!’
Lynn Casteel Harper. On Vanishing: Mortality, Dementia, and What It Means to Disappear. New York: Catapult, 2020. [101.d]*
The chapters remain essays, rather than cohering into a larger whole, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sort of like Eula Biss’s On Immunity, but for Alzheimer’s. ‘I see the consolation in imagining blankness for them—especially if the alternative is torment. If we envision the person as either moving toward emptiness or anguish, vacancy will win out every time as the more human vision’ (Ch. 4, 42%).
David E. Cartwright. Schopenhauer. A Biography. Cambridge: CUP, 2010. [100]
Schopenhauer is in the unhappy position of not being the hero of his own life (in which his mother probably takes the starring role). The book as a whole was sadly riddled with typos, from wildly inconsistent spelling of names to the use of beta (β) instead of the Eszett (ß); one can only imagine what it looked like before the copyeditor got to it.
Barbara J. King. How Animals Grieve. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2013. [99]*
What it says on the tin. The intended audience not wholly clear to me, as the descriptions of the ‘cases’ lack a certain level of detail one would expect from a book published by a university press, but it is charming enough for what it is.


Karen Joy Fowler. The Jane Austen Book Club. New York: Plume, 2007 (2004). [98]
‘There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author’s back was turned, to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face’ (p. 171).
Michael Frame. The Geometry of Grief. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2021. [97]
Not as elegant as I was expecting, but somehow more solid. Aware of its own limitations, which many books (and people) are not.
Susan Griffin. Out of Silence, Sound. Out of Nothing, Something. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2023. [96.d]*
Writerly advice, with the virtue of brevity. Commonplaces mostly, including the recommendations, but not wrong for all that.
Kristofor Minta. A Perfectly Ruined Solitude. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023. [95]
‘No one could have imagined / the end would be so beautiful, / so minimal and swift’ (p. 53).
Ludwig Feuerbach. The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings. trans. Zawar Hanfi. London: Verso, 2012 (1822–52; 1972). [94]
Always somehow youthful – he does not get beyond himself; restless, but without the Kierkegaardian giddiness.
Dorothy Cannell. The Thin Woman. New York: Bantam, 1992 (1984). [93.d]*
Characterization and dialogue are difficult, and they remain effortful here.
Paul Potter, trans. Hippocrates, Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 2022. [92]
The new Loeb Hippocrates is well worth the time. The Epidemics, particularly the cases, were quite interesting, and Nutriment was nearly Zen (things are both good and not good, etc.). I think I’ll always have a fondness for his precepts and aphorisms, but that is probably a matter of form rather than content.
Kati Hiekkapelto. The Hummingbird. trans. David Hackston. New York: Arcadia Books, 2014. [91.d]*
Diverting, but not much more. Less than the sum of its parts.
Shunryu Suzuki. Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. edited by Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger. Berkeley, CA: Univ. California Press, 1999. [90.d]*
‘Not only Buddha, but Confucius also said, “If you someone wants to fool you, you should be fooled by them.” That is very important’ (p. 172).
Susan Howe. Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives. New York: New Directions, 2014. [89]
A pretty little book.
Saglar Bougdaeva, trans. Jangar: The Heroic Epic of the Kalmyk Nomads. Berkeley, CA: Univ. California Press, 2022. [88]
What could have been interesting in the collection of epic narratives is somewhat diluted by a peculiarly unheroic diction, as in the following example: ‘If you appreciate the cute roundness / Of the baby camel poop…’ (p. 40). I think it will suffice to say that I … do not.
Esther Kinsky. Rombo. trans. Caroline Schmidt. New York: New York Review Books, 2022. [87]
Structurally perilous, but ties together in the end.
Martha Cooley. Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss. New York: Catapult, 2017. [86.d]*
‘Truth is, my reading life has never been very susceptible to other people’s urgings’ (ch. 11).
Rachel Pollack. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. rev. ed. Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books, 2019. [85]
Interesting enough, but could have done with further revision (particularly in the proofing stage, as the text occasionally referred to images that were no longer arranged in the same way, and some of the names cited were jumbled).
Emilie Pine. Notes to Self. New York: Dial Press, 2019. [84.d]*
‘Things we are afraid to say, the things we are ashamed of, or embarrassed by, these are not after all, the things that isolate us. These are the things that connect us’ (‘Author’s note’). Forceful.
Lynne Tillman. Mothercare: On Obligation, Love, Death, And Ambivalence. New York: Soft Skull, 2022. [83.d]*
‘Being rational is dumb when challenging the irrational – nothing convinces. It’s especially unreasonable to attempt to enforce rationality on someone who has lost some of her power to reason’ (39%).
Liz Tichenor. The Night Lake. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2021. [82.d]*
The parts about running interested me the most, and there was one sermon-like part about a pilgrimage in Japan, and seeing the lights of other pilgrims climbing the dark path before dawn, that was exquisite; much of the book, though, felt like the author making the reader her therapist. A book perhaps more for the author than the reader.
Marina Benjamin. Insomnia. New York: Catapult, 2018. [81.d]*
‘The mise-en-scène of morning starts to resemble the scene of a crime. All that is lacking is the body shape outlined on the floor: the missing body, wakeful when it should be sleeping’ (approx. 8% of the way through). More interesting than Samantha Harvey but less artful/self-conscious/what-have-you.
Pyae Moe Thet War. You’ve Changed: Fake Accents, Feminism, and Other Comedies from Myanmar. New York: Catapult, 2022. [80.d]*
Light, personable – ‘fresh’ is the adjective that keeps springing to mind, and as such, the essays do not bear much weight – although they hint at it and perhaps might grow into something that could.


Samantha Harvey. The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping. New York: Grove, 2020. [79.d]*
When I read Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth, its category (fiction or nonfiction) was not initially clear to me (and still in a way remains opaque), and this book had rather the same effect. In any case, it’s true enough (an assessment that can be applied to both novel and memoir), though with parts (probably the most verifiable, the most ‘true’) that ring false.
A.V. Marraccini. We the Parasites. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2023. [78]
Logorrheic criticism, clever without being charming, the arrogance an imperfect mask for insecurity, feral. These sound like faults, but they are virtues.
Dara Horn. People Love Dead Jews. narrated by Xe Sands. New York: Norton/Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2021. [77.a]*
Not wrong as such (and certainly there is a danger that any response would have the acrid savor of ‘all lives matter’), but unsatisfying – a bit too much for the Atlantic Monthly set.
René Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy. trans. George Heffernan. Notre Dame, IN: Univ. Notre Dame Press, 1990 (1640). [76]
Makes some pretty big assumptions; the old clockwork of the res cogitans could use some fine-tuning.
Simone de Beauvoir. The Ethics of Ambiguity. trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: Open Road, 2018 (1946). [75]
Arguing for the importance of tension and balance (incertitude, ambiguity) in a way that presses for a firmness of conviction at odds with that tension and balance. An irritating, self-defeating book.
Victoria Laurie. Abby Cooper: Psychic Eye. 16 vols. New York: Berkley, 2009–2017. [74.d]*
In a minivan style that is an odd vehicle for the level of violence. Basic in an unappealing way. (Then why did you read sixteen volumes, if it’s so terrible? Schadenfreude. And boredom.)
Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. edited by Trudy Dixon. New York: Weatherhill, 1980 (1970). [73]
‘Do you understand? You cannot find Buddha nature by vivisection. Reality cannot be caught by thinking or feeling mind. Moment after moment to watch you breathing, to watch your posture, is true nature. There is no secret beyond this point’ (pp. 134f.).
Patricia Wentworth. Nothing Venture. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (1932). [72.d]*
‘One’s first instinct in a strange room is to see what lies beyond it’ (ch. 16).
Rex Stout. Fer-de-Lance. New York: Bantam Books, 1992 (1934). [71.d]*
‘That is not your mind speaking, it’s the foam of churned feelings and has no meaning’ (ch. 7).
Mabel Seeley. The Chuckling Fingers. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2021 (1941). [70.d]*
A rather unhealthy, summer camp–type atmosphere. Less charming (and interesting and … plausible?) than The Listening House (which was also pretty implausible, truth be told, but wore its breeziness well).
Thomas Attig. How We Grieve: Relearning the World. rev. ed. Oxford: OUP, 2011 (1996). [69]*
In a way more interested in the author’s idea of grieving than in grieving itself. Although he complains of the dryness of scholarly work on grieving, an appendix with supporting dry statistics would have been welcome/given a stronger underpinning to the spiel.
Mabel Seeley. The Listening House. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2021 (1938). [68.d]*
‘It’s bad enough having another amateur find a murderer you’ve been hunting yourself, without having it pointed out to you that you should have jolly well known it all along’ (ch. 25).
Connie Berry. Kate Hamilton. 4 vols. New York: Crooked Lane, 2019–2022. [67.d]*
Like one of those cutout paper theaters, charmingly detailed, but ultimately flat.
Sadeq Hedayat. Blind Owl. trans. Sassan Tabatabai. New York: Penguin, 2022 (1936). [66.d]*
‘The need to write had become an obsession, a duty – I wanted to expel the demon that had been raking at my entrails for so long. I wanted to broadcast my bravery by putting it down on paper’ (section 3).
Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Sabbath. Ne wYork: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 (1951). [65]
‘Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared and rarely cheered’ (p. 20).


René Girard. The Scapegoat. trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986 (1982). [64]
Close(d) readings. The scapegoat and the pet Paraclete, scapegraces and Gerasenes, and everywhere the specter of violence and desire.
Minsoo Kang, trans. The Story of Hong Gildong. New York: Penguin, 2016 (16th–19th C.?). [63.d]*
More magic (leaping into whirlwinds, etc.) than one expects from a Robin Hood–type narrative, but somehow less enchanting. Entitlement (even thwarted) is seldom appealing.
Casper ter Kuile. The Power of Ritual. New York: HarperOne, 2020 [62.d]*
An advertisement for wellness, I suppose. Irritating in the way things intended to be soothing or ‘inspiring’ often are.
Galen. On the Natural Faculties. trans. Arthur John Brock. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 1916. [61]
‘For, to imagine that dropsy is never caused by the spleen or any other part, but always by induration of the liver, is the standpoint of a man whose intelligence is perfectly torpid and who is quite out of touch with things that happen every day’ (II.viii.109).
Oliver Sacks. Migraine: Evolution of a Common Disorder [abridged]. Berkeley, CA: Univ. California Press, 1973. [60]
‘There is only one cardinal rule: one must always listen to the patient. For if migraine patients have a common and legitimate second complaint besides their migraines, it is that they have not been listened to by physicians. Looked at, investigated, drugged, charged: but not listened to’ (p. 185).
Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone: A–E. New York: Bantam, 1982–1988. [59.d]*
The small struggles of finding out trivial details without access to the internet. ‘There’s nothing like an outsider’s idle glance to make you conscious of your own environment’ (B Is for…, p. 186).
Cristina Rivera Garza. Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice. New York: Hogarth, 2023. [58.d]*
A book that tries to make sense of something senseless – so it should not come as a surprise that it doesn’t succeed.
Kerry Greenwood. The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions. Naperville, IL: Poisoned Penn, 2022 (2007, 2021, 2022). [57.d]*
Sometimes one’s attention span can only manage short stories.
John W. James and Russell Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York: William Morrow, 2009. [56]
For people who need to pencil grief into their busy schedules.
Dan Morhaim and Shelley Morhaim. Preparing for a Better End: Expert Lessons on Death and Dying for You and Your Loved Ones. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2020. [55.d]*
‘Death, of course, is the cohort to which we all will eventually belong’ (ch. 10).
Kerry Greenwood. Cocaine Blues. Naperville, IL: Poisoned Pen, 2019 (1989). [54.d]*
Tidy, agreeable fluff.
W.S. Hett, trans. Aristotle: Minor Works. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 1936. [53]
A surprisingly interesting assortment of topics, raising questions that still do not, I think, have good answers (if, indeed, answers are to be had).
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. On Grief & Grieving. New York: Scribner, 2014 (2005). [52]
The ‘stages’ get only a cursory glance at the beginning, the star delivering (with some boredom) a crowd favorite; the rest maintains a certain weariness of tone, as though the subject were not interesting, but necessary.
Sara Paretsky. V.I. Warshawski. vols. 1–9. New York: Random House, 1982–1999. [51.d]*
I had liked to imagine a version of Don Quixote in which a woman of middle age acted on her reading of hard-boiled detective fiction; this is not quite that, but close.
Claire Bidwell Smith. Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. New York: Da Capo, 2018. [50.d]*
Less rage-filled than, e.g., It’s OK That You’re Not OK. The inclusion of ‘case studies’ in therapeutic writing gets a little old – although the experience of grief, anxiety, etc., is not unique (one is not the only sufferer), it is also not comparable. The uneasy balance of letting the reader know they are not alone while also not diminishing what they are feeling.
Elly Griffiths. Harbinder Kaur. vols. 1–2. New York: Mariner Books, 2019, 2021. [49.d]*
I was going to read the third (most recent one) and then log them, but the hold time for the library dragged on and on and I lost interest.
Diogenes Laertius. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. trans. Pamela Mensch; ed. James Miller. Oxford: OUP, 2020 (ca. 2nd C. CE, 2018). [48]
The cover features Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ and that choice is rather indicative of the overall approach. Notes do not assume one is reading the text as a whole, and the repetition, while practical for use as selections, is less illuminating for the thru-reader. The recommended reading is useful and appropriate and will irritate later readers when it is out of date. Diogenes Laertius always makes me cranky, though.


W.H.S. Jones, trans. Hippocrates, Vol. 4; Heracleitus, On the Universe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 1931. [47]
‘Many admire, few know. Men come to the market-place and do the same things; men deceive when they buy and sell. He who has deceived most is admired’ (Regimen I.24).
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Gessler. Life Lessons. New York: Scribner, 2003 (2000). [46]
Mostly watered down stoicism, with illustrative cases.
S.D. Chrostowska. Matches. Santa Barbara, CA: Punctum Books, 2019 (2015). [45]
‘A healthy relationship of man and book is when they argue and move on’ (p. 523).
Andri Snær Magnason. On Time and Water. trans. Lytton Smith. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2022 (2019, 2021). [44]
A rather melancholy book that tries to be hopeful. Includes an awful lot of airplane travel for a book on climate change.
Amy Wright Glenn. Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2017. [43.d]*
Might take the ‘linking sentence’ concept a bit too far.
Elly Griffiths. The Crossing Places. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. [42.d]*
Occasionally atmospheric.
Tami Hoag. Oak Knoll. 3 vols. New York: Penguin, 2009–2011. [41.d]*
Diversion. Unable to concentrate on the books I packed for a trip; random mysteries from the library to the rescue.
Charles Portis. Masters of Atlantis. New York: Overlook, 2021 (1985, 2000). [40]
Middle American. Sinclair Lewis with more wit (or wit enough not to beat the reader about the head with a moral), or a sunnier Waugh.
Richard Ovenden. Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge. narrated by Simon Slater. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP/Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2020. [39.a]*
A rather long fundraising pamphlet from Bodley’s librarian. Primarily Eurocentric, but particularly interesting in the chapters where it begins a tentative grappling with the legacies of colonialism. Odd that China and Russia do not appear at all – but one writes what one knows.
Meister Eckhart. Selected Writings. trans. Oliver Davis. New York: Penguin, 1994 (13th/14th C). [38]
The pleasures and perils of close reading, although that might just be an artifact of conventions of the sermon as a genre.
Søren Kierkegaard. Repetition/Philosophical Crumbs. trans. M.G. Piety. Oxford: OUP, 2009 (1843/1844). [37]
‘Pamphlet-writing is a flighty endeavour – but to promise a system, that is seriousness, and it has made many a man into a serious man, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of others’ (p. 172).
James Joyce. Exiles. edited by Keri Walsh. Oxford: OUP, 2021 (1915). [36]
‘While you have a thing it can be taken from you’ (p.33). I was deeply afraid that I was going to like and/or admire this. Thankfully, I did not.
Johanna Mo. The Shadow Lily. trans. Alice Menzies. New York: Penguin, 2022 (2021). [35.d]*
A series linking book, like an episode in a television serial that one watches not because it is in itself satisfying, but because it provides details that might inform the pay-off in a later episode – or because one has nothing better to do.
Johanna Mo. The Night Singer. trans. Alice Menzies. New York: Penguin, 2021 (2020). [34.d]*
A promising beginning, I suppose, but everything remained somewhat remote, distanced. The sense of psychological damage is difficult to convey.
Shirley Jackson. Life Among the Savages. New York: Penguin, 2015 (1948–1953, 1997). [33.d]*
It is astonishing that she sustained the same desperate pitch for more than two hundred pages. It does not necessitate a gothic reading, but it also does not preclude one.
Steve Leder. The Beauty of What Remains. New York: Avery, 2021. [32.d]*
About as cheerful and uplifting as one would expect.
Jazmina Barrera. Linea Nigra. trans. Christina MacSweeney. San Francisco, CA: Two Lines Press, 2022 (2020). [31.d]*
‘I’m always thinking about writing essays; that is to say, experimentation without any commitment to a particular subject, without a climax, a plot, or a predetermined length’ (part 1).
Jean Paul. Two Stories. trans. Alexander Booth & Matthew Spencer. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2023 (1801, 1814). [30]
Flights of fancy. Whimsical.
Sigrid Nunez. The Friend. narrated by Hillary Huber. New York: Riverhead/Penguin Audio, 2018. [29.a]*
Tell me nothing bad happens to the dog.
Christina Tudor-Sideri. Disembodied. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2022. [28]
Repetition, implication, memory – a stream of fragments, and the falling rain.
André Laks, Glenn W. Most, et al., ed. and trans. Early Greek Philosophy III: Early Ionian Thinkers Part 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 2016 (ca. a rather long time ago). [27]
Early Greek philosophers were clearly asking the important questions: ‘For he himself [sc. Xenophones] says that god is a body, whether he means by that this totality or something else; for if he were bodiless, how could he be spherical?’ (R14, from Ps-Aristotle). More seriously, an interesting volume centered on two weird thinkers – Xenophanes and Heraclitus. Again, the editorial choices (ponderous cross-references, exhaustive [exhausting] anthologies of reception, peculiar numbering conventions) suggest that the intended reader of this volume is probably not the ‘common reader’; the introductory volume, although intended to prepare the reader for this, really does not adequately convey its extent. (This is recreational complaining, because I am reading this book while half asleep in the morning: these are doubtless points that would not trouble more alert readers.)
Jessa Crispin. My Three Dads: Patriarchy on the Great Plains. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2022. [26]
Somewhat irritable book on violence and lack of solidarity. Doesn’t quite tie together – a bit too much of the unthought, the unsaid. Implications and insinuations, but little that is solid. Chaotic neutral.
Anna DeForest. A History of Present Illness. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2022. [25.d]*
‘And I thought of something I’d read somewhere: The world was made from nothing, and the nothingness shows through. But that’s not what I told her’ (from ‘Complicated Grief’). Not cold or clinical but not warm, either. Almost alchemical, a sort of ouroboros, in which the ‘present-absent with swift motion slide’.


Tarjei Vesaas. The Hills Reply. trans. Elizabeth Rokkan. New York: Archipelago, 2019 (1968; trans. 1971, as The Boat in the Evening). [24.d]*
Swaying from a less humorous Beckettian bleakness to the prim precision of the ‘national’ literature. Dark, spare. ‘The things one says usually seem to be left lying about on the floor like a pair of lopsided shoes – while the things one wanted to say feel like birds in flight’ (from ‘Words, Words’).
Sylvia Townsend Warner. Lolly Willowes. New York: NYRB Classics, 1999 (1926). [23]
An excellent example of the relative weights of narrative time.
Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011 (1956, 1958). [22.d]*
‘Sinners have a very keen eye for false virtues and a very exacting idea of what virtue should be in a good man’ (Section 1, ch. iv).
Sigrid Nunez. What Are You Going Through. narrated by Hillary Huber. New York: Riverhead/Penguin Audio, 2020. [21.a]*
‘Those writers who believe that the way they write is more important than whatever they may write about, these are the only writers I want to read any more, the only ones who can lift me up’ (part 3, chapter 1; punctuation a guess based on the reader’s pauses).
Yiyun Li. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. New York: Random House, 2010. [20.d]*
On the tensions of imbalanced desire (not always romantic/sexual). ‘They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness’ (end of title story).
André Laks, Glenn W. Most, et al., ed. and trans. Early Greek Philosophy II: Beginnings and Early Ionian Thinkers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb), 2016 (ca. a rather long time ago). [19]
A useful collection of material, with an editorial structure that makes the US government look efficient: it is possible to try to do too much (tho’ thinking about it, it does seem to lean on Diogenes Laertius for organizational principles, which… well, it’s a choice).
Epictetus. The Complete Works: Handbook, Discourses & Fragments. trans. Robin Waterfield. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2022 (2nd C. CE). [18]
‘You’re a pathetic little soul sustaining a corpse, as Epictetus used to say’ (Fragment 26, p. 364).
Epictetus. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook. trans. Robin Hard. Oxford: OUP, 2014 (2nd C. CE). [17]
‘You’re a little soul carrying a corpse around, as Epictetus used to say’ (Fragment 26, p. 286).
Marvin W. Meyer, trans. The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage, 1986 (ca. 2nd–5th C. CE; 1984). [16]
‘The Secret Book of John’ is deeply weird, and the other three are rather dull.
Leslie A. Marchand, ed. ‘Alas! the Love of Women!’: Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 3, 1813–1814. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1974. [15]
‘I wish I could settle to reading again,—my life is monotonous, and yet desultory. I take up books, and fling them down again’ (p. 209; journal entry Nov. 17, 1813).
Joanna Walsh. Worlds from the Word’s End. London: And Other Stories, 2017. [14]*
Uncanny and a bit mechanical.
Emma Reyes. The Book of Emma Reyes. trans. Daniel Alarcón. New York: Penguin, 2017 (2012). [13.d]*
Powerful presentation of narrative voice from a child’s perspective, telling a very dark story. One of the better random library finds.
Sylvia Molloy. Dislocations. trans. Jennifer Croft. Edinburgh: Charco Press, 2022 (2010). [12.d]*
‘When talking to her I feel – or I felt – connected to a past that is not entirely illusory. And with a place: that of before. Now I find myself speaking in a void: there is no longer a home, no longer a before. Only an echo chamber’ (p. 78).
James Runcie. Tell Me Good Things. London: Bloomsbury, 2022. [11.d]*
‘I have a theory that crime writing has displaced religion in the West to become the secular space in which we address our deepest fears and anxieties’ (p. 218).
Christian Wiman. He Held Radical Light. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. [10]*
The problem with most writers of a theological bent (whom I have read) is that they tend not to be able to communicate the ‘oceanic feeling’ – they’ve heard that it exists, they fully believe in it, but they tend not to be able to transfer that impression (faith? feeling?) to the reader. It comes across as a remembered view from a drawing room window, with the curtains mostly drawn. Doubt tends to be more interesting, more persuasive, because one hears the roar of the boundless.
D. Vance Smith. Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2020. [9]
A surprisingly light and amusing look at a rather dark topic. Enlivened by the whimsies of medieval logic (one cannot talk of the dead because they do not exist, because they are dead, so how does one talk about them?). Also: ‘Prose is the language that lies beyond the world, where being is uncontaminated by unperfected forms; it is a reminder of the desire for form and the hope of its disclosure. Yet prose is where the stuttering conversation with the earth becomes pure language’ (p. 218).
Gwendoline Riley. My Phantoms. narrated by Hannah Curtis. New York: NYRB/Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2022. [8.a]*
Unhappy people behaving badly. The reader is supposed, perhaps, to be as haunted as the narrator, but structural weaknesses (mostly false-ringing images) make the narrative unpleasantly crumbly – although that could be intentional. Ernaux might be a better guide to the same territory.
Can Xue. Mystery Train. trans. Natascha Bruce. Seattle: Sublunary, 2022 (2016). [7]
A distressing chronicle of the unhappy journey from alienation to dystopia (one that also invites descriptors such as ‘hallucinatory’ or ‘phantasmagoric’).
Marion Woodman. The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Repressed Feminine. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1980. [6]
Think what you like about Jungian analysis, it does give an interesting framework for thinking about psychological distress.
Perhat Tursun. The Backstreets: A Novel from Xinjiang. trans. Darren Byler and Anonymous. New York: Columbia UP, 2022 (2015). [5]*
Captures the dreariness of being an outsider; hallucinatory and horrible. Well worth reading.
Erich Fromm. To Have or To Be? New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (1976). [4.d]*
Perhaps five pages of ideas lightly spread throughout a two hundred page book; they are not bad ideas (and his proposed solutions are not entirely wrong-headed), but the book as a whole is not particularly tight: ‘Among other facts, this suggests that literacy is by no means the blessing it is advertised to be, especially when people use it merely to read material that impoverishes their capacity to experience and to imagine’ (Part II, section 2: Remembering). Might appeal, in a way, to fans of Byung-Chul Han, although Fromm is at once more humane and more patronizing.
Daniela Cascella. Chimeras. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2022. [3]
An odd book, not so much a conversation as an imagined polyphony. Reminded me, curiously, of Andrei Rublev, but I think that is mostly the recurring bell.
Marit Kapla. Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village. trans. Peter Graves. London: Penguin, 2021 (2019). [2]
A portrait of village over time, in the tradition of Akenfield (1969) or Studs Terkel; charming in its omission of filler text linking the interviews together or providing additional description. The layout, while giving the words of the respondents weight, also made the book physically much larger than it needed to be.
Marie-Louise von Franz. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto: Inner City Books, 2019 (1959, 1980). [1]
A set of nine lectures on alchemical texts and their symbolism, with an emphasis on the potential application for Jungian psychoanalysis. Delightful and strange.

(last revised: 21 January 2024)

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