It’s been eye-opening to keep a list of what I read. I’ve been a vicious (not voracious!) reader most of my life. Counting chapter books I read aloud to Kid 2 I’ve managed to finish 26 books in two months. Reading is one of those activities that I couldn’t live without but often don’t really have as much time for as it might look like I do. So I thought I’d take a minute and drop a few suggestions for squeezing reading time into hectic, productive lives. The first thing is that at any given moment I have between 4 and 6 books in progress. And I read them all one word at a time. I’m not a skimmer. Not even when I’ve had mountains of school reading to get though on a timeline. One word at a time. Every word. Sometimes reading paragraphs or pages several times in a row because suddenly I can’t remember what I just read or else it is good that I have to go back and write notes all over it or it was so bad/questionable that I leave snide little comments in the margins. And I do most of it in little 5-15 minutes bits. (That might have something to do with not remembering what I already read and doing a lot of re-reading….)
So here’s how I do. I have books in every room in the house and always carry one with me when I leave. At the moment The Name of the Rose has been sitting on the top of the toilet tank since August. I read a few paragraphs a day. I’ll probably finish it around next August. I read ten minutes of something in the scripture category every morning, currently The Harper Collins Study Bible. And 10 minutes of poetry. And 1 chapter-ish of something in the recovery/inspirational/spiritual/theological/self-help category. Most of this is slow reading, it takes a long time to read an annotated Bible 2-3 pages a day. That’s OK. Reading isn’t a race. One letter becomes one word becomes on phrase becomes one sentence and adds up bit by bit. Life is lived on breath at a time.
Then I have one or two books that I keep handy and squeeze in bits and pieces every chance I get. Waiting for tea water to boil? Read. Waiting for the kid to finish her shower? Read. Waiting for dinner to cook? Read. Waiting for a friend to arrive for coffee? Read. I try to book myself an hour of just-reading most evenings. Not having a TV makes this easier. But it also frequently happens that kids just can’t resist the sight of a mother sitting down with a book. There’s something about that that makes even the best of children itch for attention. So even my hour-ish of “me time” is usually broken and fragmented into little bits. By now my brain is trained to be distracted every 15 minutes. When I have those few precious child-free moments I still can’t focus in longer stretches. Such is life. Right now those books I squeeze into my spare moments are mostly for a class I’m sitting in on. But in general I try to rotate subject and genre. This keeps it from ever turning into a chore or an obligation. But I do try to make myself finish what I’ve started and include the occasional unpleasant read. I’d hate reading if I only read dull books but I also think it’s important not to be lazy about either reading or life.
So here’s what I finished in February, alone with a few thoughts. Have you read any of these? What do you feel, think, suspect about them?
14. 2/1/18 Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth, Barbara Park. Don’t get your kids started on these. Just don’t. Kid 2 things there hilarious. I hear most kids do. But these books are like giving your kids cola for breakfast. They’ll love it. Then they’ll expect it. Then it will be a habit. Next thing you know you have a spoiled little junkie on your hands.
15. 2/6/18 Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Diary. Settler-colonial propaganda. But Kid 2 and I did have some good conversations about slanted history and how these stories are told to make it sound like the poor colonists didn’t mean to commit genocide. Oh, and about the Pocahontas myth and other bullshit stories we white people tell ourselves. (I didn’t actually use the word bullshit. Kid 2 threatens to wash my mouth out with soap when I do.)
16. 2/6/18 Blood: A Critique of Christianity, Gil Anidjar. I have mixed feelings about this book. Part of me thinks it’s brilliant and beautiful. Part of me thinks it’s no different than Orientalist clap-trap only saying “Christianity” instead of “Islam” and “blood” instead of “jihad.” Which is pretty much what he did. It’s “scholarship” based on taking little bits or Western literature out of context and sewing them together to make a point that isn’t really a point. But it’s also kinda brilliant to flip the frame and read “the West” like “the West” reads the world. This isn’t a fun book and I don’t recommend it. Except to white Christians who need a taste of their own medicine.
17. 2/7/18 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee, John Fischer. This is another mixed feelings book. I think he’s on to a good idea. But I also found him to still be a bit misogynistic and homophobic. He actually explained that gay people shouldn’t be judged for being gay because they were probably abused as children. Not cool. Really not cool. It also seems to me that he doesn’t really get the brilliance of the original 12 steps. I would suggest getting a sponsor and working the steps before being arrogant enough to completely rewrite them. Also, may I recommend Al-Anon for anyone who wants to do some real step work on not being a judgemental, self-righteous Pharisee? Again, only my opinion and it’s just a suggestion. For all I know this is a great book for people who think LGBTQIA people are sick or who want to be really careful not to actually be associated with the original 12 steps. But it’s not one I’ll re-read or recommend to a friend.
18. 2/11/18 Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment, Leigh Eric Schmidt. I enjoyed reading this and recommend it for anyone interested in religion, secularism, atheism, or history. It’s solid and well-written and does a good job of raising important questions.
19. 2/12/18 Freedom’s Wings: Cory’s Diary. Slavery softened for children’s education. I think there are better books on the topic but this isn’t too bad as far as trying to help kids understand that slavery was brutal and ugly and hurt real people. But it also tries to soften it with the “not all white people” perspective and touches of the progress narrative. Kid 2 picked the book so I read it to her and we concluded with conversations about how slavery was actually a lot worse than books like this make it sound and how structural racism is still a really evil reality and big problem.
20. 2/15/18 Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell & Don Golden. Meh. OK but it isn’t Bell’s best book.
21. 2/17/18 Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature, Tracy Fessenden. This is a fairly dense book and isn’t for the casual reader. I enjoyed it, but then it is exactly the kind of thing that makes my little nerd heart palpitate. Recommended for people interested in, well, the subtitle says it all.
22. 2/20/18 The Collected Poems, Sylvia Plath. I’m actually not really a Plath fan. Sorry, not sorry.
23. 2/20/18 The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America, Sarah Barringer Gordon. I thought this was interesting but it is legal history and probably not everyone. It did raise some interesting questions for me about polygamous cultures and women’s rights. And, just because I’m an opinionated pain-in-the-backside, I feel like putting it out there that in my opinion Islam is theologically closer to American Protestantism than Mormonism is so yes, it is racism to tolerate Mormons as neighbors but not Muslims.
24. 2/23/18 Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance, Janet R Jakobsen & Ann Pellegrini. I’m not totally in agreement with their claims but it’s still a book worth reading. And it does make a solid point the tolerance is problematic.
25. 2/25/18 A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. This is a Reader Beware book. It’s a page turner and his writing is superb. Some sections are laugh-out-loud funny, if you’re solidly cynical. It is, however a very dark book and not for people who aren’t emotional mature and stable. This book could fuck with your head and your heart and give you nightmares for weeks. I’m still recovering from it. Not going to give any spoilers but don’t get attached to any of the characters and don’t have any expectations for any kind of resolution or redemption.Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a worthwhile message. It does. And want to say that I feel like it is important o read books by people and not books about people. There’s an important distinction.
26. 2/28/18 Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh. Good stuff in here.
So there’s the 13 books for February. What have you been reading?