“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” JOSEPH ADDISON

Not too long ago, I wrote about my active pursuit of reclaiming the life and mind of a passionate reader. After a lifetime of words and novels and twelve week quarters in college with book lists thirty deep (plus course readers) and then my own teaching of English literature, I had somehow let a great deal of that passion idle a bit. I discovered that the obstacle to reading wasn’t so much the struggle in motherhood to gain footing and space for reading but rather an issue with basic time management of my free time. Yes, having children does mean that on hold are the days when I could lose myself in books for eight hour stretches; however, just as with making time for health of the body, there is time to be scrounged up and salvaged for the health of the reader’s mind.

With a little over a book a week accomplished in July, I pointedly wanted to keep the momentum going and finish another five books in August. A long time ago this number would have sounded heart-achingly small to me; these days, those five books in four weeks represent a small feat. Funny how perspective can change so radically when time is so precious…

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So, the August five:

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig (1974, philosophical nonfiction with fictive elements). After reading a few of my blog entries from our road trip and noticing my themes of technology, selfhood, and purpose, my friend and motorcycle adventurer Dave aptly recommended this seminal text, which has now become a favorite of mine. No doubt I will reread this book periodically. Pirsig, a professor of rhetoric and philosophy, uses a two to three week long journey with his son Chris on their motorcycle as the frame to discuss the metaphysics of Quality, epistemology, our relationship with technology, western and eastern systems of thought, religion, institutionalism, wisdom, and creativity. Not knowing Pirsig’s bio, I experienced the thrill of a major twist part-way through the book that floored me. Incredible read.

2. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna (2009, graphic novel, philosophy, math). Admittedly this was a re-read, the original reading having taken place when Katie was little. I think it is essential to re-read books not only at different times of life, but also alongside other books to see what new knowledge may emerge. I’ve been exploring the history of math and logic lately, and in fact, read this concurrent to Zen. That the themes overlapped did not surprise me. This graphic novel explores the history of the foundational work of mathematics, with Bertrand Russell narrating and participating in two of the three parallel story lines. Frege, Cantor, and Godel also make appearances, though there are liberties taken a bit with some aspects of historical accuracy (in the book, mathematicians meet and converse when they never did in real life). The theme of rationality vs. madness echoes Pirsig’s work. A quick little read. Made me fall head over heels with Bertrand Russell all over again.

3. Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006, nonfiction, psychology). You know how you hear about something you haven’t had too much on your radar before, and a couple days later you hear about it again, and then again…all in different contexts? This is the story of how Dr. Dweck’s book came into my life. My friend Jen was the tipping point here, when she happened to mention what a game-changer this book truly is, right when the book was hanging out in my Amazon cart. Jen is absolutely right: Mindset is a subtle revolution, but an important one, as it discusses fixed vs. growth mindsets. I think all parents, CEOs, teachers, and coaches would benefit from reading this one. If you’ve ever put yourself in a box, believed that you just couldn’t learn or make progress in some area, or felt fear of failure, then this book might be one for you. We are also reminded about the ways in which the right kinds of praise can empower a child and in which some kinds of praise inhibit and limit a child.

4. Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Prophet of the Computer Age by Betty O’Toole (1998, nonfiction, biography, collection of letters). Lady Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, Romantic poet, and a mathematically-inclined mother who later turned to mesmerism. Spanning 25 years of Ada’s correspondence, this book expands upon Ada’s friendship and collaboration with Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine. Honestly? This publication felt dated. There seemed to be almost an air of worship of Ada, who, yes, had great mathematical ability and some insight about future possibilities for Babbage’s work. I got a little skimmy toward the end: Ada’s failing health and daily laudanum made some of her letters a bit “out there” for me. There can be no doubt that Ada was a bright woman, and I don’t know exactly what it was, but something felt a bit forced about the analysis of Ada’s contribution to the budding field of computing. Still, she’s interesting to know about…

5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (fiction, 1964). I read this with Katie and since I don’t usually include books read with her on my reading list, perhaps I should! It just somehow feels a bit like cheating. I am including this book as mine, though, because it ended up taking quite a bit of our time. Worth it, too. And the prose is so stunningly lovely. I did not feel as though I was reading a “children’s novel” but rather a work that could easily hold its own in any college class discussing philosophy, authorship, and agency. What is the nature of loneliness? What is truth? How do we create the self? What does it mean to be an observer? A writer?  How do we use words for the good? What does it mean to be an outsider? I read this book when I was a child and clearly missed most of the importance of these questions in my youthful analysis of the text.

I am partly into another handful of books, one of which I sat down because a flippant character was annoying without apparent purpose and too greatly; the second of which I am still working through and it’s a tome; the third  because I haven’t quite gotten into it yet. However, I think I will choose one of our running books next. With limited time to read, I am much more discerning these days and have discovered the liberty of putting the book down if I don’t get excited about returning to it!

Happy reading, Everyone!

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