Favorite books from March

I read a lot of very enjoyable things in March. Particular favorites from the past month:

A Joy of Gardening, Vita Sackville-West. Utterly charming in every way! A delight for literature-loving gardeners.


Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald. My first introduction to Penelope Fitzgerald, and I found myself totally smitten by her. Continuing my newfound obsession, I am currently reading The Blue Flower, which I stumbled on at the library book sale.

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

The Unspeakable, and Other Subjects of Discussion, Meghan Daum. I might just share a brain with her, for better or worse.

Electric Light: Poems

Electric Light, Seamus Heaney. The most delightful neologisms.

Between the Acts

Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf. This was the third time I’ve read this novel, Woolf’s last, and I was so pleased to discover that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did as an undergrad. I like how loose and playful it is. It is not her best, but Woolf’s “not best” is far superior to the majority of fiction. So. There’s that.

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast. Funny and heartrending in all the right ways.

All the King's Men

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren. This was on my to-read list for many years; it’s stirring and interesting, in ways that I didn’t expect.

Selected Poems

Selected Poems, Rita Dove. I also finally got around to the work of Rita Dove, one of my town’s resident famous poets. Deeply enjoyable. She has such an enchanting musicality to her work.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison. Borrowed from Celeste, my personal purveyor of good things to read. A well-written account of the author’s life with manic-depressive illness and its juxtaposition to her career as a psychologist.

Mr. Palomar

Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino. Some people may find this plot-less collection of observations frustrating, but it is just the sort of thing that I love.

What did you read and enjoy in March?

Top 10 books I read in 2012: Invisible Cities (#3)

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities

Mariner Books, 1978; 165 pages. Translated by William Weaver.

Background: I bought this little book on a whim, because I had heard a few people mention it as one of their favorites from Calvino’s body of work. I knew nothing about it when I opened it up, but as I started to read, I became utterly engrossed and could hardly draw my attention away from it. I walked up to Guion, Invisible Cities in hand, and said, “OK, you have to read this book with me RIGHT NOW.” So we sat together on the couch and read the entire thing out loud to each other in the course of a day. That’s how good this strange little book is.

Premise: Marco Polo has returned from his many travels around the unknown world and he has come back to tell Kubla Khan about his adventures, particularly about all of the peculiar and wonderful cities he visited. The 55 cities are all given women’s names; they are all beautiful and bizarre and yet they are all strangely similar. The length of each section (memory, desire, signs, eyes, the dead, names, the sky) graphically presents an oscillating sine wave or perhaps the shape of a skyline. The cities are everywhere and nowhere.

Impressions: This is a true poet’s novel. It is beautiful, thoughtful, fun, and wild. Its images will stick with you for a long, long time. We find ourselves referencing the cities while we sit around a bonfire with friends, while we eat breakfast together, while we walk along a shady path.

Trivia: We named our dog Pyrrha after one of the cities in this book. Now you know where that un-spell-able moniker came from.

Injunction: Go read it right now. You will be perpetually grateful that you did.

How well I would write if I were not here!

How well I would write if I were not here! If between the white page and the writing of words and stories that take shape and disappear without anyone’s ever writing them there were not interposed that uncomfortable partition which is my person! Style, taste, individual philosophy, subjectivity, cultural background, real experience, psychology, talent, tricks of the trade: all the elements that make what I write recognizable as mine seem to me a cage that restricts my possibilities. If I were only a hand, a severed hand that grasps a pen and writes… Who would move this hand? The anonymous throng? The spirit of the times? The collective unconscious? I do not know. It is not in order to be the spokesman for something definable that I would like to erase myself. Only to transmit the writable that waits to be written, the tellable that nobody tells.

— Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler