In Sweden, an hour-long commute each way by quiet, big-windowed train, I made a point to read every book I could that won the Man Booker as well as all the Robert Bly translations of Tomas Tranströmer who'd just won the Nobel Prize for Poetry -- it was a lofty year! Each day, I'd write a mysterious quote in the corner of my whiteboard, tired tenth-graders milling in at the unjust hour of 8:00am, and never said a thing about them, though I could see several students slyly reading them from behind their iPhones. Finally, a few months into the year, one student bravely asked, "Meg," for in Sweden, students call their teachers by their first name, "Where do those quotes come from?" I smiled into the board as the whole class quieted, awaiting the answer they'd wondered for some weeks themselves. "Oh, just from my personal reading," I said nonchalantly, squeaking out the remainder of the day's quote in blue ink."But it's different almost every day!" she exclaimed. "Do you read that many books?" I turned around, smiling and nodded, "Well, I am an English teacher, am I not?" I loved this kind of lesson -- the one that was an action and not a lecture, that showed my passion and not my advice to young pupils. Every day after that, someone would ask about the quote, and soon they wanted to see the books I was reading. A few even took some up themselves and we'd have little informal discussions before or after class. It was one of the best things I ever did as a teacher.
Now, 1.5 hours minimum a day for reading, I'm working through a long list of recommendations. It seems my conversations with friends often turn to books we love, and so that list is long and ever-growing. Perhaps the one I'm most proud of having read (it having been on my list for over thirteen anxious years, recommended by a man whose heart I think I broke), was Stendhal's The Red and The Black. I laughed at myself for being so scared of it, and yet, there was, perhaps, good reason to be. It was, besides my beloved Murakami, one of the greatest psychological novels I'd ever read. It made me think again about that man and wonder what it was, so many years ago, that he loved about it.
Though my passion for reading has not changed -- I still love curling up in a corner and reading a book in its entirety on a Sunday afternoon -- I now have a much richer love of the authors on the other end of the words. There is, as well, the added bonus of these being recommended books. I find myself thinking more about the authors and 'recommenders' than the protagonists, reading something about each of them between the lines. It's a strange introverted pleasure to love these meetings between the pages almost more than those in real life.
Perhaps the best thing about my recent reading is that it has got me writing again. A new book idea, THE MEN I'VE LOVED: A FICTIONAL MEMOIR (for every man I've loved has been a little fiction) has come partly out of SIX YEARS (and my reader's reactions to the ways in which I paint my marriage) and partly out of the next fun phase of self-exploration (for any book, for me, must have an element of that). How fun would it be to revisit those men from my past, just as I had done with those countries in which we'd lived? Before Patrick, there was no other country, and therefore, in a way, each new man was his own country -- my own adventure into that unknown strangeness of another's world. In many ways, my loving is like reading a book; the interpretations (those glorious fictions we all create to fall in love) are more than half the fun. We'll see where this shall take me.
What books would you recommend for me? I promise to think of you as I read.