Friday, January 01, 2010

My 2009 In Books

I read 88 books last year, which is nothing to write home to Mom about.

Two thousand and nine was not a stellar year at Chez Gauthier on many levels, but I did have a few standout experiences with books. Two of them involve nonfiction. I read nonfiction slowly, gnawing away at it when I'm not being distracted by fiction, which can pull me away from just about anything. I've decided that it's good that it takes me so long to read nonfiction. It draws out the experience out and makes me feel as if I've lived with the books and their authors.



One of my nonfiction treats last year was Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard S. Marcus. This is a marvelous book, well written and logically presented. This book is, essentially, about all the grown-ups behind children's books and how they've shaped children's literature in the United States since the time of the Puritans. I like history. I like kids' books. Sooner or later, I was going to find this book. I'm glad it was sooner than later.

My big nonfiction reading experience last year was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I actually started reading this in the fall of 2008 and after a trip to Concord. I wanted to read some Emerson, but I didn't have any of his books. What I did have was a twenty-year-old copy of Walden that I had first read probably in the early '90s while I was a member of a book discussion group. I even had some notes in the back on some research I'd done on Thoreau.

I had done little underscoring on the first read, but from what I had done--and from what I can recall--at that time I found Thoreau to be an intellectual snob and physically lazy. In the intervening years, I've become zennier and now much of what Thoreau had to say in Walden just happens to conform with what I've come to believe myself. I can't say reading Walden taught me much. It's more as if I found a kindred spirit in Henry D. Okay, yes, I think he's still a bit patronizing, and he definitely romanticizes nature. But so many times this past year I would be sitting on the end of my yoga mat in front of the bow window reading my few pages of Walden and thinking, Yes, yes! I thought of that, too!

I never thought this, though: "A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself."

I never thought it, but I am now left believing that in Walden the relic Thoreau left was near to his life itself. Or, perhaps, to what he wanted to believe his life was or to what he wanted us to believe his life was. At any rate, I very often felt that I was reading something both intimate and universal. Reading with Henry D. was one of the high points of my year.

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