Monday, December 20, 2010

The Autumn Reading list: The Wrap-up

It's a sunny day. Yes, strange, I know. There's not a cloud in the sky, and this is rare for Portland in December. I feel like there should be at least one cloud. Mount Hood rises into the thinning atmosphere to the east of here. It's stunning. It's brilliant white against a brilliant blue sky. To the north St. Helen's, which once resembled Mount Hood, looms in much the same way, she's white against blue, but she's not as tall as she used to be, nor as pointy. They both look like wintertime to me. It's like seeing winter from a distance, like seeing it on a postcard. It's not officially wintertime yet, that happens tomorrow. Today it the last day of autumn. What a crazy autumn this one has been.

It's been marked with loss and gain, change of space and change of pace and change of place. We went from downtown Denver to the bright open space of Jefferson County to the wet primeval forests of Wood Village, Oregon on the banks of the mighty Colombia River. We shed the past, old jobs, old material items, old clothes and old thoughts. Here now, at the end of autumn, I finally understand why people claim it is the season for change. Change it is.

The value of a good book suddenly becomes a striking and lovely thing to me. After all this change, the relationship with a good book did do much for me this fall. Even when one of these books lasted a day or two, they took me away from myself. I went to Tennessee in Bitter milk, and New York City in The Midnight Examiner, and Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird. In a way, I went more places rather than those places where I slept during the great fall relocation of 2010.

As I look over the Autumn reading list, I did not follow it much at all. The lists:
What I said I would read this fall:
Beyond the Wall: Edward Abbey
The Sound and the Fury: William Faulkner
In the Penal Colony: Franz Kafka
Pinball: Jerzy Kosinski
The Joke: Milan Kundera
Love in the Time of Cholera: Garbriel Garcia Marquez
After Dark: Haruki Murakami
In the Lake of the Woods: Tim O'Brien
Johnny Got His Gun: Dalton Trumbo
Around the World in Eighty Days: Jules Verne
The Waves: Virgina Woolf

And there's the list of What I actually read:
Johnny Got His Gun: Dalton Trumbo
Disquiet: Julia Leigh
My Last Breath: Luis Brunel (Autobiography)
Never Let Me Go: Kazuo Ishiguro
The Midnight Examiner: William Kotzwinkle
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
After Dark: Haruki Murakami
The Pink Institution: Selah Saterstrom
The 1995 Schocken Collection of Franz Kafka with foreword by Anne Rice
Dead Soul: Nikolay Gogol
Bitter Milk: John McManus

We've talked about reading in this blog, we've discussed the importance of reading as writers. Taking a critical view of what we read and put in motion our ideas of writing and then challenging them as we read and work is the best thing we can do.

I keep a “literary” journal. I've kept one for years. As I read, I keep track of each book, I write down passages, or quotes that mean something to me. I also write a very informal criticism of each book. In graduate school we called them annotations. I'm not really annotating these books, as I've said it's more of an informal criticism. This act helps me to remember what I read, it helps me to think about the reader-writer relationship and it helps me to keep up on critical writing skills. Critical writing skills, funny thing for a writer of fiction, right? It's a good exercise. I think everyone should read, and I think everyone should write.

If you keep a literary journal, keep it up. If you do not, perhaps you should start.

Hopefully, as you wrap up your autumn reading season, your reflections will help your thought, and help your writing.

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