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March 04, 2021


Always an avid reader, but I have found that the exigencies of the past year did something to my concentration. I turned to the novella, short story and essay forms instead of the "good long read" I formerly enjoyed. Now, 800+ pages feels like a chore. And I embraced audio books! A first for me. Maybe it's something about more "friends", more voices.

Twice in the past year, I visited a new (English language) bookstore on Duluth, État de Style, which strictly enforces the rules. Two weeks ago I was the only person in there besides the owner, which felt very safe but broke my heart. When you get your jab, I hope you will go to enjoy the space and support this beautiful, brave venture.

Although I've been a faithful reader since I learned to read, this year has given me more time for reading than I've had since childhood. Your title for this blog post reminded me of something my mother said when she was a small child, "Books is my friends. I will stick by their sides until I die." A few months before she died unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 78, she gave me a copy of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie, for my 44th birthday. When she died, an unfinished copy of the Satanic Verses was at her bedside. I've yet to read her copy of The Satanic Verses, but I have read the story of Haroun numerous times since then -- once again in the past few weeks.

I've saved your book list and want to recommended There There, by Tommy Orange, which is a novel which connects 12 people from diverse Native communities in the U.S.


Thanks for commenting, Duchesse. I'm glad you've been able to read this year, since many people say they can't. For me, the absorption of long books was what I needed but I know that's not for everyone. It's great that there's a new bookstore on Duluth and I'm looking forward to going over there to support her as soon as I can! The recent story about Welch's bookstore in the Mile End is disheartening: if we want these places to continue we have to support them.

Thanks, Ella, I appreciate the Tommy Orange recommendation very much, and loved hearing the story about your mother. I haven't read the Satanic Verses yet either, but want to, and now I think I'll always connect it with this story. You must like the Haroun book a lot -- and I will look for this as well. Thanks for writing and affirming this connection to books through our mothers.

The human condition is quite a thing!

And thanks for sharing these thoughts, Beth, always a pleasure to consider them.

I was reading at four and have never stopped. Reading is a great pleasure and my main source of intellectual stimulation. I had a period during this last year where I found it difficult to concentrate on reading. Thankfully I’ve pulled through and am back to my normal self. I would second the Tommy Orange recommendation and would add any Louise Erdrich book and Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah. That last one is set fewer than a hundred miles from where I grew up.

I share your love of the Greek playwrights since reading my first—Agamemnon—my freshman year of college. I’ve enjoyed Madeline Miller’s recent retelling of the stories of Achilles and Circe. Another fabulous retelling is Christa Wolf’s Medea. Like you, I’ve also been reading anti-racism. Right now it’s Isabelle Wilkerson’s Caste. A powerful book; I think it should be required reading for US citizens. It’s serious and sobering. I love it so far. It’s such a pleasure to read your thoughts on reading. My love to you.

One of the penalties of old age is an inability to handle heavy books for long stretches. I look up at David Lean's almost cuboid autobiography (which is also bigger than most in two dimensions alone) which I read four or five years ago and wonder whether I could manage it now.

And how many biographies of the same person is one inclined to read? Years, perhaps decades, ago I read Sherry's three-volume biog of Graham Greene and reckoned I knew everything I needed to know about that flitting, evasive character. For Christmas VR bought me Richard Greene's biog of GG with the curt explanation: "It was well-reviewed".

It deserved to be. A living yet detailed tableau emerges and I'm happily coping with the kilograms.

As to that dusty, less-visited attic that is the thinking part of my brain I am dipping into Louise Gluck; Poems 1962 - 2012, thanking the Nobel Prize committee for bringing her to my attention. Here is the poet I would aspire to be, a sort of refined Auden, if I dared to aspire. There's 634 pages, fortunately bound as a paperback.

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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.