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Saturday, April 8, 2017
What’s on the Nightstand?
Even with cloud-white snowdrops and sunshiny winter aconite showing their beautiful cheery heads near the piles of last fall’s dead leaves, I find time for reading. After the yard work, of course--after all, as a friend remarked, the sun goes down each evening, giving the signal to pick up a book. Though it’s seldom I’m reading only one book at a time. More commonly, I have three, four, or five going at once, so the question is, which one to pick up when?
Among the recent selections, the one I finished first (because it was so hard to put down) was The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and much of the experience recounted in that book came back to me as David and I made our way through the HBO series “Treme.” I recommend both the book and the series (we just finished watching the first season on DVD), each with its joyful discoveries along with challenging tragedies.
Friday morning I came to the final, stirring page of A Tale of Two Cities, the Charles Dickens classic our reading circle chose for this month’s discussion. I found the novel’s characters underdeveloped, that is, not fully dimensional compared to today’s complex, nuanced fictional portraits, but perhaps it is fairer to call them romantic rather than realistic. But the descriptions! Dickens puts the reader right in the scene – toward the end of the book, in Chapter 13 of Book the Third, he does it directly and with tremendous impact.
I’m reading a 1993 anthology, Growing Up Native American, with contributions from twenty-two Native American writers. Most are nonfiction, and some from the distant past, but at least one piece so far has been fiction (a selection from Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich), and the variety and period of time covered allow for many different kinds of stories and personalities to emerge.
A volume that is slower going is Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlán Restudied, by Oscar Lewis. I am unclear on the distinction between anthropology and sociology, for starters. Why would a “complete, detailed picture and analysis of the culture and personality of” a people, detailing “their work, play, politics, quarrels, superstitions, economic life, marriage customs, male-female relationships, etc.” not be sociology? I guess I need to look that up somewhere. Okay, I did--and I still don’t see why the book I’m reading is anthropology, do you?
Then, dipping even further back into the academic archives, I found a book on economics by Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, first published in 1942. How’s this for a pithy truism? “Political criticisms cannot be met effectively by rational argument.” Meaning, I think, not that we should rush into craziness but that our appeals must touch people’s hearts if we are to move them at all.
And then an advance reading copy (ARC) arrives in the mail, another new novel that looks promising, so I’ll be starting that soon--doubtless before I finish the anthropology and economics tomes. Because after an hour of vigorous work in the yard, my brain and body are almost equally tired.