In May of 2019, I set myself a goal of reading a nonfiction book a week. Ten months in, I’m three weeks behind, but now with quarantine time upon us I’ll have time to catch up. While I intended to blog about this experience after reaching my goal of 52 weeks, now might be a better time.
Dr. Zeuss wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” According to the PEW Research Center, one in four Americans does not read books—that includes audiobooks and kindle. The Literacy Project Foundation reported that in 2017, six of ten American households didn’t buy a single book. As a former teacher who read to children every single day, this was disconcerting.
We read to understand others’ perspectives and gain a better grasp of topics and subjects. When what we’ve learned is subject to “half-life”—one set of facts replaces old facts—reading keeps what we know updated and what we say relevant. After overhearing her daughter, Stephanie, on Skype teaching her marketing class, her mother asked, “Do you really understand all that?” Stephanie’s tweet sharing her mother’s question trended to sixty thousand in a day as young people shared similar stories, parents clueless of the work they do.
Reading opens our minds to let more light in and offers a seat at any table. It’s truly amazing to have access to a limitless number of people, living and deceased, sharing what took them a lifetime to learn. Reading provides opportunities to embrace new thoughts and revise long-held beliefs, stretching our comfort zone. It is like returning to college at 71.
Few weeks in, I modified my “read a nonfiction book-a-week” decision. My brain pleaded for a time out to digest the information from books like A Lesson Before I Die and Why We Sleep. One challenged my view of justice and the other my health practices. So my goal changed to read any book true or tale.
As far as fiction, our taste differs. A piece of chocolate will not taste the same to two people. No two persons ever read the same book. I rate fiction on how I feel when I turn the last page—like I lost a friend. It was true for Cutting for Stone, The Last Bus to Wisdom, The Power of One, The Giver of Stars, and many others. I didn’t want my one-way relationship with the characters to end.
When I set goals, I seldom delve too far into the consequences, good or bad, how my life may change. It did. I have less time with friends, yet feel more centered. There is less hurriedness and more appreciation and wonder. More than before, I am putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb.” If I’d ever questioned the value of reading, this experiment put it to rest.
Reading while quarantined beats watching the number of casualties of the Coronavirus uptick or downtick. If I have convinced you to read more, I’ll share my top choices of the books I have read in my reading marathon, books that offer mind-stretching, or vacation from it all.
Nonfiction: Nine Pints: A Journey through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood by Rose George. Nine pints is how much blood we carry. Rose takes us from ancient bloodletting practices to “liquid biopsy” that one day may diagnose cancer and other diseases. You will never look at blood the same way again and you will gain an understanding of how blood has become a lucrative business.
Nonfiction: Why We sleep and Dream: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. The first part of the book was heavy on the science, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. After reading Walker’s book, sleep took the first spot on how to stay healthy. It’s not the right food or the most soulful meditation music. I now take a greater interest in my Fitbit, step activity wristband that also tracks the different phases of sleep (light, REM, and deep) because I understand what it means for me. Tim is not a gadget guy and less technology is just fine with him. However, soon after reading Matthew Walker’s book, he bought a Fitbit and wears it routinely.
Nonfiction: Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Haworth. Kate’s message is for a different way of thinking about what economics should focus on to support all people and our planet. For a summary, check out her TED Talk on YouTube.
Fiction: Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig. What a wonderful surprise. A grandmother is raising eleven-year-old Donal Cameron in the Montana Rockies. When grandma needs surgery for her “female trouble,” Donal is sent to live with his great-aunt. The characters are splendid, real, and memorable. Not surprising, Last Bus to Wisdom was named the best book of the year by the Kirkus Review and the Seattle Times.
Fiction: Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir. I’m going out on a limb with this one set in Iceland. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads that are either one or five, the book’s quirkiness and twisted humor may be particular to the Icelandic culture. The story is of a young woman who has just been dumped by yet another boyfriend on the same day she accidentally kills a goose. More than anything, she wants a tropical vacation, but when her best friend brings her four-year-old mute son for here to take care of, it turns into a tale of self-discovery.
Most of the fiction books I read in my reading marathon are popular and widely read. The Last Bus to Wisdom and Butterflies in November are two exceptions.
My future quarantine readings:
Epic Solitude, a Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
Belonging, A German Recons with History and Home
Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over