Reading Evening

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It was a weekend of colossal snowflakes. Twirling, swirling, pirouetting, waving-to-the-audience snowflakes. So cute, you can’t stop staring snowflakes. Snow that puts the world on mute. Snow that drapes over every horizontal surface and beautifies barbed wire. Snow that provokes stillness. We stoked the fire and settled into a reading evening.

We submerged into our book(s) and sat in companionable silence. We forgot all screens and beeps malfunctioning computers. After an hour of pure silence, I put on a CD (remember those?). This set of four CDs has been one of the soundtracks of my life for the last twenty years. (A great score!)

Furiously reading Martin Gilbert’s Churchill, A Life, trying to finish the 1K book before the inter-library loan ends (this is how I do marathons), the mounting crisis of Hitler’s threatened evasion of Czechoslovakia was creating inner tension.

Slowly I became aware that the music playing was such a befitting accompaniment to the words I was reading. Minor key, evocative, simply sad music. Naturally, it was Chopin. Recorded by the Slovak National Orchestra.

 

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Joining the Club

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I’ve never been a big Book Club participant. Because, well, I could be reading instead of listening to Mary Lou talk about her aunt’s friend’s next-door neighbor who published a tantalizing article on loofahs in a women’s magazine.

But, last year, I joined a Facebook Group called Shakespeare in a Year, and read the bard with a few friends and a few strangers. The group still exists, a fitting repository for links and comments and excursions. The participants are erudite, witty, and well-read. I feel smarter just sitting in the proximity of their thoughts.

Then a friend opened the door to Close Reads. A podcast on reading literature? Yes, please! I listened to the original three podcasts (Flannery O’Connor, Macbeth, and P.G. Wodehouse) and said  out loud, I’ve found my tribe. These are my people!

Wendell Berry, Tolstoy, Kenneth Grahame, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers. Joy, joy, joy! Currently I’m listening to podcasts on E.M. Forster’s Howards End.

When Jan Karon said her last book was the final chapter of Mitford, I was ready to start at book one for a thorough re-read for one of my ultimate comfort reads. Behold! the Mitford Book Club, yet another group on FB, is reading four chapters a week. I am savoring this slow read.

I want to read through the written works of C.S. Lewis, but decided against cramming them into one year. I started The C.S. Lewis Reading Project on Facebook. We are in the middle of the Space Trilogy, reading ~ fifty pages a week. I’m a silent curator, but it has been a pleasant journey. You are welcome to join!

Meanwhile, in real life…

Some friends at our new church want to start a group that reads the classics. I’m in!

And I’m considering participating in our local communal reading (NEA Big Read) of Station Eleven. My druthers are to be a silent lurker, but I’m trying to stretch myself. I like that it’s a short-term commitment.

How about you? What is your Book Club experience? Fantastic? Meh?

 

 

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.

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?