second year (2002) of John Casey Reading Journals

Demon of the Waters: The story of the mutiny on the whaleship ‘Globe’ by Gregory Gibson (sent by Deborah Baker for a blurb)
Blurb: The mutiny on the Globe is every bit as exciting as the mutiny on the Bounty, and the author…gives us the full adventure—the discovery of a key document, the psychological history of a villain’s going whaling, mutiny, life (& death) among South Sea Islanders, heroic rescue by the fledgling US Navy. A gift for fans of Patrick O’Brian and Nathaniel Philbrick or anyone interested in how America grew by putting out to sea.

All true. Reservations: a bit of a meander now & then about the author’s adventures in the rare-&-old manuscript trade. The ship building chapter would be baffling to someone who hadn’t read something else earlier. And some minor quibbles. In general it’s hard to go wrong describing whaling, mutiny, or life at sea in the 19th century.

An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski
Third time through (or fourth). Yes!

Nadja by André Breton
Everything I already knew I disliked in a self-congratulatory self-indulgent self-justifying decadent—(Decadence=going for one’s minor pleasure at the expense of someone else’s major pain). But one or two good rants in between the name-dropping & self-delight. Hard awkward French.

Victorian Visitors by Alfons L. Korn
(Recommended by Boyd Zenner)
Big idea—visitors opened up British Victorian psyche—save to last sentence. Perhaps an afterthought. “Entertaining” is the word used by the reviewers quoted on the jacket. It’s better than that, that is serious gossip and discerning little frames and ironies—but it reminds me of two things: 1) how dangerous it is for an age to be remembered by newspaper reviews—dancers, musicians, and artists (tho’ we can still go see the Raft of Medusa or hear Wagner) get panned by some hack review. What’s hard to gauge is what other people thought. The author digs out diaries &c but that’s from the diary-keeping kind of person… 2) If you’re going to do the portrait of an age (or decade) get a great big intrusion—Wagner works well.

A glass rod in a saturated solution.

Throwim Leg Away by Timothy Flannery
Aussie mammal expert (tree kangaroos, bats & rats) in Papua New Guinea & Indonesian other-half of Island. Very good. Very good on animals, people, terrain, language. Somber last bits about collusion of Freeport Mining Co (US) & Indonesian government—both devastating forest AND killing the people.

Speak, Memory (see essay sections) Essential reading.

Embers by Sandor Márai
Wonderfully old-fashioned tale—reminds me of Joseph Conrad. Probably the last time and place in Europe where someone could live as a member of a noble military caste—after that it’s iffier. Compare with In Praise of Older Women which is also Hungarian—guy also goes to military academy, but it’s a generation later—completely different.

The Worshipful Lucia by EF Benson
I think I read one of these before…pleasantly malicious but I’ve had enough for a while.

White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull
Another surprise surprise. Good stuff—lots of well presented lore—wide sympathies for range of characters. End somewhat hacked out, but what the hell. I was afraid it was going to be as class-ridden as Dorothy Sayers.

You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett
My old student from Iowa, Spring ’98. Good for him. Ok stories—precisely written, with an eye to eeriness. The best—and really very moving—is the last one “The Volunteer”.

Blurb: From the brilliant manic gallop of the first story to the deep careful breath-held balance of the last (a truly beautiful duet of age & youth) this is a book to savor.

Yeah—the first one is brilliant and catches a man in a manic phase very accurately—comically for a while, then painfully. Maybe a tad long.

Selected Stories by Alice Munro (again. Even better.)

Journey on the James by Earl Swift
Starts like Danubio by Claudio Magril—Swift hunting for the trickle by a barn. And then the history of some of the Indian wars, floods, industries…An okay blow-by-blow. A good guide if one wanted to canoe the canoe-able parts. He ends up having to use his 18 foot kayak—(I wonder what brand—sounds like the one I want) because the canoe won’t do for single-handed navigation of the lower tidal James. The rapids through Richmond sound hairy.

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
Good enough device—confessions of a cad who has good luck—I always like the tone of a villain in the first person—and the care of the historical facts works out in this case.

Royal Flush by George MacDonald Fraser
Not quite as good, but still happily read.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. III by Edward Gibbon
Backwards to consider character of Constantine and his brand of Christianity; then up to Theodosius (invasion of Goths, allied Goths, another civil war; final sighs of paganism).

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand
The connection between Holmes & William James doesn’t make this go (it fizzled), but Menand does very well at summarizing the lives & works of Agassiz, Darwin, Holmes, Charles Peirce—the whole gang. I said to my friend Savi that this book is as good (tho’ not as fanciful) as Calasso—both deep & broad. Grateful to hear what was going on intellectually—even spiritually—during the otherwise Robber-baron Gilded Age.

Gulistan of Sa’di
Pieties and some wit. Mid 13th c. It ain’t Chaucer, it ain’t Dante, it ain’t La Rochefoucauld, but there are some lovely passages—& who knows how much better in Persian? A sense of how cosmopolitan this world was—reached to China, India, Africa, N. Africa—Turkey. Feared Tatars.

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage
The jacket picture is her at 14! I thought she was 20 something…

This is very good & not just because I’m crazy about her from afar (see Dec. ’01). Narrative plus buildings & fields & clothes all taking part. A bleak but determined childhood (no whining, no excuses—no excuses for anyone). So that’s what the 50’s were like in Wales in a small town. And of interest is the arrival of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Elvis & Jerry Lee Lewis). No surprise that some thought they were demons.

A Cure for Serpents by Alberto Denti di Pirajno 

English translation 1955 but can’t find the Italian publish date.

Excellent sketch/anecdote writer. At one point identifies with Kipling—I can see why. He does love the Arabs, Berbers, Tuaregs, the black Africans, the Greeks and Jews and unidentifiable Mediterraneans—and then in Eritrea, he loves them too. Not so keen on
“Abyssinia” tho’ he becomes the pal of the ras. A bit stuck in European de-haut-en-bas, but he did learn Arabic—I guess he knew French—and he picks up some Tuareg. His being a doctor got him into houses. He eventually became an administrator (tho’ he continued to practice some).

So let’s say there’s a progress—compare Trollope’s sketches of the West Indies, a bit less than a century earlier. And the Italian raj was—until the war on Ethiopia—not as serious a business as the British. An initiation…

His pet lion says a good thing about him—and the lion.

The Dykemaster by Theodor Storm
I see what Tony Winner (colleague and trusted advisor) saw in this—the unity, the concision—and something Tony likes in Kleist & Goethe’s Elective Affinities & other Germans—forceful statements about how things stand, not just the facts but the emotions. No sneaking up on a feeling…Is that right?

He (Tony W.) may also have passed it along because there’s a lot of sea lore & a storm climax—(so get on with the sequel to Spartina, the message?) Nah—just of interest.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Gets the star because of 1st & 2nd part—the 3rd part a bit too fancily turning inside out. But the tension in part one, the squeeze of the girl’s conscious & unconscious, of what she is grappling with inside & of what she sees is good. The retreat to Dunkirk also very good. Third part wasn’t bad; in fact I read it avidly; it was just that the move to ah-but-perhaps-this-isn’t-quite-true & I’ve-been-playing-with-you wasn’t up to the grade. The girl-now-an-old-woman parts were very good.

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori
I can’t remember which story Deborah Eisenberg said is the one she teaches. I’ll bet it’s the boarding-house one. I’ll ask her. I liked the first one a lot—spoiled, sensitive, in-trouble Austro-Roumanian adolescent. The only one that was repulsive (but fascinating) is the last “Pravda”. I wonder if von Rezzori is pulling a My Last Duchess? No—the spleen and insistence on the narrator’s “truth” and special self-knowledge seem to be earnest pleading.

Le Avventure di Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (bilingual edition)
Good practice, especially since I would’ve been exhausted looking up the many specialized verbs for squirm, wriggle, grabbed, seized &c not to mention the names. (I’m trying to do an hour a day of Italian.)

A much better story than the cartoon version, which I must have seen at an early age. Not a whale, for example, but a cane-pesce a kilometer long and a philosophical tuna talks about how he & Pinocchio are about to be digested, a fact of life absent from the cozy inside of the Disney whale.

I, Roger Williams by Mary Lee Settle
Yes. A lot of historical stuff I didn’t know—especially about Coke being young Roger Williams’s mentor. Moves right along—the present is old old RW sitting by the bay, but that’s the frame for his narrating his youth & middle years.

The Modigliani Scandal by Ken Follet
Why did I bother? But I think I remember liking The Needle’s Eye or The Eye of the Needle (which was also a movie—did I see it first?—with a wonderful actress, very soberly & wisely beautiful, & Donald Sutherland whom I’ve always liked—so that may have swayed me. The Modigliani book was mechanically competent.

Lezioni Americane by Italo Calvino (Recommended by my friend Giuseppe Verani)
Sei proposte per il prossimo millenio

1) Leggerezza  2) Rapidita  3) Esattezza  4) Visibilita  5) Molteplicità…romanzo contemperaneo come enciclopedia  6) Cominciare e finire

A run-down of what Calvino likes to read & likes to write with appropriate citation, some known to me, some not.

Since these were Norton lectures at Harvard, they must be in English somewhere. Use this book (English version) along with Clear and Simple for spring? From what I gathered this is a good outline of coherent aesthetic.

Le Piccoli Virtù di Natalia Ginzburg
I love the first essay—the shock of the end. And the one about human relations—good but a bit predictable & long, but with a terrific finish about finally having the revelation about how to be good, losing it, faking it, getting it back…

The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
The feel of Brit ex-patriates & semi-Brits in a small Argentinian town across the river from Paraguay. “Entertainment” parts good—phil./theol. not so compelling.

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch
Altho’ sometimes at a cool and/or stiff remove in her prose, Murdoch is a powerful witch. This one better than the one with “book” in the title—Brotherhood of the Book??

La Marchesa di O*** by Heinrich von Kleist
Play—a soliloquy really in a wonderful little theater in Testaccio. Luckily I’d seen the Rohmer movie & read the story (tho’ without really getting it) so I could follow pretty well. Linda Ferri found the crucial page of the program with explanatory notes. The public announcement the Marchesa puts in the newspaper:

Trovatami, senza saper come,
in stato interessante, prego il
padre della creatura che sta
per venise al mondo di farsi
conoscere, perché sono
determinate a sposarlo.
Marquise von O.

A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby
An echo to Love & War in the Apennines (which was terrific)—better than the Frances Maye about her place in Cortona. Newby comes to grips with the people—is who he is and gets who they are with eyes open and happy appreciation. Last chapters could serve as a good guidebook to small towns, Lucca, and walks along the “Crimera”. Very last chapter genuinely sad.

Kitty and Virgil by Paul Bailey
Wonderful. Odd thing: moved to sobs by “mayonnaise”—when I started reading again got critical. Should have stopped with “mayonnaise” and not gone on for a half-dozen back-&-forths. Odd.


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