Early voting, and, oh, have I ever learned a lot as an election judge — about myself, my town, and, yes, even the world. The stories I could tell, too! But that seems indiscreet, so I will confine myself to a confession: I have not made a bit of progress on my ornithology studies since the post in which I asserted that I would bring the book to my assignment. On the morning of my first day as an election judge, I rightly guessed that I would not have much time for reading, so I left the tome at home. As it turned out, I did not move from my ePollBook until 2:15 p.m. that first day, and the subsequent days allowed no time for attentive study or deep reading. During the storms last week, though, I was able to read the newspapers, and on other days, I caught up on some of my magazine subscriptions and finished the last few pages of a graphic work. That’s all right. Once the election is decided, I can (re)turn my attention to the birds – both Project FeederWatch, which begins November 12, and the course.
On my free days these last couple of weeks, I’ve been practicing my music, winterizing the forever home, lavishing attention on the cats (who are not accustomed to spending eight- and ten-hour days without a human lap; thank goodness my husband is working from home this week!), and slurping down fast-paced thrillers like Dark Matter (Blake Crouch) and The Strain (Guillermo de Torro and Chuck Hogan). The first novel might appeal to fans of The Martian, although Matter is light on the science and problem-solving that make Martian a brainier book. As for the second novel, twenty minutes of a television series reminded me that I already owned the book, the first in a trilogy. Over the weekend, curled under a blanket in my capacious-bottomed Adirondack chair in the backyard, I enjoyed the butter-yellow light, the decidedly not-November weather, and the somewhat predictable vampire tale. I’m undecided about finishing the trilogy.
At this writing, then, I’ve completed 109 books, which is five above my goal in a year of reading slowly. Twenty-six of those are graphic works; sixteen are non-fiction. If those numbers were flip-flopped, I would have met one of my objectives: to read more non-fiction. Seven or so weeks remain in the year, and I am knee-deep in the delightfully informative Life Reimagined (Barbara Bradley Hagerty), so there is still (some) hope of meeting that objective. Similarly, inspired by my work in the six-week MOOC “Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing,” I am hopeful about meeting another of my objectives: to read more poetry.
Speaking of bibliotherapy, in a neat bit of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, I ran across the subject last week while catching up on my magazine subscriptions. From “Read a Novel: It’s Just What the Doctor Ordered” (Time, October 27):
Even the greatest novel cannot, by itself, cure clinical depression, erase posttraumatic stress or turn an egomaniac into a self-denying saint. But it might ease a midlife crisis or provide comfort in a time of grief.
The MOOC I completed – led by Jonathan Bate and Paula Byrne and featuring excellent interviews and discussions with Stephen Fry, Ben Okri, Ian McKellen, and Mark Haddon, among others – focused on the way that literature, particularly poetry, can illuminate certain aspects of the human condition and proffer insight or succor during times of emotional upheaval. More, quite apart from the subject, the cadence or form of a poem might also speak to the reader, serving as an incantatory emotional salve. To me, the MOOC provided a responsible and fascinating way to apply reading. The Novel Cure, on the other hand, a book in my TBR and one featured in the Time article above, seems like embarrassingly oversimplified application of the ideas – as in, Feeling blue? Read this. As Bate and Burns and the doctors, writers, professors, actors, etc. they featured pointed out, though, it simply doesn’t work that way. Literature may prove powerfully effective for some people experiencing emotional distress, but the works cannot be prescribed.
Other reading notes… After a long hiatus, I accepted three ARCs: The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World (Abigail Tucker) was released last month; Running (Cara Hoffman) will be released in February; and The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home (Sally Mott Freeman) is due out in May. Already familiar with Hoffman’s novel Be Safe I Love You, I was engaged by the opening pages of Running, so it has secured a place in my knapsack this week along with the last two weeks’ worth of comics. (Darn this brief stint of working! It’s wreaking havoc on my reading life.)
Speaking of comics, I finally succumbed: I created a pull list at Comixology and linked it to the shop partway between home and my husband’s work. The owner not only most reliably carries copies of the titles I read, he recommended titles based on my buying patterns, including one I took – Eden’s Fall. (I know some of you think I should just get the issues electronically, but I am still hopelessly in love with hard copies.)
More when this election is (finally!) behind us. In the meantime, what are you reading?