Deep Reading (All the Books)

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There is a moment when you’re charmed / challenged / bedazzled by the writing and you resolve to read every book this author has written.

(Sometimes, though, in the middle of the fourth book by that beloved author, one recants! Alas, true story.)

My reading life began with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Twice a year — on my birthday and on Christmas — my dad and mom gave me a brand new hardback, the next Little House in the series. Oh how rich I felt, how lovingly I smoothed the dustjackets, how often I re-read those early books.

Wilder was the first author who inspired me to ‘read the canon’ (not to be confused with reading the cannon!) even though I didn’t know the word canon. As long as we’re talking about obscure words, I like oeuvre. (←three vowels in a row!!!)

In my early twenties I embarked on reading James Michener — always skipping the first boring chapter — immersing myself in family sagas set in Hawaii, Israel, South Africa and the Chesapeake Bay. At some point I forgot what I loved about them and moved on. I have his book, Poland, unread on my shelf, curious what I will think of it after all these years.

Somewhere in my thirties I read Jane. Dear, dear Jane. There is only one Jane whose whispered name thrills the soul. Jane Austen. Seven books that I’ve enjoyed multiple times. My beloved Latin teacher would say, “I was reading Mansfield Park, and came across the ethical dative.” There is more than one reason to read Jane.

Fast forward to 2012. I fell victim to a Kindle Daily Deal and bought all of L.M. Montgomery’s books for $2.99. More astonishingly, I read them all! I had known and loved Anne-with-an-e, but I never knew Emily! A few got a ‘meh’ response, but I enjoyed almost all.

I began to compile a list of authors. David McCullough. Anthony Trollope. (Same beloved Latin teacher remarked, If you like Jane Austen, you should read Trollope.) Jan Karon. Wendell Berry. Miss Read. Marilynne Robinson. Colin Thubron.

[Wait for it! Here come the initials!] A.A. Milne. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien (I can’t. I’m flawed. Because The Silmarillion.) P.G. Wodehouse. G.K. Chesterton. N.D. Wilson.  P.D. James. D.E. Stevenson.

A few authors I vowed to read all and then recanted: Mark Helprin. Alexander McCall Smith. Bill Bryson.

This year I succumbed to Shakespeare. I joined a Facebook group that is reading All of Shakespeare in 2017.  While I don’t love all of the bard, each play or poem rewards the discipline of reading it. It feels like being back in school, with a schedule pressing. I copied a friend’s idea to document the quest.

A friend calls this deep reading. I like that.

Next year I’m thinking of reading all of C.S. Lewis. It will require diligence and discipline. But why wait to read some of the best writing on the planet? Harper One has reissued Lewis’ books in gorgeous paperbacks with deckle edges. (Go ahead and click on the link just to see the covers.) Here is an even better glimpse. Even though I own almost all of CSL in various and sundry editions, I’m jonesing (← am I allowed to use the word jonesing with Lewis?) for this collection. I’ve already mentioned it to my husband. Birthday with a zero this year, dear. This is what I want. I dearly love matched collections.

Last month two young friends invited us to join them for lunch. As I passed through a bedroom (the only route to the only bathroom) I noticed her shelves full of Louis L’Amour paperbacks. What fun! She has her own quest, yes?!

How Can I Keep from Reading?

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Why I Read, 1

The first answer is easy: because I can’t not read.

I grew up in a book-filled house, the youngest of seven kids. We read in bed, we read in the bathroom (picture a child pounding on the door: “I really have to go. . . and I know  you’re reading!”), we read on the porch swing, we read on the front steps, we read on the couch (we called it the davenport), but we didn’t read at the dinner table. That was considered rude. In the same way people today sneak a look at their cell phone under the table, we all at least once tried to read a book on our laps. We always got caught.

After dinner, we grabbed RSV versions of the Bible and read a chapter of Jeremiah. I know we read other books, but I only remember Jeremiah. (Honestly, in second grade my teacher asked us to define rent. I threw my hand up and swirled it around until she called on me. To tear your clothes.)

We read at the same table while gulping down cold cereal. Every inch of the cereal boxes. Over and over and over. Riboflavin, B12, sold by weight not by volume. Battle Creek, Michigan. 49037.

My dad never left the house with less than four books. Because, you know, you never know.

We grew up without a television (my dad’s choice) so reading was the first avenue of diversion available.

Reading became a habit that followed me into my adulthood. It is my default.

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The Best of My Reading Life: 2016

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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

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Where Have You Been All My Life? (a book I wish was available years ago)

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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

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Cover Story (the cover drew me in)



In Scotland, one does not ‘mend’ anything or ‘fix’ it in any way. One ‘sorts’ it.
CtN

 

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

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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!)

Getting Paid to Read

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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.

5 Cookbooks To Read

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Little did I know, last fall when I read Shauna Niequiest’s Bread and Wine , that soon I would employ one of her coping mechanisms for dealing with grief—reading cookbooks. Without a plot there isn’t story grip, but that works well when it is hard to focus. Shauna’s book is simply a memoir with a few recipes. Besides introducing me to Nigella, I found her thoughts on hospitality and on feasting/fasting helpful.

  Nigella Kitchen is the first full-length cookbook that I read like a novel. Ah, Nigella! This was the best choice for me.  She writes with sparkly and surprising words, tosses in literary allusions, and takes unalloyed pleasure in alliteration. (I was at the stove, pontificating and pottering, occasionally pushing and prodding what was in front of me with a pair of tongs…) Her words are cozy and comforting: those of us who warm our souls by the stove and the solace of stirring. The pictures are sumptuous. This is all the joy of butter pecan ice cream without the calories.

A friend gave me Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef , a gluten-light person (except when I’m not). Two things drew me to Shauna Ahern: her response to a celiac diagnosis—saying ‘yes’ to everything she could eat instead of mourning what she couldn’t— and her deep/high/broad respect for her chef husband. There’s almost too much dancing and kissing and gazing and shopping-is-foreplaying, but I’d rather that than the condescending tone Molly Wizenberg had towards her husband in Delancey.  My cookbook shelf was crowded and I had expected to ‘read and release’ this. The recipes are highbrow, more Julia Child than Pioneer Woman. But I have to make a few, so I’m keeping this one. I love the way Danny and Shauna formatted the recipes.

When How to Cook Without a Book appeared on a bride’s wish list, I did the tightwad cha-cha-cha and read it entirely (after washing my hands) before I gave it to her. Then I repented and bought a copy for myself. Pam Anderson is earnest and straightforward. But this is a book to be read more for education than entertainment. Many good tips, including using won ton wrappers for ravioli.

There is a kind of woman who makes all sorts of people consider her their best friend. That’s Ree Drummond! The Pioneer Woman Cooks welcomes you to her ranch and kitchen and walks you through recipes step-by-step. Rich in photography, in conversational writing, and in wacky humor, this might be the best place to start if you want to read cookbooks like novels, too!

After I’ve consumed these cookbooks, I’ll write another post: 5 More Cookbooks to Read

       

Meet and Greet Redux

DSC_5237After writing about the sweet ceremony of greeting guests on Downton Abbey, I read this opening paragraph of Elizabeth Goudge’s The Bird in the Tree.

Visitors to Dameroeshay, had they but known it, could have told just how much the children liked them by the particular spot at which they were met upon arrival.

If the visitor was definitely disliked, the children paid no attention to him until Ellen had forcibly thrust them into their best clothes and pushed them through the drawing-room door about the hour of five; when they extended limp paws in salutation, replied in polite monosyllables to inquiries as to their well-being, and then stood in a depressed row staring at the carpet, beautiful to behold but no more alive than three Della Robbia cherubs modelled out of plaster.

If, on the other hand, they tolerated the visitor, they would go so far as to meet him at the front door and ask if he had brought them anything.

If they liked him they would go to the gate at the end of the wood and wave encouragingly as he came towards them.

But if they loved him, if he was one of the inner circle, they would go right through the village, taking the dogs with them, and along the coast road to the corner by the cornfield, and when they saw the beloved approaching they would yell like all the fiends of hell let loose for the afternoon.

The Bookshelf Project

DSC_1834I blame the movie Julie & Julia. Do you know how many times I’ve thought about cooking through every recipe in one of my 46 cookbooks? It messes with my all-or-nothing propensities. So many times, I’m browsing among the books and think: wouldn’t it be fun to read exclusively from this shelf until I’ve read everything?

The all-or-nothing system hasn’t been good to me. Because, you know, the nothing side hits the playground pavement with a bang and the all side is swaying, suspended in the air above the teeter-totter.

So I made a bargain. I eyed the shelves and did the math. What if? I whispered to myself. Stop! the other me warned. No, this is reasonable, I countered. What if I committed to reading one book from every shelf on the big white bookshelf? There are 30 shelves in total. Subtract three that hold CDs, Audio books, and DVDs. Subtract the one narrow shelf about which I can say, “I’ve read them all.”

26 books from my own shelves. That’s about half of the number of books I read in a year, so it allows room for the books in other rooms in my house, on my Kindle, or yet to be published.

I’m not going to decide which title on each shelf right now. I’m a bit schizophrenic in my reading. When I am mindful of how little time I have left on the earth, I determine to only read the best books. When I think about making room on the shelves, I read the book I want to read, but don’t think I’ll want to keep. And when I don’t want to work, I go for easy reading.

And I won’t shelve a new book, so I can say I read it off my shelves. Dirty pool!

So here’s a glance at my options:

DSC_8173There are two shelves of history. On the top shelf I’m inclined toward The Pity Of War: Explaining World War Ior The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.

On the lower shelf, it’s an excruciating decision. McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge, Barbara Tuchman, Stephen Ambrose or Paul Johnson?

DSC_8174Oh, man. Several titles on these two shelves come highly recommended. The Widow of the Southis set in Franklin, TN. I want to read The Monuments Men before the movie comes out this year.

DSC_8175Two sets of Churchill to choose from: I’ve read A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and would like to re-read them. But Edmund Burke  beguiles me.  Three sets sit on the bottom shelf: 13 years of Cook’s Illustrated, a set of Dumas and a set of Dickens.

DSC_8176Short biographies, a collection of collections, and Willa Cather.

DSC_8177Small books with short stories and gorgeous books about Britain with watercolor plates.

DSC_8178Business and culture.

DSC_8201Classics. My husband and I are enjoying A Study in Scarlet, so we may well continue with more Conan Doyle. But I’ve never read Kimso I may choose Kipling.

DSC_8180Education and Witold Rybczynski.

DSC_8181I insist on reading one science book a year, weak as I am in science. I highly recommend Microbe Huntersand Longitudeif you need your science in narrative form. I think Lives of a Cellis calling my name.

DSC_8182Oh to have room to store my beloved Penguin collection upright! Whoever invented orange covers ought to be shot. I would love to read all those orange Trollopes so I can be done with them.

DSC_8183These two shelves are at the center of my collection. Deep. love.

DSC_8184More groups of authors that I love.

DSC_8185This shelf is a pass on my read-from-my-shelves project. Jan, Anne, and Mma.

DSC_8186Foodie books!

DSC_8187More foodie books.

DSC_8194True story: it’s easier for me to read about various methods of eradicating dust bunnies than to bend over and pick up the dust bunny.

DSC_8195Books on writing and books on books. Pure deliciousness.

DSC_8196Music. Poetry.

DSC_8198Art.

Children’s books, theology, travel and memoirs have their own bookcases. But they will have to get in line.

Intentional reading: the good life.

Hey! You with the eye for interior design? What would you recommend for the tops of my shelves? I’ve thought about framed photos (in matching frames) but I’m afraid they will make it too busy. Woven baskets? Eclectic collection of pottery/baskets? Empty? Your opinion is welcome.