During this first weekend of April, I find myself reflecting back over the first few months of 2011 and thinking about/assessing my reading progress and I thought I’d pop in and write about some of the highlights. I’ve noticed that a number of bloggers post a monthly update, a few even manage a weekly update, which I find ambitious but I fear I wouldn’t consistently have enough to share in such a short time-frame so I’m going to try out a quarterly update.
Over the last quarter, I read 6 novels, 3 biographies, and 1 Shakespeare play. It might not sound like much but believe it or not, it’s a personal best on two accounts – # of total books read and # of non-fiction books read in that span of time. The highlights for me were completing my reading of Hardy’s major novels as well as devouring his biography.
I have also been mulling over a new personal reading project. After I completed my reading of Hardy’s major work, I felt a bit lost as to where to go next. I felt like I needed a plan. So I went to my university library, yanked a few books off the shelves, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down to forge just that – a plan. Each of the books that I consulted put forth their own plan or recommended reading list – none of which seemed to suit my purpose – so I used them to generate my own reading path.
All of that sounds a little ambiguous, I know. I approach publishing or talking directly about my plan with a bit of trepidation. For me, making known my goals and intentions is a little like joining the gym or signing up for food co-ops – just as soon as I hand over the check, I’m doomed to failure. I’ve kept a reading list for quite some time, but I’ve never published it for that very reason. It seems to jinx it somehow. However, my excitement is overpowering my apprehension and I’ll likely post about my new project very soon!
I’m right on target with my reading of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass - a quarter of the way through as the first quarter of the year passes. I have to say I’m completely enjoying my jaunt with Whitman; as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s the perfect way to start each day. My reading of Leaves of Grass marks my first serious leap back into poetry after more than 10 years – so I mostly just absorb it rather than comment on it – however, I intend to post a few of my favorite poems/excerpts thus far.
I’ve also been reading a slim volume of Thomas Hardy’s poetry and I have very nearly completed it. From that, I was drawn into reading some of Robert Frost’s poems after his “The Wood-Pile” was referenced as being similar in subject to Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush.” This resulted in a little mini-study of Frost. Of the five poems that I’ve explored so far, my favorite is a sonnet, titled, “The Silken Tent.”
This mini-study of Frost has also lead to the creation of my own personal poetry notebook where I can keep track of the poets that I read along with their poems. My notebook is comprised of a poet “snapshot” page with a brief description of the poet’s life and their commonly explored themes, followed by each poem that I read and then a page of my personal notes.
Over the years, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with journaling. For a while, I felt that I could only write when I had something really profound and meaningful to say which meant that I didn’t write often. That morphed into only writing when I was feeling really crappy as a way to release tension – which served its purpose but wasn’t very fun to look back on (most of those journals I’ve destroyed).
A while back while I was perusing my local bookstore, I stumbled across “A Line a Day” 5-year memory book. There are five slots for a single day on each page, allowing you to look back on what you were up to the same day of the previous year. When I saw it I thought, “That’s it! This is my kind of journaling.” So far I’ve managed to jot down a few thoughts each night. I see it as an act of preservation without the pressure of profound meaning or the dreariness of sullen moods.
The Common Book
In the biography of Thomas Jefferson that I read by R.B Bernstein, he noted that Jefferson kept a “common book” of passages that he found noteworthy in his reading. I promptly latched onto this idea and found an inexpensively elegant black-covered journal to serve as my own common book. It occurred to me that I could copy, print, and paste notable passages from online sources, however, I prefer for my book to be handwritten. If Jefferson were alive today somehow I think he’d still choose to hand-write his passages as well. I don’t know, call me old fashioned, but there’s something dually romantic and affirming about writing the passages myself.
A Daily Walk
Thomas Hardy apparently relished a daily walk. It appears that he rarely neglected the habit. Florence, his second wife, noted in her journal when he worked through his daily walk, which seems to indicate that this was a rare occurrence. I’ve been endeavoring to engage in a daily walk myself. I don’t always fit it in and some days the walk is considerably shorter than others, but when I make the effort, I find that I’m duly rewarded. My surroundings are no doubt less picturesque than Hardy’s and I am no photographer (not to mention that I usually walk with a squirmy 9-lb. puppy in tow) but I have considered doing the occasional “Scenes from the Daily Walk” post. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a slightly snowy scene from a walk earlier this week.
That about sums up my reading endeavors from the last quarter. All in all, I feel really good about it. I’ve embarked on several projects that I hope will become permanent habits to carry with me through the months and years to come. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve adopted a new direction in my reading journey. Stay tuned for more on that!