Posts Tagged With: Books

2013: Reframing a Failure

Since I began keeping track of what I was reading in 2010, the number of books I completed each year has steadily increased. My goal for 2012 was 50, and I handily surpassed it with 59. I didn’t think it would be too much of a challenge to pledge to read 75 in 2013.

For ten months of last year I was ahead of schedule according to Goodreads, who calculate my reading stats. At one point I was 8 books ahead, and I thought: I got this. No problem. In the terminology of your typical sports flick, “I couldn’t lose.”

Ah, the hubris. Pride go-eth before the fall, right?

At the beginning of December, I realized I had only read 66 books. I knew I couldn’t read 9 books in December – December! a month when I had 20,000 words due for my Masters, a weekend trip to France and a 2 ½ week trip home for Christmas and all the holiday madness therein – and I knew I was going to fail to achieve my goal. I finished the year with 69 books read.

My immediate react to this was, of course, searing disappointment. How had I squandered that enormous excess of books? It shows what kind of nerd I am that I was humiliated to have come so close and fallen short.

Yes friends, my life is replete with the first-iest of first world problems.

Still, I am just competitive enough (with myself, apparently) to be super annoyed that I failed. And that’s what it felt like: failure. Once again, I had set a goal, and I had failed to check it off my list.

After a dark night of the soul (look, my favorite activity is reading. I don’t have a lot of drama in my life as I sit around with sheafs of paper, so allow me some hyperbole for the sake of the narrative), I had to reframe my failure.

I failed because I was busy. My life started to turn around in October and November. I got a job. I started hanging out with some new friends and good friends more frequently. I started seeking out the strange and wonderful bits and bobs that London has to offer, going to more events, playing in more of the city. Going home to New Jersey for the first time in a year meant there were many people to see, catch up with, laugh with, enjoy. There wasn’t time to read as I soaked up my parents, trying to figure out how I can be more like them.

I was reading less because I was living more. See, now when you look at it that way, it’s not so bad, is it? (You probably didn’t think it was that bad to begin with.)

There is another vital life lesson tied in here. I fell short on this goal because I picked up three books in a row that I didn’t enjoy, but rather than giving up and moving on to something I would like, I hung around in my own version of purgatory, not reading these dull tomes, but not reading anything else either. I think this is important. I think learning to let go is something I’m still figuring out, and the metaphorical resonances in the bigger picture of my life abound. I have to get better at walking away from situations that are unhealthy or make me unhappy. My fear of quitting (which equates to failing in my mind) is definitely something to work on this year.

A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog on managing expectations recently. Her life and mine are different – I aspire to be where she is in my own writing career, and I admire her perseverance in pursuing writing in a way I still don’t, to my further embarrassment – but I understand the sentiment of expecting a great deal from yourself and feeling like you miss the mark even when you give your best. But looking back at 2013, I have to recognize that while nothing major was achieved, I took a lot of small, significant steps forward.

While I was home in NJ, I turned on my American cell phone and noticed the last text I had sent a friend before I left to return to London last December. I told her I had been crying all day, that London was a mistake, that I didn’t want to go back.

I can honestly say right now I don’t even remember feeling that. In the past 12 months I have come to love this city so hard that no matter what else might be making me bluesy, I have learned to maintain my perspective: I am so lucky to be here, and when all else fails, I am so happy to be here. I feel like I belong here, a feeling I have never had before (as frequent readers of this blog know, my search for a sense of home has long haunted me). I am lucky to have made some good friends this year. I’m lucky to have done some nice travelling this year. I am lucky to be pursuing writing, no matter how much work there is still to do on that front – I’m lucky to be writing the book I’m writing, on a topic that I truly love and find fascinating. I’m lucky that after 12 months of not seeing them, I can still go to my family and bask in their unconditional love and support. I’m lucky that I wanted to cry as I left them again, because how many people have that much love in their lives?

2014 makes me anxious for a lot of reasons: I have to finish this book, I have to figure out what my actual career is going to look like. I only have a year left on my visa and I don’t want to leave England. I still would like to feel a little more entrenched in London, less like an outsider. Every time I open my mouth I reveal my foreignness, my unintentionally loud, friendly, brash Americanness.

Still, I am so lucky that this is my set of problems. I am learning to reframe my anxiety as excitement. I want the world, and of course that’s bound to cause disappointment, because who can have the world? But I know I’d rather set a high goal and standard and dream big and fall short than sell myself short and accept too little and be discontent. As Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Here’s to failing better in 2014. I have no expectations for this year, only hope.

Well, I have one expectation.

I’m going to read 75 books this year.

Happy reading and happy living. Here’s to a dream and love and laughter filled year for us all.

A small sampling of the books in my future. There are many, many more not pictured.

A small sampling of the books in my future. There are many, many more not pictured.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

345 Books, But Still Counting…

Continuing my obsession with words, I watered the topic and it grew into books.

I love books. If you slathered frosting on a book, I would totally eat it.

As I mentioned recently, I’m caught in the trap of school, where I HAVE to read, which is totally cutting into my time for what I WANT to read. And with the Kindle Daily Deal offering books for $1.99, my owned-books collection has grown to 40. And that’s not counting the eBook collection a friend gave me that is multi-thousand titles long.

So I’m busy. My main problem with eBooks is that you can’t spread them over your bed and roll around in them like money or whip cream.

At 3am, lots of things seem like a good idea. And one night several weeks ago I decided, in my wakefulness, to start a spreadsheet of every book I’ve ever read. I don’t know why this became important to me, but I’m just really curious about the total amount of verbiage I’ve consumed in my lifetime. Reading is genetic with me.

As of right now, my list is only 345 books long. This is a bit disappointing, but I understand why. There have been gaps in my reading, periods where I was too distracted by life and theatre to read a book. I only read travel magazines for a year or two.

And also, I just can’t remember everything. Currently most of my books are in my storage unit, so I can’t jog my own memory with a book shelf. I can’t remember a lot of what I read in college, no matter how hard I try.

But the trying is revealing a lot of really interesting things to me. For example, I remember much more vividly the books I read when I was a child/teenager than anything I’ve read in my adult life. I remember the authors I love, and reading every single title I could find by them. I’m aided in this task by the most fabulous website ever, Goodreads.com. It’s Facebook for book nerds, and it’s so helpful to just type in an author and get their entire bibliography.

But why do I remember those books so much more viscerally than almost anything I read as an adult? I remember Cynthia Voigt and Ann Rinaldi. I remembered having such a strong reaction to Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries that I actually reread them over Christmas. I remember the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry, and how she wanted a turret/tower bedroom when her family was moving. Patricia Beatty wrote a slew of Civil War historical fiction that I was in love with.

These books have stuck with me more than ninety percent of what I read in college. What does this say about adult literature? Or, I guess, about me, and my interest in being adult?

Here’s where things get hairy. I’m not sure what is considered a “book.” How many pages, or how small does the type have to be to be worthy of my list? At what point can something be considered not a “kid’s book”? Or do kid’s books have their own validity, even if they are short? Can I include all the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary? Do books you read in second grade “count” toward your lifetime reading tally? Can I count The Babysitters Club even though I probably skipped the first ten pages of every book?

Here’s another question: plays. Part of why my book reading is a bit lean in some years is that I was exclusively reading plays. Do these make it on the list? I tend to think no, they are not complete texts in and of themselves. They need a third dimension to live, so I can’t count them. But am I wrong?

Finally, the problem with college reading is I would frequently be forced to buy a book only to read a chapter or two. I’ve read a lot of Emerson and Thoreau, and Edgar Allan Poe short stories, but I don’t know that I’ve read a complete text by any of them. Do I/How do I incorporate these fragments?

If you have any opinions about these questions, I’d love to hear them. I’m at an impasse. I haven’t added Bridge to Terabithia or Summer of the Swans or There’s a Bat In Bunk Five yet because I’m just not sure. The fate of The Babysitters Club hangs in the balance. What do you think?

Ah, the metaphysics of books. I’m about ready to start throwing wads of paper in the air and dancing ecstatically in my book rain.

In any case, you might think it’s a crazy project, but I can’t even tell you how fascinating it is. Remembering one book will spark another title that has been buried in my subconscious for years. I’m remembering authors whom I’d like to revisit, books I’d like to give a second chance to see if my opinion is the same. It’s a lot of fun to look back and remember this facet of my life that has been so important to me for redemption, catharsis, escapism, education, growing up.

I dare you to try it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What’s the Best Book You Read in 2012?

In 2012, I set a goal to read 50 books; I read 59, which was a full 30 more than I had read in 2011. I was thinking I should do a sort of year in review thing, but the problem is I probably only read 5 books published in 2012. Most of them were just pulled from my never-ending list of recommendations and impulse-buys from Strand. I have no comprehensive view of “The Year in Books.” Now that the real experts have released their top 10 lists of the best of 2012, I’m just adding to my to-read list exponentially.

 

I read a good mix of fiction and nonfiction – 32 to 27. My favorite book of the year was, surprisingly, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I hated the film of No Country for Old Men so much I assumed I would hate his books. I finished The Road in 2 days, put it down, and cried for 10 minutes. That is the test of an effective book, if it can move me to some sort of visceral response. It’s very rare.

 

This year I discovered David Foster Wallace and read three of his books. I’m grateful to still have so many to slog through, but I take it very personally that he committed suicide 4 years ago. How dare he deprive the world of his genius? And that’s the thing: he’s clearly brilliant, with a mind that can comprehend depths and worlds beyond my understanding, but when I read him I always feel a level of humanity and generosity. He seemed like the type of person I could argue with about silly things. I desperately wish I could have been his friend.  This is again, a rare find, a writer with such a personal voice that you can really identify with.

 

I continued my march through David Sedaris, and am down to one unread title. He best publish a new book soon. I found Bill Bryson, a funny travel writer whose voice is also unique. If you haven’t read Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood yet, I suggest you do, because Star Cursed, the next installment in the lives of the Cahill sisters comes out in June and I can’t wait!

 

I read some big best-seller titles like the Fifty Shades and Dragon TattoobBooks. Usually I find them “meh,” but fast and entertaining. I read some books by lady authors – essays, memoirs – and tried to pin down the secrets to their success: Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, Sloan Crosley (whom I really didn’t like, but I still don’t quite understand why.) I read a novel called A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert that I got bored with in 2011. Upon giving it a second chance I would put it in my top 15 books of 2012. Funny how you just have to be in the right frame of mind sometimes. It’s a very zen thing, bringing the right book into your life at the right moment to appreciate it.

 

There were certainly some disappointments. I read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell because it was nominated for a Pulitzer last year. I really did not like it – have any of you read it and enjoyed it? I didn’t like the structure or care about the characters. I read Americana by Don DeLillo, who is one of my favorites, but man did I NOT enjoy this one. There’s a weird feeling of betrayal when you don’t like a book by an author you love. Most of my travel writing books I really enjoyed, which just shows where my head is, though I feel like I didn’t read as many of these as I intended to this year, having been derailed by classwork. I also need to make a more concerted effort to read the classics – I think I only got through one or two this year. I reread the Sally Lockhart mysteries by Philip Pullman, which I remembered having such a strong reaction to as a teenager, and it’s funny, I can still feel exactly that reaction and where it happened, but in a detached way…the painful reality of growing up and losing your ability to get swept up in a bit of romance.  While I’m still not good at completely letting go of finishing a book once I start it, I am better at taking breaks during the crap books so I’m not stalling my reading altogether. This is why I read so few in 2011 – I kept trying to read things I didn’t want to read and then I just wouldn’t read at all.

 

This is a terrible strategy. There are too many books in the world to not always have one engaging you on your nightstand or ready for a commute in your purse. At this very moment, I have 35!!!!! purchased, unread books on my Kindle and bookshelf. 35! And I am stuck in that bad place where I “have to” read things again, between school and my part time writing gig. I’m trying to sneak in books I’m excited about between those assigned just to remember what a joyful intelligent form of escapism reading can be.  When I am deeply involved in a book, it’s all I can do to force myself to do anything besides read it.

 

Sometimes it keeps me awake at night worrying about how I will ever read everything I want to read in this lifetime. There are just too many books to be excited about! My goal is to read 75 this year, which seems lofty and unmanageable but I am determined to try. Despite my 35 books ready and waiting, I’m curious about what you read and loved this year. I love adding new books to my ever-growing stack. Excite me, people. I am always ready for a good mindblowing escape.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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