paintings by Raven Waters
Part of the reason is the responsibility I’ve accepted during the past few decades. Being the breadwinner for my family -- as a woman artist -- meant that I was hustling all the time. Reading was a luxury I couldn’t afford. If I was reading, I was doing it so I could write a blurb or research a project or prepare for a lecture. Plus, I thought of myself as a slow reader; I felt as if I was creeping through any book I read.
My husband’s retirement kicked in a couple of years ago. (He had retired early – he had 30 years in at the post office but wasn’t 55 – and it had made sense for him to get out and wait for the pension.) Suddenly we had enough money coming in. Suddenly I wasn’t having to hit the road every couple of weeks.
Then came the pandemic and life slowed way, way down.
The number 32, according to numerology, symbolizes creative expression.
It’s the freezing point of water. It’s the atomic number of germanium. It’s a star in the constellation Pegasus. It’s a song by Van Morrison. It’s the number of Beethoven’s completed piano sonatas.
And it is the number of books I read in 2020.
The list is eclectic, not representative of my taste. Some are very short, some very long – in fact, it took me 3 years to read Mary Chestnut’s Civil War diary, and I finished in 2020. I liked a lot of them but one was my favorite. That will surprise you.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy
- Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith H. Basso
- The 641 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel
- Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner
- Mary Chestnut’s Civil War
- Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather
- Outbound Train by Renea Winchester
- Becoming Vegetalista by Buhner
- I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird by Susan Cerulean
- One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle
- The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Rinpoche
- Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto
- The Crying Book by Heather Christie
- Country Place by Ann Petry
- Willa Cather on Writing
- Sacred Herbal Healing Beers by Buhner
- two or three things I know for sure by Dorothy Allison
- Poverty Politics by Sarah Robertson
- The Coal Tattoo by Silas House
- The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane
- A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett
- The Country of the Pointed Firs & Other Stories by Jewett
- Corona by Reiss & Bhakdi
- The Traveling Feast by Rick Bass
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
- The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock
- Dart by Alice Oswald
- Journal of a Prairie Year by Paul Gruchow
Instead of being a serial monogamist, I’m a polygamist (strictly as a reader), and I’m currently engaged with:
- Ann Petry’s novel The Street
- Barry Lopez’s last book Horizon
- George Singleton’s stories, You Want More
- John Lane’s Whose Woods These Are
- Shapes of Native Nonfiction, edited by Washuta & Warburton
Before I leave you, I want to name which book was my favorite. This is going to surprise you, and please don’t take this as a recommendation, because you’re probably not going to like what I like. I’ve bought the book for two close friends, neither of whom have ever mentioned a word about it, so I take their silence as a message.
The book was Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I’m not even going to explain what the book is about. I’ll just say that reading it transformed my opinion on so many things. I did add my review of it to Goodreads, so you can read that there. I think two things will prove how much I liked this book:
First, when I finished I immediately turned back to the first page and started reading it again. I’m not sure that has ever happened in my entire life.
Second, I wrote the author. I get lots of fan-style letters, and although I love receiving them, I am twisted by guilt when I don’t have time to respond, or when I take time away from my own writing to pen a reply. I believe that we should be able to enjoy an artist’s work without having to enjoy the artist herself or himself or themselves. So I almost never write these letters. In this case, I did, immediately. I received a reply (!), and that was a wonderful gift. Mr. Buhner and I have not continued our correspondence (or if we have, it’s a slow one) but I have that letter. I’ve spoken with two other friends who also loved this book, so if you do decide to read it and you have the same reaction, let me know. If you don’t like it, don’t let me know.
Besides all the sheer pleasure I get from stories and words, another amazing thing happened in 2020. As a reader I got faster and faster. I realized that being “a slow reader” is not a personality trait or a biological given. It’s a variable. The way you vary it is by (guess what?) reading. To become a better writer, write; to become a better reader, read. I am proof.
This is the last thing I want to say. I am not promoting Goodreads, but of all the social media, it’s the one I enjoy most because I nerd out bigtime on books. Goodreads is an easy way to keep track of what you read. Therefore, I am encouraging you to set yourself a goal for 2021. Keep it low so you can bust it open. Now’s the time to do it.
Let me know what happens.