reading

About Those 1000 Words

Before the Autumnal Equinox, I decided I would write 1000 words every day until the Winter Solstice.

I’ve done ok on the challenge. But pretty soon into the fall, I rewrote the rules: dealing with 1000 words a day counted. Some days, I just erased 1000 words. But almost every day since September 22, I’ve done 1000 words worth of work, which is something.

Since before the fall, I’ve been thinking about Cory Gilstrap, a puppet maker I met for Making the Mountain. When I visited his studio, he demonstrated some basic puppet motions, and I asked him how he learned to make puppets come to life. Through his bare hand, he said, “I did this every night before I fell asleep when I was a kid. Didn’t you do that too?”

I didn’t. But Cory’s question got to me. I think most people who end up doing something they love have that relationship with their medium. That is, it doesn’t just feel vital. It feels natural. Almost any artist can claim that their medium is the fastest path to truth: a writer could argue that organized words are the most logical way to express an idea, but so could a photographer about images. For the first time in a while, I started to think about why I’m creating people and scenarios to express a truth.

The other thing about this challenge is that it’s happening during fourth quarter, which is the time of year my job gets stressful. I also took a workshop during this period. On my tissue box on my desk I’ve written “Busy and stressed or bored and depressed.”

Because I knew I was creating a hectic fall, I made a conscious choice to read less for the past few months. On mornings where I had to be at work early, I came home to write instead of read. 

Of course, I made time for the Jhumpa Lahiri essay that came out last month about learning Italian. There’s nothing I can say about the essay beyond recommending it. Jhumpa Lahiri translates words into feelings better than anyone I know. She’s the author who made me want to be a writer. And reading the essay, I just felt delight. That delight feels so separate from the work I’m doing right now. Figuring out if there needs to be two sisters in a story isn’t really fun at all. 

What I realized this fall is that I like reading a lot. That’s the thing I did every night before bed when I was a kid. It’s the thing that feels most natural to me. I’ve really missed it.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Korea for Christmas. I’m not bringing a computer. I just want to read books and be present. Let’s be real, I’ll write postcards too, but only because postcards are the best.

How The Year in Read Gets Made, or The Reading Habits of Rebecca Aronauer

My uncle records all the books he reads. I admired this; such a list was proof of something. When I graduated college and the period of assigned reading had ended, I began recording what I read, too.

During the year, I write down what I read on a wall calendar. This year was Bernese Mountain Dogs. 

After finishing the book, I record my name and the month and year I read it on the first page. 

For bookmarks, I use tickets, race bibs, and business cards. I try to match the scrap paper with the book.

It’s nice when the bookmark goes with the color of the book:

The Middlesteins, January, 2013, Paine to Pain Half-Marathon race bib

Or when a narrative component of the book matches up nicely with the bookmark: 

50 Shades of Grey, with the card of Office N. Huber of the Aurora Police Department, April, 2013.

The best is when both things happen:

The Centennial History of the Colorado Jews, with a train ticket from Grand Central to New Rochelle, my hometown, a place where Passover and spring break are the same week. 

Raronauer Out Loud

When I was in 5th grade, I ran for president of my class. The slogan was “Aronauer: Time For A Change.” What needed changing at William B. Ward Elementary? I wasn’t so sure about that, but change is what politics is about.

Before I gave my speech, I threw up. I suppose this was better than throwing up during the speech or even after. Vomiting releases a lot of endorphins, and I got all my nerves out of the way. (I suppose what would have been even better than throwing up before my speech is notneeding to vomit out of fear of speaking to 300 8-11 year-olds.)

So public speaking isn’t my thing, and neither is public reading. The only time I’ve ever read my work aloud was in Vermont, when I was in at an artist colony and taking my writing too seriously. Reading part of my book to people made me feel very uncomfortable. I was afraid of being judged.

I realize now that not everyone shares my narcissistic personality disorder directed at me. No one really cares what I read. I’ve gone to a lot of friends’ concerts, art shows and readings. And to me, the fact that my friends are making something is more important than what they actually create.

The second time I’m going to read my work aloud is this Saturday night, at Northeast Kingdom in Bushwick. Unlike last time, I’m not going to spend hours making the work perfect, nor will I burn the transcript afterward. I’ll be reading a new short story, “Float” and if you’re around, you should check me out aloud. 

The Bell Tolls in February, Too

February is a weird time. It’s been winter for long enough that snow and long johns have lost their novelty, but it’s not close enough to the end of the season for spring to peak through for a few days. And even though it gets dark earlier in December, it feels like winter is closing in around you all the time.  

But at exactly four weeks, February is ripe for a cleanse or some sort of absurd, short lasting resolution. I once wore the same pair jeans for all of February. A few years ago, I went to a writers’ colony for the month. But my best February project was reading Moby-Dick as a freshman in college, and since then I’ve thought of this coming month as a good time to read an epic novel.

There’s been so much snow, that I sort of blew my load, and started For Whom The Bell Tolls a week ago, which is great in ways I never would have imagined after hating The Old Man and The Sea in high school and loving The Sun Also Rises in my 20s. Hemingway is incredible with language, imagery, and he can also be funny and inventive and interesting. By virtue of his iceberg writing, Hemingway makes me concentrate in a way that other writers don’t. This isn’t to say Hemingway is my favorite writer, but when I’m into a passage of his, I fall into a rhythm that no one else can lull me into. His writing creates a unique reading experience.

So for those not giving up soy protein for the month of February, I recommend For Whom the Bell Tolls. (Spoiler alert: the answer is “thee.”) Moby-Dick is also great. The only thing whiter than this winter is The Whale, and Melville has a whole chapter devoted to that whiteness. 

Year in Read, Year in Living, 2010

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2010 brought the heat, but as the year closed off, I felt like I had met its every challenge. It’s weird to see people on Facebook thanking 2010– I mean, I guess for some people the year included marriages and babies. Less so for me, but if I were the type to thank years on the internet, I would say I’m glad I went through 2010. I’m stronger, as a writer, person, runner and reader, for it.

But whatever happens in each year, I always read a lot of books, and here’s the list of what I read in 2010:

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories, Alice Munro

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus*®

Sometimes you just have to read a story about a man condemned to push a rock up a mountain every day to get inspired.

Two Lives, Janet Malcolm 

Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami*®

The first time I read this book, I was 18 and in Switzerland. The stuff about the well and the skinning in the Mongolian desert had stayed with me for the past nine years, and I wanted to reread it to remind myself how influential the book has been to my understanding of many topics.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami*®

Even though I didn’t love this book the first time I read it, I have a feeling I’ll be rereading it every six months for the rest of my life. This slim book always reminds me that running, writing and life are meant to be hard, and the only way to deal with that fact is to work hard.

Stitches, David Small

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, Maile Meloy®

Everyone read this book. Maile Meloy is able to write short stories around a feeling—loneliness, unrealized desires, mostly—instead of around some stupid narrative. She’s really great, and I’m sure her next book is going to be a Big Deal, so read this now so you can talk about how you knew all along.

A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Falconer, John Cheever

Cheever, Blake Bailey

Remember that time a college acquaintance, his girlfriend and I wanted to start a book club, decided to read an 800 page biography of a writer no one really reads anymore, and then I read the book and they never emailed me back about setting up a meeting?

Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Half in Love, Maile Meloy ®

Read Maile Meloy. Especially “Garrison Junction." 

Native Speaker, Chang-Rae Lee

Men Without Women, Ernest Hemingway ®

The White Album, Joan Didion ®

The first thing I read my Joan Didion was The Year of Magical Thinking, which was not the place to start. This collection of essays is. I wish I had more adjectives around, but mostly, wow.

A Gate At the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

American Pastoral, Philip Roth*®

If I could write about anything the way he writes about gloves, I’d be a much more accomplished author.

Salvador, Joan Didion®

Self-Help, Lorrie Moore

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami*®

See above.

Seize The Day, Saul Bellow

My favorite thing about this book is still that there’s a dog named Scissors.

Elliot Allagash, Simon Rich

Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross

Reading Myself and Others, Philip Roth

The Big Short, Michael Lewis

I don’t think Michael Lewis could make short selling easier to understand, and yet, I still don’t understand it.

The Book of Common Prayer, Joan Didion

Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner

Long story short: don’t move to L.A. It’s an unsustainable city.

Good Bones, Margaret Atwood

Blind Willow, Sleeping Women, Haruki Murakami®

Natasha, David Bezmozgis

I wasn’t crazy about this collection of interconnected stories, but I did love Bezmozgis’s piece in the 20 under 40 issue of the New Yorker.

Lowboy, John Wary

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen®

Earlier.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower

Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver

Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith ®

I go to readings fairly often, and they’re generally boring. After all, it’s just words on paper, said aloud. But I heard Zadie Smith read from this collection of essays at NYU, and was totally moved. Especially by her essay, ”That Crafty Feeling.“ I bought the book soon after.

Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, Laurie Lynn Drummond ®

Truman Capote Stories, Truman Capote

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway*®

This book is even more depressing on the second go, because you’re not impressed by the initial glamour of Jake’s ex-pat lifestyle, you just see how empty his existence is right away.

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee

Apparently, I can only handle jerk male protagonists if they’re Jewish.

Empire Falls, Richard Russo

Sexy, Joyce Carol Oats

La Place de la Concorde Suisse, John McPhee

Previously read: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006