I love to read. I spent most of my childhood doing it. It was my escape. It fed my imagination. It shaped me into who I am. My book collection is kind of like my music list - varied and dependent on what's going on around me. I go through phases of biography, faith based, books on my craft. I went years without reading a fiction novel. I now tend to read three books at once: one on faith, one on my craft and one fiction.
But in recent years the habit has faded. I buy books but don’t read them. I have the best of intentions but books end up half done (if that) and forgotten. Maybe it was grad school. Maybe it’s the distracted way I’ve lived for far too long. I realized if I wanted to read I needed to be intentional about it. I spend so much time at night zoning out with the TV or re-reading what I write. Instead, I am trying to be better about reading. I want to get away from the screen and read. It’s not about plopping down on the couch and looking at my phone instead of the computer, but opening a book, recharging instead of zoning out.
Like anything worthwhile in life it comes with intentionality. With four months to go, I need to read ten more books to reach my goal. Two and a half books a month? I think I can do it.
Here is what is currently on my bedside table:
Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen by Queen Liliuokalani
I am researching Hawaii’s overthrow for a book I am working on. Who better to learn from than the woman who saw it happen? Liliuokalani was the last queen of Hawaii. She took over after her brother died. The wheels of change were already set in motion. The queen, in an effort to get her side of the story out, published Hawaii’s Story in 1898. She hoped it would strengthen their efforts, put a stop to the overthrow of her nation. But it was not to be.
The queen writes about her life, how she grew up, her travels to London to see Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and the slow takeover of her homeland. The book was published before the final push by the American business community to full coup her kingdom. It is a key read for anyone wanting to understand the heart of these islands and helps put some context around the discussions happening now in Hawaii.
Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend
A Book of the Month selection for June, Enchanted Islands tells the story of Frances “Fanny” and her best friend Rosalie. It is loosely inspired by the memoirs of real life explorer to the Galapagos Frances Conway.
I am still in the start of the book. It is slow to get going. I will see what Amend does with the story, but question why some of this backstory is needed.
The book is set as Fanny looking back on her life, now an old lady in the retirement home with her lifelong friend Rosalie. They both escaped less than idea childhoods and have made a break to Chicago. I will stay with the book for a chapter or two more.
I am fine with rambling stories about life. It’s what I enjoy reading (Molokai, Home, Anna Karenina are some of my favorite books). It’s what I write. But I have to care about the characters and at this point I find Fanny too gullible and Rosalie overly self-absorbed. I know Rosalie isn’t going away and, based off her attitude in the first chapter, she doesn’t change. Unless Amend can endear me enough to Fanny to see her life through, I might leave the Islands and go research Conway’s life on my own.
A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
I love journals. I love reading how other people see the world. I will almost always buy someone’s journal if I come across it in a bookstore because I think it one of the purest ways to really get to know someone. One catch - they can’t be selected. I don’t want someone going back and editing a person’s history. A journal is a private place. It is where we wrestle with the best and the worse of ourselves. It’s where we become. If a person can’t be real in their journal where they can? Edited journals to me are someone taking out what makes a person true.
I read Plath’s journal in college, the one edited by her husband Ted Hughes. Something was missing. Plath was a genius. She was deep, true and troubled - yes! But in her troubled-ness was her genius. Hughes tried to contain her. In how he edited her thoughts we lost a piece of who Plath was. I bought her unedited collection to read. I want to know Sylvia without her husband’s intrusion.
Woolf was a prolific journaler. I amend my protest against edited journals here because it is thematic. Her husband cut her words down to entries on writing, reading, the craft and what she was taking in as she worked on her own works. He lets us have a view of Woolf without editing her voice to fit his agenda (which I feel like Hughes did with Plath).
This book is repeatedly recommended in other writing books. I see why. It feels like a conversation with a master. It also challenges me to invite my reading and work into my journal. Woolf wrestles through books she read, where she is with her own work, and what is going on in circles around her.
A definite read for any budding writer or someone who enjoys Woolf’s work.
What are you reading?