Thursday, June 13, 2013

31 Before 31....or How Failure Lead to Success


I had all of these ambitious goals for things I was going to do when my boyfriend moved overseas. Like...make a quilt, and a really dense reading list, and write a novel, and get up every morning at 6am to run 10 miles, and cook everything from scratch, and find a cure for cancer, and finally get around to achieving that nagging chore of world peace.

Well, I did make a quilt. Behold:

That was definitely thanks to my buddy Jenn. She is amazing and can make anything and walked me through this quilt process step-by-step, almost every Sunday between October and March. I will do an entire post at some point to show you how this magical quilt came to be. 

I was also going to write a novel, and while that didn't happen, I did sketch out some pretty great ideas and I can feel some good stuff marinating. And I wrote Chapter One. That's always a good place to start, no?

But that whole 31 Before 31 list...oof, I utterly fell down on that. To refresh your memory, here was the original list:

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing 
4. Lolita, Nabokov
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
6. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway
7. The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Dandicat
9. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
10. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond 
13. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
14. Cities of Salt, Abdul Rahman Munif
15. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
16. The Satanic Verses, Salmon Rushdie
17. Native Son, Richard Wright
18. The Savage Detectives, Bolano
19. Jesus' Son, Denis Hale Johnson
20. Notebook, Agota Christof (NOTE - not "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks. Come on.)
21. White Noise, Don DeLillo
22. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
23. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
24. The 19th Wife, David Evershoff
25. As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
26. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran
27. A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
28. Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut

You'll notice it halts at 28. I kept meaning to add three more to the list, but the fact is, as I got closer to my deadline (my 31st birthday), it became more and more daunting to even THINK about more books. Those three empty slots haunt my dreams.

Here's what I actually read:
1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyceskimmed, hated it
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing - started, never finished
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig - started, never finished
7. The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Dandicat
9. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond skimmed, actually really liked it, but nearly fell asleep during the thirty-some odd pages explaining carbon dating in detail
13. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan Out of 31. 

I do still have ambitions to read the rest of the books on this list, but the pile of books beside my bed has grown exponentially. I've found that books seem to come organically into my life - a flirty affair with a cover in the library, a gift from a friend, a loaner from someone who talks excessively about "this book that you HAVE to read!!"....books find their way into your life, and they always seem to do so in such a seamless and perfect way that it felt almost sacrilegious to force-feed a reading list. A lot of these books I simply never got to, not because I haven't been reading, but on the contrary - because I've been reading voraciously as books have been sauntering into my life and pulling my attentions away from the homework I've assigned myself.

I've read some pretty fantastic books in the interim. And not only will I hand over these dreamy suggestions, but I'll tell you how they came into my life as well....

I. Love. Ann. Patchett. I think she is one of the most acutely beautiful writers I've ever read, and  although it's a total cliche, she has the ability to get you to accept human behaviors you might normally judge, and get too drawn into worlds where a lesser writer might leave you with  enough of a sense of distance that you're not too involved. Ann gets you involved. I didn't even know she'd written a new book until I happened to be in Target picking up sun screen and various items for our trip to Mexico, saw this, and read this thing cover to cover in the first 24 hours of the trip.

This was a Book Club pick, and a hilariously educating one at that. I find myself frequently mentioning parts of this book, like "Oh, speaking of pottery, DID YOU KNOW THAT ONEIDA  WAS ACTUALLY A POLYAMOUROUS COMMUNE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK IN VICTORIAN TIMES?!?!" I have tried to get multiple other people in my life, outside of Book Club, to read this book solely so I have more people to discuss it with.

After hearing about it so many times, and possessing a vague understanding of He-La cells, I heard an in-depth discussion on my favorite podcast - Stuff Mom Never Told You - while out on a run one day, and decided I needed to read it IMMEDIATELY. Thank God for the Kindle app on my iPad, and thank God for Enoch Pratt having ebooks that you can download instantly for free. 

A beautiful recommendation from one of my very best friends, Stupid, who shares my taste in contemporary literature and always has great suggestions. This dark novel explores the stigma and social pariah of AIDS and homosexuality in the 1980's told through the voice of 14-year-old June as she makes sense of the recent death of her beloved uncle. 

Quite possibly my favorite in this list - I read about it in a magazine, and  read it in  its entirety in one day. (Granted - I was in Mexico on vacation, so I had the time to spend reading entire novels in a single day.) Based on Ray Bradbury's 1954 short story, "All Summer In a Day," the novel is told through the voice of an adolescent girl. The crux can be summed up in this sentence from an Amazon review: "[t]he world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper." Essentially, one day, the Earth's rotation just suddenly starts to slow down. An hour at first, here and there, and then suddenly whole days of direct sunlight and complete darkness. Crops die, people get radiation poisoning, and the world is divided between "Clock Timers," who try to go on with life as normally as possible on a 24 clock; and "Real Timers," who revert to using the sunlight as a time keeper and thus will sleep for days at a time, be awake for days at a time, and exist in their own realm. All, of course, relayed to us through 11-year-old Julia, who is dealing with her parents' fighting, her first crush, and worrying about whether or not there will still be soccer practice.

I couldn't sleep one night, and bought this on Amazon Kindle (Thanks, The Gentleman!) and devoured it in a matter of days. I think I initially read about it in Elle magazine, but it's hilarious and dark and wickedly smart.

So, I utterly failed at my "31 Before 31" list, but I see success in that every book that magically comes into my life and turns out to be so utterly memorable is nothing short of a gift. And I do intend to read the rest of the books on my list, but I'm not so pressed for "getting them done" in a finite period of time. I'll leave that kind of stringency to workout regimens and excessive itinerary planning for vacations.

I do have a stack of books next to my bed that I've recently acquired through various means (gifts, library, random fits of whimsy) that I intend to work through this summer. But I'm sure new ones will be added, and some shifted around, and that's the nature of reading as a hobby - love and desire have to be the driving forces, not a timeline.

Or maybe that's just what terrible procrastinators say.


Anonymous said...

Chapter 1 is a good place to start...and not bad progress considering all the traveling and stuff you've been doing. Heh, it seriously took me 3 years to get past the chapter 1 stage of my novel. Marinating is good.

Tiffany Smith said...

Currently reading Things Fall Apart, and am having a hard time getting through it (which is saying something bc it's pretty short). Love, love Immortal Life of Henrietta lacks and just finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home (book club book!), which I could NOT put down!