Are Introductions Necessary?

Brad Leithauser’s introduction to Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter is a classic.

Do you read introductions to books?  Some are absorbing, some very dull.  Yes, I read them after I finish the book, unless I want specific information about the author’s life or to read a bit about a historic period.

The blogger Karen of Booker Talk recently wrote a fascinating article on introductions, inspired by Elisa Gabbert’s essay in the Paris Review, “On the Pleasures of Front Matter.”  Elisa Gabbert has an interesting take on introductions: she sometimes prefers them to the books.  She writes, “…I’m a promiscuous and impatient reader, so one of my literary guilty pleasures is reading the introductions to great books and not the books themselves.”

lt seems  odd, doesn’t it?  I’m more of a book person than an introduction person.  Gabbert admits she has not finished the Tao Te Ching or An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, but she has read the introductions multiple times.

I understand what she means about introductions to nonfiction, especially biographies.   Quite often an author of a biography will summarize the book in the introduction. And if the lazy reader also peruses the final chapter, another summing up,  he /she can  pretend to have read the book.  I don’t recommend it.

For years I skipped introductions. You don’t always need them, though scholars need the work, and may they always have it. These days I find them very useful for reading poetry, though I do prefer books about the poets: Gilbert Highet’s 1957 classic, Poets in a Landscape, captures the atmosphere and influence of place on the Roman poets better than any fusty introduction.

Politics by osmosis.

As for novels, you don’t always need introductions.   I happily galloped through Susanna Rowson, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Hawthorne, Melville, Trollope, Dickens, George Meredith, Elizabeth Gaskell,  Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc., etc. without so much as a glance at the introductions.  By osmosis I knew about the Brontes’ seemingly narrow life at Haworth, which they illuminated and showed the importance of by their insightful writing.  I knew that  E. M. Forster was gay, and that Virginia Woolf committed suicide.   As for politics in Trollope’s Palliser series, and the factory conditions described in Bronte’s Shirley and Gaskell’s North and South and Mary Barton, I picked up enough to follow the novel.  It’s like learning a language:  the more you read, the more you pick up.

In recent years, I have read many introductions to Penguins and Oxfords, partly because I  have more leisure.  What do I like in an introduction?  I prefer liveliness, but scholars do not always have that quality.   The novelist Brad Leithauser’s introduction to the Deluxe Penguin edition of Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter is one of the best.  He interweaves personal anecdotes with the traditional historical background and literary criticism.

In the first two paragraphs he writes,

My first foray into the world of Kristin Lavransdatter, the Nobel Laureate’s celebrated trilogy of novels set in fourteenth-century Norway, turned out to be a reading experience like no other. I’m thinking here less of the books themselves (though these were an unexpected delight, a convincing twentieth-century of medieval Norway) than of the personal encounters the books fostered.

The trilogy runs over one thousand pages in the old three-in-one Knopf hardcover I’d picked up secondhand, and I chose to read it slowly, for weeks on end, lugging the hefty, handsome volume everywhere I went.  One of its themes is the stubborn power of magic–the bewitching allure of pagan practices in a society that had officially but not wholeheartedly embraced Christianity–and the trilogy did seem to work magical effects:  it drew elderly women to me.

This is the kind of charming introduction you can read over and over.

One day I found an unusually well-written and engrossing introduction, and when I skipped back to the title page, thought, No wonder.  It was Margaret Drabble.

Do you skip introductions or read them?  And What is your favorite kind of introduction?

Alice Hoffman’s “The Rules of Magic”

“It was an ending and a beginning, for the month itself was like a gate. October began as a golden hour and ended with Samhain, the day when the worlds of the living and the dead opened to each other.  There was no choice but to walk through the gate of time. Franny had already packed up her suitcase and carried the Grimoire with her. The book, and all it contained, was now theirs.”
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman’s first novel, Property of, was a cult classic:  in this dreamy novel, an unnamed narrator describes her doomed love for the leader of a street gang.  Since her debut in 1977, Hoffman has written 30 novels, three collections of short stories, and eight Y.A. and children’s books.  I have always been a fan of her poetic style, wild fairy-tale-ish take on life, and delicate use of magic realism.

Witch stories are appropriate in October, and Hoffman’s beguiling new novel, The Rules of Magic, traces the struggles of the modern Owens family against their heritage as witches.   Billed as a prequel to Hoffman’s 1995 novel, Practical Magic, it can be read as a standalone.  And indeed it was so long ago that I read Practical Magic that I consider it a sequel to The Rules of Magic.

The lyrical narrative of The Rules of Magic, set mostly in the 1960s,  grows out of an intricate plot. There is a dark curse on the descendants of Maria Owens, who was charged as witch in Massachusetts in 1620  (and who, in her diary, warned her descendants against love).  The curse means the Owenses cannot love without inadvertently hurting their lovers.   Three hundred years later, Susanna Owens of New York believes she has beaten the curse by marrying a man she likes but doesn’t love. She denies her three children, Franny, Jet, and Vincent, their heritage of witchcraft, and does not even allow them  to read about magic.

Alice Hoffman

During a summer in Massachusetts with their Aunt Isabelle, who embraces witchcraft and herbal remedies, they begin to learn about their family and are at last allowed to read magic books.  Birds fly to Franny of their own volition.  A crow becomes her familiar.  Two boys fall in love with beautiful Jet, a fan of Emily Dickinson, and kill themselves over unrequited love .  You can imagine the effect on this poetic girl, who escapes into reading. As for the youngest sibling, Vincent, he studies spells from a  Grimoire and makes mischief: he proudly casts a spell that scares finches away.  Franny is unimpressed:  she points out that a cat can scare finches without magic.

It is a landmark summer, but back in New York the Owens’ lives become more complicated.  Dare they fall in love? Dare they practice magic?  They all have the sight, and are anxious.  Franny is in love with a childhood friend, but refuses to let him get too close.  Jet conducts a dangerous romance:  in Massachusetts , shortly before she left, she fell in  love with Levi Willard, the son of a very conservative minister, who forbids Levi to see her, and who has continued a centuries-old feud with the Oweneses.  And even Vincent, who becomes an alcoholic, finally finds his way out of a drunken haze to fall in love with a man.  But there are obstacles in every path of love, and one tragedy is so poignant I’m still haunted.

The characters are so vivid, and real, and sad, and the pace is so fast that I flew through the book.  How would they manage their lives?  Would they beat the curse?

Hoffman’s exquisite writing is a gift to readers.   Here is a passage about Franny’s study of her aunt’s herbal remedies for customers.

Franny had taken to sitting on the back staircase to eavesdrop. She’d bought a blue notebook in the pharmacy to write down her aunt’s remedies. Star tulip to understand dreams, bee balm for a restful sleep, black mustard seed to repel nightmares, remedies that used essential oils of almond or apricot or myrrh from thorn trees in the desert. Two eggs, which must never be eaten, set under a bed to clean a tainted atmosphere. Vinegar as a cleansing bath. Garlic, salt, and rosemary, the ancient spell to cast away evil.

The Rules of Magic is entertaining and poignant, and now I want to go on to Practical Magic.  If you haven’t read the book, you may have seen the movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.  I only vaguely remember it, but I look forward to rereading.

Literary References in “Blade Runner 2049” & Another Trip to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Fall 2017

A dead tree is emblematic in Blade Runner 2049.

Although it meant getting up at dawn, i.e., 10 o’clock, for the early show, because we didn’t want to sit with a bunch of unruly fans, we loved Blade Runner 2049, a brilliant sequel to Blade Runner.

Dekker (Harrison Ford) and K (Ryan Gosling) in “Blade Runner” 2049

It is absolutely stunning, and not just for SF fans. The cinematography is gorgeous, the bleak, dusty environment is tragically realistic  (a dead tree proves emblematic of the lost natural world), and the characters are sharply-drawn, almost human, though most are replicants, bio-engineered beings who work as servants and slaves.  As in the first Blade Runner, some replicants are villains but others are very decent, especially K (Ryan Gosling), a “blade runner” whose  job is to hunt down earlier models of replicants, who got out of control and went rogue.

K is not a fan of killing, by the way.

K is a fan of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a book which he claims his girlfriend, Joi, an Alexa-style robot who can shimmeringly half-materialize, hates.  After she agrees, smiling, that it would be pleasant to be read to, he says mockingly, “You hate that book.”  Coincidentally, a computer who examines K for post-traumatic stress recites line of verse from Pale Fire, and K must repeat them.

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker identified these lines, which otherwise (and still?) sound like nonsense.

Later in the movie, K is sometimes called  Joe. My husband points out that this is a reference to Joseph K of Kafka’s The Trial.   The reference didn’t seem entirely apt, so we’ll see the movie a second time.

We were very glad to see Dekker/Harrison Ford, who is 100% human in his acting, a relief after so many replicants.  Somebody should get an Oscar, maybe Ryan Gosling, whom I first encountered in La La Land, or Harrison Ford, who is always brilliant.

MORE ON THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD BOOK SALE.  We went back to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale on Half-Price Day.  And we did very well, in that we restricted ourselves to filling one shopping bag with books.  Usually we huff and puff as we heave boxes of books into the car.

Once home, the books were inspected by various cats.  Yup, that’s a  cat considering John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.  I love Updike, but a quick look at a chapter in the middle has convinced me this is not his best.  I can always donate it back.

We found a copy of John Cheever’s Falconer. I love his short stories about suburban life, and am ready to try his novels.

I’d never heard off Searoad:  Chronicles of Klatsand, a collection of short stories  by Ursula K. Le Guin. According to Goodreads:  “Le Guin explores the dreams and sorrows of the inhabitants of Klatsand, Oregon, a beach town where ordinary people bring their dreams and sorrows for a weekend or the rest of their lives…”   I can’t tell much from that!

Doesn’t this 1971 Penguin, The Keep, by Jillian Becker, a South African writer, look like something on the vintage Penguin shelves at Skoob?

This never-read hardback edition of award-winning Annie Proulx’s latest novel, Barkskins,  was a great find at $4.50.

I’ve been a fan of novelist and biographer A. N. Wilson since I read his five-book Lampitt Chronicles,  so I couldn’t resist The Vicar of Sorrows for 50 cents.

I never got around to reading Leonard Wibberley’s The Mouse That Roared, but I  loved the Peter Sellers movie.

And last but not least, a cat glances at Sue Miller’s Lost in the Forest (she is an excellent writer of literary fiction) and the great mystery writer Sue Grafton’s Q Is for Quarry.

And now I need to add a Planned Parenthood Book Sale Challenge button (ha ha) to my Goodreads page.

Bibliobits: Evelyn Waugh’s “Put Out More Flags” & the Planned Parenthood Book Sale

I have long been a fan of Evelyn Waugh.  I  giggled over Vile Bodies, his satire on bright young things.  Later I became a devoted fan of his more serious work.  I especially love Brideshead Revisited (I know, some think it very bad and sentimental, but I love it), and the satiric Sword of Honour trilogy, set during World War II, which I wrote about here.

And now I have reread his brilliant novel, Put Out More Flags.  Lo and behold! I think it’s his masterpiece.  In this compelling mix of satire and realism, published in 1942, Waugh writes perceptively about the early years of the war, focusing on the various survival skills, or lack thereof, of a comical cast of upper-class characters.  Waugh resurrected some of the characters from early novels, but this book is a great introduction to them., because Waugh is firing all cylinders and has developed the characters convincingly here.

The novel begins,

In the week which preceded the outbreak of World War II–days of surmise and apprehension, which cannot, without irony, be called the last days of peace–and on the Sunday morning when all doubts were finally resolved and misconceptions corrected, three rich women thought first and mainly of Basil Seal. They were his sister, his mother and his mistress.

The conniving Basil is a charming ne’er-do-well of whom his aristocratic mother has despaired, because he ruins every opportunity and loses every job she wheedles for him from important friends.  But his loyal sister Barbara insists to her patriotic husband Freddy that  Basil will do well in the war, and her prediction is true:  it’s not that she doesn’t know he’s no good, but she perhaps has a better idea of the brutal nature of war than does Freddy.

Barbara is in charge of billeting evacuees in their village, and a thankless job it is.  She cannot persuade anyone to keep the three Connellys,  the Children from Hell, the oldest a grotesque teenager who routinely falls in love with the man of the house,  and a mischievous younger brother and sister who can wreck a house in 30 seconds.   But Basil finds a way to profit from the very awfulness of the Connolllys:  he collects a fee to take them away from the traumatized homeowners.

Basil’s mother, meanwhile, tries to persuade her friend Sir Joseph to find a place for Basil in the military.   But never mind,  Basil eventually finds a snug little niche for himself in a government agency as a spy.  He simply exaggerates conversations he hears at parties and, if there’s nothing going, makes things up.  He doesn’t think he can do any damage, but he does hurt a friend.  To give him credit, he tries to undo the damage.  Whatever you think of Basil, he is less shallow than he was in his previous incarnation  in Waugh’s Black Mischief.

And then there is Angela, his mistress, hopelessly in love with Basil, and drinking herself to death.  Will anyone be able to help her?  It seems unlikely…and yet, Basil is a different person now.

The characters are so much fun.   Anthony Silk, a gay writer, is very witty;  Alistair and Sonia Trumpington change house frequently and live in cramped quarters, mainly to keep Basil from moving in; and there are countless others.  So many others.  YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!

The comical thing is that I know someone who was a bit like Basil.  He went to Oxford, too,  and was a bit of a charmer, but also very conniving.  Everything in America was a breeze for him, and he learned to spin straw into gold–that’s all I can say!

THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD BOOK SALE.  Yes, it’s time again.  This year there is a  strong classics section, with Penguins and Oxfords to delight the soul, but we have all those! This year I bought very cheap books–I mean under a dollar!

I found  Niccolo Tucci’s Before My Time, with an introduction by Doris Lessing ($3); Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse (80 cents, a bizarre price!); and John Nichols’ The Sterile Cuckoo (60 cents, another strange price).  Did you  see the film of The Sterile Cuckoo, with Liza Minelli?  I’d love to see it again.

I am such a fan of Bess Streeter Aldrich that I visited her house in Elmwood, Nebraska.  This “reader”edition includes A Lantern in her Hand, Aldrich’s most famous novel, the sequel, A White Bird Flying, and some short stories.  It was 50 cents.

  There’s always one Virago!  I’ve never read Kate O’Brien.

Here are some old books no one wants!  Edna Ferber is the author of So Big (the Pulitzer winner) and Showboat, made into a musical; I’ve never seen Come and Get It.  Then two by Sinclair Lewis, Bethel Merriday and Man Trap; again, I’ve never heard of them.  And then The White Gate, by Mary Ellen Chase, a Maine writer who was popular in the mid-twenetieth century.

Short stories by Trollope:  how can I go wrong?

Peter De Vries really is the kind of novelist I consider a “cult” writer.  His humor is very silly and goofy, and I know people who love his work; I know others who hate it.  Let’s just say I have to be in the mood.

A good haul.  Perhaps I’ll post about the rest later!

Reading for Pleasure: Paulette Jiles’s “News of the World” & Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander”

Sometimes, when the gloomy news is too much for us, we take a break from our lives and escape into historical fiction.

Two enjoyable historical novels recently filled the bill for me:  Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, and Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel historical novel, Outlander.  Although these rip-roaring  reads have little in common plot-wise, there is a sweetness to the main characters that we don’t often see in real life.

Paulette Jiles

Last year Janet Maslin of The New York Times listed  News of the World, a literary Western, as one of her Best Books of the Year.  It is the story of a white girl captured by the Indians who does not want to return to her white family. I am familiar with this issue through two of the award-winning Conrad Richter’s novels:  in  junior high we read Conrad Richter’s The Light in the Forest, the story of a white boy returned unwillingly to his white family and determined to return to the Indians. And this year I discovered Richter’s less well-known. but much better novel, A Country of Strangers, about a young white woman, Stone Girl, taken unwillingly from her Indian family with her  son –and then, tragically, they are not accepted by her white family.

Jiles has a unique take on the situation: the novel is set in Texas in 1870, after the Civil War, and told from the point-of-view of 71-year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of the War of 1812 and Taft’s war in Mexico, and a witness of the dissension caused by the Civil War.  Captain Kidd, a former printer, now makes his living traveling around northern Texas giving readings from newspapers.  On the frontier, people are starved for news, and he crafts the readings carefully, starting with hard news and ending up with exotic stories about foreign places they’ll never visit.

But his life has recently “seemed to him thin and sour, a bit spoiled,” and he is weary of people’s emotions.  And then Britt Johnson, a free black man, whose wife and children were captured by Indians and then rescued by him, asks a favor.  He offers Kidd $50 to escort a 10-year-old white captive girl, who was recovered by the U.S. Army after four years among the Kiowa,  back to her aunt and uncle in a small town near San Antonio.  The Captain is reluctant.  He knows these things don’t turn out well.  He says,

Maybe she should go back to the Indians….

Britt said, The Kiowa don’t want her.  They finally woke up to the fact that having a white captive girl gets you run down by the cav.  The agent said Bring all the captives in or he was cutting off their rations and sending the Twelfth and Ninth after them.  They brought her in and sold her for fifteen Hudson Bay four-stripe blankets and a set of silver dinnerware.  They’ll beat it up into bracelets.  It was Aperian Crow’s band brought her in.  Her mother cut her arms to pieces and you could hear her crying for a mile.

And so the Captain agrees to make the journey.  Joanna, whose Kiowa name is Cicada, is at first contemptuous of the old man. When she tries to escape and signals to  Kiowa across the river, they shoot at her, obviously unaware this white girl is one of their tribe.  The Captain saves Joanna, from this and other dangerous situations.   But, surprisingly,  Joanna saves the Captain just as often as he saves her.  When three men corner them and he runs out of ammunition, Joanna finds a substitute!

The dialogue is enchanting, conducted partly through signs, partly through the English he slowly teaches her.  She calls him Kontah, Indian for Grandfather.   And her study of English is charming and touching.  Cho-henna clepp hants.  (Joanna clap hands.)  Cho-henna laff-a.  (Joanna laugh.)  Soon she can count to 100.

Will they ever reach heir destination?

All I can tell you is the ending is unexpected.

Claire (Catriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), the most endearing TV couple ever.

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.   Is Outlander  the Game of Thrones for women?

You’ve probably read  Outlander, the first in Gabaldon’s series of time-travel historical novels, or at least seen the TV series.  I recently watched the first season on DVD and fell in love with the gorgeous scenery and the strong, intelligent heroine, Claire, and the hero, Jamie.   Aren’t  Claire (Catriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) the most endearing TV couple ever?

And then I turned to the entertaining, plot-heavy novel, Outlander, a kind of  Perils of Pauline for intelligent women.  The charming, beautiful Claire,  a nurse during World War II, is on vacation in Scotland with her husband, Frank Randall, a historian.  While gathering plants next to a ring of standing stones in Scotland, she is somehow transported to 18th-century Scotland, where she wakes up to see a man who looks exactly like Frank. Alas, he is not her husband, but his vicious ancestor, Black Jack Randall, a sadistic British officer. When Jamie, a young red-haired Scot with a price on his head, rescues Claire from Randall, it is  the beginning of a friendship that leads to a marriage of convenience. Claire proves herself as a healer, and makes friends among the Scots.  She and Jamie rescue one another from Black Jack Randall repeatedly.  Claire is tried as a witch!   And in one thrilling chapter, Claire actually wrestles and kills a wolf in her attempt to rescue Jamie from prison.

Claire and Jamie are in love, and they have frequent sex.   It’s charming the first time, then you get a little jaded.  But the actors’ angelically happy faces bear witness to the role of great sex in a happy marriage.

Well, it’s great fun.  I’m happy to have finally joined the Outlander fans.

A Political Mystery: Amanda Cross’s The Puzzled Heart

It rained over the weekend.   It was a good time to read a stormy classic, but I chose not to roam the rainy heath with Thomasin Yeobright and the reddleman (The Return of the Native). Though usually fascinated by Heathcliff’s romps on the rainy moors and digging up of Catherine’s grave  (Wuthering Heights), I am less so when it actually rains here.  And Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is too grotesque:   Cash Bundren, do not ride your mother Addie’s coffin in a flooded river!

No, the classics are too life-like.  And so I picked up a light mystery, Amanda Cross’s The Puzzled Heart.

Cross’s 14-book mystery series is set in academia.  Her amateur sleuth, Kate Fansler, is a brilliant English professor, and her assistant D.A. boyfriend, Reed, helps her with cases.  In later books, she and Reed are married, and he is a law professor.  The witty dialogue between Kate and Reed puts me in mind of the repartee between Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey in Dorothy  Sayers’s books.

The Puzzled Heart, published in 1998, is surprisingly political. It is in part about the necessity for free speech at universities, and in part about the conflicts between the far right and the rest of us (liberals, moderates, etc).

At the beginning of the novel, Kate is deeply terrified and upset. Her husband Reed has been kidnapped by a far right-wing group, and they threaten to kill him if she tells the police. She is the real target:  the ransom is to be her recantation of her feminist beliefs in an article to be published in a right-wing publication.  Naturally, she will write the article–she will do anything–but she is terrified that they’ll kill him anyway.   She confides in her best friend Leslie.

This is not the first threat she’s had, but she never thought it would affect Reed.  Leslie wants to know, How many threats, and from whom?

“Several.  I didn’t pay that much attention.  Something called the League of Right-Wing Women wrote diatribes against everything I’ve worked for.  They seemed to be in favor of sexual harassment, battering women, date rape, and child abuse.  Perhaps that’s a bit strong.  But they certainly don’t believe any of these things happen on a large scale, and saying they do is all a plot to harry men.  Leslie, I just thought they were crackers.   In addition, I thought they were probably sending these warnings to many women.  I didn’t take it all that personally. The letter last night made it very personal.”

Carolyn G. Heilbrun, aka Amanda Cross

Kate hires another friend, Harriet, a private detective, to search for Reed. The investigation involves adopting a St. Bernard puppy, crashing a fraternity, dog-breeders, and a long look at the people in Kate’s life to identify any enemies.  She does not think she has any enemies.

Yes, the far right is involved, but it is also personal.  Who hates Kate?  Is it someone in the department?  Is it someone from her past?

Another stunning academic mystery!  Very fast-paced, very well-written.

Amanda Cross is the pseudonym of Carolyn G. Heilbrun (1926-2003) , the feminist critic best known for Writing a Woman’s Life and The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty.  She was the first tenured woman in the English department at Columbia University, and a pioneering scholar of Virginia Woolf.   She wrote mysteries under a pseudonym to protect her academic career.

Can Book Challenges Cure Internet Addiction?

“Reading Woman” by Matthieu Wiegman

I have loved the internet; I have hated the internet. I have been addicted to the internet; I have been ineffably bored by it.  Like many readers, I try to limit my time online.  In 2015, in a  post called   “Your True Self Fries Away,” I examined the problem of blogging addiction.  I wrote:

When I began Mirabile Dictu a few years ago, I resolved to post every day. Why? I still don’t know. I enjoyed the project for the first year. I enjoyed it less last year. And then I found I was reading less because I posted so much. And that’s frightening, because posting is not, in my opinion, the same thing as writing.

It was the stats in my book journal (a Moleskine notebook) that led me to examine my habits.  It changed my reading life.  Is that hyperbole? Well, no, looking at a few pages in my notebook gave me a better picture of my reading than scrolling down a book blog with dozens of posts.   Mind you, I love blogging and I also enjoy reading e-books, but do we lose our humanity if we’re too involved with electronics?  Perhaps we need the tactile experience of writing on paper as a balance to our writing on computers.

Fewer people seem concerned about internet addiction these days:  we’re all so terrified by hurricanes, climate change, and other disasters that the internet is the least of our problems.  But the problem is still there, and in a touching article at Bustle, “A Yearly Reading Challenge Just Might Be The Most Beneficial Bookish Goal You Can Make,” Kerri Jarema writes about battling anxiety with the Goodreads Reading Challenge.  Meeting her goal at the Goodreads Reading Challenge–you type in the number of books you hope to read in a year–has helped her focus on reading books.

Jarema writes,

…if I have learned anything from my personal goals of meditation and social media detox this year, it’s that many humans thrive on singular, focused thinking. On cultivating brains and bodies that are mindful, and living in the present moment. And, actually, the yearly reading goal fits perfectly into that ethos. Because, in the end, you can only read one book at a time. And in order to reach whatever goals you set (reading or otherwise) the only way out is through.

Many bloggers organize their reading around challenges:  for instance, it’s German Literature Month in November, though who is sponsoring it I couldn’t say!    These challenges are not for me,  but Jarema’s article makes me look at them differently: I now understand now how they can help people focus.

Meanwhile, disconnect, breathe deeply, and read.  And if you can do the downward dog while reading, like this blogger whose post on bookish yoga was published at Abebooks, more power to you!