22 December 2007

The year of reading books

One of my intentions for 2007 -- I don't do "resolutions" anymore -- was to make more art quilts. I'm in awe of friends like Terry and Gerrie who are so insanely productive. I started out strong, but by the time spring rolled around, the lure of the garden was stronger. By summer, I was spending entire afternoons in the back yard, simply reading for pleasure.

That's an accomplishment, too, I've decided. I was one of those nose-in-a-book kids who had to be coaxed to go outside and play. After I started my own business in the '80s, I had no time for anything but professional journals, user manuals, manuscripts I was editing, and other required reading. Reading for pleasure -- and books in particular, as opposed to just magazines -- had somehow drifted to the bottom of my priority list. This year I gave myself permission to read -- obsessively, if I felt like it -- again.

For whatever reason, I decided to keep track of the books I read this year. Here they are in chronological order, fiction and non- intermingled. I've put asterisks next to the ones that I particularly enjoyed or that resonated with me for some reason.

When I reviewed the list just now I was struck by how little fiction I'd read -- just seven books out of three dozen. I would have guessed more. I was also surprised to realize how many of the nonfiction titles are biographies or personal memoirs. I never used to be drawn to biography. Perhaps opening yourself to the possibility of learning from other people's lives is another function of getting older. Or maybe it's a matter of seeing how their experiences stack up against yours. I've gotten into the habit of reading the obituaries in the paper, too.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron)
Mycelium Running: how mushrooms can help save the world (Paul Stamets)
The Mayor of MacDougal Street (a memoir by Dave van Ronk)
1000 Places to See Before You Die
The Beast in the Garden: a modern parable of man and nature (David Baron)*
Out (a novel by Natsuo Kirino)*
Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)*
Photoshop Elements for the Digital Photographer (Beckham)
Digital Photography with Photoshop Elements (Cromhout & Fallon)
Songbirds, Truffles and Wolves (Gary Nabham)
Island of the Colorblind (Oliver Sacks)
Complex Cloth (Jane Dunnewold)
Transforming Fabric (Carolyn Dahl)
The Happy Isles of Oceania (Paul Theroux)
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse (Thomas McNamee)
Not Buying It: My year without shopping (Judith Levine)
Infidel (Ayann Hirsi Ali)*
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter (Kim Edwards)*
Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen (a cookbook; Eric Gower)
The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (William Alexander)
Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)
Bee Season (Myla Goldberg)*
Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses (Falk & Guy)
Plant This! (Ketzel Levine)
The Breakaway Cook (cookbook; Eric Gower)
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Bird & Sherwin)*
Children of Men (P.D. James)
An Exhaltation of Larks (James Lipton)
The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine (Rudolph Chelminski)
Not Enough Indians (Harry Shearer)
Final Gifts: Understanding the special awareness, needs, and communication of the dying (Callanan & Kelley)*
Bush on the Couch: Inside the mind of the president (Justin Frank)
Dishwasher: One man's quest to wash dishes in all 50 states (Pete Jordan)

I'm still reading the last two; an interesting juxtaposition.

Looking back on my year of reading books, I suppose I actually have accomplished something. Portland has many fine independent bookstores, which I patronize especially when buying gifts or books by friends. But I also bow deeply in the direction of the excellent Multnomah County library system and the ability to browse the catalog and reserve books online. Also, I've found that due dates, like the deadlines that used to drive my professional life, are an enormous incentive to productivity.

Maybe next year will be the year of doing art. I'm thinking seriously that imposing some deadlines in the studio might be the key to making that happen.

1 comment:

Terry said...

I only read three of the same books you read this year, but your list gives me a list to work on. I read "The Year of Magical Thinking" which I sort of loved. It was so sad and yet so honest and human that I really ached for her. I read "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" which was a good read, but is one that has not really stuck with me, which, for me is the mark of a really good book. I also read "Eat, Pray, Love" which, as you know, I sort of hated. And yes, I also read the obituaries. Creepy, but I look at the ages and when I see lots of folks in their 50s and 60s it's a downer for the day. If I can spot one or two that were more than 100 I am cheered up!