I have a confession. In 2017, I read one book. That's —>one single<— book.
Which for some people, is a totally acceptable number. But for me, a writer, an editor, a person of literary aspirations and interests, not reading is akin to fish not swimming or fighters not fighting, or lovers not loving. I mean, yes, life is busy and I did add a living responsibility (who's adorable) to my life last year but still, just one book. I didn't like it.
Because I felt the difference. Reading and writing are two muscles I feel good exercising, and once I start, I get addicted to the calm and clear-headedness both activities bring me. So when the new year started, I vowed to "Read More Books!" And because I know myself, I know I need a concrete goal, so I started with two books a month. Because I know myself, I know that I bristle and buck against self-imposed rules, so I also had to allow myself to flub a bit. I mean, my living adorable responsibility demands more of my time and energy so sometimes my monthly count will suffer, and I'm okay with that. Making the plan is half the battle.
The other half is honestly remembering to read. Ideally, when people ask me "So what are you reading these days?" I'll have an answer and if I don't, it'll remind me that I spent an hour scrolling through pinterest for mug cake recipes (that we all know I'll never make) when I could have used that time to wind down with a good book. In my ongoing effort to be accountable to myself, I have to feel accountable to others. Hopefully that mentality will help me extricate myself from the Facebook and into a real book.
So here's what I've read so far:
The Wrong Way to Save a Life by Megan Stielstra. Actually, it was this book that prompted my great book-reading proclamation. I've always delighted in Megan's writing, and lucky for me and the rest of the Chicagoland area, Megan is a regular fixture at many cool things, like Paper Machete, 2nd Story, and other live lit events. I once took a live lit class with her at 2nd Story and thoroughly enjoyed the in-person experience; reading her books is like having a personal conversation with a rugged poet, artist, wordsmith, friend, warrior, troubadour, queen, lioness... I'm very close to running these metaphors into the metaphoric ground... The point is: this collection of essays was exactly the antidote, the balm to what was scratching at me at a specific time for an ailment I couldn't name. This collection is more recent in nature, and nicely colors the sentiments of what life is like in the teenage years of the 21st century...which is to say that even though 2016-2017 was a rough going, Megan provides a sage and funny mirror.
Barefoot Contessa: Secrets of the East Hampton Specialty Food Store [...super long title]. I'm counting this because I DID read this cookbook, including the front matter and cheerful stories about local butchers and the virtues of buying "good" mayonnaise, olive oil, honey, pork, etc... from Ina Garten. Then I actually made—from scratch!—the roasted potato and fennel soup for a cookbook club my friend put together. I don't cook but I LOVE cooking shows and I was immensely proud of myself for actually creating edible food. Plus, Ina is a national treasure.
In the Process of Reading:
On Writing by Stephen King. I used to be in practice of reading about writing because how else will I learn, practice, perfect? If I win the lottery tomorrow, I'm racing to the bursar's office of my dream MFA programs and enrolling immediately. Until then, I piece together my own syllabus with books on writing from writers. This one is a delightful read, even if you're not writerly inclined. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King (any?) but I enjoy him as a creator and storyteller and appreciate his nuts-and-bolts approach to ... life, really.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.See above. While this is only 100 pages, I can't quite get into the rhythm. Still, the library keeps auto-renewing it so I'll keep pulling 3-5 pages at a time, and hope my mush brain keeps some of the kernels. As a safeguard, I take photos of the passages I like and tell my mush brain to transcribe the photos later.
On my Bookshelf:
The Elena Ferrante Series. I know nothing about this except that it charts a lifelong friendship between two women, set in Italy, and that the author was an anonymous mystery for a while delights me. Anyone want to read these with me?
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I admit, the movie hype has me like whoa and I want to read this perennial favorite before seeing the movie. How I got through my childhood without reading this surprises me. What was I reading instead? A lot of Babysitter's Club, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Encyclopedia Brown series, my mom's Reader's Digest mags, and For Better or Worse comic collections.
— All the links point to the author's page or a indie bookstore. I know Amazon is amazing for a lot of things but if you can, try not to outsource your culture and charming book-buying experience to a soulless e-commerce behemoth. Buy your toilet paper in bulk from Bezos, sure, but if possible, help out the independent bookstores in your town.
— ...Or use your library! I admit that when I rarely used the library in my 20s and early 30s. Now, it's not only my personal office, but also an endless source of books, movies, events, activities. Just walking in makes me love reading all the more and I take out more books than I can read.
— I like reading on an airplane and long train rides but I think I would especially love if that plane or train ride ended at one of these destinations. I mean, c'mon!
— When you can't jet-set around the world to visit incredible libraries? Lose yourself in an hour, (or ten) down the Pinterest rabbit hole. Just search "book nook ideas" and go nuts. The only downside is that you start looking at your current home as decrepit hovel without a book nook. Sorry about crushing your dreams.