28. August 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Books

The first time I taught, I was a young-looking 28 or 29. Many of my students were in their 20s. I looked like one of them. I had to convince them I was the teacher. Last Tuesday when I walked in to my classroom at the local junior college, I had to bite my tongue not to blurt out, “I am not your teacher.”

I’m a student again, though I don’t have a back-to-school photo to prove it. While I’ve taken workshops for fun and attended seminars for work, I haven’t been an official student since the 90s. My classmates weren’t even born yet.

Why am I back in school? I’ve always loved learning, but I never took an economics class. The older I get, the more that feels like a gaping hole in my education. In high school, it’s a common subject, but it wasn’t taught in mine. In college I was nearly killed by pre-calculus, so anything that involved graphs or required calculators terrified me. I’ve since figured out a lot of economics from self-study and reading newspapers but felt I’d learned all I could on my own.

Now I have Macroeconomics two days a week — complete with textbooks, a scientific calculator, quizzes, and tests. Here’s to hoping it’s enlightening. Now, I’ve got to go read about the GDP.


 As I pulled books off my shelf, Derek tried to guess what I was doing. He guessed wrong. I’m not going to read a chapter of each in a round-robin. (My head would explode, more than it already is from the lingering shingles pain.) Nor am I going to read them all and throw all but one away. Well, I might do that, but that’s not my intention.

This is my in progress and pending list. I’m currently reading and loving Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, even though as I read it I think, “Wait, that’s in my unpublished book!”

The Golem and the Jinni and Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up were lent to me by the same friend who lent me The Night Circus, which was one of my favorite books of 2014. I’ll at least try anything she recommends.

Motherless Daughters was given to me by another friend who’s a fellow member of the Suckiest Club on Earth. And because she has many caring, concerned friends, she ended up with multiple copies. It may make me cry, but I hope it will also give me insight into what my goddaughter is facing and how I can help, since she joined the Suckiest Club far, far too young.

Derek lent me The Circle, though he didn’t particularly recommend it. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m curious.

Beyond Boundaries is an anthology from The Redwood Writers’ Group, the group I recently joined to meet fellow writers closer to home.

I gave The Irregulars to my dad several Christmases ago. It languished in his to-read collection until I borrowed it, only to let it languish in mine. It tells the true tale of Roald Dahl’s work as a British spy in Washington during World War II. Last year, I decided I needed to expand my reading from pure fiction to include some historical fiction and biographies. I read Unbroken and loved it. I hope this is as good.

So there they are, the first of my books for 2015.

PS – It’s late and dark here. I balanced a light on my head as I took that picture. Trust me, it’s better than it would have been using flash.

In my daydreams, I’m a wildly successful author on a book tour. As I read to scores of fans, they laugh and cry at the same time. The audience is friendly, smart, and fun, and I chat with them as I sign their books.

Then I wake up. I’m back at my desk, writing in solitude, or at the coffee shop, writing in solitude while surrounded by people.  Since I haven’t sold my book yet, a book tour is unlikely. But tomorrow, I will partake in Lit Crawl, the world’s largest roving literary event. The goal of Lit Crawl and its parent Litquake is to “whet a broad range of literary appetites, present the literary fare in a variety of traditional and unlikely venues, and make it vivid, real, and entertaining.”

Let’s see. We’ll be reading at City Art, a cooperative gallery, and we’ll feed a range of appetites including (but not limited to) non-fiction, children’s literature, mystery, and suspense. I’m reading from my second novel, The Reluctant Bartender. I’m  excited, nervous, and pukey all at the same time, which makes it vivid and real for me, and possibly entertaining for our audience. I’ve heard my fellow writers read, and can say they’re practiced and eloquent.

Leaping back into life isn’t limited to cliff-jumping into snow-fed lakes. It’s about doing scary things that push me further into the writer’s life. Today, I’ll practice some more. Tomorrow, I’ll meet people who love literature enough to fight crowds in San Francisco’s Mission District as they wander from gallery to bar to police station to wherever. C’mon, join the book-loving throngs and meet us there!

On a recent overnight visit to a friend’s, I forgot toothpaste. She said, “There’s a tube in the vanity,” so I pulled it out and commenced brushing. A few seconds later, I nearly gagged on a mouth full of berry-bubblegum suds. Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, but I spit it out and asked for grown-up toothpaste.

If you ever need proof that taste change as you get older, just try kids’ Crest. Or think back to all the things you hated as a kid. I hated cheese. I couldn’t stand scrambled eggs unless they were cooked to death. I couldn’t understand why grownups drank nasty-smelling, fiery-tasting alcohol.

Even though palates evolve, we often crave pieces of our childhood, whether cookies, mac ‘n’ cheese, or a favorite book or movie. I LOVED The Chronicles of Narnia as a child. A world of talking animals and children turned royalty – I loved it all. I’ve been meaning to re-read them. But part of me is afraid: afraid the magic that transported me as a pre-teen will seem pathetic and dingy; afraid the allegory will be too heavy-handed; afraid it will be as dissatisfying as eating a bowl of multi-colored sugar bombs for breakfast.

Should I keep Narnia safely ensconced in my memory? Or should I dust off the book and get to reading?

Curiosity is going to kill this cat. Will it kill Aslan, too?

Am I too old?

Says right there: a story for children. Do I dare?


I forgot the unread book that’s been on my shelf the longest.


I’ve read pieces and parts. Sometimes I’m curious about how I would react to it as a whole, though to date that curiosity hasn’t been strong enough to compel me to action.

The Bible falls in the category of “books bought for class,” the class being sixth grade religion. I don’t remember much of what we learned in that class, other than how to locate passages by chapter and verse and the names of the books in the Pentateuch. I probably thought I was cool because I knew the word Pentateuch. (I wasn’t cool.)

If I don’t remember my Bible studies, what I do remember from sixth grade? A nun who screamed at students when she was frustrated, and used phrases like “You exasperate me,” “Are you waiting for an engraved invitation?” and “Do you have an auditory deficiency?”

But when she wasn’t screaming, she taught us about art and culture from other countries, showing us photos of the Taj Mahal and a miniature Pietà. I can still hear her saying, “Michelangelo would roll over in his grave if he saw this plastic replica of his masterpiece.” She made me dream of traveling. I don’t sanctify or edify her, but when I saw Michelangelo’s David, I said a little thank you to her memory. I’ll do the same should I ever make it to India.

I love learning new words, especially multisyllabic or lyrical ones. Or a word that perfectly defines what you’re trying to describe. Recently I learned (from Facebook, of all places) that Japanese has such a word. Tsundoku – (n.) buying books and not reading them, letting them pile up unread on shelves, nightstands, etc.

Though I just learned the word, I’ve had this compulsion for a long time. I LOVE books. I love the potential they hold, their ability to transport, to teach, to entertain. As a reader, writer, and packrat, I amass books. They’re my friends, and as such, I have a hard time letting them go.

That said, my love of books is tempered by my fear of becoming a hoarder. With a finite amount of space, I cannot keep every book I read. I’ve gotten much better about borrowing from the library or friends, and now if I want something new and popular, I use my kindle. So what’s the problem? Tsundoku! The last time I moved, I rearranged my bookshelves so all the unread books were on the top shelves. But they’ve since spilled over to my nightstand, coffee table, and desk (not the floor, though; that feels wrong to me). The collection continues to grow.

In planning this blog post, I decided it would be fun to photograph all my unread books. It took three trips up and down the stairs to carry them all, and I had to use my dresser as a staging area.


So many words…

What did I learn from the process? The following:

  • I have 57 unread books. Fifty-seven!
  • 13 – loaned to me
  • 8 – I’ve started before
  • 6 – about Ireland
  • 5 – bought for classes

Let’s go back to the eight I’ve started before. I need to remember what my dad – possibly the most voracious reader ever – said a long time ago: “If you don’t like it, don’t finish it. Maybe go back to it later, but if you still don’t like it, let it go. There are too many good books to read, so don’t torture yourself with ones you don’t enjoy.” So, sorry Bill Bryson, but if Mother Tongue doesn’t speak to me this time (no pun intended), it’s going away. Same for Innumeracy.

I read about 30 books a year. With 57 unread books, I won’t be able to read anything else for two years. Some of these books linger around because I feel like I should read smarter – more non-fiction or more literary works. Instead, like neglected friends, they hang around and make me feel guilty. Clearly, I need to have an expiration date on books not yet read.

Here’s the plan: I am going to return the loaners and re-borrow them later if I want them. Then I’m going to read these books between other books. If I don’t like them, I’m going to donate them. I need to make room on the shelves for new books that entice me.

A story I wrote was chosen for a new “flash fiction” website called Fewer Than 500.

Probably most of the readers are my friends I’ve pointed in that direction, but it’s still  exciting to me.  Now, I just need to keep writing!  And keep reading, because if the truth be told, I have my own list titled “Books I skipped in school” —  the point of departure for the story.  My list differs slightly from Ariana’s.

Here’s mine:

  1. The Pearl
  2. Tortilla Flat
  3. Grapes of Wrath (well, read it, but skipped whole chapters)
  4. The Scarlet Letter
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front
  6. Vanity Fair

I never skipped Moby Dick, but probably would have had it been assigned to me.  I got into Dickens when I was reading him in college, though my class never got to A Tale of Two Cities. I should give that a try.

If I start a personal classics revival, I’ll post my progress here.  If I do, I’d start with Steinbeck or Dickens.