A Blogoversary, and Reading Plans for the Month and Year

Bibliophilopolis turns five years old tomorrow, January 2nd.

Thanks to all readers and followers/ subscribers and to everyone who has commented over the years. It’s been an enriching experience for me, and I’ll try to stumble through and complete a sixth year… 🙂

January Reading: The Month Ahead

I’ve resolved to cut back on some of my book club involvement in 2015; I just had too many reading commitments last year, many of which resulted in re-reads, which I’ve also resolved to cut down on this year. That said, I have a few existing commitments that I’ll need to honor in January.

I’ll be reading my first graphic novel (if I don’t count all those Classics Illustrated comics I read when I was growing up, that is), the acclaimed “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This is for a book club I’ve been attending that meets at the Rathskeller Restaurant/Bar in downtown Indianapolis. It’s the club’s first graphic novel as well.

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For the Vonnegut Library book club, we’re reading Nelson Algren’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.” (pictured below – of course I picked a picture of an edition that has a spade on the cover – Deal Me In, baby! 🙂 )

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And for my Great Books Foundation discussion group, we’re reading Willa Cather‘s excellent novella, “Tom Outland’s Story.” This is technically a re-read for me, as the novella is also encapsulated in her novel, “The Professor’s House,” which I read a couple years ago.

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Then, just yesterday, I learned that NPR’s “Morning Edition” program has a book club(!) and they’re now reading Hector Tobar’s “Deep Down Dark” – the story of those 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for so many days a few years back. It sounded so interesting I bought an e-copy (before midnight last night, so I won’t be violating the TBR Double Dog Dare!). The reading is in conjunction with the author’s appearance on their program on 1/20/2015. More info may be found at: http://www.npr.org/2014/12/11/369409338/join-the-morning-edition-book-club-were-reading-deep-down-dark

I’ll admit part of my interest in this book is due to my fondness for the ending (or beginning?) of the Murakami story, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”

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That’s four books already, so my January is pretty much spoken for. Oh, I am also about four hundred pages into George R.R. Martin’s “Feast for Crows” which I can hopefully continue to read in the background during the month and finish by month end.

There are also five Saturday’s in January, and Saturday mornings are when I draw my weekly card to determine which story I read for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I have a great line-up of stories to read – in random order – this year. View it here and feel free to suggest a story for my four wild cards. 🙂

2015 Reading: The Year Ahead

The “unofficial” focus of my blog in 2015 is going to be on reading more local authors. There is no shortage of material here both contemporary and classic. One thing I plan to do in the first quarter is read Lew Wallace’s classic “Ben-Hur” which has been on my shelf forever. Of course I’ve seen the movie, but never read the book, even though I lived in the same town as a Lew Wallace Museum for four years of my life(!). There are also books by Booth Tarkington (in addition to The Magnificent Ambersons) that I’d like to explore. James Whitcomb Riley is another classic Indiana author I’ve targeted. Then there’s always Kurt Vonnegut, but I’ve read everything by him already. Seriously.

(below: I own an 1887 copy of this same edition of Ben-Hur – (I think) the oldest book in my personal library)

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For contemporaries, there’s the great Indy Writes Books anthology, the short stories in which I’ve assigned to my Deal Me In project, but there is other material besides fiction in that volume. I also want to read some of the local authors in the Midwestern Gothic literary magazine.

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I also may revisit my old “Project: Shakespeare” from 2008, which I ended the year without finishing, with roughly 12 more plays to read. That’s one a month. Hmmm….

In general, I also want to read a little more non-fiction this year than I did last year, when I managed only about 25% non fiction reading. I’d prefer something closer to a 60-40 split, or at least 65-35. We’ll see how I do on that one…

But enough about me, What are YOUR reading plans for January and for 2015?

(did you see that Jeopardy! had a contestant this year named “Ben-Hur?” He was pretty good too, winning a game or two I think. Judging by the scores below, this was not one of them)

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Soldier, Author, Diplomat…

I frequently talk with the other members of my book club about how one of my favorite “side effects” of reading a lot is how “connections” begin to form between the different books one reads. The inter-relatedness of one’s reading makes the reader begin to feel a sense of ‘cultural literacy’ (at least it does for me) that can make him swell with pride. Sometimes, it’s as overt as another book I’ve read being mentioned or referred to in a new book (an example of this would be my recent reading of The Help, which mentions To Kill a Mockingbird several times). Sometimes, it’s a reference to a person whose works you’ve read. One joy of becoming more familiar with the works of Kurt Vonnegut in the past year is that – with him being from Indianapolis – there are sometimes references that are perhaps more special to me, a fellow Indianapolitan…

I encountered something of this nature yesterday when I was (re)reading Cat’s Cradle for this Friday’s meeting of the KVML Book Club. In chapter 42 (the chapters in Cat’s Cradle are only a few pages long), the narrator, John (or Jonah, call him Jonah…) is on  a flight to The Republic of San Lorenzo and has encountered a couple, H. Lowe and Hazel Crosby, on the plane who also happen to be from Indiana. Hazel comments that “I’ve been around the world twice, and everywhere we went we found Hoosiers in charge of everything.” Later she gushes, “The man who wrote Ben Hur was a Hoosier.” At this point I closed the book for a moment and, as Haruki Murakami might say, entered the realm of memory…

I went to college in Crawfordsville, Indiana, at the small but well-respected Wabash College.  Crawfordsville happens to have been the home of General Lew Wallace in his final years, and the location where he wrote the famous novel (which became a more famous Oscar winning movie) Ben Hur. Wallace was one of the town’s most famous citizens. His name is still on things all over town, including a motel and lounge. The town’s main theater, The Strand (sadly, no longer standing) showed Ben-Hur every spring around Easter, and I’m happy to say one year I took in the show in what must have been something resembling the original movie experience from 1959 (The Strand was one of those classic old, huge theaters that have largely disappeared in the age of the multiplex).

During my college years I became a habitual walker. The odd schedules that college students generally keep led me to even become a frequent walker late at night. I considered these late night walks “study breaks.” I walked all over town, sometimes logging several miles, admiring the many old and architecturally interesting houses in the quiet solitude of the late hour.  On one of these late night wanderings I “discovered” the Lew Wallace study, a historic landmark and museum. It became a favorite terminus of many of my walks.

My initial discovery was on a night walk, and normally the grounds were kept locked up and there was no admittance to be gained. The property is surrounded for the most part by a tall brick wall, and there were several times I walked speedily down the gently sloping sidewalk on the north side. At that time in my life, I was given to a sort of vague mysticism that these night walks helped incubate. Something about walking along this wall enhanced the mystery of what was on the other side. A few times I even imagined that some sort of ‘guardian entity’ would shadow my steps, following along with me just on the other side of that wall. Of course, I could’ve returned to the spot in the daytime to learn more about this place, but that would spoil the aura of mystery my imagination had built around it. One night however, the gate was open, and I crossed the threshold…

The grounds were fairly large, and one of the first things I encountered was a statue of Wallace, whose square base had his name engraved on one side, with the other three sides bearing the words Soldier, Author, Diplomat – in honor of Wallace’s three main careers. A little further to the east was the study itself. A hearty but not ostentatious fortress of solitude, I could certainly appreciate the sentiment which led to its construction. Wallace once wrote,

“I want a study, a pleasure-house for my soul, where no one could hear me make speeches to myself, and play the violin at midnight if I chose. A detached room away from the world and its worries. A place for my old age to rest in and grow reminiscent, fighting the battles of youth over again.” (Letter to Susan from Santa Fe, Dec. 4, 1879.)

The piercing quiet of the late night and the thrill of “discovery” has forever imbued this place with a magical aura that I still feel to this day. I’ve often thought of visiting it again as an adult, but again, I almost feel that would ruin it for me. I often now marvel at the fact that never in my late night perambulations and trespassings was I ever encountered by any local law enforcement, who might not appreciate the innocent motives of my “study breaks.”

So, thank you, Kurt Vonnegut, for leading me to excavate this memory…