The 2016 Reading Experiment — January
Good morning snorklemonkies! A quick dispatch from snugbugland, a magical place packed full of hounds and ferocious orange kittens.
And New Year’s Resolutions that actually happened.
I filled ya’ll in a few weeks ago on Jeff’s and my comprehensive life audit at the beginning of the year. Since then things mostly have gone off the tracks. As they do. Plus we took an unplanned trip to Florida and I ended super-focused on client work.
But I stuck with one thing. My resolution to read a certain number of books. I even upped the ante.
My 2016 Reading Resolution… the gameplan.
My initial resolution was this: every month read a biography of an American president, continuing my master plan to become an American history wizard and win all the trivia games through a chronological study of presidential big-name biographies and dry as hell academic tomes — the only biographies available for boring presidents. Like Benjamin Harrison.
In an effort to break myself from the sweet, sweet embrace of supernatural mystery cozies and YA fantasy with strong, sassy female protagonists, I doubled down on my reading resolution and decided to add one work of new fiction, preferably with a publish date within the last few months. No witches, elves, fairies or unicorns allowed. Well, maybe, if it’s a richly woven historical fiction, one or two witches would be fine.
But wait! Not long after settling on my two book a month target, I came across this article with notes on Ernest Hemingway’s recommended reading list. Keenly aware of the large hole in my have-read list of classics, I decided to add this list as well. Re-reading every single Austen novel on a steady rotation does not count as a classical education, after all.
Armed with a plan, I finally signed up for a Goodreads account and set to work.
The Biography – Madison, A Life Reimagined
Some of you might already know that I’ve been slogging through a bucket list project over the past few years of reading the biographies of our American presidents in chronological order. The last one I finished was Jefferson’s. I know, right? Amazing.
In my defense, I was sidelined by Alexander Hamilton and had to re-read all the Austen novels.
Another thing, I’d started the next president on my list, Madison, ages ago. My first run at it was Kevin Gutzman’s James Madison and the Making of America. DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK. Okay. Go ahead. This book was so dry, I seriously considered giving up my citizenship. And I’m the oddball that thinks a play by play account of the constitutional convention sounds super interesting. Kevin Gutzman did to the story of Madison and constitution what I do to chicken. #thatshitwasdry
Lucky for me, Lynne Cheney, wife of our fearless prior VP/master duck hunter, is a historian and author. And she’s written a very readable, entertaining biography of President Madison. I clicked ‘buy’ on my second Madison biography, although I’ll admit that I neglected to mention to Jeff I was purchasing yet another biography with a shelf full of unread ones until the purchase had cleared.
To tell the truth, I was a bit apprehensive on what I was getting into. Would this biography of the man regarded as the father of the constitution, bill of rights and the federalist papers really be a fair and biased account, what with the pillow talk that one imagines in the Cheney household?
Let’s just sit with that for a minute, shall we?
At the end of the day, what do I know? It was a good read, especially for people like me (and all my closest friends) who watch West Wing and wish that all our boyfriends were Josh and all our BFF’s were Amy Gardner (sigh, Mary-Louise Parker….) There’s just enough intrigue and drama, what with fire and brimstone hater Patrick Henry, the Madison/Jefferson bromance and Dolley’s winning ways and low cut French gowns. I feel like I got the dose of nation building and entertaining hijinks of great-men-about town that I was looking for. Plus I now have a good understanding of the war of 1812, the burning of the White House and how much of an asshat Alexander Hamilton was.
The Fiction – A Man Called Ove
The selection of my fiction choice was super-duper scientific. While on our unplanned trip to Daytona — we were staying with Jeff’s mom — we slipped out for a hot date at Books-A-Million. Jeff, overcome by variety, froze and couldn’t make a choice. Plus he’s working on a history of Virginia from 1917 and didn’t really need a new book. I paced the aisles for a half an hour, picked up a large stack of supernatural mysteries and a book about witches, then remembered my mission, set them down and picked the first book that wasn’t a romance or written by Nicholas Sparks that seemed sort of funny when I flipped through it.
A Man Called Ove is super funny and made me cry like a baby. Or like one does when watching Folgers commercials. It’s a bit Walter Matthau-circa-grumpy old men mixed with Kurt Vonnegut. Although, honestly, I went through my Vonnegut phase in high school and can’t remember a single plot from a single book. So who knows why I said that. Now I need to add some Vonnegut to my bicycle route.
The Classic – Anna Karenina
OK, this is sort of a cheat. Anna Karenina is a book that I’d already mostly read. After years of being hesitant over the Russians, I bought a copy at a yard sale a few years ago and dove in. And loved it. But I suffer from a real reluctance to finish books, likely tied to my deep-seated fear of death and I set it down before I finished it. So when I finished a Man Called Ove, I picked Anna Kerenina as my first selection from the Hemingway list.
I read it all the way to the end this time. It was as great as I remember, I identify with Levin. The stream-of-consciousness is amazeballs. I almost jumped under a train myself. #stayawayfromtherussions
Up Next Month
Whew! So we’re two days into February and I’ve already started this month’s classic… Wuthering Heights. What a bunch of punks. I’ll be back next month, but keep up with me on Twitter or Instagram for updates.
Patty Brower is co-maker, creative director, marketing gal & textile maven at The Snugbug Collective. She splits her time between working with private clients and small business owners on marketing strategy and implementation and basset hound wrangling. She is also the designer/owner of Three Snugbugs Studios, a handmade and upcycled clothing and accessory line and The Snugbug Mercantile, vintage home and accessories.