Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Day For Lists

I am an ardent list maker; and, I make no apologies for it. I once heard Martha Stewart comment that she never had to rely upon a list for anything, but that they were a good idea "for the rest of you." Okay, Martha, I'll accept that. Perhaps it is because I work in a profession that is driven by deadlines that must not be missed, or perhaps it is because I am an organized thinker (although not necessarily an organized person), that I make lists for everything: errands, groceries, what housework is to be accomplished on what day, bills I must pay, and the rest of life's small hurdles. Oddly, once written I may not refer to these lists; but, knowing that they are there is somehow comforting. Each a buoy lighting me through a dark channel, just in case I get confused and lose my way. I lose my way less often than I used to; but, the habit remains nonetheless.

Today is the last day of the year; it is a great day for list making: for looking back and looking ahead. Although I have prepared my To Be Read In 2009 book list, I will probably follow it only loosely. I'll use it as a map, of course, but I have always loved turning down a road because it looked interesting. Late last autumn I was returning to Georgia from Virginia, down the interstate. Virginia's mountains and hills were wearing all the bright colors of the season, and it was cold and windy. I saw an exit for Palmyra, VA. I had never heard of Palmyra; but, I suddenly wanted to go there. So, off I went. The road rose and fell in huge waves, and the leaves on the ground whooshed as I drove past, scattering behind me. Palmyra, I discovered, has a lovely old courthouse located on - inevitably - Courthouse Square. Next to it sits an old stone jail, now a museum. Across the square a few little stores were bunched together, along with one small law office. On a far corner stood a church, I think it was Episcopal. It was Sunday, and everything was quiet and closed, except for the church. A service was obviously being held, because singing drifted out into the circle where I stood. was time to go home. I think I'll take the same approach with my reading this year. The list will be my goal; however, I have found that the small side trips we take are often the most memorable.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Reading

I am not a fast reader; so, I occasionally sink into envy when I learn of avid readers who can consume hundreds of books a year. I am also not an analytical reader (which seems odd since my profession requires me to be analytical). I either liked the book or I didn't - but I can't always articulate the specifics. I am a reader with many books, but with the limited resource of time. When I have the time, I want something to "read" read (a quote I must credit to James Mustich's wife.) I know exactly what she meant. I have often picked up a book hailed as a masterpiece - only to set it down after a few chapters, frustrated and angry that I "just don't get it." Certainly, those works are valuable and are to be treasured and read. But, on those occasions when I want to "read" read, I pick up a book with complex sentence structures or difficult allusions cautiously - or maybe not at all. Although I have read James Joyce's Ulysses I neither understood nor enjoyed it very much. It was a labor, in fact. I try not to think too badly about myself over it. On quite the other hand, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy was a fast and easy read for me over the Christmas break my junior year in college, despite its length...and depth. Does my failure to "get" Joyce, or the ease with which I read Tolstoy say anything about my abilities as a reader? No, of course not. The whole purpose of reading - for me -where I am right now - is the sheer joy of the pastime. So here I am...I continue to plod along. All I ask is that my time be well spent in the pleasant company of a book I will love and a book I can discuss with other book lovers. In pursuit of that goal, I hope to "get by with a little help from my friends."

Cookbook Reading

Twice, very recently, I was reminded of the fact that cookbooks are, indeed, meant to be read - savored even. The week before Christmas my sister called from a used bookstore. She had found an autobiography of Katharine Hepburn and, knowing I was a fan of the great Kate, wanted to know if she could pick it up for me. "Already have it, but thanks," I replied. "It's a good book. Why don't you get it for yourself?" "Nope," she said, "I only read cookbooks." A few days later, may daughter (also named Katharine) asked for The Joy Of Cooking as a Christmas present. When I checked with her a couple of days after the big event, she was having a splendid time "reading" Joy. As it turns out, our memories of good food and our memories of a good read fill our psyche in similar ways. They both nourish and sustain us as well as fill our imaginations with possibilities. One does not simply cook from books such as Feast or How To Eat, for instance - both by Nigella Lawson. These are cookbooks one relishes. As an example, Lawson provides some gastronomic remedies for the dreaded hangover. But, she doesn't just provide you with a formula for relief, she eases you gently into the kitchen on those mornings after you find you have been "soured on cheap wine," as she so adroitly puts it. Who can feel bad after reading that?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas of 2008 has come and gone. The kids were all home, including the newest member of our family...a little boy of 8 months...the luminaria were lit along the streets of our neighborhood on Christmas Eve, the turkey and duck and prime rib were greedily consumed by family and friends, the tree was splendid. All in all - a very satisfactory Christmas was had by all. It is a time of year I usually dread, much prefering Halloween and Thanksgiving. Or at least I say I dread it. Nevertheless, as much as I humbug about, there is something about the season that captures and redeems my pesky nature, and I am able to glance up at the tree on Christmas Eve and remember what it is really all about. This year I made a list of Books To Be Read. I received several this Christmas, the first on the reading list will be Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. Since I also got a Teavana tea brewer for Christmas, I can hardly wait to begin!