You Know What? I Read Last Summer

When people find out you were an English major they always ask the same question: what’s your favorite book?

I hate this question. It’s like asking a Math major his favorite equation or a Chemistry major her favorite element on the periodic table. First of all, the answer will most likely mean nothing to the asker, and second, too many books, too many genres, too many separate and unrelated times in my life that a book has made an impact on me. Don’t make me choose among the ones I’ve read and for the love of Shakespeare PLEASE don’t assume I’ve read them all.

There’s another reason I don’t like this question, though: I am not a very avid reader. I am a lover of words and writers, of literature and its place in history and society. I was born a word nerd, educated as a reader and writer, and I play with words for a living. But – shhhhhhh – I don’t really read that many books.

And it’s not just since having kids – I’ve gone in and out of bookish phases throughout my adult life but I’ve never really been that person with a paperback in her purse at all times and a stack on my nightstand (well, a stack there may be but it doesn’t really count if I don’t crack a one of them).

So I have this little complex about being a disgrace to English majors everywhere. I’m not in a book club (I was in a bunko group but after a while we stopped playing bunko and now we just go out for wine), I don’t have a favorite author, and – wait for it – I somehow made it through advanced high school English classes AND a degree in English Literature, including a full academic year at Oxford, and I have never read a Charles Dickens novel. Not a one.

Now, I never said that I don’t READ. I read a ton, but these days it is almost all online. My Google Reader is filled with bloggers who make me think and laugh, and my Facebook and Twitter streams lead me on internet wanderings of every flavor: parenting, politics, entertainment, you name it. I probably read thousands of words every day, and it’s (mostly) stuff of value, stuff that educates me and challenges me and inspires me. It’s not for nothing – AT ALL – but it isn’t the same as a novel or a work of non-fiction waiting for you at the end of each day. It’s not the same.

And then something happened this summer, a collection of circumstances that turned me into a real reader for several months straight. I got pregnant, was separated by a series of trips from my DVR, and couldn’t stare at a computer or phone screen any longer than necessary due to the nausea (oh, the nausea). I was so exhausted I crashed into bed soon after the kids, and somehow I had just enough left in me to open a book. Night after night. Naptime after naptime. Until I was in the habit of reading.

I loved it. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I created a Goodreads account and for once felt like I had books to list and rate and recommend. I read fiction and non-fiction, high-brow stuff and lighter fluff. I read eBooks and paperbacks and heavy hardbacks. Most importantly, I finished the books I started, and then started new ones right away. I built a habit.

If the happy ending you were expecting here was that I’m now fully reformed and working my way through Dickens chronologically, you might want to stop reading here. Nope, I’ve moved on to my second trimester self and back to my old habits – working and writing during naptime and watching TV (glorious TV) in the evenings. But my summer of books did leave me with the desire to read more, and a little less ashamed of my English degree. It was worth it.

Here’s what I read this summer. The books with an asterisk come highly recommended by yours truly.

Fiction

*The Space Between Us (Thrity Umrigar)
*The Art of FieldingΒ (Chad Harbach)
The Widow’s War (Sally Gunning)
An Offer You Can’t Refuse (Jill Mansell)
Then Came You (Jennifer Weiner)
Sing You Home (Jodi Picoult)

Non-Fiction

*At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Bill Bryson)
*Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess)
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins)

What are you reading these days? Any recommendations? Are you on Goodreads too?

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