The History of My Life in Books

Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade, Newtown...

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Some friends and I recently signed up for http://www.shelfari.com/ a website dedicated to books. It was our chance to share our passion for reading, and to create a virtual book group for more reading and discussion.

This could be a good or bad thing. Good, because I will be able to have interesting discussions about books and discover new books to read. Bad, because I can already feel the pull of another technological addiction that will distract me from accomplishing other tasks.

However, I have begun my lists of books read, or books I hope to read. I have watched in amazement as my friends’ lists leap into the thousands. I know that I too have probably read that many books, but I have had trouble remembering what I’ve read or finding books. Plus I need more time to dedicate to plumping up my lists.

But how, I asked myself, do I recall every book I’ve ever read?

As I am sitting in the car on the endless drive back home, I’ve been pondering this question. A moment ago it hit me—the books I read tell the story of my life. All I need to do to find the titles is drift back into time and label the periods of my life. If I search through my interests at a given period, I will find all the books I’ve ever read.

There are the books I turn to for comfort. These include books I re-read almost every year, from a variety of genres. The list includes Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen, books by Maeve Binchy, and recently The Lord of the Rings among others. Some of the books in this list are ones that II read as a child and am now introducing to my daughter, or books that she is introducing to me.

There are the books that represent my academic degrees and my love of learning. The topics under this section cover numerous fields: English Literature, Western Theater, Japanese theater, Non-Western Theater children’s theater, puppetry and a smattering of history, sociology, psychology, humanities and theory. This collection includes books that I picked up out of interest, or because I read something that intrigued me.

There are the books that represent my desire to write, ranging from how to writing books, books on creativity, young adult and children’s novels.

There are books exploring culture from many perspectives. I have children’s stories and fables from around the world. This includes books from my time in Japan, on Japanese culture, stories, and language (some actually in Japanese).

There are books about various research projects that I have started, if not finished. Some of them have turned into articles or papers, some sit waiting for me to pick up and start again. The topics include: women writers, interesting women in history, perfectionism, honors programming, overcoming stage fright and bullying.

There are books that represent my search for identity or my desire to reinvent myself and start over. These include books on spirituality and psychology, self help and memoirs.

There are books from lists. Some of the lists include books that I read because I had to, not because I wanted to. There are books from the list of recommended reading for people going to college that I decided I had to conquer when I was in high school. I don’t think I succeeded. There are books from Oprah’s Book Club that I used to read because I thought they must be good. I found many of them depressing so I stopped reading from that list.

There are books that I read and hated, because I believed that I should give them a chance and read them through, or because once I started I felt like I had to finish. There are books that I started and never finished as I finally gave myself permission to stop reading things I didn’t like. Nobody would arrest me for putting down a book midway.

There are books I’ve read for fun, or for guilty pleasure. Some caught my eye in the bookstore, most of them representing whatever I was feeling in my life at the moment. These include books that I read for the beauty of the language, or because the cover art was interesting. Or books I read on lazy vacation days when I simply feel like reading.

There are books from various book groups which represent a mixture of my own interests and the interests of other intelligent women. There are books I read when I have no time to read.

There are books that reflect my working life, or the working life I hope to create. There consist of books that I use as resources for classes, including picture books, Shel Silverstein, and books on teaching. There are books I read as I developed my skills at teaching College Composition classes. This doesn’t even include all the journal articles, or unpublished manuscripts I’ve read at the request of someone at work.

There are books on the paranormal, because of my fascination with that topic.

There are books on Judaism and the Holocaust (that just reminded me of one interesting book called The Jews and the Japanese which merged two of my interests). There are books about culture, travel, and food. There are books by women writers both for and about women.

I must not forget the list of books I plan to read, or hope to read in the future.

This list keeps growing as I type it. I think that I will learn much about my own story by creating this bookish history.

Billions of words. Millions of pages. Each one adds to the story of Lisa, as it is reflected through books.

I am excited to see what my future story becomes, as it is revealed by the books I choose to read.

How about you? What is the history of your life in books? What does your reading material say about you?

Loving Language: Reflections on Dylan Thomas, 19

Maritime Quarter: Swansea. A statue of Dylan T...

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Last night I went to a one-show called Dylan Thomas, 19. As expected I was washed away in  a torrent of language that brought with it the eerie echoes of wind blowing over the ocean and the earthen clump of humans plodding their way through life.

The performance was elegant and challenging.  I will not claim I understood every word, but I think that is impossible unless you’ve read his work several times before watching and hearing. But that is what is so amazing about Dylan Thomas. His use of language takes twists and turns so that meaning becomes malleable, while at the same time he creates word pictures so beautiful and yet grounded in the earth that you feel and smell the rain and earth surrounding you.

I had my first in-depth immersion in Dylan Thomas a couple of years ago when I directed a staged reading of Under Milkwood for Durango Public Library. The challenge of creating an entire village of people out of a community cast of volunteer actors was a challenge in itself, but first I had to work through the wonder that is Dylan Thomas’ work. Each page is filled with honest and bawdy reflections on the state of human kind, including every fart and twitch that grounds us in the very dirt that our intellect tries to carry us from.

Watching the show last night, my mind began to wander, not because of the performance but because of the challenge of Thomas’ words. I wanted to surround myself in the sounds and the imagery. I wanted to envelope them into my body so that I could later encourage them to spill out onto a page, taking on new form, new meaning, and new life. No, I’m not comparing myself to Dylan Thomas, I am wishing that I had his power of observation and language. I also envied him the ability to say: screw the world, I’m going to pursue my passion whether I get paid or not, whether I eat or not, whether the world approves or not. Now that is not a direct quote or anything, but his words said that to me. He relished language over love and popularity, land over people and politeness. And he created himself as something wondrous.

I want to live in a land of language like that. I don’t want to give up the world, but I want to become lost in words when I am writing. Even more so, I would love to bring others into those words as well, and take them into a journey of sight, sound, and sighs created through language.

Ah, I wish.