Between the Lines

| November 3, 2011 | 1 Comment

A Reading Bonanza

I’ve been keeping a list of the books I read for the more than twenty years, and looking back over it is like dipping into a diary or photo album. It brings back memories of what I was doing and thinking, places I went and people I saw at the time I read a particular book or pursued the work of a certain author.

I can look back and see when I first read books that became all-time favorites, like Penelope Lively’s “Moon Tiger” and Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth,” both first discovered in 1993 and followed up with the authors’ other works. I’m fascinated by the threads that run through my reading, themes and ideas that create a domino effect, one thing leading to another and another, or off onto a new tangent.

There were years when I would take on a genre or body of work: Jane Austen’s novels in sequence; Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters; the nine collections of stories by Alice Munro, my contemporary favorite; forays into memoir and biography, food writing, writing about writing. There are the books I read again and again: Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” last revisited in 2009, “The Lost Garden” by Helen Humphreys, Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” And there are the surprises, like buried treasure—a book recommended or picked up serendipitously that leads to everything the author has written—Carol Shields, Mary Wesley (who published her first novel at 70), Andrea Barrett, Joan Silber, Tessa Hadley.

In mid-August a foot injury landed me in a knee-high boot and orders to stay off my feet as much as possible for a month or two. Deprived of my daily walks and with less gadding about, I had more time at home and took advantage of my situation to indulge in a feast of ravenous reading. I reserve books online through the public library system, and they’re delivered to me, like magic, like a ceaseless stream of gifts, at the Mission Hills branch.

In August and September I read “Murder in the Dark” by Margaret Atwood, “South Riding” and “Poor Caroline” by Winifred Holtby, “The Touchstone” by Edith Wharton, “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, “Unless” by Carol Shields, “The Uncoupling” by Meg Wolitzer, “The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown, “Where I Was From” and “Run River” by Joan Didion, “We Had It So Good” by Linda Grant, “The Gangster We Are All Looking For” by Le Thi Diem Thuy, “Summer Reading” by Hilma Wolitzer, “Three Stages of Amazement” by Carol Edgarian, plus essays and stories in collections and literary journals.

My list discloses that I gravitated mostly to fiction, more contemporary than classic, more British than American, all but one by women, several re-reads, few best-sellers. My list is too female and too white, too safe and comfortable. I started Proust last year but didn’t get very far—maybe next year. I haven’t yet scratched the surface. I also have an ever-expanding list of books that I want to read or read again, new goals and challenges. I’ll never get through it, but I’ll have a great time trying.

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Category: Entertainment

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