(At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2024

Art by Yasmina Reza (January)
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (January Bonus Round!)
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (January Bonus Round!)
My Ántonia by Willa Cather (January Bonus Round!)
Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard (January Bonus Round!)
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (February)
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn (February Bonus Round!)
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (February Bonus Round!)
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (February Bonus Round!)
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (February Bonus Round!)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (February Bonus Round!)
Ruined by Lynn Nottage (February Bonus Round!)
Leaving Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (February Bonus Round!)
Ru by Kim Thúy (February Bonus Round!)
How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel (February Bonus Round!)
Henry VI Part II by William Shakespeare (March)
Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez (March Bonus Round!)

See also:
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2017
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2018
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2019
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2020
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2021
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2022
- (At Least) 12 Books in 12 Months - 2023

Art by Yasmina Reza (January)

I was assigned this book for my Literature and the Law class. Really liked it! Like a Seinfeld episode. Listened to a recording of a performance on file with the library, rather than reading the physical copy, which worked really well because the voices helped keep the characters separate. I would like to read the piece in the original French, at some point, and Diana said she has read it in both English and French already.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (January Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this book for my Literature and the Law class. Really liked it! It's about oppressive church laundry systems in Ireland ("Magdalene laundries"). Themes of responsibility and duty to take the hard road in doing the right thing, even when what you are doing is difficult and unpopular. The hardest step, though, is refusing to close your eyes. I want to look at the world, to really look at it. Notice the details of the good parts: the small gratitudes of day to day life. But also not ignore the bad parts of the world. And critically, the most nuanced of things contain both: student organizing is also the way in which I see the greatest among us in this world.

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (January Bonus Round!)

Kept getting locked out of my apartment when my roommate was out of town. On New Year's Eve, and when I texted my super for the second time, she was good natured about it: she hates new years parties and was at home reading and happy to let me in. When she did, we made small talk about what she was reading, and she said she was in a Henry James book club. I had never heard of Henry James, and his name reminded me of Stephen King, but she talked about him as if I should. Then, he was mentioned as one of the greats in one of Alexander Chee's essays too. Then, as I was registering for classes I saw one called "James/Baldwin" about how James Baldwin was influenced by his favorite author: Henry James. Third times the charm, and I decided to read something by Henry James. Found an audiobook of Portrait of a Lady from the library and chugged through it!

I was disappointed with it. It began in such a subversive way, and I was delighted when Ralph bequested money to the main character so she could live her life. I was shocked by the twist at the end, which I thought was pulled off quite well. But the outcome: with the marriages proceeding relatively traditionally, was not as subversive as I was hoping.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather (January Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this book for my American Novel class. Really liked it! I really liked this book! I kept expecting it to become a love story, even when she was off and married, etc. I still expected them to somehow end up together. but instead, it was a story of friendship and shared childhood knowledge. How heartwarming, and surprising.

The preface mentioned that there is something that people know who have lived in rural areas, that only they can know. I feel that I know that thing, too, and I like reading about it.

I think it is funny that everything we read in this class is tangentially about harvard lol how navel-gaze-y.

Reminded me of my friendship with Nicola, I should reach out to her about it. And I wonder if Tara relates to it at all, given her childhood in Iowa that seems so incongurous with the way I see her now. She said she would read it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what she thinks of it.

Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard (January Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this play in my Literature and the Law class. I highlighted a lot of the book because I found the passages very interesting. The frustrating part of reading plays, though, is that it's kind of hard to reproduce the passages here with all the different character names and formatting. I think I got a lot out of this book!

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (February)

I was assigned this book in my high school sophomore year English class, didn't read it, and then didn't return my book at the end of the year with the intention of actually reading it at some point. I actually did, in October of 2017, and it is funny to go back to the way I wrote back then in my reflection.

This time around, I was assigned this play in my Shakespeare and the Law class, along with a movie production of the book. I watched the 2004 film version directed by Michael Radford. It was interesting how the movie reinterpreted scenes: not incorrect or worse readings of the text, but just different interpretations that seemed surprising to me.

One thing I like about reading as opposed to watching productions is that I imagine dialogue in my head to be much more quick and back to back than it is acted out, because I don't really read in any natural pauses. This makes all of the characters seem so clever to come up with perfect retorts and turns of phrase in a split second.

I think having consumed this play for the fifth time (2014, 2017, the movie, and then reading it), I am a bit bored by it now.

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.
GRATIANO  Let me play the fool.
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Why should a man whose blood is warm within
Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster?
Sleep when he wakes? And creep into the jaundice
By being peevish? I tell thee what, Antonio
(I love thee, and ’tis my love that speaks):
There are a sort of men whose visages
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond
And do a willful stillness entertain
With purpose to be dressed in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit,
As who should say “I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark.”
O my Antonio, I do know of these
That therefore only are reputed wise
For saying nothing, when, I am very sure,
If they should speak, would almost damn those ears
Which, hearing them, would call their brothers
I’ll tell thee more of this another time.
But fish not with this melancholy bait
For this fool gudgeon, this opinion.—
Come, good Lorenzo.—Fare you well a while.
I’ll end my exhortation after dinner.

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn (February)

I was assigned this play in my Literature and the Law class. It is about a meeting between Bohr (half Jewish) and Heisenberg (German) in 1941. I really liked it!

Unreliable narrator, and therefore introducing the character of Bohr's wife (Margrethe).

Nostalgia for physics, math, and the divinity of theoretical math and science. I feel like I got a lot more out of the play because of my familiarity with the math and physics stuff from having absorbed a lot in my introductory high school physics classes (i-hat, j-hat, k-hat Scholla gang) and being in the STEM space throughout college.

The former owner who took notes in a foreign scandinavian looking language, and initially thinking it was some fancy math and wondering how it was related, and then realizing that it was just elementary probability equations, like the formula for Poisson distributions, so it was probably just an early undergrad reading the book because of the scientist angle and then also taking notes for other classes in the margins.

Extensive endnotes at the end about what was and was not historically reliable. Read some of it, which was interesting, but did not finish reading those.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this novel in my American Novel class. It is about the marriage between Wyland Archer and May in the shadow of a simulated affair between Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska.

I found the novel a bit tedious, but I think I have just read too much of this type of genre lately. For what it is worth, though, these novels (Portrait of a Lady, The Age of Innocence, Anna Karenina, etc.) are very enjoyable audiobooks and I actually struggle to read the visual word. I think this is a credit to the fact that the authors are quite impressive at the sentence and syllable level: they are writing phrases and sentences that have a good ryhtym when said out loud.

I find Archer to be pretty whiny.

This English class has helped me come to admire that novels can convey inner thoughts in a way that other forms of media struggle to. The sentence "I considered going to study, but decided not to because I felt hungry" lends itself to no effective visual representation, but contains depth and emotion and thoughts that are worth communicating and considering.

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this play in my Shakespeare and the Law class. I watched the 1994 BBC television version directed by David Thacker. I really liked it! Confirmed: Shakespare is so in for 2024.

conventional take: this play is about conflict between strict justice (rigorous enforcement) and mercy/forgiveness. the play comes down on the side of foregiveness and mercy; it criticizes strict justice. another alternative: the important thing is balancing the two.

'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall. I not deny,
The jury, passing on the prisoner's life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try. What's open made to justice,
That justice seizes: what know the laws
That thieves do pass on thieves?
For I have had such faults; but rather tell me,
When I, that censure him, do so offend,
Let mine own judgment pattern out my death,
Too late? why, no; I, that do speak a word.
May call it back again. Well, believe this,
No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
If he had been as you and you as he,
You would have slipt like him; but he, like you,
Would not have been so stern.

christian theology: god defines the rules, steps back, and lets humans figure it out, before god steps back in.

nobody really gets in trouble in the end

is the duke a merciful character? they say no, it takes isabella to make him merciful. but in my view, the duke is still pulling strings and giving isabella the opportunity to forgive him.

the duke is god. him wanting to marry isabella at the end is a symbol of her nunnery. to the friar he says have faith. he steps back, and lets the humans exercise their free will, and just puts moral and religious tests in front of them. punish lucio because he criticizes the duke (nonbeliever/heresay).

problem play because ends with marriages, but none of them are particularly good marriages

ambiguity in plays allows the directors flexibility, which is a different vesting than in a novel where ambiguity is resolved by the reader

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

"go we know not where" -> hamlet's soliloquy (whereas Isabella has certainty that she knows where she will go: to heaven)

If you head and hang all that offend that way but
for ten year together, you'll be glad to give out a
commission for more heads: if this law hold in
Vienna ten year, I'll rent the fairest house in it
after three-pence a bay: if you live to see this
come to pass, say Pompey told you so.
Well, well; there's one yonder arrested and carried
to prison was worth five thousand of you all.

Second Gentleman
Who's that, I pray thee?

Marry, sir, that's Claudio, Signior Claudio.

First Gentleman
Claudio to prison? 'tis not so.

Nay, but I know 'tis so: I saw him arrested, saw
him carried away; and, which is more, within these
three days his head to be chopped off.

abolitionist; the worst punishment is lucio who will have to father his child, which serves a public policy social welfare state goal.

does law have its own autonomy "the law is not dead but has slept"

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this novel in my Literature and the Law class. Hated it. Boring writing. Preachy anti-communist propaganda in the same way that The Fountainhead was preachy libertarian propaganda.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (February Bonus Round!)

Hated it. I was assigned this novel in my American Novel class. I did not enjoy it. The novel is a part of the aestheticism movement, so I'm told the prose was the whole point, but I hated the prose. Maybe I would have liked it more if I had read it as an audiobook to hear the rhythm rather than skimming it with my eyes blurring over passages when I got bored.

I'm not as disturbed by the subject matter as other people I've talked to. Sebastian mentioned that it was the first time he had been forced to live a few moments in the head of someone like Humbert, and that instinct was why Sebastian wasn't sure if he could ever to public defense work. But for me, I have already grappled with how to conceptualize mindsets that are so divergent. I was reminded of a practical guide I read before about how to provide social services for people who have sexual desires for children. The idea of doing so seems so repugnant, and yet the point of the article is that if you are a person who does have those desires, the only thing you can do is control your actions, even if you cannot control your initial thoughts.

I think the book is considered so great because it's central theme is so provocative. But because the theme did not come across as that provacative to me, I struggled to get as much out of it as other people do. I just found it a bit boring.

Ruined by Lynn Nottage (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this play in my Literature and the Law class. It was set in a brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I liked it!

Leaving Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this novel in my American Novel class. Loved it! It is an internal dialogue of an American living abroad in Madrid about his poetry and his lovers.

I am hesitant to identify too strongly with the narrator, because there are important respects with which I do not relate at all to him (such as his imposter syndrome, his existential and concrete anxiety, his willingness to literally just lie, and his feelings and games of jealousy in his love life-s). However, I felt like the book did come to me at the right time.

Like the narrator, I am also throwing myself into the process of learning Spanish. Some recent wins! I recently completed my first Spanish intake for defenders, and I felt very comfortable second seating a Defenders case with Raquel.

Like the narrator, I am also, effectively, an undergrad English major with a minor in Spanish, so the reflections on the discipline of humanities was also relevant to me.

Like the narrator, perhaps surprisingly, I also found the reflections on the impact of substances on thought processes surprisingly resonant. Although, unlike the narrator, I've never taken tranquilizers or "hash," for example, the author did capture a lot of the meta thoughts I have had while intoxicated, which I struggle to record while in that state.

Like the narrator, I am also enamored (infatuated?) with a handful of people, aided by the liminal spot I am at in my life, and by the wealth of fascinating and unfamiliar people I meet in my day to day life. Ah, to be young and free and unbounded.

Like the narrator, I also contemplate (and feel insecurity about (perhaps from a place of guilt)) my positionality: what an unearned blessing that the entire intellectual and physical world is so completely available to me. At first cut, the story criticizes how contrived it is to chase so-called "real experiences." But if real experiences can only be fruitlessly chased, is it impossible, with this positionality, to really live? Wouldn't that deny one's inherent humanity, because the reality of every individual's life must be acknowledged as incomprably equal? So, with this positionality, what is actually the Right Action™?

A small point. Like Writers and Lovers by Lily King, I wish the novel had included more than merely two love interests. Two is already plenty, but because there are only two, they can only be analyzed as a pair rather than pair-wise.

A small regret. Because I consumed this book as an audiobook (which is so OP for crunching through so many books all at once), I did not get to properly sit with the passages of poetry sprinkled throughout this book.

An (at times ironic) quip in the book is that "poems aren't about anything." I think that is funny as I try to chronicle all the books I am reading, and need a shorthand to bring myself back to the experience of having read it.

Ru by Kim Thúy (February Bonus Round!)

I was assigned this book in my Literature and the Law class. I really enjoyed the reading process -- listening to the audiobook in the original French, and using a physical copy of the English translation to reorient myself when I got lost. Ge Fang, one of my friends and classmates, properly pointed out that the best way to understand Ru is actually a prose poem, rather than a novel -- each "chapter" is between a paragraph and a page and a half long, which made it easy to keep myself oriented in this way. I started it in the morning of the first mild day of the shoulder season, and went to Faro cafe to sit and read after class. I had washed my hair the night before and slept with it in braids, so I was having a particularly good hair day. I like to imagine I was that hot stranger in the plant-filled cafe. And I had such a lovely reading experience!

However, I didn't actually love the content of the book. The author's politics and implicit assumptions felt a bit boomer-y (a lot of "American Dream" glamorization). I wonder about the political divisions within the Vietnamese community and Vietnamese diaspora with respect to the Vietnam War. I have decided that I think fiction is a bad way to understand history. I am sure I would have gotten a lot more out of this book if I had more established priors and frameworks to understand the underlying subject matter, rather than wondering if my opinions about the work were merely functions of my lack of context. Therefore, with humility, I am hesitant to be too critical of the book, but I will only say that something about the book did rubbed me the wrong way.

How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel (February Bonus Round!)

Snuck in with my tenth book in February purely because of the leap year! I was assigned this play in my Literature and the Law class. I liked it a medium amount. It was about the (at times sexual/romantic/coercive) relationship between Uncle Peck and his little cousin Li'l Bit who is thirteen years old. It was interesting to read this play in conversation with Lolita, which I read last week. Because it is structured as a play, unlike Lolita, (1) there is no exposition on internal consciousness of any of the characters beyond the physical manifestations in their speech, and (2) the dialogue of every character is presented on equal terms to the reader rather than presented through one character's lens.

I thought this play was particularly impressive because it captured that many abusive relationships depend on moments of tender intimacy that form the foundation upon which the abuse is built; flattening and ignoring that nuance does not strip the perpetrator of their power, it is instead actually counterproductive to the goal of interrupting the abuse.

PECK - There's nothing you could do that would make me feel ashamed of you. Do you know that? Okay.

The themes of male familial pedophilia also made me revisit the following two powerful nonfiction essays in Beyond Survival. That entire book continues to reveal hidden gems four years after I first read it in December 2020. The first essay is called Transforming Family by Amita Swadhin, and describes her experience escaping an abusive relationship with her father, and then, years later, helping interrupt his abuse of her much younger step-sister. The second essay is called Excerpts from Ending Child Sexual Abuse: A Transformative Justice Handbook by Staci K. Haines, Raquel Laviña, Chris Lymbertos, Rj Maccani, and Nathan Shara. It is written by organizers who explain in concrete terms the current anti-carceral systemic efforts to interrupt child sexual abuse and pedophilia.

Unrelatedly, I wish I knew more about the genre of theater to more completely understand the role of the "Greek Chorus" cast in this play? All I recall is learning something about it when we read Oedipus Rex in my sophomore year English class in high school, but I don't remember what we actually learned.

[women, gathered in the kitchen, are having a serious conversation about their life experiences]
GRANDFATHER - What are you all cackling about in here?
GRANDMOTHER - Stay out of the kitchen! This is just for girls!
(page 46)

Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

I was assigned this play in my Shakespeare and the Law class. First, I watched the 2022 Royal Shakespeare Company version directed by Rhodri Huw. Then, I read the book. There were so. many. characters. I thought the play was a bit boring? I think I just might not be a fan of historical Shakespeare works -- I prefer his tragedies and comedies and problem plays.

I am curious to learn more about meter and iambic pentameter. I am also looking forward to going to class and learning more about what I should have gotten out of this play. The Shakespeare and the Law class I am taking is by far the best of the three English literature classes I'm taking this semester. The professors -- Susannah Tobin and Matthew Stepenson -- are so insightful and such good class discussion leaders.

Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez

I was assigned this novel in my Spanish 30 class. I did not love it, to be honest. Maybe, though, that is just because I don't speak Spanish well enough yet to fully appreciate it. I enjoy reading Mario Vargas Llosa so much more than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I got good advice, though, about reading both this book and Lolita. You are not reading to extract critical information to better understand the nuances of the plot. You are reading to swim in the language itself. Enjoy that experience, rather than getting white knuckles trying to comprehend the sequence of events being depicted.

I recognize the problem is probably just my Spanish language ability! So I will continue to read more Gabriel García Márquez as my abilities develop.

In progress:

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

Love this collection of short stories! ### Rebellion by Joseph Roth ### The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner Won't significantly understand the book on the first read through. Author would have wanted to write the book in multiple colors of ink to indicate the different time frames. Only read one section at a time (sections one and two are very difficult to get through).

Yiyun Li - A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.pdf Yiyun Li - The Princess of Nebraska.pdf William Faulkner - That Evening Sun The Head of the Family by Anton Chekhov

TODO: Phillis Wheatley (poet) https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2024/02/america-decline-hanging-out/677451/ https://www.thecut.com/article/amazon-scam-call-ftc-arrest-warrants.html Leaving the Atocha Station (poem by John Ashbery) page 33 https://books.google.com/books?id=UKXE7dzk8usC&q=ashberry+leaving+the+atocha+station&pg=PA33#v=onepage&q&f=false

Short Stories (Bonus)

Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri - didn't love it, I feel like every Jhumpa Lahiri story is the same (but I've since learned she moved to Italy and has started writing in Italian so maybe she does have a range that I just am not capable of appreciating) Désiré's Baby by Kate Chopin - kid comes out mixed race, and the less powerful mom is blamed for having Black heritage. The reveal is that the father is the one who actually had Black race. Shows that the notion of race is constructed.
Humility in One Drum by Richard Wagamese - rabbit is better leader for animal kingdom than more powerful types of animals because the rabbit brings humility and a good attitude to her leadership style.
He by Katherine Anne Porter - story about disabled kid from the perspective of the mother
How to Pronounce Knife by Sourahkham Thammavongsa - immigrant kid who doesn't feel she can ask her ESL parents for help with elementary school homework, and does not know how to pronounce the silent k in knife
Verlie I Say Unto You by Alice Adams - Black maid for white family hates and fears her husband whom she has escaped, and has a secret affair with another Black worker in the home. The white family is confused when she is calm (even secretly ecstatic) to learn her husband has died, but then her lover dies and she is extremely distraught.
Defender of the Faith in Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth - Jewish military commander struggles to lead his Jewish subordinates, including one particularly squeaky wheel
El etnógrafo de Jorge Luis Borges - guy goes native and refuses to reveal the secret to life he learns while integrated into the indigenous community, which he takes with him back to his world where he lives a very normal life.
The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol - Russian copying clerk saves up to replace an old coat ("dressing gown") to brave the northern chill, commissions a beautiful new coat, enjoys it briefly, is robbed of the coat, tries in vain to recover it, dies of cold, and haunts people by stealing their coats.
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick - mother's child is taken away from her and thrown against an electric fence. mother wants to go collect the corpse of her child, but decides not to because if she tries she will be shot. Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy - a very obedient servant boy is not allowed to marry the household cook he falls in love with, which he says turned out to be for the best because he unexpectedly dies and therefore their marriage would have been fruitless The Head of the Family by Anton Chekhov - a story about a man who is dreadful to his family and household help when he is in a bad mood from drinking or gambling the night before. Later that night, "he begins to feel the stings of conscience," but takes no action. The next day, he is in good spirits and pays no mind to what happened before. He good humoredly asks his son for a kiss, and the story ends when, "[w]ith a pale, grave face Fedya goes up to his father and touches his cheek with his quivering lips, then walks away and sits down in his place without a word." I've heard Checkov is a sparse writer, and that tracks. This story was so short I feel I must have missed something in it?