Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Reading Life Gone Out of Control. Or, Reading as Dating: a sad, sick comparison or a beautiful mess?

For a short, beautiful period of time this summer I became a one-book-at-a-time kind of girl. Getting involved with more than one character at a time felt like cheating: I was already involved with and caught up with a plot line and themes and characters. Plus, I had all the time in the world to dedicate to reading: I was going through a new book every few days. (Granted, I was sad to be finishing books so quickly because I felt like I just got to know all these great people, then they were out of my life, their stories over, our summer fling come to a close.)

Most of the time, reading multiple books at once seems fine because I can separate the genres: of course I won't confuse nonfiction with fiction with spirituality. I will probably continue to not only justify, but to enjoy this reading behavior for the rest of my life. The problem I am running into is that I have a ridiculous list of books I want to read right now and I can't stop myself from starting them all. The fidelity of my summer reading persona has completely faded. The current list includes:

1. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. A beautifully written, magical realism novel set in the early 1900's New York. It will make you fall in love with its use of language and imagination.
2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. This has been recommended multiple times and a teacher mentioned the other day that she couldn't put it down. And I think I subconsciously wanted some emotional catharsis. Bought and started it yesterday in a moment of weakness.
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This is my book partnership read, which I am slated to start probably sometime this week. It is so long that I don't think I will ever finish it if I am reading other books at the same time. This book is what started this particular rant.
4. Compassion by Henri Nouwen. One of the best books on Christianity I've read in a while--I can justify reading this with fiction...
5. On the Blue Shore of Silence by Pablo Neruda. I'm currently obsessed with learning to speak Spanish well, so I've been practicing learning new verbs and pronunciation with my bilingual translations and reading Neruda aloud in my apartment.
6. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan. I just started reading this one, and if you are a compulsive reader, I highly recommend this one. Don't even get me started about talking about the whole idea of finding and losing oneself in reading.
7. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. My next unit for school and I feel like I need to immerse myself in all things R and J to get ready for this. I always forget how beautiful, rich, deep and thought provoking this is. Sometimes it takes teaching a text to fully grasp all that it is. I wish I always read this way, though what that might look like scares me a little bit: talk about an out of control reading life. But it is the essence of rich reading and living that I always want to capture.

I think that completes the list of books next to my bedside that are opened and stacked upon one another or stuffed with a pen or a bookmark. But. I have a stack of my favorite books of life next to my dresser, and in the morning this is where I dry my hair. Obviously I have nothing to really think about with my head flipped upside down, so I usually look at all the titles and think about when I read them: like reading The Voyage Out in my Virginia Woolf class with a group of people who were so passionate and excited about embarking on studying 8 of her books in 8 weeks. Sigh. Like how interesting The Hours was after that Woolf class. Like how Kate Atkinson reminded me this fall that there is some solid mystery writing out there. Like reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with my mom. Oh I could go on forever.

Bottom line: I am a compulsive over reader. I cannot stop. I would like to think of my inability to be faithful to just one book as a beautiful, messy, post modern love of text and connection. Ha.

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