Reading list

reading list

As of this writing, I’m still pretty bouncy: I’m working, and living a normal life, and walking to work, and eating relatively normally. In a month or two, however, I will be pretty house-bound: the radiation and chemotherapy will make me tired and achy, and there are dozens of other unpleasant side effects which may manifest also.

I will need distraction.

So I am pulling together a stack of books to read as the year darkens and as I become less active.

I pre-ordered Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” from Amazon, and got it a few weeks ago. I’ve read a few pages, but Pynchon’s a difficult read, so he’ll be good for a dark November day.

Also a book of stories called “Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts,” recommended to me by my Internet friend Flora Gardener in Ilwaco, Washington. The author, Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire, is an acquaintance of hers, and the stories are part of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, so I’m looking forward to them.

Also Rick Riordan’s latest “Heroes of Olympus” installment, “The House of Hades,” which arrived in the mail only the other day. Okay, it’s young-adult, but who cares? Riordan writes very well, and it’s an entertaining story. I had a hard time putting it down after I unwrapped it; I made it through the first twenty pages, just enough to see that it’s good, and sighed, and put it down.

Also a pre-calculus book given to me by my student employee Ralph, who listened to me complaining that my Coursera calculus course was too difficult for me, and realized immediately that what I needed was pre-calculus. When I’m sick of fiction, I can relax with some numbers and formulae.

Also: “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. My friend Joanne sent it to me, and I’ve browsed it, and it’s not bad. If it teaches me to live in the moment and relax a bit, then I will have really learned something.

Also it’s probably time (as Flora reminded me a few days ago) to reread E. F. Benson’s “Lucia” books. I first read them in college, and fell desperately in love with them. I haven’t reread them for years. I’m long overdue.

Also: I can listen all the music I’ve collected over the years. And I can finally watch all the pre-Code movies I have on the DVR. And . . .

I’m not saying this will be fun.

But I think I’m looking forward to some downtime, and some serious (and not so serious) reading.

Reading in the bathtub

reading in the bathtub

We never had a shower in the house when I was growing up, but only a bathtub. I know for a fact that my mother never took a shower until the morning of my sister’s funeral in 1995. (She was terrified of it, and I had to talk her through it, from outside the bathroom.)

I take showers most days, because they save time. But on weekends, and during vacations, I take baths.

Baths are lovely and luxurious. You can add salts if you like, but they really only create stains on the porcelain. All you need is hot water – the hotter the better, as hot as you can stand – and a bar of soap.

And a book.

Naturally one reads in the bathtub. I remember Anne Parrish’s comment about her copies of E. F. Benson’s “Lucia” novels being stained by being “dropped into brooks and baths.”

Well, of course we drop them! Our hands are wet as we turn the pages.

This kind of use marks a book. It lets everyone know that it was well-beloved. I have lots of used books, and I can tell you in every case whether or not their previous owners read them lovingly.

Some have marginal notes. Some have greasy spots, probably where crumbs fell while their readers ate. And some have been dunked in water, and then carefully (or not so carefully) dried.

My own books – the books I bought brand-new – reflect this too. Some are pristine. Others are in terrible shape, dog-eared and stained and ragged and broken-spined.

Care to guess which ones are my favorites?

Learning to read again

I’ve written about rediscovering the Providence Public Library. I go at least once a week, sometimes twice. It’s quiet and lovely, especially the book stacks (most people go to use the computers, which are right in front; there’s also a nice first-floor children’s section, and the librarians are universally cheerful and funny).



I check out at least a book a week.



And, almost by accident, I have learned to read again.



Funny: I have a room full of books, literally lined with books. I am always pulling them down, looking up things, lending them to people. But I am not adding new books to the mix. (I do, of course; it’s a lifetime habit. But I buy books and put them on the shelf without reading. That’s terrible.)



But now I am checking out books I do not own from the library, and there is a date stamped in them, and if I do not return them by that date, I will be charged – I don’t know – five cents a day.



hate being late.



So I read. I read novels, and screenplays, and radio scripts, and short stories. I have put things aside because they’re not very good. I have reread things.



I’m beginning to fall into a routine: one weekend day (either Saturday or Sunday, whichever has the crappier weather), with a book and a glass of seltzer water. I lie down, and I read.



I’d forgotten how lovely this is.  I can turn pages as quickly or as slowly as I please. If a book bores me, I can throw it aside. I can speed through a chapter or a section if it’s not wonderful. I can linger over things. I can reread things a few days later!



And I can lie down while doing it!



I find that I now (more than recently) have ideas in my head. Now, where could those have come from?



I have been more relaxed lately, too. To be fair, it might be my medication. But books are medication too. I’d forgotten how consoling they can be.



As W. H. Auden said in “For The Time Being”: “You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.” 



It’s good to be back.


Forgetting how to read


I read incessantly. As a child I had to have the cereal box in front of me on the breakfast table, just to have some reading material nearby.



Now, however, through some combination of age and medication and alcohol consumption, my concentration has faltered, and I can’t read the way I used to.



Take the newspaper, for example. My eyes skitter up and down the page, glancing at the headlines, looking for proper nouns and keywords. But even when I find an article I want to read in detail, I sort of panic and keep skittering.



I still read a lot, of course. For some reason, non-fiction – the duller the better – has become very appealing to me. I am not kidding you when I say I recently read – page by page and word by word! – a grammar/lexicon of the Chinook Trading Jargon. I always keep a book near my living-room chair, for quiet moments; right now it’s an eighteen-pound college biology textbook, which I open at random to read about mitosis and eukaryotes and dicotyledons. It’s very calming.



But novels are almost beyond me nowadays.



I find I just don’t care about them anymore. Every story has been told, don’t you think? Every family situation has been dissected, every antihero has met his destiny, every Don Quixote has come home at last. I used to go to the bookstore and look at the endless racks of paperback and hardback novels, and I felt daunted, because I thought I had to read them all. I don’t feel that way nowadays.



I even cheat. Apollonia, my work friend, gave me her cherished copy of “Water for Elephants,” so that I could talk intelligently with her about it. I found it flat and uninteresting, and got my dear friend to tell me all about it, and now I can fake my way through a conversation with her about it.



This saddens me a bit. (Also, I hope Apollonia doesn’t read this.)



So, as a penance and a lesson to myself in diligence – and maybe to get my reading proficiency back – I have set myself an assignment: I am currently reading “Democracy: An American Novel” by Henry Adams. I am reading it on my Nook, a few pages at a time. No, a few sentences at a time. I do not allow myself to skitter. And, for a change, I am actually trying to think about what I’m reading.



I am enjoying it.



So maybe I am not beyond hope after all.




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