Taking Stock and Drinking the Rain by Alix Kates Shulman

Dear Reader:

I started this blog in mid July 2011 with the goal of drastically reducing my rate of book buying/acquisition, focusing my reading, sharing my thoughts and communing with other readers, and keeping a record of my thoughts about what and how I was reading.  Thank you to all of you who are reading, commenting, subscribing – I’ve enjoyed writing for me, and for you, and getting to know you, and reading and responding to your comments.

I’m about 3.5 months into a “year of” project and it seems timely to take stock.  You can always see my list of stuff I plan to read – I update it every time I add to it, finish a book, or write a final “review” or discussion of a book – I make a link back to the final review or discussion of it.  Right now I’m at 99 books.

Truth be told I have other books I want to read (I just for the first time checked out two library books on my kindle – it was so EASY! Beijing Man the latest and last Wallander by Henning Mankell and Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey from Farm to Factory that Mary – a loyal reader – has more than once gently urged me to read – that will be 101 when I add them) and I have other books of mine I want to add – about 15 Open Letter Books published translated novels (I had a subscription to them last year) – they are a University of Rochester press specializing in translating the world’s great literature.  They define great, current literature as somewhat experimental and this is not my favorite genre, so I haven’t really enjoyed them.  But I think if I set out to read and write about some of them I’d find them more compelling.  And then there is all of Proust and many others, but I digress.

So, of 99 books on my list, I’ve read 24 or 25 in 3.5 months and written about all or nearly all of them.  I thought I was a speedier reader, but I have to keep in mind that there are many other books on my list that I’ve dipped into and not finished (yet).  So, I’m pretty happy with reading about 1/4 of my list.  I’m going to try to see if I can speed it up a bit though.  I’ve done a little less well on the acquisition side of things – nearly 1/3 of the way through the year and I’ve bought 14 out of the 20 books (nearly 3/4) I set out to limit myself to.  Ah well.  I continue to be highly selective and I am meeting a lot of my goals AND learning (finally) what is a realistic amount to read (in other words, that I’ve probably got about 20 years of books to read in my existing library and could get a ton more classics for free on my kindle…)  Maybe I’ll go over a bit – but on the journey I’ve learned to slow down my buying.  But also to think about my life’s goal of reading a good sized list of classic/high quality authors, particularly women – I think I have a much better idea of how limited my reading time is over the next 50 years and am more compelled to spend it wisely on stuff I really want to read.

Drinking the Rain (HC)

My friend Heidi gave me Alix Kates Shulman’s Drinking the Rain recently.  It is the story of a New Yorker (as in City) who turns 50, is in a marriage gone south, and thinking a lot about the rest of her life, like I’ve been doing this year since my 50th birthday.  Her family owns a shack on a small, fairly remote Maine island (there are other people on it, but it is a slog to get in and out of the cabin, the island store is quite limited, and I get the impression the island only has maybe a 100 year round inhabitants).

I enjoy memoirs – particularly about reading and thinking and reflecting and I enjoyed this one.  Alix takes off for the cabin one late spring with the goal of staying the summer.  Odd since she never really was that excited to go there with the extended family and friends every year (probably at least in part because this entailed non-stop cooking of food that all had to be hauled across the beach in a fold up shopping cart on a propane stove with an antiquated propane fridge in a shack).  But at any rate, this is the year she decides she wants the solitude.  She’s done more than one writer’s retreat for multiple months – including some famous ones where writers are cooked for and coddled.  But she’s never been on her own to this degree.

Her NYC friends think she is nuts.  I understand, though.  I love my friends, family, collaborators – but I love my solitude.  I’m chatty when I’m walking the dogs or working with people, but resent most phone calls when I’m at home – email’s OK, I can respond to it when I wish.  I’m not big on parties or get togethers at friends’ houses, no matter how much I love them.  Unless we’re going to walk dogs together, I’m more inclined to stay home and read or hike the dogs.  And I’m never more relaxed than when I’m camping – preferably for a week at a time, this for me is one long opportunity to read intermingled with dog hiking and playing, making and cooking on the fire, and eating.  So, to me 6 months in a Maine cabin reading, writing, and contemplating sounds heavenly.

Alix is a veteran of feminism – an active, fairly early leader in the movement who has gone through decades of ups and downs with it.  I think she turned 50 in the 80’s some time – this is a bit hard to figure out, the paperback was published in 2004, and she goes back and forth in time – part of the time she’s in her 50’s, part in the 60s…

She’s a city girl, really.  But she brings some Euell Gibbons books (Stalking the Wild Asparagus and, appropriately, Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop).  Over time, she absorbs the books and starts doing a lot of living off the land, especially for a city girl.  A lot of the time, she’s getting all her meat (seafood) and veggies (various wild plants) and fruits (berries and apples) from the land and the sea and making her own bread.

I really enjoyed this discussion of learning and savoring these foods.  I grew up with a father who worshiped Euell and I learned a lot of wild foods from him – from game to fish to berries to wild herbaceous plants.  We typically either grew, raised, hunted, gathered, or fished about 80% of our food growing up.  And let’s just say that Steve Jobs and my father have not dissimilar personalities and I was forced to eat a lot of stuff that I hated and, frankly, tasted awful (as my friend Jill’s botany teacher told her “Just because it is edible doesn’t mean it is palatable.” – Euell!)  Today I’m not a big fan of fish or game (except venison and moose), but I love wild berries and enjoy making salads out of wild plants.  So, I particularly dug that she got into this and her descriptions are great.

At a certain point, she gets divorced – she gets the shack, her husband gets the NYC apartment (let’s hope she got something other than the shack) – and she ends up heading west to teach.  I found her discussion of life in Boulder and consuming every eastern/new age religion it had to offer a little less compelling.  But I really enjoyed her discussions of her solitude, enjoying the island, learning to be more independent, and being thoughtful about mortality.  Thanks, Heidi!

Happy Reading, Ruby

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