Tag Archives: Books

June reading

Graham Greene never loitered, intentionally or otherwise. The writer who emerges from Richard Greene’s (no relation) new biography let wanderlust transform him into a polymath, comfortable with writing screenplays and film reviews, amiably distant from his children while committed to a Catholicism he on occasion interrogated. Crisply written if often miserly about analysis, The Unquiet Englishman works best as a travelogue: other cultures interested Greene, and the interactions didn’t result in slobbering encomia to empire.

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‘I never said I loved you, John…’

Long in the shadow of her brother Dante Gabriel, Christina Rossetti wrote acerbic verse hidden in the brambles of nursery rhymes. She seemed, to quote Keats, half in love with easeful death; immortality didn’t interest her so much as the consequences of desire. No ascetic, she knew more about temptation than she lead on. I have memories of classroom snickers in grad school when our professor read “Goblin Market” aloud as if it were an experiment in camp, which, sure I suppose it can be.

“No, Thank You, John” doesn’t get anthologized much, but it should give readers an idea of how her poetry found strength in renunciation without getting high-minded about it.

I never said I loved you, John:
Why will you tease me, day by day,
And wax a weariness to think upon
With always “do” and “pray”?

You know I never loved you, John;
No fault of mine made me your toast:
Why will you haunt me with a face as wan
As shows an hour-old ghost?

I dare say Meg or Moll would take
Pity upon you, if you’d ask:
And pray don’t remain single for my sake
Who can’t perform that task.

I have no heart?—Perhaps I have not;
But then you’re mad to take offence
That I don’t give you what I have not got:
Use your common sense.

Let bygones be bygones:
Don’t call me false, who owed not to be true:
I’d rather answer “No” to fifty Johns
Than answer “Yes” to you.

Let’s mar our pleasant days no more,
Song-birds of passage, days of youth:
Catch at to-day, forget the days before:
I’ll wink at your untruth.

Let us strike hands as hearty friends;
No more, no less: and friendship’s good:
Only don’t keep in view ulterior ends,
And points not understood

In open treaty. Rise above
Quibbles and shuffling off and on:
Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,—
No, thank you, John.

Happy May.

The changing role of libraries

Libraries aren’t my second home — they’re home. Thanks to COVID, these public spaces have shifted by necessity from how Robert Frost defined home as “the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in” (we often get the chilling if awkward response: “I should have called it/Something you somehow haven’t to deserve”). Since reopening to visitors in the second week of June 2020, Miami-Dade libraries have been my sanctuary. I didn’t understand the psychic cost of lockdown isolation had done until August and September when, writing at Westchester Regional or done with a live Zoom session with students, I realized I didn’t want to return to my apartment. In the brutal sui generis heat of summer 2020, our libraries still got fewer visits than loan requests; the employees at mine zipped from shelf to shelf collecting material with hold slips sticking out of them like strange petals. Some of these men and women I’ve known for years. They were happy to return to work even if new responsibilities include mask detail in a county where compliance was solid but tempers were not, thanks to that heat.

Alas, my university library remains closed to all but students using two floors for studying and book pickup. No date yet on when we can browse the shelves (noticing my approach to the circulation desk, the student staff will say, “No date yet” before I’ve opened my mouth). What this means in the long term for traditional uses for libraries who can say; conversations about what to do with these forbidding edifices have been going well before the pandemic. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece today proposing new ways to think about them. Students were already ahead of us: they haven’t thought of libraries as “places to check out books and do research” in more than twenty years. Scott Carlson:

In many ways, academic libraries are among the most important public spaces on a college campus. A library building is often perceived as a campus’s “heart”; Hinchliffe prefers the term “front porch,” borrowed from the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, for the way it emphasizes the notion of community rather than collections. For much of the public, a library is a “third place” much like a coffeehouse or a bar — a space that is neither home nor an office, but where people can gather to socialize, work, or simply be alone in public.

Joseph P. Lucia, dean of Temple University Libraries, believes that many of the academic functions of a library can be conducted online. Surely, students will take advantage of that for convenience, and certainly many faculty members prefer to be off campus if not needed in the classroom, lab, or office. It’s not clear whether people will still prefer to work remotely after offices and public spaces reopen.

“Prefer” has got nuthin’ to do with it.

As it happens, my uni library emailed a notification: it has fulfilled my request for Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star.

Eastern European Cold War film ‘Isaac’ as precise and mysterious as poetry

Few Americans get to watch films set in the Baltic states over which the West and the former Soviet Union haggled for decades. On that basis alone Isaac is worth watching. It’s also an ambitious piece of work: as precise and mysterious as poetry. The young Lithuanian writer-director Jurgis Matulevicius took his film to Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival two years ago in 2019; it streams now as part of Miami Jewish Film Festival’s excellent lineup. Confident and dialectical, Isaac deserves a wide audience who warmed to, say, Toni Erdmann and The Square and especially the inferior Cold War. Continue reading

Reading Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’

“Nearly all of Butler’s protagonists face the accusation that their survival is a form of complicity,” writes Julian Lucas in a review of the Library of America edition of Octavia Butler’s fiction. I circled the volume when I spotted it last month at the bookstore, but it took a friend’s self-portrait reading Kindred that persuaded me to check out a library copy. I’m glad I did: I inhaled the book so quickly and thoroughly I got lightheaded, needed to slow down. Continue reading