Saying Goodbye to My Reading Diary

When I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher who loved books as much as I did. While the school and local public librarians could tell me about classics, only Mrs. Schwinger knew anything about contemporary books. It was Mrs. Schwinger who told us about  Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Wrinkle in Time and Harriet the Spy. She kept her own small library of recent volumes in the back of our classroom. If you finished an assignment before the rest of the class, you were encouraged to pick one up and read at your desk. For Florence Schwinger, as for me, reading wasn’t a chore but a delight. Every Friday afternoon, when we returned from lunch, we’d push back our desks and have a “sharing” session to tempt others to read the books we’d particularly enjoyed: individually or in pairs, we’d perform a sketch or a song, show a diorama or poster, or simply stand up and speak. You read, you grow; you share; you remember. 

To help with that last piece, Mrs. Schwinger had us keep a reading diary. We kept them in slim, soft-covered booklets of square-ish proportion, very similar to the blue books I’d someday be given for my college history exams except that the cover pattern was the mottled black-&-white “composition” print so familiar to several generations of American school kids. Every time we finished reading a book, we were to record the title, the author and the date, plus as little or as much as we wanted to say, so long as it showed that we’d read the actual book and not just the jacket blurb. Mrs. Schwinger periodically collected these notebooks, to keep on top of what we were reading (and presumably what we were thinking). When a notebook was complete, she’d keep it and hand us a fresh one.

Sometime between senior year of high school and heading off to college, a surprising manila envelope appeared in the mailbox: one of my 5th grade reading diaries. I can only think that Florence felt that the threshold of adulthood was a good time for us to touch base with our pre-teen selves. What it did for me was show me how many books I’d read that I’d entirely forgotten—at least consciously (I often question whether my subconscious has forgotten anything I’ve ever read). I decided that, as a freshman in college, I would resume the habit Florence had encouraged. I would keep a reading diary again. Anticipating that there would be a great deal of class-related reading in college, I further decided that my Book Book (as I called it) would be limited to books read for pleasure.

I’ve kept up the habit over the decades since college. Thanks to my collection of Book Books, I can verify whether I really read the book or only think I did because I saw the movie. I can confirm that I was not at all amused by Confederacy of Dunces and was completely perplexed by everyone else’s enthusiasm for Fear of Flying. I know that, for catharsis during a bad break-up, I binged on Jean Rhys; and that I waited far too many years before picking up my first Terry Pratchett (it was Moving Pictures). It can be fascinating to look back and see not only what I was reading but how much time/energy I felt like putting into commenting on it. There are flashes of envy, when I had to acknowledge how meagre my own gifts were by comparison to a specific writer…and sometimes envy of a writer who left me thoroughly unimpressed but who nonetheless had the power to command an agent, a book deal and what I felt were ridiculous accolades from reviewers. Sometimes the diary entries are a glimpse into my heart, but other times they amount to little more than a plot summary, concluding with “a pleasant enough read.”

For the last couple of years, it’s been increasingly difficult to maintain these records. I still keep a list of what I’ve read (mostly in an effort to vary my reading, which is especially challenging during sad times when I want to binge on mysteries or fantasies) but I’ve often found myself lagging months behind in writing down my thoughts. The longer the lag, the more arduous the act became, to the point where I realize that I’ve effectively quit. And yet, I’ve hesitated to turn the key in the lock and officially call it closed.

There’s always been a significant archivist quotient to my nature. The Book Book is only one element of this. I’ve also historically kept elaborate photo albums and preserved other artifacts. Only recently have I begun to question who I’ve been keeping these archives for. When I began, I must have imagined they’d have some value beyond my own lifetime. As it’s turned out, however, I have no children and I’ve made no mark on the world. My memories are of interest to no one but me. It’s a shocking realization, very bruising to the ego, that once I’m gone none of these archives that I’ve so carefully (and often arduously) compiled will amount to more than a very large bin of recyclable paper.

Maybe at this point in life, the way to grow up isn’t to start a new venture but to accept that it’s time to put some things to bed. So I’ll finish off the Book Book entries for 2016 (yes, that’s how far I’ve lagged behind; here it is August and October – December are still pending) and set that notebook aside. And the notebook that had already been purchased for 2017 will be used to keep lists: because I still like to enforce some kind of variety in what I read, and there’s nothing like seeing five scifi stories in a row to send me running to the non-fiction TBR pile!


Mission Accomplished!

I’d like to say that I’ve been so focussed on writing that I haven’t had a minute to spare for blogging in the (gulp!) two+ years since my last post. It’s more honest to say that when I find myself drifting off topic during my writing hours, it does me more good to mess around in the kitchen than to turn to another kind of writing (I’m a very good kitchen-messer!)

Today, however, I am thrilled to be blogging! Because today I’m sharing a major life achievement.

If you were with me during  the Great Agent Fiasco of 2010-11, you’ll know that, after I finally finished licking my wounds, I accepted that if I ever wanted to see my work published I was going to have to do it myself. And, half measures never being my way, I vowed to not only publish that book but three others that were in various degrees of completion. Well, in April 2012, I did indeed put out The Breast of Everything. Followed by “Merle Darling’s” alternative history/fantasy, The Upsilon Knot, in August 2013. February 2015 saw the launch of Under the Bus. This week….astonishing as it is to contemplate, I can hereby declare the mission a wrap with the release of Chasing Fireflies.

And, as they say on game shows, there’s more! Not more book (though there will be more books in time; I’m currently deep into work on an Upsilon sequel, The Omicron Negative)  No, there’s more significance than the conclusion of a four-book writing/publishing marathon. I began planning to write Chasing Fireflies so long ago that…Well, let’s just say I was still in college when the seeds were planted. It took years for me to feel ready to write it and, more critically, to be able to write it. I was nearly at that point when I made my decision to begin the four-book marathon, and very deliberately made this book the last lap. So you could say that Chasing Fireflies is, for better or worse, the achievement of my lifetime. I tend to gag on the word “closure,” but I suppose that’s what I feel: oddly peaceful, like lounging on a pool float on a not-too-hot afternoon with a tropical cocktail in my hand.

Pretty amazing, huh? It’s been one hell of a ride. All of it. Was it easy? Not in the least. Fun? Only sometimes. Am I glad I did it? Very!

It’s been wonderful to have so many supporters with me throughout this adventure. When it go hard to keep going, you cheered me on. When I doubted myself, your reactions to the work gave me the confidence to push forward.

Thank you so much for your love and support!

Early New Year’s Resolution

How’s this for a lack of procrastination? I’m posting my New Year’s Resolution in early December.

As Resolutions go, it’s not much.  All my life, I’ve set goals and standards for myself; and I continue to work hard to try to meet these benchmarks. So why feel guilty when I’ve fallen short? While I’m obviously still too immature to be content in accepting that it’s the process that matters, I should have at least grown enough to acknowledge that lack of attainment is no reason for self-castigation.

So, to kick off 2014, I’ve decided to take that first step and eliminate gratuitous self-reproach from my life. Starting with a statement about blogging.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already noticed that I don’t blog regularly. And that I periodically apologize for this. Why? Fact is, this state of being isn’t likely to change. I’m not a speedy writer. Any blog that I do write requires a decent chunk of time to draft, as well as surprising large time-&-effort to shift my focus away from whatever WIP otherwise currently holds my attention.  Moreover, there a zillion blogs out there already, and no one’s life is depending on the contents of mine. Why beat myself up over not sustaining a spurious schedule?

It’s just too tough to blog for the sake of blogging. I only want to post occasionally, when I have something I honestly feel compelled to share.  And you know what? That’s okay. If you’re one of my readers, I’d hope you’d rather have me finishing stories. Well, whether or not you would, I would; and I’ve decided that’s okay, too. We’re only immortal through the memories we leave behind. As a writer, what I want to leave behind, for better or worse, are my stories.

So I don’t know when I’ll be posting to this page again. It might be weeks, it may be months.  Whenever it is, there won’t be any apologies or explanations attached.

Until then, I wish all of you a very happy new year. And may all your resolutions be as liberating as mine!