I’m making a valiant effort to thin out my very thick personal library. Like any parting, there is grief, but I’m choosing instead to grip the joy and gratitude I’ve garnered from my books. When I picked up this 1232 page brick I faced the glacial reality that I would never read all the words again.
The next best thing was to read the bits I’d underlined in neat pencil.
Because I’m a wee bit obsessive about my books, I knew I had to copy those adored sentences into my commonplace book.
Two long road trips, several shorter drives, the odd minutes gleaned here and there… and I’ve added 30 pages to my journal of quotes from Les Misérables. All the joy, people. All the joy/grief/delight/disgust/admiration of this magnum opus comes flooding back.
It was the next best thing to reading every word. And so many quotes!
One thing remains. Giving this book a good home. A place where it can sit on a shelf, get a few loving glances with the whispered promise to read it sometime.
If my penciled copy of Hugo’s masterpiece sounds like something you want (free), leave a comment. In a week I’ll make a decision where it goes and mail/hand it to that person. Otherwise I’ll donate it.
Tears are expected,
but sometimes laughter feels like the much more appropriate
— and the much more restorative, healing, even — response.
Laughter mixed with tears works, too.
And laughter takes the edge off those times
when tears are, in fact, unavoidable.
— MFS, personal blog
It occurred to me this morning that my thrifty sister would have heartily approved of the tax benefits related to the timing of her birth and death. We Harpers exult in saving money! Margo was born a few days before the end of the year, giving my folks a welcome tax exemption for that short week in 1948. She died at the beginning of January, giving her husband an exemption and joint filing for 2016. Way to win! Take that, IRS!! [Further, the airfare to travel back there was amazingly low. Who travels to Chicago in January?] Time sifts the pain and grief and gives us eyes to see the humor.
This may appear irreverent, but, my brother-in-law and I shared a good horsey laugh talking about it. I can hear Margo’s chuckle in my head and some pseudo-modest acknowledgment: Not bad for a bear with very little brain! [She had a brain tumor removed in 1980.]
Why I Read, Part 3
My third answer is: I read because I’m tired.
I went through a long spell (5+ years) of insomnia. It was impossible to turn my mind off and go to sleep; even more difficult to return to sleep after waking at 2:00 – 4:00 a.m. All recommended remedies were futile. My jaw clenched in frustration. At least if I read, I didn’t feel like the time was a total waste. A favorite coping mechanism was to go into the living room and read. My object was to become chilled through. Then I slinked into the warm bed and back into that sweet unconscious state.
Sal knew that she would not sleep so she took Emma to bed with her, hoping that the well-known story would soothe her troubled spirit and dissipate her worried thoughts…
~ from The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
Since I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and now use a CPAP, I’m sleeping 7-8.5 hours straight, which is wealth untold.
But I still use books to soothe myself to sleep. The hour between going to bed and the book falling on my face is my primary reading time. Each evening my husband asks me, “What are you reading?” and I give a short recap, sometimes reading a sample.
There are two kinds of bedtime books: books that put you to sleep, and books that make you lose sleep. I usually choose the book whose deadline (library, friend-loans, book club, self-imposed) is most pressing. Too many times I’ve listed an unread book for sale or swap (cold logic insisting I’ll never read it); when the email “Sold. Ship Now.” arrives, I panic and decide to read it before I mail it. Even when it’s 400 pages. #fearofmissingout
From this year’s journal, for the patient and curious reader:
GPS sets us in the center of the map and then makes the world circulate around us. In this miniature parody of the pre-Copernican universe… —The Glass Cage
If your husband knows you love and want him, you empower him in every other area. —For the Love
We’re headed for Lost Wages —Southwest flight attendant
Grief is a strange thing. —A Man Called Ove
What I always say is, God sends the weather and it’s not for us to grumble. —Shoulder the Sky
Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw—actually saw—a flower. —Four Seasons in Rome
Alex now saw that his relationship with his father was the taproot of his character and temperament. —The Father’s Tale
Life is like a bog. If you stand still too long your feet begin to sink into the mud. —Anna and Her Daughters
I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time. —End of Your Life Book Club
Cilantro, Satan’s own herb (I disagree, but I laughed!) —The Pat Conroy Cookbook
There are no billboards in Iceland. — Iceland: Land of the Sagas
In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhabit. — Shop Class as Soulcraft
…the small morsel of beard which he wore upon his chin … — The Golden Lion of Granpère
A French study released in 2013 even found a solid link between continued work and avoidance of dementia. — Get What’s Yours (Maxing out Social Security)
…ecologies of attention… — The World Beyond Your Head
Today, a whole generation has grown up as a take-out culture. The food is convenient, and some of it is even good, but it has none of the ring of the familiar; it can never be personal enough to become part of our past. — Christopher Kimball
Talkers never write. They go on talking. — Parnassus on Wheels
For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed. — A Poetry Handbook
MARTIAL is an anagram for MARITAL. — The Spectator Bird
I’ve seen far too many people awash in genuine desire to change only to lose their mettle when they realized just how difficult change actually is. — Hillbilly Elegy
Wisdom is long, violence is short. — Benjamin Franklin
Time used to tumble for me. Time was narrow, then, and very fast. Now time has widened. — Letters from the Land of Cancer
Manage time less and pay attention more. — The Rest of God
Everything she did and loved, everything she was, required language. — Still Alice
Here are this year’s favorite books in quirky categories, along with sample quotes.
Hello, Again (the second time together)
Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. ATGiB
I love mankind, he said, but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular. TBK
Think Tanks (books that made me pause and ponder)
We’re happiest when we’re absorbed in a difficult task, a task that has clear goals and that challenges us not only to exercise our talents but to stretch them. tGC
Work is necessarily toilsome and serves someone else’s interest. That’s why you get paid. SCaS
Franklin could never see chaos without thinking of order. BF
Waiting is the primary recreation of Russia. You could try getting used to it. tFT
Where Have You Been All My Life? (a book I wish was available years ago)
We spent that midsummer reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the backyard, and I will always remember my surprise when the children laughed in the right places. MM
Sweet Comfort (sure, they’re about food, but the prose is delicious)
And, please—enough with the supposed health concerns. I mean, it’s not as though the obesity epidemic was caused by overconsumption of duck legs. NK
It is my most religious belief that a recipe is just a story that ends with a good meal. tPCC
But cooking is a way of paying attention, of really being in this world. When you look closely at a mango and inhale its scent, everything else stops. Life feels rich and easy. G-FG&tC
Cover Story (the cover drew me in)
Core Strengthening (soul-building books)
Over and Over we hear the dissonance of pain resolve into the consonance of joy. MOC
The opposite of a slave is not a free man. It’s a worshiper. TRoG
Upper Story (two memoirs and a history a cut above )
Rome is a broken mirror, the falling strap of a dress, a puzzle of astonishing complexity. It is an iceberg floating below our terrace, all its ballast hidden beneath the surface. FSiR
At Yale, many of my friends had never spent time with a veteran. In other words, I was an anomaly. HE
Fear settled over the men like silt in a tide. DW
For the Children (for me, too…my husband & I are reading HP series for the first time)
If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. HPG0F
Books can ignite fires in your mind, because they carry ideas for kindling, and art for matches. LB&BB
Whatever it means to be friends, taking a black eye for someone has to be in it. WW
(Amazon affiliate links included: thank you!)
In my ideal life, I would keep poetry on my nightstand. In my perfect life, I would read it regularly. Sailing Alone Around the Room had been ensconced there nine weeks;* when I ran out of renewals I started reading.
Humor, the deep-from-within-the-DNA-funny, permeates this poetry.
The first poem places a neighbor’s dog in a Beethoven symphony,
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.
The poems centered around music (and their abundance) delighted me.
I was pleased to learn a new form of poetry (I won’t mention the name); I did a search to read more. Then I roared with laughter. The joke’s on me — this is a parody! It was a small consolation that book reviewers and other poets also missed the satire.
Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty,
I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles
Collins always surprises me. He twists words, insisting I see life from a changed perspective.