I’m thinking a lot about the act of reading these days. Thinking that it depends on the stage one’s in.
From childhood’s diving into whatever’s available, hour after hour of sheer delight, the world opening to me… through the required reading of high school and post-secondary education, with extracurricular books riding waves of deep longing and the quest to figure life out… through the busy middle years of children and work, when books seemed especially memorable and piercing, perhaps because time for them was rarer… through the ravenous reading in an emptying nest, as if to finally catch up with the Great Unread, when I began a book log to keep track and push myself…
And now I’m sensing a new stage in the air. I’ve grasped the fact that I won’t catch up; I really know it, I mean, and it’s okay. The questions I’m asking are: what do I want from my reading now? and what does this mean for my reading habits?
I think what I want takes me back to what reading gave me especially in childhood: pleasure, discovery, and the inherent safety of story itself. With one important difference: not just anything will do.
As far as habits are concerned: 1—I’m continuing my book log, but in addition to basic information about the book, I’m writing more reflectively about what I’ve just read.
2—I’m no longer numbering the books in my log. I realize this is a bit of a hair shirt I’m wearing here, because of course I can go back and count at year’s end. But it reminds me it’s no longer about how many books I get through, and though I felt a pang the first while at not setting the numbers down—yes, strange as it sounds, I did—the un-numbering has been curiously effective in releasing new priorities. Don’t get me wrong: I think setting reading goals is a terrific idea at times. But for now I’m enjoying the exploration of something different. The result so far has been an up-surge of joy in the journey, akin to the idea of serendipity expressed in my previous post.
An old photo I recently found in my mother’s papers of my grandfather Harder reading
At lunch with three friends, the conversation turned to books. Sally proposed that what we read often comes to us serendipitously. Later, the four of us exchanged a string of emails. Sarah sent us an essay by Moyra Davey called “The Problem of Reading” which opens with the author’s confession that “what to read” is a “recurring dilemma” in her life. She pictures a woman moving about the house among shelves of books, many unread, picking up one for a few pages, then another.
“It is not just a question of which book will absorb her,” she writes, “but rather, which book, in a nearly cosmic sense, will choose her….” Continue reading
She was unloaded and delivered to us, glory be!
Unloaded from her mother, the little one, delivered,
And we all say Glory Be!
(Inuit birth song)
Good news early this morning! Our seventh grandchild — a girl — arrived safely into the world. And for the seventh time, my heart wells up in the words of the song above: Glory Be! So, I write her name in my journal, ponder who she is and will be, mull over the word delivered, which comes from Old French and Latin roots meaning “set free.” (Which reminds me of one fictional newly-hatched chick saying to another: “See, I told you there was life after birth!”) The meaning of the word developed through “set free” to “give up, surrender,” and finally “hand over to someone else.” All rich connotations for the delivery of a baby and the life ahead of her, and for the Christmas season, all about a baby’s birth as well. — Glory Be!
Recent visits to see our grandchildren, both east and west, impressed on me again that most miraculous and mysterious of matters: children acquiring language. How in the world do they process vocabulary and grammar and everything else in those little brains of theirs? It’s a delight to watch and participate in, to read aloud to them and hear the nursery rhymes and songs learned so effortlessly, it seems.
The adult reader realizes that the little Miss being read to can’t possibly know all those words yet. Gown, for example, in a story about a girl who delivers a dress through a snow storm. But set into the story, which charms her for any number of reasons, and heard numerous times, gown, which is another word for dress will probably stick. Does she need a second word for dress? Well, yes of course she does. The two are slightly different, and she will need a lot of words for everything. Differences, nuance, precision, sounds of various kinds enrich our lives. Continue reading
Filed under Family, Personal
It being the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s death, we’re bombarded with retrospectives of various kinds. I’ve been tuning in to many of them. I don’t know why I’m drawn back so intensely. Perhaps I’m reaching for a time I lived through, unbelievably half a century ago already, and to a 13-year-old Me.
John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy
Last evening, for example, I watched “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy.” The assassination happened Friday and by Monday some 45,000 letters had arrived to Mrs. Kennedy at the White House. Over the next two months, the number reached 800,000. Among them was a letter from me. Handwritten. In green ink as I recall. Continue reading
H. and I took a short road trip through parts of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana recently, in connection with my participation at the Billings (MT) Bookfest and the High Plains Fiction Awards on Oct. 25-6.
near Thermopolis, WY
We enjoyed it. We were impressed by how dramatically terrain can shift in a matter of hours (we covered more than 4000 kilometers) and how much of what we passed was interesting or wondrous in some way. Okay, there were a few patches — in Wyoming — almost too desolate-looking for words, but I was reading Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories – a collection I highly recommend – and for that, the patches were perfectly necessary. For the connection between place and art, I mean, which is what this post is sort of about. Continue reading
Filed under Art, Books, Writing