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Friday, January 4, 2013

Do You Keep a List of the Books You Read?



The other day I posted about the books I was reading on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and I realized on re-reading that post that whatever I finish from now on will have to go on a new year’s list. For better or for worse, 2012 is finished.

For a couple of years I kept lists of my reading religiously, then fell off for a couple years before starting up again in 2009. My lists tell me that I read 101 books in 2012, 102 the year before, and back in 2010 a total of 125 for the year, probably in large part because we spent the late winter and early spring in Florida, where I had few responsibilities to cut into my reading, writing, drawing, walking, and dreaming.

Looking back over my book list (total: 108) for 2009, I enjoy remembering that year’s reading. Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer was a book David and I read aloud to each other at bedtime in Florida. Patrick Smith’s novels, Allapattah and Forever Island, gave me a new appreciation for the history of the Everglades. Still Alice, fiction by Lisa Genovese, and Horse Soldiers, nonfiction by Doug Stanton, opened frightening worlds to me, as did Dreams From the Monster Factory, nonfiction by Sunny Schwartz. I was transported by the new book of Jim Harrison’s poetry, In Search of Small Gods. Don Lystra’s lovely novel, Season of Water and Ice, was part of my reading in 2009, along with Mardi Link’s Isadore’s Secret. It was a good year for Michigan writers! That year inaugurated a reading group I still refer to as “our Ulysses group,” for together we tackled James Joyce in a dozen intense and wonderful sessions.

I highly recommend the keeping of a list of each year’s reading. Part of it for me is purely practical, as titles and authors’ names tend to slip my mind unless I can refer to a list, but there are side benefits to the record, as well. As my eye runs down the list, I remember the time of year and where I was when reading that book; if it was one I read with a group or a book whose author I know or at least met, that adds another dimension; fragments of conversation and discussion with other readers of each book cling associatively to various titles; and, finally, there is the ineradicable but uncommunicable affective ambience that surrounded the reading of the books. 

My book list for each year is, then, a shorthand diary, written in a code that only I can decipher. It holds worlds of memories.

11 comments:

Deborah said...

I just finished Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. I thought you'd recommended it but don't see it on your list of books read. No I have no idea who recommended it to me! Help!

P. J. Grath said...

Nope, not me, Deborah. Must confess I am a fan of Tom Wolfe's nonfiction but haven't read his fiction. How did you like the book?

I just finished reading my second novel of 2013 and have to keep reminding myself that it's Lake Michigan, unsalted, here where I live, not the stormy, tidal Atlantic Ocean. Books are my magic carpet: they take me far away....

flandrumhill said...

Years ago when I had a Facebook profile, my favorite app (not sure, but it might have been called 'Bookshelf') allowed me to keep a running list of books, upload book covers (if none were in existence) and add reviews. It was wonderful.

Making the list conjured up so many memories of my life's circumstances while reading each of those books. The company we keep in books, as well as people, colors our lives and has great effect on our thoughts and actions.

P. J. Grath said...

Funny, I was thinking this morning before going online what it would look like to have a shelf of the books I read for the entire year, all lined up. Believe I will leave it to imagination, though. There are times when imagination's pictures are richer than any material image.

Your thought about the company we keep having an effect on our thoughts an actions would have found no argument a hundred years ago, but I wonder how many people believe it today. "Entertainment" as something without effect might be a more common belief. But can we experience anything without being affected? Doesn't that contradict the very idea of experience? Food for thought.

Dawn said...

My Mom kept a running list, pages and pages long, I can't remember now when she started it. When she died I made a copy of it, Dad wasn't ready to take it off their bulletin board. When HE died I took the original home with me. During the last few years of her life she and I compared books, and recommended back and forth. It was always interesting to me what she liked, not always what I expected. Right now I can't remember anything that was on her list other than "Gone Fishing" and I can't remember the author of THAT. But I have the list somewhere...in her handwriting...and when I look at it I remember the books we read together.

These days I keep track on Goodreads online. I like the fact there is a record somewhere.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, what a lovely picture that makes for me, your mother's book list on the bulletin board! And it reminds me, also, once again, of the little "scrapbooks" of their favorite poems that both of my parents kept as young people before ever they met. Just as you and your mother sometimes read the same books, my parents (as it turned out) shared some of the same favorite poems.

I'm not bogged down in deep regret over this omission, but I would dearly love to have lists of books read for every year of my life. Wouldn't THAT be a trip?

Dawn said...

THAT would be something young parents should begin for their children...and instill as a habit. That would be something...

Kathy said...

No. :( And I sometimes sadly regret it. People are always saying to sign up for Goodreads and always ponder doing that, but never do. Think of all the books we non-listers have lost from memory!

A kind of funny story. A friend once moved across town. Suddenly slips of paper were flying all over Baraga. Her list of books had somehow ripped apart and flew from one end of town to the other.

It was funny--and sad. Her book list flew to the wind!

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, what an idea--instead of or in addition to the traditional baby book, parents could keep a book of books read to the baby, with the child, and gradually it would become a book for the child to add titles to. Not every kid would get excited about it, but some would, and what a treasure it would be to a writer later in life, to be able to look back at that record of reading!

Kathy, I haven't even looked at Goodreads, though different friends and customers (overlapping categories, I'm happy to say) have suggested it. Started librarything once, but it turned out to be not as exciting as I'd imagined it would be--for me.

A book list flying around Baraga in pieces? If you say so, it must be true, but were these sheets of paper? Scraps? Index cards? I want to picture it and don't know what kind of information to give the director of the scene. :)

Unknown said...

My quote book is on-again, off-again, but currently on-again. I list the book and then copy some of my favorite parts. Sometimes there are no quotes, just the book listed, the absence of quotes telegraphing my disappointment. Other times, I may have pages of quotes. The most quotes recorded are from Anna Karenina, next in line, A Tale of Two Cities. Oldies but goodies...

P. J. Grath said...

It's an ambitious book list that includes quotes from parts of books you liked. I have thought of doing that and/or writing a mini-review or at least giving stars to indicate how I would rank each book, but at present I am only listing author, title, fiction or nonfiction, and sometimes if the book is YA or manuscript or ARC. Occasionally I'll put in the publication date if it's a very old book not well known. But mostly just the bare bones. With those I can always find the book again if I want to revisit it.