On Reading #1

Recently, a friend asked me if there was anything that I’m not interested in, and my mind went blank. I’m a learning addict. I carry around piles of piles of actual books augmented by even more digital piles of e-books for all the random and obscure things I’m interested in.

But it was incredibly disorganized this year as on average I think I was reading about 15-20 books at a time. I would put down a biography of George Washington to pick up a Dark Tower book by Stephen King then follow it with a book about owls then up with some poetry by W.S. Merwin. I tried reading one book at a time, but then I just missed the others and would go back to my jumbled confusing pile of random reading. I’m almost embarrassed by the fact that I sometimes sleep next to a pile of books. Almost, but not really.

But I decided in 2018, I want to begin a year of more diligent, focused reading, but I decided to start a couple of months early.

I was inspired by the Ray Bradbury’s recommended course of daily reading: one short story, one poem, and one essay per day which has been popularized by the 1000 Day MFA and The DIY MFA. I also want to add some literature, novels for fun, graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books on history, nature, spirituality, creativity and personal growth.

I want to build structure by following Ray Bradbury’s daily reading plan, but I’m going to let the rest play out naturally. I’ve tried more focused reading: a novel a week, 100 books per year, a chapter a day, but my natural tendency is to be a scatterbrained, obsessive learning addict, so I’m going to stop fighting it and just allow myself to read whatever I want, when I want.

I began two weeks ago, and here’s what I’ve read so far since I began on November 11, 2017:

Short stories

I read stories from Lydia Davis‘ short story collection Almost No Memory. She is one of the best living short-short story writers, often writing stories that are only a paragraph or a page long. Somehow with such few words, she is able to show the nature of human relationships, of loneliness.  My favorites were “The Professor” about a professor who always wanted to marry a cowboy and “The Cedar Tree” about a group of women who turned into cedar trees and “Love,” a paragraph long story about a woman who fell in love with a man who had been dead a number of years.

  • 11 Nov: “Meat, My Husband” by Lydia Davis
  • 12 Nov: “Jack in the Country” by Lydia Davis.
  • 13 Nov: “Foucault and Pencil” by Lydia Davis
  • 14 Nov: “The Mice” by Lydia Davis
  • 15 Nov: “The Thirteenth Woman” by Lydia Davis
  • 16 Nov: “The Professor” by by Lydia Davis
  • 17 Nov: “The Cedar Trees” by Lydia Davis
  • 18 Nov: “The Cats In the Prison Recreation Hall” by Lydia Davis
  • 19 Nov: “Wife One in Country” by Lydia Davis
  • 20 Nov: “The Fish Tank” by Lydia Davis
  • 21 Nov: “The Center of the Story” by Lydia Davis
  • 22 Nov: “Love” by Lydia Davis
  • 23 Nov: “Our Kindness” by Lydia Davis
  • 24 Nov: “A Natural Disaster” by Lydia Davis

Poems

I read poems by W.S. Merwin from his collection Moon Before Morning. M.S. Merwin is  a US Poet Laureate in his nineties, and he’s been writing poetry for most of his life. Moon Before Morning is a beautiful collection about the natural world, youth and aging, presence and gratitude. He lives in Maui where he’s dedicated to the conversation of the lands and rainforests. I think he has a more than mild obsession with palms. I saw the word fronds used more often in his the first 14 poems in his collection than I have in my entire life, and now it makes me smile every time. I look forward to visiting The Merwin Conservancy some day.

I love almost every Merwin poem I read, but my favorites from this group were “By the Front Door,” Theft of Morning,”Offering,” and “From the Gray Legends” about the Myth of Arachne and Minerva.

On the last day, I read “Thanksgiving” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her collection Custer and Other Poems which is free on Kindle as of this writing. It seemed like a fitting read around Thanksgiving, and it inspired a short post at The Imperfectionist. I haven’t read many of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poems yet, but I grow fonder of her with every poem I read. 

Essays

Essays are a more general category to cover all non-fiction writing that contributes to my learning and growth. It could be an essay, an article, a letter, a speech, an interview, or something else entirely. In other words, a listicle about the cutest dogs may be entertaining, but doesn’t count.

I started reading essays from Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection Men Explain Things to Me, but then moved on to reading essays from a variety of sources on a range of subjects.”Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White is one of the most anthologized essays of the last 25 years, and I understood why. It’s one to read over and over. “Walden Wasn’t Thoreau’s Masterpiece” by Andrea Wulf from The Atlantic inspired me to visit The Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts to see This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal, an exhibit on Thoreau and his journal, to visit Walden Pond, and to take the dust off my copy of The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861, which is the largest one volume collection of Thoreau’s journals ever published. Thoreau is widely known for Walden, but his life’s work was his daily walking, noticing, and journaling which spanned over two million words across his lifetime. Princeton University Press has published 8 of the 17 projected volumes of his journals so far, but you can find transcripts online.

On Thanksgiving, I read John F. Kennedy’s three Thanksgiving Day Proclamations, which inspired a post at The Imperfectionist. 

Novels/Books

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower #6) by Stephen King: I’ve read the Dark Tower series slowly over the past 3 or 4 years. Although I haven’t binged read them back to back, I’m glad that I didn’t have to wait for the next one to be published to find out what happens. I read in the Afterword that one reader told him she is dying of cancer and wanted to find out how it all ends, and Stephen King just didn’t know yet. That’s another way of saying that I immediately jumped into The Dark Tower (Book #7) after I finished this one, and it’s just as fun as the rest of the books in the series.

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh: A book on the overlap and similarities of two of the world’s biggest religions, Buddhism and Christianity. It reinforced my belief that there are no right and wrong religions, but that it’s important for organized religions to foster an environment of understanding and acceptance.

“Authentic experience makes a religion a true tradition. Religious experience is, above all, human experience. If religions are authentic, they contain the same elements of stability, joy, peace, understanding, and love. The similarities and differences are there. They differ only in terms of emphasis.”

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1) by Agatha Christie: I haven’t read Agatha Christie since high school, and now I don’t know why. What fun this book was! Like playing Clue through a book. I didn’t realize how prolific she was until I began to research her writing after finishing the book. I’m going to read the books in the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series in order when the mood strikes me, much as I have done with Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler.

. . .

If you have any recommendations for stories, poems, essays, or books to read, I’d love to hear from you! I’ll be posting my daily short story, poem, and essay on Twitter, and I’m a Goodreads addict. Happy reading!

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