Monday, December 27, 2010

The Winter Reading List

His name was Kenny. He was no friend of mine, and I was certainly no friend of his. We had the random occasion for a random conversation, the kind of conversation that two men who don't particularly like or respect the other would have. One afternoon he asked: “Hey Anthony, have you ever seen a whale in the wild?” It was a hell of a question. “Yeah I have,” I said. “Why do you ask?” He opened the newspaper in front of him. “I never have,” he said and that was the end of it. Strange, right? Those were my conversations with him. Sometimes we'd have a laugh, but generally not. I bring it up today only because I'm thinking about whales.

I have seen whales in the wild. It's quite a sight to see. I've never heard them sing in the wild, nor do I think you can. But I have heard their songs on a record. That's right, a record. Considering people began to record whale songs in the late 1960s, and I was born in the early 1970s, I've never know life without whale songs. I make the comment because I do hope that Kenny gets to see a whale in the wild, I hope everyone does. Also, I hope everyone has had an opportunity to hear their songs. Both of these things are still a possibility. These things would, and should make people feel differently.

Now, imagine how different Herman Melville would have been had he heard a whale sing. Do you think the entire course of Moby Dick would have been different? Perhaps the book would not have been written at all, or perhaps he would have written a book to make him rich. For those of you who don't know, Melville was a popular writer and wrote commercially successful stories and novels until Moby Dick. We remember Moby Dick today over everything else, but that book killed his commercial success and his career.

So? Well, I'm in Oregon now and the ocean borders our state. The last time I saw a whale was here, maybe about ten years ago. It was on a rather gray but rainless day in winter, I think. Perhaps an excursion is in order again this winter.

This is winter. Stillness is what winter is here. Rain. Short days. A good season for reading.

My approach for the winter reading list is not nearly as elegant nor as premeditated as the autumn reading list. This reading list is still inspired by Mark Dragotta like the last one was. He and I discussed the parameters of a good seasonal reading list last August, as you may know.

Mark once told me about the year he spent writing and developing his vast computer skill set and his web design business. He'd left full time work. He wrote a few articles a week for rent money. He didn't have much money left over. He, like me and most writers I know, had dozen of books on his bookshelf that he was yet to read. He said he read those books because he couldn't afford to buy new books. Makes sense to me. Are we writers and we readers destined to buy more books than we can ever read for fear of an underemployed year when we can't afford to buy books? I don't know. The way Mark describes the year is with a mixture of amazement and gratitude.

The second consideration of the autumn reading list was that awful day when Janice and I gave all of our books away. Many of them I had read, but many of them I hadn't. That's the past. Now, we're here, Portland and during her short days of winter. And I have my reading list. But before I tell you the list, let me tell you about the parameters:
a)like Mark and his year of personal development-I will not buy any new books. It's partly the money and my lack of it, and it's mostly because Janice and I have at least one more move in the coming weeks and books are heavy.
b)it's a strange prospect to have read every book on the shelf. I've never been that way, but at the end of this reading list I will have read every book I own. The next step, of course, is to unpack all these boxes and shelf the books. And:
c)this list is rather small and I doubt I'll stray from it.

1)Moby Dick: Herman Melville
2)Dance Dance Dance: Haruki Murakami
3)Wind Up Bird Chronicle: Haruki Murakami
4)Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: Haruki Murakami
5)The Meat and Spirit Plan: Selah Saterstrom
6)Born on a Train: John McManus
7)The Savage Detectives: Roberto Bolano

These are all the books in my collection I'm yet to read. The Murakami books ought to be interesting since I was introduced to his work by way of The Elephant Vanishes here in Portland about ten years ago. I'm of course very excited about John's book and Selah's book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the other books by both of these writers. They are both colleagues, friends and in the case of John, a former instructor. They are both mentors. And Moby Dick? It shall be a great wintertime read. I hope after all these years I can finish it.

A haphazard reading list for winter?

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