Books read in 2013

1) “Mr. Sammler’s Planet,” by Saul Bellow

2) “Ravelstein,” by Saul Bellow

3) “Bunner Sisters,” by Edith Wharton

4) “The Dean’s December,” by Saul Bellow

5) “Morte D’Urban,” by J.F. Powers

6) “A Theft,” by Saul Bellow

7) “The Bellarosa Connection,” by Saul Bellow

8) “Teeth, Dying & other matters,” by Richard G. Stern

9) “Tales of Grabowski,” by John Auerbach

10) “The Actual,” by Saul Bellow

11) “A Father’s Words,” by Richard Stern

12) “Other Men’s Daughters,” by Richard Stern

13) “A Widow for One Year,” by John Irving

14) “Natural Shocks,” by Richard Stern

15) “Stitch,” by Richard Stern

16) “Wise Blood,” by Flannery O’Connor

17) “Golk,” by Richard Stern

18) “My Life as a Man,” by Philip Roth

19) “Zuckerman unbound,” by Philip Roth

20) “Anatomy Lesson,” by Philip Roth

21) “The Prague Orgy,” by Philip Roth

22) “Framley Parsonage,” by Anthony Trollope

23) “Scoop,” by Evelyn Waugh

24) “The Moviegoer,” by Walker Percy

25) “The Counterlife,” by Philip Roth

26) “The Last Gentleman,” by Walker Percy

27) “The Facts,” by Philip Roth

28) “The Adventures of Augie March,” by Saul Bellow

29) “Patrimony,” by Philip Roth

30) “The Plot Against America,” by Philip Roth

31) “Sabbath’s Theater,” by Philip Roth

32) “Half a Life,” by V.S. Naipaul

33) “Staggerford,” by Jon Hassler

34) “American Hunger,” by Richard Wright

35) “Charles Dickens: Volume One,” Edgar Johnson

36) “The Staggerford Flood,” by Jon Hassler

37) “Jude the Obscure,” by Thomas Hardy

38) “The Great Dissent,” by Thomas Healy

39) “Eclipse,” by John Banville

40) “The Headmaster’s Dilemma,” by Louis Auchinloss

41) “The Rector of Justin,” by Louis Auchinloss

42) “Richard Wright: The Life and Times,” by Hazel Rowley

43) “Thornton Wilder: a life,” by Penelope Niven

44) “The Winter of Our Discontent,” by John Steinbeck

45) “Rex Stout: a biography,” by John McAleer

46) “The Idiot,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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The Gift of Reading

Somewhere, damned if I know where given that on some fronts I have the organizational skills of a tree stump, I have a shirt that reads, So Many Books, So Little Time. So true.

Frankly, I can’t and don’t want to imagine life without books. I am utterly baffled by those who don’t read books. No doubt there are joys they have found in life that are foreign to me, or joys that I simply don’t understand. Car races for one. Millions get enormous joy from them so I am glad they are there; I like seeing people happy. But when I try to watch them, the cars going round and round  again and again and again and again…all I can do is shrug and think, Well, at least they won’t get lost.

When I am, as I like to say, without book, meaning I don’t have a book I’m reading in life (a rare thing), I really am like a fish out of water. My life is out of alignment. Hell, I’m out of alignment. On edge and physically uncomfortable throughout the day, I am swept up in a kind of anxiousness. When, finally, I find a book that I can develop a relationship with,  an enormous sense of relief sweeps over me.  Much the same kind of relief, my dopey mind imagines, that someone lost at sea feels when they finally reach the safety of land.

Reading has been my refuge for many, many years. When I was homeless as a teen, I would go into drugstores or five and dimes and steal a paperback off one of those wire racks that always screech when you turn them. This way, alone at night, or fighting for warmth or dealing with hunger, tucked away in a basement or abandoned building somewhere, I had a world other than my own I could visit.

It was my father who gave me the whole wide world of books, the never-ending always-present adventure of reading. He was in his room one day working at his desk. Behind him was a ceiling to floor bookshelf filled with books. I think a wall full of books is visually more beautiful than any painting I’ve ever seen.   “I’m not a reader like you and Mommy,” I announced.

He set his pencil down, leaned back in is chair, gently smiled, and said, “What makes you say that?”

Well, every time I try and read one of these books I can’t finish them.”

And then he said the most remarkable thing. “What makes you think you have to finish them?”

I was floored. “Aren’t you supposed to finish them?”

No. You’re thinking school assignment. We’re talking about reading. Let me ask you something, don’t you think the author has some responsibility to keep you interested?”

Sure.”

Okay then, here’s what you do,” he gestured at the books behind him. “Pick ten books that perk your interest and read them until you lose interest. Don’t look at page numbers and don’t worry about finishing them. One day you’ll look up and you’ll have finished a book.”

I was free! The world of books was mine! I grabbed ten books, even some I wasn’t sure I was interested in but wanted to see what was inside them anyway, and brought them to my room. To this day, if I lose interest in a book I put it back on the shelf and move on.

By the way, the first book I finished only weeks after my father’s advice was a novel called The Folded Leaf  by William Maxwell. It’s a great book. And there’s lots more.

 

Mornings Are My Sanctuary

Early mornings are my sanctuary. They have been for years now. All year round they are special, each season has its gifts, and nearly always I am wedded to my morning routine. I’ll get to that later.

The soft quiet of winter, the joy of waking up to to the exquisite silence of early morning snowfall. Other winter mornings when I wake up all the world outside is magically sheathed in ice, the smallest of branches glistening as if sheathed in diamonds.

Spring, of course, brings back leaves and the mid-air-jewel-sounds of birds singing. The green of hope and new life emerges everywhere and I get the distinct impression my body, heart and spirit relaxes and they all work better. It’s as if the possibility of loss has passed with the passing of winter. I don’t know why it feels that way to me. It just does.

Summer can give and take energy like no other season. Sometimes the early mornings are warm in a glorious way, the trees and hills outside my window are alive with expectancy, and, like a little boy, I can’t wait to burst out the front door, screaming my own barbaric YAWP (thank you, Walt Whitman) and plunge into the day with all I’ve got. Then, of course, there are other morning so fierce with humidity and heat I swear someone left a giant oven door open.

Fall is tied with Spring as my favorite season for early mornings. Steinbeck once described one aspect of a crisp clear fall day like this: The air looked cleaned and polished. And when the trees here in the northeastern United States are peaking with color the beauty and majesty of it so overwhelming at times it makes me cry with the kind of joy and comfort one feels when in the arms of a loved one.

My morning routine, or, perhaps better put, my morning ritual, runs something like this. Out of bed, letting the dogs out for some, we’ll call it relief. Water on for coffee. Dogs back in for breakfast. Water boils, coffee gets made (I pour the water through fresh ground coffee in a melita). Dogs go out to their pen. Back inside coffee’s ready and waiting. Now I either sit down at the computer and check e-mail, read a bit of the NY Times online (a paper that has sadly lost quite a bit of it journalistic integrity) and then do a bit of writing. The only alteration in this ritual is if I am in the middle of a really good never-want-to-put-it-down book. Then the first sip of morning is taken as I open the book and resume reading. Oh! I will, in warm weather, make toast or an English muffin with the coffee and in the cold weather, oatmeal with real maple syrup.

Early morning brings me another gift as well. Time with my family. Yes, they have nearly all died. But in the early morning I can feel my father with me, and both my mothers. I can feel the presence of my grandparents: Mommom and Poppop and Grandma and Grandpa, my brother, Bobby. And I also can feel the reach of my birth-father, the one I never met, but who helped give me my life.

I love the wealth of peace found in early mornings. I hope you have moments like this in your life too. We all deserve them – and that includes you.