Changing My Ways

I’m changing my ways. Not about smoking or boozing, but about, of all things, reading. It has to do with my birthday.

I just turned 61, and last summer, I almost died in a bike racing accident. These two factors add up in a backward-calculus way to make me a voracious reader. A madman. A human reading machine sadly aware that I have only five, ten, or forty-five years of reading left. And at a paltry rate of two books a month, and only six more years – both my father and grandfather died at sixty-seven – that’s maybe 150 books. And I’ve over a thousand on my To Be Read list which I pour over and update regularly. Such are the joys of a reader/writer.

Regarding reading, I have a quaint picture of Victorian age readers. Forget ol’ Chuck Dickens with towering mahogany book cases filled to overflowing with classics and new novels. Think instead of a farmer, threshing wheat all day, coming home to eight children and a worn-out wife, and to a simple bookshelf of dovetailed English pine. He’s managed, in the good years, to amass a library of four books. One is a work on English poetry, he has a Bible, and he’s got two modernish novels. When the children make their way to their hay mattresses, he stokes the fire one last time, lights his clay pipe, and pulls a book from the shelf. He’s read it before. He might have read it four times before, maybe five. In fact, reading isn’t the right word. He sucks the marrow out of every word. He can recite entire passages.

Of course, I don’t do anything of the sort. I don’t really know if anyone has ever done anything like this. But I would like to. I would like to read slower. To ponder over the prose and wonder why the writer used that certain word. Was it on purpose or was it just because the thesaurus was handy?.

Drat all fashion.

The internet overflows with handy tips about how to read more and faster. We are all aware that it’s the single best way to catapult yourself to wisdom and fame.You can even buy tapes and condensed books that present the most important themes in just a few minutes or pages. Silly authors! They thought you need a whole book to say something. But, drat all fashion; I intend to read slower, to chew on perspicacious themes, to sip on black coffee while writing notes about the author’s shifting point of view.

My Reading Plan

My new reading plan is easy. Therein lies the beauty.

  1. I won’t race through pages with the sole goal of finishing, Instead, I will slow down to wallow in the language, prose, and ideas. I just finished Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God: A Novel and it was sweet. Well worth bathing in.
  2. If language, prose, and ideas are dull or absent, I quit. I’ve no time to finish a lousy book just because of my list. And, as a writer, I know that not everything appeals to every one, C’est la vie.
  3. I will stick to my list…kind of. For every two or three books on the list, I incorporate a ‘read anything’ checkoff. Makes me feel good to have options and I peruse too many magazines and websites with book reviews and best-of lists to leave this option out.
  4. I’ve always read with a pencil in hand. In order to keep more of what I enjoy most, I’ll read with a notebook nearby to jot down notes and follow rabbit trails kicked up by the last paragraph.

    Right now, per my list, I am reading:

    Goldfinch by Donna Tart as my fiction book.
    Shopcraft as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford for my non-fiction book.
    How to Write a Page Turner by Jordan Rosenfeld for my writing book.

Easy, huh?

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