How Can I Keep from Reading? Pt 2

 

dsc_0364

My nightstand in 2011

Why I Read, Part 2

The second answer is short: because I’m hungry.

dsc_0367
I could respond to the Why do you read? question with Why do you eat?

I’m hungry to know, hungry to discover, hungry to learn. Hungry for story, hungry for wordsmithery, hungry for surprise. I’m hungry to see, hungry to really see my world, your world, their world over there. I thirst for books that establish my roots and for books that bend my thoughts. I don’t mind books that give me a needed smack-down. I want to laugh, I want my throat to constrict, I want to gasp, to nod, to stop reading and ponder. I want to recognize, to reform, and I dearly want to remember.

In my mind, I often classify my current read by a food equivalent. This is butternut soup: light, but nourishing. This is chocolate torte: rich and sweetThis is steel cut oats: not very exciting, but it gets the job done. This is burnt garlic: yuck! This is a cup of tea and a sit-down. This is an omelet: satisfying protein. This is flour and water: half-baked! This is a glorious main-dish salad: it took some time and effort, but so worth it.

A confession: I love cotton candy. It’s pure sugar, I know, but those yummy sticky pink wisps whisper joy, joy, joy…—until they are suddenly thoroughly revolting. Shoved in the garbage. You know that kind of book? Mediocre writing, but a catchy storyline. If you finish, you feel filmy and regret the hours you just wasted. I don’t like retching; better to avoid wretched things, even when they appear so seductively lovely.

There is a time for easy reading (fast food), reading magazines or online articles (snacks), and escape reading (ice cam from the carton). I have a few favorite comfort books, all British, which I admit are in the suburbs of sentimental. Excellent books for children are my first choice when fatigue and grief confound me.

 

dsc_8171

A page from my commonplace (quote-collecting) book.

 

 

 

Quotes I Copied in 2016

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

DSC_8489

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

dsc_0426-001

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

dsc_2231

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)

DSC_0203

…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

DSC_1693

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

dsc_1387

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

dsc_0408

Lila

DSC_3801

Wow. The audio edition read by Maggie Hoffman enshrouded me, made this not merely listening to a book, but an experience. I listened while driving, but when I was home, I found it difficult to do anything beyond listening. Setting the iron upright, drying my hands, leaving clean clothes in the basket, I basked in the cadences.


The writing is spare, the words short. This is a story of abandonment, of survival, of transience. Provision and grace make spattered appearances, but they are layered and torn and patched. Lila finds herself alone but she steadfastly refuses to consider herself needy. The story pivots when she steps into a church on a rainstorm.

Quotes that captured me:

I got shame like a habit, the only thing I feel except when I’m alone.

There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them.

Most of the time she thought she understood things better when she didn’t try. Things happen the way they do. Why was a foolish question. In a song a note follows the one before because it is that song and not another one.

If I were leading a discussion of this book, we would talk about the knife; geraniums; gardens; charity; baptism; adoption; King James language; Psalm 22. And Ezekiel.

I was unmoved when I first read Gilead. What changed my response was hearing the audio. I can still remember what I was doing when I listened perhaps five years ago, it made so deep an impression. Now I want to return to the print book and read it with Lila still fresh in my mind.

Getting Paid to Read

DSC_0203

I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

Chronological 2015 Reading List

DSC_0389

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. — C.S. Lewis

The rewards of deep reading (reading several books on the same subject or by the same author) are plentiful: synthesis, comprehension, analysis. Or just the possibility of remembering the main point. Reading widely pays well, too. The stab of joy, the searing beauty of synchronicity! When I read Book G and it revisits something I read in Book B with no obvious connection between the two? Oh, man. It gets my voice in the high treble range and sets my fingers aflutter.

I thought it would be fun to classify my reading list for 2015 chronologically by publication date. I like old books, yes. But I also have been guilty of reverse-snobbery, where I lift my nose a few centimeters and declare that I’m not all that interested in modern writing. Blech! (autocorrect wanted to change that to belch; that works, too!) As you can see, I’ve overcome that weakness, haha!

2011-2015 (30 books)

Reclaiming Conversation     Sherry Turkle
Come Rain or Come Shine     Jan Karon
Bread and Wine     Shauna Niequist
Earthen Vessels     Matthew Lee Anderson
Being Mortal     Atul Gawande
Fierce Convictions     Karen Swallow Prior
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust     Alan Bradley
Landfalls     Naomi Williams
The Wright Brothers     David McCullough
All the Light We Cannot See     Anthony Doerr
Gutenberg’s Apprentice   Alix Christie
Nigellissima     Nigella Lawson
Among the Janeites     Deborah Yaffe
Wheat Belly     William Davis
Every Good Endeavor     Timothy Keller
Coolidge    Amity Shlaes
The Book of Strange New Things     Michel Faber
The Green Ember     S.D. Smith
Food: A Love Story     Jim Gaffigan
Dad Is Fat     Jim Gaffigan
God Made All of Me    Justin Holcomb
No Higher Honour     Condoleezza Rice
The Forgotten Founding Father     Joshua Kendall
Delancey     Molly Wizenberg
Lit! The Christian Guide to Reading Books     Tony Reinke
The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse     Alan Bradley
The Every-Other-Day-Diet     Krista Varady
Tsura     Heather Anastasiu
House of Stone     Heather Anastasiu
One Good Dish     David Tanis

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. — C.S. Lewis

2000-2010 (24 books)

In the Midst of Life     Jennifer Worth
The Midwife     Jennifer Worth
Waiting for Snow in Havana     Carlos Eire
The River of Doubt     Candice Millard
Mudhouse Sabbath     Lauren Winner
Complications     Atul Gawande
Unless It Moves the Human Heart     Roger Rosenblatt
The Importance of Being Seven     Alexander McCall Smith
The Best Day, The Worst Day     Donald Hall
A Personal Odyssey     Thomas Sowell
The Shoebox Bible     Alan Bradley
Sonata for Miriam     Linda Olsson
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance     Atul Gawande
Shadows of the Workhouse     Jennifer Worth
Inkheart     Cornelia Funke
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones     Alexander McCall Smith
Old Filth     Jane Gardam
The Man in the Wooden Hat     Jane Gardam
How to Read Shakespeare     Nicholas Royle
In Thy Dark Streets Shineth       David McCullough
The House at Riverton     Kate Morton
Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs     Larry Smith
Widow of the South     Robert Hicks
A Separate Country     Robert Hicks

1990-1999 (7 books)

A Pianist’s Landscape     Carol Montparker
Down the Common     Ann Baer
Poems New and Collected     Wistawa Szymborska
Melodious Accord     Alice Parker
One Year Off     David Elliot Cohen
Girl in Hyacinth Blue     Susan Vreeland
Jeremy: The Tale of An Honest Bunny     Jan Karon

1980-1988 (2 books)

Godric     Frederick Buechner
To School Through the Fields     Alice Taylor

1970-1979  (1 book)

The Brendan Voyage    Tim Severin

1950-1969 (4 books)

A Grief Observed     C.S. Lewis
How Does a Poem Mean?     John Ciardi
On the Beach     Nevil Shute
The Schoolmasters     Leonard Everett Fisher

1900-1949 (7 books)

Orthodoxy     G.K. Chesterton
The Adventures of Sally     P.G. Wodehouse
Pied Piper   Nevil Shute
Anna and the King of Siam     Margaret Landon
I Capture the Castle     Dodie Smith
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres     Henry Adams
Jimmy at Gettysburg     Margaret Bigham Beitler

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. — C.S. Lewis

1800-1899 (4 books)

Doctor Wortle’s School     Anthony Trollope
Sir Henry Hotspur     Anthony Trollope
Henry Heathcote of Gangoil     Anthony Trollope
Luck of the Roaring Camp     Bret Harte

1500-1599 (2 books)

Henry IV, Part I     William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part 2     William Shakespeare

0- 500 AD (2 books)

On the Incarnation    Athanasius
Marcus Aurelius and his Times     Marcus Aurelius

Photograph is my granddaughter, reading Goodnight Moon to me.

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.