Monday, January 20, 2014

Reading Lists, Revisited

A 2013 reading wrap-up

I spend Sundays with Mark Dragotta. If you don't know Mark Dragotta, you should. And should you want to meet him, I recommend Sundays and you can find us at 501 16th.

On a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back, Mark was sitting at the last stool by the door, and I stood next to him. He said, “I don't know why I never read him, I was really into Stephen King.” I replied, “Stephen King was really into Lovecraft. Without Lovecraft, there may not have been a Stephen King.” Mark nodded his head. “Right,” he said. “And Lovecraft was really into Edgar Allan Poe, so without Poe there may not have been a Lovecraft.” Mark agreed. “Besides,” I said, “you gotta hear this.” I read a paragraph from At the Mountains of Madness. Before I got to the end of the paragraph someone we both know neared us, giggled his half-witted, nervous little giggle and said: “what the fuck are you two doing?” and he quickly walked away. After he was gone, I looked at Mark and said, “see, there's the problem.”

I used to think that the problem was a lack of love in the world. I used to think the problem was big tvs and big suvs and enormous bellies. I used to think the problem was people with a propensity to mix olive brine with good gin. But, perhaps all those years, all those things were not the problem. The problem is, two men are sitting together discussing books and a third man comes around and stupidly asks: “what the fuck are you two doing?” I shook my head and Mark said, “it wouldn't be weird if we were talking about football.”

How true.

Mark is a voracious reader. In recent weeks I've been toiling with H.P. Lovecraft and Upton Sinclair and Mark had just digested a tome of Anton Chekhov's fiction. Mark waited for the latest, and best translation of Chekhov's work to come to him by mail. And for some reason I feel like January is the best time for Chekhov.

Yet this is a rather long-winded beginning. The point it, reading is important. The discussion of books is important and it's important to have a friend and colleague like Mark Dragotta.

Incidentally, Mark is pursuing a career as a personal trainer, which I think is great. I hope all the clients he gets know that to keep yourself physically fit is a good thing, but it is nothing if you don't keep yourself mentally fit too.

And moving around to the importance of reading, here we are in January of 2014. I first conceived of making a seasonal reading list in the fall of 2010, and that conception was a direct result of a conversation with Mark Dragotta.

I fell away from the seasonal reading lists in 2013. 2013 was still a good year for reading. I read over 50 books about photography and photographers. I daresay I read more about photography than I practiced photography. I read poetry. I read books on botany. It was a strange time.

The strangest part of the whole year of reading was the addition of the Kindle in August. For those of you bibliophiles out there, don't scorn the Kindle or those who use them. It is a very different aesthetic, this is true. I still love books. Yet, I'm finding I love the Kindle too.

The last quarter of 2013 proved to be the most interesting reading. I revisited the American Renaissance: Nature, Walden, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Scarlet Letter, the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I read the muckraker Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I got reacquainted with Maugham. The Kindle has led me back to some old treasures. For instance, I finally read Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass which gave me a tender nostalgia for a dear old loved one named Lisa. I don't know if the Kindle is rekindling my interest in the classics or if it's simply the time. And as far as that goes, I am able to read books now that I was unable to read 20 years ago when these “classics” were first presented to me. At least with the Kindle, I can change the size of the font when I get tired and looking up all those archaic-out-of-use words is ridiculously easy.

If I can wrap up my reading year, 2013, it is this: varied, wild, new. Varied in that I read dozens of nonfiction (photography, biography and botany) texts, much poetry and a few writers new to me: Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft and Zsuzsa Bank, to name a few. I don't suspect that the lack of seasonal reading lists hampered the amount that I read or my enjoyment of reading. I don't think the lack of a list made the journey any more or less vague. There are millions of books out there and millions more on the way—thousands everyday. If a human lifetime is not long enough to read everything, a year is so much shorter and a single season within a year all the smaller.

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