More Mid-September Reading

Tillie Olsen recommended many a book, and it is due to her guidance that I read Anton Chekhov’s Notebook, translated by Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf. It’s a disparate collection of thoughts, themes, notes, sketches, ideas for things to write about. If Chekhov used an idea, he struck it out of the notebook to note its use. Some examples of the weird bits: “He wore a blouse and despised those who wore frock coats. A stew of trousers.” “The ice cream is made of milk in which, as it were, the patients bathed.” “A man, married to an actress, during a performance of a play in which his wife was acting, sat in a box, with beaming face, and from time to time got up and bowed to the audience.” “A play: in order to avoid having regular visitors, Z. pretends to be a regular tippler, although he drinks nothing.” “Russia is an enormous plain across which wander mischievous men.” “A bill presented by the hotel-keeper included ‘Bugs–fifteen kopecks.’ Explanation.”
Sawdust and Solitude by Lucia Zora, another awesome LZ. Recommended via the always helpful Neglected Books site, this was a 1920s tale of circus performer turned pioneer. If you can stomach the chapters of torture couched as “training” of elephants, tigers, and lions, you’ll enjoy it. After a decade in the circus, she and her hubby find a patch of land in the mountains of Colorado, first squatting then owning outright. Hardships abound. I read the 1928 edition with pages almost as thick as tree limbs. My god, we used to squander paper so recklessly!
I read bits and pieces of Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates, first pub’d in 1724 under pseudonym Captain Charles Johnson (apparently only 12 of the purported 500 works now attributed to him bore his name on the title page – it’s all well and good to be literary detectives and assign him as the author, but are we sure that no one else was capable of writing in this same stale style?). Mostly I wanted to read the sections on Mary Read and Anne Bonny, two women pirates in the 1700s who posed as men. The detail was fairly weak in this volume – Read fell in love with men along the way and exposed her secret, Bonny supposedly fell for Read until she revealed herself. Both women were brought up as boys, to either cover for an adulterous relationship (Read, pretending to be her brother, who died) or covering for her father’s indiscretion with the maid (Bonny).
Also picked at the pretty great Intimations of Mortality by Violet Weingarten, which journals her battle and recovery from cancer. I paused after 60 pages due to an avalanche of other priorities but have full confidence I’ll return to her. Only beef so far is that she continually bemoans the impact of her disease on her husband, what a burden she has become for him. I have a feeling this is a book I’ll want to return to if a loved one finds themselves locked in battle with the big C.
****
Rejected: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Picked this up since she was one of two women shortlisted for the Booker prize this year. Her inclusion makes me wonder about the entire crop of nominees, but I’ll have a better idea after reading Hanya Yanagihara’s book. Or maybe the deck is stacked against the ladies, so she was chosen to weaken the crowd. What didn’t I like about it? The quick descent into pure dialog at the beginning, overladen with exclamation points and weak adjectives like “sharp look”; it begins with a phone call to parents telling them a son was gay. “What?” “Says he’s gay.” “What?” “Said he needed to tell me something: he’s gay.” “And you hung up on him!” Pass.