Here is a visual/quote diary of the last 20 books I read. I tweeted each book cover when I finished, and have now added a random sample as well (chosen mostly by complete chance, wherever I flipped the book open to). Books are listed in the order I read them; some selections inspired future choices so there's kind of a thread, or a few threads, running through the titles. Hopefully some of these inspire a visit to your own local library or bookstore; let me know if you've read or plan to read any of these, and what you thought!
(P.S. The above is a photo of my bookshelf, including many titles that aren't featured below; but if you have thoughts on any of them, share those in the comments as well!)
Sometimes a girl just disappeared in the field, sample case and all. She'd hitch a ride into town, then beat it. But there were always girls to take her place. Girls were coming and going in those days. Patti had a list. Every few weeks she'd run a little ad in The Pennysaver. There'd be more girls and more training. There was no end of girls."
"Vitamins," from Short Cuts (compiled in 1993) by Raymond Carver
'...but it is proper that I should mention one other circumstances which distinguishes these poems from the popular poetry of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling.'
I think this neglected sentence is the most important of many sentences in Wordsworth's Preface, though it is the least often quoted."
A Short History of English Poetry (1981) by G.S. Fraser
The unclaimed bones are lying somewhere in a far-away land,
The rain is lashing down and the wind howling,
Who now will evoke their memory?'
If this is the fate of their enemies, the fate of the Vietnamese is to endure suffering and be redeemed through it. This is the theme of Nguyen Du's eighteenth-century epic poem, Kieu, which is written about a young woman separated from her lover, who experiences constant degradation, betrayal, and attempts on her life until she meets him once again. Kieu's search, of course, is the search of the Vietnamese for unification. Her willingness to sacrifice everything for principle is set down in these famous lines:
'It is better that I should sacrifice myself alone.
It matters little if a flower falls if the tree can keep its leaves green.'"
The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972) by Tom Hayden
Prophet Apollo, now the Lycian fates
And now, sent from above by Jove himself,
The messenger divine bears through the skies
His terrible commands. A labor this,
Indeed, for those supernal ones! Such care
Ruffles their calm repose! I keep you not
From going, nor shall I refute your words.
Go! find your Italy, and with the winds
Seek for your kingdoms. Truly I do hope,
If the just gods have any power, that you
Will drain your punishment even to the dregs
Amid the rocks of ocean, calling often
Upon the name of Dido! Though far off,
With gloomy fires I shall pursue your steps."
The Aeneid (19 BC) by Vergil
"The Castle of the Fisher King
'Ha! Powerful Lord God, if I could pass across this water, I should find my mother beyond, as I think, if she is alive.'"
The Story of the Grail (c. 1181-1190) by Chrétien de Troyes
The Gift (1979) by Lewis Hyde
"THE THREE WOUNDS
The essential failure, or at best the very limited success of the Grail quest, is intricately interwoven with the state of Europe's physical and spiritual health at the time when the legends first appeared. At that time the whole continent was in turmoil. While there appeared to be free access and many pilgrimages around the different regions there was no central authority except the Church of Rome. The various kingdoms were too busy squabbling and coveting their neighbors' lands to form any secular equivalent. And yet a fresh religious atmosphere and a new uplift of the spirit was trying to assert itself. The new spirituality had its true source in the earlier Christian sects of the Gnostics. At the very heart of Gnosticism lies an essentially female view of the cosmos which was the major ingredient to inspire Cathars and alchemists alike."
The Holy Grail: Its Origins, Secrets & Meaning Revealed (1994) by Malcolm Godwin
What does the Lichtenstein family want with twenty-two castles?
'I'm not sure about the castles. They are not much of an economic proposition nowadays, and they are probably better off being used as they are - as museums and children's homes. But I am sure that some deal will be struck. We are bound to go back. Aristocracy has been thriving in Europe for more than a thousand years. Communism still has to prove that it can work for one hundred.'"
Aristocrats (1983) by Robert Lacey
The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief (2004), by Richard Barber
"THE WORLDVIEW OF THE ANCIENTS
'Ladder' is an apt metaphor, for the spiritual dimension of ancient astrology reflected the worldview of the time. The heavens and the earth were the progressively unfolding work of a creative intelligence whose energy still infused the manifest world. It was natural, then, to read celestial as well as terrestrial events as indicators of divine intention. Just as the universe unfolded from the invisible into the visible dimensions in a great linked chain, so the portents of today foreshadowed the events of tomorrow. Thus omen-based astrology is the most ancient and universal form of the art
For thousands of years, all known civilizations (in Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Central and South America, Greece, and Rome, among others) have recorded solar, lunar, and planetary cycles."
"Ladder to Labyrinth" by Priscilla Costello, from The Inner West (2004), edited by Jay Kinney
Tweedledee looked at his watch, and said, 'Half-past four.'
'Let's fight till six, and then have dinner,' said Tweedledum.
Through the Looking-Glass (1872) by Lewis Carroll
"Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words 'EAT ME' were beautifully marked in currants. 'Well, I'll eat it,' said Alice, 'and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I'll get into the garden, and I don't care which happens!'"
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll
A Conservative History of the American Left (2008) by Daniel J. Flynn
I recount this history because I think there is much of Kurosawa in Ran, made when he was seventy-five. He was preoccupied with mortality in his later years."
"Ran," from The Great Movies II (compiled 2005) by Roger Ebert
From "Hitler" to "Heimat" (1987/English 1989) by Anton Kaes
Know then I was with the tender prude, and was quite without any other business: for the little Volanges, in spite of her condition, was to pass the whole night at Madame V---'s infants' ball. My lack of employment had, at first, inclined me to prolong the evening, and I had even demanded a slight sacrifice with this view; but hardly was it granted, when the pleasure I had promised myself was disturbed by the idea of this love which you persist in ascribing to me, or at least, in reproaching me with; so much so that I felt no other desire except that of being able to assure myself, and convince you, that it was pure calumny on your part."
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
The Cultural Cold War (1999) by Frances Stonor Saunders
(She bursts into tears again; but this time Merteuil doesn't take her in her arms. Instead, she considers her coolly for a moment before speaking.)
MERTEUIL: You mean to tell me you're upset because Monsieur de Valmont has taught you something you've undoubtedly been dying to learn?
(Cecile's tears are cut off and she looks up in shock.)
MERTEUIL: And am I to understand that what generally brings a girl to her senses has deprived you of yours?"
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1985) by Christopher Hampton
"Oliver Stone, JFK, and History" by Michael L. Kurtz, from Oliver Stone's USA (2000), edited by Robert Brent Toplin
Then came the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the equally sudden emergence of the United States as the only superpower. Had artists functioning on the edges of American society played any role in this victory?"
Visionaries and Outcasts (2001) by Michael Brenson
'Fil le roy Utepandragun, what you have done here has put you and many Britons to shame! The pick from every land would be sitting in high honour had not some canker spoilt the vintage of their fame! - Now that Perfidy has joined it the Table Round has been destroyed! King Arthur, you once stood high above your peers for glory, but your ascendant fame now plunges down! Your prestige, which used to go by leaps and bounds, hobbles at the rear! Your praises are declining from their zenith! Your high name stands revealed as counterfeit!
'The mighty reputation of the Table Round has been maimed by the presence at it of Lord Parzival, who moreover wears the insignia of knighthood.'"
Parzival (c. 1200-1210) by Wolfram von Eschenbach