The Year in Books

DSC_0543My makeshift stand-up desk for sustained reading

It was a year of Will and Winston. A year of drama, poetry, and history. A year of reading from my shelves, a year of reading aloud until I was hoarse, a year of reading with friends. A year of book podcasts. It was a good year for books.

Disclosure: I turned sixty (the letters aren’t as neon as the numbers). How did that happen? I’m happy to be old, really. But I push myself to get all I can from my remaining years. If I live four more years, I and my siblings will have outlived my folks. (My sister died at 67.) It would be helpful (so I imagine) to know how much time I have left. When will closure come?

How does this affect my reading? I toggle between two options.

1) Reading books to release them from my shelf. These are bookshelves groaning with books I own but haven’t yet read. Not many are books I need to keep. But I can’t let them go unread. I don’t want my books to be a burden on those who survive me.

2) Reading the most excellent books I can in the time I have left. Hence: Shakespeare, Lewis, Chesterton, Burroughs, Trollope, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Undset, Wodehouse. I find that having a big goal prevents me from being sucked into books from Kindle First or Free Kindle books or any vehicle that feeds me mediocre reading.

Back to 2017.

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The Literary Study Bible was my edition this year. Single columns, few cross-references made it a good one for reading.

I joined a group on Facebook group that read all of Shakespeare this year. I listened to Arkangel Audio productions as I read along. I treated this as if I were taking a class, planning three-five hours a week for unapologetic reading time. Daytime reading.  I discovered plays I’d never heard of (Coriolanus) and some I wish I’d never heard of (Titus Andronicus).  Marjorie Garber was a helpful guide. Overall it was a fantastic experience.


I’ve been trying to read from my shelf without being so squirrely that I make a silly vow to not buy a book this year. (ha ha!) One of my first rules for living is: Friends buy friend’s books.

I joined a Seasonal Reading Challenge. Each participant sculpts a list for intentional reading the next three months. In truth, this challenge usually adds more books to my TBR (to be read) list because I get so many enticing recommendations from friends.

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See all those Hank the Cowdog books? I’m reading Harry (Potter) and Hank (the cowdog) and passing them off to eager grandsons.

The other piece is audio books. I looked for audio productions of books I owned but hadn’t read. I discovered the Last Lion trilogy on audio and my husband and I listened together. Fascinating stuff! Then, it turns out that in 2017 three full-length movies were released about Winston. Win!

                   

As to podcasts, my affections have cooled for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s What Should I Read Next? Primarily because her recommendations don’t closely enough match my likes. There were a few episodes I loved. But, honestly, I’m tired of her pitching her own book.

I discovered Circe Institute’s podcast Close Reads where I have found my tribe. I started at the beginning and have listened to David, Tim, and Angelina discuss Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Wodehouse, Kenneth Grahame, Austen, Marilynne Robinson, and Agatha Christie. I’ll be caught up soon; we start reading Howard’s End in January.

For the two people still reading this crazy long post, here is a link to my Goodreads list which includes fabulous food writing, new fiction, mystery, memoirs, and books on architecture, cultural studies, sailing, shepherding, and art.

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The Night My Dad Died

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My Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Christmas Eve 1986; he had less than eight weeks left. I got the call, “Come.” I flew out the next day, met my brother Jim and my uncle Bob at Midway airport and drove to Dubuque. My dad was still breathing, six siblings gathered and we sang hymns and watched. A night and day and night and day passed.

Although he was in a coma, Dad hung on, waiting for my brother Dan. When Dan and Val came, we sang, talked to my dad, and took turns napping, no longer able to hold our heads up.

When the nurse told us the end was imminent, Mary Ann (my stepmother), my siblings, and I  stood around his bed. We just had time to say ‘I love you’ when he exhaled his last breath. It was around two in the morning.

We collected our coats and scarves and trooped over to my dad’s house. Witnessing his death was profound; we needed time to process. So we lingered in the living room and told stories. All I remember about the next hour was how loud we guffawed. Every story ended in raucous laughter followed by awkward silence. Nothing was that funny…but laughter was a way to exhale pent-up emotion.

Eventually our need for sleep superseded all others. Down in the basement we lined up borrowed sleeping bags like cord wood: seven siblings and two spouses. Lights went out, we whispered good-nights, and rhythmic breathing began.

Not for me.

All I could think of was that Mary Ann was sleeping alone. We weren’t especially close; our relationship was more wary than warm. But that empty place in the bed beside her became the overarching tragedy in my sleep-deprived mind.

This impulse came to me. You should go sleep next to her.  I didn’t want to. I just wanted this episode over. You should at least offer.

I argued with myself. I might step on my brothers and sisters; the basement was pitch black. Just go and check on her.  I don’t want to!  Go!  No!

Finally, I picked up my pillow and tiptoed across the basement, trod with care up the steps, opened the door, took a breath, and faltered down the hall.

I tapped on her bedroom door and whispered, Mary Ann! Nothing. I took to hissing. Mary Ann! I rapped a little louder, but still no response. In my misguided trajectory, I had to make sure she wasn’t afflicted with insomnia.

I turned the doorknob centimeter by centimeter and bent down by her ear. Mary Ann, do you want me to sleep with you?

Huh? growled a male voice roused awake. He sat up. Yikes! My dad’s bedroom was occupied by Mary Ann’s sister and brother-in-law.  Sorry! I sputtered.

Heart exploding, I skedaddled across the house, danced down the steps, tripped across the room and dove into my sleeping bag, all thoughts of being helpful dissolved.

 

 

Tired and Worried

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I was new at this [National Geographic journalist], this was my big chance, and I knew I was going to mess up. So, every night, tired and worried, I would climb into my sleeping bag, under my mosquito net, and I would read from my book. And, instantly, I would be in another world, a world in which, whatever happened, it wasn’t my fault.

— Candice Millard, National Book Festival Gala, September 23, 2016

The full context of her remarks

Of Forest Fires and Hurricanes

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So began a life with “less schedule than a forest fire and less peace than a hurricane.” — Walter Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard, quoted by Sonia Purnell in Clementine.

It tickles my fancy when details in what I’m reading correspond with my current situation. For instance, reading about the events on March 23, 1877 on March 23rd. Or reading about the view from an airplane while looking out an airplane window.

Forest fires and hurricanes are not at all delightful, but I found it noteworthy to come across this unusual pairing during the first week of September 2017, when Irma was approaching Florida and fires were consuming Montana, Idaho, Washington, and our beloved Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

Had I read this sentence in July, it would have glanced off me without notice. But reading it in September gave the description rich resonance.

Have you experienced such an intersection between your reading and your living?

Trifles

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I washed and ironed this pillow cover my Zimbabwean friend gave me.
A small gift (easy to pack). But, precious. Unique.
A visual reminder of Noki.

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Barely visible in the upper background is a matelassé bedspread.
I’d never heard of matelassé before reading it on Ann Voskamp’s blog,
I think it was one of her 1,000 gifts.
It has a vintage look, reminds me of something a grandma would have.
I bought one, and I always think of Ann V. when I make up the bed in our guest room.
Saying matelassé (maht-luh-sey) is très bien!

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After a vacation with my brother’s family at the beach, I was inspired to transform my tiny half bath using an ocean motif. For years, Trader Joe’s Next to Godliness was both soap and dispenser. Noticing how grubby it had become, I replaced it. This makes my mouth go all horizontal.

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Above it is this handcrafted gift from my friend, Valerie. That’s a bouquet of French knots. You can’t buy this at the local box store. A cheerful reminder of our friendship.

Trifles, but treasures.  It’s the little things!

I Don’t Think We’ve Met Before

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It was a situation that called for small-talk. I was standing, chatting up two friends.

Someone approached the perimeter of our conversational group. I did a little demi-pivot that opened up the circle, an unspoken friendly gesture.

Hi! I’m {          }.  Kind and casual demeanor.

I smiled back. Hi! I’m Carol Bakker.

Oh, you’re Carol Bakker!

I grinned, nodded, and tossed off a mini-shrug of my shoulders. Yep, that’s me!

I don’t think we’ve met before.

I leaned in and laughed a conspiratorial snicker. Yes, we have. A few years ago you performed a colonoscopy on me!

 

 

There’s small town living for you, folks. We all had a hearty laugh!

 

 

Matched Sets

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You remember that Louisa May Alcott quote, She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain? Here is a corollary: She is too too fond of matching sets.

I have a birthday coming up. One that ends in zero and exceeds half a century. Since three of my family or origin (mother, father, sister) did not live to see the birthday that is 7/10 of a century, I gave myself permission to go for the gusto in making my wishes known.

It’s extravagant. Indubitably redundant. But, oh, so resplendent. And significantly pleasant!  Irrational and beautiful.

Reading all of Shakespeare this year has been such a positive experience that I plan an ‘all of {   } project’ the rest of my life. And surely one of those authors is C.S. Lewis. When I saw this set  I was conquered, subjugated, overwhelmed. In a season of releasing books, I gladly acquired these gems and will joyfully distribute the duplicates.

Something else made me deliriously giddy.

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This is my set of commonplace journals, beginning with 2007. (I have earlier commonplace books, but, alas, they don’t match.) I had a fright when the box store which shall not be named stopped selling these. Amazon sells them, but at more than twice what I had been paying. I discovered Staples now sells them! I’m ready for four more years of quotes, wedding invitations, doodles, news clippings, and recommendations. It’s a bullet journal (sort of) that focuses more on thinking than doing. And —joy!— they match!

More glorious matchingness

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The two on the left are the only remaining of the original set given me by my dad and mom, which I lent out with abandon and lost. My sister gave me the new hardbound set. It’s picky, I know, but don’t you think they could’ve made Laura Ingalls Wilder printed at the same place on the spine?

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Ah, Wendell. His Port Williams stories are top shelf. The publisher didn’t get the spine design uniform, but we’ll let it go.

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Barbara Tuchman makes history read like a novel. If you feel unsure about why World War 1 was fought, The Guns of August is the book to read.

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Reading a set of Churchill is like going on a diet. You need time to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge. But, oh!, the words!

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My sons and I gobbled up this Ralph Moody set. My oldest and I used to hide it from each other so we wouldn’t have to share it.

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No one in my circle of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances uses the word jonesing. Although I know jonesing is usually used in the context of recreational drugs (at least I think it is, but my middle name is Naïve), I can confidently say that I am jonesing for the complete hardbound set by Overlook. (You won’t believe how many greenbacks are needed for these hardbacks! Click on Overlook!)

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The Penguins. Friends. Hear me! Amazon sells 80 classics for $77.98!?!?!?  Be still, my finger. But, seriously, that is an amazing price, and would grace any bookshelf. This is quite the discovery for a sleepy Saturday…  Back to my shelf: you notice my Trollopes are divided? Yes, even the penguins editions must stay together. We can’t have top red stripes comingling with the lower white stripes.
DSC_3854 I found this Blackie and Son set at an Eagle River, Wisconsin antique store in 1996. I groaned because it cost $45; I wanted it, but $45 for books, beautiful watercolors notwithstanding, was not even [voice fades] blah blah blah. One of my siblings heard my groan, flipped me a fifty, and told me to buy it. This is what comes of being the youngest child, a habit I highly recommend.

Back to the CS Lewis set. Are you wondering with me about the spine on The Weight of Glory? (see top photo) Hello, Harper One? What was that about?

[In that x3-speed radio voice at the end of commercials: …affiliate links…no extra cost…helps my habit…thanks a million…]