Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reading Journal, 1993-1998

About a quarter of a century ago, I got the idea to keep a reading journal because Manfred, Sr. was keeping one. It would be fun to compete with him and see who read more books per year. Problem: My first attempts at journaling fell flat because I always forgot to write the books down, so at the end of the year, Manfred, Sr. had officially read oh, 50 and I'd read, according to my journal, 3.

Part of the problem was that I didn't have a proper reading journal at first. I merely recorded my lists in the backs of books, where there's always a page or two of blank paper. (Why is that? I've never known. When I was in elementary school and I ran short on drawing paper, I'd raid my books for a fresh supply. I knew that's not what the paper was there for, but I appreciated publishers for including blank pages for life's little emergencies.)

I have a complete list for 1990, but have no idea what I read because the list is at the end of a book called INSIDE OSCAR, and I have no idea where that book might be. I know the total for that year was 40, though. It sounded Biblical.

The only other complete list is from 1984, the year Manfred, Jr. was born, and I don't have an idea of which book I wrote that list in. I don't even remember the total for that year. All I remember are numerous collections of short stories (pregnancy interfered with my concentration big-time) Dr. Spock and a couple of novels by Susan Fromberg Schaffer. I remember lying on my back in bed reading and thinking that the one good thing about my stomach getting bigger and bigger was that when I propped a book there, it was closer to eye-level.

Manfred, Jr.'s birth is the event that changed my life irrevocably, but I'll be damned if I can remember what book I was reading on that date 22 years ago. I guess I thought that having a reading list would mean that it was preserved forever. Well, it is...somewhere. Whoops. Anyway, I'll bet that I was reading a classic novel because I knew the baby's birth was getting close and I wanted him/her to be impressed with me. As if.

Fast-forward to Christmas, 1992. Manfreds Sr. and Jr. gave me a 4x6 blank book for my book lists, and I used it faithfully for the next several years until it was filled up. I found that first little book when I was was in the US a couple of months ago, and threw it in a book box that I sent to myself, which arrived yesterday. Paging through my reading journal last night, I was astounded at all I'd read ...and forgotten!

Also included in the book were movie lists that grew progressively more incomplete as the years wore on. At the end of a year, I'd panic and remember to do my movie list, and Manfred, Jr. would gamely sit with me and we'd both try to reconstruct it from memory. Consequently, it looks as if I saw just a few children's movies during those years.

Also at the back of the book are the lyrics to "Louie Louie". I got tired of not knowing what the *hell* the Kingsmen were saying and decided to look up the lyrics on the internet. In addition, there are elaborate (for me) dinner menus scrawled in crayon on the endpapers-- probably written when the in-laws were coming for a weekend visit.

What's also fun but a little cringeworthy is revisiting my attempts to review books. Most of them come off as awkward but brief, and I kind of get a sense of why I liked the book. Other comments are long-winded, pompous and even more awkward. I also winced when I saw my attempt at a grading system:

Very Good
Very Pretty Good [category invented later, when I struggled to rate a book of essays by Bailey White]
Pretty Good

After a couple of years, I abandoned this system, and went with an adjective or terse phrase to convey my impressions: "Poignant." "Fun." "Disappointing." "First novel; she hadn't turned the corner yet." "I want my own copy." [that was of course reserved for library books]

I abandoned this second system when I let a bookworm friend examine my reading journal and she hooted at these descriptions. To this day, I can't even read the word poignant without feeling all sweaty and embarrassed. After that, I stuck with just a strict accounting of what I'd read, and only jotted a quick impression if I was really motivated -- a trend that continues in my second reading journal 1999-present.

Since I've read so much that I can't remember, starting next entry, I'll put up my lists and see if these titles jog any memories for other bookworms.

1 comment:

Bookfool said...

I just love this post! Besides the fact that I also have a 22-year-old who pretty much killed off my reading for a long time, there, in the 80's and 90's (it's really perking up, now that he's moved out permanently - such a hyper child, that one), I can relate to the difficulty of finding the right words to describe a book. I do love the word "poignant". LOL

Where did you find the words to "Louie, Louie"? A band played that at my youngest son's band contest, recently, and I kept thinking, "All I know is 'Louie, Louie . . . oh, oh . . . yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." Argh!