What are you reading?
A couple of people have asked what I plan to read while on Block Island. I had a few ideas when we left home, but now that we’re here, I have some others—and am looking for more. Because (as Christina Larkin suggested) I have escaped from reality for a bit, I have had time to think about such things as reading. I’ve even had time to think about what I used to read and why my habits have changed.
From the time I learned to read until I entered high school I chose to read almost nothing but horse stories and dog stories. Black Beauty, Fury, The Island Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Lad a Dog, Big Red – I loved them all. The only book I remember reading that wasn’t required and wasn’t an animal story was Johnny Tremain because I found it in my cousin’s bookshelf when we were visiting my aunt in Brattleboro, VT. I loved that book but didn’t think that maybe I’d like to find more historical fiction – not then anyway.
In high school and college I don’t remember having time to choose what I wanted to read. Choices were made for me and with the grand exception of Pride and Predjudice which I devoured, I don’t remember liking anything I read during those years.
After I graduated and became teacher I once again found time to choose my own books. That’s when the mystery phase began. It started when Tim and I took baby David over to our next door neighbors’ house to watch Mystery! Dan and Jean McPheeters had a television and we didn’t. I was enthralled with Peter Wimsey and the first show we watched, Clouds of Witness. That program, coupled with the fact that my father had been reading mysteries all my life, pushed a button. First I read all of the Dorothy Sayers mysteries. Next my parents asked if I knew Dick Francis. What? Mysteries about heroes who rode horses?!? You can imagine where that went. I became hooked on series. P.D.James, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, Robert Parker (for a while and later not so much). The list goes on. Later, after reading No Ordinary Time, I developed an interest in biographies. When I was interested in John D. Rockefeller, read The Titon twice. During my years in the classroom I ready many books written for middle school students and teens. I still look to see if Joan Bauer and Louis Sachar is writing. My favorite book of all time to read with my students was Holes by Louis Sachar, although a close second is The Monument by Gary Paulsen.
The next chapter in my reading life began when Barbara Levatich started a neighborhood book group. For longer than ten years I have often enjoyed books chosen by my friends for a shared discussion. Our book group list is long (and at home where I can’t reach it) so I don’t have it to remember all my favorite authors. A few books I can remember are The Help, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Magician’s Assistant, The Kite Runner, Three Junes. . . the list goes on, but as I said, it’s not here jog my memory. I also liked Julia Glass’s newest book, The Widower’s Tale.
One of the curious discoveries of being retired from teaching was that life became so very very full. I find very little time to sit down and read! If I have extra time, it’s devoted to photography, volunteer work, exercise, or the occasional chore. If I sit down to read I almost always jump up to do something else. I found myself drawn to books on tape – and later on CDs – and after that on my iPod. It’s amazing to hear a good book read by an actor. I cringe when I think of the number of times I encouraged students to “read with expression.” What does that mean? That’s about as useful as explaining inference as the ability to “read between the lines.” What lines? Where? Teachers are now doing a much better job of teaching specific comprehension skills. I hope they find ways of sharing what it’s like to hear a story read by someone who truly knows how.
Why write all this? Why now? Back to the question—what am I going to read on Block Island? In the past Tim and I made our choices before we left—carefully packing (and sending ahead) books we wanted to read. Since we have iBooks and Kindle, we don’t have to do that anymore. I started this trip with a mystery in a recent series I’ve been reading by Cynthia Riggs. The books star a 92-year old life-long resident of Martha’s Vineyard who solves all sorts of problems. I enjoy them well enough, but I’ve read all that I can find so it’s time to move on. Earlier this year I read or listened to the entire Kincaid/James mystery series by Deborah Crombie. Like Elizabeth George, Ms. Crombie is an American who writes British mysteries. I look forward to the next volume, due out later this year. Looking for a similar genre I found and read (mostly listened to) the Mitchell and Markby series by Ann Granger. Sadly (for me) she has finished that series so I have to find something else.
A few days ago I finished the last Cynthia Riggs mystery and started searching for my next book. What about John Grisham? I hadn’t particularly liked The King of Torts, so I had gotten out of the habit of looking for his books. Recently though I did listen to Playing for Pizza and got a kick out of hearing a story about an American football player in Italy. Lessons learned etc etc. I don’t know anything about football but I enjoyed the book. So I looked around and found a new book I hadn’t read before— The Confession —a story about capital punishment—Texas style, and the forced confession of an innocent man. I couldn’t put it down. I read (really read—no earphones involved) the book in two days. I would have read it in one day, but yesterday we had to ride our tandem to the ferry and get to Block Island. I reminded me of the way I used to read in the old days. I haven’t read a book so intensely in a long time.
So what next? I’m looking on iBooks and have two possibilities. I’ve learned to download samples for free. If the book captures me in 95 pages I can press “buy” and go on. So far I have two samples. The Innocent Man by John Grishom. A true story about a man wrongly accused. I’m not sure I’m ready to go through this again—and this time it’s a true story—but I’m going to try. The other sample is written by someone I don’t know, starring one of my favorite authors as the protagonist. It’s called, An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson and the protagonist is Josephine Tey!
So I’m here for two and a half weeks and open to suggestions. Maybe by the time I return I’ll have remembered how to read (instead of listen) again. I look forward to the possibility.