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Your Year in Books

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This is a little game they’ve been playing every New Year over at LibriVox. The fun is to try filling in the blanks on the questionnaire using only the titles of books you’ve read in the past year.

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Books Read in 2015

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As you may have noticed, the sticky-post at the top of this blog has changed. The 2015 LibriVox Book List Thread has been updated for the last time. To avoid having to click over to the LibriVox site to see that list again, I’m posting it here for future reference:

(Meanwhile, the new sticky-post above contains the updated link to the current year’s Book List in progress.)

Totals —
57 print books read in 2015 —
and 52 audio books listened to.

What I Read:

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Humans of New York

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Humans of NYHumans of New York
by Brandon Stanton

A picture book — a completely engrossing and thought-inspiring picture book. That’s what I found on the “new books” shelf of my local library branch. I picked it up on a whim, thinking I would thumb through it in one evening and return it quickly. Instead, I kept it for the full 3-week loan, studying these photographs one by one, slowly savoring the individual faces and their brief snippets of words.

According to the book’s Introduction, this photo collection began in 2010 as a project to create a pictorial census of New York City. But as the photographer continued taking pictures of people, he found himself listening to their words, seeing their uniqueness, wanting to convery the wonderful variety of humanity in a fresh way. He began posting a portrait every day on a web site “Humans of New York” — (HONY for short). It’s been going on for several years now, and attracted more and more viewers, but I had never heard of it until I picked up this book in the library. For some of us, a traditional book is still our doorway into a new place.

There’s not much text, but what’s there is almost like found poetry:

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Don’t Mind the Gap

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Yeah.  It really has been three whole months since I paid any attention to this blog.

Over on the LibriVox forum, that sort of thing happens often enough that they have an acronym to cover it — RL. Anyone who explains a gap in activity by saying, “Sorry, I got caught up in RL“, is instantly understood. Real Life — it happens to all of us.

We all have an internal sense of what to drop when we are juggling too many things to carry. If I’ve got a purse, some books, and a bag of groceries containing eggs, and something’s going to slip and fall kerplop, I’ll drop the purse or books in order to hang onto the eggs. They’re most likely to be hurt, and the other things can be picked up after I safely set down the eggs.

When RL becomes a juggling act, this blog is what goes kerplop and lies underfoot until more immediately needy tasks have been safely landed.

It’s happened before, and it’ll probably happen again. Eventually, dropped items do get picked up. No harm done, really — maybe just a bit dusty from lying around so long.

Here I am, looking back to last May and considering where I left off and how I might begin again.There’s a gap that seems to require some explanation, some spackling-over. Then again, spackle is useless when the hole to be filled is too wide. Maybe this gap will just have to remain unfilled.

I haven’t actually stopped reading during this gap. I’ve just stopped documenting the reading. In my personal hierarchy of priorities, doing certain things is important — documenting what I do isn’t.

That’s such an important statement that I want to say it again — say it clearly so that it sinks into my thoughts. What I do — day by day, year by year — matters muchly. Documenting what I’ve done doesn’t matter at all in the long run.

People have lost every scrap of their life’s documents — photos, letters, diaries — in floods, fires, and wars. It hasn’t mattered. What has mattered is their lives as lived, their effect on the world and people they touch. What matters is what goes on in RL, Real Life.

The books I have read have shaped my thoughts and feelings, my character and my actions, at an internal core so deep that only God understands what goes on there. The events and people that command my attention and involvement have shaped me, too, even as I’ve played a part in shaping them. This is the unstoppable ruckus of RL and its constant development.

I pause to write now and then, as I’ve done since I was a child, because the activity of writing is for me actually an activity of thinking. Writing slows down the thought process, helps me to think with more awareness of what I’m thinking, helps me to examine what’s happening at that unseen deep core, perhaps to understand it better.

But much as I need these occasional fits of writing, I don’t need them the way I need other more immediate things. If there’s an occasional gap in the writing, that’s okay, the activity of RL is still going on and still doing its work of shaping who I am becoming. And eventually, there will always be slower moments when I can return to writing. Maybe one of those slower moments is coming along now.

As to the three-month gap, it’s not going to be filled. Let’s just hop over it and keep on going.

2015 Reading List on LibriVox Forum

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Over at LibriVox, the folks have a thread going in which we are invited to keep a running list of the books we are reading. This year I’m participating, because it’s a great way to keep track of titles that would probably get lost in my increasingly porous memory. Over here on my blog, I’m only writing about a random selection of books, not everything I’ve read. For the complete reading list, here’s the link to that LibriVox thread:

LibriVox 2015 Book Lists Thread  (This should take you directly to my list. By scrolling up and down the thread, you can also read other folks’ lists.)

(Book list last updated January 1st 2016).

On Looking

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On LookingOn Looking
by Alexandra Horowitz

Walking around the familiar blocks that surround the house I’ve lived in almost all my life, my level of attention fluctuates.  On a day when I’m walking to get somewhere in a hurry, I see only what is unexpected or surprising, passing by the just-as-usual without a thought. On a night when I’m prayer-walking before bed, I’m mentally distant from the distractions of houses and cars — and as I sink into prayer, I even forget the breeze on my face. But there are other days, when I’m venturing out for a walk after a week trapped in the house by weather or health impediments, days when I’m so refreshed to be out there again, when I wake up to all sorts of attentiveness beyond what is usual.

Walking in places not so familiar as my own block, my attention is usually more wide-ranging and open. New things to see mean deeper seeing is going on. But how to bring that sort of heightened attentiveness to my own familiar block — ah, that’s a good question. And that’s the question this author sets out to explore in this book. She undertakes to simply “go for a walk” around a familiar place, a dozen walks with a dozen different “guides” who will help her look at the block with fresh eyes and a new mind.

Walking with a toddler and seeing with a toddler’s eyes brings her attention to circles and triangles, a standpipe and an abandoned shoe. Walking with a geologist, she learns to see that even the sidewalk under her feet has a personality and a history. Another guide helps her appreciate the cacophony of printed lettering in her urban environment — from no-parking signs to faded advertising painted on brick walls — as something other than mental “noise”.  Walking with artist Maira Kalman, she begins to look with Kalman’s excitement at odd details, to stop trying to sweep them into a larger generalized picture — and she follows her guide through doors into buildings it had never occurred to her to enter — and was drawn into eye contact and conversations with strangers enough to be discomfiting.  One wildlife naturalist introduces her to her millions of neighbors who live under rocks and in trees — bugs and slugs, wasps and ants — while another naturalist introduces her to the urban wildlife menagerie —  squirrels, raccoons, pigeons, and rats.

An expert in the field of public spaces teaches her to notice how crowds of people move, how they “flock” and gather, how differently they walk on a crowded block or an empty plaza. A doctor who is accustomed to making diagnoses based on posture and gait takes a walk with our author and together they attend to all the various ways people stand and walk and move. A walk with a blind friend introduces her to all the senses other than sight — the kinesthetic sense of where one’s body is in relation to the objects all around, or the auditory sense which creates sonic “maps” which can tell us when we’ve entered a new and different space. Walking with a sound engineer, her ears learn to make sense of the urban soundscape which is usually only something to be tuned out if possible. Walking her dog, she pauses while the dog explores with his nose all the surfaces she cannot smell, while she uses her other senses and her curiosity to discover what the dog is trying to show her.

By the time the book ends, the author is able to bring all the richness of what her many guides taught her to her own individual walks, seeing a fresh city around her. Having tagged along, in a way, by reading the book, I wonder if my own walks will have become any richer, too.

Trying Again — But Don’t Expect Too Much

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It’s been months since this book blog just wilted and faded away. Somehow, the work of composing in-depth reflections examining what I’d been reading became work that I simply had no time or patience to continue.

I was still reading, though in a slightly less organized way. Simply going from one book to another, reading aloud the good parts and jotting down a few sentences and talking to people about whatever enthused me.  But then I’d just move right along to another book, without stopping to spend a couple of hours polishing up sentences describing my thoughts on the last one.  I had other things I’d rather do with that time, other things I needed to do, other things that were more important at that time. After all, the book was already percolating through my mind and soul, doing its thing inside me. Any writing that I had needed to do was done and had fulfilled its purpose. I write for myself, to work through a thought, not specifically for other people to comprehend.

My lifelong habits of scribbling cryptic half-legible notes on the backs of envelopes, the backs of old church bulletins, or the margins of pages had always been my own disorganized way of fixing slippery thoughts in my mind long enough to examine them. But once that’s done, what then? So many scribbled scraps litter my house, falling out of the back covers of books, turning up in old coat pockets and purses, bundled in rolled-up sheaves in the back of drawers. I’ve always had a recurring feeling that I’m supposed to get things better organized.  I’ve tried expanding notes into essays, polishing the trains of thought so someone other than myself might make sense of them. Essays organized in notebooks, notebooks trailing off half-filled as scraps of ideas waiting to be properly organized turn yellow, paper-clipped to the last page I actually finished writing.  Then this blog, scraps of paper transcribed into a post, half-written sentences waiting to be expanded and connected into a proper essay in complete sentences and paragraphs.  But all my life, it always sputters to a standstill.

It’s not the reading that stops, and not the thinking that stops, and not even the writing that stops.  But the organization stops.  The work of producing something presentable seems like more than I want to do, especially when it’s not necessary to my purposes.  “Presentable” — frankly — isn’t what I’m after.

So the blog died.  It’s been sitting here since last August.  The last entry is obviously truncated in mid-sentence, left hanging.  I suppose I ought to go back and add some concluding sentences to that post, just to round things off.  I suppose I will — when I get around to it.

Meanwhile, here I am again.  Why am I back?  Well, mainly because I need to keep track of the titles and authors of things I’ve read in a convenient place.  More than once lately, I’ve been groping to find a book, remembering some skewed version of the title or mixed-up version of the author’s name, only to be frustrated by too many library branches that it might be, too many shelves, and too much luckless hunting for the scrap of paper where I wrote it down months ago.  A simple book list — that’s all I need here.

So I’m back, with lower ambitions.  No essays that an English teacher might give a passing grade to.  No attempt to arrange my words in a way that makes sense to anyone else.  No re-writing and re-reading and re-editing.  Just a post to note what I’ve read, title and author. Whatever sparse notes come easily and quickly.  And that’ll be it.

As Daddy would say — “Close enough for folk music”.

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