Monday, January 30, 2017

Making My Way Past Crazy...

I'm trying something new this year. I'm trying to not get bogged down in a goal of reading x books per year. I'm trying to give myself some leeway, picking up books that interest me, whether they are "great literature" or not. I used to read everything, and a hundred books every year, and tons of other books that didn't count because I didn't really want anyone to know that I read them.

Last year, or maybe the year before, I read Patton Oswalt's book, Silver Screen Fiend: Learning about Life from an Addiction to Film, which is an exceptional read. Basically Patton described my OCD crazy tendencies in a way that helped me to grasp how out of control I let my hobbies get. He describes his notebook, in which he writes down every movie that he sees and how it only counts if he a) sees the movie in a theatre and b) sees every moment of the film from beginning to end. If he misses even one second of the start of the movie, it doesn't count, doesn't get to be recorded as having officially been "seen."

So, that crazy spoke to me. Big time. I have all of these rules that govern everything in my world, and I have been ever so slowly letting go of them in the past year. It's enjoyable to not be held to small minutiae but it is incredibly difficult. A lot of that just has to do with my brain, and the fact that I created these rules for myself 20 years ago and thus have lived quite faithfully by them for all of my adult life. It does help, though, to have your life fall apart at every conceivable seam-it doesn't matter that you always cleaned the bathrooms on Mondays, that you always did the New York Times crossword in ink, that you diligently recorded every book, movie, and television show (which are but a few of the things that I was convinced were holding my life together). It sounds so insane-to convince yourself that the way that the dishes are arranged in the cupboard is somehow precariously holding your world together and that simply monitoring them and making sure they never move an inch to the left is somehow doing something to keep your head afloat. But that's my crazy.

I'm getting better, though. So far this year I have read 3 books and am working on a 4th to be finished this week-not because I have to read a book a week but because it's a really great read that I am loving. Letting go of "I have to finish every book I start," I know will ultimately lead me to enjoying the books I am reading more, lead me to less drudging through a book I'm not enjoying just to say, 'oh yes, I've read that' when someone asks.

So, what I've read this past month:

The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang

The first book in my new "book club," which is just me and April reading a book together and talking about it. She is sending me a book every month that is a complete surprise to me until I open it, which is tons of fun. So far these are books that I have heard of but not too terribly well, and I don't read dust jackets, so it's sort of like diving into a book I know nothing about, which is far different than my normal book choices. This one was interesting to me in that it dealt with the financial collapse of 2008, and bits of it were very funny, particularly dealing with the oldest sister and her rise and fall in the art show world. However, it is difficult to feel sorry for the characters who are not written to be terribly likeable and the father character never became more than a caricature to my mind.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The "It" book of the season since the election, because it paints a portrait of life as a "hillbilly" in Kentucky and Ohio, I wanted to read this one from the moment I heard J.D. Vance interviewed on Fresh Air. Some of his experiences ring desperately true to me-I know exactly what it is like to grow up in Appalachia, and I have such a soft spot in my heart for those who were born and bred here and don't have any real desire to leave. It's a tricky book to navigate though-after all, Mr. Vance did leave Appalachia, and even though he really struggles to illustrate how difficult it was to fit in at Yale, he eventually does find his place, and a wife not from here, and his life just basically goes off in a different direction. Not that it shouldn't-the dream of many parents is that your child will go off to become something that you never even imagined you could dream him to be. However, it makes his conclusions ring with the air of one who left, one who is looking from the outside in. As much as I enjoyed the vast majority of the book, and even though I do not believe that he had intention to write anything other than love and kindness toward the Appalachian community, the ending comes off as though this is a thesis written for those on the coasts to let them know what kind of "other" exists in the Midwest. It's complicated.

That said, it is a good read, and it reminded me so much of a documentary that I watched many years ago on HBO called American Hollow. Directed by Rory Kennedy, it is an intimate look at an Appalachian family, their life and their dreams and their lifestyle. It is available on YouTube and so I watched it again and found it as profound as the first time that I saw it, 18 years ago and in college and completely unaware that I was about to meet a boy who would introduce me to this way of life.

As to the third book I have read in the past month, that is another blog post for another time.

For today, I am reading and enjoying my life and my girls and, yes, I still do the New York Times crossword in ink. But that is because I am a nerd. Not because I am crazy.