Sunday, July 14, 2013

Live Well In Front of You

I felt better after I wrote that post about Bumby. Not like I had "solved" anything, which I didn't expect to, but relieved/happy/lighter, sort of like what I'd been... chewing over didn't matter, but more like, regardless, I could lay it to rest. And then funnily enough we went to Bar Harbor for a week—which was supposed to be "screen free" b/c I (we?) kind of think that my brothers are "addicted to screens" (and Wynn spent 5 1/2 hours of the drive back playing Clash of Clans on my dad's iPhone so maybe my fears aren't entirely unjustified) and which didn't turn out to be, not 100%, which was fine but I didn't bring my laptop so I couldn't blog and I kinda spent a lot of the time fantasizing about blogging, which... Okay. Definitely not unjustified. The point is that, partly because of Screen Free Week I read like 5 1/2 books, at least four of which were read by at least one other person, either Loren or Dad. I was sort of Bumby, and they were sort of me, but doing what Bumby and I never did. Basically it breaks down to: Black Swan Green (Dad, me, Loren); Tenth of December (me, Loren, Dad soon); The Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Loren, me, maybe Dad soon); Caring is Creepy (Dad, me); City of Thieves (Dad, me soon). Also The Devil in the White City and Joyland (me).

The point being that. Well. First of all I have such a hard time recommending books to people. Partly because of the over-identification I talked about in my last post which basically means that if someone doesn't like it they don't like me; partly because I'm extremely hesitant to like influence the way someone spends hours (and like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one of my favorite books ever. That's hours) of their life. It feels intimate. Like for those hours, I'm there with them. Plus I don't want anyone to feel obligated to read a book I recommended, ever, because that would be being there with them in a ~bad way. My preferred method would be something like make a "Books I've Read" Tumblr (which I did) and tag the ones I like "liked" or something (which I haven't done yet) and direct people there. (Even though the only person who asks me for book recommendations is my 80-year-old grandmother—and I did direct her to my "Books I've Read" Tumblr recently, but she definitely doesn't know what Tumblr is and probably didn't understand what she was seeing. If she even saw it; she never replied to my email.)

The thing is, my dad heard I was going to the library to get books for Bar Harbor and asked me to pick up five or six for him. Mum had already asked me to look for Loren, who's 14, too. And normally I would totally try to avoid this for all the reasons above, but it was a slow day at Puritan and I ended up doing like two hours of research online, then going to the library after work and taking out 13 books. (A lot of them I found via the Young Adult Library Services Association, which is a division of the American Library Association or ALA and gives ten Alex Awards per year to adult books they deem of "special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18," because I was looking for stuff a 14-, a 22-, and a 50-year-old would all like.) I took out all the above, plus: Skellig. People Who Eat Darkness. Anansi Boys. Everything Matters! The Snowman. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans who Discovered Hitler's Lost Sub.

I had SO much fun researching and checking out and reading these books with Loren and Dad this week, and it was because I wasn't really recommending as in prescribing them. I wanted to read them too. But there's more to it than that.

I've been reading since I was 2 1/2. (There's still so much I haven't read. Anything by Ernest Hemingway, for example. I sometimes fantasize about being a famous writer so I can get the hashtag #NeverHaveIEverRead or something to trend and we can all see... how well-read we all aren't. Or maybe I'll just get my Master's. I don't know.) The point is, though, that I've read a hell of a lot and like, theoretically, when people ask me for recommendations I should be able to do something other than deflect them by describing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in as unappealing a way as possible to prove how inaccessible my taste is and how unreliable my recommendations are (which is what I did to my grandmother recently). (Although "a 1000-page alternative history of England if England had magic, written in this kind of adapted 19th century voice with almost 200 footnotes some of which span three pages" sounds pretty durn appealing to me. Appealing enough to have read three times. Seriously, there's going to be a post soon that's just like pictures of the Reasons I Love John Childermass So Much page(s) from my journal

(This is from Bar Harbor last year!)
and Tilda Swinton Should Play the Gentleman With the Thistledown Hair Because

of This
and THIS)
So the point is: I found a way to not recommend, exactly, but to be a resource, and to put those 20 years of reading nonstop to good use. (What is "good use"? Going back to my Bumby post, is it use that connects, rather than isolates you? Use that benefits others, not just yourself?) But the point also is—and this goes back to why we instituted Screen Free Week in the first place—I'm afraid of influencing people, but I want to influence Loren and Wynn, because I'm afraid they're addicted to computer/iPhone/video games and that they Don't Read. 

First of all, as Byron Katie would say, "Is that true?"

(As seen above, it so isn't.)

Second of all, two things I think about often:
  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted (when he was still on Twitter) that when people ask him how to get their kids to read he always asks whether they do
  2. On the January 11th, 2013 Charlie Rose Show, Lena Dunham, said of Nora Ephron that "One of the most generous things someone can give you is to live well in front of you."
I do think reading a lot is living well. I'm trying not to believe that, conversely, reading less—or not reading at all—is living badly. At the very least, if reading is living well, then I can get over my fear of book recommendation rejection and help people do that. Even if "people" is just Loren, Wynn, and Dad. For now.

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