The summer reading challenge (read 12 books between June 1 and August 31) was first proposed by Oliver de la Paz, and adopted and adapted by two of my writing friends, Wendy Call and Josephine Ensign. It inspired me to write a little more about my peculiar reading habits.
It should be no problem for me to read 12 books in 12 weeks since I usually read two books a week. I try to read non-fiction (generally on a topic I’m writing about) during the week and something entertaining (often a mystery novel) on the weekend.
I have a whole bookcase devoted to books I am going to read and it is divided into three sections: books from the library (which tend to be the books I actually read), books that have been loaned to me (since I usually have far more books from the library than I can read, and these books have no deadlines, they often get overlooked—luckily when I moved I managed to send most of these books back to their original lenders) and books that I bought. Theoretically these books should be the books I read first, as I was so convinced of their value that I spent money to be able to read them (although some I simply purchase after first reading the book from the library, partly because I believe I will use the book for reference or teaching in the future, sometimes just because I want to support the author). But actually because they come with no deadline and no obligation, they tend to fall to the bottom of the pile. Lately, in order to trick myself into believing I am actually reading these books, I’ve started shelving them with all of my other books which practically insures they will never get read as I rarely go to my shelf looking for a good book on nature to read (if I did I’d be reading The Nature Cure by Richard Mabey or The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord).
In the shelves at left you can see on the top shelf, books and magazines I have read but need to take notes from, books from the library (on the left, borrowed books being returned), books I own and think I should be reading, magazines I’ve received and should be reading, and at the bottom, in a huge stack, all the magazines I’ve received (or bought) in the last year that need to be read.
I also have a separate area, let’s call it my reading station, where you will see the magazines I am currently reading, the books I need to take notes from before returning them to the library, and the books I am currently reading. (In case, you’re wondering, that’s the famous white Chihuahua name Pepe in the carrier on the left side of the table. The table came from my mother’s house in Van Nuys, California–it’s where I did my homework in grade school and also where we ate Thanksgiving dinner with the leaves extended).
So here’s my list for the Summer Reading Challenge. It starts with forthcoming books written by friends, books by friends that I bought but haven’t read yet, books by friends that I saw in early drafts but have not yet read the published version of, books I’m reading as research for my Victorian novel and my Year in Flowers essays, books I’m using to inspire me as a teacher of writing and a couple of fun mysteries.
- Allison Green, The Ghosts Who Travel With Me [buying at the book launch June 15]
- Sonya Lea, Wondering Who You Are [buying at her book launch July 9]
- Priscilla Long, Crossing Over [just bought, book launch not until Sep 19]
- My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta [bought at her book launch and started reading but did not finish]
- Pie School by Kate Lebo [bought at the APRIL book fair Hugo House but have not yet opened]
- The View from Casa Chepitos by Judith Gille [read an early version but not the final]
- Heart’s Oratorio by Mary Oak [read an early version but not the final book]
- Broken Lives by Lawrence Stone (a great, gossipy book on 19th century divorces) [library]
- Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan (a novel about the British takeover of the Punjab) [library]
- The New Wild by Fred Pearce (appreciating invasive plants) [library]
- The Best Nature and Science Writing from 2014 [I own this one]
- Eula Biss, No Man’s Land [I read it because I got it out of the library and then discovered I already own a copy which is great because it’s full of good examples of essays for teaching creative non-fiction]
- Keep It Real, (advice on research for creative nonfiction) edited by Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher [library]
- Jeanne Matthews latest mystery: Where the Bones are Buried [bought at her book launch at Third Place books but haven’t read yet]
- Sparkle Abbey’s latest cozy mystery: Downton Tabby [I just love the name–will probably put it on my Kindle and read on an airplane trip]
If I could recommend a book everyone should read, (I can’t put it on my list because I read it last month), it’s Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. A beautifully written book, it tells a heart-breaking story about some of the surprising causes of the increasing use of opiates (a change in the medical attitude towards pain, pharmaceutical companies insisting that painkillers like oxycontin were not addictive based on a faulty reading of one single study, a clever new distribution system developed by heroin dealers from a small town in Mexico). And if you are’t interested in these topics, the writing alone is enough to dazzle and please. This is an early contender for my book of the year title.