Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not Buying Books: 50 Days In

I can't do things in moderation.

I possess a particular enthusiasm that, in certain circumstances, renders temperance an afterthought. I read a book the other day that quoted St. Augustine as saying "Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation" and I highlighted the quote. Twice. Then I dog-eared the page.

Most of the time, the results of my temperament are relatively benign. Like when my boyfriend asked me if maybe we shouldn't find a planner to coordinate our schedules. Three days later, I posted on my fridge a 16-month Shutterfly calendar comprised of pictures of the two of us on our adventures, carefully coded with eight different colors. And in the dregs of winter, I succumbed to the heady mania of purchasing books and my bank account was suffering.

Of course I hit rock bottom. It was a Friday. I purchased three copies of the same book in one day. Granted, one was the audio version and one was for my mom. But those are not the actions of a sane purchaser of books. Not to mention that, in the process, I also bought six other books. From three bookstores. In one day. And uploaded two others onto my tablet. And this was the third time I'd bought books that week.

Since I knew with intrinsic certainty that telling myself I'd stop buying so many books was mere placation, I resolved to stop buying books for 100 days. People in stunt-memoirs always seem to do things for one year: My Year of Happiness or My Year or Living Biblically or My Year of Knitting Dangerously (that one's real). I can't even conceive of refraining from purchasing books for a year- especially without a book deal at the end of in which I chronicle my Odyssean journey. It wasn't until after I'd told all of my friends about my commitment that I realized 100 days ended in May. It was barely February.

I've gone through the typical Kubler-Ross stages of grief:

Denial: I can handle this. I have plenty to keep me satiated. No big deal.

Anger: This involved lots of rage-crying.

Bargaining: This stage reared its ugly head at the Lincoln Museum gift shop where I cajoled my boyfriend into buying me a biography portraying the Lincolns' marriage. But hey, he got a really nice map out of the deal. And I technically didn't break any rules. Right? I mean, right?

Depression: If I temper this one down, I've definitely felt frustrated that I can't buy Jeanette Winterson's new memoir. I am, however, excepting gifts. Have I mentioned that? Okay, maybe I'm still in bargaining.

Acceptance: This is how I feel most of the time. In psychology classes, professors teach you that people fluctuate through stages. That's true even for lesser life changes like not buying books for a couple months.

I think the best thing I've gotten from this experience is the knowledge that most of the books I buy on impulse are the ones that languish on my shelves. My "Books I Can Buy After 100 Days" shelf on Goodreads has been an interesting creation and editing process. Some of the books that I feel sure I will purchase on That Day look confusing and unappealing three days later. Even the ones with staying power lose their sense of urgency. Not overnight. But eventually.

I'm thinking about establishing a "cooling off" period, in which I refrain from buying books for 48 hours to see if I still want them. Like a literary handgun.

Currently reading:
On Writing- Stephen King
Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are- Sebastian Seung
Sarah's Key- Tatiana de Rosnay

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An Available Man

As with many of my favorite books, I found this through a review on the NPR Books website. I purchased it during the book buying frenzy that ultimately resulted in my resolve to go 100 days without buying books (of which I am on day 46. And while I have not spent money on any books in 46 days, I have coerced other people into buying me books enough to feel only modestly pleased with my accomplishments thus far).

I was immediately captivated with this book, which follows Edward Schuyler, a 62 year-old who is recently widowed. As he mourns and tries to assemble a life after the death of his wife, he must also contend with people who try to set him up with other "available" women before he is ready. This includes his well-meaning children, who put an advertisement in the dating section of the New York Review of Books on his behalf that reads: Science Guy. Erudite and kind, balding but handsome. Our widowed dad is the real thing for the right woman. Jersey/Metropolitan New York.

Author Hilma Wolitzer invents a world in which we, too, grieve for Edward and his beloved Bee. Within the landscape of Edward's memories, Wolitzer creates a relationship with which anyone who has been in love can identify: the idiosyncrasies, the inside jokes, the complicit understandings between two like-minded people. Edward often observes situations and imagines what Bee would say. This is particularly funny when he receives a post-funeral casserole with an accidental, suspicious-looking hair at the bottom. Ah! The surprise, he imagines Bee saying. Wolitzer's characters are original and fresh.

We mourn with Edward; but we also cheer for him when he begins to move forward. I have noticed recently that my favorite books tend to be those in which the characters are gentle, introspective people who are kind and funny (intentionally funny or otherwise). Edward Schuyler espouses each of these qualities. I loved to read about him. This is one of the loveliest novels I've read this year.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Biblio Update

I'm looking out my window and blossoms have bloomed on a tree whose name I should know but don't. It's spring break and an ethereal magic has begun to weave its way through St. Louis. It reminds me of the Bob Ross painting show on PBS, as though the apparition of Ross scrutinizes our trees each night and says "now we're going to add just a little green to the edges of these trees. You make your trees how you want them, this is your special place".

Spring break also means that I get to catch up on a few things: reading, writing, my breath. My Goodreads 2012 reading challenge balefully reminds me that I am 9 books behind pace to meet my goal. However, simply because I have not been reading or writing does not mean life hasn't been interesting. In fact, rather the opposite. So here's an update.

As of right now, I am successfully on day 37 of 100 days of not purchasing books. So far, it's actually lovely. As opposed to being bound by my impulses, I have instituted my own "cooling off" period. I started a list on Goodreads of books to buy after 100 days and I find myself editing it: books without which I once thought I would not make it through the night now look slightly puzzling on the to-read list at all. I think I may institute a consistent "cooling off" period after 100 days are over.

I have currently read 20 books in 2012. Here they are:

1) Binchy, Maeve: "Minding Frankie"
2) Borman, Tracy: "Elizabeth's Women"
3) Browler, Sam: "Profit's Prey"
4) Cain, Susan: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"
5) Chua, Amy: "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"
6) Drew, Clifford: "Designing and Conducting Research in Education"
7) Franzen, Jonathon: "Freedom"
8) Giordono, Paolo: "The Solitude of Prime Numbers"
9) Isay, Dave: "All There Is: Love Stories From StoryCorps"
10)Kingsolver, Barbara: "The Lacuna"
11)Morgenstern, Erin: "The Night Circus"
12)Persico, Joseph: "Franklin & Lucy"
13)Pratchett, Terry & Gaimon, Neil: "Good Omens"
14)Prose, Francine: "Reading Like a Writer"
15)Rehm, Diane: "Finding My Voice
16)Rubin, Gretchen: "The Happiness Project"
17)Simonson, Helen: "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"
18)Wiggins, Grant: "Understanding By Design"
19)Wolitzer, Hilma: "An Available Man"
20)Yuknavitch, Lidia: "The Chronology of Water"

I am currently reading:
1) Harris, Bob: "Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!"
2) Patchett, Ann: "State of Wonder"
3) Seligman, Martin: "Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being"

I have also been involved in other lovely things. For example:

1) I wrote my first official lit review: 27 pages of pure mental exhaustion and torture. A couple of days after I turned it in, I received an e-mail from my professor that said "Just wanted to let you know I just got done grading your lit review. It is BEAUTIFUL!!!! Needless to say, you got a very well-deserved A. Wonderful work!" It was probably the single most gratifying moment of my life.

2) I started karate lessons! I can honestly say that karate is something I never anticipated to be a part of my life. However, the opportunity was offered to me and I have a hard time resisting adventure (which is how I ended up at a fundraiser the other night involving bowling and square dancing and was hilariously misrepresented by calling itself "Swing Both Ways"). I have found that I love karate. It is the perfect antidote to the amount of time I spend sitting in an uncomfortable chair, pondering introspectively or pouring through academic articles. The opportunity to take a break from that to kick and hit things is an enormous catharsis.

3) A couple of friends and I have decided to organize a "Cola Crawl": A twist on the traditional pub crawl. We're raising money for St. Louis Arc, a local organization that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It takes place March 30th and we have the loveliest fliers and t-shirts.

4) I participated in a flash mob! It was with the same organization: St. Louis Arc. We gathered in multiple places (my group met in front of the St. Louis History museum) and danced to Aretha Franklin's "Respect" in order to raise awareness about appropriate language to use regarding people with disabilities. It was an amazing experience! I went by myself and experienced the immediate feeling of bonding with a group of people. As I am inherently not someone who joins organizations or other groups of people, this was a rare and unexpected delight. Also, we were on the news which was really fun. Post Script: has anyone watched the St. Louis local news lately? It appears to be primarily comprised of footage from people's cell phones.

5) I entered a first-time novelist competition. This was a really cool exercise, because I had to submit 50 pages of a novel. However, my apartment was broken into twice in January and someone had stolen my laptop (among many other things), which had all of my graduate work on it, as well as everything I've written creatively in the last 3 years. No, of course I hadn't backed anything up. So, in the thick of my graduate coursework, I decided to embark on a new writing experience. It was difficult and amazing and I'm thrilled that I decided to do it.

6) I had a real, live crime scene unit in my apartment dusting for finger prints after break-in #2. They aren't nearly as terse and harried as they appear on T.V. However, no one was murdered in my apartment, there were no blood spatter patterns of any kind, and they appear to have sent the high school intern over to check things out. No matter, I was enthralled.

Tonight, I'm going to see Temple Grandin speak and I cannot wait.

So everything right now is an adventure. I intend to read like a mad woman this week while simultaneously immersing myself in the annual miraculous seasonal developments. Maybe I'll even figure out the name of that tree.