For a long time after having kids, I didn't read much. I tried, but I never seemed to have the time or mental energy for much more than flopping down with a TV show after the kids went to bed. Now that I'm slowly getting back into reading, I'm trying to read 3 books per month, which gives me a slow enough pace to absorb my reading but a brisk enough pace to keep momentum.
When I think of 3 books per month and do the math, that's 36 books per year, which sounds like a pretty sweet deal for a mom who wasn't reading more than JCrew catalogues for a while.
So, I've been reading more. I've read a lot of 'self-help' or 'self-improvement' books over the past few years and a fair amount of other non-fiction. This is strange for me because I was a creative writing major in undergrad and love to write fiction. I don't know if it's getting older or post-pregnancy hormones or what, but I'm drawn to non-fiction much more often now than fiction. I also think part of this strange phenomenon is that I've been so disappointed in much of the fiction I've attempted over the past decade. Modern fiction, it seemed for a while, had little to offer. I was leery of it, of the over-the-top opening chapters, of the flat characters and of the overly dramatic plots I felt had more to do with shock value than character development.
I was going along like this, all down in the mouth about fiction, until one day about six months ago when I pulled a book off my bookshelf and gave it a try. Again. For the 10th time. Seriously, I'd tried to read this book 10 times and failed to 'get into it.'
It was Kent Haruf's Plainsong.
It was one of the best books I've ever read, in my entire life, and it got my fiction juices going again. The book, Plainsong, is beautiful. Haruf's writing really 'spoke' to me, and when I finished, I found myself looking back toward fiction with a new eye. Maybe all the good books hadn't died with Hemingway after all.
Fast forward six months, and I had a hankering for short stories. I'd tried some of the classic writers (Alice Monroe, Hemingway and Welty) but nothing stuck. Then, on a random Google search, I came across the name George Saunders. Critics raved.
I was immediately turned off.
Nothing ruins a book for me like a major award. I once formed a book club based entirely on Booker Prize-winning novels and had to quit after about three months. Dear lord, that was depressing.
So, when I saw Saunders lauded by major critics, I thought: no way.
Then I thought: well....maybe?
See, Haruf opened me up to the possibility I might not be giving modern writers enough credit.
I ordered the book.
A week after it arrived, I sat in the bath and read the first chapter. My mouth hung open, and I mean that in the literal sense. My mouth was literally agape. I finished reading and thought: okay...okay....that was one genius story. But, they can't all be good. The editors probably just put the best one first, as a hook.
I read the second story. I shook my head and closed and opened my eyes. Is it possible to tell an entire story in a page-and-a-half?
The book, Tenth of December, is the best book I've read all year. It is shockingly good. It is also very difficult to read. Normally, if art is dark, I avoid it like the flu. I sometimes had trouble reading this book, but every time I set it down, it called me back. It's that good.
For what it's worth, this book gets very mixed reviews on Amazon. Some readers HATED it. Some readers loved it. I can see both sides, which I think is sort of what makes this book so exciting. Saunders' stories pull you in with immediate conflict but then, somehow, just when you think you may laugh at the protagonist or mock him, you find yourself relating to him (or her) in ways that aren't always comfortable.
Every story was excellent. I was never bored reading Tenth of December. I was never disappointed. I was always a little bit uncomfortable. I was always impressed.
I don't know if I'm necessarily recommending this book. It's a bit like whiskey; it burns a little but in all the best ways.
Has anyone else read Saunders? Is anyone intrigued? I've got a copy lying here just waiting to be read if anyone is interested. :)
Both were good, but Deep Work was one of those paradigm-shifting books that sticks like glue and makes me want to truly do better. It really resonated with me on the issue of technology and, specifically, the pros/cons of social media. I miss the days, pre-laptop/smartphone, when I spent hours in the library studying in a tiny cubicle, no distractions in sight. In our distracted, multi-tasking world, those of us who remember the days of really digging in will identify with Newport's book and ultimate message.
For the month of December, I'll be reading Death Comes for the Archbishop, Buddha's Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind, I Liked My Life: A Novel and Stay With Me: A Novel.
I'm aiming for four because I've already begun Cather's novel and am listening to Stay With Me on Audible. Also, I'll be reading a Maggie-pick, so stay tuned.
I'm curious what everyone else is reading and if you've read any books you'd deem must-reads? Suggestions?