Of a Vanished Kingdom
Put your face to the wind
For I do not know when again
We have too little time left to forget.
We cannot rely on forgetting.
The wind pasted an old newspaper to the olive tree.
Put your face.
Once we stood together
As a symbol of a vanished kingdom:
wild beasts, banners, and obsolete weapons
In one bundle, tied with a band of soothing words
In an ancient language.
A phrase from the prayerbook of history
In your voice a tune still remains
of Talmudic students.
“Do you love me?”
If we don’t remain together, we won’t remain at all.
Let alone live.
How Much Time
I remember the rain,
But I have forgotten things
The rain covered years ago.
My gaze is lifted
Like an airplane between control tower
And open spaces of abandonment and oblivion.
A foreign country covers
my face with its waters
I am a sad general of streaming water.
Cambridge. Closed door of a friend’s house:
How much time must pass
For such spiderwebs to take shape,
How much time?
I Will Have to Begin
I will have to begin to remember you
When someone else begins to discover you, the inside
Of your soft thighs above the stockings and when you laugh,
Developing the first pictures for his future dreams.
And I will have to forget you.
When someone else begins to remember you
When some other elses begin to discover you.
And my life is empty like a flower when they plucked
All its petals: yes, no, yes, no, yes.
And to be alone is to be in a place
Where we were never together, and to be alone is
To forget you are like this: to want to pay for two
In a bus and travel alone.
Now I shall cover the mirror like your pictures
And lie down to sleep. The birds of the sky will eat
The flesh of my sleep. The dogs will lick
My blood inside. You won’t see a thing outside.
I Have Dead PeopleI have dead people, buried in the air.
I have a bereaved mother while I’m still alive.
I am like a place
At war with time.
Once, the green color rejoiced
Near your face in the window.
Only in my dreams
Do I still love hard.
A stewardess told us to extinguish all smoking materials
And did not detail, cigarette, cigar, or pipe.
I answered her in my heart: You have beautiful love material,
And I did not detail either.
And she told me to buckle up, bind myself
To the chair, and I answered:
I want all the buckles in my life to have the shape of your mouth.
And she said: You want coffee now or later,
Or never. And she passed by me
Tall to the sky.
The small scar at the top of her arm
Testified that she will never be touched by smallpox
And her eyes testified that she’ll never fall in love again:
She belongs to the conservative party
Of lovers of one great love in their life.
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
*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
*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
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.