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?!

Reading Year in Retrospect

DSC_1833“I am an inveterate browser of people’s bookshelves, always curious to see what other people have been reading, and which books they choose to display. but I am equally curious about the manner in which they array them. Are their books neatly aligned, like the leatherbound books in the Levenger catalog, or do they teeter on the shelf at odd angles?”  — David Levy in Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital AgeI love looking back at my reading year, and yet I also shrink from the raised eyebrow of my inner critic. Deciding on categories and distributing my titles in those gives the same thrill that I get in organizing my books. This is my reading year in retrospect.

My own Book of the Year? It’s a tie! N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent was both the slowest and most profound read. I read it aloud to my husband a page or even a paragraph at a time. But reading through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence was also deeply satisfying. (confession: I have 60 pages to finish)

Africa
This Rich & Wondrous Earth Linda Burklin (life in boarding school)
When a Crocodile Eats the SunPeter Godwin (living in Zimbabwe)
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild Lawrence Anthony (animal conservation)

British
Over the Gate Miss Read (cozy read)
Lark Rise to Candleford(trilogy) Flora Thompson (a portrait of a culture)
Lady Anna Anthony Trollope (novel of a marriage)
Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope (a study of a guilty conscience)
Tyler’s Row Miss Read (not my favorite Miss Read)

Catholic
The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith Bruce Marshall (story of a Scottish Priest)
Father Hilary’s HolidayBruce Marshall (priest gets involved in political intrigue)

Christian
Death by Living N.D. Wilson (memoir/family heritage/travelogue/random thoughts)
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community Dietrich Bonhoeffer (crammed with good stuff)
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Rosaria Butterfield (unusual story)

Culture
From Dawn to Decadence Jacques Barzun (500 years of cultural history, EXCELLENT) Scrolling Forward David Levy (e-book or bound book debate, written a decade ago)

Early American
Rip Van Winkle & Other Stories Washington Irving (some classics improve as we age)

Family
Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood Rachel Jancovik (wise)
Real Marriage Mark and Grace Driscoll (yes and no: all the stats got old)

French
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed Philip Hallie (5K Jews saved by people of Le Chambon)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery (postmodern novel, quotable sections)

History
First Family: Abigail and John Adams Joseph Ellis (very enjoyable read)

Kid Lit
Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery (priceless)
Anne of Avonlea LMM (sad to lose Matthew Cuthbert)
Anne of the Island LMM (away at school)
Anne of Windy Poplars LMM (winning over the Pringles and Katherine Brooke)
Anne’s House of Dreams LMM (early marriage, bereavement)
Anne of Ingleside LMM (a houseful of kids and dear Susan)
Rainbow Valley LMM (add the Meredith kids to the Blythes: delightful)
Rilla of Ingleside LMM (I love Rilla; more Susan; a great view of WWI at home)
Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (12 short stories, Anne is just a cameo)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (includes a delicious story of a revival meeting)
The Story Girl LMM (she can make a story reciting the multipication tables)
The Golden Road LMM (a hilarious mistaken identity story)
Kilmeny of the Orchard LMM (a mute girl plays the violin)
Emily of New Moon LMM (appeals to all aspiring writers)
Emily Climbs LMM (word lovers will love Emily)
Emily’s Quest LMM (overcoming obstacles to writing)
The Blythes are Quoted LMM (more short stories)
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White, (classic, test-drove with a grandson)
Island Magic Elizabeth Goudge (Guernsey family, classic Goudge)

Memoir/Biography
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers Maria Augusta Trapp (must read for S o M fans)
God’s Arms Around Us William Moule (heart-pounding tale of family in WW2 Philippines)
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism Temple Grandin (she translates autism)
The End of Your Life Book Club Will Schwalbe (terminally ill mom and son read books)
A Little Moule History William Moule (life of a vagabond adventurer)
Appetite for Life Noel Riley Fitch (bio of Julia Child)
The Bookseller of Kabul Asne Seierstad (daily life in Afghanistan)
The Alpine Path LMM (frustrating in its brevity)

Mystery
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Alan Bradley (I ♥ Flavia de Luce)
Speaking from Among the Bones Alan Bradley (another Flavia book)
Chop Shop Tim Downs (Bug Man is a forensic entomologist)
First the Dead Tim Downs (almost had a heart attack reading this)
Less than Dead Tim Downs (difficulty breathing while reading this thriller)

Plays
Twelfth Night W. Shakespeare (mistaken identities)
The Tempest Shakespeare (full fathom five thy father lies)
The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare (TWO sets of identical twins)

Recovery
Little Black Sheep Ashley Cleveland (the gift of willingness)
Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk Heather Kopp (story of addiction)

Science
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot (spellbinding story of HeLa cells)

TV Reading (one-night read without substance)
A Lancaster County Christmas Suzanne Woods Fisher (English stranded with Amish)

Travel
Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron (China-Turkey by one of my fave travel writers)
In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson (winsome writing…mostly)
Stephen Fry in America Stephen Fry (witty, sometimes coarse flyover)
Roads : Driving America’s Great Highways Larry McMurtry (he drives the interstates)

Western
The Whistling Season Ivan Doig (the Wendell Berry of Montana)

What have you been reading?

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which allows me to buy perhaps one or two new books a year. But I’m thankful if you decide to buy a book through the links.)

Reading Shakespeare

William-Shakespeare-007After what looked like yet another failed resolution, I’m making way with Shakespeare. In February I mapped out a plan: read one play a month, have all plays read by the end of 2015.

The excellent advice of my literature-loving sister-in-law—read through the entire play in one sitting—eliminated bedtime reading. I would fall asleep before I got through Act 2. The Big Gulp approach made sense to me. Who ever went to a play to watch Act 1 with a notice to come back to Act 2 next Friday?

I pulled out an old trick from my treadmill-reading days: read along with an audio version. The printed words help you listen and the audio helps you focus on the reading. The actors’ inflections grease the rails of comprehension. I could pause the audio to read a footnote, but not get dragged down too much in details.

After this epiphany, since November I’ve read/listened to The Tempest, Love’s Labor Lost, and Twelfth Night. My local library has about a dozen Shakespeare plays on CD; my internet library, using Overdrive, has them all. Even the sonnets. As the kids would say: Booyah!

 

 

Well, Hello Will Shakespeare

For more than a decade I’ve been thinking, I really want to read through all of Shakespeare’s works. It’s like the idea that someday all my photos will be in scrapbooks. Happy thought. Inspired by my sister-in-law who recently read a whole slough slew of Shakespeare, and suspecting that it would be like cleaning a cupboard—it feels so good that I want to keep going—I plunged into The Comedy of Errors. More on that, later. But it was true: drinking the language was drinking a Caramel Macchiato.  I had to read sections more than once to tease out the meaning, but that was offset by laugh out loud lines and the satisfaction of fitting words.

How many plays did the bard write? Thirty-seven. I’ve read eleven, but I’d like to read through them all fresh again. If I averaged one play a month, I’d hit pay dirt by the end of 2015. I want to read the poems too, but that’s another thing.

Although I own a Complete Works of Shakespeare, I find it annoying. It is formatted in two columns and whenever there isn’t quite enough room at the end of the line the leftover is printed on the line above it. You can get the complete works on Kindle for $1.99, but I don’t want to read from the Kindle. I want an edition with footnotes on the same page, a running synopsis, explanatory notes. I want to converse with Shakespeare via pencil marks in the margin. I want a book for a student. I have a few student editions: Cambridge University Press, Oxford, Modern Library. I’m using my Paperbackswap credits and looking for $0.01 Amazon deals to fill in the gaps.

I’m going to try to read each play in one sitting, with a short intermission if needed. If I saw the play, I would sit through the all the acts in one performance.

Comedies

All’s Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors √
Cymbeline
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Venice  √
A Midsummer Night’s Dream √
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Taming of the Shrew √
The Tempest √
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Winter’s Tale

Histories

Henry IV, part 1 √
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V  √
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
King John
Richard II
Richard III

Tragedies

Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus
Hamlet  √
Julius Caesar  √
King Lear
Macbeth √
Othello √
Romeo and Juliet √
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus

In The Comedy of Errors two sets of identical twins converge at Ephesus. They were separated in a shipwreck, and both twins share the same names. The man [Antipholus] and his slave [Dromio] (from Syracuse) are searching for their lost brothers [Antipholus] and his slave [Dromio] (from Ephesus). You can imagine the confusion.

Early in the play these Antipholus-S speaks poignant words of one on an impossible quest:

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop…

When Antipholus-S finds his supposed slave, Dromio-E, hasn’t fulfilled the commands he gave him, he begins to beat him. Dromio-E is astonished!

What mean you, sir? For God’s sake hold your hands.
Nay, an you will not, sir, I’ll take my heels.

I find this word play (hold, hands, take, heels) charming. Shakespeare’s rhythms also delight me. Saying the next sentence ten times would not quench the joy it brings.

Dromio, thou Dromio, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot.

When her supposed husband is acting cold and distant, Adriana has some poignant lines. When her sister shushes her, Adriana exposes the discrepancy in how we view trouble, depending on who owns it:

A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we hear it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.

This is a comedy, which means there is a happy ending. Everything is sorted out and brothers—two sets—are reunited with much embracing and feasting.