From a Railway Carriage – Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/railway-carriage/

Where to Find Free ebooks – a list of lists

From this reddit post:

Project Gutenberg is a site that uploads free public domain ebooks to make them available to the public. It’s a great resource for free ebooks but it can be hard to find books you might be interested in picking up if you don’t know what you are looking for. I make these collections for r/FreeEBOOKs periodically to make it easier to find something to read.

I will be uploading new lists as often as I am able to on more topics or expanding some of the existing lists. Click the “follow” button on this post to be notified when they are uploaded.

50 free books on etiquette – trust me these are very entertaining

115 free fairy tale books

100 free mythology books

250 free kids and YA books

200 free sci-fi books

100 free classics

100 free Christmas ebooks

100 free poetry ebooks

100 free history ebooks

100 free memoirs and autobiographies

50 free mysteries

100 free books about pirates

70 books about space and astronomy

200 books about cooking and housekeeping

50 historical books about childbirth and sexual health

175 medical books

50 free craft books

100 free gardening books

Free assigned summer reading books

60 free ebooks about adventure and exploration in the Arctic and at the South Pole

100 free books of ghost stories

100 more free mythology ebooks

50 free horror books

30 free Arthurian legends

180 free Christmas ebooks

100 free books of essays

50 free ebooks about inventions and inventors

Free audiobook collections from Librivox:

50 free classic audiobooks

50 more free classic audiobooks

If you want to read ebooks on your kindle, here’s my how-to on that:
https://edhawkes.com/2019/04/21/send-an-e-book-to-your-kindle

NORMAN MAILER: Ten Favorite American Novels

With the exception of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I reread recently, the other books were devoured in my freshman year at Harvard, and gave me the desire, which has never gone completely away, to be a writer, to be an American writer. They’re all selections from the mainstream of American novels, not a surprise on the list, which separates me, I suspect, from my colleagues. But it’s an honest list, even if it doesn’t bring a deserving writer out of obscurity. Freshman year at Harvard is luminous because of these books.

John Dos Passos
U.S.A.

Mark Twain
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

James T. Farrell
STUDS LONIGAN

Thomas Wolfe
LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL

John Steinbeck
THE GRAPES OF WRATH

F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE GREAT GATSBY

Ernest Hemingway
THE SUN ALSO RISES

John O’Hara
APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA

James M. Cain
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Herman Melville
MOBY DICK

From – The Reader’s Catalog: An Annotated Selection of More Than 40,000 of the Best Books in Print in 208 Categories (Reader’s Catalogue)

Miss Amelia’s Whiskey – Carson McCullers

“For the liquor of Miss Amelia has a special quality of its own. It is clean and sharp on the tongue, but once down a man it glows inside him for a long time afterward. And that is not all. It is known that if a message is written with lemon juice on a clean sheet of paper there will be no sign of it. But if the paper is held for a moment to the fire then the letters turn brown and the meaning becomes clear. Imagine that the whisky is the fire and that the message is that which is known only in the soul of a man—then the worth of Miss Amelia’s liquor can be understood. Things that have gone unnoticed, thoughts that have been harbored far back in the dark mind, are suddenly recognized and comprehended.”

Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe: and Other Stories 

21 of the best sci-fi books everyone should read | WIRED UK

Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)

In 2012, Wired US readers voted Dune the best science-fiction novel of all time. It’s also the best-selling of all time, and has inspired a mammoth universe, including 18 books set over 34,000 years and a terrible 1984 movie adaptation by David Lynch, his worst film by far. A hopefully better effort is currently in production, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The series is set 20,000 years in the future in galaxies stuck in the feudal ages, where computers are banned for religious reasons and noble families rule whole planets. We focus on the planet Arrakis, which holds a material used as a currency throughout the Universe for its rarity and mind-enhancing powers. Lots of giant sandworms, too.

Wired

Wonders and Epiphanies – Michael Dirda

My Pleiade edition of Gérard de Nerval’s works is inscribed “en toute sympathie” from its French editor to Enid Starkie, the noted Oxford eccentric and biographer of Baudelaire and Flaubert. I found the slightly worn volume in a secondhand bookshop in Arlington for $6, and have often wondered how it got there.

The most restful place in the world is the periodicals reading room of any public library.

In eleventh grade we studied Oedipus the King in a translation for students by Bernard M. W. Knox. Fifteen years later I became friends with Knox, then director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies here in Washington. It was almost like meeting Sophocles.

From the essay Talismans, in the book Readings, by Michael Dirda
Amazon

William S. Burroughs Talks With Tennessee Williams | The Village Voice

Although they were both born in St. Louis within three years of each other, William Burroughs did not meet Tennessee Williams until 1960, when they were briefly introduced at a table in the Cafe de Paris in Tangiers, by Paul and Jane Bowles. Burroughs had read and admired Williams’s short stories, and later in the ’60s Tennessee was known to quote at length from Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. But despite their mutual acquaintances (including the Bowleses and the painter Brion Gysin), they were not to meet again until 1975, at a gathering of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Their first conversation of any length took place at a party after a Burroughs reading at Notre Dame University earlier this year, and there they talked and carried on like old friends.

Tennessee’s new play, Vieux Carre, opens tonight on Broadway. Burroughs and I attended a preview two Saturdays ago. The next day we visited him at the Hotel Elysee, where he has maintained a spacious flat on the 12th floor for some time. It was late afternoon, and as I arrived, a few minutes after Burroughs, they were already seated at the opposite ends of a sofa. Tennessee seemed chipper; he got up to show us a pastel gouache he had just completed on his terrace that morning. Two bottles of wine arrived, and Burroughs and Williams resumed their talk.

James Grauerholz

Orpheus Holds His Own: William Burroughs Talks with Tennessee Williams May 16, 1977, https://www.villagevoice.com/2020/02/16/william-s-burroughs-talks-with-tennessee-williams/

The Superfluous Man

The superfluous man (Russian: лишний человек, líshniy chelovék, “unnecessary person”) is an 1840s and 1850s Russian literary concept derived from the Byronic hero. It refers to an individual, perhaps talented and capable, who does not fit into social norms. In most cases, this person is born into wealth and privilege. Typical characteristics are disregard for social values, cynicism, and existential boredom; typical behaviors are gambling, drinking, romantic intrigues and duels. He is often unmindful, indifferent or unempathetic with society’s issues and can carelessly distress others with his actions, despite his position of power. He will often use his power for his own comfort and security and will have very little interest in being charitable or using it for the greater good.

Russian critics such as Vissarion Belinsky viewed the superfluous man as a byproduct of Nicholas I’s reign, when the best educated men would not enter the discredited government service and, lacking other options for self-realization, doomed themselves to live out their life in passivity. Scholar David Patterson describes the superfluous man as “not just…another literary type but…a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, a presence in life” before concluding that “the superfluous man is a homeless man”.

The superfluous man is often in contrast politically with the great man.

The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi

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From Amazon:

Karim Amir lives with his English mother and Indian father in the routine comfort of suburban London, enduring his teenage years with good humor, always on the lookout for adventure—and sexual possibilities. Life gets more interesting, however, when his father becomes the Buddha of Suburbia, beguiling a circle of would-be mystics. And when the Buddha falls in love with one of his disciples, the beautiful and brazen Eva, Karim is introduced to a world of renegade theater directors, punk rock stars, fancy parties, and all the sex a young man could desire. A love story for at least two generations, a high-spirited comedy of sexual manners and social turmoil, The Buddha of Suburbia is one of the most enchanting, provocative, and original books to appear in years

What is it about?
A young man growing up in London in the 70’s. He’s half Asian half English, bisexual, something of a cynic but not totally jaded. Kind of an Angry Young Man book.

Pros
There are many well developed, fully human characters. London in the 70’s sounds like an interesting place. It’s both funny and moving at different times.

Cons
Could have been written as a longer book perhaps. 

Thumbs up/down?
Thumbs up.

Check it out at Amazon
Part of the Desultory Notes International Book Club

3 Audio book recommendations

I found these books easier to grok via audio. The cast of Hamlet was particularly good. 

Hamlet
Distressed by his father’s death and his mother’s over-hasty remarriage, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is faced by a specter from beyond the grave bearing a grim message of murder and revenge. The young prince is driven to the edge of madness by his struggle to understand the situation he finds himself in and to do his duty. Many others, including Hamlet’s beloved, the innocent Ophelia, are swept up in his tragedy.
Amazon

Lolita
When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause celebre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov’s wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the 20th century’s novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author’s use of that material to tell a love story that is shocking in its beauty and tenderness.
Amazon

Herzog
Like the protagonists of most of Bellow’s novels – Dangling ManThe VictimSeize the DayHenderson the Rain King, etc. – Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife’s house, he retreats to his abandoned home in Ludeyville, a remote village in the Berkshire mountains to which Herzog had previously moved his wife and friends. Here amid the dust and vermin of the disused house, Herzog begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex- Presidents – anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters, we learn, are never sent. They are a means to cure himself of the immense psychic strain of his failed second marriage, a method by which he can recognize truths that will free him to love others and to learn to abide with the knowledge of death. In order to do so he must confront the fact that he has been a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, and an apathetic citizen.
Amazon

Hardcover fiction best sellers, December 18, 2019

https://www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers/hardcover-fiction/

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING
by Delia Owens
In a quiet town on the North Carolina coast in 1969, a young woman who survived alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.

THE GUARDIANS
by John Grisham
Cullen Post, a lawyer and Episcopal minister, antagonizes some ruthless killers when he takes on a wrongful conviction case.

CRISS CROSS
by James Patterson
The 27th book in the Alex Cross series. Copycat crimes make the detective question whether an innocent man was executed.

THE INSTITUTE
by Stephen King
Children with special talents are abducted and sequestered in an institution where the sinister staff seeks to extract their gifts through harsh methods.

A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT
by David Baldacci
When Atlee Pine returns to her hometown to investigate her sister’s kidnapping from 30 years ago, she winds up tracking a potential serial killer.

THE DUTCH HOUSE
by Ann Patchett
A sibling relationship is impacted when the family goes from poverty to wealth and back again over the course of many decades.

BLUE MOON
by Lee Child
Jack Reacher gets caught up in a turf war between Ukrainian and Albanian gangs.

TWISTED TWENTY-SIX
by Janet Evanovich
The 26th book in the Stephanie Plum series. A New Jersey gangster’s associates go after a bounty hunter’s widowed grandmother.

THE TESTAMENTS
by Margaret Atwood
In a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” old secrets bring three women together as the Republic of Gilead’s theocratic regime shows signs of decay.

OLIVE, AGAIN
by Elizabeth Strout
In a follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Olive Kitteridge,” new relationships, including a second marriage, are encountered in a seaside town in Maine.

10 Books from the 2010s – Desultory Notes Notable Books

Note – selections mine, descriptions taken from Amazon.

Rat Girl, Kristin Hersh
In 1985, Kristin Hersh was just starting to find her place in the world. After leaving home at the age of fifteen, the precocious child of unconventional hippies had enrolled in college while her band, Throwing Muses, was getting off the ground amid rumors of a major label deal. Then everything changed: she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and found herself in an emotional tailspin; she started medication, but then discovered she was pregnant. An intensely personal and moving account of that pivotal year, Rat Girl is sure to be greeted eagerly by Hersh’s many fans.

Talk Show, Dick Cavett
For years, Dick Cavett played host to the nation’s most famous personalities on his late-night talk show. In this humorous and evocative book, we get to hear Cavett’s best tales, as he recounts great moments with the legendary entertainers who crossed his path and offers his own trenchant commentary on contemporary American culture and politics.

Pym, Mat Johnson
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel. When he discovers the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that seems to confirm the reality of Poe’s fiction, he resolves to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes imagines it to be the last untouched bastion of the African Diaspora and the key to his personal salvation.

How Music Works, David Byrne
How Music Works is David Byrne’s incisive and enthusiastic look at the musical art form, from its very inceptions to the influences that shape it, whether acoustical, economic, social or technological. Utilizing his incomparable career and inspired collaborations with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and many others, Byrne taps deeply into his lifetime of knowledge to explore the panoptic elements of music, how it shapes the human experience, and reveals the impetus behind how we create, consume, distribute, and enjoy the songs, symphonies, and rhythms that provide the backbeat of life. Byrne’s magnum opus uncovers ever-new and thrilling realizations about the redemptive liberation that music brings us all.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt
Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

Mo Meta Blues, Ahmir Questlove Thompson
Mo’ Meta Blues is a punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone’s Favorite Questlove tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, David Henry and Joe Henry
Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly he was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and somewhat enigmatic during his life, Pryor’s performances opened up a whole new world of possibilities, merging fantasy with angry reality in a way that wasn’t just new–it was theretofore unthinkable. Now, this groundbreaking and revelatory work brings him to life again both as a man and as an artist, providing an in-depth appreciation of his talent and his lasting influence, as well as an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the myriad influences that shaped both his persona and his art.

What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund
A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.

The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Is happiness something you choose for yourself? The Courage to Be Disliked presents a simple and straightforward answer. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of nineteenth-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, this book follows an illuminating dialogue between a philosopher and a young man. Over the course of five conversations, the philosopher helps his student to understand how each of us is able to determine the direction of our own life, free from the shackles of past traumas and the expectations of others.

How to Get Successful by F*cking Up Your Life: Essays on Addiction and Recovery, Anna David
Anna David was, in every way, groomed for success. She grew up in an affluent community and came from a family that prioritized SAT scores, Harvard attendance and high-paying jobs. The problem was, she had low SAT scores, was rejected by Harvard and spent her early life feeling like the family’s great disappointment.Concluding that success was not for her, Anna focused her energies on an area where she excelled: drugs, alcohol and general mayhem. Washing ashore on the beaches of recovery at the age of 30, she begrudgingly entered a world of sobriety. That’s when she discovered that there were all sorts of ways to define success—and what’s more, that it was never too late to find it.The stories in this collection document her journey from self-indulgent party girl to sober and only semi-indulgent woman.

. . . we would assume that what it was we meant would have been listed in some book set down beyond the sky’s far reaches, if at all there was a purpose here. But now I think the purpose lives in us and that we fall into an error if we do not keep our own true notebook of the way we came, how the sleet stung, or how a wandering bird cried at the window. . . – LOREN EISELEY

Epigraph from True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall, Mark Salzman

SUSAN SONTAG: Ten Neglected Novels

Charlotte Bronte
VILLETTE

George Meredith
THE EGOIST

Machado de Assis
EPITAPH FOR A SMALL WINNER

Alfred Döblin
BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: The Story of Franz Biberkopf

Witold Gombrowicz
FERDYDURKE

Knut Hamsun
HUNGER

Venedikt Erofeev
MOSCOW TO THE END OF THE LINE

Randall Jarrell
PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION: A Comedy

Italo Calvino
INVISIBLE CITIES

Jiri Grusa
THE QUESTIONNAIRE

from – The Reader’s Catalog: An Annotated Selection of More Than 40,000 of the Best Books in Print in 208 Categories (Reader’s Catalogue)

TONI MORRISON: Books for Fiction Writers

“Beginning fiction writers ought to find the following 13 books helpful in a number of ways.”

Flannery O’Connor
THE COMPLETE STORIES

William Faulkner
THE SOUND AND THE FURY

Jean Toomer
CANE

Italo Svevo
THE CONFESSIONS OF ZENO

George Meredith
THE EGOIST

Eudora Welty
ONE WRITER’S BEGINNINGS

Marilynne Robinson
HOUSEKEEPING

Louise Erdrich
LOVE MEDICINE

Franz Kafka
THE METAMORPHOSIS

Toni Cade Bambara
THE SEA BIRDS ARE STILL ALIVE

James Dickey
DELIVERANCE

Marguerite Duras
THE VICE-CONSUL

James Wilcox
MODERN BAPTISTS

from – The Reader’s Catalog: An Annotated Selection of More Than 40,000 of the Best Books in Print in 208 Categories (Reader’s Catalogue)

Ivan Ilych’s life was the most simple and most ordinary and therefore the most terrible.

The self that dies is radically separate, not only from the material world but also from other selves. My consciousness is essentially private; I cannot directly experience the mind of another. I may know everything public about another conscious being, but I cannot experience being that other. Knowing from direct experience is one thing, and knowing about, from an outside perspective, is quite another. Mortality therefore entails unspeakable loneliness.

Itself a narrativized apothegm, Tolstoy’s novella contains several of his most-cited lines. Ivan Ilych has lived as if his public role exhausted his identity, but in his mortal illness he discovers the private self, inaccessible from the outside, that he has overlooked. He senses with horror that his role will go on but his “I” will die.

None of us can really grasp this fact, but for Ivan Ilych it is all the more terrible because he is losing the self just as he realizes he has it. He has thought of himself as his “place” (mesto), a word that means not only physical location but also job (position) and social role (place in society). He has assiduously avoided doing anything “inappropriate” (literally, out of place). But the self is not a place, and so he has missed it until, when dying, he recognizes that besides what is here and now, there is something else.

What Ivan Ilych takes to be the glory of his life, his amazing ability to “fit in” with others, depends on a “virtuoso” erasure of self. But as he will learn, nothing can be worse than success in such a venture. That is the meaning of the frequently cited apothegm that begins Chapter 2: Ivan Ilych’s life was the most simple and most ordinary and therefore the most terrible. (GSW, 255)

Morson, Gary. The Long and Short of It: From Aphorism to Novel

A. Alvarez – RIP

A. Alvarez, a British poet, critic and essayist who played a pivotal role in bringing the poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the public, and whose acclaimed book on the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas helped transform high-stakes professional poker from a cult to a televised sport, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 90.

Mr. Alvarez’s enormously influential anthology “The New Poetry,” published in 1962, brought the poetry of Mr. Hughes, Thom Gunn and Geoffrey Hill and the American confessional poets John Berryman and Robert Lowell to a wide audience in Britain. Ms. Plath and Anne Sexton were added to the 1966 edition.

In his polemical preface, Mr. Alvarez railed against the genteel tradition in English poetry and what he called “the cult of rigid impersonality.” The new poetry, he argued, took emotional risks. It embraced “experience sometimes on the edge of disintegration and breakdown.”

William Grimes, Sept. 23, 2019,  nytimes

 

From Alvarez’s book Night:

Apart from the ‘organised and steady system’, something else hasn’t changed since Dickens went out with the police: the ‘individual energy and keenness’. But police take on the character of their territory. In London, the energy and keenness are masked, like the city itself, by a certain reticence; in Manhattan, they come with a New Yorker pace and appetite. When I called Lieutenant Raymond O’Donnell, the head of media liaison at Police Plaza, the NYPD’s downtown redbrick fortress, to arrange a couple of nights as a ‘ride-along’ in the back of a patrol car, I asked to go to precincts where I might see some action.

A gravelly voice at the other end said, ‘Whaddya want, drugs or whores?’
‘How about both?’
‘You got it!’

 

Feodor’s Guide: Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky, David Foster Wallace Review

from the footnotes:

8) Somebody has only to spend one term trying to teach literature in school to realize that the quickest way to kill a writer’s vitality for potential readers is to present that writer ahead of time as “great” or “classic.” Because then the author becomes for the students like medicine or vegetable, something that the authorities have declared “good for them” that they “ought to like,” and then the students’ nictitating membranes come down, and everybody’s dead. Should this surprise anybody? We could learn a lot from bored students who hate to read, in my opinion.

Whole article here:
Village Voice