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December 29, 2020


The Overstory Richard Powers
Disappearing Earth Julia Philips

Thanks, Sharyn! I've been wanting to read "Overstory" for a while now, but don't know the other book.

On FB, Elsa writes: "you need to add narsume sōseki to your japanese author list - read The gate recently and it is magical."

Curious to talk with you about Asymmetry and Olive Kitteridge...

Easier reading than usual. More time to read without interruption, coupled with a sense of having no time to finish books that didn't engage me in a good way. Going to my bookshelves and re-reading parts of or all of numerous well-loved books was a joy.

Thank you so much for your list. So many good suggestions for reading in the coming year and reminders of books to re-read. A few years ago, Kitchen by Banana Yamamoto appeared on the free book shelf of the mailroom of the condominiums where I live. Fascinating how books that need to be read come when needed. Beloved was one that I started many many times at the suggestion of a college English professor in the early 1980s and finally read all the way through exactly when I needed to hear its message in the 1990s. Beloved is among the best books I have read in a lifetime of reading, along with other books by Toni Morrison.

The few books I bought this year are at the top of the list, next are the books I read which came from our public library and that list could be accessed easily through my library account. The remainder of the books were those on my bookshelves that I re-read completely and those that appeared at random on the free book shelf or on neighborhood free book stands. The last two were gifts.


Crossing the Sea: Poems by Rachel Barenblatt.
Deepwater Terminal: Poems by Morelle Smith.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman.
We Are Not Here To Be Bystanders, by Linda Sarsour.
The Heights of Machu Picchu, Pablo Neruda (Spanish side-by-side with English translation. A used copy from a Goodwill store. I'm in the process of learning Spanish on Duolingo. Studying Spanish takes up some of my reading time!)



Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, by Cone, Williams and Droker.

How to Be An Antiracist
by Kendi, Ibram X.

We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy
by Cummings, Elijah

The Islamic Jesus
How the King of the Jews Became A Prophet of the Muslims
by Akyol, Mustafa

The Mountains Sing
A Novel
by Nguyẽ̂n, Phan Qué̂ Mai

Horse Crazy
The Story of A Woman and A World in Love With An Animal
by Nir, Sarah Maslin

Little Boy
by Ferlinghetti, Lawrence

From the Childrens Library:

Two Friends
Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
by Robbins, Dean

Cat Heaven
by Rylant, Cynthia


Free books that appeared at random this year:

One God Clapping, by Alan Lew
Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy (re-read)
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo


Re-reads from my bookshelves:

Turtle Island, by Gary Snyder
The Upanishads, translated by Eknath Easwaren
The Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaren
The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaren
A Winter Walk, by Tolbert McCarroll



The Risk of the Cross, by Arthur Laffin

Return From Tomorrow, by George G. Ritchie

Currently on hold at the public library (via recommendations by blog friends)

A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky
The World of Octavia E. Butler
by George, Lynell

The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
by May, Katherine

This year I went five weeks without reading, which I suspect is the longest time since my teenage years. But in the end the number of books I read was about the same, compressed into the second half of the year.

Here is the full list: https://timesflowstemmed.com/2020-books-read/

Some important discoveries for me this year: Hans Blumenberg, Georges Didi-Huberman, Ricardo Piglia
Rediscoveries: Gerald Murnane, Jenny Erpenbeck

Best wishes for the new year.

Dear Beth,

Thank you, as always, for sharing your reading year with us. I keep half an eye on my choices for anything too embarrassing on my list (but often fail). I'm glad you are enjoying ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ as it's an astonishing book: full of passion, energy and profundity, despite also being a potboiler. I tried to read ‘The Idiot’ in February but couldn't stick with it. And sorry to hear you didn't click with ‘To the Lighthouse’ as it's one of my favourites. Woolf's run of that, ‘Mrs Dalloway,’ and ‘The Waves’ is one of the great literary achievements. ‘The Voyage Out’ is hard work though, as first novels can be, and I only read it as a completist; it's definitely the weakest of her books. I have never been able to get to grips with ‘Mani’ or ‘Roumeli’ but have read most of PLF's other books, and in April was surprised by how much pleasure I got from his short novel ‘The Violins of Saint-Jacques’. ‘A Time to Keep Silence’ is set in Catholic monasteries, I think, Benedictine and Trappist, not Orthodox, although it has been a while since I last read it?

My year was divided into three sections: pre-pandemic (reading on the train while commuting), post-pandemic (no idea), and post-dog (an unexpected arrival in June, which led to early morning reading and walks). The highlights were those 'difficult' books that require commitment but provide the most rewards: 'Little, Big', 'Dark, Salt, Clear', 'Emperor', and 'Under the Volcano'. The last in particular was profound, and taught me far more about the human condition than any number of the more obviously 'spiritual' books on the list (stand up Rowan's William's publishers, who shoe-horned various talks into these two books, not altogether successfully!). I suppose that's what great art does in any form, speaking to the core of our shared experience. ‘Set Me on Fire’ is a wonderfully individual poetry anthology, casting its net wide and freely. And on a practical level Rangan Chatterjee's books have made some concrete changes to my habits; I think he is one of the good ones.

For next year I have a reading list as long as my arm already, but aim to find a thread to guide me through.

Best wishes, and a Happy New Year to you and Jonathan,

‘The Rise of the Ultrarunners’, Adharanand Finn
‘How to do Nothing’, Jenny Odell
‘Why Running Matters’, Ian Mortimer
‘Surprised by Joy’, C. S. Lewis
‘Feel Better in 5’, Rangan Chatterjee
‘Stories of Your Life and Others’, Ted Chiang
‘Set Me on Fire’, Ella Risbridger
‘Buddha’s Office’, Dan Zigmond
‘Little, Big’, John Crowley
‘Luminaries’, Rowan Williams
‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, Jonathan Haidt
‘The World My Wilderness’, Rose Macaulay
‘Dinner with Edward’, Isabel Vincent
‘The Way of St Benedict’, Rowan Williams
‘The Code’, Jocko Willink
‘The Violins of Saint-Jacques’, Patrick Leigh Fermor
‘How to Connect with Nature’, Tristan Gooley
‘The Sabbath’, Abraham Joshua Heschel
‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, Rachel Joyce
‘Meridian’, Nancy Gaffield
‘Running with Sherman’, Christopher McDougall
‘An Indifference of Birds’, Richard Smyth
‘Deck Shoes’, Anthony Wilson
‘Emperor’, Colin Thubron
‘Why We Drive’, Matthew Crawford
‘There is No God and He is Always With You’, Brad Warner
‘The Stress Solution’, Rangan Chaterjee
‘Mr Palomar’, Italo Calvino
‘Dark, Salt, Clear’, Lamorna Ash
‘Station Eleven’, Emily St. John Mandel
‘In Praise of Wasting Time’, Alan Lightman
‘The New Corner Office’, Laura Vanderkam
‘Inside of a Dog’, Alexandra Horowitz
‘The Compelled’, Adam Roberts & François Schuiten (illus.)
‘The Gutenberg Elegies’, Sven Birkerts
‘Alignment Matters’, Katy Bowman
‘Intimations’, Zadie Smith
‘Under the Volcano’, Malcolm Lowry
‘Breaking Bread with the Dead’, Alan Jacobs
‘On Chapel Sands’, Laura Cumming
‘Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?’, Alex Hutchinson
‘You People’, Nikita Lalwani
‘The Last of the Light’, Peter Davidson
‘My Tech-Wise Life’, Amy Crouch
‘The Gospels’ (ESV)
‘Everything is Spiritual’, Rob Bell

Two more comments:
1) Excellent to see Anthony reappear, and read both his end-of-year list and a new post on 'Time's Flow Stemmed'. Thank you!
2) It was the first time I'd ever read the Gospels straight through, here in the ESV Reader's Edition that has no verse numbering, and came to regard them in a different way. I can't really articulate how, but it was something about sensing the story as a whole rather than concentrating on individual verses and sections as we so often do, either in study or to justify a position we hold.

Again Beth thanks for your list. Eclectic and interesting as always as.I am a fan of the life and writings of Patrick leigh Fermor and I see you read " A time of Silence" a book I enjoyed.I think I have given David Foster Wallace's booklet "This is water" as a gift. Later I learned reading Mary Karr that on the breakup of their short relationship,Wallace was weird,stalker like,and weird to Karr's son.Its discouraging to discover writers I like or want to like with feet of clay.
A strange year for reading.One of my kids recommended Amor Towles "A gentleman of Moscow" which I liked well enough to get and read his "Rules Of Civility" which I liked as well. Last Christmas my son gave me "The Brothers Karamazov" which I tried to read in University so long ago. Its on the mantle close by and I will get to it.
Every year reading your list I promise myself to better note what I read but I never do so I am confused sometimes whether I read this book this year or last. This problem may be compounded my always buying more books than I can possibly read.
I ended the year strong with Wade Davis's "Magdalena" and I am dipping into Isabel
Wilkerson's "Caste". With nonfiction I think its okay to dip.Davis's book some might find hard going.Not me as I am a Wade Davis fan,his Everest book is I think a stunning accomplishment.I also liked Eric Larsen's "The Splendid and the Vile". And liked George Packer's doorstopper "Our Man" about Richard Holbrooke. Some of my books are on Vancouver Island which I haven't been to for a while because of Covid and I need to see them to remember what I read.I did this summer start Barry Lopez's "Solitude" thinking I'll leave it there and come back to it next time which turned out to be who knows when that will be.Poignant for me as Lopez was a writer and person I admired who died the other week of prostate cancer.
Those are some that come to mind. But,and I am a little defensive about it, I binge read some stuff. in other years I read all the dysfunctional depressed Nordic detectives, so Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankel,all of them plus the Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason. This year I Found Nick Petrie's Peter Ash series,there are 5 of them,Mark Greaney's The Gray Man series,10 of them I think and Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X series, 8 of them I am pretty sure. Most,if not all read this year.Almost all of thme pleasant escapist fare.I blame Covid.I came across a couple of Al Furst's books I hadn't read in MacLeod Books in Vancouver this year. his books set in pre,or just the start of WW2 Europe are all great.

My reading has been limited this year, partly due to pandemic brain fog and partly due to social media brain fog (a state of learned short attention span due to too much scrolling through social media).

Regarding DF Wallace, I always chuckle a bit when people say they are preparing to tackle "Infinite Jest." I haven't touched it and don't plan to; I'm rather convinced the entire thing is a prank foisted upon the reading public by Wallace, and the title is recursive, that the infinite jest in question is the book itself and how people keep needing to attempt reading it. (I have never heard anyone say anything positive about the book other than "I finished it," which of course is not about the book itself but about the reader having read it.)

I should specify that the above is 100% unenlightened opinion. Also, I should say that I have greatly enjoyed -- even been blown away by -- his essays, but have never been able to get into his fiction. The few times I've tried I've had this weird reaction whereby I feel like I'm reading a DFW essay, except I know he just made it up so it feels fake and wrong. I know how ridiculous that is, but it's at a gut level, so it's hard to adjust.

I've remembered three books I read but somehow didn't put on the list:

Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk
Normal People, Sally Rooney
Pond, Claire Louise Bennett

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.