I set a goal of reading 30 books in 2022. I ended the year with 67 books read. So the question now is, Do I keep the same reading goal for 2023 or bump it up? I used to read a book or two a week but that was so long ago that I can’t easily claim to be much of a reader nowadays. But I miss losing myself in a book, I miss the feeling of wanting to get done with a task because a story was waiting. So for 2022 I stuck to “easy” reads - so, no, I didn’t make any progress on The Brothers Karamazov. That continues to be my white whale.
Among the 67 books read, these are the ones that stood out:
Favorite reads: Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir; Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, Heather McGhee
Most helpful: oh crap! Potty training: everything modern parents need to know to do it once and do it right, Jamie Glowacki
Weirdest: nothing to see here, Kevin Wilson
The YA that reminded me YA isn’t just for the youngsters: The Lesbianas Guide to Catholic School, Sonora Reyes; Lobizona, Romina Garber
The book that reminded me I really need to read more Latinae writers (and preferably in Spanish): The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez
The book that reminded me romance books can be fun escapes and started me down the contemporary romance rabbit hole that greatly facilitated the increased reading: Seven Days in June, Tia Williams
The book that made me pick up a classic I’ve been meaning to read: Re Jane, Patricia Park
The book that I didn’t realize had pissed me off so much until I picked up the sequel and discovered I hated the premise so much I couldn’t possible read past the first chapter: Dial A for Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutano
For 2023 I’ve decided to set two goals: read 40 books and to have many of those come from my own bookshelves. It would take several years reading at this pace to make a serious dent in my personal library but we have to start somewhere, no?
Earlier in the year I wrote that this would be the year that I finally finished reading The Brothers Karamazov. At the time I felt certain it could be done. “If I read 3-4 pages every day I’ll be done before the year is over!” Well, best laid plans and all that. I keep saying I like the story and that is true but given my atrocious reading habits for the past, well, decade and the fact that we are still living through a pandemic, even just 3 pages of a Russian novel a day has proven to be too ambitious.
Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. As the image shows, I’ve actually surpassed my Goodreads reaching goal for the year. That hasn’t happened since 2015. So reading isn’t the issue. It’s reading something that actually requires the brain to really think that’s the problem. At the end of the day, when I discover that I’ve watched everything there is to watch on Netflix or Hulu, I turn to reading books that flow, that entertain but don’t tax the already overly taxed brain.
The Brothers Karamazov shall have to wait. Maybe next year. See, this is the good thing about books. You can literally shelve them and they never get upset, they don’t complain that you’re neglecting them. They don’t vague tweet or Facebook post about how you’ve ghosted them because you’re a mean mean person. And they smell good. So really there is no downside to books. You heard that here first. I’m sure.
I have been trying to get through The Brothers Karamazov for probably two decades now. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve started it. I do know that one time I read about a third of the book before I lost it in a move. (I lost a whole box of some of my favorite books during the same move; a fact that still causes me pain to this day but that’s not the point of the post.)
People ask me why I keep trying to finish this book; they tell me life is too short to force oneself to read books, even if the book is a classic. I had a doctor once tell me, when she saw the book in my hand, “I am Russian and I am telling you, do not read that. He was crazy.” The thing is, I do like the story. I do like the writing. It’s just dense. That magical time when I read about a third of the book, I still had no clue who killed the father. I am not giving anything away here. You learn early on that one of the three brothers kills the father. Three hundred some pages in and not one clue! How is that possible?! I have read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Idiot and found both to be great reads. I’m not sure what the difference between the three books is - maybe it’s just that as I’ve gotten older my attention span has shortened and dense reads make for really, really slow going.
It’s been so long since I last picked up the book that I’m realizing I will have to start over from page one. I don’t mind - as I said, I do l like the book. But I am awfully tired of having it get the better of me so I’ve resolved that this will be the year it is finally finished. So with this entry I announce my intentions - every day I will read at least three pages. If the mood and time permits I can read more but it has to be at least three pages a day. This means it will potentially take me all year to finish the book, if I only read the minimum but we’re all about manageable goals this year so that’s okay.
So, periodically I will provide updates. Let’s see how it goes, shall we?
After reading a blog post on Bookriot about reading rules I started thinking about mine.
Never dog ear a book. I tend to not use bookmarks and if I do, it’s something thin, like a receipt or even a square of tissue.
Related to the above, if the book is new, I endeavor to not break the spine. For quick reads, it appeals to me to be done with a book and still have it look good as new.
That said, if a book requires thought and time to finish and understand, having it gently show wear also appeals to me.
I like to have more than one book going at the same time. They have to be of different topics so it’s easy to keep track of each book’s progress. I move between books as the moods strikes but inevitably one book will rise above the rest and compel me to devote my time to only it. I let the stories tell me how to read.
I’ve tried to get into reading books on the Kindle but I find that I still prefer reading paper books best. Although I’ve been reading A Tale of Two Cities on the Kindle, progress is so slow. I blame the ability to be distracted so easily. No matter how engrossed I think I am in a story, when I hear a ding or feel the buzz of the phone in my hand, I am pulled away to check emails or make a move on a game. I wish I were better able to ignore the notifications but that seems to only happen when I’m holding a paper book in my hands.
If it’s a series, I have to read the books in order.
I try to end at a chapter but that’s sometimes difficult if I’ve read long into the night and have to admit that sleep is more necessary than getting to the end of a chapter.
At some point in a story, I find the need to know the ending. I don’t fight this; sometimes all I need to do is read the last page, sometimes it’s the last chapter. Only once has this actually ruined a book for me. Knowing how a book ends detracts not one bit from wanting to know how it got to that ending.
No marginalia on quick reads. But I do make rare exceptions on school books, history/philosophy books, etc. Basically any books that I a) intend on keeping and b) require significant thought to understand.
Unless I am sure that I will be reading the book multiple times, I gift/donate the book so that others can enjoy it.
I think those cover my rules. Though it does feel as if I’m missing something.
As a non-religious person* I feel as if religious people think me incapable of feeling awe over the world and life in general. They are, of course, wrong. I am humbled by life, by what evolved and by what we’ve created. I often find myself thinking about the immensity of what we’ve accomplished by moving away from sleeping under the stars to arrive at these highly structured and complex lives. How is it possible to not be able to fully comprehend that span of time and also feel as if was just yesterday?
I found myself once again marveling at that sense of progress when I picked up The Federalist Papers tonight. I vaguely remember “reading” (aka skimming) sections in high school so when I saw a used copy up for grabs a year or so ago I let nostalgia (and a sense of guilt) talk me into taking it home with me - where it’s sat on one bookshelf or another ever since.
Maybe it’s the sheer lunacy of this election that sparked a real interest a day or so ago, but whatever the reason, tonight I cracked open the yellowed cover and began reading the introduction.
I’d forgotten that the papers were originally written as a series of letters to the public. If you’d asked me, I’m embarrassed to say I wouldn’t have been able to share that bit of information but as soon as I read that detail the high school history lessons came flooding back. Reading that made me wonder, will anything written today rise to the same level of prominence a hundred years from now? That isn’t me dismissing today’s scholars or thinkers.That is a genuine question; I’d like to be more in tune with think pieces on history, science, etc.
The question is more of a nudge for myself to be proactive and thoughtful about waking up the dormant curiosity about life that used to spur me to learn HTML/CSS, to read psychology journals just for the hell of it, for example. With the way this election is playing out (that Trump is a legitimate concern is mind blogging), it would be easy to dismiss the current populace as being less well read or learned but to do so would require a certain amount of delusion and hypocrisy - as much as I would like to think I shouldn’t be included in that statement I can’t say I’ve been doing a very good job of staying on top of what’s happening in the country, much less the world. I’ve been living an insulated life lately (let’s define lately as the last several decades, shall we?) and thinking about these three men (Hamilton, Madison and Jay) as being so dedicated, focused, and daring as to take on the grand, visionary task of starting a new government makes me ask, “What have I done lately?!?”
I’m certainly not thinking I’ll be the mother of a new nation, but at the very least I could afford to be a little more connected to what’s going on around me, to do a little more living outside of my head. It couldn’t hurt and could only help.
Also? This bit from the introduction written in this edition published in 1961 amused me given the current fame and popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton:
The story of how Hamilton persuaded and plotted and bullied his way over the months to the narrowest of victories in the New York convention is an epic of American politics that deserves to be better known.
Mission accomplished. That line alone has made me want to see the musical more than every article I’ve read, every news clip I’ve seen about the many awards the musical has won. What can I say? I’m slow to understand what’s happening sometimes. See above about living more outside of my head. In its own way, I hear that the musical is awesome (in the truest sense of the word) so, in the pursuit of awesome things in this life and world, maybe I should see about tickets.
But maybe first I should buy a few scratch offs as I hear the tickets are not cheap!
*Perhaps when those of faith stop thinking of atheists as kickers of puppies and stealers of candy from babies I’ll be able to use the label for myself without the awkward contortions.
“I have memories of being an avid reader so despite the fact that my reading levels have gone down steadily for several years now, I still think of myself as being an avid reader. I still love books. I still collect them despite putting myself on a book buying ban back in 2007. It was necessary, really. It wasn’t uncommon for me to buy a dozen books a month and simply put them on the shelf, to be read later. As a consequence, I’ve built a nice diverse personal library. This I consider an accomplishment and it pains me that the bulk of my books have been in storage for three years. I yearn for the day when I am once again surrounded by my books.
When I moved in with friends and was once again living in limited space I carefully chose 30-40 books that I swore would tide me over until I would be on my own again and reunited with my library. Of course, the bulk of those 30-40 books have gone unread as I’ve purchased more books. Due to the limited living quarters, however, I have delved deeper into the e-book market (though I don’t much like it. I do it simply for the convenience. A convenience that I actually dislike and resent so go figure.)
I lost the point of the post immediately after the first two sentences, I believe so let’s get back to it. Despite believing myself to be an avid reader, my reading levels have gone down. So, to do something about it, I convinced a friend to read A Tale of Two Cities with me. Believing that if I had a deadline and a promise of a book discussion I would be more dedicated to the reading.
This would have been, I still contend, a solid plan had I not decided to work on a cross stitching project for Mother’s Day.
As quick background, during the last two trips to El Salvador, I have completed a small, quick cross stitching project for a favored aunt. My mother, while appreciating that I am doing something nice for someone she cares for, has also expressed mild jealousy over the fact that I’ve never done something similar for her.
Still riding the nice mellow high of completing a project, making something pretty that someone really enjoyed, when we came back from our vacation this January, I had the brilliant though of starting a new project and why not kill two birds with one stone and make something for my mother in time for the May observance. But what to stitch for her, I wondered.
I quickly considered and rejected various themes and then I realized something religious would do the trick. Thankfully, Amazon came to the rescue with a cross stitch kit of Our Lady of Guadalupe who she has tremendous appreciation of. Perfect! I though, she’s going to love this. Or so the theory goes and I certainly hope I’m right or I’m going to be ridiculously disappointed.
So what does one have to do with the other you ask? Or maybe you’re not asking and you know exactly where I’m going with this.
The 8.5x11 cross stitch work has been taking up the bulk of my time and, honestly, also my interest. While I have started the book, I’m no where near close to being finished with it and the book discussion is this coming Monday. Trouble! I’m going to have to focus on the book over the weekend, a fact that leaves me wishing I didn’t have to because I want to really only focus on the cross stitch. Leading me to the title of the post, at first I found myself thinking, I wish I had more hours in the day so I could focus on different things, the reality of it is that I would probably still only focus those hours on the cross stitch project. I’m that obsessed with it right now. This is a good thing however. Because I’ve made great progress on it and I have no doubt that I’ll finish it way before the May deadline.
Because I’ve enjoyed working on this so much I’ve been thinking I should get back into the habit of doing one or two projects a year but if I do that, I’m going to need to figure out how to balance out the work because I can’t continue to ignore other things (such as focusing on exercise, reading, photography) simply to churn out cross stitching projects. “
I expected to like Carrie Fisher’s book, Postcards from the Edge, because I enjoyed the movie. Though I haven’t seen it in a while scenes from the movie, lines, the tone in which those lines were delivered often pop into my head. (“It twirled up!”)
To my surprise I didn’t care for the book. So much so that I felt guilty and out of touch. I’m supposed to like this, I thought. Where or when this was message was picked up by me I do not know. With trepidation I opened a Gchat window and sent a message to Miss Bliss, “is it wrong,” I asked, “that I don’t like postcards from the edge?” After explaining why - seems too self indulgent, too pithy, I didn’t care for any of the main characters etc - I decided to absolve myself from the senseless guilt and just let it be. Though this is where I perhaps express some delight in not having a library card. Ha! There’s no card to strip me off, library mafia! That is a thing, yes? Oh, why am I asking? As if anyone would admit it.
After the chat, I thought I was done thinking about the book but I was wrong. As I finished my dinner from a fast food place it hit me. The main reason why this book troubles me. In my chat with Bliss I mentioned that the description of Suzanne’s therapy sessions was the reason I chose to not become a therapist. The idea of sitting day after day listening to people analyze their lives and yet make no progress- I wasn’t built for that! How dreadful, I thought then and I still think that now.
But with the smell of the burger and fries still lingering in the air, the grease sitting heavy in my stomach, I thought, “That’s me. I’m Suzanne.” Mind you, this is no grand epiphany. I’ve had probably every thought one can have about food and dieting, fat and exercise in the oh 40-some years of living in this world as a fat person.
No, the epiphany was that I didn’t dislike the book for the writing, the unlikable characters, the overly pithy dialogue. I disliked it for something Ms. Fisher can’t control. Her book was a mirror and the reflection I saw is of something I say I want to change and yet I haven’t found the strength to do so. Much like Suzanne keeps gravitating to men who don’t fill the void she’s feeling, I keep choosing food that does nothing but leave me feeling weak, out of control and undisciplined. I’m the person on the couch, year after year, boring the therapist with my overly indulgent thoughts as to why I make these choices, rationalizing them, and still not capable of just stopping.
As a psychology major I believe we work our good and bad habits for a reason. What I can’t or won’t admit to myself is exactly what I get from staying fat. It isn’t a love of food. Oh, do I wish it were that. At least if that were the case I would have enjoyed getting this fat.
So, these are things I’m pondering. I also wonder if I should go back to Goodreads to revise the three star rating I gave the book. I’m not sure yet.
The only thing I’m sure about is that I’m feeling good that I went to the gym and did 40 minutes on the treadmill. I didn’t make great food choices today and the one gym session won’t undo all the calories I took in but it was one good decision. And for now one good decision will have to do.