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Making Time: Free Reading

I started grad school last month. Being exposed to completely new concepts, committing them to memory, and then learning how to implement them is a lot for my brain. My brain needs some yoga stretches so I can find space for all this new material!

Over 10 years since my last grad school rodeo, this path invigorates and challenges. I barely keep up with everything – even though I’m trying my hardest and writing more “To Do” lists than ever. I love writing lists, though, so maybe I should have started grad school sooner!

Even with all the homework and required readings, I’m determined to make time for free reading. In the last three years (thanks in large part to my DC Public Library card) I have nibbled away at a book no matter how busy I may think I am.

Treasure: I could not beleve The Chronicles of Harris Burdick was in here!

The way some writers sew ideas and words together awes me. How did this story come out of their head? A good memoir leaves me hearing the writer’s voice clear and true. I love to see linguistic finesse and storytelling skills laid out in writing.

Last week I was out for a grocery run and I stopped at a local bookstore, Capitol Hill Books. They are only allowing people in by appointment, but if the weather is decent they occasionally will set up a limited inventory outside. If I have time, I will check out their titles.

I read a lot of books on Kindle or Libby these days, but I don’t want to lose my page-turning skills. I also like the supporting local places, the ability to pass an actual book on to others, and the opportunity to display specific titles in my Zoom background (kidding!) so I keep a small collection of paper books in my house.

Capitol Hill Books

On a previous visit to Capitol Hill Books I picked up Borges and Me, by Jay Parini, along with some Hemingway novel. This visit I ended up with Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, and José Saramago’s Blindness. (Two novels about epidemics. Coincidence? You decide!) I also snapped up a copy of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Borges asserted that there is no original thought. Everything that there is to be known already exists and we keep repackaging it for ourselves and each other. This belief fascinates me. In a way, I suppose it demystifies creativity.

But in another way, it makes me admire certain writers even more. Their ability to tell a tale in a novel way is both impressive and enviable.

My book score!

How soon will I be hooked on a book? Page 30? 80? Never? I find myself asking this every time I pick up a new title. The way a good story can lure me in and propel me to keep reading thrills me. Even a few pages before bed helps me relax and feel better about life most days.

Last time I was in grad school, I only read for work and school. This time I need the escape, the thrills, the fun of free reading. Let me know what’s on your reading list if you have any recommendations!

19 Comments »

  1. Great post. I have returned to reading (for fun) in the last few years and have really benefited. It’s interesting as while I have great ambition to read deeper novels (and definitely pick them up when they strike my fancy) it’s often the case that reading to relax has me reading cheap paperback fiction.

    Perhaps my opportunity is to alternate more – a bit more “useful” in my relaxation. We’ll see…. 🙂

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    • Timojhen, I like to mix it up. The lighter reads can be fun, and I even read some young adult stuff. I’m not saying young adult means light, necessary, just that I like the variety

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  2. The Overstory by Richard Powers. Transformative. The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts. Can a book be depressing and inspiring at the same time? Yes. Over the Holidays I finally read Crime and Punishment after years of it being on the to-read list. It’s a monster, but the hype is real. Anything by Brad Warner. William Gibson’s latest is good. Currently reading Near To The Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector. Talk about “How did this story come out of their head?” It’s like a sweet stream-of-consciousnesses fever dream word salad.

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    • Thank you for the recommendations. And guess what?! I actually picked up Lispector”s Near to the Wild Heart on a previous visit to Cap Hill Books. She’s amazing and now I can’t wait to read it! Not sure I have Crime and Punishment in me, but I will consider it for post grad school days.

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    • I read “Crime And Punishment” in a spot less like St Petersburg than anywhere else I can think of: a Mediterranean beach in the south of France! Raskolnikov, though, what a character! I moved onto The Brothers Karamazov!

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      • I know what you mean but … Karamazov is a thick book (2 vols in a U.K. paperback) so that make Crime & Punishment short, doesn’t it?
        In a way, one of the first in the detective genre; except we know who the murderer is early on and the reader is not so much waiting for him to be apprehended but rather seeing what he will do with his conscience.

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  3. I spent a good part of last year re-reading some old favorites. I think The God of Small Things and Love in the Time of Cholera merit a second read. Keeping with the Indian novel, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is on my re-read list. I read it while on percocet waiting to have back surgery. I need to give it a clear headed re-read.

    I tend to latch onto authors. Nick Hornby, Fredrik Bachman, and David Lodge are all consistently fun to read. This past year I discovered Sally Rooney, Madeline Miller, and Amor Towles.

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  4. Reading David Lodge’s non-fiction “The Art Of Fiction” has sent me this week to Thomas Hardy’s “A Pair Of Blue Eyes.” It’s not one of Hardy’s best-known novels but who could resist Lodge’s description of the Victorian story: the heroine, to save a suitor stranded on a cliff face, has to take off all her clothes?

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  5. Love this post!! In the past I would beat myself up over not being able to get hooked by a book. Now I simply move on to something that does interest me, a book which allows my brain to relax into the rhythm and beauty of the words.
    The Island of Sea Women, Lisa See, Author.
    Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver, Author.
    Be well, stay reading!!
    ~ marie in Alaska.

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    • Yeah! I was feeling that after starting like three books and stalling out on all of them. Finally I just moved on to one I liked. Thank you for the recommendations, I’m adding them to my library queue!

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  6. I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, but the pandemic, with lockdown and relocation to work and play at home, along with the shutdown of my beloved local library system precipitated a focus on reading books, and remotely leveraging the SDPL’s e-book program. After reading your (thoughtful, as always – I love your writing) posting here, it prompted me to take stock on what I’ve read since St Patrick’s Day 2020, when the lockdown began in earnest here in coastal Southern California. I’ve read more than 60 books – !!! Of all types – guilty pleasure thrillers (Bosch series by Michael Connelly, Jack Reacher series by Lee Child), insightful fiction (Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Conversation with Friends) stand out; serious non-fiction evoked by the discussions around social and racial injustice (Rage by Bob Woodward, Frederick Douglass by David Blight, and A Promised Land by President Obama), and much more. But the book I want to recommend specifically to you is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. It imagines the life (and death) of Shakespeare’s only son. It is a powerful piece of fiction. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us – stay healthy and safe!

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    • I will look at Sally Rooney’s books and I also want to read a biography of Frederick Douglass so I might put this one one my list. Thanks John!

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  7. Great discussion. I’m on Goodreads, which I really like – it helps me keep track of what I want to read, what i’ve read and notes (if I want.) Here are some books I’ve most enjoyed over the past year:
    The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
    The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
    The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story (as audiobook) by Hyeonseo Lee
    The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
    Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (as audiobook) by Laura Hillenbrand

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    • Lynda, thank you for the recommendations! I’m putting Girl with Seven Names on my reading list, it sounds great! I have read Unbroken, and it’s an excellent book and story of resilience! I cannot believe all that Louis Zamperini endured – in addition to his pure athletic talent.

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