Coffee. Classical Music. And LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY.

Book held up with title Lessons in Chemistry

The Joys of Reading

There is little in life more pleasurable than reading a well-crafted book. You know that zing you get when you find the book that fits your mood perfectly? LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus is doing that for me today, especially since it’s accompanied by good coffee and classical music.

Oh, the joys of reading!

I’ll share a secret confession: I HAVE to write because it’s something I’m driven to do–even when I hate it. Even when I wish I could throw it all away and take up some other work like selling donuts at Dunkin’ or answering phones on the L.L. Bean hotline, I continue to write or else I get grumpy, antsy, and depressed.

I guess I’m addicted to writing. But my great love and passion is reading.

My First Books

It’s been that way since I can remember. My parents always had books in our house, and they read books to me from as far back as I can remember. Little Golden Books. Christmas books. These are the ones I remember best—plus one called MANY HOMES whose 1950s red cover I recall but not the story line.

I remember pretending to read it by running my finger under the lines and telling the story from memory. Precursor reading? There’s probably a technical term for that, but I don’t know it.

Early Adventures in Reading

As I grew up, I read whatever I could find. Summers were harder because we weren’t at school, so I didn’t have access to my school’s classroom libraries. One summer I got into the basement bookshelves at home. These books must have been from Mom and Dad’s college classes because there were lots of history textbooks. But there were a few novels mixed in. THE SCARLET LETTER beckoned, and I read the whole thing despite only vaguely “getting” it.

Same in fifth grade when I picked up EMMA from my school’s small library in the high school building (as a teacher’s kid at the K-12 religious school, I was always poking around). A teenage student saw me with the book and remarked, “That’s a difficult book for your age. Are you sure you want to take that one?”

I told her I did, but turns out she was right. Sigh. I reluctantly gave up after a couple of chapters because I just couldn’t grasp the complexity of the sentences enough to grasp the story—which was too bad because it sounded so good, and I really wanted to know what happened!

Austen did not disappoint years later when I finally picked the book up again.

Voracious, Not Precocious Reading

I was a voracious but not precocious reader, as you can see. In my high school years, I was as happy with the Babysitter’s Club series and Silhouette Romances as I was with John Jakes’s historical novels and the more highbrow short stories and excerpts in my literature textbooks.

Aside: These textbooks were GREAT intros to literature and literary history, and I think schools are remiss to have jettisoned them in favor of only a few full-length books per year. There was opportunity for full-length literary explorations in college classes and on one’s own. But what do I know?

I think I peaked on the complexity scale right after I graduated from college. I grooved out on Nabokov’s ADA, OR ARDOR. I loved its strangeness of story, style, and syntax. I suspect I’d find Nabokov difficult if I attempted to read him today, but at the time my brain geeked out on it. I’m talking backflips of joy inside my skull.

Once in awhile I decide to challenge myself. WAR AND PEACE nearly did me in a few years ago, but I persisted. I’ve never attempted Proust. Or Melville, for that matter. I still haven’t read that whale of a tale, MOBY DICK. It’s not just literary work that defeats me. I also tried and failed to read the first TWILIGHT book—three times. When something doesn’t work for you, as a reader, it doesn’t work for you. It’s ok to just say no.

These days I prefer contemporary literary fiction when I’m in the mood for something meaty. I also read genre fiction–mystery and chick lit–as well as memoir and nonfiction here and there. I mourn the absence of short story in magazines but rarely pick up a short story collection. Perhaps this year I’ll make an effort to read more of those.

Read Small and Indie Presses in 2023

It’s also important that I read my fellow small press and indie authors. There’s good stuff out there, and I think small presses are a fantastic way to discover new authors and fresh stories as well as books that don’t fall into rigid “commercial” categories. Bring on the variety and new voices.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and Good Reading Ahead!