Carl Sagan is right: Books are astonishing.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

I posted a while back about really starting to crack down and read more books and I won’t lie, it’s been amazing. I’m so inspired to write, to spend less time wasting time and more time learning and growing and experiencing the moment. (This might possibly be because of meditation rituals as well, but that addition is fodder for a whole other post.)

So I figured I’d post here a little synopsis of what I’ve read so far (these books are listed as close to chronological order as well as I can remember) and also ask for any recommendations on what to add to the queue (especially if those are non-fiction selections since I’ve been a fiction fiend). I’m taking a train from Flagstaff to Chicago and back around Memorial Day so I’ll have plenty of time to read (or listen to) books!

 

The 2014 Read As Many Books As Possible-A-Thon 

Completed:

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

Song of Myself – Walt Whitman

Americanah – Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This Is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz

Consider The Lobster – David Foster Wallace

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

Women – Charles Bukowski

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Sleepwalk With Me – Mike Birbiglia

Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

The Stranger – Albert Camus

Feminism Is For Everybody – bell hooks

In Progress:

Human, All Too Human – Frederich Nietzche (20 pages in)

100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read the first sentence, one of the best in the history of literature, and got self-conscious about my own writing, but also excited to read it)

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde (really close to being done)

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (audiobook-ing it while working)

To Read (books that I have purchased and haven’t read yet):

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

The Invisible Man – Chuck Klosterman

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis

The Upgrade – Paul Carr

Then Came You – Jennifer Weiner

The Harlem Renaissance Reader – Various

On Such a Full Sea – Chang Rae-Lee (on its way)

Stay Up With Me – Tom Barbash (on its way)

 

I have told those I love around me that on our inevitable next trip to Bookmans or Barnes and Noble, I have to have finished a book I have already purchased or started before I am allowed to buy another one. Seriously the stack is high and growing higher every time I leave the house. I’m turning into a book hoarder.

So please let me know if you have suggestions, or if you want to talk about my impressions of each book. I have lots of opinions, but I will offer them only if someone wants them to be shared!

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Good ol’ fashioned book learnin’

I have been resolving to read more this year, an unofficial New Year’s resolution, but more just a resolution to include things that enrich my life into it, including but not limited to eating better, exercising regularly, learning how to play more than three chords on the guitar and more than just super basic HTML/CSS code, and writing for pleasure (including on this blog).

In college, professor after professor would say that it’s necessary to read for pleasure and outside of assigned readings to become a better writer. I would scoff at this, not because I didn’t want to, but because I had no idea how to fit it in with a full course load along with three part time jobs and internships depending on the semester. I envied the people who seemed to have time to fit in reading giant books along with class, rationalizing that they weren’t working at the newspaper, and grading essays as a TA, and working as a desk attendant, and trying to finish an Honors thesis as to graduate in four years.

So college came and went and I read for pleasure in limited amounts, sprinkling in a Buzzfeed or The Atlantic longread on the way to work, during a lunch break, as some reading material before bed. I started and failed to finish many a book, stopping and starting and slogging through a couple trashy and more respectable books cover to cover. But I couldn’t ever muster the time to take in books, claiming I was too tired after a day of work.

Then I saw that in February my friend Kristina Bui, a copy editor at the Los Angeles Times and an all-around awesome lady with fantastic book taste, seemed to consume books with the rapidity that I, say, drink water or breathe – so I resolved to finally get off my butt and read more. (Seriously, her Instagram has seen more book covers than I had in the first month of this year.)

This change, for lack of a better word or maybe for satisfaction with the simplest word, changed everything.

I usually tend to fall back on classics when I am trying to get myself out of a reading rut and although Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself was a collection of lovely words which has altered the way I view things for the better, I decided to creep people’s Facebook pages and tear through recommendations from friends of books written closer to when I was born than say Oscar Wilde.

Ender’s Game, The Fault In Our Stars, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Me Talk Pretty One Day all have taught me new things. And the parts of Americanah and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that I have read prove to be just as shifting and altering for the way I view the world. (If this sporadic reading list isn’t indicative of my constant need to mix things up, I don’t know what it is. And I am sure the next books sitting in my mental queue – the highly recommended Stay Up With Me and On Such A Full Sea – will add more names to a patchwork of enriching books that have made inroads into my brain.)

As I was walking the halls of Barnes and Noble on my way to purchase the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Junot Diaz books above, I wondered if only people who spent lots of money on a major dealing mostly with words felt the way I do. Then, I heard a construction worker I know talk with earnest about how disappointed he was that I had yet to read Ender’s Shadow, a complimentary book in Orson Scott Card’s famed Ender’s Game series.

So I guess it’s not just me.

In fact, researchers found “critical, literary reading and leisure reading provide different kinds of neurological workouts, both of which constitute ‘truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.’” But this doesn’t just happen when you are reading. Other research has found that days after reading a book, not only can the story stay with you, but neurological changes in the way information is processed. “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories –- especially those with strong narrative arcs -– reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days,” a researcher noted. “It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”

The most encouraging thing of all for me though is that reading hasn’t discouraged me from producing my own words, but rather made me more ravenous to write on my off time, even those words reside in a Google Doc, waiting for ruthless edits or to be dumped and replaced with new, better ones.

Research again rationalizes my wild whims, proving voracious need to write day to day isn’t word nerd related either. In fact, non-writers recalling their writing prove to me that when I tell people anyone can (and should) write, that I am not full of it.

“So I write. I write because it’s hard to remember everything. I write because it’s become a relaxing habit. I write because it’s private. Yeah, all my writing today starts as a private note. Too many people are afraid to write because of the time commitment or the resulting discussion. It’s an increasingly large problem due to the growth of the Internet and privacy. We no longer really ever find ourselves alone. And it’s because of this I choose to write privately first – with the option to share if it’s what I would deem a shareable thought.”

I guess the moral of this story is that don’t be surprised if there are book recommendations and stories of failing at becoming the world’s best guitarist or web designer to come.