Status of the universe: It’s complicated


Current reads:

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu
Helen and Trojan Women by Euripides
The Poems of Hesiod, translated by Barry B. Powell

Current thoughts:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my first response to the first line of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey: “Tell me about a complicated man.” Relief. It was a feeling similar to when you have a word on the tip of your tongue but can’t recall it. It’s maddening. For a second, you think you have it, but it slips away. And then someone says it. They give you the word, and now you can relax. Continue reading “Status of the universe: It’s complicated”

Reading wrap-up: May reads and purchases

May reads

Well, our May reads are in the history books. Or at least in our Goodreads “read” file. I can hardly believe how quickly this year is flying by!

All of the books I read this month related either to the Gilmore Girls reading challenge we’re doing at Books, Ink or my personal project to read classical literature and books inspired by it. Only two of the six books I read this month were part of my existing library. But I’m making allowances for the Gilmore Girls challenge.

May reads

Continue reading “Reading wrap-up: May reads and purchases”

The unabridged list of books I read in September

My September book tally isn't a long list. But the books I read were varied and highly satisfying, though in very different ways. And now, on to October!

img_3169Looking at my September book tally makes me realize just how quickly the month flew by and how busy I was. All this is to say: I didn’t find nearly as much time for reading as I would have preferred.

No matter, though. A successful reading month (or year) isn’t measured by how many books I read. It’s measured by the quality of my reading experiences. At least, that’s what I keep reminding myself! In that sense, September was an excellent month of reading.


(* asterisk indicates a Read My Own Damn Books title)

Once again, I came so very close to achieving my goal of having at least half the books I read each month come from my own shelves. This month, I was two for five.

The Nix by Nathan Hill (library e-book)

I devoured this sprawling, empathetic novel in one weekend and then spent a week thinking about and rereading parts of it. The story revolves around Samuel, a grudging college professor and struggling writer, and his mother, who walked out on Samuel and his father when he was a boy. It weaves in and out of the past and of various characters’ points of view. It embraces paradox and has a meta-narrative aspect. It’s trenchant social and political commentary. It’s funny and heartbreaking and deeply felt.

The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith (e-book)

The 10th book in the 44 Scotland Street series finds Bertie in a very happy place. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it for readers who enjoy gentle, philosophical novels about characters and the relationships among them. It’s not plot-driven but very much about community and place and reflection. I can’t wait for the next one, The Bertie Project!

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick (e-book) *

I love books about books. This one is a collection of essays about the YA books Skurnick and her contributors read as teens. Many of the titles were familiar to me, but I also discovered intriguing new books to add to my to-read list (as if it needs more titles!). The essays are fun, in part because the writers clearly enjoy writing them. The best part, though, is how respectfully these YA books are approached. They’re treated as worthy of consideration and discussion, which of course they are, especially to readers who grew up with them!

The Odyssey by Homer (e-book) *

Ah, reading an ancient epic can be so grounding. On his journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, Odysseus faces monsters and sirens, loss and despair. He is forced to make difficult choices. The home he remembers is not the place that he left. More trials await him upon returning. I loved being immersed in a world that felt so familiar and strange, at the same time. It’s a powerful read. I recommend reading it after The Iliad (Stephen Mitchell’s translation is wonderful!) since the two are so closely linked thematically.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (paperback)

Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the story describes traditions and ways of life through the story of Okonkwo. Strong and prideful, he wants to achieve status and respect in his village in a way his own father did not. This leads both to successes and tragedies. His story is individual and collective, narrative and metaphoric. Reading the novel, I was struck by the beauty of the language, which felt so essential in crafting the sense of a lost, inaccessible world. It is poetic, highly descriptive, and often emotionally removed, which reminded me of other warrior epics I’ve read over the last year – Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney and The Iliad as translated by Stephen Mitchell. In Things Fall Apart, as in Beowulf and The Iliad, emotional intensity is heightened for being so rare. In all three, it felt like the characters were swept up in powerful currents they could not take a hand in shaping. Through it all, dignity remains, even after all else is lost. Continue reading “The unabridged list of books I read in September”

Wednesday reading roundup: September 28

The highlight of this week's reading: I finished Homer's The Odyssey.

The theme of this week's reading adventures seems to be "adventures in classic literature." For next week, a nice list of contemporary novels.This week’s reading adventures have been classic (pun intended). I dedicated myself to The Odyssey this week and finally moved it to the read column. And I started The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

For the weekly inspiration of WWW Wednesday, many thanks again to Taking on a World of Words for hosting it and to Coffee and Cats for introducing me to it.

What are you currently reading?

For once, my current read corresponds with the book I said I would read next: Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. I began reading it despite suspecting very little actual mirth will be involved. Two chapters in, my prediction is holding up, though obviously I’ve a long journey to the other end of the book.

Her prose sort of grabs you by the throat. I meant to read a few sentences to feel out the story. But after reading the first paragraph, I found I couldn’t stop until I reached the end of the chapter.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Odyssey by Homer. As I mentioned last week, I settled into Robert Fagles’ translation. The more I think about it, the more I see how his version gave me the same dual experience as Stephen Mitchell’s The Iliad: The contemporary-ish writing style cast into relief the inaccessibility of the story’s world. I found that push-and-pull humbling, a thought-provoking reminder of how we can know but not know. Continue reading “Wednesday reading roundup: September 28”

Wednesday reading roundup: September 21

My Wednesday reading roundup: My odyssey with The Odyssey is almost over. I finished Shelf Discovery. And now I'm wondering what to read next, as usual.

My Wednesday reading roundup: My odyssey with The Odyssey is almost over. I finished Shelf Discovery. And now I'm wondering what to read next, as usual.Yesterday, I mentioned to my love the title of a book I wanted to read. His response: “If it’s a book, assume we already own it.” Ha. Ha. “What if it’s a new release?” I replied. He came back with, “You probably pre-ordered it. We probably already have two copies.” Ah, he knows me so well.

My thanks to Taking on a World of Words for the weekly inspiration of WWW Wednesday and to Coffee and Cats for introducing me to it!

What are you currently reading? Continue reading “Wednesday reading roundup: September 21”

Homer’s The Odyssey: How I chose which translation to read

Homer's The Odyssey: How I chose which translation to read
Homer's The Odyssey: How I chose which translation to read
Though I did eventually choose to stick with Fagles’ on my Nook, my paperback copy of Fitzgerald was beach friendly.

Note: I wrote this before the publication of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. My thoughts on it are here.

“You know what the ancients said…”

Growing up, I heard this phrase more times than I can count. The “ancients” referred to the ancient Greek philosophers, poets, playwrights, etc. I don’t know if this is true in all Greek families, but in mine, ancient wisdom was standard fare.

One bit I remember my dad repeating (and he still has to remind me from time to time): Πάν μέτρον Άριστον. Everything in moderation. First he’d say it in Greek, then in English. It’s an important message, so it bears repeating! I’ve also seen the Greek phrase translate to “Moderation in all things.” The basic idea is the same: Maintain a sense of proportion in life. It’s a pretty excellent motto, really. (We could you some of that these days, yes?)

Getting to the implied question in my title (finally): When I first began reading The Odyssey, I shuttled between Robert Fitzgerald’s translation and Robert Fagles’. I couldn’t decide which I preferred and often found myself rereading chapters to figure it out. As you can imagine … time consuming! The Odyssey was becoming an odyssey. Know what I mean? Continue reading “Homer’s The Odyssey: How I chose which translation to read”

Wednesday Reading Roundup: September 14

Two weeks, two great novels: The Nix by Nathan Hill and The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

Two weeks, two great novels: The Nix by Nathan Hill and The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall SmithWhen I last updated my reading activity, I was roaring through Nathan Hill’s The Nix. The image of Scotty comes to mind: “I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain!” (Confession: I actually had to Google that Star Trek reference). I plowed through the novel and then regretted doing so because it ended too soon. And we’re talking about a 620 page book!

As always, thanks to Taking on a World of Words for the weekly inspiration of WWW Wednesday and to Coffee and Cats for introducing me to it!

What are you currently reading? Continue reading “Wednesday Reading Roundup: September 14”

5 books I bought in 2015 and will be reading in 2016

If you happened to visit the Internet last month, you may have noticed: December featured bags and bags and overflowing bags of “best of 2015” book pieces. And why not? It’s entirely reasonable, at the end of the year, to take stock, and if this stock-taking culminates in 3,592,743* “Best Books of 2015” articles, well, that just means the world is populated by truckloads – I’m talking huge convoys of eighteen-wheelers – of readers, doesn’t it?

As for me, I’ve been known to make a “best of” list now and again. This year, however, I’m trying something new, in part inspired by a hashtag I saw on Instagram, though it apparently originated on Twitter: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. The brilliant idea behind this hashtag is, you know, read your own books, meaning the books you already own and that, thus, already populate your bookshelves (virtual or otherwise, one presumes). As it happens, I have quite a few of these (ahem). Continue reading “5 books I bought in 2015 and will be reading in 2016”