Sometimes I think that my love of books and reading can be a way to avoid writing. It’s so much easier to pick up a book and disappear into another world than it is to pick up my pen and create another world.
Every Sunday, The New York Times Book Review publishes a feature entitled “By the Book” where notable authors and other important people are asked several questions about their current reading. I enjoy the wide variety of answers to questions like “What books are on your nightstand right now?” and “What’s the last great book you read?” Sometimes I wonder how these authors find the time to read so widely and keep up their amazing writing lives at the same time. Maybe they don’t belong to three book groups!
I have to thank these book groups and my writer friends for inspiring me to read books I might not otherwise have chosen. There are also the books for upcoming trips (Hemingway’s A Movable Feast) and books by writers whose workshops I’ll be attending (Kate Moses’s Wintering), not to mention books written by friends (Marge Barrett’s Called: The Making and Unmaking of a Nun). I can hardly keep up.
The books stacked beside me today have given me so much pleasure this summer. As much I love each of them, I’m going to try to put them back on the shelf and concentrate on writing—as soon as I return from my next trip, that is!
A sampling of my favorites from this summer’s reading:
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
Wonderful exploration of four plants (tulip, apple, marijuana, potato) chosen by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum garden book group led by Toni McNaron, one of my favorite teachers.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This novel led to one of the liveliest discussions about a book I’ve had in long time. Tears and cheers for chimps!
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Oh, the wonders of reading Jane Austen! This novel gave me so many ideas for the work I need to do on the novel that I’m taking out of the drawer. “Yes, I am going to do that,” she says to herself.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Somewhere along the line I missed reading this classic, which took my breath away. An amazing work of art.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Fun to see what a writer like Anne Tyler does with the original “vinegar girl,” Katherina, in Shakespeare’s The Taming of Shrew.
Called: The Making and Unmaking of a Nun by Marge Barrett
Hats off to my friend, Marge Barrett, for her lovely memoir! So proud of you, my friend. You inspire me to sit down and write!
In the I-love-to-hear-from-you department: How does your reading affect your writing life? What are you reading this summer?
If (like me) your writing has suffered this summer for whatever reason, try writing three pages a day for the next week in your writer’s notebook. Record your day, your doings, the way the moonlight looks on a July night, your garden as it becomes robust or not, the storm that left you without power for two days, your trip (real or imaginary) to Paris. Three pages and stop. That is enough.
In these stressful times, I hope each of you finds a few hours each week to nurture a rich, creative life—as you seek solace and joy in both your reading and your writing.
For a taste of Stegner’s profoundly moving prose, here is his narrator Lyman Ward at the end of Angle of Repose:
” ‘What do you mean, ‘Angle of Repose?’ she [Lyman’s estranged wife] asked me [Lyman Ward] when I dreamed we were talking about Grandmother’s life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down. I suppose it is; and yet it was not that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother’s life. I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers. They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met. But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. They had intersected for years, for more than he himself would ever admit.”
Also the words on my cup (in the photo):
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” (unknown)