Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon: Reading Through the Year

109 Books.

That was my cumulative reading total for 2018.

In recent years, I’ve set a goal of reading 100 books per year. Goodreads kindly keeps track of my progress, and I periodically check in to see how i’m doing. I’m not obsessive about it. I reached the goal in 2016, but fell short in 2017.

When I hit 100 books on December 5 this past year, I decided to try for 110, and almost made it.

Looking back on the standouts from 2018, there was a lot of literary fiction, even more historical fiction, a little memoir, and a few mysteries. I rarely write written reviews on Goodreads (doing more of that is another goal I have for this year) but I always rate them using the built in Goodreads star system, and I’m stingy with five star ratings. The book has to engage me completely - you know, one of those you eagerly anticipate picking up again. It has to have complex, well defined characters and thoughtful, pertinent themes. The author’s use of language and description must be sophisticated without being obscure, and detailed without being pedantic.


Although my musical training and expertise is mainly as an instrumentalist, my years of accompanying choral groups have given me a profound admiration for the craft of singing. Choral music and vocal singing are fulfilling on two levels - my musical ear is satisfied, but so is my writer’s ear. Singing tells a story by setting words to music, and the best choral groups and vocalists convey the depth of this meaning with the nuance of their performance.  Listening to glorious music automatically makes me a happier person. My recent trip to New York was a unique opportunity to hear some of the best male choruses from the midwest and eastern sections of the country. The IMC (Intercollegiate Men’s Chorus) convocation brings together groups of male singers of all ages, who gather to share their love of singing with each other and with their audiences. For the past 100 years, male choruses have joined this collegium to celebrate the inspiring power of song.

I took the opportunity to share more about the experience in this week’s Sunday Salon at All Things Girl magazine.


The Sunday Salon: Quietude, and the July Reading List

Oh my, the house is quiet. Connor and Brian reading (july 2013)For the past two weeks we've been reveling in a visit from our son, daughter-in-law and 19 month old grandson. But now they've headed back to the extreme heat in their hometown near Dallas, and we are left to bask in the cool breezes of  our near-perfect Michigan summer.  We've traded our grandson's precious babbling for the symphony of bird song, accompanied by the rustling of leaves and the mongolian tones of our backyard chimes.

July is historically my busiest reading month. Looking back over the past 10 July's in my reading journal, I've routinely records 10 and 11 books read during this long summer month.

This year totaled only 7  (but then I'm not counting the dozen or so books I read to Connor during the time he was here. And re-read. And read again.)

Here are three of the highlights of my July reading:

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer: This novel was bound to appeal to me, as it featured a group of young people who meet in the 70's at an arts camp and become friends for life. Their relationships criss cross in unusual ways throughout the intervening decades. Wolitzer writes of the foibles and concerns of my generation, and she does it superbly.

Tomorrow There Will be Apricots, by Jessica Sofer: This beautiful debut novel is the story of two women in New York, a widow and an almost-oprhan, each seeking love and connection, using their common love of food to bring them together. Sofer writes with elegant detail about our relationships with family  - the one we are born to and the one we find for ourselves.

One and Only, by Lauren Sandler: Billed as a "humorous, tough-minded, and honest case for being and having an only child," Sandler's book appealed to me on several fronts. Because I am not only an only child myself, but also the daughter, wife, and mother of other "singletons" (the new terminology), I naturally have a vested interest in the subject. Sandler, an only child now raising an only child of her own, is almost rabid in her defense of the one-child family.  She makes her case using more sociological and psychological research than personal examples - this is not a memoir, although her own experience informs her interest in the subject.  As a "mature" only child, one who has been caring for elderly parents for the past two decades, and now facing the perils of old age looming on my own horizon, I would have been interested to see some discussion of how singletons in my demographic are handling their status. Overall, the book was well written and researched, and inspired me to thoughtfully consider my own feelings about this very current subject.

All month long, I've been listening to Tumbleweed, by Leila Meacham, a real pot-boiler of a novel about a triumvirate of friends growing up in the Texas panhandle (circa mid 1980's to the present). I LOVE lisetning to these kinds of books - love the long story, the plot twists and turns, the relationship arcs. Impeccably read by Angele Masters, it's the kind of novel that so completely engrosses me I sometimes forget where I'm driving (and they talk about cell phones being distracting!)

So far this August, I'm completely engrossed in Sight Reading, a novel by Daphne Kalotay (author of Russian Winter). This is another guaranteed "like" for me, since the main characters are professional musicians. Kalotay has done a marvelous job of research with this novel, as she explores the complex relationships between couples and their work.

How did July shape up in your reading life?

The Sunday Salon: Permission to Read, Please

Woman Reading - Henri MatisseOn this hot summer Sunday, I've been seriously contemplating climbing the stairs to my bedroom, stretching out on the king sized bed underneath a gently whirling fan, and reading napping. It's a revolutionary concept for me - the napping part, not the reading part. I never nap. But I haven't been sleeping very well, and last night was another in what has become something of an ugly habit - wake up at 1:30, stay awake  until 3 or 3:30, and then drift off into restless sleep until the alarm sounds Summer afternoons seem made for reading, and I'd love to allow myself the luxury of lolling around with The Burgess Boys, which I picked up at the library yesterday. But most of my reading is done at the extremes of the day. I'm used to reading first thing in the morning, often before anyone else is awake, and last thing at night, just before falling asleep. And these recent middle-of-the-night periods of wakefulness have proven a boon to my reading life, if not my physical one.

I wonder why it seems such a decadent pleasure to read in the middle of the day, one almost akin to eating dessert before (or instead of) the meal. In my youth and early adulthood, I often spent time in the afternoon reading, and recall many summer afternoons spent on the back porch of our house or under the shade tree, book in hand, while baby napped inside. It was so rejuvenating, that hour or so spent with a book, that it seems churlish not to engage in it more often.

It is without a doubt my Puritan work ethic that nudges me off the couch and on to more "productive" tasks. I tell myself that reading is sustenance for a writer, that it's is necessary for the betterment of my craft. I remind myself that many of the books piled on my TBR shelf are review books and require my dedicated attention. But even as I settle comfortably on the sofa, I can feel nagging tugs at my about that laundry? did you remember to get the chicken out of the freezer? have those bills been paid yet?

What I really crave is permission to let that other stuff go and read in the middle of the day just for the pure love of it. Isn't that silly?

So without further ado, I will attempt to spend at least part of this summer Sunday engaged in the practice of reading.

How about you? When does most of your reading get done? Is reading during the day a guilty pleasure for you?

The Sunday Salon: Spring Forward

Having dutifully set my clocks forward last night, I was prepared for the shock to my system this morning when my body clock awakened me at what seemed like the normal 7:00 a.m., but was actually 8:00 a.m. I was prepared for it, but not happy about it.

Admittedly, I don't like the sensation of losing an hour, especially when what gets cheated is usually my reading time.


Daylight savings time notwithstanding, I've been clipping along with my various reading projects. This week I'm mid-way through Nobody's Fool, a Richard Russo novel I picked up on the library sale rack (50 cent trade paperbacks make me very happy.) Russo has a knack for presenting the quirky, down and out, everyman types with such warmth and affection you can't help but root for them as they bumble through life and relationships. This novel (published in 1987) is populated with more sad-sacks than any of his others, most notably Donald Sullivan (Sully), a half-hearted construction worker who's been carrying on a lackluster affair with the wife of another man for the past 20 years. Russo's requisite down-and-out town, North Bath, is as dismal as its residents. Somehow, though, Russo can make the reader laugh at and even love these folks, for if we look closely we can find pieces of ourselves dwelling within them.

I'm also re-reading Care of the Soul, by Thomas Moore, a guidebook of sorts for finding sacredness and meaning in everyday life. I purchased this book when it was published in 1994, but never finished it. Life was hectic and busy in those days, with a teenager and a job, and I don't think I had time to consider (or, truthfully, even care) about the sacredness of it all. But now "everyday life" is very present in my mind, and I'm rethinking the concept of seeking a more meaningful approach to it.

Up next is Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist, which I'm eager to read. I'm reviewing it for TLC Tours, and also reading it for a book club meeting with some friends here in town.  If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think!

I'll be spending the afternoon at a concert, but am tucking a book into my purse as usual :) You never know when a spare minute might crop up, and I need all the reading time I can muster today!