A Book a Week for a Year 2019
Kathleen Matson Blurock
I was watching INSIDE BILL’S BRAIN and there was Bill Gates lugging a very full bag of books to his office and the narrator said he reads 150 pages and hour and I say WHAT? I am going too slow. How many pages do I read? I time myself. Turns out, it’s between 35 and 40 pages an hour depending on the book, which means a 350 page book takes about 10 hours to read. So if I read an hour a day or more it will take 7 to 10 days to finish. That is NOT a book a week.
Now when I go into a bookstore I start to look for thin books. I start to think about time and what I can disappear into, what I can learn from, what I can educate myself with in thick books and thin. I stare at Moby Dick on the shelf next to my bed, where I am stuck on page 240 of 625 since 2017 as many times I had to stop and google the types of whales, the ships, the people, the distances traveled.
I’ve read 51 books which almost gets me to my goal of a book a week for the year. I need one more. Again I look at my bookshelf and find THIS IS WATER, a 131 page commencement address by David Foster Wallace, small sentences on each page so I go fast. I am going to hit my goal. I’ve got to have a goal. I’ve got to throw my hat over the stone wall in order to figure out a way to retrieve it.
“We work in the dark
we do what we can
We give what we have
Our doubt is our passion
and our passion is our task.
The rest is the madness of art.”
- Henry James
I’m doubtful. I’m passional and I am in the dark, struggling to feel my way toward what I don’t know. I find out by reading. That is my task.
For a year I have read essays, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, but mostly novels, mostly lovely stories, well told stories that take me - the reader - inside a world and my world slips away, dissolves for a while, takes a back seat while I discover Tennessee Williams’ make shift living quarters by the Hudson in his early New York City days, or Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s protagonist Victoria Jones whose childhood was spent in the foster care system and finds her connection to the world through flowers and their meaning in THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. I’ve laughed at film director John Waters’ outlandish raunchiness in MR. KNOW IT ALL. I’ve been gobsmacked by the historical research Adam Nicholson did to present the centuries old roots and landscape of his beloved SISSINGHURST in southern England, and I have been awestruck by Anita Brookner’s HOTEL DU LAC, winner of the 1984 Booker Prize, a masterful portrait of a woman who goes away - to the Hotel du Lac - to find herself and in the process actualizes herself into herself. My prize for book of the year.
These stories are all worthy.
I read the biography of Lee Miller and was shocked at her abrupt shift from girl hood at 8 - when she was raped by a family friend and given syphilis - to New York Conde Nast model, noted surrealist, photographer and Man Ray’s muse.
I read Vita Sackville West’s ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSES, Michelle Obama’s BECOMING and Raymond Carver’s CATHEDRAL.
I have read books about Nazis, bullfights in Spain, England and it’s landscape, New York, celebrity biography, women’s freedom and the truth deep inside our souls.
And then, toward year’s end, in Montana, I take the slow left hand turn into stories of Native Americans: Tommy Orange’s THERE THERE, David Grann’s KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, (characters so fascinating this story will be filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s next project) books of indigenous people and their struggles in wide open prairies and stark snow-covered mountains, and where there is no THERE THERE in Oakland, California.
After all that, I like to clear my palette with Charles Bukowski, a great American poet whose lines are broken so well that before you know it, you’ve read a poem which is really a mini movie. Bukowski goes right to the bone and as I read I feel clarity about myself and my position in myself. I admire his direct accuracy and understanding of the world.
This is my 2019 list - mostly American and British writers. Thanks to Bill Gates I am reading more but my wonder is why haven’t I written my list down before?
2019 A Book a Week for a Year
The Nest Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Girls Emma Cline
Method Writing Jack Grapes
Stranger on Earth Richard Jones
Cathedral Raymond Carver
WONDER Kathleen Matson Blurock
Moise and the World of Reason Tennessee Williams
The Artists Way Julia Cameron
Selected Stories Dorothy Parker
Becoming Michelle Obama
All of Us Raymond Carver
The Sanctuary of the Soul Yogananda
Gift from the Sea Ann Morrow Lindberg
Pocket Pema Chodron Pema Chodron
The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Men Explain Things to me Rebecca Wolnit
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
Fewer Better Things Glenn Adamson
Hotel Du Luc Anita Brookner
Start Where You Are Pema Chodron
Falling Slowly Anita Brookner
Love is Blind William Boyd
Lee Miller Biography Carolyn Burke
Virginia Woolf Bio Alexandra Harris
Altered States Anita Brookner
Living by Fiction Annie Dillard
The Language of Flowers Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Art Lessons Deborah Haynes
Mr. Know It All John Waters
Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History Adam Nicholson
Elements & Origins Margaret Tait
England, England Julian Barnes
English Country Houses Vita Sackville-West
Heat and Dust Ruth Prawer Jvabalah
Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
Then and Now Diane Keaton
In the Garden of Beasts Eric Larson
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
ME - Bio Elton John
Swimmer in the Secret Sea William Kotzwinkle
There There Tommy Orange
Ethan Frome Edith Wharton
Olive Again Elizabeth Strout
Killers of the Flower Moon David Grann
Ninety Nine Glimpses of
Princes Margaret Craig Brown
Prairie Fever Michael Parker
Trust Exercise Susan Choi
On Drinking Charles Bukowski
Calypso David Sedaris
SISSINGHURST Vita Sackville-West
New Poems Book 4 Charles Bukowski
This is Water David Foster Wallace