I Am Reading Too Many Books At the Same Time Again

I've been having a bit of trouble maintaining a good reading focus lately. I'm not sure whether it's perimenopause or too much electronics use or - most likely - a combination of both. When I'm reading on my ipad, not only do Twitter and Facebook notifications float across my screen, but if I think of something I wanted to know or if something I read touches off a string of associations - and when doesn't it? - it's way too easy to click away and look up the name or phrase or reference I'm thinking of. Further, if I force myself NOT to look it up right then, the likelihood that I will remember it later is very low. So I could stop and just make a note to look it up later, but then I'd still be interrupting my reading. You see my dilemma.

Sometimes this kind of fuzziness leads to me starting multiple books in search of something that will hold my attention better, but I don't think that's actually the case this time. I usually read in the rough order of: something with a deadline, i.e. book club book, borrowed book, library book expiring soon; library ebooks that can't be renewed; library books that can be renewed; books I own. I keep telling myself to stop borrowing library books until I finish my pile of books that I own, and I keep not doing that.

So. The last book I finished was Exhalation, a book of short stories by Ted Chiang (who wrote The Story of Your Life, an amazing short story which was made into the movie Arrival). It was excellent. I moved it up in my queue because it was a library ebook that only had a few days left before it expired. Before that I was reading a library ebook that still had a couple of weeks left - An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, brother of John Green whose books I adore. I don't have a really good read on it so far, but it's fast-paced and enjoyable. The funniest thing is that it revolves around giant mysterious statues that appear around the world, and the first girl to discover them and become the public face of their reception calls the first statue "Carl", which then becomes the name of all the statues. This vividly recalled to me the many times I would walk Eve home from school in the winter when she was five and six and seven, me trudging along the sidewalk or road, her in her blue snowsuit scrambling over snowbanks and climbing up on people's snow-piled lawns. She talked non-stop, to me or to herself or to the trees in her path. She called all the trees Carl.

Just before I started reading that, Indigo put five dollars in Plum points in my account. I decided to order a book by a woman, since I've been trying to read more books by women (for obvious reasons, I hope). I ended up ordering three books ("how much was it again? FIVE dollars?" Eve asked, somewhat unkindly): Wait Til You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unforth - honestly, can't even remember how I came across it  but the first three stories have been excellent; Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers - Monstrosity, Patriarchy and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle because it sounded insanely cool and also extremely rage-provoking and talks about horror books and movies, and the first bit has been wonderful (and also rage-provoking, naturally). One of my favourite quotes so far: "The Babylonian Talmud states that 'if a menstrating woman passes between two men, if it is at the beginning of her period she will kill one of them' (I added a note saying "maybe he told her she'd be prettier if she smiled"); and Tender, a book of short stories by Sofia Samatar, a Somali-American educator, poet, and writer (because I'm also trying to read more books by black women). The first story is called Selkie Stories Are for Losers, and the first line bit reads "I hate selkie stories. They're always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said 'What's this?' and you never saw your mom again." I trust you'll agree I chose well.

Before the lovely afternoon I spent getting to know those three books, I was reading three OTHER books on my Kindle. One was This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, which I pre-ordered and waited for impatiently, and it is awesome - time-travelly and badass woman-ful and I think kind of gay - but it's very dense and I'm enjoying reading it very slowly. Two was Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren - I've read a few of her short stories and they are devastatingly good and very much not for the faint of heart. This is also extremely original and inventive and laden with doom and dread, but there is very little narrative energy, so again I'm reading it slowly. Three is The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien. So far I've read a fantastic Little Red Riding Hood retelling by Seanan McGuire, a story by Karin Tidbeck that completely turns fairy tale logic upside down and a version of Hansel and Gretel by Daryl Gregory that is both howlingly funny and extremely moving and has a ton of drugs in it.

But right now I am concentrating solely on finishing The Idiot by Elif Batuman for book club, which would normally have been last night, but we're down a member so we're not starting until October this year, which, given the way this month has gone is kind of a relief.

I can't remember who picked this book and I didn't know much about it going in. The first thirty or so pages didn't leave me impressed. I couldn't tell if it was a memoir or fiction, and it just seemed to be a journally account of a young woman's first year at Harvard with a lot of so what-type moments. The next hundred pages won me over to an extent - there was a bunch of fun linguistic stuff: "In linguistics class, we learned about people who had lost the ability to combine morphemes, after having their brains perforated by iron poles. Apparently there were several such people, who got iron poles stuck in their heads and lived to tell the tale – albeit without morphemes. By studying where the poles were, and what morphemes got lost, you could figure out where the morphemes were stored". There were a few laugh-out-loud moments: "The whole week was depressing. I spent nine hours of it shivering, wrapped in the Gogolian coat, through a nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust. At some point I thought I had grown a lump in my thigh, but it turned out to be a tangerine – it had fallen through a hole in the pocket and ended up trapped in the lining".

There were also a couple of clunky lines that reminded me of things that I wrote in college and considered terribly profound: at one point she looks at a bunch of people in a pool learning how to scuba dive and thinks "how did all those people know that they wanted to learn how to scuba dive?" Ugggghhhh. Also, she's falling in love with another student through a series of incredibly pretentious email exchanges which just make me want to warn her that he will have the worst man-colds imaginable and won't ever change a diaper. So I'm not all in, but it's diverting enough. 

So obviously my reading life is completely out of control, but I'm happy and excited about all of it, and will share many more morphemes presently.


Mary Lynn said…
“Also, she's falling in love with another student through a series of incredibly pretentious email exchanges which just make me want to warn her that he will have the worst man-colds imaginable and won't ever change a diaper.“

You crack me up. 😂

Your reading skills impress me to no end. I have a terrible time keeping track of what’s going on in books if I read too many at once. I’ve learned I can handle having one fiction and one-nonfiction on the go and that works pretty well.
StephLove said…
My reading kind of ground to a half in mid-August when Noah left. Trying to get back into it.
Ernie said…
I usually do not read during the school year. No time. But I joined my college book club and I am finding time to read. I could NEVER read more than one book at once. I just finished 'Red Notice' - I am not all that interested in the financial world so it was not my favorite. I just picked up 'Educated' for our next book club book. It sounds really good!

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