Monthly Archives: March 2010

#22: Whatcha reading, friend?

I know you’re supposed to live without regret and all that, but I have some, and hands down top five is this:  I wish I had not majored in English.

I blame my mother.  I quickly recognized that English was a mistake, but because I was double majoring in theatre, my mother refused to let me drop my “fallback” major. English. Practical. Ha.

I loved to read when I was younger.  But, of course, studying literature is very different from reading.  The process becomes about deconstructing, analyzing, focusing on themes, structure, syntax.  So much time was spent breaking it all DOWN that there was no longer room to get swept UP into the world of a story, to let myself get lost in it and become part of it.

I know I’m offending all my literature-loving friends out there.  Sorry, people.  I’m working my way through Walt Whitman, and I think tearing Leaves of Grass into tiny chunks is completely antithetical to everything he was trying to achieve.  He was embracing life.  He wanted to give his readers a model to find their bliss no matter who they were or what they were doing.  When you dissect Leaves of Grass you treat it as a dead animal, ready for autopsy.  The thing lives and breathes in the reading of it.  Not in an examination of why he chose certain words, sentence structures, etc.

It’s just my opinion.

I saw Wit, I know literature scholars have passion, and think scrutiny makes the object more beautiful. When you love it so much breaking it down opens up whole other worlds living and breathing inside it, well okay then. But that is not my strength. I think ultimately it would have made me a better writer to have studied history, art history, philosophy – something that would have inspired me with stories that I could take and make my own. Studying stories that have already been written didn’t do me any favors.

Bottom line: majoring in English killed my desire to read.  For many years after I graduated I rarely picked up a book. I’ve gone through fits and spurts since then.  Grad school once again pushed me away from reading for pleasure, as did several jobs where I had to read and evaluate scripts.

Reading should never be a HAVE TO.  It should always be a WANT TO.

I finally feel like I’ve gotten my joy in reading back.  My interest in TV is waning. I have something restless growing inside me that I can’t settle.  Every time I try to watch TV I have this need to pick up my computer and see what’s happening on the interwebs.  I’m feeling ADD. But reading soothes.  It focuses me. Even my late night Daily Show/Colbert Report ritual pales next to the idea of crawling into bed with a book.  It’s the best part of commuting, having the train ride to drown myself in a few pages of words and worlds.

One of my 30×30 goals is to read 100 books in 2010.  My friend Jess inspired me.

I know I’m going to fail.

It’s March and I’ve read six.  I read slowly, and I have a million things pulling at my attention. I can’t read and write simultaneously.  If I’m reading a good book, I won’t put it down, and if I’m writing, it’s too easy to let myself get distracted by that good book.

So I probably won’t read 100. But that’s okay. I like to aim high, even If it’s near impossible. At least it will keep my goal-oriented, keep me reading, keep me open to worlds beyond my own.

I’m up for anything. I’ve discovered the consuming escape of junk like the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’m reacquainting myself with my favorites, like Don DeLillo, and reading those “classics” that as an English major, it’s appalling that I haven’t cracked. And I’m trying to intersperse some non-fiction, which is always hardest for me to concentrate on. I feel like I should be taking notes, or I’m struggling to make it a story with resolution.  But it’s really this stuff that will inspire me as a writer, so I persevere.

I’m excited to have friends with books. They have become my personal library, and they are generous in their recommendations and lending.  I currently have a whole stack of stuff to read, and it keeps me plowing forward, the anticipation of a new story and a new universe to explore.  But I don’t have 100. So, dear readers, what can you recommend?  I’m looking for life changers, transcendent material, but also absolute trash.  I want it all. What have you got?

And here’s where I’ll document what I’m reading, so I can make some recommendations of my own.

1. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (excellent YA, like Twilight, except, you know good and smart.)

2.  Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins (the sequel)

3.  Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse, very light froth)

4.  Club Dead – Charlaine Harris

5. Dead to the World – Charlaine Harris

6. Bitchfest:  10 Years of Feminist Pop Culture Criticism from Bitch Magazine (really interesting, makes me want my PhD in Gender Studies, kinda makes me hate me more, as if that were possible J)

7. Falling Man – Don DeLillo. I love Don DeLillo. This one deals with 9/11 and was a little difficult – it brings that day back so viscerally. Also, there are parts where I feel he’s being so respectful of the event that he loses his own voice. But still worth reading. Can’t wait to check out more of his stuff this year.

8. Dead as a Doornail – more Sookie. I’m lazy. Technically a reread, but because I read it out of order last year, I remembered nothing about it. So it counts. Deal.

9. Foxfire – Joyce Carol Oates. Um, why haven’t I read JCO before?  Stylish feminist writer. ’50s girl gang. Good stuff. Gotta check out more.

10. Cracked Up To Be – Courtney Summers – a strong rec from a YA connessieur friend.  I identified with it more than a 29 year old probably should Real good.

11. Some Girls Are – Courtney Summers. Reading these two back to back might have diminished the impact of this one, they were rather similar. I was intrigued by the unlikableness of the protagonist. It’s an interesting perspective to have such a flawed heroine that it is hard to identify with her. Yet she’s young, and human, and not perfect, and that’s probably worth a lot more than pretty blondes who get the cute boys by being head cheerleader.

12. 1984 – George Orwell. Can’t believe I’d never read it.  It’s funny how pervasive Orwell’s influence is, as I wasn’t shocked by any of it, I’m so used to the themes and paranoia in modern culture. Orwell is a master, void-shouting about living in fear while giving up freedoms in order to not have to live in fear.

13. The Assignation – Joyce Carol Oates. Seriously, how have I never read JCO? She is amazing and inspirational. This collection of short stories is lovely and painful, and has really opened me up and excited me about the form.

14. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut. I love Vonnegut, even though I can’t LOVE his books. I appreciate them for their humor and intelligence and piercing insight, but they lack a soul to latch onto.  They also never quite hit their center topic quite like I expect them to. I liked this one a lot though. The religious skewering was pretty effective, I wanted more of it. If you don’t read him back to back I think you can enjoy his work more.

15. A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle. I’m gearing up to travel and I’m way into reading about different parts of the world. This one was a little blander than I expected for how famous it is. But not a bad read.

16. Turning the Mind Into an Ally – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Read in conjunction with my meditation class, it’s basically a how to manual on good meditation practice.  Easy to follow with some good Buddhist principles thrown in, though these concepts are incredibly difficult to follow. But a nice book to have to go back to to reinspire myself to push harder.

17. Love in a Dry Season – Shelby Foote. Shelby Foote is such a great storyteller in the Ken Burns’ Civil War series, I thought, cool, novel, historical fiction, I’ll love it.  It was not historical fiction. I misunderstood the amazon description. It was also REALLY dry. And boring. Disappointing. I may try another of his, but not for a while.

18. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior – Chogyam Trungpa. Another book for my meditation class. It was good, but maybe I felt like I was being sold this particular brand of enlightenment, and it got wearisome. Or maybe I read it too closely after the meditation manual and I’m on overload. I don’t know. It didn’t sing to me.

19. The Best Travel Writing 2003 – ed. Ian Frazier.  This was interesting.  I wasn’t loving it because it was so, I dunno, politically correct with lost of eco-friendly and let’s understand the Middle East articles, then I realized being from 2003, it was still a very raw post 9/11 time and the point probably really was to tamp down fear of Muslims/Arabs.  Didn’t love the whole collection but there were some GREAT pieces in it.

20. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy. Just a beautiful little book. About something so small that is something so big.  I will read it again one day, to savor it more, when I’m not on a reading juggernaut that marches endlessly forward.

21. The Witch of Portobello – Paulo Coelho. I wanted to like this book. A good friend recommended it. But – oi. No bueno. I agree with everything it believes and has to say, I just hate that it says it so didactically. There’s no real story, no real conflict, just pseudo spirituality. It’s like Dan Brown. It invents characters just to have someone ask the questions he wants to answer at length in an academic tone.

22. Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann.  Another one I wanted to like but didn’t. It’s a National Book Award Winner and I was pretty ambivalent toward it. The prose was good, and I get that the interconnectedness of the stories probably isn’t supposed to wrap up neatly, but…I just didn’t really know why I should care too much about any of them. Not that they were bad people. I just wasn’t that drawn in.

23. The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner. This book, this book I LOVED.  I found it so entertaining. A grumpy dude searches the world for the “happiest” places as determined by science. It was amusing and informative and made me want to travel more.

24. The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster. And back to wanting to like but not really liking. I have many friends who like Auster so maybe this just wasn’t the one for me (I don’t love every John Irving, after all) but… I just really didn’t care for the story and I found the flashbacks tedious.  And the whole chapter describing at great length movies that don’t exist…too academic and dull.  Sorry.

25. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami.  I liked this a lot. It’s repetitive, and doesn’t really go anywhere, but I’m a writer, and I’m training for a marathon, and that made it just right for me. I need to read some of his fiction.

Categories: 30x30 | 13 Comments

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