Poly-Reader Notes: APRIL 2020

I’ve been doing a lot better with reading lately, in part because when I try to get G-bug down for an afternoon nap, I’ve been trying to have a book (or three) near at hand, which has resulted in significantly more pages turned. In fact, it’s resulted in one MASSIVE success, in that I’ve finally–FINALLY–finished The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, which I highly, highly recommend, even if it’s taken me THREE YEARS to read it. Boy, I tell you, sometimes this poly-reading thing I do is NOT the most efficient. That said, I loved this book. It’s a chewy book. You have to think about it A LOT. It’s not a book you can really just blow through, and I’ll admit that I feel like I may have missed some mental flashes of brilliance in the last hundred pages, because I was determined it would not take me FOUR YEARS to finish it. Every time I picked it up, even if I only read a couple pages (or even a couple paragraphs!), my brain would light up with inspiration and ideas and just COOL things. There were times it was a slog, but for that the blame falls on me, because I was usually trying to read with other things going on around me, and you just CANNOT appreciate this book without the time to let your brain stew on things. I feel like I’ve had a whole epic course on Greek Mythology, and it’s cleared up a HUGE amount of confusion for me about the various myths, and also introduced me to a lot of other stories I hadn’t heard. Makes me want to read some of the myths directly, now. If you want a truly mind-warping, brain-sparking, insanely intelligent and yet humbly approachable read, DO NOT MISS THIS ONE. It’s the quintessential example of clear writing, as described in the book Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb: brilliant ideas–truly, COMPLEX ideas–distilled in language so that anyone can grasp the concept because the language doesn’t get in the way. Purity: thy name is Robert Calasso.

I will definitely be checking out more of his work in the future, and probably re-reading Cadmus and Harmony again, because THE SHEER AMOUNT OF BRAIN FODDER… I literally never sat down to read this thing without a notebook and pen in reach, because it was always sparking off ideas, characters, story structure thoughts–it was amazing. Like a fire-starter for the brain.

That said, I am glad I’ve finally gotten it off the list, because it was starting to be embarrassing how long it was on there. But that’s the joy of poly-reading, right? You can read each book as the mood strikes, which means you enjoy each read in the right emotional state each time. Sometimes, like this one, that takes ages. Sometimes it takes a day. I enjoy having the flexibility to dabble in multiple tones, moods, genres, and subjects as I feel inclined, and it ultimately means I read a lot more than I would if I were only allowing myself to read one book at a time.

Currently Reading:

(I removed Cetaganda from my list for the time being, because I’d only just started it when I put it on the list last time, and haven’t made any progress, don’t remember the first two paragraphs, and figure I’ll just have to restart it again at some point…)

How to Write a Page-Turner: Haven’t made much new progress on this one recently. It’s gotten stuck in the downstairs-where-I-don’t-read-often pile, and that’s making it easy to forget about. Need to pick it up again, though, because building tension is definitely a skill I need to work on. (Writing/Non-Fiction)

Harry Potter/Goblet of Fire: Plowing through this one with B-Bug at bedtime most nights, and just completed the Second Task. It’s so much fun to hear him react at just the right moments with gasps of delight or concern, as it’s a pretty advanced book for him at this age. (Fantasy/Children’s Fiction)

A Feast of Sorrows: Haven’t picked this one up recently, though I really just need to knuckle under. I’m hitting the much longer stories now, which has slowed my pace a bit, but I absolutely adore Angela Slatter’s style and storytelling, so I just need to make it a priority. Probably only have 50 more pages or so in this one… (Fantasy/Fiction)

Creativity for Life: Haven’t made a lot of progress on this one either, though not sure why. It’s a very insightful book. I think it’s probably more that during this TIME OF CRISIS, I just can’t really bring myself to think much in terms of goals or future career moves. It all seems so up-in-the-air, and thinking about it just makes me anxious. That said, it has been very interesting reading about the various kinds of emotional conflict artists go through (it’s definitely written by a psychologist, and comes from that POV), and given my experience with counseling for anxiety/depression, it’s been interesting to see where things line up, as artistic output and how the career feels like its going definitely impact my mental health from time to time. (Self-Help/Art/Non-Fiction)

The Power Broker: I’m sorry to say I haven’t made progress with this yet, either, but not for lack of desire! It’s just that it’s a physically large, paperback book, and that’s my kryptonite when reading with a baby, because I can’t hold it one-handed, and I really need to have it spread out over my knees or over the arm of a chair, neither of which are always available. I really just need to have it at-the-ready by my chair downstairs so when I nurse there, I can pick it up instead of just flipping to a PBS documentary or something. (Biography/Non-Fiction)

Wild Swans: was doing really well working on this one, but I’m continually running up against the fact that I don’t have enough bookmarks and hate bending page corners down to save my spot, which means every time it gets moved, I lose my place, and that’s just one of those minor setbacks that slows me down when I’m reaching for something to read. However, it is interesting, and rather frightening, particularly when you look at the world today vs. the world during the rise of Communism in China (both before and during, so far), and how wretchedly awful life could be for many, many people on either side of the political divide, and how often people lost children or spouses young, which just feels so foreign now. Similar to how I felt reading The Glassblowers by DuMaurier last year. Times HAVE improved, even if it doesn’t always (especially now) feel that way. (Novelized-Biography/Semi-Non-Fiction)

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: My new favorite on my list! Oh, oh, oh, how I adore Haruki Murakami’s work! This collection of short stories is exactly what I need right now: soothing, but a bit strange, with young people who have routines with an almost meditative simplicity to them. It’s strangely soothing, even the freakier stories, and I’m absolutely delighting in it. I’ve been reading a story or two a day, and just lapping up the joy of it. (Literary Short Stories/Fiction)

Dad is Fat: Haven’t actually listened to this in a couple weeks, so probably need to get it back on the roster again. So far, I have really enjoyed it. It’s just, as an audiobook, a bit tricky to find quiet time with everybody home to actually listen to it, and nursing while laughing is not the easiest thing to do and usually earns me irritated baby glares. (Memoir/Humor/Non-Fiction)

Meander, Spiral, Explode: I’ve been meandering through this one, and I’ve REALLY enjoyed it so far. Can you tell I’m on a bit of a rebellious anti-plotting streak? This one is very poetic and really makes me think about prose art-form. For example, author Jane Alison has a segment talking about pacing, about how a scene plays out in real-time for the reader, taking almost as much time to read as the events take for the character, whereas a summary is faster for the reader than for the character, and a gap is the fastest for the reader (just jump the time!) verses possibly spanning years for the character. The idea of how pacing in a story relates to the method of writing (exposition, breaks, scenes, and then even slowing time down for the reader with longer descriptions, saturating the page with what might take the character only a moment to experience (watching a bullet fired from a gun, for example)) has really opened my eyes to the complexity so often hidden behind the phrase “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes there are things in a story that do not need to be shown, that to show your character reaching out, taking the door knob in hand, turning the knob, pulling on the door to open it, and finally stepping out into the hallway is INSANELY BORING unless there’s emotional reason to detail that action (say, there’s a monster on the other side of the door that the character has finally decided to face-off against). Please, just tell me the character left the room unless the detail is warranted. Tell me they rode for three days and three nights before arriving at their destination, UNLESS THE RIDE ITSELF IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. That was what always got me about the “show, don’t tell” thing: there ARE times when you NEED to tell, because to show would be a waste of reader’s energy and would bloat the text. #pacingrocks (Writing/Non-Fiction)


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