Books! Books! Books!

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard this before: READ! READ! READ! And probably also: Read broadly. If you write fiction, you should also be reading poetry and essays and other nonfiction. If you write poetry you should be reading short stories and memoirs, and so on. And I do. I love to read. Sometimes—like many of you, I imagine—I even use reading to avoid the blank page—or to be honest, in my case, the full pages that need revision.

I often beat myself up for starting new projects before completing the current project. This goes for just about everything in my life, and especially for my writing. But it’s delightful to see books stacking up—on the bedside table, the desk, the floor by my reading chair, the table next to the sofa. My very own leaning towers dotted around the house. Cairns of words and paragraphs and pages.

But unlike my effort to work on one long-form writing project at a time, I have decided against reigning in my book hoarding. I like jumping from one voice to another. Now, can I read more than one novel at a time? Sometimes. If they’re different enough. But I certainly enjoy mixing my genres. I am learning to accept my limitations. Right now, I have not three or four but nine books in rotation.

[1] Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

I read essays in order, but I don’t always read the collection cover-to-cover before beginning another. To that point, I am rotating Didion’s essays with collections by

[2] Robert Vivian (Mystery My Country) and

[3] Jericho Parms (Lost Wax).

When I’m taking writing breaks, I jump on the treadmill to stretch my legs, or take a spin around the neighborhood. For that, I’m listening to a book I read years ago:

[4] Nabokov’s Lolita.

To really confuse things, I’ve got an autobiography, a novel, and a novella in the rotation:

[5] A Small Boy and Others by Henry James,

[6] Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, and

[7] At the Bay by Katherine Mansfield, respectively.

The final two,

[8] Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter is a story told in prose poetry and

[9] Leslie Ullman’s Library of Small Happiness is helping my prose-bent brain grasp the poetic.

If you wondered if I feel a sense of accomplishment after completing each tome, the answer is absolutely. With every book I read, I feel more connected to this earth and its people. But that feeling is not the result of a shrinking stack. As I finish a book, I am sure to toss another on the pile.