Saturday, March 25, 2006

Reading Habits

I love libraries - my tax dollars at work! Yesterday I emerged from my local one with an armload of books and CD's and nary a credit card needed to be waved for the privilege.

I continue to run across helpful ideas for making and attaining goals. An oft suggested tactic is to plan a reward for successfully achieving (or making serious progress towards) a goal. Examples given of possible "carrots" often require an outlay of money, which doesn't always work for me. Better are the ones that merely give me permission to spend my time frivolously or just differently. One of my favorite rewards is a trip to the library for a new book to read of the recreational kind.

Reading for pleasure has always felt a bit of a guilty sin. Although it often enriches, it doesn't do so in a tangible way - you don't have much to show for your time other than an improved mind or attitude. That's my Puritan Work Ethic upbringing talking. Reading, in fact, has benefits untold. Yet when something has to give, time for recreational reading often is the first to go.

I actually spend quite a bit of my day reading - a quick tally tells me I average 2 to 3 hours a day on magazines, books and newspapers. This does not include time spent reading blogs and websites, which I do most days. This was a bit of a shock because at the moment, I'm barely averaging 4 hours a day working in the studio. Granted, some of the reading is directly related to my quilting or feeds into it indirectly. The rest is just something I enjoy and we all need to do enjoyable things to feed our souls and keep us fresh for the hard work.

I've always read a wide range of materials. History has always been a love. Growing up in the West got me going on anything having to do with the pioneers and looking for local connections to bigger events. As I moved from place to place, one of the first things I'd do is check the library for books on the area's history. It's not surprising that as my interest in quilting grew, I'd be interested in learning about its history and those who created such wonderful works. The advent of the State Quilt Documentation Projects and subsequent publications fueled my need to know more than reading pioneer diaries could tell me.

Non-fiction is not the only thing I enjoy. Oh, no. I used to read a lot of science fiction, taking my cue from authors presented in college classes or from my husband's favorites: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein. Mixed in with these might be a John LeCarre, Jack Higgins, C. S. Lewis. For pure stream of consciousness whackiness, I turn to Tom Robbins. Margaret Atwood is a real favorite - she writes in a style I fancy I would, if I had a talent that direction, and her descriptions often remind me of the world I grew up in. Later came a love of detective novels. Read everything by the classic Dashiell Hammett and Dick Francis, then discovered Elizabeth George and most recently, Kate Wilhelm. Sometimes seeing a movie will lead me to want to know more about a subject or person. Seeing the restored version of Lawrence of Arabia prompted me to read a biography about T. E. Lawrence, which in turn sent me searching for the books he himself had written.

So you see how it goes with me and reading. One thing leads to another, but there are favorite genres that I always return to like the murder mysteries.
In a recent review of Every Book Its Reader, it is noted that the author, Nicholas Basbanes, argues "reading habits transcend the confines of choice, reflecting "deepest interests and predilections, even...dreams, needs...anxieties." Oh my. Is this predilection for murder mysteries a sign that I am ghoulish, harbor dark thoughts about my fellow man, will commit some atrocity in the future? Wait - no, it's the detective thing I'm honing in on, I'm sure. I love researching topics, finding out all I can about something, discovering disparate bits of data and making the not so obvious connection between them, not unlike what a detective needs to do. Whew! And based on the stack of books I just brought home, I must fancy myself an artist...

One thing that I rarely do is re-read a book. This doesn't apply to ones used as references, or volumes that are primarily photos or illustrations, or poetry of course. As much as I may enjoy a book, there are simply too many titles on my list of want-to-reads and I am too slow of a reader to allow myself that luxury. However, I have come up with some titles that I have read more than once because they made such a deep impression on me. I thought I would share them with you:

The Once And Future King, by T.H. White. This is the story of Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere. The story begins long before the movie version "Camelot," following Arthur from childhood. I read it while I was still in h.s. on the recommendation of a good friend. It seemed to have so much wisdom to impart to my time mired in the Vietnam war: "Indeed I had some cause to believe that the defense of the country was not disagreeable to any of them, provided they were not required to assist in it." I re-read it much later to revisit the painful love triangle Arthur suffered as an adult - now that I was entangling in my own messy triangles. I exorcised some of those demons a few years ago with a quilt based on Camelot - "Camelot - The Tangled Web We Weave." I don't think I'll read it again.

The Risk Pool, by Richard Russo. I don't remember how I got on to this book, but about 12 chapters in, I found an eerie resemblance to the relationship between the father & son in the book and the relationship between my father and I. The farther into the story, the more like my father this fictional father became. At the very end, the father dies of cancer and at that point, the resemblance to my life experiences ended. Not many years later, my own father DID die of cancer, and in much the same way as the book's character, he didn't want me to know so didn't tell me. Like the son in the story, I had to find out from a concerned friend, and my father had the same response for why he didn't tell me as the father in the book. Needless to say, I had to read the book again to confirm my memories of the parallels, and yes, they were still there.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. This is one from college. There were a lot of jokes about "taking soma." About 10 years ago, I developed a non-stop raging headache that after much testing and rounds of various specialists was traced back to the estrogen I'd been put on after a hysterectomy. My primary physician was close to retirement and small town. When I didn't respond to the obvious and he discovered I wasn't working, he decided to put me on Zoloft which I equated to the valium of my mother's time. He brightly confided that he'd prescribed it for another of his female patients who was so grateful because she "felt like a new woman." Well, I didn't want to feel like a new woman, I just wanted the old one back, and I suspected he'd decided this was all in my head, no pun intended. I did give it a try, but had horrible reactions to it and it did nothing to relieve my pain. All I could think of was "Brave New World" where all problems were solved with soma - drug the populous so they wouldn't complain. I dug out my copy to find the appropriate passages and shared them with my physician who, unfortunately, did not see the connection nor the irony.

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. Another favorite of the '70's college set. But it does have some wonderful gentle wisdom. For us artistic types: "And if there come the singers & the dancers & the flute players, buy of their gifts also. For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul."

Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank. Mmmm - I read this one back in college too. Not the most uplifting book as it deals with the aftermath of nuclear war, the nuts and bolts of what the survivors will go through, the vagaries of human nature under extreme duress. The thing that took my breath away came at the very end and has never left me. In case you decide to read it, I won't give the ending away. Just be prepared for a very sobering piece of fiction.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. Ah, at last! A fairly recent book, and non-fiction to boot. Now I am purported to have some Irish in me, so when I saw this title at the library, I couldn't resist picking it up. It is the first in Cahill's "Hinges of History" series - all good in my opinion. For an historian, he writes with great economy and wit - a quick and easy and enjoyable, not to mention informative read that will widen your understanding of how we moved from the dark ages back into the light. According to Cahill, "The great heritage of Western civilization - from the Greek and Roman classics to Jewish and Christian works - would have been utterly lost were it not for the holy men and women of the unconquered Ireland." Worth several reads even if you aren't Irish!

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Gerald Sittser. This is perhaps the single most important book I read as I dealt with the aftermath of my husband's death. I recommend it unconditionally to anyone who has sustained any kind of major loss. The author, who is a professor at my alma mater - Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, writes from his own experience of losing his mother, wife and daughter in a car accident. While he draws on his Christian faith, he makes a number of observations applicable to anyone. The most helpful to me was his remark that our journey through grief is not a matter of checking off one stage after another until we are finally "over it." His writings reassured me that my path, which did not seem to follow society's expectations, was valid, and to hang in there. He observes that our response to loss will vary depending on our relationship to the loved one, and all responses are valid. No twelve step program here, thank goodness, and no pat answers. Just lots of sharing, encouragement and hope where hope does not want to exist. Each time I read it, I can chart my own progress and glean something new. I personally have not experienced every emotion that he did, and he doesn't expect me to. I got a chance to meet him last year and I found him as encouraging and understanding in person as he is on the written page. I can't thank enough the college friend who sent me this book after my loss.

Well, if you've made it to the end, kudos to you for hanging in there and I hope you've been enticed to go find a good book and treat yourself to a little guilty indulgence. Remember, we artistic types know that all that we encounter in our lives feeds into our art.


S. Scott Craft said...

Nice recommendations. Most of those are on my list of books I would like to read.

LaRinda said...

Hello! I found your blog through a link from Sandy Marcoux's blog, but your entries caught my eye. I'm also a native North Idahoan (living in Post Falls now, but grew up in Bonners Ferry) who went to Whitworth College and is involved in the arts. I tend toward more altered art style and mix paper and fiber. I help Sandy's sis (don't know if you actually know her or just are linked to) run an online art fiber group. I haven't read "A Grief Observed," but did read Sittser's book "The Will of God as a Way of Life." It is excellent also. Anyway, hi from North Idaho! --LaRinda

larin said...

Hello! I just ofund a link to your blog on another one and wanted to wave to you from Idaho! I'm a native and still live in North Idaho (Bonners Ferry/Post Falls). And I went to Whitworth! I stay home with little people, but do mixed media art, mostly working wtih fibers and papers. I'd love to chat to see if we know each other. I haven't read Sittser's book on grief, but greatly enjoyed his one on the will of God and would highly reommend it. Blessings to you! --LaRinda