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Books read in October 2012:

  1. The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb by Sheri Reynolds
  2. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
  3. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
  4. The Truelove, by Patrick O’Brian
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  6. More Baths, Less Talking, by Nick Hornby

This month I read six books, which is seems a little low for the month, but in fact is rather average. I’ve read sixty-nine books so far this year, which averages out to about seven books a month, and so October was a slightly less than average month. Still, I have the nagging suspicion that there was a book I read this month that I have forgotten, and is thus fading out of my memory, soon to be forgotten like I never read the book at all. This concern over lost, forgotten books is the entire reason I began tracking my reading about ten years ago, because while most of my favorite books stick with me, seemingly unaided, over time, other books have a way of falling away from my memory and consciousness, and I’d rather not let that happen. I invested my time and imagination when I read these books, and everything that I’ve read has likewise given me something back. Even books I dislike have taught me important lessons both of what I want to avoid in my own writing. But if I don’t do the work of remembering, these lessons flit away.

One of the books I read this month was More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby, which is a collection of about two years worth of his reading columns for The Believer, in which he does exactly what I’m doing here, but with more wit and humor, and conceivably, for pay (although that isn’t guaranteed in today’s age of writing for free). I first read these columns in his collection The Polysyllabic Spree. When I read that book, it came at a pivotal moment in which I was trying to transition from being a business owner and sea kayak guide to being a writer, and I knew no other writers, and barely knew anyone who liked to read. I was desperate for a community, for the assurance that writing was a thing that was possible, or at the very least, that reading was something that people did. The Polysyllabic Spree did both of those things for me – it let me have a vicarious literary community through Hornby, and it gave me a bit of a glimpse into the life of a writer and reader. More than anything, it assured me that being a voracious reader was indeed an essential part of being a writer, because more than anything, at that time, I was reading. Even though I had recently published my first guidebook, I didn’t know how to turn from that type of writing, to writing fiction and essays of substance. So, besides writing as much and as often as I could, I read. I read because I love to read, and I read because I wanted to learn how to write, and it seemed to make sense to do that by reading great writers. I set out on a reading program of reading a work of contemporary fiction, then classic fiction, then contemporary fiction, and then non-fiction, and then I repeated that over and over again. Hornby’s book showed me that I was not alone in those habits, that indeed, I shared my reading habits with a real, living, breathing, publishing writer.

But this blog post isn’t about the book I read back then, I intend it to be about the books I’ve read this month. While I still keep track of the books I read in the same notebook, I lag on that sometimes, and have seem to have temporarily misplaced that notebook, and as such, I also began tracking my books on Goodreads a few years ago. Maybe one of these day’s I’ll figure out how to turn my Goodreads reviews into Blog posts, but for now, reading More Baths, Less Talking has inspired me to begin using this seldom used blog space for a monthly chronicle of my reading habits. I won’t go into every book in depth, but just wax nostalgic a bit on my favorites in the preceding weeks. I intend to do this for two reasons. One: that I have this blog that I never use, and this seems as good of a use as any, and Two: because like when I first started recording my reading habits, I am currently adrift and uneasy in my existence as a writer, and so the chronicling of my reading habits will maybe help give shape the writing and reading part of my life.

When I say I am adrift, I need to clarify that I am adrift for mostly good reasons. The primary reason is that I’ve recently begun a new job, a dream job of teaching in a University, but with a 4 – 4 course load, I’ve yet to figure out a way to balance teaching and writing. I am determined this balance will come, but sometimes it seems impossible to find the time in days that I begin at 7 am and work straight through until I finish teaching at 7 pm, or next semester when I sometimes teach until 10. My writing energy is gone at the end of those teaching days, and my planning and teaching brain usurps any writing thought at the beginning of those days, but my reading energy is more alive than ever. I read first thing in the morning, I grab snatches of moments in the middle of the day, and I read every night. When days are feeling too long and too hard, I think about the book that waits for me at days end, and that helps to get me through. And then, at the end of the week, when I know I should spend the day writing, but lack the energy or confidence or focus to sit at the desk, what I can do is take a book and read it from cover-to-cover. I started that habit of a one day book “vacations” in college, giving over many Saturdays to reading a novel for the fun of it, ignoring all other work and responsibilities in order to read. It is still my favorite thing to do with a Saturday. And so I am writing this blog to celebrate reading, and the large part it plays in giving me a rich life, and the way that even when I am doing nothing else to advance my work as a writer, at least I am reading and digesting words.

This blog post has already wandered long enough and I’ve yet to even mention the other books that I read in October, which is a shame, because I read some real beauties. Despite my innate skepticism for popular books, and my dislike of the ekphrastic letter writing style, I loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I loved the character, the honesty and vulnerability of the point of view, and I loved the fully realized setting and world of being a high schooler in 1991, the year I graduated. I read that book fast because I didn’t want to put it down, and I also read Sheri Reynolds’ latest book, The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb, as a Saturday book “vacation,” book and loved every moment of it. Sheri was one of my MFA professors at Old Dominion University, and is now my colleague as I now also teach there, and she is an amazing teacher and writer, and can write a real, funny and heart-breaking character in a way that will just rip you in two. Like with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, at first I was a little worried about the form of the book, because Sheri’s book was conceived as a sort of devotional, but the form absolutely succeeded. While the problem that I often have with “anatomical” forms is that the form can be distracting from the narrative dream, instead these two books demonstrate that sometimes a form like that is what is needed to unlock a rawer, truer voice than could ever be managed through traditional narration.

This month wasn’t all great reads. I also read a rather poorly written Eragon, but I read it to discuss with my 10 year old nephew, who loves the series and has re-read it twice, and so it was worth suffering through 600 plus pages of indifferent prose to keep alive our tradition of chatting about books. But I also look forward to reading better books to discuss with him, because most of his choices and suggestions for our book club of one have been far better than Eragon. I read Buddha in the Attic, which I liked but did not love. I think I almost loved it right when I finished it, but that feeling has already faded. The third person collective omniscient style just kept me a little too distant. And I read a Patrick O’Brian book, as part of my working through the entirety of the Aubrey/Martin series this year. But I think I’ll blog about that during another month.

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed my reading month of October, just as I enjoyed my reading in September, and as I’m enjoying my reading now. As a preview for my next blog, I just finished reading Junot Diaz’s National Book Award nominated collection of stories, and I am now writing this blog while live-streaming the National Book awards on television. Two of my former professors, and current colleagues are in attendance. Tim Seibles is rightfully nominated for his collection of poetry, Fast Animal, of which I’ll blog about next month, and Janet Peery is there as one of the fiction judges. My life is now so rich in writers and community that it is hard to imagine the writing desert that I was living in only eight years ago. However, as much as my life has changed, it has also stayed the same, in that I am still a reader. Casting my mind back over the years, I am not sure when I last went more than a week without reading. Really, it is hard to find a couple of days that I have gone without reading. I have a vague recollection that when I was in middle school that I fell away from reading for a while, but I’m not sure. What I do know is that for the last 30 years, reading is the one, true, constant thing in my life, and that is a rather amazing thing. Reading is the only thing that has stayed that constant through all those many years. Reading is as much, or more, a part of shaping me as any other aspect of my life. So, when it comes down to it, I guess writing this monthly blog about my reading habits is rather like writing a monthly biography of the state of my self. And so with that, I think I will turn my attention back to the awards, because surely the dinner is about to end, and so I need to be ready to cheer my colleagues, mentors and idols.

PS: Tim just lost, but literature overall won big in the awards, and also in the feeling of cozy community, live-streaming it into my living room, where through the miracle of a $5 cable and a TV I just bought using the spare change that I’ve collected for three years, I brought the ceremonies live into my living room. It was quite a thing to hear are these talented people talk about reading and writing, and while Tim did not win this year, is still filled me with that warm inclusive happiness of belonging to hear both his and Janet’s name spoken during the ceremony. I toast them both, as I toast all writers and readers.

Watching the National Book Awards