"There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later."
, George Orwell (found at Breathing Books)
I miss language. I used to be the sort of person who memorized quotes, songs, and poems. I once had a friend with whom I could have conversations composed entirely of lyrics. I kept a list (online, even!) of everything I read, and I was so very pleased with it, even though I never did come up with a rating system. My major in college was linguistics, and one of my minors was French, and along the way I took a lot of philosophy and literature courses, all in the service of my love of language.
Somewhere along the way, my reading habits changed. I still read a lot, particularly for the mother of a toddler, but at some point I stopped being the kind of person who would randomly pick up a book of letters or poetry and joyfully, slowly browse to being the kind of person who plows through books like bowls of popcorn. I have such a hard time slowing down to appreciate what I’m reading on any level other than that of the story, and that makes me sad.
I’d say I’ve regressed, but hell, even when I was a child and teenager, I would write quotes down and tape them to my bedroom wall, just because the language pleased or tickled me. Sure, it was mostly Darkwing Duck and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy up there, but these quotes stuck in my mind due to the way they were said, the language used. As I was watching The Grinch this Christmas, I recalled how I loved the ridiculous names of all of the toys as a child and wanted to write them all down and memorize them. Most of what I read these days does not stick. Romances, in particular, all blur together in my head. I will defend them, and I will keep on reading them, but I will never claim that I am reading them for the lovely language and not for the ever-present romantic tension. The language in my chosen romances is not bad—I’d probably have a hard time reading them if it was—but it is only scaffolding for story and character, and not special in itself.
It’s not that I never read anything but romance. I do. It’s that I don’t savor what I am reading, or at least if I do, I only manage once in a great while, little glimpses of wonder that keep me trying.
I am forever deciding that it’s time I started reading more classics*, and as I’ve thought about my resolutions while leading up to this New Year’s Day, I have been wondering why I am so obsessed with this idea. I am often uncomfortable with this drive, because I feel like it has a little bit to do with what I think of as bourgeois-esque academic striving, and that’s not a motivation that feels comfortable to me.
As I pick apart my reasoning, though, I can recognize that my motivations are complicated, and a strong reason to read more highbrow literature is so I can find more beautiful language, language that really resonates with me and helps me get a little bit clearer on who I am.
And that’s really what this is about, isn’t it: Remembering a part of myself that I miss, but also getting back to figuring out who I am, particularly in the context of this life with my family, because I think, no matter the reason, it was about when I got serious with Melissa that my luxurious reading slowed down. It’s possible it had to do with that slight shuffling of self that happens when you are mingling your life with someone else’s, but this should not have gotten lost in the shuffle.
This stuff, it’s a form of prayer for me. Careful reading, my love of words, is one of the ways I tap into the loveliness of being alive and human and part of the world around me. Stories are another way, but I am pretty sure I can never lose that, even if I tried.
All of this said, I have two resolutions for the year ahead. One, I am going to read five books from this list. Two, I am going to keep a careful list of everything I read, rather than (possibly in addition to) using Goodreads. Goodreads is all well and good, but I want something I own. It might be a private document, or I might stick it online somewhere. If I do, I'll come back here and link it.
How about you? What are your plans for the next year? Tell me what you're going to read.
*And I never get very far, though I do try. In the past year or two, I’ve read about half of Don Quixote, a handful of the Federalist Papers, a bit of Herodotus, and various portions of non-fiction books that aren’t classics but do have to do with economics. I did manage to finish How to Read a Book in my 30 minute portions, which I find somewhat hilarious.