Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reading and Commuting: An Offshoot

I am playing with writing about the books I'm reading in this blog. Part of it is to help me process them, rather than just devour them unreflectively. What does this all have to do with commuting? Well, I realized that these days I get most of my reading done on the Metro or shuttle (or waiting for them). I noticed this last summer too: when I was picking up multi-modal commuting again, I got more extracurricular reading done than I had at any other time of the year.

Finding time to read is basically the best thing about my commute. When I'm home, there are so many other things I'm "supposed" to do, and sometimes even reading becomes just another thing on that list. But when I'm on the bus or the Metro or the shuttle, well, what else is there to do? I've already heard the latest news on NPR (and I can't stream on the Metro anyway), I often don't want to knit during the summer, and my Neko Atsume kitties have been tended to. It's the closest thing to protected, unplugged time I get. I'm just lucky that I can read without getting sick during transport.

I've also been inspired by a recent recommendation that I started yesterday on a very multi-modal trip to Baltimore (bus to Metro to train, then back again): Nick Hornby's Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books, which is a collection based on a column Hornby wrote for The Believer for a decade about books he'd read for the month, as well as books he bought. First of all this book made me feel better about buying books even if I don't always getting around to reading them right away (and let's face it, may never get to them):
Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the TubGenome [by Matt Ridley] and Six Days of War [by Michael B. Oren] I bought on a visit to the London Review of Books' slightly scary new shop near the British Museum. I'm not entirely sure why I chose those two in particular, beyond the usual attempts at reinvention that periodically seizes one in a bookstore. (When I'm arguing with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, I'm going to tell him to ignore the Books Read column, and focus on the Books Bought instead. "This is really who I am," I'll tell him. "I'm actually much more of a Genome guy than an Arsene Wnger guy. And if you let me in, I'm going to prove it, honest") (November 2003, p. 42)
It's comforting to know that even writers of Nick Hornby's status feel that What I Want to Read/What I Should Read tug when they buy books, and the Should sometimes wins out, regardless of how realistic those aspirations are. I always feel like a little bit of a fraud keeping around these books when I haven't read them yet, like who I am trying to fool? And the weight of that sometimes makes it even harder to read them, or read at all. But I'm trying to get over that; we'll see how successful I am.

Hornby's collection also reminds me how much fun it is to read! (Yes, I often vacillate from feeling like I should be reading, to feeling like I shouldn't be reading. Apparently, if it's fun I feel like I shouldn't be doing it, but I know it's supposed to be "good" for me so I should be doing it?) Even if I don't necessarily want to read the books he's writing about (though there are a few I will be looking into), I can still appreciate his enjoyment of it, which basically makes me want to read even more. Reading even leads to fun, unplanned moments like this:

Anyway, I live a block away from a fantastic bookstore, and for once of my life have enough income that I can actually buy real books and support this industry (though I still buy used books too, and may hit up the library). I hope to have more reading, and hopefully more writing on that reading, in irregular installments. Besides, I can't write about my favorite DC bike routes all the time, can I?

So, in the spirit of Ten Years in the Tub, I'm going to start documenting books bought and read (even though I'm supposed to be on a book moratorium, until I finish some of the books I already have in DC, oops).

Reading about reading begets more reading

Books Bought Lately
John Mullan, What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
James Baldwin, The Last Interview and Other Conversations
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books
Clara Parkes, The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn
Clara Parkes, The Knitter's Book of of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber 
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Georges Simenon, Inspector Maigret: Omnibus 1 (Peitr the Latvian, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, The Carter of La Providence, The Grand Banks Café)

These are books I've bought since I moved to my new place in the beginning of March, and I have to say that seeing them all written out like this, I'm slightly abashed. But I had my reasons!
  • What Matters in Jane Austen and The Last Interview: My first time browsing in the bookstore after moving, and they were sitting on display (bookstores should be comforted that displays work). It was a stressful time, and I was comforting myself by reaching back to my days as an English major.
  • Notes of a Native Son and Ten Years in the Tub:  Another bookstore visit--Ten Years came highly recommended by a person whom I respect, and Notes of a Native Son was me trying to work through everything going in the world in the past few months.
  • Clara Parkes knitting books: Recommendation by my sister--another person whom I respect--and bought used on Amazon since one was out of print. Knitting books are mostly for reference anyway, but I think these will be very readable too. Plus The Knitter's Book of Wool was formerly a library book, so while I'm sad that the Everett Public Library's readership no longer has access to it, I enjoy the Dewey decimal numbering on the spine, and the plastic wrapping on the dustcover.
  • Wuthering Heights and Inspector Maigret: This past weekend was the bookstore's member sale--how could I not buy anything? Wuthering Heights is a book I've read multiple times (personally and coursework). I probably own at least one copy already, and multiple in my lifetime, but that copy is in Seattle, and I'll probably want to re-read it again soon. For the number of times I'll have read it, a hardback copy seemed appropriate. Inspector Maigret is based on a recommendation by one of my professors more than a decade ago when I was studying in Rome; on my shelves in Seattle is a Georges Simenon book in Italian (talk about aspirational book buying!). To balance out the Brontë, I thought it would be good buy a book I haven't read (actually one hardback of four books, which was the same price as three paperbacks, if you want an economic justification). They're mysteries anyway, and I've gone through all my mystery series on Netflix, so it seems safe to just buy books.
Fun fact: My Italian professor told us that in Italy, a mystery book was referred to as a "giallo" (Italian for "yellow") because of the color book cover mysteries tended to be. Wikipedia says the term refers to thrillers and makes it sound pulpy, but I'll always associate the term with my professor, Georges Simenon, and Leonardo Sciascia.

Books Read Lately
John Mullan, What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
James Baldwin, The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Maybe now is not the time to write about these particular books, but a few quick notes:
  • What Matters in Jane Austen: Even more English major-y than I anticipated. Not in a bad way, but I hadn't read this type of work in a long time. Maybe I'll write about it more when I do a reread of an Austen book, or have a knitting day while watching the entirety of the Jennifer Ehle / Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice miniseries. 
  • The Last Interview: Although these were just transcripts of interviews, I still haven't processed it all. But I will say that I came away with the impression that not much has progressed in race relations in this country, because so much of what James Baldwin said--in the first 1961 interview in the book, and in the literal last interview of his life in 1987--is resonant even now.

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