Sunday, July 4, 2021

Rereading and weeding

In my last post, I talked about whittling the to-be-read pile of books. This weekend I've been dealing with the already-read books.

Because I reread books, I keep them for a long time. This has resulted in a collection of a few hundred. And over time, I've noticed that some old favorites have dropped out of my rereading habit. Maybe I've read them enough. Maybe my view of them has changed. Maybe I'm in a phase of life where I need something different from books than I used to.

So I've been letting go of some books that I once cherished. They have been succeeded by newer favorites. I once thought a favorite book would be a favorite for life--and for some books that's been true, at least as far as midlife. But for others, not so much.

A book doesn't have to be a favorite for me to want to reread it. I also own some books that I've read once and want to read again, but I think one or two more reads will do it for me. Then I'll want to let them go. 

For most books, my favorite reading pass is the second one. The book is still fresh enough to delight--and even to surprise with the things I've forgotten--but familiar enough that I have less anxiety over how the plot will go, and I can notice all sorts of details I might've missed before. These include foreshadowing, symbolism, and the fates and concerns of secondary characters. 

Happy reading. Or rereading, as the case may be.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Whittling the book pile

When the pandemic first hit last year, my local library shut down for a few months. While I missed it, and I am very glad it has since resumed online reservations and curbside pickup, I knew I wouldn't lack for reading material in the meantime.

Aside from being a re-reader, one who's happy to dip into my collection of shelved books over and over, I also had That Pile. You may know the one; you may have your own version of it. The pile of books picked up here and there--at sales, book swaps, and so forth, or maybe received as gifts. For me, they're books I want to read, or at least wanted to when I first got them, but wasn't in the mood for right then. Or at any time since, though I believed the right mood would eventually arrive. That pile's existence never stopped me from acquiring new books, most of which I read before dipping into the older pile.

Over the past few years, as I've made a conscious effort to declutter, I finally faced the pile. I was even able to slowly dent it. But 2020 would be my chance to make real progress, I thought.

I'm not sure how many books were in that pile when I first started decluttering--maybe 50? Definitely more than 30. It wasn't even really "a" pile, but a few stacks. 

I'm happy to report that the pile is now down to eight books.

I made progress in three ways. One was by facing the fact that I was just never going to read some of them, and I let them go to better homes. For book cherishers, this action can seem impossible at first, but it got easier the more I did it. For the remaining books, I decided that their reading time had come! It was easier to pick up one of these long-unread books if I reminded myself that I could always put it down if I didn't like it after all. (After years of compulsively finishing books whether I wanted to or not, I've reached the point of allowing myself to abandon a book that isn't working for me. Life is short, and there are plenty of books out there.)

The other way I shrunk this pile was by making an effort not to add to it. To bring home only books that I wanted to read soon. Part of my decluttering involves keeping a list of new items that I bring into the house. I don't track perishables like groceries and toiletries, but only things that are meant to hang around for a long time, and that includes books (though not library books, which of course rotate in and out quickly). I don't have any special rules about numbers of items I want to acquire or get rid of. I don't have a one-in, one-out rule. The only reason I made the list was to be more mindful of what I get, to be more aware of what I acquire, to make sure I really want or need it. And that has been happening. I'm not reading fewer books; I'm just storing fewer unread ones.

Happy reading, whether you're tackling a new book or a not-so-new one!


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Small goals, and one thing Twitter is good for

A few years ago, when I was in a writing slump, I decided to set some very small, manageable goals. Goals that would be fun rather than onerous. One was to write at least 100 words a day in my journal. They didn't have to be special words, good words, interesting words. The point was just to keep my writing habit going, and to set such a low-pressure goal that anxiety and judgment and other obstacles couldn't get in the way. 

The other was to participate in Creative Nonfiction's #cnftweet challenge once a week. The challenge is to tell a true story in one tweet, including the hashtag #cnftweet. The Creative Nonfiction magazine publishes selected tweets in its newsletter and magazine. For me publication was a bonus but not the primary goal; for me the writing itself was the main thing. I'd been veering more and more toward nonfiction, and I have always loved flash and micro lengths, so this was a timely exercise. I also enjoy reading the other cnftweeters' contributions; it has become a sort of loosely defined, fluid online community. And it was a thrill to have several of my tweets make it into issues of the magazine.

With the #cnftweets, unlike with my journal, I did concentrate on quality, seeking the telling detail, the vivid image, the apt turn of phrase. I see a micro story as one that delivers a specific concrete image but suggests a much larger story beyond the frame. And if it produces a laugh or a gasp as well, so much the better. 

My goal has been to come up with two #cnftweets per week, but I don't let myself agonize over this. Sometimes I've done three or more, sometimes one, sometimes none. I also don't agonize over the responses. I'm always delighted when others like them, but you don't always know what will strike a chord. I suspect every regular cnftweeter has had a carefully crafted tweet, one that makes them proud, draw few likes, while another tweet they'd thought of as almost a throwaway, the tweet they almost deleted, gets wild applause.

From these two practices, I regrew my writing habit. I have indeed written more and more nonfiction in recent years, although I've also been working on a long fiction project. The most important thing these practices did was to reconnect me with the joy of writing, the stability of having a steady flow of words. The words themselves sometimes snap and leap with life, and other times lie there limp with triteness, but that's the way the way writing goes. Finding the flow was what mattered.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Subject to change

Last year at this time, I would venture to say, most of us had no idea how the year would unfold. That's always true, but the up-ending of the world in 2020 hammered home that message with extra emphasis.

Standing on the threshold of a new year, we don't know how unpredictability will play out this time around. We may have hopes and goals and plans. All of it is subject to change. So we sketch out the plans, and hope that more of 2021's surprises will be of the pleasant kind, and hope for the strength to deal with whatever arises. It's good enough for now.