09 January 2020

Palermo Springs

Palermo viewed from Monreale
(my picture, spring 2013)

Palm Springs, California
(Daniel's picture, January 2020)

We both studied at the Claude Lorrain School of Landscape.

01 January 2020

the books I read in 2019

Roberto Ferrari posted his best books of 2019 list as well as a complete listing of the 30 books he read last year, in chronological order, with ranking stars from 3 to 5. I wonder if he just quit reading the 1- and 2-star books or whether he's luckier than I am. I have a lot of trouble rating so I've made some observations down below the list. We've had trouble with grade inflation since the 1970s and it's probably worse on social media. You might as well flunk something if you only give it 2 or 3 stars and we know that reading enjoyment is often quite personal.

Here are the books I read this year, in chronological order of reading. The date of publication in parenthesis is usually the first edition with a second date if it is notable.

  • Codex, by Lev Grossman (2004)
  • A people's history of the United States, by Howard Zinn (1980, 2005 edition)
  • Boy erased: a memoir of identity, faith, and family, by Garrard Conley (2016)
  • Finding Fontainebleau: an American boy in France, by Thad Carhart (2017)
  • Mabel Dodge Luhan: new woman, new worlds, by Lois Palken Rudnick (1987)
  • The house on the strand, by Daphne du Maurier (1969)
  • Christ stopped at Eboli: the story of a year, by Carlo Levi (1945)
  • The years, by Annie Ernaux (2017)
  • Christodora, by Tim Murphy (2016)
  • La bella figura: a field guide to the Italian mind, by Beppe Servignini (2005)
  • It can't happen here, by Sinclair Lewis (1935, 2014 edition)
  • Kitchen confidential: adventures in the culinary underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain (2000, 2007 update)
  • Havana: a subtropical delirium, by Mark Kurlansky (2017)
  • The delight of being ordinary: a road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama, by Roland Merullo (2017)
  • Shortest way home: one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future, by Pete Buttigieg (2019)
  • Notes on a foreign country: an American abroad in a post-American world, by Suzy Hansen (2017)
  • The Sparsholt affair, by Alan Hollinghurst (2017)
  • On earth we're briefly gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (2019)
  • Italy: modern architectures in history, by Diane Yvonne Ghirardo (2011)
  • Giovanni's room, by James Baldwin (1956)
  • The big roads: the untold story of the engineers, visionaries, and trailblazers who created the American superhighways, by Earl Swift (2011)
  • No other world, by Rahul Mehta (2017)

Some observations. The book I perhaps most enjoyed reading was The delight of being ordinary, a fantasy road trip with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Just the good tonic I needed. Rather more escape than the believable dysfunction of It can't happen here. Suzy Hansen of Notes on a foreign country came to Alfred. Her book on the perception of the U.S. in other countries and our effect on them was incredibly informative. She mentioned James Baldwin's time in Turkey and his writings about it but also said that Giovanni's room was her favorite Baldwin book. I decided I wanted to read more Baldwin and the Library of America had a special price on the three Baldwin volumes they've published.

A lot of my reading in 2019 was about somewhere other than the United States, either by authorship, setting, or topic. Quite a few of the books were first published in 2017 and several of those came out in paperback in 2018 and were therefore ripe for the reading in 2019. At the same time, I read several older titles: Ghirardo's Italy because I've long been intrigued by Italian modern architecture, but especially since being in Italy in 2018; Christ stopped at Eboli because it is set in Fascist Italy contemporary with the modern architecture; Daphne du Maurier because a bunch of her books were in the stuff at Matt Mueller's house when Hope and Elizabeth were cleaning it out (from her overstuffed house to mine); Giovanni's room as mentioned above.

I really enjoyed the first Alan Hollinghurst novel I read: The swimming-pool library (1989). Several friends, including Roberto, had mentioned The Sparsholt affair. I liked it well enough but not as well as others of his. It is set in England so it joins the foreign settings of much of my reading.

Though I sometimes consciously pick a fiction title after having read a nonfiction title, that is not always the case or it's unconscious. I am amused that the split (11 fiction, 11 nonfiction) is 50-50 this past year. Perhaps a good omen for 2020. Maybe I'll try to read twenty of each. I haven't started reading it yet but the book I put in my backpack, having finished No other world earlier today, is Europe without Baedeker by Edmund Wilson (1947, 1966 edition). Not U.S., check; older book, check; nonfiction, check. Off to a good start.