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