I used to read fiction exclusively. I found “getting lost” in another human soul’s perceptions of reality utterly stimulating. The interplay between characters would cause (help?) me to step outside myself for a little while; the cadence of the prose would stay with me, playing like a soundtrack to my own journey. For me, there is something most assuredly musical about the experience of reading literature. (I’ll not bore you with the tedium of lists; if you’d like to connect with me on Goodreads, here’s my account.)
At some point, most likely when I dabbled in writing my own, I eased away from the parallel universes of fiction and turned my focus toward memoir. These were true events that happened to real people, written in an attempt to capture the levity and beauty of personal experience. You can’t beat The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr.
Scrolling through my READ list transports me back to another time, when I was an earlier version of myself, just as flawed, and a whole lot more naïve. I read Giovanni’s Room in a London flat, upstairs from the pub where I used to sling room temperature pints of Samuel Smith’s. I read the entirety of The Rise and Fall of Theodore Roosevelt from a comfy corner chair at Starbucks, a grande Pike as a secondary companion.
I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but now I mostly read for my utilitarian reasons. Not to build things, per se, a la Popular Mechanics, but to learn about history or biography or philosophy. What did it look like when Orwell was living as a homeless person in London and Paris? Why was Picasso practically impossible to live with? What is the essence of solitude, according to Doris Grumbach?
Irrespective of genre, in my heart, I believe all books are a gift from God. To wit: there is nothing like seeing the face of a teenager, when you tell them that Watership Down is about rabbits at war.
I’ve always believed that reading can be like a barometer of personal growth. Indeed, the scientific benefits of reading are well chronicled.
If books can chronicle a life, I think I should like to read 1,000 in my lifetime.
And so herein lies my problem: if you and I met on the street and you pressed me for evidence as to why Hemingway was a master of the short story, I could give you a fairly cogent response. But I couldn’t tell you why E.B. White is considered one of the greatest essayists of all time.
I hope to have a better understanding by night’s end.
What are you reading right now?