"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hooked on Reading

I became a reader the summer of '63. Not that I'd never read before. Had in school, of course, even got A's in reading. But we didn't have many books around the house. Don't even recall having a library card as a youngster.

Prior to '63, there were only two occasions I remember when I enjoyed reading. The first, when my godmother sent me Ramona, Little Women, and Beautiful Joe for my 12th birthday. The second, in high school when I presented a less than flattering or
sympathetic character study of Mr. Rochester and earned the seldom heard compliments of my stern and critical senior English teacher, Sister Stephen.

I did read some excellent books in college, but I still hadn't become hooked on reading. Then, in June l963, I moved, as a newlywed, to California. A young teacher, I had my first summer off.  Knew no one.  Lived in a small apartment requiring little maintenance. Had only one car, a VW bug that my young husband needed for work. What was a girl to do?  Read.

And did I read!!  Every weekend we would go to the library and select at least 7 new books.  I read Steinbeck, Maughm, Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle.  I reread lit selections because I wanted to, not because they were assigned. I sat by the pool and I inhaled books.
My favorite that summer? Cannery Row.

Over the years, I developed my own library. Novels, of course. Non-fiction for career development. Self-help and inspiration that got me through a painful divorce and a battle with breast cancer. Struggled at times to read a book a week, on a good week two.

Until this summer. Although much has changed since '63 - I have my own car, a larger home that requires greater maintenance, other interests (have discovered drawing, for one) and a husband who enjoys my company, I am also retired. I have a couple shelves of books I haven't read, a Kindle Fire loaded with a few more, and lists of recommendations from two book clubs. So, though I'm not at a book a day, I can head out to the courtyard chaise with a glass of iced tea (or red wine) and any one of the four I do manage to read each week.  I can disappear into the wonderful world of new ideas, fascinating characters, distant times and landscapes - and fond memories of a young woman falling in love with reading that summer of '63.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's Hear It for Book Clubs!

New to this little community a year ago, I was seeking a way to meet folks and I'd been told that a particular book club might be just what I was looking for and was invited to check it out. My only previous experience with a book club had been disappointing, so it was with some trepidation that I attended my first meeting. 

Would I enjoy the selections? Would the other participants welcome a newcomer?  Would they find my observations to add value? Would I find the conversations stimulating and satisfying? Fortunately, the answers - a resounding yes, yes, yes, and yes! So much so that when invited to participate in yet another club, I jumped at the chance.

This is the week when both groups meet, and I've come away, as usual, having enjoyed both selections and the pursuant discussions. I've also come to realize that the greatest value I've experienced is the introduction to authors and genres I would never have sought on my own. 

Case in point - a selection for this month, The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard, the "dazzling debut" non-fiction thriller that explores Theodore Roosevelt's dangerous and ill-conceived journey along an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. Historically, I don't read history (sorry!), and very little biography.  Indeed, I was prepared to endure this book in the name of being a loyal club member.  I was hooked from the first chapter.  The writing is excellent. The story so incredible that, at the time, many did not believe it to be true. The characters, a casting director's dream.

Top it all with background information about the period and the expedition that I would not have researched on my own, a lively discussion that raised questions I had not considered, and observations from a fellow member who has traveled the Amazon - well, I'd like to think Millard would be very pleased.  As I result, I plan to read her second book.

I'd love to hear what other book clubs are reading.  We're always looking for a good recommendation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Cat's Table

Just finished The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje.  This is the first novel of his that I've read.  I may be the only one in our book club who hasn't read his previous, The English Patient, or seen the movie, but I'm glad because I can't compare the two.  Just appreciate this for it own merits.

They are considerable.  The storyline, intricate, unfolding in bits and pieces, additions and subtractions.  A line here, a vignette there.  Multi-dimensional characters developed like a drawing, rather than a photograph, layer upon layer, bouncing back and forth in time.  Mesmerizing descriptive passages, to be savored, read and reread.  And insights into the human condition that only a gifted writer like Ondaatje can illuminate, insights that both resonated and stunned me with their clarity.

This is not meant to be a review (for an excellent review, read Liesl Schillinger's review in the New York Times, Oct. 14, 2011 edition).  Rather, it is an endorsement.  The strongest I give any book.  I know such a book when I can hear myself as I read it...who is this person who writes, and thinks, this way?!  I have to read his/her other books!

I urge you to read The Cat's Table.