Monday, October 26, 2009

Bookshelf & - What I'm Reading

I've been really bad about reading over the last few months. It's not that I'm not reading enough, though I don't think it's possible to read too much. It's having four, five, or more, books going simultaneously.

Where I used to have three books mid-read at all times (fiction, non-fiction, and read-aloud-to-kids book), has made it possible for me to have a similar thing going on the iPod/iPhone at the same time. Audiobooks for long bicycle rides, housework, family car trips, etc... Makes it a little hard to keep track sometimes.

Started listening to Stumbling On Happiness during our cross-country trip this summer. Figured I'd have drive times with sleeping children and navigator and would appreciate the company of a book which kept my brain active. Fortunately (occasionally unfortunately), I had company for all those hours, so books from the Artemis Fowl series kept everyone entertained for much of the driving. At home with the kids, there was no way to listen. With the return to school, and more opportunities to steal away for an hour (or more) of cycling/running, I was able pick back up on the book by Daniel Gilbert, starting from the very beginning:

What would you do right now if you learned that you were going to die in ten minutes? Would you race upstairs and light that Marlboro you've been hiding in your sock drawer since the Ford administration? Would you waltz into your boss's office and present him with a detailed description of his personal defects? Would you drive out to that steakhouse near the new mall and order a T-bone, medium rare, with an extra side of the reallybad cholesterol? Hard to say, of course, but of all the things you might do in your final ten minutes, it's a pretty safe bet that few of them are things you actually did today.

Now, some people will bemoan this fact, wag their fingers in your direction, and tell you sternly that you should live every minute of your life as though it were your last, which only goes to show that some people would spend their final ten minutes giving other people dumb advice. The things we do when we expect our lives to continue are naturally and properly different than the things we might do if we expected them to end abruptly. We go easy on the lard and tobacco, smile dutifully at yet another of our supervisor's witless jokes, read books like this one when we could be wearing paper hats and eating pistachio macaroons in the bathtub, and we do each of these things in the charitable service of the people we will soon become. We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves, squirreling away portions of our paychecks each month so they can enjoy their retirements on a putting green, jogging and flossing with some regularity so they can avoid coronaries and gum grafts, enduring dirty diapers and mind-numbing repetitions of The Cat in the Hat so that someday they will have fatcheeked grandchildren to bounce on their laps. Even plunking down a dollar at the convenience store is an act of charity intended to ensure that the person we are about to become will enjoy the Twinkie we are paying for now. In fact, just about any time we want something—a promotion, a marriage, an automobile, a cheeseburger—we are expecting that if we get it, then the person who has our fingerprints a second, minute, day, or decade from now will enjoy the world they inherit from us, honoring our sacrifices as they reap the harvest of our shrewd investment decisions and dietary forbearance.
I love reading about why and how people make decisions in their lives. I'm not sure if it's an off-shoot of looking at my life with the question "what the heck was I thinking?!" - which I'm not sure I like, as it seems terribly self-absorbed, or just a genuine interest in what makes people tick. (Of course I'd like to think it's the latter, and that the armchair quarterbacking of my own decisions is just the most convenient.)

While hearing about how our brains look forward in time and use imagination to create a picture of what to expect, I got to see it happening right in front of me, in the way my children remember, and feel about, the same event in completely different ways. The different scenarios they play through in their minds before really did have more to do with their feelings about things in the longer term than the actual event itself. A school event my daughter gushed about for days in advance is now remembered as "so much fun", even if she had more fun running around with her friends after than in the auditorium. My son, who complained for days ahead of time about how lame the same event would be, had a blast. Maybe it was a subject he loves, or the activities suited his hands-on style... he loved it. But a few weeks later, if you ask him about it, he remembers as the whole evening as being "so lame." It was pretty cool to see the book in action. (Well, the kids do that all the time, but it was fascinating to notice it and watch the process take place.)

Stumbling On Happiness is one of those few audiobooks I plan to also buy in print. Okay, maybe not that few, once I consider the growing list of books which fit this category, including: Logic of Life, Predictably Irrational, Founding Brothers, The Undercover Economist, and the non-fiction audiobook I downloaded this month, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.

For the current books with pages:
On the end table by the sofa, for nightly reading to kidlets - The Hobbit, by Tolkien. So far, they seem to like it. Wasn't sure how it would go, since the attempt to read Fellowship of the Ring didn't sit so well a few years ago. Of course, that was when DD was in Kindergarten. Her restlessness at sitting still for something a bit beyond her was contagious. We aren't having the same trouble this time.

On the nightstand - The Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf. This isn't my normal type of book, but comes highly recommended from a friend. Just started reading this last night, and am already beginning to get sucked in to the story, so maybe it's time to break away from my typical book genres.

On the iPhone, for when I feel like something escapist - The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones. I listened to this a couple years ago on a car trip with the kids. Started listening again last week, when I accidentally removed Outliers from my playlist during a sync. Bartimaeus & Nathaniel are just as much fun the second time around.


Slamdunk said...

A+ for getting your kids to listen to you read to them. When he was 6 or 7, our son listened to me read the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I did not have much success after that.

Fortunately, he has found solace among the screaming twins on the 4 hour roundtrip drives to grandpa's house by reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series.

We plan to keep trying though.

mappchik said...

I still read most nights, though anyone in double digit years has the option to read on his own. The boys don't take that option often, unless I'm reading something they've already finished.

The audiobooks really helped keep the kids attention for the L-O-N-G books. Some of them, like the Narnia & His Dark Materials series, are available with full cast production, which gave the depth to keep them engaged when they were younger... and gives my voice a break on a trip.

My younger two are big fans of the Wimpy Kid series, too. They talked it up so much, the teen picked up one for a rainy weekend read last year. He found it rather entertaining. (Though I don't think I'm supposed to mention that. Someone might find out.)

Slamdunk said...

Ok, thanks for the audio book suggestion. I'll have to try that route.