Recent Reading

A very quick update post on what’s going on in my reading world:

  • I finished The Bhagavad Gita a while back. I read it twice, actually, once quickly and another time at a slower pace. It’s short (maybe 80 pages), so it wasn’t a challenge to do this. What is there to say about this book? Lots, of course, but not in a brief summary. I didn’t understand everything I read, but much of it is a very lucid introduction to some of the core beliefs in Hinduism.
  • Last night I finished Mary McCarthy’s collection of linked stories The Company She Keeps. I love McCarthy and am happy reading pretty much anything she’s written. This book was great: her main character is fascinating (and seemed very much like McCarthy herself — who is fascinating), and what I liked about it in particular is the amount of analysis it contains, analysis of ideas, social situations, people, politics, psychology, relationships, and love affairs. Often in these stories not a whole lot happens, but I was pulled along by the forcefulness of the author’s mind at work.
  • Yesterday I also finished Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History. I was disappointed, although that may not be the book’s fault. I’m not a huge memoir reader, but there are some I absolutely love (including those by Mary McCarthy), and I was hoping to be able to add to my list. There were very, very few that Yagoda inspired me to read, however. It was a good overview of the genre, but it turns out that an overview is not really what I wanted.
  • I just picked up Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. I’m only 40 or so pages in, but so far I’m liking it a lot. She’s a very smart writer with an interesting voice and the ability to move smoothly among various modes of writing — personal narrative, literary history, intellectual contemplation. It’s the kind of nonfiction I like very much, and I have high hopes for the rest of the book.

As for cycling, I’m riding like mad. I rode 170 miles this week — on three rides. There was the cupcake ride with two others on Tuesday for 50 miles, a 30-mile loop with my cycling BFF on Thursday, and today a 90-mile ride with a group of six. I’m getting used to long rides, and although I began to get tired toward the end today, I was able to push hard right up until we returned.

I raced last Saturday in my first Pro123 race. My results reflected this lack of experience — 23rd out of 31 starters — but I rode hard and felt fine about it (I averaged 19.6 mph for 48 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing, which for me is fast, even if most of the others were faster). I have no idea when I’ll race next, excluding the Wednesday night training races, which don’t feel much like a race for me, as I’m not in contention to win. I like this uncertainty about racing, and instead of anticipating a race, I’m looking forward to another long ride next weekend, perhaps 100+ miles.

13 Comments

Filed under Books

13 responses to “Recent Reading

  1. I saw that Batuman book briefly at the library the other day, Dorothy, and it looked great but of course was on hold for somebody else (the agony!). Will look forward to more thoughts from you on it as you progress or when you finish.

  2. zhiv

    Mary McCarthy and Elif Batuman plus 170 miles of cycling–all that’s missing is the yoga and pilates update! Cranking very nicely into summertime. I hope I can look forward to a little bit more about TCSK, and maybe some general consideration of McCarthy. She seems oddly neglected. I love the extraordinary Frances Kiernan biography, by the way–I think you might have read one of the other ones, if I recall correctly. Kiernan herself is interesting, former New Yorker fiction editor whose next book was about Brooke Astor. The book I haven’t gotten to is McCarthy’s pioneering academic novel, The Groves of Academe. Forming plans to read Issac Babel, or to ride your bikes through Samarkand this summer?

  3. I just picked up a copy of “The Possessed” as well & I’m looking forward to diving in. And now of course I’m also looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

  4. I’m so intrigued to read more McCarthy, having been really impressed by the essay of hers I just read – glad to hear your positive impressions of The Company She Keeps, especially since I’m quite fond of the linked-story-cycle form. Exciting!

    Also, I’m inclined to think it’s not just you: every review I’ve read of that memoir book has been distinctly underwhelmed. Ah well.

  5. I read one of Mary McCarthy’s short stories a few years ago when I was reading lots of short stories (I think it was from this book), though now I can’t recall exactly what it was about (which says more about me than her writing!)–I’ve always wanted to read more by her, though. And I do like collections with linked stories like this one. I’ll have to find one of her essays to read this year now. And the Batuman book sounds interesting–I wonder what she has to say about Anna Karenina? I may have to see if the library has this one. Are you on summer break yet?

  6. The Batuman sounds great and that’s a completely new name to me. You also remind me to pick up more Mary McCarthy. I can thoroughly recommend Partisans by David Laskin, which is a group biography of Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, Hannah Arendt… (all writers involved in The Partisan Review). I read it earlier in the year and enjoyed it very much. McCarthy sounds like she was a very scary woman!

  7. You’ve been doing some good reading! I really want to read the Batuman book so I am glad to hear you are enjoying it. I have to laugh when I look it up in the library catalog it asks me if what I really meant was “batman elf.” I think 23rd in your first Pro123 race is pretty darn good. You weren’t, after all, last!

  8. bardiac

    That’s fast! Way to go!

  9. The linked stories sound right up my alley. I’m going to look for them.

  10. I thought about you yesterday because I bought a bike! I rode for just a bit and thought well, there’s no way I’m ever going to match Dorothy’s biking at this pace :)

    Regarding the books, I saw the Batuman book at B&N and loved that cover. I didn’t get a chance to really peek at it but glad to hear you are enjoying it. I may have to check it out again.

  11. It sounds like you’re moving out of your reading drought now that school is ending — that’s great!

    I just started Bird by Bird and am really enjoying it.

    I think you did great for your first pro 1/2/3 race! Hope the weather will clear up soon so we can all get out on our bikes this weekend.

  12. So, here I am, picked up The Bhagavad Gita ages ago. Loved the Introduction (which, uncharacteristically, I decided to read first) in the ancient Penguin Classic I have but still have not read the damn thing. Meanwhile, you’ve read it through twice. Good for you! I’ve got a copy of The Company She Keeps somewhere. Must pull it out. And I’m late, so it sounds kind of stupid to say, “Is there any Batuman here?” since she’s obviously been the talk of the party, and there’s no need to say I’m adding it to the TBR tome.

  13. I’m definitely going to look for the Mary McCarthy. And glad to hear the cycling is going so well. Summer must be in full swing there by the sounds of it.

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