There are days when I wonder why I even bother reading anything. Today I was especially reminded of how futile it is and yet I persist. Definition of insanity in action.
The last time I went to the movies (to see my beloved Star Wars) I saw a trailer for “Emma” and thought, “Oh man! I have to find some people to go see that with me and if I can’t, I swear, I’ll go see it alone.” It’s not much fun to see movies alone. There’s no one to look at and give a thumbs up or down for each trailer, no one to roll your eyes at during dramatically sickening scenes, and no one to sit and tear apart the movie with directly afterward. Sure, you can do it online but it’s not the same. I will see this movie alone if I have to, but I’m holding out hope for a fellow Jane Austen fan to go with me.
When I saw the trailer and had these crazy thoughts about who to see the movie with (my husband and son definitely will not, although I would have sat through that Ferrari movie if they wanted me to), I thought, “You know, I’m fairly certain I have the book on my shelf at home. I should read it before the movie comes out!” A few days later, I was rummaging through my bookshelves on New Year’s Eve gathering up all the books I’d read throughout the year because I had a strange compulsion to have a picture of them all in one big pile, and there it was, right where I believed it would be.
It doesn’t always happen, you know. I have repurchased books I already have and searched in vain for books I thought about getting but never did. This time I was right, and I was very excited. How clever of me to buy a book in the hopes that I would read it in the future. I found the book at a used bookstore and remember picking it up and thinking that I liked other Jane Austen books, this one would add to my collection!
I set the book on my “to read” shelf and went back to my obsessive gathering and quantifying on New Year’s Eve and then into New Year’s Day. Yesterday morning, I finished my current book and picked up “Emma” to get in a few pages before I ran off to do the laundry only to find…
Eighteen months ago, I had read this book and I had no recollection of it. I flipped through the pages and found my penciled notes inside. Sigh.
What’s the point of reading if I don’t have even the foggiest of notions about what I’ve read less than two years later? It’s not like I was trying to pull up a list of books from memory. I had it in my hand, pulled it off my own bookshelf, and it did not jog my memory in the slightest.
After reading it for an hour this morning, I’m only slightly less depressed. I am recalling the story and the characters as I read. It’s not like the entire book has been banished from my memory. And maybe a second reading like this will help cement it in my mind better.
I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to spend the coming year re-reading books. It would certainly save money! But then…there are so many books on my wish list! Maybe someday I won’t be able to buy any more books and I can start re-reading then.
I started by changing the first thing I did every morning from TV to a book. Ok, it wasn’t the FIRST thing. The first thing was to visit the bathroom and then get a big cup of coffee. THEN, I’d get my book…and my glasses…and a pencil and journal. I’d start with the more difficult reading and keep at it as long as I could understand what I was reading. As I read, I’d take notes of things I found interesting and wanted to remember or comment on later. At first, I could only read that book for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time before my mind started to drift away. That’s when I’d move on to the easier book, usually some sort of classic fiction but sometimes my old favorites, Stephen King or Douglas Adams. I’d spend another fifteen to twenty minutes reading and then move on to the rest of my day. I had young kids then and they needed me. Thirty minutes a day was my limit for months, but it quickly evolved into an hour and then two most days.
I’m so glad that I’ve kept those reading journals! If I had to rely on my memory as to what I’ve read or what my reading habits have been, it would seem that I haven’t gotten anywhere in the last ten years. I look back on the journals and I know that’s not true. The proof, the trail of learning, is right there, written down for the world to see.
Today, I read for about three hours a day, in one hour stretches. I’m usually reading two books at the same time, some sort of fiction and non-fiction. I read the non-fiction first and then feast on the dessert of a sweet novel. It’s a beautiful way to start the day and sometimes I even work in an hour in the afternoon.
But…what does this have to do with writing? I was reading an article that mentioned writing journals a few weeks ago and put the two together. If the reading journal and making a tiny space for reading every day gave me what I have now, why wouldn’t it work the same for writing? And here I am.
I picked up one of my empty journals to use as a writing log. In it I list the date, the time I started on each project, and how long I spent on it. It’s a lot like my reading log. It has been amazingly satisfying at the end of the year to see how many books I’ve read and how many hours I spent reading them, so I thought maybe it would be even more exciting to see how much time I’ve spent writing!
It’s working so far. I put it at the beginning of my day to sit and write for two hours, Monday through Friday while my husband is working in the next room. I read in the morning, do my workout, work in the yard, and then sit to write. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I’m writing something and not checking Facebook or texting a friend.
This past week I found something else that really helps me focus. Earplugs! I’m such a light sleeper that I wear them every night so that I don’t wake at every sound throughout the night and they are working wonders for focus while I’m thinking. I used to sit and hear a bird, then my son’s phone, the cat, my husband’s phone call, etc. What can I say? I’m easily distracted. But with the earplugs in, it’s like I’m all alone. People walk through the room and I stay at the screen. Kids are in and out of the livingroom, watching tv, making food, I’m focused on my words. The only thing I can’t get past is music. My sons’ both play guitar and with my earplugs in I can mute out words but, for some weird reason, music drifts through and pulls me away. I’m able to shut my office door on those occasions, so it’s not a problem anymore.
Who would have thought earplugs would be so helpful? I wish I had discovered them in college when I was trying to write all those essays with my roommates around!
So here I am, tapping away on my keyboard. I can only stand to sit here for an hour at most before I get antsy and then everything I write starts to look bizarre to me, so I take a break at forty-five minutes and walk around my property. I don’t take my phone with me, even though sometimes I want to take a picture. That walk is to stretch my legs and think in silence. It’s very relaxing and centering. Today I stood at the top of my hill and looked out at the mountains still covered with snow. I’m a lucky girl.
To do anything well takes practice and you must make time to practice, not just shove it where you can. “I’m working right now.” I tell my sons when they come looking for me. They smile and back out of the room. “It can wait.” They say. They understand. They’ve learned this lesson too.
Just look at the thickness of this book! It’s intimidating! 776 pages and it took me 31 hours to read. Now you’re thinking, “Wow. This person is probably just a tad strange! How does she even know exactly how many hours it took her to read it?” Well, let me tell you because it’s one of my favorite things.
I have a reading journal that I keep. I keep two of them because I’m usually reading two books at once, a fiction and a non-fiction book. The journal sits with the book I’m currently reading and when I start a new book, I write its details and the date I started reading it. Like this:
Every time I sit down to read, I get that book out and write the start time down. When I’m done, I write how many minutes I read and the page I stopped on (helps when your kitty pulls the book marker out). As I read, I write some notes in the margins and underline as I go, but sometimes I have a bigger thought I’d like to remember, so I put a star there in the book and, in my journal, I write the page number and the thought.
It’s probably a little obsessive but I enjoy it so much, especially the look I get from my husband who keeps reminding me that I’ll only die and all that information that I put in my head will die with me. I wave my journal at him and remind him that someday the only physical record of life in the early 2000’s will be my handwritten journals and then he’ll understand the importance of my madness.
When I think of something, I can thumb back through the journal and find where and in what book I got that idea from. You’ll never believe this, but sometimes I read books and I can’t remember a thing about them. It’s tremendously sad. My journal helps because I can scan through what I wrote and that triggers the memory of the book I read, and it all comes flooding back. It’s a treasure to me.
At the end of each book, I go to the back of my journal (I started this log on the last page of the journal and worked forward) and log the book like this:
At the end of the year, I go back through and calculate how many books I’ve read, how many hours, and how many pages. It’s an extremely satisfying way to spend my New Year’s Day.
“Yep. She’s not just strange. She’s obsessive.” Yes, I am! And damn proud of it!
This particular journal is just now all filled up with 50 different books. It brings me joy just seeing it on the shelf above my computer. A record of my productivity, so to speak!
But here’s the rub about these super long, classic books. I rarely take the time to go back and really think about all that I’ve read. So…I’m going to do it this time, on THIS book. And I’ll do my best not bore you but maybe inspire you to pick it up and read it.
Like most college students, I was assigned a few Russian novels and plays to read in my Literature classes. Honestly, they sucked. I hated them. I don’t think I finished any of them and there was nothing in them that I could find interesting at all. My theatre class did Chekov’s “The Seagull” one year and I did the lights for it. I seriously thought I’d die of boredom. I didn’t have to read it, but hear it, over thirty times. It. Was. Awful.
It turns out that the reason I was so bored was that I didn’t understand what was going on. The translation was bad. I’ve found out recently, in the last couple of years, that Russian is hard to translate into English and get the same feeling or meaning. Words and language are just that complicated. A few years ago, I was reading an article about it and it recommended a newer translation of classic Russian literature by Pevear and Volokhonsky.
The first translation of theirs that I read was War & Peace. I fell in love and have been reading them ever since. They’ve brought Russia to me and I thank them for it.
Here’s a fun little thing about Russian books. The characters all have four or five different names and the characters use all of them! It leaves you thinking, “Who the heck are we talking about here?!” At the beginning of the book is a list of each character and their alternate names. But you get used to it as you read. Russians call each other different names according to status and who’s speaking to whom. My mother calls me Michelle Ann when she’s mad. My brother calls me Shorty. The banker calls me Mrs. Huelle. And my co-workers used to call me The Bitch. Same concept.
The Brothers Karamazov is a notoriously long and boring book. Luckily for me, I didn’t find out about that until I had the book in my hands and posted on Facebook that I was about to start reading it.
I’m starting to think that the people that complained the most loudly about it were the ones that were assigned it at school years ago (previous lifetime for some of us) and haven’t even heard about the new translation. Who knew that a translation could be SO different? Don’t believe me? Try using a computer translator for the same sentence in several different languages!
Like the others I’ve read, I couldn’t put it down. I was THAT intrigued by the story. Sure, there were parts that I read and thought, “Why is this even in here?” Some pieces are interesting in and of themselves, but I failed to see the connection with the bigger story. The book could have been that much shorter, and nothing would be lost from it if those chapters were never written. But who I am to judge? A story is a story and I felt for those smaller characters and their stories as much as the main ones.
What is this book about? Three brothers and their less than perfect father, a love triangle, a murder, a trial, the death of a small boy, a young lady and a gold-digging peasant. One of my favorite parts was a story that Ivan told about Jesus coming back to check on His people and the Pope telling him to leave because he had taken the deal that Satan had offered Jesus and was taking care of the people himself. The Pope told Jesus that it was cruel to give people free will and let them decide to follow God or not. He fed the people, told them what to do, and ruled the world. It was striking and pretty relatable.
Human nature: politics, love, religion, justice. It’s all in there. It continues to amaze me when I read a book written over 100 years ago, in a country so culturally different than mine, and find people discussing the same subjects, fighting the same fights. It’s soothing to know there really is nothing fundamentally new going on. There are just new ways to communicate our troubles.
When I started this, I thought I’d go through and find my favorite quotes and expound on them, but I’ve changed my mind. That’s boring! Go read it yourself! Don’t be intimidated by its size and reputation. Take that sucker on! (insert immature giggle here, “That’s what SHE said!”)
I’m finally getting to The Brothers Karamazov this week. It’s been on my shelf since January and I kept putting it off because there were easier books to read. I love Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations of Dostoevsky and I’ve actually been looking forward to reading this. I’m already enchanted, although it is complicated and I can only stick with reading it for about an hour at a time. I’ve ordered a couple easier books to fill in my daily three hours I hope to achieve this year!
I thought I’d write about some of lines I highlighted as I go instead of waiting until the end. I know this is a LONG and pretty dry book for most, but it does have some interesting thoughts in it!
Here’s what I have today!
Page 52 “If you are repentant, it means that you love. And if you love, you already belong to God…with love everything is bought, everything is saved.”
LOVE that! What does repentant mean? “Feeling sincere remorse or regret.” What other reason would you feel that way about something you’ve done hurting someone if you didn’t love that person? I regret cutting off the person behind me on the freeway because I recognize their humanity and I love them. I didn’t mean to, or I did mean to but didn’t realize it would make them so angry. As a Christian, we believe God is love. To love is be part of God. To love is to recognize the image of God in all of us.
Page 57 “’I love mankind’, he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons.’”
And then this one, “and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom.”
Don’t I know it! Actually, I underlined the first line but the next one is funnier to me and I can really relate to it. The first line confuses me. Why would that be? I can understand thinking that when you really get to know individual people and try to love them, the more you don’t love mankind as a whole. But this is the opposite? Not sure what he means here.
Page 64 “What would become of him if the Church, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair, at least for a Russian criminal, for Russian criminals still have faith. Through who knows: perhaps a terrible thing would happen then – the loss of faith, perhaps, would occur in the desperate heart of the criminal, and what then? But the Church, like a mother, tender and loving, withholds from active punishment, for even without her punishment, the wrongdoer is already too painfully punished by the state court, and at least someone should pity him.”
Such a pretty picture. If you punish a person so much that they are completely outside of society and cannot return, you may as well kill them because they will become more dangerous to society. It gives a human no reason whatsoever to become a better person. The State may punish you for breaking its rules, but the Church should still honor your soul and treat you as a brother.
Page 67 “A socialist Christian is more dangerous than a socialist atheist.”
Thinking about that one. Maybe because you can damage or destroy a person’s soul by it, not just their life on this earth? Socialism requires force and if a Christian Church were to force you to participate in socialism and punish you by ostracism if you did not comply, it may turn you against Jesus and forever separate you from God.
Page 69 “…European liberalism in general, and even our Russian liberal dilettantism, has long and frequently confused the final results of socialism with those of Christianity.”
140 years ago! I hear or at least see memes about Jesus being a socialist so often and it seems like such a shallow understanding of what Jesus preached. Again, socialism requires force to accomplish its goals. If people could leave, take their money and labor elsewhere, it wouldn’t work. Jesus preaches free will and a voluntary acceptance of His gifts. You could say that it is forced because to accept it means you “go to hell” but that can be debated as well. I personally don’t believe in a literal hell but a figurative one. Jesus’ gift is a reunion with God after death. Without him, our body dies and we are forever separated from Him. You cannot have what you do not accept freely. I realize that can be debated and I respect that, but these are my views.
Page 77 “Let worldly men follow their dead with tears; here we rejoice over a departing father.”
Isn’t that what Jesus said to do? Let the dead bury their own dead. We, who have accepted the gift of Jesus of everlasting life with Him, should be rejoicing to know that those who leave this world with that gift go to be forever with the Lord in joy and we will see them again soon. I didn’t grieve that much over the “loss” of my Grandmother. I miss her sometimes. I wonder what she would do or say about things that are happening now. I feel like she’s on a long trip without me and we will be reunited someday. She isn’t gone. She’s having the time of her life with God. How can I be sad? It’s the same when my kids are off somewhere doings something awesome or my Mom is living up in Fernley. They are happy. Why would I not want my loved ones to be happy, even if it is without me? How could anyone be so selfish.
I could sit here and quote Allan Bloom’s Interpretive Essay about “The Republic of Plato” all day long. I read the translation and then then the essay and felt that it was worth all the effort. In fact, I’d say read the essay first and then Plato. Maybe? Hard to say which would be better. Reading the Republic, I started to wonder what the point was. I’ve never been a big fan of Plato or Socratic Reasoning. I can’t seem to follow it. Call me lazy, but it takes too much effort. My son has shown me that some people find it natural and I’m just not one of those people. I’m glad I read it, again, and even more happy that the interpretive essay afterward was so enlightening.
This paragraph is what I want to share today, though.
If the infinite longing for justice on earth is merely a dream or a prayer, the shedding of blood in its name turns from idealism into criminality. The revolutions of Communism and Fascism are made in the name of perfect regimes which are to be their consequence. What matter if a few million die now, if one is sure that countless generations of mankind will enjoy the fruits of justice? Socrates thinks about the end which is ultimately aimed at by all reformers and revolutionaries but to which they do not pay sufficient attention. He shows what a regime would have to be in order to just and why such a regime is impossible. Regimes can be improved but not perfected; injustice will always remain. The proper spirit of reform, then, is moderation. Socrates constructs his utopia to point up the dangers of what we would call utopianism; as such it is the greatest critique of political idealism ever written. The Republic serves to moderate the extreme passion for political justice by showing the limits of what can be demanded and expected of the city; and, at the same time, it shows the direction in which the immoderate desires can be meaningfully channeled.”
This is exactly what libertarians have been trying to say. There is no heaven on earth. There is no perfect. The more you try to define it for others and use the force to create it, the more you move toward tyranny. Think about it. Religions in the past have done the same thing. There is no “greater good” reason in this life to use violence against others. Even God does not do it. So why do we think we can do it?
Any use of force is violence, in my opinion. Taxes, fines, jail, etc. = violence against others.