Okay, I need to say a little more. Today’s a day to celebrate books. Pick up that novel or biography you’ve been longing to read, and make room for a few chapters. Not a big reader? Find a book that appeals to you–it doesn’t have to be big or complex, just something you want to find out a little more about.
So many bloggers are also novel writers. Maybe you know of someone who recently published their first book. Be sure to support them and buy a copy!
Books make us happy. They also broaden our world, widen our perspectives and give us something to talk about with others. In other words, they make us better people.
There are easily 500 more, but a long list loses impact, and lessens the opportunity for future follow-up posts.
Classics, by definition, are worth re-reading, especially if you read them for the first time in your youth. Time will give you a different perspective, and it’s likely you’ve forgotten enough of the story to make it fresh.
So here are five, in no particular order, I recommend for summer reading — or any other season.
To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Race continues to divide this nation, and the quiet example of Atticus Finch in this Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is worth remembering. I know, the prequel creates a different picture of the man, but there was a reason Harper Lee told us she’d “said all she had to say” with To Kill a Mockingbird. In addition to Atticus, it’s uplifting to remember Boo Radley, and the straightforward point-of-view of young Scout paints an honest and at times innocent picture of the world. Don’t miss the 1962 film, either.
The Portable Dorothy Parker
by Dorothy Parker
The perfect book if you’re too busy for a novel. Short stories, articles and poetry abound in this volume. Parker took a sardonic look at just about every aspect of life, and it’s intriguing to note the change in her writing (particularly the short stories) over the years. Her tales are as timeless as human nature, however, no matter what changes may have taken place in her style of writing, and capture the subtleties of such things as young love and racism.
by Daphne Du Maurier
Ah, romance, true love and all that. The fairy tale comes crashing down, and you’re left wondering if the bliss of it all can be recaptured. Was Rebecca the better woman, the better lover, the better wife? We agonize with our unnamed heroine as she struggles to gain her foothold in a trepidatious situation and overcome her insecurities as the second wife. Who was Rebecca, and why does she still haunt all whom she left behind? A darn good movie, too (the 1940 Hitchcock version, starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier).
A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
I hesitated to call this one a classic since it’s not even 30 years old, but it’s on high school reading lists, so there you go. Written with Irving’s customary nod to the outlandish, but a bit of a departure from his usual style, it captures the intense feelings of fate, faith, friendship and the follies of youth and creates a clear visual of both main characters as they grow up and enter the world. Owen Meany believes in destiny, and lives his life with the knowledge he is “God’s instrument” and must fulfill a pre-ordained plan.
The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame
If you can, get a copy with illustrations by Tasha Tudor. Okay, it’s been illustrated by several phenomenal artists (see left). The adventures of Toad, Rat, Mole, Badger and the rest of the gang are just as engaging for adults as they are for children, the alleged intended audience. These are well-defined characters, and their stories have a rhythm that is almost poetic (consider the title of one tale, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”). There’s a reason I still have my childhood copy.
At times I feel as though I’m spinning a bit too fast.
Not out of control, per se. Haven’t gotten there lately. But I need to step back and slow down, stop spinning. It’s not a new problem. The decades change how we spend our time, but not the impact of overload.
I need balance. While I couldn’t find statistics on how adults spent their time decades back, there was plenty about teens. So I’m taking my cue from the younger generation, then and now, to help me find peace of mind in my time today.
Back in 1960, the average teenage girl spent 2-1/2 hours a day listening to the radio, and another two hours playing records. She spent less than an hour a day watching TV, a statistic that is a little misleading, since not all American homes, or homes anywhere in the world, had television sets. And remember, for the vast majority of homes that did have TV, there was one set for the whole family. No computers, no smart phones, just the one screen for all to share.
I’m betting the average teenage girl spent a fair amount of time on the phone, as well, until her parents told her she had to hang up because Aunt Patty might be calling about Sylvia’s baby. One phone in most homes, and no voice mail.
Today’s teenager averages more than nine hours a day in screen time, and he or she is beat out in that statistic by the adults. Of course, that includes school, homework or work time on the computer, as well as productive time spent in creative pursuits (like writing a blog). There are few statistics on the breakdown of that screen time, in other words, what can be considered productive and what is not.
Interestingly, a study done in 2004 showed that teens in 1981 spent less time in school, studying, helping around the house and socializing (structured events) than their peers at the start of the 21st century. They did spend far more time out of doors and playing sports. They also had more down time (how that was spent is not well accounted for in this study).
Friends of mine have two bright, active teenage girls, and those young ladies are going at top speed from dawn to dusk and many hours beyond. Their dad told me once that statistically, girls who are involved in sports are less likely to get pregnant (well, yeah, their periods tend to stop, but I didn’t say that to him). So they never stop running, and I darn near mean that literally.
I wonder, sometimes, if that kind of busyness has a dark side. I know I desperately need my alone time, and as I recall, it was crucial to my adolescent development that I find time to process whatever was going on in my life and my mind.
Down time is different these days. I get nostalgic for some things. There’s something about playing records, with the discs steadily going ’round and ’round, the music that speaks to you playing as many times as you need it, that seems comforting to me. I know, there are a multitude of ways to wallow in music these days. But the record player had a soothing quality to it, and actively having to change records seems somehow a fair exchange of labor and reward.
I’m not criticizing computers, smart phones, televisions and the like. I depend on them. But reflecting on how teens spent their time in decades past gives me some insight into what might help me relax and regroup today. There are moments when I have to close the computer; I cannot look at one more message, perform one more search, post one more anything. What do I do then?
How do I regain my sanity, my ability to face what’s coming at me next?
I didn’t find my answer in all those statistics, but the search led me to what I needed to know in a different way. I started to think of things I could do that were timeless, that sort of activity my parents, grandparents and ancestors decades back perhaps took part in.
I need to step out of the present. I need to return to what brings me peace.
Pondering the eternal, reflecting on the past.
Escaping to what never was and never will be.
Finding the strength to go forward with the present.
We speak of passion with great enthusiasm, as in “pursue your passion.” I agree, finding joy in life is a good thing, and finding fulfillment and purpose is a treasure. But too much of a good thing has its drawbacks.
I cringe a bit at the word “passion.” It connotes a drive to do something at the expense of other, necessary tasks in life. There can be a lack of balance when you’re passionate about cause, a skill, a person…anything. Of course, sometimes, that lack of balance is part of what gets the job done. For a period of time, letting your passion drive you is a good thing.
Political candidates and those who campaign for them need to be passionate, for example. When you’re in love, you’d better be fully engulfed in your feelings for that other person, or forget about a long-term commitment.
It’s also a term that’s thrown around fairly easily, one that plays on your emotions but isn’t always easy to define in practical terms. I enjoy knitting. I’m an avid knitter, and I always have a project or two in the works. I love to share and compare with other knitters, encourage them in their projects and pursue the next big undertaking with vigor. I have dozens of knitting magazines (including every Vogue Knitting since 1982, which isn’t as many as it might sound like — for years they only published two issues annually). I dabble in design.
Yet I would not say I am passionate about knitting. To me, that would imply some sacrifice, a devotion that goes beyond what is appropriate for my favorite hobby. I have several friends who own yarn shops. I’ve asked them if knitting is their passion, and they laugh and say no. They love it, love their work and are dedicated to the success of their stores. But there is a balance in their lives, and their passion, if they can name one, is more likely their grandchildren.
For years I was also a devout reader. I read as many books as I could get hold of, and while circumstances dampened my enthusiasm for reading (something I never would have thought possible, and I resent those who caused it), that flame likely will never be fully doused. I still enjoy the feel and promise of a new book, and today, when I order one online, I can’t wait to open that box and just hold the book.
So I’m an avid reader as well as knitter. Perhaps there is a little more passion there, for I will firmly say, “you can’t spoil a child with books.” (I know, I know, some of you could provide solid examples contradicting that statement, but look at the heart of what I’m saying. And if a child throws a fit because he or she doesn’t get a new book every time the family goes to Walmart, that has nothing to do with books.)
The one thing I will say I feel compelled to do, even when I have nothing to say (hence the need for a blog haha), is write. That might come close to being a passion. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if I could write for a living…the jobs I’ve found for writers, however, generally are for someone younger, more entry-level. I’m not sure that’s the kind of writing I want to commit myself to on a daily basis.
I have found a way to make room for all the things I can get lost in doing. If any one of them became a job, would I leave behind my joy and what now brings me peace? Let’s face it, too much of anything is going to hurt you in some way.
That goes for the body as well as the mind. As I grow older, I’m increasingly mindful of the toll everyday activities, no matter how seemingly benign, can take on our bodies. Anything we do for an extended period of time has its price.
I just spent months nursing a thumb injury my doctor and physical therapists believe was caused, at least in part, by knitting. When I posted a story about that, one of my blogging buddies commented how she’d hurt herself reading paperbacks.
Yes, find what you love doing, what re-energizes you. But remember, our bodies and minds need variety to stay healthy. We may not love everything we do with the same fervor, but the balance is what keeps us alive, physically and emotionally.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
About the Quote Challenge (you’re invited!):
Thank you, Dede, for inviting me to take part in this challenge. If your life has been turned upside down and you’re determined to make it good again, visit her site.
I struggle a bit with quote challenges, so this is a compromise. It’s a three-day challenge, and I should nominate three people each day to take part in the event. Choosing those select people overwhelms me. So if you want to accept this challenge, please do so!
Three quotes over three days. Thank the person who nominated you, and nominate three new people each day.