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We lost Milo this year but I'm going to start reading books to dedicate these pages to him. Miss you, feller.

2023

“In the Woods” Tana French

The very few people who know about the whole Knocknaree thing invariably suggest, sooner or later, that I should try hypnotic regression, but for some reason I find the idea distasteful. I’m deeply suspicious of anything with a whiff of the New Age about it—not because of the practices themselves, which as far as I can tell from a safe distance may well have a lot to them, but because of the people who get involved, who always seem to be the kind who corner you at parties to explain how they discovered that they are survivors and deserve to be happy. I worry that I might come out of hypnosis with that sugar-high glaze of self-satisfied enlightenment, like a seventeen-year-old who’s just discovered Kerouac, and start proselytizing strangers in pubs.

“His Name Was Death” Fredric Brown

“The Mermaids Singing” Val McDermid

“Democracy Awakening” Heather Cox Richardson

This is a book about how a small group of people have tried to make us believe that our fundamental principles aren’t true. They have made war on American democracy by using language that served their interests, then led us toward authoritarianism by creating a disaffected population and promising to re-create an imagined past where those people could feel important again. As they took control, they falsely claimed they were following the nation’s true and natural laws.
This book is also the story of how democracy has persisted throughout our history despite the many attempts to undermine it. It is the story of the American people, especially those whom the powerful have tried to marginalize, who first backed the idea of equality and a government that defended it, and then, throughout history, have fought to expand that definition to create a government that can, once and for all, finally make it real.

…in 1870, Congress created the Department of Justice to enable the federal government to protect the right of Black men to vote. President U. S. Grant’s attorney general set out to destroy the Ku Klux Flan.
The next year, in 1871, unreconstructed white southerners began to argue that they objected to Black rights not on racial grounds—which now was unconstitutional and ran the risk of jail time from the Department of Justice prosecution—but rather on economic grounds. They did not want Black men voting for leaders who promised to build things like roads and hospitals. Those public investments could be paid for only with tax levies, and the only people in the south with property after the war were white. thus, they said, Black voting amounted to redistribution of wealth from white men to Black people, who wanted something for nothing.

It is impossible to overstate the intellectual daring required to institute a new form of government. The Founders’ courage was physical, too: they were not exaggerating when they pledged to one another “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” If their bid to win independence failed, their names at the foot of the Declaration of Independence were the signatures to their own death warrants. Benjamin Franklin meant it when he said that if they did not hang together they would hang separately.

“Dr. No” Percival Everett

The phone woke me well after daybreak. It was the department secretary. He and I had an agreement that he would call me every morning I was to teach and I would bring him doughnuts. Much to my dismay I had to go teach my graduate seminar in singularity. There were only three students, but they were eager, enthusiastic, and brilliant, I am sad to say. Give me a stupid student any day. They were the ones who would clumsily stumble into something exciting and, rightly, without any sense of having done so. The smart ones always did the reading.

Sill continued to talk. “Literally. Don’t you hate it when people use that word? I mean, I literally hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I want to kill those people, Figuratively. Who an I kidding? Literally.”

“Wrecked” Joe Ide

“Never Go Back” Lee Child

“The Judas Judge” Michael McGarrity

“Small Wars” Lee Child

“By Way of Sorrow” Robyn Gigl

“The Night House” Jo Nesbø

“The Secret” Lee Child with Andrew Child

“Dead Folks” Jon A. Jackson

“Sleeping Dogs” Thomas Perry

“Widowmaker” Paul Doiron

“The Hunting Wind” Steve Hamilton

“The Body In the Castle Well” Martin Walker

“The Guest Room” Chris Bohjalian

“Glass Houses” Louise Penny

“Hermit’s Peak” Michael McGarrity

“Over Tumbled Graves” Jess Walter

“How It All Began” Penelope Lively

Ah, old age. The twilight years—that delicate phrase. Twilight my foot—roaring dawn of a new life, more like, the one you didn’t know about. We all avert our eyes, and then—wham! you’re in there, too, wondering how the hell this can have happened, and maybe it is an early circle of hell and here comes the gleeful devils with their pitchforks, stabbing and prodding.

When you were young yourself you were appropriately nice to old people, gave up your seat and so forth, but you never really thought about them. They were another species, their experience was unimaginable, and in any case it was irrelevant; you were not going there, or at least not for so long that there was no need to consider it.
Nowadays, you eye the young and remember—oh, yes, just—how it was. How it was to have smooth skin and a supple body, to be able to bend and squat and lift and run for a bus and skip down the stairs. To have this long unknowable future, in which lurked heaven knows what, and it it the mystery that is so alluring. Your own future is also unknowable, except that you can make a few shrewd guesses, and it is not particularly alluring.
You are on the edge of things now, clinging on to life’s outer rim. You have this comet trial of your own lived life, sparks from which arrive in the head all the time, whether you want them or not—life has been lived but it is still going on, in the mind, for better and for worse. But don’t imagine that anyone else wants to know about it, this narrative is personal, and mind you remember that.

Old age worry is its own climate, she reflects. Up against the wire, as you are, the proverbial bus is less of a concern: it is heading for you anyway. The assault upon health is inevitable, rather than an unanticipated outrage. You remain solipsistic—we are all of us that—but the focus of worry is further from the self. You worry about loved ones—that tiresome term, as bad as closure—you worry about the state of the nation, about sixteen-year-olds sticking knives into one another, about twenty-year-olds who can’t find a job, you worry about the absence of sparrows and the paucity of butterflies, and destruction of habitats, you worry about the decline of the language, about the books that are no longer read, about the people who don’t read.
All of which if entirely unproductive—self-indulgent, maybe. Leave the knives to the police, the habitats to the environmentalists. If people don’t read, that’s their choice; a lifelong book habit may itself be some sort of affliction.

“L.A. Requiem” Robert Crais

“The Trees” Percival Everett

“Since when do you meat?” Gertrude asked. “I figured, what’s the difference? I was probably only going to prolong my life for a few minutes at best. And also, how many cows would I be saving? In fact, when you think about it, since no one’s going to raise domestic cows for fun, and since they’re too stupid to exist in the wild, then I’m really helping to save the species from extinction.”

Everybody talks about genocides around the world, but when the killing is slow and spread over a hundred years, no one notices. Where there are no mass graves, no one notices. American outrage is always for show.

“Less than 1 percent of lynchers were ever convicted of a crime. Only a fraction of those ever served a sentence. Teddy Roosevelt claimed the main cause of lynching was Black men raping White women. You know what? That didn’t happen.” “Why do you think White people are so afraid of that?” “Who knows. Sexual inadequacy, maybe. An amplification of their own desire to rape, which they did.” Mama Z puffed out smoke. “But I think rape was just an excuse.” “You think Whites are just afraid of Black men?” “I think it’s sport.” 73 Sheriff Red Jetty sat in a booth in the back of the Dinah.”

“And they used to have cross burnin’s a lot more and family picnics and softball games and all such,’ said Donald. ‘I remember eatin’ cake next to that glowing cross. I loved my mama’s cake.’ ‘Yeah,’ several voiced their agreement. ‘We don’t do nothin’ now,’ a man complained. ‘I don’t even know where my hood is. I don’t even own a rope.”

“Night Sins” Tami Hoag

“Indigo Slam” Robert Crais

“Sunset Express” Robert Crais

“Sweetheart” Chelsea Cain

“Telex From Cuba” Rachel Kushner

At our house, Annie made flan, flambé, elaborate triple-layer cakes. Every afternoon, the smell rose up from the kitchen and filled the house. Henry Das would bring dessert out on a rolling tea cart and serve it on Mother’s special cake plates with her silver server. After the table was cleared at the Allains that night, Mars put out a halved watermelon on an old board. We each hacked off our own piece, and everyone spit their seeds in the dust. The adults all smoked. Rudy said he was out of loose tobacco, and Mars offered him one of her pre-rolled cigarettes. He took it and bit the filter off and spit the filter on the ground. He said smoking a cigarette with a filter on it was like—he paused, trying to think of what it was like—“like suckin’ on a titty through a brassiere,” he said.

The brochure had included a list of difficult questions Americans should be prepared to answer when traveling in uncivilized countries. If you are a democracy, why do whites and blacks eat at separate lunch counters? The brochure didn’t propose an answer, as if the answer was obvious, and the issue was only that a person should expect the question. Mr. Mackey said it was a trick question, and that all you had to say was that democracy had to do with separate branches of government, checks and balances and voting.

Tee-Tee floated around, oblivious, in the shadow of his obsession with her. That’s the strange thing about love. Unless you return it, it’s invisible. Even if you know someone is directing it at you, it’s nothing but a dull reminder of your own indifference to it. One person impaling himself on his own obsession, the other wolfing down Valentine candies, playing dodgeball barefoot, her stringy hair in her face, staring at nothing, mouth partway open like she can’t be bothered to close it.

Everly was on the floor, reading and watching television at the same time, a skill she’d been working on. Willy said it was possible to do two things at once as long as you decided which was the rhythm and which was the melody. Your mind would sort out how to organize and absorb two different activities as long as you labeled one of them major and the other minor. He listened to music and read Popular Mechanics and said he could sing and write a letter at the same time, do addition and subtraction while making corn bread. He said if Everly practiced, she might get to where her mind could absorb two melodies or two rhythms—things of equal values—and lose nothing of either. But that this was an advanced level.
“I want to forget,” Pepé Le Pew said, disconsolate about something. Everly and Duffy had missed that part. Pepé Le Pew was in a Foreign Legion enlistment office. He signed on the dotted line. Then he was stinking up the bunks, and men were running for their lives with clothespins on their noses. They left him to defend the fort all by himself. Poor Pepé Le Pew. He couldn’t smell himself, but who really could? And no matter how the story changed, the object of Pepé Le Pew’s affection was never real. Not once did they give him an actual skunk to be in love with. She was always an illusion, a cat that had somehow gotten a white stripe of paint down her back. But if he ever did catch the skunk-disguised cat, he would see that she wasn’t what he’d thought, and that all along he’d been running after an illusion. Maybe by dodging him, the cat and the people who made the cartoon were saving Pepé Le Pew from an awful discovery, possible worse than heartbreak—

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” Anthony Doerr

“Repository,” he finally says, “you know this word? A resting place. A text—a book—is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on.” His eyes open very widely then, as though he peers into a great darkness. “But books, like people, die. They die in fires or floods or in the mouths of worms or at the whims of tyrants. If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death.”

Each morning comes along and you assume it will be similar enough to the previous one—that you will be safe, that your family will be alive, that you will be together, that life will remain mostly as it was. Then a moment arrives and everything changes.

The things that look fixed in the world, child—mountains, wealth, empires—their permanence is only an illusion. We believe they will last, but that is only because of the brevity of our own lives. From the perspective of God, cities like this come and go like anthills.

He should have risked more. It has taken him his whole life to accept himself, and he is surprised to understand that now that he can, he does not long for one more year, one more month: eighty-six years has been enough. In a life you accumulate so many memories, your brain constantly winnowing through them, weighing consequence, burying pain, but somehow by the time you’re this age you still end up dragging a monumental sack of memories behind you, a burden as heavy as a continent, and eventually it becomes time to take them out of the world.

Movies make you think civilization will end fast, like with aliens and explosions, but really it'll end slow. Ours is already ending, it's just ending too slow for people to notice.

“The Cabin at the End of the World” Paul Tremblay

“The Rules of Magic” Alice Hoffman

“Foreign Affairs” Alison Lurie

The main problem, he thinks, that visitors to a foreign country are allowed the full use of only two of their five senses. Sight is permitted—hence the term “sightseeing.” The sense of taste is also encouraged, and even takes on a weird, almost sexual importance: consumption of the native food and drink becomes a highly charged event, a proof that you were “really there.”
But hearing the full sense is blocked. Intelligible foreign sounds are limited to the voices of waiters, shopkeepers, professional guides, and hotel clerks—plus snatches of dubiously “ native” music. Even in Britain, accent, intonation, and vocabulary are often unfamiliar; tourists do not recognize many of the Moises they hear, and they speak mostly to the functionaries. The sense of smell still operates; but it is likely to be baffled or disgusted by many foreign odors. Above all, the sense of touch is frustrated; visible or invisible Keep Off signs appear on almost everything and everyone.
Two senses aren’t enough for contact with the world, and as a result places visited as a tourist tend to be experienced as blurry silent areas spotted with flashes of light. A window box bursting with purple-veined white crocuses; the shouting, anger-gorged red face of a taxi driver; a handful of hot fish-and-chips wrapped in the News of the World—these rare moments of sensation stand out in Fred’s memory of the past month like colored snapshots against the gray blotting-paper of an old photograph album. Appropriately—for what tourists take home are, typically, snapshots.
Tourists also bring back special meretricious objects called “souvenirs”—which as the word suggests are not so much actual things as embodied memories; and like all memories somewhat exaggerated and distorted. Souvenirs have little in common with anything actually made for and used by the natives—who’s ever seen a real Greek woman in a headscarf bordered by fake tinny gold coins, or a French fisherman wearing the kind of Authentic Fisherman’s Smock sold in tourist shops? But these false symbolic objects are meant to indemnify the tourist for having been, for weeks or months, cut off from an authentic experience of the world, from physical contact with other human beings—.

Since she is an authority on children’s literature, people assume that Vinnie must love children, and that her own lack of them must be a tragedy. For the sake of public relations, she seldom denies these assumptions outright. But the truth is otherwise. In her private opinion most contemporary children—especially American ones—are competitive, callous, noisy, and shallow, at once jaded and ignorant as a result of overexposure to television, baby-sitters, advertising, and video games. Vinnie wants to be a child, not to have one; she isn’t interested in the parental role, but in an extension or recovery of what for her is the best part of life.
Indifference to actual children is fairly common among experts in Vinnie’s field, and not unknown among authors of juvenile literature. As she has often noted in her lectures, many of the great classic writers had an idyllic boyhood or girlhood that ended far too soon, often traumatically. Carroll, MacDonald, Kipling, Burnett, Nesbit, Grahame, Tolkien—and the list could be extended. The result of such an early history often seems to be a passionate longing, not for children, but for one’s own lost childhood.

Though it has given her a livelihood and a reputation, not to mention those happy months in London, Vinnie has a bad conscience about her profession. The success of children’s literature as a field of study—her own success—has an unpleasant side to it. At times it feels as if she were employed in enclosing what was once open heath or common. First she helped to build a barbed-wire fence about the field; then she helped to pull apart the wildflowers that grow there in order to examine them scientifically. Ordinarily she comforts herself with the thought that her own touch is so light and respectful as to do little harm, but when the has to sit by and watch people like Maria Jones and Dr. Smithers dissecting the Queen Anne’s lace and wrenching the pink campion up by its roots, she feels contaminated by association.

“The Cunning Man” Robertson Davies

Colbourne College was an admirable school, but of course that does not mean that it was a comfortable, agreeable place; the most strenuous efforts of the most committed educationalists in the years since my boyhood have been quite unable to make a school into anything but a school, which is to say a jail with educational opportunities. Schools, since their beginning, have been devised to keep children out of their parents’ way, and in our time they have the added economic duty of keeping able-bodied young folk off the labour market. But they are so organized that only the most inveterate blockheads can enter at the bottom and come out at the top without having learned a few things.
At Colbourne we learned not only the set curriculum, but also the intricate politics of community life, how to behave toward our elders and presumed betters, and a certain sophistication, shallow but useful. We learned how to bend, but not break. We learned to take the rough with the smooth. We learned not to whine or lay claim to privileges which we were not able to carry successfully. We found, and adapted to, what was probably going to be our place in the world. And in the midst of all this we learned a high degree of cunning in concealing what our true nature might be. You could be an artist, or an aesthete, a philosopher, a fascist, or a con-man at Colbourne, and only a few people would guess your secret.

The belly-achers who hated school are usually bores, but the larger group who saw nothing much in school except as a background to growing up, are to be greatly pitied, for they began early lives crippled by incomprehension, which might, long afterward, bring them into my consulting room, complaining of vague, but to me revealing, ailments.

I was rather inclined to despise the Funny Papers, as they were then called; but Brocky was an avid reader, never missing a day with Mutt and Jeff, or Maggie and Jiggs, Barney Google and Andy Gump. He delighted in the Falstaffian braggings of Major Hoople, and occasionally spoke in what he imaged was the Major’s voice.
“If you’re too fine for the funnies, you’re too fine for life,” he would say. “They show you what the people are thinking who never read a book, never hear a sermon, and forget to vote. Does that make them worthless? Not on your life. The funnies give you the dreams and the opinions of l’homme moyen sensuel, and if you want to be a politician, for instance, that’s the place to start. Understand the funnies, and you’ve made a good beginning on understanding mankind.”
One day he took me to the headquarters of his father’s newspaper, and there, after a brief colloquy with a sub-editor, he showed me the page-sized pink cardboard forms, embossed with what would be the funnies, when the sheets had been through the stereotyping machine, which would cast them in printer’s metal.
“Here they are, you see. A full week’s issue of hilarity and hard-bitten street philosophy on every one of these sheets. That are not called stereotypes for nothing; they embody what a majority of people believe, or accept as self-evident. They make every reader feel superior to what he can recognize as the stupidity or folly of somebody else. Whenever Mutt crowns Jeff with a spittoon, a million simple minds have a thrill of triumph. When Maggie hits Jiggs with the rolling-pin and a balloon reading ‘Ka-Pow!’ Springs out of his head, a million painfully endured marriages are given a momentary discharge of tension. And it’s all funny, you see. That’s what you have to bear in mind. What might be tragedy if Sophocles got hold of it, is funny in the four or five daily frames of the funnies. While the funnies live, Aristophanes is never quite dead.”

When irony first makes itself known in a young man’s life, it can be like his first experience of getting drunk; he has met with a powerful thing which he does not know how to handle. Of course I had been aware of irony in its superficial form, because Brocky made great use of it; but he was not a master, a subtle and gentle employer of mockery in almost every aspect of life, as was Dwyer; it was something Brocky had learned, not flesh of his flesh. Later, when I thought I had become wiser, I tried to find out what irony really is, and discovered that some ancient writer on poetry had spoken of “Ironia, which we call the drye mock,” and I cannot think of a better term for it: the drye mock. Not sarcasm, which is like vinegar, or cynicism, which is so often the voice of disappointed idealism, but a delicate casting of a cool and illuminating light on life, and thus an enlargement. The ironist is not bitter, he does not seek to undercut everything that seems worthy or serious. He scorns the cheap scoring-off of the wisecracker. He stands, so to speak, somewhat at one side, observes and speaks with a moderation which is occasionally embellished with a flash of controlled exaggeration. He speaks from a certain depth, and thus he is not of the same nature as the wit, who so often speaks from the tongue and no deeper. The wit’s desire is to be funny; the ironist is only funny as a secondary achievement.

Already a legend was growing up around me. It was suggested that I used unconventional methods and there is nothing a professional group mistrusts so nervously as it does anything that appears unconventional, and that has not been thoroughly written up in the journals. It may be quackery. Worse still, it may be effective. And if it is both quackery and effective it is utterly hateful.

Admirable fellow as Spengler was (foreseeing the disastrous consequences of National Socialism in Germany, and standing up bravely for the Jews) I could not tag along after his Prussian insistence on austerity. As it appeared to me, a practicing physician, life would provide all the discomfort anybody needed, without making a principle of it. I would, so far as possible, enjoy old age.

“Winter of the Last Moon” Steve Hamilton

“The Last Equation of Isaac Severy” Nova Jacobs

My point is that I'm sick to death of all the pretension, of insisting that the abstract science we call mathematics is more vital than anything else, because if God forbid someone doesn't memorize the zeta function for his girlfriend, he's some straw-munching rube.

Please, this isn't a Poe mystery; it hardly requires a C. Auguste Dupin level of detection. It took me a few seconds. Most people go around thinking that life is magical and mysterious, filled with all kinds of unknowns. Bullshit. Once you decide the universe is knowable, all kinds of answers become available to you.

Intelligence fades. Sex fades. The thrill fades. Where is all the wisdom that is supposed to compensate for the loss? But if his father’s death had taught him anything, it was that there was no real wisdom with age, only forced compliance.

He suddenly remembered an equation that he had created as a child, after his father had challenged him to determine at what point raindrops of 0.04-centimenter diameter, falling at a speed of 9 meters per second and at a frequency density of 15 drops per square meter per second, would saturate 25 square kilometers of space - taking into account raindrop overlap, naturally. Philip had created an equation in ten minutes, knowing, of course, that the bait and switch from meters to kilometers was merely a cheap trick. He wasn't a complete moron, not even at age nine.

“Bad Little Falls” Paul Doiron

“Copper River” William Kent Krueger

“Bluets” Maggie Nelson

These snippets of prose will be highly praised by some but loathed or dismissed by others. I’m posting a few of them here but I think I’ll have to re-read before long to see if I can connect with her humorless style…or not.

51. You might as well act as if objects had the colors, the Encyclopedia says. —Well, it is as you please. But what would it look like to act otherwise?

52. Try, if you can, not to talk as if colors emanated from a single physical phenomenon. Keep in mind the effects of all the various surfaces, volumes, light-sources, films, expanses, degrees of solidity, solubility, temperature. Elasticity, on color. Think of an object’s capacity to emit, reflect, absorb, transmit, or scatter light; think of “the operation of light on a feather.” Ask yourself, what is the color of a puddle? Is your blue sofa still blue when you stumble past it on your way to the kitchen for water in the middle of the night; is it still blue if you don’t get up, and no one enters the room to see it? Fifteen days after we are born, we begin to discriminate between colors. For the rest of our lives, barring blunted or blinded sight, we find ourselves face-to-face with all these phenomenon at once, and all we call the whole shimmering mess “color.” You might even say that it is the business of the eye to make colored forms out of what is essentially shimmering. This is how we “get around” in the world. Some might also call it the source of our suffering.

167. I don’t go the movies anymore. Please don’t try to convince me. When something ceases to bring you pleasure, you cannot talk the pleasure back into it. “My removal arose not out of a conscious decision, but was simply a natural fading away from film,” writes artist Mike Kelly. “We have become filmic language, and when we look at the screen allow see is ourselves. So what is there to fall into or be consumed by? When looking at something that purports to be you, all you can do is comment on whether you feel it is a good resemblance or not. Os it a flattering portrait? This is conscious, clearly ego-directed, activity.” I find myself in agreement with him on all counts. Perhaps that is why I have turned my gaze so insistently to blue: it does not purport to be me, or anyone else for that matter. “I think both the theatre and we ourselves have had enough of psychology” (Artaud).

“Good Morning, Midnight” Lily Brooks-Dalton

Continents and countries meant nothing to him; it was only the sky that moved him, the happenings on the other side of the atmospheric window. His work ethic was strong, his ego engorged, his results groundbreaking, but he wasn’t satisfied. He had never been satisfied and never would be. It wasn’t success he craved, or even fame, it was history: he wanted to crack the universe open like a ripe watermelon, to arrange the mess of pulpy seeds before his dumbfounded colleagues. He wanted to take the dripping red fruit in his hands and quantify the guts of infinity, to look back into the dawn of time and glimpse the very beginning. He wanted to be remembered.
Yet, here he was, seventy-eight years old, at the top of the Arctic archipelago, on the rind of civilization—and, having come to the terminus of his life’s work, all he could do was stare into the bleak face of his own ignorance.

“The Wild Shore” Kim Stanley Robinson

The Wild Shore is the dystopian novel of the Three Californias Trilogy which also includes The Gold Coast and Pacific Edge . Written in 1984, it takes place in 2047, which doesn’t seem that far off now.

“Lavinia” Ursula K. Le Guin

The old guard Verus was dead, and Aulus, every one of the young men who had been my suitors was dead. My mother was dead. Almost every household in Latium grieved for a father or brother or son killed or crippled. I think one cannot be left alive among so many deaths without feeling unendurable shame. They say Mars absolves the warrior from the crimes of war, but those who were not the warriors, those for whom the war was said to be fought, even though they never wanted it to be fought, who absolves them?

“Like A Rolling Stone” Jann S. Wenner

“Mercy Falls” William Kent Krueger

“Trespasser” Paul Doiron

“The Distant Echo” Val McDermid

“Serpent Gate” Michael McGarrity

“Skull Session” Daniel Hecht

“The Light Pirate” Lily Brooks-Dalton

She’s telling him stories about a world that doesn’t know it’s ending. The world is worried, of course, about climbing temperatures and vengeful wildfires and rising tides. The headlines are absolutely terrible, she says. Incessant. Exhausting. But they’re just that. Headlines. Things that happen to other people, elsewhere. The Middle East, Indonesia, Northern California, the Bahamas: those poor people. Southern Florida and the Keys, Louisiana, Puerto Rico: those poor people. The safe zones have shrunk, will go on shrinking, but the people still firmly attached to the idea that there will continue to be such lines—between safe and not safe, between us and the poor people—are determined to go on as they always have. And here is one of them. He used to think these people were lucky. Now he isn’t so sure. Lucas watches Gillian wave her hands around as she talks about her cohort. “They’re all idiots,” she says, then smiles sweetie, a little abashedly. “That sounds mean. But, it’s true.”

“The Face-Changers” Thomas Perry

“The Sea, the Sea” Iris Murdoch

‘I thought religious people felt weak and worshipped something strong.’ ‘That’s what they think. The worshipper endows the worshipped object with power, real power not imaginary power, that is the sense of the ontological proof, one of the most ambitious ideas clever men ever thought of. But this power is dreadful stuff. Our lusts and attachments compose our god. And when one attachment is cast off another arrives by way of consolation. We never give up a pleasure absolutely, we only barter it for another. All spirituality tends to degenerate into magic, and the use of magic has an automatic nemesis even when the mind has been purified of grosser habits. White magic is black magic. And a less than perfect meddling in the spiritual world can breed monsters for other people. Demons used for good can hang around and make mischief afterwards. The last achievement is the absolute surrender of magic itself, the end of what you call superstition. Yet how does it happen? Goodness is giving up power and acting upon the world negatively. The good are unimaginable.’

That no doubt is how the story ought to end, with the seals and the stars, explanation, resignation, reconciliation, everything picked up into some radiant bland ambiguous higher significance, in calm of mind, all passion spent. However life, unlike art, has an irritating way of bumping and limping on, undoing conversions, casting doubt on solutions, and generally illustrating the impossibility of living happily or virtuously ever after; so I thought I might continue the tale a little longer in the form once again of a diary, though I suppose that, if this is a book, it will have to end, arbitrarily enough no doubt, in quite a short while. In particular I felt I ought to go on so as to describe James’s funeral, although really James’s funeral was such a non-event that there is practically nothing to describe. Then I felt too that I might take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends, only of course loose ends can never be properly tied, one is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgements on people are never final, they emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us.

“Last Words” Michael Koryta

“The Philosopher Queens” Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting

Tired of reading the philosophy of dead white dudes? Buxton and Whiting introduce you to several unsung women and their various notable contributions to various areas of philosophy including feminism, political theory, metaphysics, phenomenology, morality, and more.

“The Library Book” Susan Orlean

Humankind persists in having the desire to create public places where books and ideas are shared. In 1949, UNESCO published a Public Library Manifesto to establish the importance if libraries on the United Nations agenda. The manifesto states, “The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for one debate and creation of public opinion.”

“Borderlines” Archer Mayor

“Still Life With Monkey” Katharine Weber

And so Duncan never wanted anyone to know how many hours he practiced piano, or how much time he spent studying for spelling tests. All through school, he hid or minimized how much time he devoted to memorizing, rehearsing, practicing his tennis serve, studying for French tests, learning lines for a play, writing papers. It was always more thrilling, somehow, if his accomplishments seems to have occurred by sheer force of innate talent.
There was a word for his false carelessness, this studied nonchalance, Laura had told Duncan the first time he admitted to her this chronic habit of his, when they had been together for about a month. When he revealed the way he concealed his efforts because he wanted everyone to believe that his brilliant work and accomplishments flowed naturally from a wellspring of genius, she had nodded and simply replied, sprezzatura. He didn’t know there was a word for this, that it was not solely his invention and experience. When he looked it up, Duncan discovered that Laura was more than exactly right.
Sprezzatura can also describe a form of defensive irony, the disguising behind a mask of apparent indifference what one really desires, feels, thinks, or intends. That too.

“The Butcher’s Boy” Thomas Perry

This is Perry’s first novel published in 1982. It’s a fast-paced thriller with a twist of irony and deliciousness at the end. There are four books in his Butcher Boy series. I’m also fond of his Jane Whitefield series.

“You Will Know Me” Megan Abbott

“Ratking” Michael Dibdin

‘A what?’
‘A ratking. Do you know what that is?’
Zen shrugged.
‘The king rat, I suppose. The dominant animal in the pack.’
‘That’s what everyone thinks. Bit it’s not. A ratking is something that happens when too many rats live in too small a space under too much pressure. Their tails become entwined and the more they strain and stretch to free themselves the tighter grows the knot binding them, until at last it becomes a solid mass of embedded tissue. And the creature thus formed, as many as thirty rats tied together by the tail, is called a ratking. You wouldn’t suspect such a living contradiction to survive, would you? That’s the most amazing thing of all. Most of the ratkings they find, in the plaster of old houses or beneath floorboards of a barn, are healthy and flourishing. Evidently the creatures have evolved some way of coming to terms with their situation. That’s not to say they like it, of course! In fact the reason they’re discovered is because of their diabolical squealing. Not much fun, being chained to each other for life. Now much sweeter would it be to run free! Nevertheless, they do survive, somehow. The wonders of nature, eh?

The world Ivy lived in now was drenched in power, too, of course, but quite different from the low-grade kind that pervaded places where you came post a parcel or cash a cheque or renew your residence permit. How she’d always hated the bitter, envious midgets who patrol those interned boundaries of the state, malicious goblins wringing the most out of their single dingy magic spell. Her Italian friends claimed to feel the same way, but Ivy had never been convinced. The opium of these people was not religion but power, or rather power was their religion. Everyone believed, everyone was hooked. And everyone was rewarded with at least a tiny scrap of the stuff, enough to make them feel needed. What people hated in the system was being subjected to others’ power, but they would all resist any change which threatened to modify or limit their own. The situation was thus stable and rewarding, especially for those who were rich in power and could bypass it with a few phone calls, a hint dropped here, a threat there. At length Ivy had come to appreciate its advantages, and to realize that she could make just as good use of them as the natives, if not better in fact. In the end she’d come to admire the Italians as the great realists who saw life as it really was, free of the crippling hypocrisy of the Anglo-Saxon world in which she was brought up.

“Open Season” Archer Mayor

“Big Sky” Kate Atkinson

“So Much Blue” Percival Everett

“Klara and the Sun” Kazuo Ishiguro

A surprising and lovely book about sometime in time (past? future?) wherein an AF (artificial friend) is chosen by the protagonist Josie, a young girl, as a companion. Here’s a quite good review in The NY Times. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/books/review/klara-and-the-sun-kazuo-ishiguro.html)

“Dance For the Dead” Thomas Perry

“Julian Comstock” Robert Charles Wilson

She performed five songs before she was finished, most of which had verses that would not been out of place aboard the Caribou-Horn Train, or wherever less respectable people gather. At first I was dismayed by this. But I was reminded—perhaps for the first time truly convinced—of Julian’s doctrine of cultural relativism, so-called. For these songs, which had sounded so corrupt in other voices, were purified in hers. I reflected that Calyxa must have been raised among people for whom such songs and sentiments were, in effect, their daily bread, and not counted as obscene or irregular in any way. In other words her innocence was innate, and not compromised by the vulgarity of her upbringing—it was a kind of indestructible primal innocence, as I came to think of it.

Of the English titles, I selected one called American History Since the Fall of the Cities, by Arwal Parmentier. It had been published in England—a country which, though sparsely inhabited, had a long history of its own, and whose allegiance to Mitteleuropa was more formal than devotional. I took the volume closer to a lamp, opened it at random, and read this paragraph:
The ascent of the Aristocracy should not be understood solely as a response to the near-exhaustion of oil, platinum, iridium, and other essential resources of the Technological Efflorescence. The trend to oligarchy predated that crisis and contributed to it. Even before the Fall of the Cities the global economy had become what our farmers call a “Monoculture,” streamlined and relatively efficient, but without the useful diversity fostered in prior times by the existence of National Borders and Local Regulation of Business. Long before plague, starvation, and childlessness reduced the population so dramatically, wealth had already begun to concentrate in the hands of a minority of powerful Owners. The Crisis of Scarcity, therefore, when it came, was met not with a careful or prepared response, but by a determined grasp of power on the part of the Oligarchs and a retreat into religious dogmatism and clerical authority by the frightened and disfranchised populace.

“The Searcher” Tana French

In Cal’s view, morals involve something more than terminology. Ben damn near lost his mind over the importance of using the proper terms for people in wheelchairs, and he clearly felt pretty proud of himself for doing that, but he didn’t mention ever doing anything useful for one single person in one single wheelchair, and Cal would bet a year’s pension that the little twerp would have brought it up if he had. And on top of that, the right terms change every few years, so that someone who thinks like Ben has to be always listening for other people to tell him what’s moral and immoral now. It seems to Cal that this isn’t how a man, or a woman either, goes about having a sense of right and wrong.
He tried putting it down to him getting middle-aged and grumpy about young people these days, but then the department went the same way. They brought in a mandatory sensitivity training session—which was fine by Cal, given the way some of the guys treated, for example, witnesses from bad hoods and rape victims, except the session turned out to be all about what words they were and weren’t allowed to use; nothing about what they were doing, underneath all the words, and how they could do it better. Everyone was always talking about talking, and the most moral person was the one who yelled at the most other people for doing the talking all wrong.
He’s afraid to answer Trey, in case he leads him wrong and gets him into all kinds of trouble, but no one else is going to do it. “Morals,” he says in the end, “is the stuff that doesn’t change. The stuff you do no matter what other people do. Like, if someone’s an asshole to you, you might not be mannerly to him; you might tell him to go fuck himself, or even punch him in the face. But if you see him trapped in a burning car, you’re still gonna open the door and pull him out. However much of an asshole he is. That’s your morals.”

“The Passenger” Cormac McCarthy

Why else? God. The man’s a seducer of prelates and a suborner of the judiciary. He’s an habitual mailcandler and a practicing gelignitionary, a mathematical platonism and a molester of domestic yardfowl. Principally of the dominecker persuasion. A chickenfucker, not to put too fine a point to it.

There are elegant restaurants on this town—unchanged in a century or more—where waiters in formal livery serve an upscale cuisine to bloated oafs who’ve chosen to dine in their gym clothes if not in their actual undergarments. No one even seems to find this odd. What are you having? Did you want a cocktail?