My Reading Roars Back

Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger!

Three dozen years ago, this Wednesday, I became a mom, bringing our son into the world. Derek did not slip quietly in, but roared with hunger and passion.

Today, he is a proud father and I’m a grandmother who lives too far away from her grandson. This year, I resolve to remedy this separation and cut my three hour flight, or three day drive, to less than a half hour. I also resolved, during my Christmas holiday family break, to return to reading, where I found my time better spent than hoping the next streaming series or movie would live up to its hype and being perpetually disappointed.

A few days before Christmas, I discovered an audiobook edition of one of my favorite books from the early 90s. Revisiting this novel thirty years later, it still brought tears to my eyes, but did not resonate as vibrantly as my rose-colored memories did. I’m glad I listened to it, but I’m not sure it rates a five star favorite ranking anymore.

I quickly followed that audiobook with my annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this year narrated by Frank Muller and recorded in 1980. I immediately listened to many other Christmas short stories, including The Night Before Christmas by Moore, A Country Christmas by Alcott, The Fir Tree by Anderson, The Birds’ Christmas by Wiggin and “Yes, Virginia There Is a Santa Claus.” Betwixt and between all the classic Christmas tales, I enjoyed the Dune graphic novel. On the final day of 2021, I started Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas, which became my first book of ten to finish since the beginning of 2022.

I continued my listening momentum with a stark hard science fiction classic written in 1973 by Stansilaw Lem, a Polish author, proclaimed by Theodore Sturgeon in 1976 to be the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world. The Invincible was one of the first novels to explore the ideas of microrobots, smartdust, artificial swarm intelligence and necroevolution (a term coined by Lem for the evolution of non-living matter). Not your average everyday First Contact story. I recommend you not listen to it in the middle of the night (like I did) but I otherwise highly recommend it.

I swung the pendulum back from bleakness to dry British wit and listened to two classics. Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the dog) had been on my TBR list ever since I read Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog (part of her Oxford Time Travel series) back in 2009. Personally, I think Connie was much funnier, but it could be that a century and a half plus an ocean diluted the original comedic impact intended by Jerome K. Jerome. I also listened to the first of P.G. Wodehouse‘s Jeeves short story collections, entitled My Man Jeeves.

My first official book club read of 2022 returned to both Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, exceptionally well narrated by Kenneth Branagh. While there is some controversy surrounding one of the lead actors in the most recent adaption (releasing this Friday), I hope to view the movie this weekend at a local theatre. My closest actual real-world book club meets this Thursday to discuss the Mistress of Mystery’s Egyptian holiday.

To round out the first five audiobooks, I returned to a classic from the venerable French “Father of Science Fiction” Jules Verne and listened to Around the World in 80 Days. To be honest, I watched the first two episodes of the Masterpiece series of the same name, starring David Tenant as Phileas Fogg, before realizing I had never read the original but had seen many adaptations. I can see now how much each adaptation speaks to the politics of its time or director.

I traveled to Eugene, Oregon the last week of January to see my daughter perform as Dritte Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote. I spent four nights there and saw opening night and a Sunday matinee of The Magic Flute. For the flight to the Pacific Northwest, I listened to Common Sense by Thomas Paine and continued listening to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

For one of my other online book clubs, the Whenever Book Club hosted by the Kansas City Public Library, I needed to read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. A very compelling story but I confess I preferred Miller’s Circe.

The only ebook I read in January returned to Ancient Rome to Search the Seven Hills: The Quirinal Affair by Barbara Hambly. I literally could not put my tablet down and wondered why Barbara never again wrote about Sixtus or Marcus.

For my return flight, I had hoped to finish C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce which normally would have fit perfectly in the 3.5 hour flight time. However, due to a prodigious tail wind, we arrived in Kansas City in under three hours. So I listened to my podcasts for the first two hours and dozed for the last.

I’m currently continuing to read The Nature of Middle-earth by Hostetter, both for my local Tolkien Society of Kansas City Smial of the Withywindle and nominally along with the Tolkien Professor via the Mythgard Academy. I also started another Inkling’s nonfiction work entitled The Mind of the Maker: The Expression of Faith through Creativity and Art by Dorothy L. Sayers, with an introduction by Madeleine L’Engle.

When 2022 dawned and I needed to set a reading challenge goal at Goodreads, like I have every year since they started it in 2011, I once again halved my normal hundred book goal. The past two years, with the pandemic and losing my husband, have taught me to be more forgiving of myself. Something woke up inside of me after Christmas last year. I’ve read ten books in five weeks this year – and I feel more like myself again. I’m finding my center and my balance. This may be the year of the tiger, but my heart roars with the fires of a dragon.