Numerous things are driving my new year's resolution to create a reading list.
One is the 22nd Ave Book Club, which consists of a group of women in my neighborhood. This is not the world's most serious book club: we read a book every other month but we meet monthly. Since half of us don't finish the assigned book and since we spend more time partying than discussing books anyway, we decided this is a more realistic schedule than a book a month. But there are those six books a year to be read.
The second thing that requires structure in my reading is the SAABS Book Club, which is a group of five women in my family who have created an online group to read together. Sandy, Ann, Anita, Beth, and Shirl will read a book a month and discuss it in round robin emails. (My name is Mary Shirley, which is what my family calls me, often shortened to Shirl. Thus the last S.)
A third reading situation with deadlines is Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature, a lecture series sponsored by the ALA and Nextbook that I've been attending at the local library. (It's terrific, by the way, and if they do it at your library don't hesitate to jump on the bandwagon.) There are only two books left in this season's series, both due in January, but there will be another lecture series starting in September.
In addition, I've been reading along with an online Anthony Trollope group for about a decade. I have to summarise six chapters of Framley Parsonage by the 14th of January, which requires me to re-read the entire book, then to re-read the six chapters a few more times before I even start writing. (I had better get going, hadn't I?)
Another reading challenge for me is reading challenges. I seldom join them because I have difficulty meeting the deadlines. I joined the Outmoded Authors Challenge (and I'm now three months behind) and I was ever so close to joining the From the Stacks Challenge. That one runs from 1 November to 31 January and requires that you read at least one book a month from the stacks of books you have had about the house for at least six months. The tough part is that you are forbidden to buy any new books for the duration - or borrow them from the library. That put the kibosh on joining From the Stacks, but I plan to read for it on my own. Starting with the new year is another challenge that I find intriguing called First in a Series. You are asked to read one book a month during 2008 that is the first in a series. The books can range from a murder mystery to Swann's Way.
I have read four of the 18 books (there's overlap) on the NY Times and NBCC lists of the 10 best books of 2007, a project I undertake with varying success every year. I've dismissed Tree of Smoke as unreadable and I have my doubts about finishing Out Stealing Horses, which is very Norwegian and is so powerful it's tearing me to shreds. But that leaves me with 12 books to read before the new lists come out in December of 2008. None of these books is by Danielle Steel or Garrison Keillor. They are all heavy going and not to be read in an evening or easily forgotten when finished.
For some years now I've been reading many of the books on the various Mock Newbery lists in an attempt to predict the winner. (I'm about 0 for 10.) This year's award will be announced on 14 January (I think) so time grows short and the list is long.
I have acquired a 24 lecture course from The Learning Company on the English novel. I've read all the books mentioned in the lecture titles excepting some Dickens and Hardy, so the reading for that may not be overly difficult (she said hopefully.)
100 Great American Novels You've (Probably) Never Read has been a great find. The books it offers give promise of truly being "great" as the author claims. I have acquired a dozen of them through Book Mooch, I own a few, and the Spokane Library owns a few more. So I'm all set to begin reading, perhaps as frequently as a book a week.
And there's War and Peace (out in a new translation, it therefore needs re-reading.) And Our Mutual Friend (never read it.) And Middlemarch (I read it at 18 and undoubtedly missed half of what it was about.) And A Man Without Qualities (I got through volume one and by golly I intend to get through volume two.)
Like Spike Jones', my new year's resolutions are usually tongue in cheek and in my case impossible to achieve: cure cancer, produce world peace, read Pilgrim's Progress, reverse global warming.
But this year I have made a single literary resolution and I intend to make a good faith effort to carry it out: I resolve to create a reading list and then read it. After I have met the deadlines on the RL each month I will be free to read anything I like.
I think it was when I finished the third book about the US Supreme Court in as many weeks, after having read five or six books about Hillary Clinton in five or six weeks (they start to blur after a while), that I realized I needed to get some control over my reading.
Besides avoiding the excesses mentioned above, a few other things will be driving my reading this year. I like to read the 10 books the NY Times chooses as the best of the previous year. I read many of the books on various mock Newbery lists in an attempt to predict the winner. I belong to three book groups and have been attending a lecture series for which there is assigned reading. I long to read with some book bloggers' reading challenges. I'm about to begin reading a book a week from 100 Great American Novels You've (Probably) Never Read, most of which I indeed have never read. I'm about to watch the DVDs and do the reading for a Teaching Company course on the English novel. And I am trying to re-read some "classics," not to mention reading for the first time some that I've never gotten to.
One day last week I awoke to find I was beginning chapter three of a biography of Katie Couric. That did it. This sort of thing must be avoided. Standards must be imposed. Deadlines must be met. New year's resolutions must be made.
Today is New Year's Day at our house. We celebrated New Year's Eve yesterday with Isabella and the urban planner. What with holidays having been moved around lately at the will of the US government and midnight being a matter of where you are and the calendar being an arbitrary human construct anyway, we decided that we could celebrate whenever we liked.
So we celebrated a day early on a weekend, which is more convenient for us, and we declared Greenwich Mean Time as official. At midnight (4 PM Pacific Time) yesterday we blew on our noisemakers and wished one another a healthy and prosperous 2008. We would have toasted but we had drunk all the wine in the earlier festivities. Everybody was home and in bed by 6 AM GMT (10 PM PT.)
That makes today New Year's Day at our house. In the old southern tradition I always make hoppin' John on New Year's Day. I need to find me a ham hock pronto.
Thursday was Thanksgiving, which is a time that always sets me to thinking about what I have to be thankful for. This year the list is long and includes the continued good health of Wilhelm's parents, the recovery of my sister from a scary disease, our ongoing delight in our neighbors and friends here on 22nd Avenue, and our joy at being in Spokane, which really is near nature and near perfect.
And one particular thing I've been grateful for in recent years is the world of bloggers. Albert Schweitzer said, "Do something for somebody every day for which you do not get paid." So many people post every day about cooking and knitting, their jobs and their families, and especially about the books they are reading, a little gift from them to us every day, and something for us all to be thankful for year round.
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Observance of this special day of giving thanks to God was begun in America by the English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts. The observance is akin to the traditional English autumn festival of Harvest Home. Thanksgiving Day was primarily a New England holiday in the United States up until the American Civil War. Since President Lincoln's proclamation of a National Day of Thanksgiving in November 1863, Thanksgiving has become a national holiday in the United States.
Although Thanksgiving Day is not part of the traditional Christian church calendar, Thanksgiving Day is often celebrated in churches in the United States as a national day. The hymns usually associated with Thanksgiving services are among my favorites. In Lutheran churches, one of these is Martin Rinkart's Now Thank We All Our God (Nun Danket Alle Gott). Like many other German hymns, Now Thank We All Our God found its way into English language hymnody thanks to the work of the remarkable 19th century Englishwoman Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). Catherine Winkworth was tutored by the Reverend William Gaskell, who taught her German. She became acquainted with the novelists Charlotte Brönte and Mrs. Elizabeth Claghorn Gaskell, the wife of her tutor. She produced several volumes of translations of German hymns into English. These include Lyra Germanica (two volumes, 1855 and 1858) and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). Along with her music editors, Dr Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt (the husband of Swedish singer Jenny Lind), she produced the Chorale Book for England (1863). The Chorale Book for Englandwas not widely adopted in English churches, but was extremely influential in American Lutheran churches. By the late 1800s, many Lutheran churches in the eastern United States were converting from use of the German language to English. Nonetheless, these churches wished to continue using their familiar German hymns. The Chorale Book for England proved to be a bountiful source of material for these churches in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Catherine Winkworth's translation of Martin Rinkart's Now Thank We All Our God (Nun Danket AlleGott), was set out in her Christian Singers of Germany. This book, despite its title, is a history of the writers and composers of German hymns. Rinkart was a pastor in Eilenberg, Saxony, whose ministry spanned the entire period of the Thirty Years' War. Along with the rest of Germany, Rinkart's town suffered from invasion, plague, and famine. Rinkart himself performed thousands of funerals, while ministering ceaselessly to the sick and starving. Through all of this he maintained a steadfast faith and wrote Nun Danket Alle Gott near the end of the Thirty Years' War. This hymn is a excellent example of Catherine Winkworth's ability to render the German text into fine English poetry while preserving the meter and essential meaning of the original German.