Saturday, July 30, 2016

Reading Log Redux: What I Was Reading 30 Years Ago

I know we're hosting our Harry Potter party tonight, but for me, another celebration is in order. It's not quite the end of July and I've already read more books, nine, than in any month in recent memory. I don't think I'm going to get through ten, because my next book up is Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizers, for our book club discussion on Monday, and I think my reading is going to bleed into Monday morning for that one, but you never know. My previous best, both for 2016 and all of 2015, was seven, a number I hit three times. But I got as low as three in 2015 too.

I've been keeping a reading list since I was 24. At the time that I started, I was so upset that I'd waited so long and I'd already missed so much, but of course 30+ years later, and I pat myself on the back for thinking it's never too late. Of course I worked out my irritation by trying to go back and fill in the previous months.

I have rules, of course. I must read the complete book to the end. For the most part, I don't count children's picture books, adult photography or art books unless there's a substantial amount of text, and it's really hard to include anything reference-y, though I have been known to read certain books cover to cover that most people would not consider readable. When I was younger, I would occasionally count humor titles with a lot of pictures, but looking back, this also feels like cheating. Cheating who, you ask?

I also have a problem with rereading books and whether to count them or not. When someone says they read 1000 books, do they mean 1000 books or 1000 different books? I think the latter.

So I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at my reading list from 30 years ago this month. I was shocked! How did I read 17 books? And I thought this was by the most I'd ever read, but 18 wasn't unusual in 1986, and once I got to 20. The truth is that this was a good time for reading, a bookstore job that nonetheless had little outside responsibility, plus I had no television, no money to do things, and very few friends. Sounds, great, right? Within two years, I was down to single digits. The nine I am bragging about this month was par for the course for a long time.

Here's the roundup:

1. Reel Power: Struggle for Influence and Success in the New Hollywood, by Mark Litwak (William Morrow)
Type covers can still be popular but not with this typeface.

2. Worldly Power: The Making of the Wall Street Journal, by Edward Scharff (Beaufort)
This wound up being published in paperback by Plume.

3. Roadside Empires: How the Chains Franchised America, by Stan Lexumberg (Penguin)

4. Dance on My Grave, by Aidan Chambers (Harper and Row)
This book was recommended to me by my fellow bookseller Darwin. Funny how you can remember that after all these years.

5. Fifty Years in My Bookstore, by Harry W. Schwartz (Schwartz)

6. The Mexican Pet: More New Urban Legends and Some Old Favorites, by Jan Harold Brunvald (Norton) Boy these used to be popular! When I was the backlist buyer, there was a Brunvald on just about every reorder.

7. And So It Goes: Adventures in Television, by Linda Ellerbee (Putnam) It should become clear here that I was on a media kick.

8. The Milwaukee Journal: The First 80 Years, by Will Conrad, Kathleen Wilson, and Dale Wilson (University of Wisconsin)

9. The Fanciest Dive: What Happened When the Media Empire of Time/Life Leaped Without Looking in the Age of High Tech, by Christopher Byron (Norton)

10. Tales of Times Square, by Josh Alan Friedman (Delacorte)
This is odd. We hosted Mr. Friedman and I had no idea I had read his previous book. And it looks like this was reissued by Feral House.

11. The Metropolitan Midwest: Policy Problems and Prospects for Change, edited by Barry Checkoway and Carl Patton (University of Illinois)
I was clearly still wondering if I should have moved to Milwaukee.

12. Recombinations, by Perri Klass (Putnam)
I was amused to see that Ms. Klass was thanked in the acknowledgements of Elinor Lipman's charming new novel (coming February 2017). I went back and read this novel because I loved her short stories, I Am Having an Adventure, so much. I later pronounced it my favorite book of 1986 and reread it. Attempts to reread my favorite book in later years fell flat.

13. Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls (Gambit)
What a strange book that was much beloved by customers! It sold for years and years, first as an independently-produced hardcover and then from Dell and then back to a small press.

14. Mohawk, by Richard Russo (Vintage)
Hey, he turned out to be quite the writer! And now he's a bookseller too. Here's an article from the Portland Press Herald about Print, the new Portland, Maine bookshop.

15. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman (Viking)
My guess is that he would not be amused by today's landscape.

16. Night Kites, by M.E. Kerr
If you'd looked at an average bookseller's reading list nowadays, I'll bet there would be more young adult novels on it. But hey, I had two on this list.

17. The Soul of Kindness, by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago)
Definitely the influence of my friend John!

Wow, this percentage of nonfiction is much higher than I expected, 2/3. I wondered if I had changed as a reader, but it turns out this was an anomaly. Generally the fiction reading dominated, and there's another month in September where I didn't read a single nonfiction book. I went through a phase where I'd shuffle the exact month of reading to have a focus, such as books set in New Jersey. Yes, I really did this. But the media focus of July 1986 seems to be unintentional.

For what I read in July, you have to view the blog on the web version, not mobile. The reading log is along the right side.

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