Last year was the most difficult in my 20+ year teaching career. I was burned out and exhausted by June and decided that, except for a quick trip to Boston, I wasn’t going to do any traveling over the summer. In order to recharge and refocus I spent my time at home sitting in my garden which has a beautiful view and I alternated between reading, getting some sun, and swimming.
I began the summer by reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves which I brought with me on my long weekend to Boston in late June. Of all her books this one seems to get the least attention, but I enjoyed it, in a different way of course, as much as any of her other novels I’ve read. One can see the beginnings of her stream-of-consciousness style for which she is so well-know. The story is heart wrenching and tragic and not an easy read, but so worth the effort. It’s not surprising, now that I look back on the summer, that I chose Horace’s Carpe Diem poem, Ode 2.11 to translate and spend some time with after reading The Waves: “Why would you exhaust your soul making plans for the future, a soul that is not up to the task?”
After this I was in the mood for more Tolstoy, especially after I saw @levistahl post on Twitter that Hadji Murat was one of his favorite summer reads. (Levi is great to follow, by the way, if you like books, cats, dogs, baseball, 70’s movies and Columbo.) Tolstoy is one of those authors whose writings I savor and am rationing the few remaining books of his I have left. J.L. Carr’s novella, A Month in the Country was also on Levi’s list and I read the book and saw the film. Carr’s story was the perfect book for the summer setting in my garden.
I spent all of July reading Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I was so happy to connect with @genese_grill on Twitter who has translated Musil and who had wonderful insights into this enigmatic magnum opus. (Genese is also great to follow on Twitter for books, literature and translation.) The Man without Qualities, both Volumes I and II , were the most challenging books I have ever read. I’ve seen them described as philosophical novels and the combination of Musil’s complex sentences and thought demanded my focus and concentration. Reading Musil’s Diaries alongside the novels also provided valuable insights into some of the threads that run throughout his narrative.
My final summer reading was spent on the first three volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. On Friday night I finished Volume III, The Guermantes Way, which felt like it ended on a sad note. The narrator finally gains admittance into the Guermantes’ inner circle and, like many other things, is disappointed by what he finds. The petty gossip and the shallowness of the characters he meets are sad and pathetic. I’ve been thinking a lot about indifference, which word Proust uses continually throughout all three books in a variety of contexts. If I can pull my thoughts together I might write something about this after I finish all six volume. Needless to say, this is one of the most intense, illuminating, pleasurable reads I’ve ever had. It was a wonderful summer, indeed, and I feel refreshed and recharged and ready to inspire my new classes to appreciate an ancient language. Wish me luck!
For the rest of this year I will be occupied with finishing Proust and would also like to finish Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets which I’ve gotten half way through.
(By the way, Henry, my black and white cat, who is quite annoyed that I’ve gone back to work, insisted on sticking his nose into my book photo.)