And so, to read

Because I got the Kindle I asked for for Christmas, I made a resolution to start reading more again (or, it might be that I made a resolution to start reading more and asked for the Kindle). As I’ve lamented before, I’ve barely read anything in the past six years or so, and it’s just not like me. So far, I’m doing OK — read my first Kindle book between Christmas & New Year’s, then a paperback my sister gave me when she finished, and now a book I’ve been dusting on my nightstand for at least two years.

I started a list today so I can track what I read and take stock at the end of the year (yeah, that’s me, the habitual list maker). As I was saving it on my computer,  I found the reading lists I made the last time I was consciously trying to read more — 2004 and 2005! I was newly single with a lot of time on my hands in 2004 (in between stripping wallpaper and painting my entire townhouse, including the 3-story staircase walls), and managed to read 22 books. As I skimmed the list today, though, I was shocked to find I remember only 5 of them (as in, if someone asked me “Have you ever read ________?” I would say “yes” to only 5 of the 22).

I must have been a bit prescient, too, because I took the time to write a little blurb about each book after I read it (somehow knowing I would forget). For example, on the list I have:

Lost in Translation, Nicole Moses. An excellent novel (not the movie of the same name) set in China. Fascinating story and characters.

So, here was a book I clearly liked, but I can remember NOTHING about it. Here’s another one:

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie. This won a Pulitzer for fiction in ’84—it was a good read, with a twist of an ending—not happy, not sad.

Can’t remember a thing about it. The same with the nonfiction books I read that year…mostly self-help financial-type books and a couple about business and writing.

I might as well have been reading bodice-rippers and People all year.

In 2005, I only made it to five books before the list ended. I recall just one of them. A 20 percent retention rate must be pushing my limit.

That was the year Mike and I moved into our house and got married. Life in fixer-upperhood became all-consuming. I moved away from my old library (right after it was beautifully remodeled) and never joined the one here (no parking). Books took a backseat to everything else.

I’m trying to bring them up front again. But part of me thinks it’s no wonder I let my reading lapse. Hundreds of books read in my life, and if you asked me to name them, I could come up with only a fraction of that number, even if you put the list in front of me. My favorites would stand out, many from my childhood, and next to nothing else. That’s why I get discouraged sometimes — thinking that all the “best books” are behind me. If my heart remembers only 20 percent of the books I read, is it really worth it? If for every Poisonwood Bible that takes my breath away, I have to read 20 Whatchamacallits?

Well. (blink, blink) Interesting.

As I think about the books I’ve loved so much…the Roots and the To Kill a Mockingbirds and the War and Remembrances and the handful of others that come to mind, I know it was worth reading 100 forgettables to have the pleasure of remembering those few. So I guess that’s why, despite how (ridiculously) jaded I get that “I’ve already read all the good ones,”  I need to keep reading. More than the escapism factor, more than the learning, more than entertainment or self-improvement or “because I should”  is the reality that nothing else comes close to the magic of discovering and devouring a great book. Like life’s box of chocolate, you may never know what you’re gonna get. But in the end, it’s all chocolate. How great is that?

The only books that influence us are those for which
we are ready,and which have gone a little farther
down our particular path than we have got ourselves.
~ E. M. Forster

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9 Comments

  1. BoatDrinkBaby said,

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

    (Can’t believe you bought a kindle but I’ll let that go.:) My 2 cents about reading whether you remember or not: There is so much that happens by osmosis and books are not like Math or instruction manuals (designed for recall). I truly believe that all good writers are or have been readers. The brain picks up so much when you read. You don’t have to remember each story to retain all those nuggets of wisdom, to have shifted your own perception of the world, or to have further fed your brain on the lovely brilliant hijinx of . . . well wordplay 🙂 I say, give yourself 15 min or 1/2 hour during the workday, every day, to read. Call it continuing education or job training. 😉

  2. BoatDrinkBaby said,

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

    p.s. I hate those auto-smiley-icons! haha

  3. facie said,

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I forget a lot of what I have read too. I was into Jane Austin at the beginning of this century (had never read a single one of her books before, despite having graduated with a degree in secondary English ed!), and even though I liked what I read, I would be hard-pressed to tell you too much about any of them; they all sort of run together.

    I love that you wrote little blurbs about what you read. I should do that, if I ever start really reading again.

  4. mel said,

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I am proud to tell you that I have just this morning come away from the library with some selections: Another Richard Russo title, and an unfamiliar Anne Tyler novel, plus some tidbits for my little guy. To boot (let me crow just a bit, more–please?!) I finished a memoir by Joni Eareckson Tada just two days ago (found that little gem at the Goodwill!) So I am feeling like a reader again.

    I applaud your organized, listed efforts and wish I could be more deliberate in my pursuits. Plus, sadly, I have found I suffer from reader’s guilt now–just the act of sitting too long to take in words makes me feel like I should be accomplishing more than I am. I love to read, but I guess I am just more antsy and have to answer to more roles and responsibilities than I used to. So, it takes me a bit longer now, and I probably don’t read as carefully.

    And you’re not alone–I, too, forget huge amounts of titles I’ve consumed at some point in my past. I also, however, make a habit of re-reading several times anything that I’ve loved. I’d rather read quality and interpret it multiple times than scarf up mental garbage that will only clutter what remains of those little gray cells.

    Read on, sister!!!

  5. robbie said,

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    You’re getting older, honey. Welcome to the club. There’s only so much space up there. And even less for those of us who went to college in the 70s!

  6. facie said,

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Chris, your post inspired me. Last night I picked up the John Grisham book my MIL gave me for Christmas, and read for about two hours (in full disclosure 30 of those minutes were during the news). Had I not needed to get up in less than eight hours, I could have kept reading.

    I am pretty sure if someone asks me about this book in another year or two, I won’t remember it, but I am enjoying it now. Thanks!

  7. WritingbyEar said,

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:08 am

    BoatDrinkBaby — yes, I agree, all the writers I know are big readers — I don’t think you can have one without the other (although I do know some big readers who can’t spell, which baffles me). As for the Kindle, in theory I understand the objections to e-readers, but I don’t think they mean printed books will be going the way of the card catalog. Just an alternative. I especially love being able to read with one hand. Hardest thing for me will be paying for books (I believe in libraries, but as I said, ours here is not convenient), but they have something like 1000 free titles, so I’ll be hitting those hard.

    Facie, my first Kindle read was a freebie, Persuasion by Jane Austen! I had never read any of her books before (only loved the movies), so this was great. So glad you picked up that Grisham book, too! I am already eying my nightstand for my next read. (Funny, I have a Kindle and now am clearing my nightstand.) Reading is like a healthy addiction; you break it for a while, but once you start again…

    Mel, bravo to you for keeping the flow going. I’m with you…I have always been a rereader. My favorites I own (most from childhood/adolescence) have been consumed many, many times. And now I’m thinking I need to reread some of my other favorites, too. Like watching your favorite movie again and again.

    Robbie, Robbie, Robbie, you know that 33 is too young to be over the hill.

  8. tdl1501 said,

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    A gal after my own heart, a list-er, and a reader! I’ve neglected my reading but recently joined the local library. If you’re not afraid of swearing, I know you love cooking so you might try some Anthony Bourdain. I read Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw each in less than 48 hours. Not that this is literature for the ages but it beats bodice-rippers. Thanks for hanging out on my site from time to time. You’re a good read. Dee

  9. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks, Dee. I would like to branch out my reading so the Bourdain books sound fun. Always like visiting with you, too!


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