The Epic of Gilgamesh

A bit of background: The Epic of Gilgamesh is old. It’s very, very old. So old, it’s more than a little amazing that any of it has survived, let alone enough to put together a cohesive narrative.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also bizarre. A bizarre, old story. It’s got elements common to familiar creation myths—a flood, a descent from a state of nature precipitated by a wily female—and a really close friendship that seems to be based on the fact that both guys are the biggest and strongest guys around and on their shared interest in gratuitous deforestation.

Perhaps my favorite part is Gilgamesh’s journey after Enkidu’s death. After all of the wanton violence, I appreciate the self-doubt Gilgamesh shows and the wisdom of Uta-Napishti, which the sage delivers with just a little smugness.

I’ve not read any other translations of The Epic of Gilgamesh, but this one by Andrew George worked for me.

I read this as part of round two of my Cavalcade of Classics. You can see all of the titles on the list here.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This book was incredible. I listened to it on audio, and there were so many points at which I exclaimed audibly about an insight Baldwin had shared.

I’m not sure why The Fire Next Time struck me more deeply than Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (which I also “read” on audiobook), but I do see a couple of big differences between the two.

One difference is the quality of the writing. Coates’s writing is fine and powerful at times, but Baldwin’s writing is something else entirely. It feels smooth and adept. Baldwin knows language, and he crafts it and wields it with a skill that I savor (and covet just a little). I haven’t read any of Baldwin’s fiction, but after my experience with The Fire Next Time, I’m inclined to move some of his other writing towards the top of my to-read list.

Another difference between The Fire Next Time and Coates’s memoir which it inspired is the focus. Like Coates, Baldwin writes about his personal experiences, but he doesn’t place them at the center of the work as they are in the chronological recounting in Coates’s book. I have a fairly high bar for memoir; I like it to do something more than just tell about one person’s life. In his book (or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a long-form essay), Baldwin uses his personal experiences to illustrate a larger point about American culture and its racial history. This was more powerful to me than reading the story of one life.

This should in no way give the impression that it was only the quality of the writing and the structure of the book that I enjoyed. The content was extremely powerful. Baldwin comes across as conflicted, angry, vulnerable, skeptical, wary, and, in some ways, weary. I was especially struck by what seems like Baldwin’s near-despair about how to proceed as a culture, racially segregated or not, without leaving behind the good with the bad. His reflections after his visit with Elijah Muhammad—juxtaposing the supportive community, the young women and their babies, with the rhetoric of violent segregation—present his internal conflict powerfully.

One thing I’m still seeking—and which I realized at the end of the book that I was unconsciously and unfairly hoping Baldwin would provide—is a picture of how a post-racial world might look. What does an integrated society, one in which there is a universally accepted assumption of the inherent worth of all individuals, look like? What is the right path forward knowing that we can’t make right the past? Can we make a reality something we can’t envision?

This isn’t something Baldwin or anyone can answer, but I still hoped for it. 

I read this book as part of round two of my Cavalcade of Classics. You can see all of the titles on the list here.

Bookends: October 2018

October brought cooler weather and a much-needed readathon, which helped me make a good dent in my Cavalcade of Classics list. My goal was to read at least one title from my list each month, and this month I read four. Starting strong and hopefully not burning myself out too quickly.

Regular TBR reads (including those that weren’t on my TBR until I picked them up):

New Boy by Tracey Chevalier (audio)

The Traveling Bag by Susan Hill

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (audio)

Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff (read-aloud)

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From my Cavalcade of Classics:

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (audio)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (on audio)

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Currently Reading:

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski

The Ramayana by Vālmīki ( I’m working on the shortened modern prose version by R. K. Narayan. I can’t tell if it seems weird because it’s just weird or because it’s from a mythology that’s unfamiliar to me or if it’s just the version I’m reading. I might try another version to find out.)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (audio)

To-Read in November:

November is going to be a challenge. I decided at about 2:00 pm on October 31, to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo. I reached the 50,000-word goal in 2010, attempted but didn’t reach it in 2011, and haven’t tried since. A friend is participating this year, and I figured this would be a chance to show her some support and to try to get something down from a novel idea I’ve been poking around at for a few years.

I figure it could go one of three ways:

  1. I write a lot and meet my daily word count goals and don’t have time to read, or
  2. I read a lot to distract myself from the fact that I’m not meeting my daily word count goals because I’m reading, or
  3. I really nail time management, make the most of the extra hour the end of Daylight Saving gives me, and meet both my reading and my writing goals.

Anything’s possible, but there’s precedent for only two of those possibilities.

Reading goals for November, in addition to completing the books I’m currently reading:

The Odyssey by Homer (Emily Wilson translation)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What books have your read recently that speak to you? What books are you excited to read in November?

Dewey’s October Readathon Wrapup

And here we are. Another Dewey’s in the books!

I didn’t make it 24 hours, but I didn’t really expect to, either. Around 11:30 last night, I decided I was too tired for reading to be enjoyable, and I knew I needed either to sleep or eat. I chose to sleep with the thought that I’d get a couple hours in and get up to read the last couple of hours until 5am. Instead, I slept like a rock and woke up an hour and a half after the readathon ended. Looks like neither Gilgamesh nor I won immortality this time.*

Still, I did a solid job this readathon. Let’s look at the numbers:

IMG_20181020_214036Books completed: 3

Hours read: about 14 (18 if you count the time I lost to showering and paying attention to my family)

Pages read: 593

Cats petted: 1

Cups of coffee drunk: 1 caf, 2 decaf

Miles walked: 11.68

Closing Survey

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hours 19-24. Or maybe those were the least daunting because I ended up sleeping through them.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio; second half finished)

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (audio; finished)

The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous (finished)

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski (first 39 pages)

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?

The Call was a great one for a readathon. Plot-driven but with decent character development and just fun to read.

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?

I can’t really think of anything. I feel pretty happy about the readathon as it is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?

I definitely plan to participate again, but I would not be interested in volunteering to help. I mean, I’d be interested, but I know I’d have trouble following through so I don’t want to commit even to thinking about volunteering.

Next Dewey’s is April 6, 2019. My daughter has a band concert that day, but I can probably bring a book.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the 24 in 48 Readathon in January!

*Uta-napishti told Gilgamesh that he could attain immortality by staying awake for six days and seven nights, and Gilgamesh promptly fell asleep for exactly that length of time, which they measured in loaves of bread, a means of calendaring I’m totally behind. Of course, I just read a 5,000-year-old book about Gilgamesh and am currently blogging on the Internet on which nothing dies, so perhaps in that sense, G and I are both immortal.

Dewey’s October Readathon – Midpoint Check-in

Well, I’ve made it to hour twelve! And unlike most other readathons, I have spent most of the past twelve hours reading (or “reading” in the case of audiobooks).

The first nearly six hours were devoted to listening to audiobooks while I walked to, up, and around a local mountain and back home. My tracking app was being temperamental but the total distance was 11.68 miles, more or less.

The hours since have been at home, reading and eating and lazing in the sunshine while my family were out running errands. They’re on their way home now, though, so we’ll see how much reading I get done in the next twelve hours.

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Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Tablet IV of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’m reading it in translation rather than in the original cuneiform.

2. How many books have you read so far?

I finished two audiobooks, The First Next Time by James Baldwin, which I started earlier this week, and all of The Call by Peadar O’Guilin. In addition to those and the bit of Gilgamesh I’ve consumed, I also listened to about two chapters of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street during lunch with my children.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I don’t have much more on my list, but once I finish Gilgamesh, I’m looking forward to Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Although I might just grab my daughter’s copy of The Fault in Our Stars if I get too sleepy.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not too many interruptions so far, but that’s about to change. Hopefully I can manage my expectations and keep my cool.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

That I’ve read as much as I have. I really like the West Coast 5am start.

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Dewey’s Readathon – October 2018

It’s time for another Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon!

I’ve had some trouble participating in readathons since we moved in January, but I’m hoping I’m back in action this time around.

I doubt I’ll read for the full 24 hours (I’m over 40 and have things to do tomorrow that will be easier to do if I’ve slept), but I’m going for at least twelve.

My Cavalcade of Classics will be making an appearance this time around, too, wrestling with Gilgamesh for at least part of the time.

I’ll mostly be checking in on Instagram, but I’ll try to post here for big events, like the kick-off.

My books:

The Epic of Gilgamesh (starting page: 12)

Gilgamesh Among Us by Thoedore Ziolkowski (starting page: 23)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio; starting at 1:10:00)

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (audio)

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Opening Survey

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I’m reading from San Diego, California. My first West Coast readathon, I’m starting at 5am Saturday with an Epic Walk and an audiobook.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve already read Tablet 1, and this thing is weird.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

To be honest, the snacks aren’t really on my mind today. If I can manage the reading, I’m sure the snacks will fall into place.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Goodness. Well, I read. I homeschool. I make homemade hand cream. I have a cat. I like to take long walks.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

My stack is much smaller this time, and I’ll be spending more time outside, starting with a three-hour walk and audiobook. Which I’d better get started!

More at the halfway mark! Catch my posts on Instagram to keep up with my adventures more frequently.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

13784569I listened to this on audio, and I have to admit, the first few hours were pretty brutal. I listened to the first three hours while taking a long walk and nearly cried from the boredom (it wasn’t all the audiobook’s fault, though; I’d picked a particularly blah section of suburban sidewalk along which to amble while listening). But as I stuck with the novel (at 1.5x) it grew on me. Dreiser brought things together in a satisfying way towards the end, allowing Carrie to grow and change throughout the novel and dealing with his characters with compassion even when it was clear that he didn’t approve of their actions.

I kept forgetting that this novel was written before the stock market crash of 1929, before both world wars, even before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I need to look back at this time in U.S. history for more context.

I’m definitely getting this one in print so I can read more deeply—and underline. There are some parallels between themes in this book and other books I’m reading/have read recently, and I need the book in front of me to catch them.

This is another title from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics. Here’s a view from my otherwise boring walk during the first hours of the audiobook. Not so bad when I look back on it now.

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

22890386A letter from an old friend and the opportunity for a road trip leads Mr. Stevens, a career butler of the Downton Abbey era, to reflect about his life and his actions both past and present, and Ishiguro brings us along on both this literal and figurative journey with skill and precision. Mr. Stevens may be one of the most authentic, realistically written characters I’ve read in a very long time.

I’ve never been a butler for one of the distinguished old houses of pre-war Great Britain, but I can very much relate to Mr. Stevens’s habit of revising and reframing memories of his actions that don’t fit with his image of himself. It’s the kind of story crafting that we all do, I think, whether consciously or not, as we try to assemble a narrative for our life that is consistent with how we want to view ourselves.

One thing that seems to elude many authors is the art of showing character development over time, but this is something else that Ishiguro does with quiet finesse in this novel. Mr. Stevens’s evolution is subtle but significant. At the beginning of the novel, he holds firmly to his accustomed way of remembering his actions in the best possible light, brushing aside the reactions of others that might provide evidence that his way of looking at the situation isn’t consistent with how it actually happened. As the novel—and the road trip—progresses, we see Mr. Stevens begin to question himself and to confront the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of some of his actions.

This is the first book in a long time that had an ending that felt satisfying to me. By the end of the novel, Mr. Stevens hasn’t sloughed off all of his old habits, but he’s much better able to look at himself more realistically and more holistically, admitting his shortcomings with fewer rationalizations and excuses. His transformation isn’t dramatic—there’s no Extreme Makeover for this butler—but it’s rather the kind of slow opening of the eyes that one hopes life has in store for us before night falls.

This novel I hope to revisit as a masterclass in character development and in the crafting of language that is subtle, economical, and powerful.

This is the first title from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics that I’ve completed. I listened to this novel on audiobook during one of my weekly Epic Walks around San Diego. As a result, below is one of the sights I now associate with this novel. That and mountain bikers playing “American Woman” as they nearly mowed me down.

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Bookends: March to September 2018

One of the things lost in the whirlwind of my cross-country move early this year is my monthly Bookends post. This post, a recap of March through September (in reverse order), is a way to reset the Bookends clock before time for my Year in Books at the end of December.

During these past few months, I read a lot of books aloud to my children and then, starting in July with the advent of my Epic Walks, I began listening to lots of audiobooks. I’ve noted which are which in the list below. Links are to reviews on Goodreads, which I should cross-post here but don’t.

September:

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (audio)

Memory’s Last Breath by Gerda Saunders (audio)

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (audio)

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney (audio)

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (audio)

August:

The Circle by Dave Eggers (audio)

The Long-Lost Home (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #6) by Maryrose Wood (read-aloud)

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff

July:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine (stopped reading)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio)

The Diabolic (The Diabolic, #1) by S. J. Kincaid

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins (stopped reading)

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

June:

Rodzina by Karen Cushman (stopped reading)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (re-read, read-aloud)

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom by Katherine Paterson (read-aloud)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (re-read, read-aloud)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

May:

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle (stopped reading)

The Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw (read-aloud)

April:

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2) by Ursula K. Le Guin

Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (read-aloud)

The Last Star (The 5th Wave, #3) by Rick Yancey

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2) by Rick Yancey

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun by Rhoda Blumberg (read-aloud)

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1) by Rick Yancey

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #1) by Kathryn Lasky

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories by Philip Roth (stopped reading)

Stargirl (Stargirl, #1) by Jerry Spinelli

The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr (stopped reading)

Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics by Stanley F. Schmidt

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (read-aloud)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (re-read, read-aloud)

Catalyst (Insignia, #3) by S.J. Kincaid

March:

Pretty Monsters: Stories by Kelly Link

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson (read-aloud)

Currently Reading:

Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff (read-aloud)

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

To-Read in October:

October and thereafter, I will attempt to read at least one title per month from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics. Goals for this October, in addition to completing the books I’m currently reading:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski

The Odyssey by Homer (Emily Wilson translation)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (on audio)

What books have your read recently that speak to you? What books are you excited to read in October?

TBR List Declutter, Bonus Issue 2

Tangent: Podcasts for Suburban Walks 

The past month or so I’ve been taking long walks over the weekend. I try to get in the neighborhood of ten miles. I always start from my house. Most times I do a circuit, but sometimes to expand my range I walk to a destination 10-ish miles away and have my spouse pick me up in the car.

The first time I hiked on the trails to a waterfall in one of the nearby canyons. Then I started having dreams about rattlesnakes, so I decided to set the nature hikes aside until rattlesnake season passes or, since apparently every season is rattlesnake season in San Diego, until I forget about them again.

Since then, I’ve kept it suburban.

I’ve walked to the library and on to a farmers market, then risked my life discovering firsthand the reason for the GoogleMaps disclaimer that the route may not always reflect real-world conditions. I’ve walked to Costco and met my spouse waiting in line for gas.  I’ve walked a big loop across another canyon, to Target to buy icing spatulas, and then to a different library. Most recently I walked to a farmers market ten miles away where I met my family and bought local passion fruit.

No matter my route or destination, I get about three hours by myself to think, take in the suburban sights, breathe in car exhaust, and listen to podcasts.

Here are some of the highlights from my auditory explorations:

  • Being Sincere in a Cynical World, from To the Best of Our Knowledge. This show explores the reasons for and costs of cynicism and the value of vulnerability. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and that I addressed in part in my tangent about duplicity. The third story, “Can You Change the Mind of a White Supremacist” was my favorite. If you listen to only one story from that episode, I recommend that one.
  • Loving Bees, also from To the Best of Our Knowledge. This one is all about the importance of bees—especially local bees—to our ecosystem and most notably to human food supplies. My can’t-miss from that episode was “Rebuilding Detroit, Hive by Hive” about a couple who turn a vacant lots into bee sanctuaries. We have family near Detroit, and I’m scheming to visit Detroit Hives next time we’re in the area.
  • Word Watch and Word Watch, the Sequel, from Code Switch. These episodes explore the racist origins of common words and expressions.
  • Talk American, also from Code Switch. This one deals with the information we assume about a person based on their accent and explores the origins of the non-accent that’s become the standard for network news in the United States. (Spoiler: it started in Cleveland.)
  • “Blockchain all the things. Or don’t.” and “Bitcoin IRL,” from Make Me Smart. I can’t actually decide if I love these or hate these. After listening to these episodes, I understand blockchains and Bitcoin about as well as I understand futures trading now, which means they’ve taken my understanding from abject confusion to only partial confusion, which is positive. I think.
  • On Homeschooling Culture & Rethinking School, from Brave Writer Podcast. There’s not much that’s brand new to me in the homeschool world, but this interview with Susan Wise Bauer got me thinking. Of particular interest to me is Bauer’s observation that the homeschoolers in the classes she teaches at William and Mary College are overall ill-equipped to defend their arguments. Since listening, I’ve been thinking my approach to logic and argument with my own children. Critical thinking is, in my opinion, possibly the most important skill I can foster in my children. We tend to be a skeptical family, and intellectual argument is our native tongue, but a little more formal preparation—and more intentional interaction with those with differing viewpoints—is probably in order.

That’s some of what’s been filling my ears these past several weekends. If you listen to any of these or if you have any favorites of your own, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Visual Interest:

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Books:

Titles 771-782:

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