Even more than writing, I love to read. And I love talking about books. At last night’s book club we discussed Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Only two of us finished the book. (Yes, I was one of the two! And it was a loooooooooong novel.)
I found it compelling. I identified with every one of the f’ed up characters. I didn’t like that I saw myself in the depressed women. The character Patty was trying to be proactive. Still, she was reactive, self-defeating and messed up. She should’ve been in a book club. Reading helps.
We vote on the next month’s selection. In last night’s final voting, The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald was tied with my pick (and my mother’s recommendation), A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I was disappointed that in the final round, the classic won.
Today, it dawned on me: I can read whatever I want, even books not picked by my book club. That’s what it means to be a grown-up. I like that part of adulthood. I can be proactive, not reactive. I am more than a character in a novel (or a writer of a blog.)
My first book group is reading Guterson’s “The Other.” My mother/daughter book group is reading Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” My office book group is reading Zusak’s “The Book Thief.”
My #1 Rule is Pile on the People and my #2 is Escape through Literature. But I may be outdoing myself.
On a night like tonite, when I’ve finally finished my writing, the dishes, and homework patrol, I don’t know which book to open. Rather than choosing any one, I let all of them languish. It’s not just the books, but my classmates’ “Bootcamp for Journalists” writing assignments. And on the Kindle, I’m in the middle of Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” and Brown’s “The Lost Symbol.”
I lump them all and dive into a long article in The Atlantic or The New York Times magazine.
Why do I place so many reading demands on myself? I like drowning in literature.
And maybe one of my rules could serve as an antidote to my habit (compulsion?) to pile on too many book groups and too many books: Rule #5 ”Expect the Best/Love What You Get.”
Every six months or so, I think I should repeat My 7 Rules.
- Pile on the people. Or — pile on the useful people. This is hard. And you may need to pay real money here.
- Escape through literature. Proof in point — I am writing this on a plane going to San Francisco on route to Napa Valley with my book club. Literature leads to good things. We were talking about this at a recent book club meeting when we were talking about, “A Short History of Women: a Novel” by Kate Walbert. (Good and substantive.) The historical and present-day women in that book, like the suffragette, were definitely leading lives of quiet desperation. “Why don’t they join a book club?” asked one of the book club members. People in book clubs think other people should join book clubs. People who read think everyone should read. (Incidentally, our book for this California meeting is, “A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma” by Alan Deutschman. (Kind of fun and trashy.))
- Hold on to your hoops of steel. This is my rule based on a Shakespeare quote. And I throw it in so I appear literary. And though I can’t, at this moment, even remember what play this quote’s from, it means keep the ones you love close. My work and my family – these are my hoops of steel.
- Cultivate a secret garden. Can’t say much about this. But if you plant, grow, weed a secret garden, keep it close to the vest, like your cards at a poker game. Don’t ask; Don’t tell. So now that I’ve thrown you a bunch of mixed metaphors, like seeds to the wind, I hope you follow the trail to your own secret garden.
- Expect the best/love what you get. This works well when training animals, rearing children, and getting along with annoying coworkers.
- Live every day as if it were your last. This is the Carpe Diem rule. And one day, it will be your last day, so you might as well live fully today. As mom always said, “They can’t repossess your vacation.” True words to contemplate while on a plane bound for a vacation.
- Embrace uncertainty. I had a friend who would smile whenever she said, “I don’t know.” I try to do that too. It’s difficult for me. I like knowing everything. I like being a know-it-all.
Those are my 7 Rules.