PBSD (Post biography stress disorder), or the Sunday morning after finishing a loooooong book

Brain drain
Cold Rain
Refrain
No pain
My gain
Sane

<a href=”Giovanni's RoomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The power in this book is immense! Written in 1956, it is an intense story of the inherent conflict between love and modern conventions. David, an American expatriate living in Paris, falls deeply in love with Giovanni, an Italian man who works in a bar patronized mostly by men, and lives in a small room in which he and David share their lives and privacy.

Narrated by the main character, David, this somber story explores with great precision and strong, even startling, emotion the depths and realities of love, especially the hazards of love when conventionality is found to be much weaker than passion.

While it is a story about a man working through his own sexuality, it does a great disservice to the book, and to James Baldwin himself, to categorize it as a book merely about the modern debates about sexuality and civil rights. It is much more than this.

While it can serve as a critique of modern conventions, Giovanni’s Room is much more personal, very much more. It is about the joy of deep love, and the tragic pain of losing it. This quote, early in the book, illustrates the thought best:

“I suppose this is why I asked her to marry me: to give myself something to be moored to. Perhaps this was why, in Spain, she decided that she wanted to marry me. But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”

Though David and Giovanni say Yes to life, it comes with a tragedy that continues on and on. The reader is left to question whether or not is worth the risks to embrace authentic love and life, but as Baldwin points out in the quote above, people can’t invent their “mooring posts.”

View all my reviews” title=”Review Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin”>Review Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

Learning the hard way

I’m very near 60 years old, less than a year away, and I can vouch for the truth in this simple poem.  The things I’ve enjoyed most are not the things that have taught me the most.  The harder-learned lessons, however, are a joy unto themselves.  Thanks, universe!

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

-Robert Browning Hamilton

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Reading Binge

I’m off to a nice start on my reading goals for 2014.  The goal is to read 52 books this year, which, given the length of some of those on my list, and the fact that my attention to reading drops once baseball season starts (yes, I’m a big, big fan of it), is an ambitious one.

I plan to read at least two from the Everyman’s “100 Essentials” list, and I hope to split the difference between fiction and nonfiction for the remaining 50.

I get some of my suggestions on fiction from reviews I read, and others come from suggestions from friends and family.

My nonfiction choices come from topics I’m interested in, some of the titles being rather obscure, just as my interests are.  Of my nonfiction choices this year, at least half of them will focus on the late 19th century in the U.S., as I am interested in helping a friend write a book on the cultural and economic aspects of the period in which professional baseball got its start.  Known as the Gilded Age, the period is filled with great stories, controversies, politics, and opinions.  Writing about it, however is a huge challenge for me.

The list of titles completed this year, so far is:

Everyman’s “100 Essentials”

  • Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
  • Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov

Fiction

  • The Apartment: A Novel, by Greg Baxter
  • Andrew’s Brain: A Novel, by E.L. Doctorow
  • Orfeo: A Novel, by Richard Powers
  • The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
  • The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
  • Leaving the Sea: Stories, by Ben Marcus

Nonfiction (focus on late 19th century America)

  • Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland, by Beau Riffenburgh
  • The Gilded Age: Perspectives on the Origins of Modern America, Charles W. Calhoun, ed.
  • The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by Debby Applegate

Nonfiction General

  • The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, by Oscar Martinez
  • The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Guadium, by Pope Francis
  • The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, by Julian Cribb
  • The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley
  • The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, by Vali Nasr
  • Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys: Music History As It Ought To Be Taught, by David Barber
  • Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture), by Jeremiah L. Alberg
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Useful links

The Book Cat, a blog my daughter writes
Half Price Books, I shop there weekly, in several locations
New York Times Book Review, I use the print version
The Economist, I use the print version
The New Yorker, I use the print version
Any New Books, great email subscription listing the week’s newly published books

You can find most of my reviews, brief and informal as they are, on Goodreads.