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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shall I Look Back, Too?


I’d already removed “Books Read 2009” and was happy with less clutter on the page, so I also removed “Books Read 2010” (I have my “Books Read” lists elsewhere: they don’t all have to be on the blog forever), and that’s when I started thinking about the year just past in terms of the books I read from January to December. Down there at the bottom of the 2011 list you’ll see the first book I finished reading last year. It was As Always, Julie, and I will always associate it with my own correspondence, conducted by e-mail and beginning the previous November, with a new friend in New South Wales, Australia, because As Always, Julia was one of the first books we read “together,” discussing it in our messages back and forth. Since then we have often been inspired by each other’s enjoyment of particular books and movies to look out for those ourselves and have even sent each other physical books in the mail—an expensive proposition between Australia and North America, but there is such excitement in sending and receiving the packages!

On up the book list is South of Superior, the seventh book I read in 2011, which appears only once in the list, but the truth is that I read it completely through three times last year! Today I talked to a good friend in the hospital and was happy to learn that her husband took South of Superior to her today. I can’t think of a better choice. By contrast, The Help was not a favorite book of mine, but it generated a lot of fascinating discussion, crossing lines of race, age, gender and culture, so for that reason I’m glad I read it. But no, I didn’t see the movie.

A string of memorable nonfiction also enlivened my reading year. Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson told of a man caught up by mistake in institutionalized life; once inside, everyone assumes that’s where he belongs, and so his life is narrowly circumscribed, year after year. As a vicarious experience, The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees, was almost the diametrical opposite of life in an institution, as the author traveled the world over, learning about one of the planet’s most fascinating insects. Then there was In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, with a critique of higher education comparing the selling of college loans to the selling of home mortgages, both products overvalued.

Back on the fiction front, I was very taken with How to Read the Air, a complex fictional narrative of immigrant experience. Anna Karenina and The Art of Racing in the Rain both re-reads, each of them for a different reading group, were both--as different as they are--well worth the time to read again.

As I move on up the list, I see books recommended by friends, books read with different group of people, most new but several re-read. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life I first encountered as a young person; reading them again at this stage of life was richly rewarding. --Is it even possible, I wonder, to read the “same” book twice? Memories of the first reading mix with life lived between readings to produce a very different soup. In fact, the more I look at the list, the more I see that tracing even one year’s reading involves endless backtracking in my book life, along with many new and noteworthy adventures, and I doubt I have the energy to relive it all and write about it, too--not to mention (but here I go) that I doubt many blog readers would have the patience to read my rambling thoughts on that impossibly huge subject, anyway. So?

So, time to start skipping bigger chunks and only touch down lightly on a few standouts. Once Upon a River: Definitely a standout. Some Horses: McGuane grown up. The Full Cupboard of Life: Title alone makes the book worth buying and having, but there’s also the irresistible Mma Ramotwse. Tattoos on the Heart: Everyone in the country should read it. Prairie Evers: Can’t wait for its release! The Windward Shore: Put me in the mood for winter! (Now, when will it get here?) Bait and Switch: Love Barbara Ehrenreich! Songs of Unreason: Thank you, Jim! Half of a Yellow Sun: Took my whole heart. Wild Comfort and Incident at Hawk’s Hill: Kathy (not in Australia but closer to home), you were right about these.

I thought at the beginning of this post that I would insert links to previous posts discussing various books on the list at length and in detail. Changed my mind. Too much work. Lazy me. You’ll just have to use that search bar at the top of the page if you’re dying for more about anything mentioned here. But really, wouldn’t you rather read the books for yourself? Or the books that are waiting on your nightstand?

6 comments:

Kathy said...

I would like to read Helen Keller's autobiography again. I'm 55% sure that I've read it once, but since nothing remains in memory, it's probably a good idea to re-visit her book. It was interesting to read what were some of your favorites for 2011. Just think what 2012 will bring...

P. J. Grath said...

I predict that you will be even more impressed by Helen Keller than you were years ago. That was certainly true for me, at least.

My new year's reading is off to a good start. Not only well into Dante, but I have just read a friend's collection of short stories in manuscript form and can hardly wait to have this excellent writing in a book to share with others. The joys of bookselling!

Helen Selzer said...

I still marvel at how much you are able to read! And I'm delighted to find you rereading books you love.

P. J. Grath said...

Helen, I should look back at the list and count the total, then count the re-reads. I'm glad you don't think re-reading is a waste of time. Can you believe some people think that way?!

Gerry said...

I was saving this to read when I could make a list . . . and almost missed it entirely. One thing about diving into a research project is that there is a lot of reading that is more like mining. It's very rewarding, but not especially pleasurable in and of itself. I think I must take time out once each week to read something that has nothing to do with research and everything to do with pleasure. Now which of these shall I choose . . .

P. J. Grath said...

Whichever you choose, do let me know how you liked it, Gerry.