Reading lists

dying coverThe other evening I was on the phone with my best friend Chele, who lives in Michigan’s wild, wintry Upper Peninsula.  I was sharing with her a meditation from Being With Dying,   Zen priest Joan Halifax’s reflections from decades of helping the dying and the living consider the inevitability of their own deaths.

Chele then shared with me what she was reading in front of a wood stove fire, her little dog curled on her lap:  a primer on furnace filters.  I was not surprised; the modest library in her cozy cabin is composed mostly of technical manuals and how-to books.

Supremely capable in practical matters, Chele is the most down-to-earth person I have ever met.  She dwells entirely in the World of the Concrete, into which I occasionally journey with mixed results,  evidenced by amusing home improvement outcomes. I dwell mostly in the World of Abstractions, with a pronounced focus on spirituality.

My recent reading list includes Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic memoir of caring for her parents at the end of their lives, and  A Widow’s Story, Joyce Carol Oates’ recounting of the months following her husband’s unexpected death.  Before that came C.S. Lewis’ emotionally scalding classic A Grief Observed and Guy Newland’s contemporary A Buddhist Grief Observed,  each of which puts a belief system — Christianity and Buddhism, respectively — to the excruciatingly personal acid test of a beloved spouse’s death.  (It’s a testament to the authors’ candor that both systems substantially fail as spiritual support,  at least in the short run.)

Here,  discerning readers might be forgiven for observing that my reading list could use a little less Nietzsche and a little more Disney.  I agree, and I thank you.  This frolicking bunny and deer photo is for you.


I am not much for fiction, unless it meaningfully explores the real-life themes that compel me to nonfiction:  Love, loss, struggle, meaning; how we get through it all, or don’t. (Marilynne Robinson took my breath away and never returned it with this line from her slim, elegant novel Housekeeping:  “When she had been married a little while, she concluded that love was half a longing of a kind that possession did nothing to mitigate.”)

My mother, on the other hand, is an inveterate reader of make-believe, especially detective series, mysteries and spy stories; she favors the kind of intricate plots that first challenge and then exhaust me.  Mom reads primarily for entertainment, escape, distraction.

You might be wondering at this juncture about some sort of  point I might eventually get around to making.  Me, too.  What I apparently have instead is a soft oblong, or possibly a mobius strip — no end in sight — or some indeterminate shape that will not be wrestled into precision.   I hate that, and if you were counting on me, I’m sorry.  But maybe you’d be willing to pick up the slack.

I rarely — OK, never — do participatory blog posts, but the notion that what we read captures a truth about our essential natures has me curious.  So, in lieu of a point,  this question –and, I hope, your answers:

What do you read?  How does it reflect who you are?

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  1. Love Marilynne Robinson’s writing too. If you liked “A Man Called Ove,” try out “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman. My favorite read/listen in a long time. (The audiobook is read by a wonderful Scottish narrrator, which really adds to it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will do, Jane — thanks! I remember thinking highly of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” a few years back. Might be time to put that on my re-read list. The brightest aspect of a dimming mind: the familiar is new again. 🙂


  2. My Bible, fiction, science fiction, fantasy, Christian self help, devotionals, some non-fiction if it’s interesting. I’m not sure what this list says about me as a person though. What do you think?

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    1. Hmmmm. You sound like another literary omnivore! I wonder if you see Biblical narratives recapitulated in the fiction you gravitate towards. I realized that about my own reading: that regardless of genre, I am drawn by certain themes. Thank you for reading this and for sharing!


      1. Julie_Reynolds · · Reply

        Yes, I do see Biblical narratives, and concepts in a lot of what I read.


        1. Ah-ha! We are kindred spirits, then, in this tendency — probably with a lot of others who may not realize they gravitate repeatedly to variations on a few themes. Thanks for following up.


  3. I’m not as voracious as I used to be, but my tastes have grown more eclectic over the years. I read a great deal of poetry, but also enjoy plowing through tomes on topics ranging from insect sex to the history of zero to literary essays. My fiction reading has plummeted over the past decade, but I still enjoy a good mystery/detective book and probably read more than my share of fantasy/urban fantasy. So, a little of this, a little of that.


    1. Insect sex! How cool. Likewise the history of zero. I knew you’d have eclectic tastes, Bob; thanks for sharing a sample.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, my life is rather dull…


        1. We have rich INNER lives, Bob.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Another omnivorous reader here. I resonated with your list–I read a lot of that stuff in the mornings, my contemplative/spiritual time. My bedtime reading list more resembles your mother’s. A bedtime story for me, perhaps with a happy ending. During the middle parts of the day, if not working or doing professional reading, anything goes.

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    1. Nice to know, Steph. Any specific title in the spiritual realm — or, another (she said bravely) — you’d recommend?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A few recommendations. I’ve been reading a lot recently in the realm of end of life, care, choices, etc. Making Friends with Death, a field guide. by Laura Pritchett. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, and The Conversation, by Angelo Volandes. Also just started listening to an interesting audio book, The Book of Mastery, by Paul Selig. May get a printed copy, as each experience presents different aspects.
        For fiction, I enjoy the books of Laurie R. King. She does some mysteries–the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is quite fun, the first being the Beekeepers Apprentice. She has some other, more contemporary books as well, Folly, a stand alone is a favorite of mine. Happy reatding!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks, Steph. I’ve read Being Mortal, but the others are unfamiliar to me. I’ll have a look. I’m joining a book club this month — a rarity for me — to read A Man Called Ove, because I liked the film so much.


  5. There is no telling what I will be reading tomorrow. Once I am standing in a bookshop, or going through the lists on an E-retailer, I am one impulsive gnome. I have read all of Marilynne Robinson’s fiction –‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’, and it’s companion volumes ‘Home’ and ‘Lila’. (I loved Gilead the most).


    1. Well, I’ve already learned something: I assumed most people are strongly oriented to one or two types of reading. You, clearly, are a literary omnivore (or as Chele says, in reference to eating, an opportunivore :)). Much to be said for that. Thanks for playing! And, I like knowing we share an appreciation for Robinson.

      Liked by 1 person

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