At the beginning of 2020, pre-pandemic, I set a reading goal in Goodreads of 20 books. That may not sound like a lot, but if you read with moving lips like I do – constantly referring to maps and Googling people and events – it is a respectable aspiration.
At the beginning of June, according to Goodreads, I was “three books ahead of schedule.” I decided June would be a good month to finally dive into Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” about Winston Churchill leading Britain as it endured relentless Nazi air attacks from 1940-41. Even if it took me the entire month to read its 600 pages, I reasoned, I still would be ahead of my goal.
It’s June 15, and I have read 62 percent of Larson’s very engaging book – alternating between the Kindle and Audible versions. (Plus there are about 100 pages of indexing and annotating and acknowledging.) So I will still be safely “ahead of schedule” at the end of June.
I really do know that books are not about percentages and schedules and crossing titles off a list. Actually, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed reading so much as right now, and there are a few reasons why:
Time. There is plenty of it. When I don’t have the energy or inclination to go for a bike ride, or practice the guitar, or take a tutorial on Apple Logic Pro, I can pick up a book and not feel that I am frittering my pandemic life away.
Technology. It took me awhile to realize that one of the reasons I wasn’t reading as much was the ever shrinking small print, especially of paperbacks. My mind would wander. We have given away most of our smaller paperbacks and now I am almost exclusively reading on Kindle. If it’s the right book, not too weighed down with dates and long names and jargon, I alternate between the Kindle and Audible versions. That’s a splurge, I know, but we’re not spending money on much else these days.
Exercise. Combining the Audible version of a book with walking around the neighborhood or a nearby National Wildlife Refuge was a twofer – keeping the weight off and exercising my brain at the same time.
Rediscovering fiction. For years, I wore this literary hair shirt with “Only Non-Fiction” screen-printed on it. If I wasn’t “learning something” by reading a book, it wasn’t worth my time. What a snob. Besides, there is a genre called historical fiction. Duh. Once I cast off the hair shirt, Amazon’s algorithms happily supplied me with recommended titles to devour.
So what did you read, already?
My 2020 books, and reviews, are on my Goodreads page. In many cases, I just caught up with what the rest of the world has been reading for the past few years, but here are a few of my year-to-date favorites:
- The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. This World War II family epic, set in Paris and Vichy France, probably lands among my top five books of all time. This is a novel of almost 600 pages, and I read the last 40 percent of it in one day (did I mention that I am a slow reader?) We had listened to Hannah’s The Great Alone last year, and it is amazing that she can produce such wildly different and successful novels.
- Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. I am probably the last person among my Facebook friends to read this book. The premise is highly unlikely, that a 6-year-old could be abandoned by her family and survive in a North Carolina marsh into adulthood, but that’s why they call it fiction. A beautiful, lyrical and sad tale.
- One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, by Olivia Hawker. The story of two families who must survive the winter together on the Wyoming prairie after a tragedy. The characters included the prairie, the Big Horn Mountains, a coyote, crows, blades of wheat, a deformed lamb, a buckskin horse, raging creeks. A work of literature.
- The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. Told over a span of decades from the viewpoints of a sheltered white girl in antebellum Charleston and the young slave she is given as a present for her 11th birthday. I highly recommend the Audible version; the two narrators are superb.
That is a sampling of my reading journey for 2020 – one of the unintended benefits of being locked down for almost four months. Now, back to Erik Larson.