Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Reading in the Winter of Discontent

 

BooksA year ago I wrote an article called “Keeping Up” (published elsewhere) about my reading plan for 2019. I noted that since I have fewer reading years ahead of me than behind me, it would be a good use of my time to plan the coming year. It is part of my winter of discontent that I failed to keep that plan.

Not that my plan wasn’t good. To quote myself:

Next, read categories: This year you will read classics, next year economics. I know it is important to read broadly, but not indiscriminately. When I do that, my reading descends into pulp fiction or works of slight worth.

Next year I plan to read long books. This is because, in my effort to read many books this year, I drifted toward shorter ones. Some of them (like The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, by Abraham Flexner) were of great value, others were not. So next year’s list includes The City of God, Witness, Chemnitz’s Two Natures in Christ, and maybe even Infinite Jest. Make that my list for the next two years.

Bleah. I did read Two Natures, so in a way, the whole plan was worth it. And I finished and restarted Infinite Jest, showing that I get the joke. But I made it all of two pages in City of God, and I’m only halfway through Witness. I also filled a lot of time with the shorter books I vowed not to read. (I finished 32 books, which was 20 more than I wanted.) I guess it’s “do as I say, and not as I do.”

My advice wasn’t done, though: 

I have also committed to reading slowly. A pastor friend once told a group of us that for him the chief benefit of reading texts in Greek and Hebrew was that this forced him to slow down. He could take in each word, phrase, or unit of meaning, and so fully exploit the text. . . I’ve been working on The Waste Land for a month now. I’m through the dedication and the first six lines. That may seem like (pardon the pun) a waste, but all I can say is, try it. You’ll be pleased how a sip of great wine satisfies more than a bottle of Manischewitz.

No, I’m not a prig. Or am I?

Next, read the classics. We all know about Don Quixote, but not all of us have read Cervantes. Or if we’ve tried, we gagged on the wooden translation. The good news is that many of those classics are now being rendered anew by able translators. I’ve started The Three Musketeers in Lawrence Ellsworth’s translation. It’s a rip-roaring read, and not the snore-fest I remembered.

And I’ll stand by this last: 

My last tip is to reread. Probably ten per cent of the books I read I’ve read before, sometimes years before. I’m shocked by what I remember and what I’ve forgotten. The joy of rereading matches the joy of listening again to a song you love.

What’s the plan for this year? Poetry, excluding Shakespeare’s plays (they will get a year to themselves). I’m including Homer, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, Donne, Milton, Browning’s The Ring and the Book, as much Blake and Keats and Byron as I can handle, some Eliot, and (new to me entirely) Micheal O’Siadhail’s Five Quintets. I’m throwing in Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur too.

Looking further, I hope to have a year of reading US history (with Paul Johnson and Jill Lepore at the top of the list, along with biographies by the likes of Niall Ferguson and Ron Chernow), a year of reading Faulkner, and a year of reading the stuff on my bookshelves I haven’t gotten to yet. If I’m still alive after that, I intend to tackle The Anatomy of Melancholy. And on and on and on.

Looking at these lists it appears I’ve learned nothing. Except that we readers are doomed to our discontent, winter or summer.

Published in Group Writing, Literature
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There are 16 comments.

  1. Manny Member

    James Hageman:

    A year ago I wrote an article called “Keeping Up” (published elsewhere) about my reading plan for 2019. I noted that since I have fewer reading years ahead of me than behind me, it would be a good use of my time to plan the coming year. It is part of my winter of discontent that I failed to keep that plan.

    Not that my plan wasn’t good. To quote myself:

    I do this too on my personal blog, which is mostly related to my reading. And then I do quarterly updates and a summary at the end of the year, which reminds me. I’m actually delinquent on 2019 summary and 2020 plans. I have to admit I used to keep better at maintaining the plan, but having joined a book club (of which I’m now one of the moderators) I am subject to the whims of the nominations and voting.

    I won’t quote the rest of your post but relevant to it is that our book club is taking up Augustine’s City of God this year and we did the Divine Comedy last year. The benefits of a book club is that you can work on longer, more difficult reads together. I think you’re less likely to give up on them. The detriment of a book club is that you do have to sacrifice some of one’s personal desires. I love The Waste Land. No it is not a waste of time.

    Looking at these lists it appears I’ve learned nothing. Except that we readers are doomed to our discontent, winter or summer.

    I hear you. I have fewer reading years ahead of me than behind me too. Make them count!

    • #1
    • January 15, 2020, at 5:45 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I stopped setting reading goals. I’m terrible at keeping them. I keep having new books showing up that just seem like “must reads” and I’m quickly off that path. I think it’s a great idea, James, and I wish you success–this year! 😊

    • #2
    • January 15, 2020, at 6:08 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Manny Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I stopped setting reading goals. I’m terrible at keeping them. I keep having new books showing up that just seem like “must reads” and I’m quickly off that path. I think it’s a great idea, James, and I wish you success–this year! 😊

    I know what you mean. It happens to me too, and when I became moderator of my book club out of default it really threw my plans off. I think planning one or two important reads for the year while remaining flexible for other reads is worthwhile. I’m one who feels I should read all the important works of literature before I go to that great library in the sky. ;) I had to find a way to compromise somehow. In this way I feel I’m making progress while still getting great suggestions from others I would never have thought of.

    • #3
    • January 15, 2020, at 6:24 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Ralphie Member

    Falling short is human, but no reason to give up on trying. I admire the desire to read; being well-read is still a compliment in today’s fast paced, AHDD world. I may try a few this year.

    I got half way through the childhood set of books my parents bought us in the 50’s, and although it may seem immature reading, I was kind of shocked by stories like Peter Pan being very different today. Just looking at the categories of the set (fantasy, poetry, foreign lands, etc.) where there were no discenable political correct push, is interesting. I think Curious George smoked in one of them. What a great time to be a kid, the 50’s.

    • #4
    • January 15, 2020, at 6:59 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. Juliana Member

    Last year I finally read War and Peace and when I was done, I immediately wanted to read it again, just to savor it a little more. I generally read for the story, and it was a good one, but now I need to go back and take in some of the political and religious insights I did not take time with the first time.

    My reading choices are kind of eclectic. Most are history, some are suggestions from BookBub (mostly mysteries or spy stories), some are things I’ve bought because I like the cover. (Most of these are at least 100- 130 years old. They knew how to bind a book in those days!) And of course I had to purchase and read the three books I found out my cousin had written. Not sure I would have picked them on my own, and they weren’t the greatest things I’ve ever read (even for science fiction/black ops/conspiracy tales), but you have to support the family. By the way, I really liked @vinceguerra‘s Beyond the Golden Hour, so if you have a chance give that one a read.

    I have piles of books to read, and if my eyes hold out, hopefully I will get to actually read them! This year though, I might just start at one end and go to the other. We’ll see how far I get.

    • #5
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:09 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. John Park Member

    For your year of U.S. History, don’t forget David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing and Paul Revere. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what I can think of on the fly.

    • #6
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:41 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. James Hageman Moderator
    James Hageman

    John Park (View Comment):

    For your year of U.S. History, don’t forget David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing and Paul Revere. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what I can think of on the fly.

    Thank you! They’re now on my list.

    • #7
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:51 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Hoyacon Member

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    • #8
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:10 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. James Hageman Moderator
    James Hageman

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    I guess I have no opinion one way or the other; auidobooks are great; especially when an author writes with the intent that his work will be read. I listened to Moby Dick, and found it much more engrossing than when I read it.

    • #9
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:17 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Hoyacon Member

    James Hageman (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    I guess I have no opinion one way or the other; auidobooks are great; especially when an author writes with the intent that his work will be read. I listened to Moby Dick, and found it much more engrossing than when I read it.

    Yes, I think that’s so, and there are any number of very skilled readers (actors). I do see a bit of a negative in that reading allows more time for contemplation–for thought and the “savoring” of language–than I find present in audiobooks. Still, it would seem preferable to have at least listened to a book than not to have read it at all. I’m presently listening to Gravity’s Rainbow and will report on the experience when I finish sometime in 2022.

     

    • #10
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:24 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. Manny Member

    James Hageman (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    I guess I have no opinion one way or the other; auidobooks are great; especially when an author writes with the intent that his work will be read. I listened to Moby Dick, and found it much more engrossing than when I read it.

    I agree also. I use audiobooks in tandem with reading. Many times I read with the audio. It gives me a fuller experience.

    • #11
    • January 15, 2020, at 12:49 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    A skillful weaving of the monthly theme with New Year’s resolutions and a topic of evergreen interest to the audience: reading.

    We need a few more members to join in the monthly theme. We have a number of days still open, and you really don’t want me filling them with seasonal disco music, just to start.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the January 2020 Group Writing Theme: Winter of Our Discontent. Share your tale of winter, discontent, content, or maybe tell us a tale of someone done wrong by an author or film maker. There are plenty of dates still available. Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #12
    • January 15, 2020, at 5:07 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Suspira Member

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    It counts, sort of. You’ve been exposed, anyway. But I find I retain much less of what I hear than what I read.

    • #13
    • January 16, 2020, at 10:32 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. John Park Member

    I read and haven’t done audiobooks. That said, for grandkids, I like to pair a book with its movie counterpart.

    • #14
    • January 16, 2020, at 10:58 AM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Bill Nelson Member

    Reading is a great hobby, pastime, just plain fun. Don’t turn it into a job.

    I often have two or even three books going at the same time. I also cannot binge watch television.

     

    • #15
    • January 16, 2020, at 10:59 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. Linguaphile Member

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Interested in opinions on the question of whether listening to an audiobook is “reading”?

    I say “yes”. It is a great way to read while doing my 2-mile walk, or the drudgery of housework. So count it!

    • #16
    • January 17, 2020, at 8:01 AM PST
    • 4 likes