Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Reading in Retirement

I have always read a lot.  My whole work career was built around reading (and writing), and I always read regularly during times I wasn't working.  So reading a lot in retirement isn't itself new.  However, the way I read has changed in some ways, though not in others.

What's different?  I no longer have to read for class or for research.  So I have a great deal of freedom in what I choose to read.  Also, because I don't have a job anymore, I have more time to myself and thus more time to read.  So more freedom and time are the main differences.

What is the same?  I read mostly novels but also (increasingly) non-fiction.  I read different kinds of novels, often having a couple going at the same time: one that may be more serious or longer or more difficult, and another (usually read on my Kindle in bed at night) less taxing, such as a detective novel.

How do these differences and similarities come together to shape my reading.  Here is what I have come up with so far.

1.  I read a lot more non-fiction.  I often go on "jags," getting interested in something and pushing ahead.  Some of my jags have included bog people the search for the Nile, polar exploration,  Recently I've been reading a lot of books about World War II, such as the two books I blogged about earlier where someone tried to find out the truth of family artifacts.  I then read The Collaborator by Alice Kaplan which is about her search of the archives to narrate the biography of Robert Brassillach who was executed for his writings (rather than actions) by the Provisional DeGaulle government after the fall of Vichy.  I am about to start  Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn, about his attempts to discover the truth of what happened to six members of his family who were killed in the Holocaust.  The link in this latest jag, I think, is archives, narratives that go back to fill in the past (a narrative shape that I have always found alluring), and World War II. I think my "jags" have to do with wanting to explore a topic (often one I found haphazardly) in more depth and also with the principle of  one-thing-leads-to-another.

2.  I read novels all the time.  Even while on my non-fiction "jags," I always have a novel going.  If my serious reading is non-fiction, then my novel is usually pretty easy. But more often than not it is the novel that requires serious attention.  I try to alternate long novels with short ones (just to vary the pace) and serious with fun.   But I say this in all seriousness (and some of you will know exactly what I mean):  I would be a nevous wreck (and no fun to be with) if I didn't have a novel close to hand.  My nightmare is to be stuck on a plane without something to read.

3.  I look for opportunities to read with others.  I belong to two book groups, one in Louisville and one in Copper Harbor.  Tony and I often read a book together: something big and ambitious, which we divide into sections and talk about at dinner over several weeks.  (Last year we did Little Dorritt; this year we are cautiously trying Proust.)

4.  I keep a list of the books I read, something I have done for over 20 years. (Otherwise I can forget what I have read.)  I sometimes look at the list to keep track of what I am doing

5.  I still (and will always I believe) have this feeling that reading is "work," as well as "pleasure."  Work in the good sense of using my brain and accomplishing something important; pleasure in the sense that it makes me happy and gives me the sense of a larger life.

This is a kind of meandering blog post.  I feel like I should be able to write something more coherent--something that really illuminates why I read and what it means to me, especially now when, except for a few instances, it not connected to anyone but my retired self.  Sometimes I feel like I am in Paradise, being able to wake up in the morning and read anything I want to.  Sometimes I feel like I should be doing something else--though I'm not sure why or what that would be.

My Life as a Reader.  That's probably the best I can do.



Tracy Altieri said...

I too, am an avid reader. As the daughter of two teachers, one an English professor, I grew up surrounded by books and the expectation that people should be readers. Interestingly, not all of my siblings took to it as I did. I am mostly a fiction reader, and love mysteries. I admit that I'm in a bit of a drought right now. This happens to me from time to time. I always know that I'll come out of it though. I feel a bit naked without a book and a knitting project by my side!

Debra Journet said...

I love your phrase "naked without a book and a knitting project by my side!"