Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reading Challenge Bric-a-Brac

Dear Helen, Dear John,

It's time to check in on some reading challenges. Unless I complete a crazy readathon beginning in mid/late December once I return to my personal library of books... statistically it's going to be pathetic. Normally failing on that scale would leave me hyperventilating and upset with myself, but my life these past few months has been nothing like what I planned.

I've still been reading, just not the books I thought I'd be reading. I've been reading about Euclid, Thomas Jefferson, The Great Depression, how to practice music, Bela Bartok, Yo-Yo Ma, Gielgud and Burton preparing their version of Hamlet, happiness projects, ads during WWII, Finland, how to draw, poetry, origami, the history of science... the list gets seriously crazy incredibly quickly. That's not counting the documentaries I've checked out and watched that have ranged from sign language, Victorian houses, George Washington Carver, Fred Rogers, and the true story behind The Great Escape to teacher/astronauts in space. My sister laughs each time I bring a stack home, a very good thing since there are books in every room of the apartment. I love it, and stress about it, and think of all the things I'm doing, thought I'd be doing, and hoped I'd have done by now. Oh, well. It's been a trip and I've been learning lots about many things, more especially myself.

Which leads me to one of the books on my list that I did read a few months ago, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. This was a reread for me of a book I had read close to a decade ago. The first time around I was captured by a story I could relate to deeply on a personal level at that time. I loved it! The second time... E.M. Forster's prose is so exquisite that reading it makes me almost despair of writing anything, including a review, myself. I've thought about it for months now, and what struck me most this time around was not the story, or the characters, but what we do to ourselves when we are not completely honest with ourselves. It's fairly easy for me to be honest with others, but, like Lucy, I find myself warping or submerging truth when it comes to my feelings and myself. As E.M. Forster hints at, doing this can be disastrous and devastating. I did not enjoy this book as much the second time around, but it did wake me up to some things I was doing that were hurting me that I've been working on ever since. I've been a lot more upfront and honest with myself. It's hard at first, sometimes difficult all the way through, but it is a better way to live.

It took me an absurdly long time to read Kipling's Captains Courageous. Whether it was the dialect speech, the boating vocabulary, or the fact that I read the majority of it in hospital waiting rooms and doctors' offices, this book was a huge challenge for me to get through and finish. In the end, the only part of the book that really spoke to me was near the end, when it showed the importance of dads being present in the lives of their kids; sharing their stories, their knowledge, and themselves. My name in the cover, written in what looks to me to be my first or second grade handwriting, reminded me of the day my dad first gave that book to me.All these years later it helped me feel a connection to him, and I was grateful that my dad shared as much of his life with me as he did before he died.

War and Peace. I love history. I loved Anna Karenina. I've read 1000+ page books before and cherished them. I thought for certain I was going to love this book. Instead... where do I start? There were so many characters introduced in the beginning that I could not keep them straight. Then some of them kept turning up, and I could keep them straight. Oh no, I would moan to myself, not this character again. I'm not sure if this was Tolstoy's intention, making you empathize with the characters who didn't want to deal with these people again either, but I will say that 1/3 of the way into the story, I was still not loving any of the characters. I was tolerating... some of them. I also wasn't thrilled with the story. Shallow people doing less than honorable things, although, that definitely seemed to be intentional on Tolstoy's part because it is, after all, real life. It was the final death blow to any former dreams I may have harbored growing up about being an aristocrat. Nearly half-way through I seriously thought about stopping there and letting this one be. Before I did, however, I decided to read some of the things other bloggers had written about it, hoping for something that would make the rest of it feel worth reading and came upon a blog post I really needed.

Because I grew up most of my life in incredibly trying financial circumstances, it's been really difficult for me to let go of things and to use up some of the special stuff I have because then, it's... used up. When I was little there was no guarantee of having more. This "peasant's mentality" that C.M. Mayo talked about in her post can have lots of unwanted, unintended consequences. I thought about my own life, and a pair of forties era movie star slacks my mom made for me the year I graduated from college- beautiful lined white pants that I loved but seldom wore because I didn't want to wear them out or stain them. What happened? I grew out of them before they wore out. That was waste. Another thing she mentioned in her post was her decision to cut her copy of War and Peace in half. It intrigued me and after days of thought, I promised myself that once I reached the halfway mark in my copy of the book, I was going to celebrate by chopping my book in half- something I have never done to any book before.

The excitement of that dastardly deed kept me reading and when that day finally arrived, my mom and I made a ceremony of cutting the book in half. It was surprisingly easy and oh so gratifying. I have not finished W&P yet, but I do have the last half with me. I also have a new incentive to finish it. While I was watching a documentary on WWII, a soldier who was interviewed spoke of how no one, with the exception of Tolstoy, had captured in words what war for him had really been like. That makes me believe there is more to this book than I have found yet, and so I will keep reading and looking for it, so I can understand the world around me and the people who live in it, a little better.

Holding half a book,

Melanie

P.S. All the walking that is life here has done something amazing for me: I am <this> close to fitting into my white slacks again. I can get the zipper almost all the way up. Once in, you can bet I won't be saving these pants for a special occasion again. They will be worn and loved out.