Since 1997, the year after I graduated college, I've kept a reading journal with a list of books I read each year along with lists of books I hope to someday read. I imagine my children one day marveling at the great and fascinating books their mother read; o how she accumulated wisdom! (And lived it too, of course.) I even have a simple yet elegant star system to rate my books: 1 star = exemplary, 2 stars = life changing.
The year after I graduated college, I was in a reading frenzy. I had been told what to read for the last--ahem--5 1/2 years and I wanted to read what I wanted to read for a change. Having spent so many days and nights pouring over literature and classics, I spent the next decade reading mostly non-fiction. (I majored in English, minored in Classic Civilizations. And I still believe in a liberal arts education, but that's for another post.)
I'm not a fast reader; I like to take my time and savor the words. I underline and make notes in the margins. I buy my books, I don't rent or borrow them. I'll pay full retail at Barnes and Noble if I have to, but mostly I scour thrift shops for random cheap reads. Unless it made zero impression on me, every book I ever read will probably be with me until the day I die and my children will have to reluctantly haul the boxes around with them until their spouses just can't take it anymore and they drop them off at Goodwill and never look back.
I read 19, 14 then 24 books in the 3 years after college. The 16 books I read in 2001, the year Soren was born, were mostly labor, birth and parenting books, naturally. Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, and My First 300 Babies helped me feel slightly less incompetent in my new role as stay at home mom. The infant and toddler years left me little time for reading without falling asleep after 2 sentences, so there were a pitiful 14 books read in the next three years combined. Actually, I'm pretty proud of the fact that I had enough brain cells to appreciate the the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Albert Camus during these lean years. And that's also when I added my 2-star rating, so at least I had quality, if not quantity.
Every reader should keep a reading journal. With "Tips For Storytelling" and lists like "Classics of the 20th Century That Have Shaped Contemporary Religious Thought". (I've only read 6. So 14 to go.) Of course I had to include an outline of the Stages of Analytical Reading from Mortimer J. Adler's (2 star rated!!) How to Read a Book, the high point of 1999's list.
And no respectable reader's journal would be complete without Quotes to Remember:
Real miracles bother people. Like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: they rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing out of the grave--now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of the earth.
Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone's been missing too long.
...I recall the black remorse that flapped down and perched on me as we rode....You can embark on a new and steeper version of your old sins, you know, and cry tears doing it that are as genuine as any.
--from Peace Like a River, Leif Enger (read in 2003, 2009)
He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the night hawks passing across the clouds could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears. And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.
To Ada, Ruby's monologues seemed composed of mainly verbs, all of them tiring. Plow, plant, hoe, cut, can, feed, kill.
--from Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (first book of 2007)
There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromise of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction. --from How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton
Nine books read so far this year. Not bad. (And yaaahhh, I judge myself as lazy & stoopid if I don't read a respectable amount of books each year. By my own subjective standard.) I predict the book of the year for 2013 will be a tie between The Emperor of All Maladies and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. (Both 2-star books!) But then who knows what I might stumble across in the next 5 months.
Do you keep a reading journal? If you love to read but don't have a reading journal, I highly recommend you start one right away. I'd love to write a review for each book, or even for my favorite books, but who has time for that? Just keeping a list is fun enough for me. And occasionally I get to look back and think, "I read that? Wow, impressive! Too bad I don't remember a word of it." But, see, I have proof that it's true. I wrote it down.