in the hundreds

Standard

When 2017 began I set out to read 26 books. I thought this was ambitious because I had essentially abandoned reading for most of the previous ten years. It must have been sometime in the spring, after topping well over 100 books, that I realized I would certainly read a record number of books (record for me, that is). I didn’t consciously set out until later in the year to finish 365 books but crossed that threshold in early-mid December, meaning that I did in the end get to read somewhere between 393 and 400 books (Goodreads, which I used to keep track of the reading, was a bit fidgety and unreliable in recording dates).

I’m a bit stunned by having read so much – feeling some of the material branded on my brain permanently, fresh in my mind since early in the year, while some things were almost forgettable. But it was, as I told a former colleague, enriching. It might not be the greatest accomplishment of the year, and it is certainly the quietest, but it gave each day a new meaning, a fresh story, a new palette on which language was painted in wholly different ways, and of course made, as Firewall likes to say, every day into a school day. In a good way, of course.

I was asked to select my favorite from among these books, but this is impossible. I read from such a wide breadth of topics and disciplines, from literary and scientific materials from around the world, that it could not even be done to say that one single book stood above the others. But among those that I loved, those that I didn’t want to end, those that I learned the most from, those that confounded or stayed with me the longest – making me turn my thoughts to them again and again – here is the rough list in no particular order:

*Advice for a Young Investigator – Santiago Ramón y Cajal

*The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Was not sure I would include this because I had mixed feelings, although by the end I was convinced/moved.

*The Master Butchers Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
Another one I was not sure I would include. I read most of Erdrich’s books this year and most were middle of the road, but this one stood out for some reason.

*The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon
I read a bunch of Chabon and just like his style (even though it can be quite different in all his writing) and could recommend anything he has written, but this was somehow… the one I liked most.

*Time and Materials – Robert Hass
Poetry, which is not for everyone. This was superlative

*Edwin Morgan: Collected Poems – Edwin Morgan
More poetry; discovered Glaswegian Edwin Morgan this year and loved

*Reality is Not What It Seems: The Elusive Structure of the Universe and the Journey to Quantum Gravity – Carlo Rovelli

*Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

*Go, Went, Gone – Jenny Erpenbeck
Possibly overlooked by many; reminds me slightly of the film The Visitor. Deals with refugee crisis/asylum seekers in Germany with some interesting looks back at how things changed when Germany reunified

*Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
An old one I should have read ages ago but only got around to now. Enjoyed the hilarious absurdity

*The Noonday Demon – Andrew Solomon
A long book on depression – not sure why I started reading it but it was engrossing

*Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins – Peter S Ungar
Part of my obsession with teeth this year

*Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
A surprising and moving book

*If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
A strange one – but the complexity of Calvino’s style makes me want to read everything he writes (he is listed again later/below)

*Broken April – Ismail Kadare
Albanian book that deals with the Kanun/blood feuds, etc.

*Secondhand Time: An Oral history of the Fall of the Soviet Union – Svetlana Alexievich

*The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
Surprising – not sure why this book (fiction, Italian) stuck with me – perhaps the descriptions of how people fool others and themselves living a version of themselves that cannot possibly be true

*Pretty much anything by Naomi Klein, of which I read all – very timely and important

*A General Theory of Oblivion – Jose Eduardo Agualusa
An unusual one from Angola

*Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
An interesting one from Congo

*The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Probably one of my very favorite ones this year

*A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Engrossing – just when you think things cannot get worse or more heartbreaking, they do. As my colleague put it “emotional porn” – a form of blackmail

*The Revolution of Everyday Life – Raoul Vaneigem
Abstract-ish philosophy but somehow resonated when I read it

*All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Fiction

*Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
Fiction from the guy who brought us the TV version of Fargo

*The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
A book on cancer – not uplifting but fascinating

*Karaoke Culture – Dubravka Ugresic
Because I pretty much love all of Ugresic’s observational essay work

*Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America – Mary Otto
More teeth!

*Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
More Calvino, whom I have quoted to death this year

*Pretty much any poetry book of works by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer

*The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa
This is one that kept me thinking all year long and to which I will return repeatedly

*A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America – Bruce Cannon Gibney
Brewing the Baby Boomer hate…

*The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
Another of my favorite works of fiction this year

2018…

My goal, again, is to read 26 books. The trick this time, though, is that none of them can be in English. I can read books in English, but they won’t count toward the goal.

distractions

Standard

Very much like the current political environment. Plans, reports, chaos, non-presidential circus all distractions to keep us from seeing what really happens (until it’s too late).

Plans, Reports
Adam Zagajewski

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 11.47.59.png

Words are not life… but are small objects

Standard

I posted the poem “Futility” from Macedonian Ante Popovski before. It springs to mind now because I was thinking about pens. But, as Popovski notes, “you cannot write on your soul with a pen…

While I could not immediately conjure up another poem specifically referencing a pen/pens, I could, of course, count on Adam Zagajewski to supply one filled with “small objects” and citing “illegible script”. We can imagine the pen and its ink, intimate, singular and aged.

Small Objects
-Adam Zagajewski
My contemporaries like small objects,
dried starfish that have forgotten the sea,
melancholy stopped clocks, postcards
sent from vanished cities,
and blackened with illegible script,
in which they discern words
like “yearning,” “illness,” or “the end.”
They marvel at dormant volcanoes.
They don’t desire light.

know thyself

Standard

Selecting poems to share as National Poetry Month starts to wind down, I also came across a note from a phantom from the past – someone who was startlingly insensitive in the ‘heyday’ of our acquaintance but occasionally comes up with something both sweet and thought-provoking now.

On relationships/sharing space and time with someone: “I think it’s more about understanding the necessity of being able to share and sustain the vital moment-to-moment microbial details with someone, which has nothing to do with the legendary impacts of romantic impressions that soon become questionable – perhaps not finding this in someone is where your ‘incapable’ lies presently. After all, your details are lovely – slow, patient and kind – whether you recognise it or not. One of those sayings that has given me access to a different perspective has been floating over me lately, ‘Above all else, know thyself’.”

And who will guide us back to friendship with and knowing of ourselves? …

 

Impossible Friendships
By Adam Zagajewski

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.

Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden

porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.

A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.

Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).

The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.

Faces flashing by
in local trains—

the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.

And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.

lucid moment

Standard

…Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
Adam Zagajewski

Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
Let the radiant thought last in stillness
though the page is almost filled and the flame flickers
We haven’t risen yet to the level of ourselves
Knowledge grows slowly like a wisdom tooth
The stature of a man is still notched
high up on a white door
From far off, the joyful voice of a trumpet
and of a song rolled up like a cat
What passes doesn’t fall into a void
A stoker is still feeding coal into the fire
Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
On a hard dry substance
you have to engrave the truth

Nature in balance

Standard

Balance
Adam Zagajewski

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labyrinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

Photo (c) 2017 William Wolfe (down the street from home!)

Random Gum: April Fools – April Skies 2017

Standard

Random Gum – April Fools – April Skies – Q2-2017

The banditry of collecting music continued all winter and into spring. It was a strange time, a collection of moments, lasting no longer than that.

Moment
Adam Zagajewski
Clear moments are so short.
There is much darkness. More
ocean than firm land. More
shadow than form.

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

(Almost) complete track listing available on Spotify (as are all previous Random Gum mixes by accessing my Spotify profile). You can access all the past track listings, etc. here.

01 Ghada ShbeirToubayk’iidto
Such a beautiful, haunting start from Chants Syriaques album

02 Victoria WilliamsPoetry …Be sweet, be free, every day is poetry…
Introduced by William, who put this on a cassette mix 20+ years ago; I lost my copy of the CD & this was kind of a bitch to find because it exists seemingly nowhere (or very few places) digitally. Needed again as every day for me is poetry.

03 The Spencer Davis Group – Waltz for Lumumba
Finally read a book on Congo I’d been trying to get to for years. The chaos. Thoughts of Zaki ❤️.

04 His Clancyness – Pale Fear …sometimes I feel like a failure…

05 Tashaki Miyaki – Girls on T.V. …I’ll be the girl you made up in your head…
“I didn’t hear a word you said/But I love Kurt Cobain” Huh? Mention 1 of Kurt Cobain…

06 Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White – Grease
It’s like being a kid all over again only … updated

07 Television – 1880 or So
It’s always in the 80s – the French Revolution; Congo, Dunlop & his rubber tires; Tiananmen Square. SD❤️

08 VorderhausCatacombs …Have I the right to want you/Have I the right to love you?…
Listening loud on repeat ❤️: “Have I the right to want you, to say I love when I don’t see you?” Danke, ML

09 Lijadu Sisters – Life’s Gone Down Low …but it’s not too late for you and me if we hurry…
Can you resist Nigerian identical twin sisters doing tunes like this?

10 King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Billabong Valley …Outlaws on the run/Faster than a stolen gun…
Prolific Melbourne band – can only think of Jane❤️ when Melbourne comes up

11 Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee …We’re Sisyphus pushing his boulder/the kids are all right but the kids’ll get older…
Only thanks to MP that I gave this a fair shake. Glad I did, eventually. Took a while.

12 The Breeders – No Aloha …Motherhood means mental freeze…
And goodbye, aloha, (no) thank you.

13 Broken Social Scene – Handjobs for the Holidays …It kinda takes the joy away, we don’t come at all…
“We’ve got eyes that leave us in places we don’t see”

14 Lovers – Igloos for Ojos
“Your breath is a voice, wet purring/A kiss on the mouth’s like an elegy/when you slide down next to me and say, ‘By morning this will just feel like a dream’/Your eyes are some cold home”

15 Jealous of the Birds – Tonight I Feel Like Kafka …And it scares me to think that nobody/Looks at me that way…
How did I end up with two songs that mention Kurt Cobain so prominently?

16 Amanda BergmanQuestions …I can find in my way baby knowing that this will be over too…
Still an Andreas ❤️recommendation that pays off again and again

17 Mega Bog – London

18 LUST – Mémoire
I love how the sound starts to melt, like relationships or events that devolve and dissolve into nothingness

19 Loose Meat, CibelleDaisy Chain

20 Omni – Wire …I’m nameless on hour twenty-four…
“You don’t get tired/As far as I can see/I’ve lost my sense of time & debut/I don’t require more than you could be”

21 Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched …You’re so cold master, where do I begin?…
Thanks MP

22 Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Macho …Elle en a marre des machos/des machos ringards/des machos clichés/des macho men…
One from Helsinki’s favorite tram driver.

23 Blond Ambition – Shasta

24 Pictish Trail – After Life
Scotland, of course

25 Yasmine Hamdan – La Ba’den
Can’t resist a bit of Yasmine

26 Fabienne DelSol – I’m Gonna Haunt You …So softly I remind you/Of the ways you let me down…

27 Malcolm Middleton – Ballad of Fuck All …Oh I’m locked inside/Trapped inside this body/I can’t get out, and there’s not enough room/I’m glued to the back of this bone mask…
“Oh won’t you come for me/Comfort me in the night/I’m so tired of feeling sick and tired/Dying at life’s door all the time”. More Scotland. Who would I be without that particular overdose?

28 Scott Hirsch – Loss of Forgetfulness
Modern music with sounds from another time (sneaking suspicion that this is why Spotify started recommending Gram Parsons to me suddenly)…

29 Alexandra Savior – Shades …I’m always happy to be leaving/could be the company I’m keeping…
“Shouldn’t have come back/shouldn’t have switched it on at all/didn’t mean to hold you so close/but you know how it goes”

30 Fairuz – Salimleh Alayh
No words to say about the incomparable Fairuz

31 Mark Kozelek – Float On …and we’ll all float on okay…
“I backed my car into cop car the other day…” Somehow vaguely reminded me of the “African Arm taxi driver” story from ❤️Martina and Anthony❤️

32 Wire – Outdoor Miner …No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes/Can only help to jeopardize/The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries…

33 Chris Spedding – Video Life
“Meet myself on the action replay/Hope I get there right on time”

34 Angel Olsen – Woman …With no promise of the future/Am I not allowed/To think kindly of a stranger/Who reflects the sound/Of my heartache/As it’s beating/My life to the ground…
“You can leave now if you want to/I’ll still be around/This parade is almost over/And I’m still your clown”

35 Chromatics – Shadow …Can you hear me?…

36 Lambchop – When You Were Mine
A Prince cover; still seems strange that he’s dead

37 She Drew the Gun – Since You Were Not Mine …and to my lips too cold to speak/of a love just out of reach…
“Time refused to pass/though sand filled up the glass/each grain became the last/suggestion of our past”

38 The Yearning – When I Lost You
“But the world doesn’t know how I feel now you/Are out of my life, now you’re gone”

39 Elena Frolova  (Елена Фролова) – Mezhdu voskresnyem i subbotoy (Между воскресеньем и субботой)

40 Dougie PooleLess Young but as Dumb …Could you see that I haven’t learned a thing?…
“Cause I can see you now/Though I’m not sure I can handle the sight/The arms of a stranger, the light in your eyes/That’s making me wonder if I’m on your mind/See?/I’m less young but as dumb as the day that you left me”

41 Ulrika Spacek – There’s a Little Passing Cloud in You

42 Ruby Haunt – Crave
This song explains it all. It’s March, and I depart the station, heartbroken. “Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”

43 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Bout des doigts
❤️❤️❤️

44 California Snow StoryRailway Station
Bring on more Scotland

45 The Besnard Lakes – Albatross …Oh you showed me so much/Those days are now long gone…
“And I have to admit/Things got weird for a bit/And I scream for you/There goes my man…”

46 Lisa O’Neill – England Has My Man …England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know/I’m feeling bold with ideas of us…
“Now I am calmer than ever before/He opened the grand can of beautiful worms/I waive my fears and I face the chance/No one got near when we first danced”

47 Dean Blunt – 100 …But we keep it going on/Feelings coming on/But the bullshit got too long, yeah…

48 Soft Hair – Lying Has to Stop …Our lives they never seem to coincide/But if it’s all right with you/I try to focus on another life…
For Jane❤️, with her infectious laugh and tantalizingly soft hair

49 Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore

50 The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood …I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

51 Makthaverskan – Antabus
Yeah, it’s Antabus, not Antiabus! For SD❤️. Go on with your bad self, Göteborg music (even if some of it’s happening in Berlin)

52 BeverlyBulldozer …Cat is a machine pushing the rocks around/Bulldozer sleeping, dreaming up buildings…
For Annette❤️, loving human bulldozer, and her little Norm❤️ and his obsession with earth-moving machines

53 Ten Fé – Twist Your Arm
“And I give you love unconditionally/I give you love, what do you give me/I give you love, so I don’t understand/Why I gotta twist your arm/To hold your hand”

54 Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up

55 The Holy – Ramses the Evil Brother
Finns from Funland!

56 Wild Nothing – To Know You …This is the circle that we live in/These are the people that we’ve been…
“So you gave a quiet light/My one chance at order/I won’t toss your way aside/For any corner of the world”

57 The Smoking Trees – Home in the Morning

58 Twin Peaks – I Don’t Wanna Miss You
“I could talk a girl right out of her clothes/I could talk myself into kissing your ghost/but you’re always on my mind”

59 Swim Mountain – Yesterday …Nothing could make us last this long/I wouldn’t have done it for anyone/Leaning forward to hear you say/ ‘I only wanted you yesterday.’…
“You said I live in my head/Never listen to the things you said/’Cause in love there’s always one/One who suffers and one who’s done”

60 Bill Patton – Alchemy …History tells us you don’t want to be native/but you don’t want to leave home either…
Seattle ❤. “If I make it to the fountain of youth/I will come home ridiculous and bearing syphilis/Travelling back in time has never been my strong suit/It’s just taken up all my time”

61 Ibrahim Maalouf – Will Soon Be a Woman (live at Babylon Istanbul)
The sound, movement, moment of the crowd carries you away

62 Ted Hawkins – The Lost Ones …We are the lost ones/seeking help from you…

63 Shallou – Motion Picture Soundtrack …I will see you in the next life…
“Stop sending letters/Letters always get burned/It’s not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies” (Radiohead)

64 Emel – Ensen Dhaif

65 Molly Burch – Try …Wouldn’t it be so nice if we felt the same/I wish you would try…

66 Frida Hyvönen – Amors förkastliga pilar
“Om jag mot förmodan blir kär igen/då ska jag inte agera/Bara andas väldigt lugnt/å låta det passera”. Tack så mycket, Andreas ❤️

67 The Dø – A Mess Like This …Are you a curse?/From bad to worse/Our affair/Helpless as I’m/Trying to react/You were the worst idea I ever had…
“Sometimes I wonder how I landed in a mess like this…”. Always thanking Bruno for the intro to The Dø

68 Allison CrutchfieldMile Away …Self-congratulatory mess/Yeah, you keep sleeping good at night/’Cause you’re inherently right…
“You’re acquaintances on a loaded train/You were spared rejection and it’s a dangerous thing/So you wake up confident every single day/You retire your own decency, you exonerate/And you’re blaring ‘Nebraska’ while she tortures you from a mile away, mile away”

69 Brigid Mae Power – Sometimes …Sometimes I just want to collapse into you, you/But I don’t know if you want me to/Or, if I should?…
“Shouldn’t I be okay out here on my own?/Living in my little home? No needs from others, doing it all by myself”. God, this makes me ridiculously sad.

70 Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now …I fell for that light, shame on you/You’ve got this idea, I can be fooled/Again with the light shame on me…
There is only now. “If you’re not here to help/Go find some other life to ruin”

71 Elvis CostelloRadio Silence …he’ll tell you anything you want to hear…
“Libraries filled up with failed ideas/There’s nothing more for me there/I trust in tender ink and gentle airs”

72 Jesus & Mary Chain – April Skies

Photo (c) 2016 Anders Sandberg used under Creative Commons license.