Reading (Part 3)

How I Read

I love to hold a book. I love the weight of a book and the texture of the pages as I turn them. Depending on where and how it’s been stored, a book can have a unique smell.

A comfortable chair, a good reading light, a lovely cup of tea, and a good book is my idea of heaven. And of course, reading in bed. What luxury.

There was a time when I refused to imagine piling up in bed with an electronic device of any kind instead of a book. I’ve had a Kindle for two years and I love it. Kindle offers the best of both worlds. I can read, I can listen, and I can listen and read.

The wonders of modern technology have made many books available free (and, so does the public library, don’t forget). The Kindle or Kindle-like devices are more convenient.

Kindle eBooks don’t have all of the “bells and whistles” of the eBooks I enjoyed in the college library where I worked. Those eBooks are, in my opinion, the ultimate research tool. They offer full text searching across the text of the entire book. Most Kindle eBooks lack indexing. Pages can be bookmarked, text can be highlighted and saved. With the library’s eBooks, saved notes can be downloaded in a variety of formats.

Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, or eBooks. I can often find out of print books that have been digitized and made available in a variety of electronic formats. Project Gutenberg offers over 45,000 free eBooks and access to more than 100,000 titles through its partners and affiliates.

Audiobooks books have been around for a long time; but, technology has made them more accessible. I first became interested in audiobooks when I commuted two hours each way once a week while working on a Ph.D. Audiobooks were a pleasant diversion from the demands of a graduate study reading list.

For nearly 10 years I lived 150 miles from everywhere, I had plenty of time in my car to listen to audiobooks. I listened to audiobooks when I walked my dog as I did five times a day for 30-45 minutes at a time. I listened to many books I would not have read otherwise.

Book, eBook, or audiobook, their purpose is to inform and to enrich our lives.

Reading (Part 2)

 What I Read

“Have you read…?” is a question I ask often. If the answer is “No,” I say something I liked about the book. “It’s a beautiful story. I thought how much you would enjoy it.”

I don’t mind being asked “Have you read…?” when the question is asked out of curiosity. What I don’t like is the person who pulls a pained facial expression when I say “No.” It is as if there is something congenitally haywire or morally defective in me.

“You haven’t read it?” they will gasp. “Oh, you must,” indicating I’m in danger of some dire consequence for not reading a book they consider essential.

Then there is the person who assumes I’ve read what they’ve read. “You’ve read…, of course.”

“No,” I haven’t,” I say. Again, the pained expression.

“You have to read it.”

I tried to read it. I didn’t like the author’s style; or, it didn’t appeal to me; or, maybe later. James Michener is a good example.

I became aware of Michener with the publication of Hawaii in 1959. It seemed everyone I knew was reading or had read the book. And everyone I knew thought I should read it. I didn’t. And, I did not see the movie. It was the same with Centennial 15 years later. I began reading Centennial but could not get past the dinosaurs rutting in the primordial ooze. I’m not completely intolerant of Michener. I enjoyed The Source.

My resistance to Michener is the same as my resistance to any fad. I refuse to be pressured into following the crowd. I’m making a statement about who I am. No thank you, that doesn’t interest me.

My primary reading interest is U.S. history and biography. Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin are at the top of my list along with anything written by David McCullough.

I have a fondness for nineteenth century English fiction. Eliot’s Middlemarch is a particular favorite. I love Jane Austen and I’ve read most of Dickens. I made a brief foray into 19th century Russian novels, though “brief” is a word not typically applied to 19th century Russian novels. On finishing Anna Karenina, I realized I cared nothing for any character in the story. As a novel, The Brothers Karamozov is an excellent story with strong character development. Two 19th century Russian novels, however, were enough.

Annie’ Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek hung around my “must read” list for several years before I decided its time had come. Dillard’s writing is skillful, pondering topics with dense, lush description. The book tired me out after 40 pages. Dillard’s pondering is, well, ponderous.

My reaction to Dillard is a different reaction than the reaction I had to Michener. I want to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; but, it is inaccessible. Has this frustration happened to you? How did you deal with it?

Reading (Part 1)

Why I Read

Mark Twain observed that “the [one] who does not read has no advantage over the [one] who cannot read. Reading is important.

For writers, reading is essential. “If you don’t have time to read,” says Stephen King, “you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write.” In a recent blog post, writer Delia Latham lists 10 reasons why writers should read.

Reading is fundamental to who I am. I read for knowledge. I read for awareness of the world in which I live. I read because I love to read. As a writer, I read for all of the reasons Latham enumerates.

Without reading I am a shell, a body without a soul. Incredible journeys and adventures to faraway worlds shared with larger than life characters feed my creative spirit. Their absence would leave my life barren.

As a librarian, books are my life. Freedom to read anything I want is magical. My interests are wide-ranging. I love the serendipity of browsing through library stacks and the shelves of used book stores. Examining a used book, I like to imagine what it would say about its owners and its journey to a used book store. I’ve acquired many books from used book stores and friends of the library book sales. Some I read and keep. Others I read and pass on.

At the same time reading is fundamental to my creative life, it is fundamental to my professional life. I am a prospector in search of light. I am a miner of wisdom. Writing exposes the brilliant facets of enlightenment. Books are forms of intellectual prospecting and mining. A library is a tool used to extract the raw materials of learning.

My career and my search for inner wisdom have taught me that being the steward of the record of human knowledge is a sacred task. Lux mentis. Lux orbis. The light of the mind is the light of the world. And, reading is the key.

The Water Man Never Knocks

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘water-coolerThe water from our well smelled like rotten eggs and tasted terrible. We bought bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Bottled water was delivered once a week in five gallon glass bottles that we put on a ceramic water crock dispenser. In 1968, two five gallon bottles cost a little over two dollars a week.

Starving college students surviving on the G.I. Bill and part-time jobs, we didn’t always have cash to pay the water man.

Thursdays were water delivery days. I was at home one Thursday morning when I heard a truck coming up our gravel road. I looked out the window and saw the water delivery truck. We were four weeks behind in our payment and I had no money.

I have to hide. I started out the door to hide in the shop next to the garage. Wait. If I dart out the door, he’ll see me. I turned in circles trying to figure out what to do. I know! I’ll hide in the closet. What am I thinking? That’s so obvious. He’ll know I’m there. I’ll hide in the bath tub behind the shower curtain.

I got behind the shower curtain as I heard the screen door open and the water man walk into the kitchen. The first bottle hit the floor. The empty bottle was removed from the water cooler. Water from the new bottle glugged into the cooler. Silence. What is he doing?

The water man walked into the bathroom! My heart stopped. I gasped and struggled to hold my breath. He unzipped his trousers. Splash. Flush. Zip. He walked out of the bathroom. I continued to hold my breath.

Footsteps. The screen door slammed. My heart pounded. I gasped for air. Gravel crunched under the truck’s tires as the water man drove away.

He had no idea of the terror he created for me. Or, of the terror I might have created for him.

Working the Shot

In photography, composition is everything. Good composition means an identifiable subject and background, balance, point of view, and simplicity. It takes time to frame a shot that meets my criteria for good composition. Sometimes I have good results and sometimes not so good.

Sometimes I am surprised. I used to be surprised. When I shot film, I had to wait for the film to be processed before I could see the results. With digital photography there are no surprises because it is possible to see your shot as soon as it’s taken.

It is incorrect to say there are no surprises with digital photography. I am an amateur photographer and I am constantly surprised; but, as far as composition goes, I minimize the element of surprise.

Salisbury Cathedral

I shot this photograph of Salisbury Cathedral with a 35mm point and shoot. The result was a surprise even though much effort went into the photograph’s composition.

In April 1996, I was in England with a tour group I hosted. Having visited Salisbury Cathedral several times, I did not go inside for the cathedral tour. There was construction underway and I wasn’t interested in seeing the clutter. Instead, I left the group and walked out into the cathedral close.

It was a gray day that threatened rain. I wandered to the east end of the cathedral and up a couple of steps through a rock wall to the level of the road.

Turning around to face the cathedral, I was struck again by its majesty. Salisbury Cathedral supports the tallest cathedral spire in England. Along the road side of the rock wall I’d crossed there was a bed of daffodils in bloom. I framed a shot in my mind. I wanted the height of the cathedral with the daffodils at its base. The arch of the barren tree balanced the composition.

I looked through the camera’s view finder trying to capture the view I had in mind. Nothing worked. I got down on my knees and still could not compose the shot I wanted.

I noticed an empty parking space against the wall. I knelt in the parking space and tried once more to frame the shot. I couldn’t get the daffodils and the spire’s height. I got as low as I could. Still unable to get my shot, I lay down in the parking space and framed the shot again. Everything I wanted was in the frame. I snapped the shutter.

When the photos were processed, I was pleased with the result. I had worked the shot and got my photograph.

I had the photograph enlarged and framed. It hangs in my studio to remind me that good composition is not only subject and background, balance, point of view, and simplicity, it is also work.