This is an embarrassing confession: I am not well read. I used to be before I went to university. Before university, my favourite activity was inactivity: lying on the couch with a hefty book. I read Gone with the Wind and all the Narnia books; I read The Martian Chronicles and Jane Eyre. I read Hawaii and The Source by James Michener, On the Beach by Nevil Shute and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I discovered poetry through Leonard Cohen who took my name and turned it into a song. Maybe it wasn’t a consistent canon and maybe it was the depth and breadth of a creek but it was flowing fast feeding lots of little fish and otters and watering the grass and trees on the shore.
A degree in English literature finished that off. A degree in the dead greats of England sent me plodding on a path of collecting books by more dead writers some of which I read but mostly I amassed an impressive library of literary guilt. My bookshelves were filled with little penguins captured in an oval, badges of my literary taste. Back at the beginning of 2013 I purged the library and donated many of the Penguin Classics, particularly the cumbersome Victorians – Hardy, Dickens, The Brontes, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot – whose presence reminded me of all that I wasn’t and didn’t want to be anymore anyway.
Between the end of university in 1980 and now, here’s how my reading looked:
1980’s – The Adrian Mole years. I was untroubled being 23 and relating to a narrator 13 ¾’s years old. It was a pubescent decade with a hormonal diet of Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon but saved by A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Early 1990’s – I grew fat and happy reading mysteries by Tony Hillerman, P.D. James, Elmore Leonard. Once in a while I got my heart-rate up reading Alice Munro. Does Roddy Doyle count as literature?
Mid-1990’s – 2010 – Children arrived. I was buried in Beatrix Potter. Daily chores, nighttime child-raising rituals – baths, bedtime stories, belting out show tunes for lullabies – following which I had about 30 minutes of life left in the body that husband and I could use to –
- Chat about our respective days.
- Discuss the household budget (I was employed part-time. Finances were girdle-tight).
- Make love really fast so I’d be left with some time to read.
Sex and reading were meted out like chocolate truffles. Occasionally I went on a diet of one or the other or took up a hobby that wasn’t horizontal – scrapbooking, calligraphy, skiing, running. But the truth is books got away from me. I read book reviews to keep up.
Young adult fiction brought me back to reading real books. Thanks to my middle daughter’s taste, I’ve sampled fantasy novels such as The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I am envious of her reading pace. She chews through books like a komodo dragon eating a water buffalo.
Which leads me to a second reading confession: I’m a slow reader. With reading often a late night activity, I do more re-reading than reading. Ie. Read 5 pages, fall asleep reading the 6th ; wake up when the book crashes on my nose; re-read page 6. Next night re-read pages 4-5-6 to remember what I was reading. A novel can take a long time at this pace, which is why I started reading short stories and how I discovered the work of Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, George Saunders, Sherman Alexie, Alistair MacLeod, and Barbara Goudie. Through them I’ve learned to love ambiguous, amorphous story endings. But my fallback reading position is a mystery novel. The likes of Louise Penny, Mary Jane Maffini, James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, Walter Mosley, Minette Walters never fail to make me a happy reader. It’s a rut as cozy as a sleeping bag under a starry summer sky. But when I feel the blood pooling in my extremities, I return always to Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood to get it circulating again.
Nonetheless, I think it’s time to crawl out of my cozy sleeping bag and peek above the rut. This year I am determined to dip into some new genres like Steampunk and Science Fiction. How about Historical Fiction? Fantasy and Romance (isn’t all romance fantasy?) Erotica – but NOT 50 Shades of Grey. Speculative fiction? However, being a slow reader, I can only reasonably select 6 books because I’ll need the security of a mystery novel in between.
This is where you come in. I’m interested in YOUR reading habits and whether you have a suggestion to offer. Tell me who and what you like reading. I’ll get busy making my 2016 list.
Here’s to a rich reading year!