A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?

Winterized Space Chair

The Return to Interiority

Even though I get melancholy when the season changes from summer to fall, and even more so when it changes from fall to winter, I have to admit that I really do love the return to interiority.

I just read a piece in Elephant Journal by a woman who went to a retreat at Kripalu and decided that she didn’t want to be alone with her “Self” after all.

That’s not me. Not at all. Me? I need solitude, a strong daily dose of it. When I am too much the “social butterfly” I become lost and scattered and my “self” starts pixelating beyond recognition.

In the Stephen Cope book I am reading now, I underlined this: (he is talking about Robert Frost here.)

“He intuited that he needed a life set close to nature–nature, which had always been his muse. Frost was intuitively aware of an important principle: In the cultivation of dharma, there is nothing more important than understanding what conditions are needed, and relentlessly creating them.” (p.81-2)

This has made me think about what conditions I need, and to try to actively create them. Do you know what conditions make you feel like you are living like your True Self?

As a result of reading this, I have instituted a new morning routine. I now get up a little earlier and make myself a cup of decaf . But instead of sitting down at the computer and checking email and Facebook, which was my usual habit, I now take my cup up to my Space Chair, turn on the little heater, and settle in with my book for an hour.

Winterized Space Chair

I can’t tell you how cozy and delightful this is! It seems like I’ve been whining forever about how I need  more time to read, and here it is. Now, instead of leaving my book to the end of the day, when I am toast, I am reading in the front part of the day, when I am rested, alert and receptive.

After an hour’s read, I go and make myself some amaranth cereal and bring it back up into my cozy lair and start alternately scribbling in my journal and shoveling cereal into my mouth.

When another hour has passed, I am good to go: ready to be physically active and socially engaged.

These may not be all my “conditions” but they are certainly key: solitude, reading, and writing.

Do you know what yours are? Care to share?

Fiscal Integration

Today I finished my March book with a half a month to spare.

(Wo.  All this no-Facebooking  is paying off in increased reading time, just as I suspected it would.)

My new routine has me coming down in the morning, checking my email, then reading the blogs I subscribe to on  Google Reader, and then settling into the couch with my book and my pen.

It’s awesome.

There is so much about this current book that I totally love, but today I came across a concept that I had never heard of before, but had always thought about, and this was the idea of “Fiscal Integration.”

McNamara said that you need to integrate your practice into your economic livelihood, and you do this by setting up a second bank account and paying yourself for your practice.

That’s right. Every time you practice, you deposit a certain amount of money into this account. The amount you put in is determined by how much you value your training, and what is feasible for you economically.

Back in my early days of practicing yoga, I wanted a really good mat. The mat I wanted cost $100. I could not justify this expense until I told myself that I would put $1 into a jar every time I practiced and when there was $100 in there, I would buy the coveted mat.

And that’s what I did.

And this is what McNamara is saying to do: Pay yourself every time you practice, and then use that money to buy equipment, or pay for  trainings, or buy books, etc.  This is reinvesting back into your practice. If you are “invested” in it, then you should be investing in it.

I really loved this idea.

I am going to start doing this.

 

 

 

Media Fast

I was talking to Emily the other day, and the conversation turned to what we are reading these days. Em always has a book or two going, and she was telling me that her employees are all voracious readers, too. When they are on break at work, they all sit and read.

She loves that about them. I love that, too. (I always picture people on “break from work” either texting or taking a cigarette break.)

I am still reading my February book and here it is almost 10 days into March. I was cruising Facebook today and it suddenly occurred to me that in the time I was doing that, I could have been reading my book.

Today starts the university’s Spring Break which means that G heads down south with her team. I will be here with Boomer, holding down the fort and teaching my classes. I am thinking that a little media fast might be in order. I think I will give up Facebook this week, and instead, put my face in a book.

 

 

Reading

Back in December I made a reading list for myself. One book a month.  Thanks to Leap Day tomorrow, I will be on track.

My January book was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This was not on my original list. Somebody handed me this 900 page tome in early January, and I thought: Aw, Shit!  I am such a sucker for a long novel, and this was going have to be added to the list. There were no novels on my original list, so, “Here you go!” the universe seemed to be saying.

I totally fell in love with Haruki Murakami and fell down the rabbit hole of this books for weeks.  It’s one of the best novels I have read and I recommend it highly.  I just found this interview with him, and this is what he said about his work habits:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Love this.

This is sort of what I am trying to do with all of my daily “fundamentals” and especially with my meditation practice.

My February book is helping me immensely with this.  My February book is Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram and is changing everything I have ever thought about meditation.

I am now, thanks to the clear instructions in this book, training in concentration practice.  No more sitting there wondering, “Is this what I should be doing??”

Nope. Now, thanks to this generous, sane, often hilarious, book, I know how to work on the cushion.

Good times.

2012 Reading List

Today I gathered together the books I intend to read this year and amassed them next to my winterized Space Chair for this photo-op.

Winterized Space Chair

It’s a good list, I think, but a long one.

reading list (with Vishuda)

(Vishuda is my gargoyle hand puppet, in case you were wondering.)

The 2012 stack

I have had these books in my possession for a long time but have not “gotten around” to them.

One, the Tantra one, I read awhile ago but feel the  need to re-read now that I have been through so many trainings.

I have also started the Daniel Ingram book multiple times. I have gotten through one chapter doing the exercises in the Contemplative Photography book, as well.

So here’s my rather daunting  list from top to bottom:

Yoga Spandakarika

The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi

The Great Good Place

Bringing Home the Dharma

What We Say Matters

A Path With Heart

Tantra: Path of Ecstasy

Transformational Speaking

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

Yoga Body

The Beauty of Different

The Practice of Contemplative Photography

The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui

If you made a reading list for this year, care to share?

Summer Reading List

Oh, Summer Solstice.  I both love you and feel sad at your arrival.  Your arrival means that summer, my most favorite season, has officially arrived, but it also means that from now on the days start to shorten.  Not shorten enough to notice–at least until late August, but we’ve hit the peak now, the apex, and there is no where to go, but…

(sorry, I’ll stop this Debbie Downer tirade now.)

Let’s change the subject.

SUMMER!!  WHOO-HOO!  Long days of warmth, and vacations at the beach, and kayak rides, and picnics, and berry-picking, and bike riding, and strawberry dacquiri-making, and grilling and gimlets on the deck and all manner of outside adventures.

And in between all that, the Summer Reading List.

There is this “Illusion of Summer” I think, in which we all get sucked into believeing that that there is going to be ample time for all the stuff on the above-mentioned list, PLUS time to lay in a hammock and devour books and be totally IDLE.  (I read Mary Oliver’s A Summer Day  in my class this morning, and whereas most of the time I focus in on the “one wild and precious life” line, this morning what I pointed out was her celebration and sanctification of “idleness.”

“Yes,” I thought.  “To be idle and blessed.”

So here’s what I want: I want back the summers of my childhood. Those summers overflowing with time.  Those summers that actually felt heavy with time.  Summers where there was almost too much time.

Summers where I would bike to the library and check out the max amount of books allowed, and then go home and gorge on them, returning the next week for another haul.

Even though The NYTimes always puts out a Summer Book Review supplement edition, do people still make summer reading part of their vacations?  Or do we now just play on Facebook and Twitter our summers away?

I don’t know.  What I do know is that I spend FAR TOO MUCH TIME messing around in social media, and I need to get back to reading again.

So the other day I compiled my list.  Here’s my stack, piled next to my Space Chair in my room.  I hope to be reading most of them in a Lafuma chair on the deck, though.  Or stretched out on the couch. Or under an umbrella at the beach.

Space Chair w/Summer reading

Summer Reading 2011

I’ve started with Tao: The Way of God because that book is a borrowed one.

I wonder if my reading will inform these posts?  We shall see.

What I would love to know is this: Do you compile a Summer Reading List?  And if so, what’s on it?  Feel like sharing?  And if any of you have read any of the titles on my line-up, what did you think?

Happy Summer.  (Really.)