Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tag, I'm It

As I emerged from my post-horrendously-busy-weekend stupor, I seem to remember something about being tagged to share my love of reading. By somebody named, uhhhhh….Cynthia. That’s right. It’s all coming back to me now…

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with reading all my life. Apparently, I was the last chick in the nest—all my older sisters were in school—and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t go to school, too. In order to keep me from driving her nuts, my mother taught me to read. It was 1959. I was four years old. I don’t remember this, but my mother loves to tell the tale. She also tells the story about my walking right up to my first-grade teacher on the first day of school, and bragging, "I can read!" Sister Assunta patted me on the head and said, "Of course you can, honey." A few weeks later, she remarked to my mom, "Oh, boy, can she read!"

I would like to say that my early indoctrination into the exciting world of the written word inspired a life-long love of literature. Well…no. It so happens that I am also an extremely high-energy person. Okay…the word fidgety has been applied to my particular affliction. The drive to be in constant motion is not conducive to spending long hours closeted with the world’s great literature. I did read quite a bit when I was in grammar school, and always above grade level. But, no, I didn’t delve into books like "Wuthering Heights" or "Jayne Eyre" at the age of ten. In fact, I didn’t even read all the "Little House" books until I was an adult.

In high school, I devised a way to get through English class, get A’s or B’s, and never actually READ the books we were assigned. Between Cliff Notes, films, and just soaking up the classroom discussions, I faked my way through Shakespeare, Dickens, Salinger, and Hemingway. I think it was a control thing, as much as anything. I just hated the idea of being required to read something. And I doubly loathed the practice of sitting around dissecting every word in any given piece of literature. A few months ago, I wrote a post that summed up my feelings about the "literature" thing.

"I have no desire to ever write a novel. Does that make me not quite a writer? I have nothing against "creative writing." I love poetry. I use it as my outlet for the purely artistic side of my writer self. But I never had any patience for all the literary machinations that go into writing fiction. I truly believe that one of the reasons I never went to college was that I was afraid I would be subjected to too many classes that consisted of having a gun put to my head to read all the most boring epics in the history of humanity, and then participating in the excruciating process of dissecting every bit of meaning, real or imagined, from these narcotic stories. Faulkner? Snore…Single sentences that filled entire pages. Dickens? He was paid by the word, for God’s sake. Tolstoy? Please! War and Peace?

"Now I’ve gone and revealed one of my deepest secrets: I have no literary class. A deadly admission for a writer. I read fiction. But I read it for the stories. For the pure escapism of it. For its ability to immerse me in a persona, place and time that are not me, here, now. Any attempts at formulaic "Meaning of Life" symbolism generally go right over my head. I religiously avoid novels that contrive to teach me something. I really don’t want to have to think that hard about the fiction I read."

Still, I DO have a bookcase, and I do have a stack of reading material on my bedside table. My "life list" of favorite books is not stocked with timeless masterpieces, but I like what I like, and the ones I really like, I read over and over again.

One whole shelf of my bedside bookcase holds reference materials on plants, gardening, and home improvement. I often crack these open for "bedtime" reading. My current favorites are Tree and Shrub Gardening in the Northwest, and Sunset’s Northwest Garden Guide. My collection of garden books represent probably 75% of my reading time these days. And cookbooks. I subscribe to "Light ‘n’ Tasty" and "Cooking Light," and the last few issues of those publications can usually be found on my night table or in the bathroom.

That bedside bookcase is pitifully small and cramped. Only the books that I really love are allotted space on it. These would be my collection of the works of Rosamunde Pilcher (The Shell Seekers, September, Going Home…) and Maeve Binchy (Circle of Friends, The Copper Beech, The Glass Lake…), and C.S. Forrester’s "Hornblower" series. A moth-eaten 1936 edition of Gone With The Wind. The Bridges of Madison County—a gift from my late sister.

On the bottom shelf are Helen Hooven Santmeyer’s fifty-year labor of love, "And Ladies of the Club…"—easily the fattest book I ever read; The Nun’s Story and Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, which speak to my longtime fascination with the monastic life. Then there are old, thrift-store copies of Those Who Love and The President’s Lady, representing my love affair several years back with the novels of Irving Stone. I also went on a Michener kick about fifteen years ago…Centennial, The Source, Chesapeake, Hawaii, I’m sure I read one or two others that don’t immediately come to mind. And my two copies of the RSV bible, holdovers from my Pentecostal days, squat unassumingly on the far side of one shelf. I think I keep them more for their historical value than anything. I haven’t yet got back to the point where I can actually read them again.

And…I’ll never admit to the stack of paperback "crotch novels" in my office bookcase. Somewhere, in some box out in the garage or something, I have a bunch of sci-fi novels based on the original "Star Trek" series, and, believe it or not, The Man From U.N.C.L.E and The Girl from same (how many of you out there remember that stuff!?!)

There you go, Cynthia! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to put together much of an entry about my favorite reading material. And no, I guess it doesn’t rival the library of Congress for diversity or sophistication. But it’s mine, and I’m sure it speaks volumes about me. I’ll be kicked out of the Intellectual Snobs Club now, for sure!

Oh, and now I have to "tag" someone else.  How about Jackie (Pixels, Politics, Posies and Pussycats), Lisa (Wearin' My Heart on My Sleeve), Meredith (Another CountryHeard From), and Gayla (So Much More.)  Okay, ladies, I 'fessed up about  my literary lameness.  Time for you all to further prove precisely how lame I am.


  1. Hey, you got some great stuff there!! But, when you read s`thing like, "The secret life of bees"; wonderful.

  2. Don't worry about getting kicked out of the club Lisa. I've never even earned an invitation....and that's ok.  I hate to embarrass myself.

  3. I love your entry.  I love Michener.  Chesapeake is one of my all time faves.  I loved "...And Ladies of the Club"  was wonderful.  And, as long as we keep this just between us, I have a full collection of Judith Krantz and can't stand Faulkner.  For a southern writer, that's damn near heretical.

  4. YOU tagged me! LOL!  Ok....I will play!  "Crotch novels"  Too funny!  I will comment again later as I am off for the day!  Hugs, Lisa

  5. yea! the editors pick this week!  congratulations my dear :-)


  6. In This House of Brede. Yeeeeeeeees? Love it. It's usually next to Patons' Cry the Beloved Country. Tagged, uh. Ok.


  7. Books help me make sense of the nonsense in the world.

  8. My reading consists of historical references about the first century, earlier than, and later than.  I have recently been immersed in reading the newpaper and periodicals.   Enjoyed your take on the combined literary elements making up your writing.     mark

  9. hello i enjoy reading about your favorite authors and i think i will get some books of rosamunde pilcher . i never read anything of her writings ,because i usually read lots of ufo"s stories and starwars , fondly a fan of yours

  10. What fun!  Consider me tagged but it may take me a day or two to respond.