Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading

The last day at the Arden pool was a beautiful day. More people than I have seen all summer congregated in the little hollow where the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than it is even in the pool's parking lot. Still the sun is hot and only a mad, humming soda machine stands to promise any kind of bought refreshment. Arden swimmers know to bring in their own water and watermelon. No snack bar here.

This last day is a weird one. We are all Fair Hungover. I don't mean the alcohol kind, but that is part of it for some of us. Lots of people in town worked so hard to get the pieces into place, often at the expense of sleep. Two days later we are the walking wounded. And too, we are the walking exhilarated. The 108th fair is in the books, and it was a glorious success.

At the pool's edge I am trying desperately to finish reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I have never read it and found the slim paperback when I was sorting through my bookshelf looking for volumes to sell at the Arden Fair Book sale. Now or never, I thought. I have been carrying this book around with me for far too long and hoped to make it my final tick mark in my quest for a book-a-week this summer. Kind of. My goal was fourteen books from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I did not finish the Bell Jar. Too many distractions at the pool on the last day--a memorial service for one. Above the pool, on the deck that wraps around the Gild Hall, well-dressed Ardenites stood watch over the mer-people.

They were saying goodbye to Chuck Conner, an Arden giant who, among other prominent roles, was the booming voice announcing all activities at the Fair for over 40 years.  Chuck and his wife Phyllis lived in a home and gardens they designed in Ardencroft on the edge of Sherwood Forest for over 50 years before they finally moved to assisted living around the same time we moved to Arden. I met Phyllis recently in July. But though I never met Chuck,  I feel an affinity with the family. We have a connection: They used to live in our house in the late 50's early 60's. And so, reading becomes tedious as I feel my energy pulled toward the full house--those throngs come to support the Conner family. I've witnessed the parade of people entering the hot hall and I know many of them.

And so, my summer reading goal is cut short by my inability to separate from real life. It is a condition I know all too well and the reason I made the summer reading pledge in the first place. Why have I had such a difficult time keeping my attention on my reading these last few years? I think I have finally figured it out. For years, I blamed social media for shortening my attention span to short clips. But this summer, I realized that isn't the case--at least not entirely. When I space out and take my focus away from my book it is because I am massaging the words in my mind. Often they are a springboard that makes me want to dive into my own work. Like seeing paintings in a museum or gallery and rushing home to pick up the paint brush. That is what it feels like. I start exploring and figuring out the stories I am working on. Even when I don't have a book in current work, I get ideas for new stories or new ways to develop characters. I am not a great analyzer of fiction--at least not consciously. I can't tell you what literary devices authors are employing to tell their stories. I can't even usually remember what I have read. It's really embarrassing. As an author I live in fear someone is going to ask me my influences or ask me my favorite book quote. I sincerely don't know.

In spite of my handicaps, I have managed to complete the following books. Some of them are physical books which are best for the hot sun and the pool. Some I read on my iPad. Some were audio books which helped me also get some summer walking miles in. Even in those listening experiences I got distracted often and needed to rewind and play parts over again. Since my goal was finishing books, I didn't put too much pressure on myself to choose anything other than books that caught my fancy, but I think it is pretty diverse little collection of titles. The list includes non-fiction as well as fiction, half by men and half by women, a memoir, some historical fiction, more than one time-travel book, and even a book narrated by a dog.

1. Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (This led to a clothing purge and a book purge which brought me to my Bell Jar challenge.)
3. Unhappenings by Edward Aubry (a friend of mine who took a writing retreat in Arden)
4. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
5. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
6. The Storyteller  by Jodi Picoult
7. Bathing the Lion  by Jonathan Carroll
8. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
9. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
10. The Grace That Keeps the World by Tom Bailey
11. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
12. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
13. Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist by Ariela Bankier

And now onto a new goal of as many books by the end of the year. Life will dot my reading experiences as it does my writing. That's okay. It's how it should be.

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