I believe that ‘carpe diem’ should characterize every day of your life whether it be lounging on your couch reading, making dinner, or skiing down a very steep mountain with your clothes off (for some people that is fully living). Anyway, last year I wanted to read more books. I reached my goal of 25 books and even exceeded it. 27. In addition, I also listened to 2 audiobooks. Yes, I’m proud of myself. The books I read left me with a couple of byproducts ranging from personal superiority to guilt. I’ll discuss these resulting feelings briefly in the following paragraphs and then propose a twist on 2021’s reading goals.
Some of the books were books I read for classes and were considered classics or must-reads to understand Russian literature or life or whatever. Reading those gave me a sense of superiority, which most people need to deny they like feeling. Come on people! Who reads Crime and Punishment and doesn’t feel a little bit awesome? Getting through some of those books was tedious. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch rewarded me with one lone notch on my belt and no desire to ever even talk about the book. Many people laud the book and its writer. I thought it was a terrible read. I’ve read other accounts of camp life, specifically If This is a Man by Primo Levi, and it was a beautiful read. I actually wanted to read it. Solzhenitsyn’s book made me not want to wake up in the morning. Not because the content was so disturbing, but because there was no flow. I felt like I was paddling a huge raft upstream through class 5 rapids. The other novels I read by Russian authors made me feel pretty superior, but they also left me with the desire for more. What I’m saying is that I’m a sucker for depressing novels. They leave me with a clean feeling, the opposite of how you feel when you eat too much cotton candy.
I’d now like to delve into the noble reasons for which I read books. Lessons I need to learn that are learned by the characters, meaningful quotes that float around in my subconscious, characters that I wish I knew in real life, or places that wish I could see, and an excellent compendium of research about a subject. When I read a book I consider good, I’m left with at least one of these products. Something I can take with me in life. If it can stand the test of time in my brain, then it is forever placed in my memory as a good book. I must tell you that my memory is quite weak. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember the names of the characters in the Proper Romances, or in any book for that matter. But I remember having a feeling about something. If I read a quote in a book that stands out to me, I will probably not remember what it was, but I will remember that I read it in a certain book, and know where to go to find it. My memory is good enough to remember how I felt about a book. Kind of like when you meet people briefly at a party. Either you like them and wouldn’t be sad to know them better, or you didn’t like them or just wouldn’t go out of your way to spend more time with them. Eventually the books that didn’t leave an impression drop out of my memory forever until I don’t remember even reading them. Here are some short notes on each book that I have placed in my ‘good’ category.
-Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. Without the guidance of my Russian literature professor, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this story at all. The description of the landscape and nature was crystal clear, and the relationship between Tatyana and Onegin is entertaining. It’s basically a story of a girl recognizing her worth and standing up for herself. The flimsy person of Onegin is nothing to be admired from my standpoint, and very boring. I love how she shatters him in the end. KaPOW!!!!!
-Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I had preconceived ideas about this book because I saw the movie, which I was not impressed with. I learned that it is impossible to participate in the taboos of your culture and expect to be accepted socially. If you have a personality that requires social acceptance, don’t commit taboos. You’ll end up killing yourself. It made me grateful for the culture I live in now.
-Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille. I remember having a desire to live alone out in the wilderness because I love nature and I love testing my abilities to see how much I can do. I read this book because I thought I’d see what my life would have been like if I had chosen a different path. The lesson I took from this book is that if you decide to be a zealot about living in the wilderness, you’ll die alone. From what I know about her, she gave up some relationships because she wanted to have a certain style of life. Her lifestyle was more important to her than the people she could have loved. And she died of Alzheimer’s in a nursing home, alone.
-Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I read this book because it takes place in Maine and it won the Pulitzer Prize. It turned about to be an excellent story about people that were stuck. It resonated with me because sometimes I feel stuck in life. The protagonist is very average, but they way he confronts his normalcy and his stuck-ness in favor of his daughter is exemplary. Living an average life, loving the people you’re with, in the same place and never moving, seems really hard, but the author brings out how right it feels to do so.
-East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The gifts of this book are twofold for me. First, the location description is special to me because I grew up near the Central Valley in California. I know how the sun feels and the dirt looks, sounds, and smells. Second, there are people who are very, very different in this world. Kathy is one of those. Evil. When I think of appealing to a person’s humanity, I ask, “What about Kathy?” The same methods don’t work with her or people who are different like that. I often wonder if I’ve met people like her and just didn’t know it.
-The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. With the Black Lives Matter movement happening, I felt like I should read some Black American authors. I chose James Baldwin because he lived and loved Istanbul, like me. What did I take from his writings? Well, I basically need to read more because I have no idea what is going on as a White lady who doesn’t have that many Black friends. There is a lot of anger among Blacks. The fire referred to is the fire that’s gonna fall on the Whites. Also, I did appreciate Baldwin’s hope that America can repair itself instead of breaking into two nations: Black and White.
-Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I don’t read science writers much because I’m not a science person, but Carson is a biologist with a gift for writing. Her descriptions of the Great Basin make me feel wistful and nostalgic. This is one author I would like to meet in person. She must have been uncommonly courageous to write such a condemning account in the world of her day.
-One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I saw this book recommended by a person I don’t even know on Facebook. It looked like something I’d find in a Deseret Book store. The author is not Mormon, but she is a religious Christian. She is also a mother of six? and homeschools them. I found her writing tedious to read, but the message useful. Very useful. Though this is a book I would never choose to read normally, I thought it would be a good exercise to read something that I didn’t really want to read. I’m a bit stubborn and set in my ways. Reading this book helped me sift through the writing that I didn’t like, through to the message.
-The Second Chance Club by Jason Hardy. I never really understood the purpose of parole and probation until I read this book. Did you know that it costs American taxpayers an average of $33,000 to jail a person for a year? And an average of $4,000 to put them on parole or probation? Now I understand why it isn’t good for Americans to simply seek to put all offenders straight into jail. Obviously there are some offenders that are criminals and very dangerous to society. But the ones that aren’t violent or harmful, can be disciplined and helped in other ways. I learned so much about the difficulties of helping people out of drug addiction, homelessness, and gangs, and how important it is to donate to organizations that seek to rehabilitate these offenders and give them services they so very much need.
-White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. My place of employment encouraged its employees to read this book and join a book discussion. We were monetarily reimbursed for our time and given a free copy of the book. I’m glad I participated. It helped me to know how to do my part in recognizing in what ways I am racist. I didn’t really like the voice of the author, but if I were her, and I had to talk to a bunch of people who thought they weren’t racist over and over again, I’d probably dispense with any expressions of compassion as well (meaning compassion for Whites).
-The Bristlecone Book by Ronald M. Lanner. I picked this book up at the visitor’s center at Great Basin National Park last fall. I learned all about Bristlecone Pines. They are the oldest trees on the planet. Learning about the features that contribute to their longevity was fascinating.
My reasons for reading are self-serving. I used to see it as a noble pastime. As a child, I’d never heard anyone ever say that reading was a waste of time. But after reading so many books this year, and focusing on a specific number goal, I realize there are different approaches one can take to customize the results. I reached my number goal. Great! But as I mentioned in my previous paragraphs, I felt superiority when I read classic literature, guilt when I read Proper Romances, and a deep fulfillment when I read books that left me messages that I could take with me. I don’t want to read books to appear superior to others, nor do I want to read books that leave me feeling guilty that I’ve wasted 20 hours of life. Rather than repeat the same goal, but with a higher number, in 2021, because I seriously doubt I’ll have more time, I will set my goals with non-numerical results in mind. For each book I read, I will create a work of art that stems from ideas in the book. I’m not much of an artist, but I like art, so I think this will motivate me to do more of it. 2021 will signal the end of my conspicuous consumption of books. Happy New Year!