Nose in a book

Somewhere along the way I became much more a magazine reader than a book reader.

It seemed to better fit my life, I guess. I wrote sports columns and features, some long-form but mostly quicker-hit, short-story stuff. So it was natural I’d be drawn to read, and be inspired by, similar reporting and non-fiction in places like The New Yorker, Esquire and Sports Illustrated.

(I tried Vanity Fair years ago, too, for a little while. But the cloying “famous actor said while spearing a piece of seared tuna drizzled with ginger marinade from his lunch plate” BS in the Vanity Fair celebrity puff wore me out.)

Anyway, I morphed into reading only a couple of books a year, maybe. A presidential biography; Lincoln, Jefferson, Truman. The mysteries of dogs. Golf psychology. A bit of fiction; “Life of Pi.” “The Kite Runner.” Stuff like that.

So I am proud to report — if only to myself on this blog for intellectual affirmation and behavioral reinforcement — that I have reacquainted myself with the delicious adrenaline of picking up a book I cannot put down, of carving out blocks of time to keep the pages turning and my imagination ignited.

It is “All The Light We Cannot See,” a masterful World War II novel by Anthony Doerr that won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The characters are simply but sharply drawn in short, pulsating chapters, most only two or three pages. His multi-tentacled, richly woven story drips with visceral description, dialogue and emotion.

I got it from the Old Dominion library, grabbing it as an afterthought – lured by the Pulitzer note next to it on the shelf — on my way out after picking up the book of essays I actually walked in for.

I waited to start it but have raced to the final 100 pages, waking up early, putting off household chores, losing myself again (as it should be) in literature, ending this post (in a second) . . . to dive back in.

I hope to be again like my daughter and certain friends who have the next one — and the one after that — waiting even as their current pages flip and fly by, ink on bound paper, the wonderful melody of elegantly arranged words leaping forth to enrich my life and inform my own writing, such as it is.

It is so easy to drift. But I like myself more when I realize my lapse, even in this case if it has taken longer than it should have to right the course, back to the savoring of art and toward the land of the better read.




To the curb . . .

I haven’t read that big-hitter book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” yet . . . but I feel that life-changing spirit moving within me, hallelujah!

When the month turned, I promised myself to throw out, sell, give away or otherwise discard at least one possession a day. A New Year’s resolution in July. Why? Because I really don’t need a best-seller, or any of the scads-worth of decluttering books and testimonials out there, to sip on the affirming tonic of simplification.

Control feels good, in whatever amounts. Self-control; to breathe and count to 10 and let a virulent moment percolate and die. Self-discipline, to push through a workout or a task with mindfulness and feel lifted when it is done. Self-worth, to appreciate your place in the order of the universe and to value that gift.

It is along the lines of breaking a habit — “I will only drink two cups of coffee this morning.” — or promoting a new skill — “I will spend 15 minutes on that learn-a-new-language website, learning, um, a new language.” I will read just a chapter of this book a day, go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night, put a dollar into an envelope  for charity each morning.

Extremes — obsessions, compulsions, hoarding — aren’t the issue. They don’t have to come into play. The ticket is small bites. Tapas meals, so to speak. Wednesday, the brand-new-with-tags sweatshirt hanging there that I will never wear went into the donation bag. Thursday, to the curb with the crusty living room chair with cat scratches down one hideous leg, and a couple of ratty area rugs shoved into the garage years ago for no perceptible reason. That felt damn good.

Now today, free time to root through books boxed and sitting in the attic. They are forgotten. Unused. Valueless here any more. Why are they there?

Inertia. That’s all. The force that mutes self-awareness, self-improvement, that reinforces unproductive patterns lapsed into without forethought. They are comfortable when they are unexamined. Shine a light on the clutter — physical, mental and emotional — and it scatters. It abhors challenge, craves the comfort of more of the same, then more of the same, and then more still . . . of the same.

This house will continue to streamline on its inevitable way to new hands. Same for the storage bins that time and experience shove under beds and into corners to darken the spaces that would most benefit from light and fresh air.

Purge the chaos, feed a soul thirsty for nourishment, even if it doesn’t realize it. That’s the chapter and verse. That’s the book.