Books That Take Forever to Read

I love reading, and I love finishing books. I generally read at least a hundred books a year, and generally, I read several books at a time and finish each one within a few days. A week max. 

But this year has been weird–there are several books that have taken me months to read, like Ava Dellaria’s Love Letters to the Dead, which I started at Christmas and just now finished, or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I started in November and am still working on. 

Normally I abandon books if I don’t finish them quickly, but I really want to read these books and it’s just taking me forever. 

That’s sort of how my whole life has been since having a baby–I have goals and things to do that used to take me a few days but now require weeks or months. I don’t want to abandon things, but they take me forever. Some things I know have a deadline I’ve just had to postpone for a few years–like finishing my PhD. 

I know that the balance of my life will resume when Ruthie gets a little older, but for now it’s strange to reflect and see how much motherhood has impacted lifelong habits like my reading. 

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Book Clubs

Every month, I go to two or three book club meetings, and almost every month, there are only a few of my book club members who have actually read the book.

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This means that I don’t really know what a “real” book club looks like, unless this is what happens in all book clubs.  Still, I want to have–recreationally–the kind of discussions that my students had during Socratic Seminars in my classroom, but with my friends, and wine.

That has yet to happen, but I’m still holding out hope.  Usually, what happens is that the people who’ve read the book have a furtive discussion on themes, symbols, questions, wonders, thrills, all while the people who haven’t read or haven’t finished are shushing us from the corner since they don’t want the ending spoiled.

Just once, I would love for everyone to read the same book, and super nerdily, at that.  I want to see post-it flags and annotations and index cards with favorite quotes and fanfics and memes and movie adaptation criticisms.

This month, my clubs are reading Hillbilly Elegy, The Underground Railroad, and The Year of Magical Thinking.  Perhaps one of those books will be the one that hooks every reader, spurs amazing discussion, and finally results in the book club meeting of my dreams!

Or, perhaps not.

Oh, Rick Riordan

I first discovered Rick Riordan when I was in college taking a young adult literature course.  For one of our assessments, we had to choose 10 books and write a letter to their author(s).  Me being the enterprising soul that I am, I decided to read the first few Percy Jackson and the Olympian books, since the first three had been released, so I could write fewer letters.

I fell in love immediately with the son of the sea god, and with Riordan’s hilarious writing.  When I began researching Riordan to do my assignment, I discovered that like several of my favorite authors (Andrew Smith, Stephen King), Riordan was a former English teacher.  Ahh, a man after my own heart!  My assessment wound up being love letters rather than the engaging discourse my professor was probably looking for.

I was quite taken with both Riordan and his books for many years.  (Except the times he crushed my soul with his plot twists and cliffhangers.)

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I have compulsively read almost every other Riordan book since then–the whole Percy Jackson series, the follow-up Heroes of Olympus series, the Egyptian gods series, the Norse mythology series, and now I’m starting the new Trials of Apollo series.

While habitually wasting my time doing stupid stuff while Ruthie napped today, I started poking around on Riordan’s GoodReads page.  I discovered that Riordan has based all of his characters on former students of his, especially the diverse characters he gets so much praise for.

Swoon again!!

After I finished giggling about that, I opened The Hidden Oracle  to the page I’d left off and laughed aloud at Riordan’s signature overblown metaphors (“that man was so square, you could cut yourself on his corners, you know?”), his hilarious modernizations of ancient gods and goddesses (Rhea wearing purple glasses, a peace symbol, and a macrame belt), and his funny characterizations of little-known demigods (Ozzie Osbourne and Joan of Arc, on this page).

It is always so delightful to fall in love with a good book–and its author.  😉

The Winds of Change Smell Like Books

The wind is howling this morning.

Twitter is all atwitter about it, my #5amwritersclub buddies hoping for some inspiration to blow their way.

I am reminded, as I listen to the gusting outside my window rattling my poor patio chairs around, of a fabulous phrase my friend Lisa coined:  “The winds of change smell like books.”  I love her writing voice, especially her gift for blending metaphors without the dreaded “mixed metaphor” making an appearance.

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The wind reminded me how much my reading life has changed since I became a mom.  While some might think the books I’ve read would have decreased in quantity and quality, the opposite is actually true.  When I had Ruthie, I became a mostly stay-at-home mom, teaching just two mornings per week (and grading during every other waking moment).  While reading is certainly a guilty pleasure, I make sure now that I make that pleasure the most enjoyable it can be.

I have carved out a routine–the new normal so many of my mom friends have described.  While I wouldn’t describe my normal as necessarily “normal,” it works for me.

I get up at 4:45, make coffee, and write–either in my notebook, or for a blog, or just on a random Google doc that may never see the light of day.  When Ruthie wakes up, we play and she eats.  During her morning nap, I try to do something productive:  laundry, or cleaning, or working out.  Then it’s time for more playing and feeding, and then the glorious nirvana of the long afternoon nap.

That two to three hours is so indulgent.  Sometimes I’ll grade papers, sometimes I’ll binge-watch Netflix, and sometimes I’ll return to whatever book I just cannot stop thinking about that I’m currently reading.  Yesterday’s naptime was consumed by Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead.  This weekend I inhaled Me Before You (finally) by Jojo Moyes (and it did not disappoint).

Other times, when the weather’s nice, I’ll bring the baby monitor outside and listen to an audiobook while I eat my lunch and paint my nails.  Last week I listened to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah on double speed since I was so desperate to finish it, barely paying attention to the ravioli I was eating or the hot pink I was applying to my toenails.

When Ruthie wakes up, she is happy and hungry and ready to play for several hours until bedtime, when I let out a sigh of relief and survival–I made it through another day, and everyone is still alive!

I climb into bed and celebrate with a book, always, and a glass of wine, often.  I pick up whatever paperback is on my nightstand and read with the help of my trusty reading lamp if my husband is still awake, or I read on my Nook or phone if he’s asleep.  I have had to develop strategies for getting to read, unfortunately.

I usually read several books at a time, something I never used to be able to tolerate.  I was a compulsive list-maker, loving to cross things off and finish them neatly.  So I read one book until I was done.  The end.

Nowadays, I read whatever my mood calls for.  If I want something light I’ll pick up some YA.  For something heavier I’ll grab an award-winner or a recommendation from a friend.  When I feel like learning something new I’ll search for a good nonfiction read.

The new me is so selective about what to read, and when to read it, that I’ve all but eliminated the “filler” books I used to spend my time with.  I rarely dislike books enough to abandon them, and with so little time to waste in my life as a mom I’m much more choosy.  So I’ve loved everything I’ve read lately, and my reading life is enriching me so much more than it always has.

That’s one perk to the many new things motherhood brings–that the winds of change smell like books.

From Loathing to Loving Storms

It is raining cats and dogs this morning!

Or, in my household, mostly cats, as my two crazy kitties scamper for cover from the thunder and lightning and rain.  They’re seeking any shelter they can find and are currently under an overturned basket of clothes in the laundry room.

Honestly, I haven’t seen a good old-fashioned storm this strong since I lived in the vast flatness of Ohio.  Bad weather was more common there than it is here in the mountains of West Virginia, and in the four years I’ve lived here, I only remember a few storms this bad.  The weather men are positively having a field day!

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When I was younger, I was terrified of storms.  I remember fleeing to my parents’ room, climbing under the covers of their waterbed, and waiting for the bad weather to end.  Something about the noise and chaos frightened me then.  Maybe it was the fact that our back yard shared a fence with a farm, and I always worried about the animals.  Maybe it was fatefully watching Twister with my best friend when I was in elementary school, and thinking of it as a horror movie back then.

Whatever it was, I didn’t grow out of that fear until I was in college.  I began to relish the freedom and sheer power that storms represented, perhaps spurred into my love by the countless images in books and movies that showed the heroine running out into the rain, her soul finally free during the storm scene.

This morning, I am wondering what my daughter will think of the storm when she wakes up.  She’s ten months old, so it’s her first big one.  So much of my life as a mother is spent wondering what’s going on in my baby’s head.  I don’t think that will change, no matter how refined her powers of communication become–that’s just the relationship between parent and child, I suppose.

Maybe becoming a mother has a great deal to do with being less fearful of noise and chaos.  Trial by fire, as it were, since my whole life has been upended in the last ten months.  Becoming a mom has done an absolute tornado on my once well-ordered existence, and I haven’t been sure how I felt about it until just now.  Maybe I need to look at Hurricane Ruthie as a storm whose power and abandon I feel exhilarated by, instead of a storm I’m just fearful of.

Because I have spent a lot of my time as a mom just scared–scared because I don’t know what I’m doing, scared that I’m going to mess up, scared that I won’t be able to make it through the shockingly difficult trial that is new motherhood.  I’m not used to living in fear, and I haven’t coped well with this ten-month never-ending storm.

So, here it is, my declaration:  I’m tired of cowering under this useless umbrella.  I’m going to toss it aside and stand out in the storm and celebrate its power and noise and chaos.  I’m going to think of that scene in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice where Darcy proposes, and I’m going to listen to that fantastic orchestral score in my head whenever I’m tempted to cry and be beaten down by the rain.  I’m going to declare my love and not be afraid, because what’s the point?  The storm will always be bigger than me.  Motherhood will always have a higher purpose that I cannot see.  I need to surrender and relish the storm, and fear it no longer.

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