let’s talk about books.


March has been National Reading Month. I don’t put much emphasis on these months and days (although I did recently enjoy National Swedish Waffle Day), simply because everything seems to be national this month or national that day. I didn’t even realize it was National Reading Month until partway through the month. But it brought back memories: I remember back in fifth grade we had a competition with the fourth grade class to see who could read more books in a month. The rule was that the book had to be more than 100 pages and I think we had to check them with a teacher. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think I read over 20 books that month. Those were they days, when the only homework was a couple of easy math problems and reading a book of your own choosing!

I don’t get to read so much anymore, but I really try to. Reading takes you to other worlds and I also know for sure, 100%, that it makes my own writing better. These days I read more fiction than anything else, when I do read, because reading scientific papers for work makes you pretty weary of anything complicated. So fantasy is a nice change.

I recently ordered a big box of books from Amazon and am depressed about how long it will take me to get through them, but opening that box was the most exciting thing that happened to me that day (week?). I was giddy with possibility.

What have you read this month? Here’s what I’ve read through, with links to Powells where you can buy them packaged not in a terrible warehouse somewhere” (I also listened to Radiolab’s “Brown Box” episode!):

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: A great story by a new Swedish author that I picked up in the airport on the way to Sochi, actually. It’s a quick and easy read with an incredible sense of humor. It features mobsters, an elephant, most of the important political figures of the 20th century, and a lot of dynamite, plus the protagonist who is 100 years old. I recommended it to Nat who sent me a text at one point that said something like “this book is amazing!” High praise.

Four Fish: An amazing nonfiction work by Paul Greenberg. As soon as I started, I was hooked: he described his childhood growing up in Connecticut and how fishing had been an incredibly outlet for him. The book goes on to highlight the history and science of four fish (salmon, cod, sea bass, and tuna) particularly important as human food, and question how we can manage our fish appetite without driving these species to extinction. But all the while it is interspersed with emotion and feeling about Greenberg’s love of fishing. It includes a great line about catching a yellowfin tuna during a stormy outing:

“Congrats,” said Steve.

“Thanks,” I said, and vomited.

This is one of those books that makes me want to be a writer so badly that I’m almost willing to give up science, jump ship and try, despite all the challenges. I want my life to be writing a book like this.

Mehar: My amazing uncle Chris, one of a total of four amazing uncles, has been working on a chapter story about a little girl named Mehar. For a while he was sending the chapters to me and my cousins one at a time as he finished them. They were so fun! I was in awe of his writing and his ability to come up with a whole universe for Mehar to live in. This month, I was visiting friends in Lillehammer who had a five-year-old daughter, Greta. I began wondering if the stories would be appropriate for her, so I re-read them. It was just as great as the first time! Chris is working on getting them all into one doc and I hope that the whole world will be able to read it one day. (And, no, they weren’t right for Greta – she doesn’t like rule-breaking or scary things, so maybe in a few years she’ll be able to deal with the really very sinister bad guys. Not right now though.)

I also spent a lot of time reading out loud to Greta. I won’t list all the kids’ books here, but the very best one, which I adorrrrrreeeeee (I remember reading it to her last time I visited!) was Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. It’s one of those books so clever and uproarious that the adult reading it enjoys it just as much if not more than the kid. It inspired us to write our own story “Goldilocks and the two dragons” which we also illustrated ourselves, © Lillehammer, Norway, 2014.

With those in the bag, I’m starting The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a novel by Haruki Murakami. It is in fact the first way I ever heard of Murakami: I read a review of this book in the New York Times. It was when I was living in Craftsbury, and I went to search for the book at the library. They didn’t have it, so I got Kafka on the Shore instead, and loved it. I’ve since heard people say they don’t like specific Murakami books, but I read and loved 1Q84 and am excited to finally dig into another huge strange Murakami saga. I’m only two chapters in but for sure, I have been bitten by the bug already.

Finally, this doesn’t count as reading, but I’ve listened to some great episodes of the New Yorker fiction podcast (among others in my stable of podcasts…). The format is this: the fiction editor selects someone whose work has recently been published in the magazine, and asks them to choose a story, any story, from the New Yorker archive to read out loud and discuss. The podcasts and stories are the perfect length to listen to on a train or while traveling, and they have the double benefit of introducing me to some stories by great authors from before I was born, and introducing me to people who are writing interesting short fiction right now. Besides being entertaining, it’s given me lots of ideas.

Have you read anything great? Please tell me. In case, you know, I develop more spare time and can read it.

2 thoughts on “let’s talk about books.

  1. No specific book suggestions, but Elena and I got Kindles back in Feb – and I’ve gone through several books I didn’t think I’d ever get to … largely this is because I can read in the dark without waking the kids (unlike smartphone or headlamp the Kindle is backlit), change the font size for old-eye fatigue, stuff like that. Not for everyone, but I’m a convert.

    • I’ve been debating a kindle… maybe I will get one for my field season this summer. I really prefer real books (with paper pages you can turn!) but hauling two months worth of them to Svalbard seems ill-advised….

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