Tag Archives: re-reading

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tangible Signs That You're Middle Aged

“Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.”

–Bob Hope


Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Yesterday, I talked about middle age as a set of attitudes. Today I’d like to complement that idea with five concrete signs that you’re middle aged:

1.You start re-reading classics. I’m a big believer in the value of re-reading. But while in Waterstone’s the other day (UK equivalent of Borders), I saw a bookmark entitled “50 Books To Read Before You Die.” And suddenly I had this panic attack that I hadn’t read every single book on the list.  As it happened, I was already re-reading Wuthering Heights for my book group. But as soon as I saw that bookmark, I ran back to embrace Heathcliff with reckless abandon!

2.You leave Parties Before Midnight. I remember once taking this personality test which asked “Do you leave parties before or after midnight?” I dismissed the question entirely because at that point in my life, I didn’t show up to parties until after midnight. Boy, how times have changed. And it’s not just that I now have to pay a sitter when I go out. I actually find myself craving the solitude of…well, Heathcliff.

3. You decline alcohol because you need to exercise the next day. OK, in truth I don’t do this all that much. But I do restrain myself far more than I once did. For heaven’s sake, I used to smoke a cigarette *after* returning from a run. Or go running…to escape a hangover. Now my aging body does the mental calculation of how that morning run will feel after just one glass of wine and I find myself re-considering it.

4. You Start Renting BBC Mini-Series. It’s one of those sad truths of parenting that once you have kids, you never go out to movies anymore. My husband and I thought we’d be different than everyone else on this score but, of course, we’re not. Sure, we go to see a few of the big hits every year. I’m too much of an Oscar fan to skip those. But most of the time we rent movies about six months behind their release date. Lately, however, we have found ourselves renting assorted BBC mini-series that ran – gasp – in like the 80’s. Worse, we find them bizarrely addictive. Don’t believe me? Check out House of Cards. Tell me if you’re not hooked after Episode One.

5. You buy that Joni Mitchell album. You know that one – Both Sides Now – where she goes back and sings…Both Sides Now, except that her tone’s a little more plaintive, a little more somber, a little more…middle-aged. Worse, you buy it because you saw it featured in Love, Actually in that scene with Emma Thompson crying in the bedroom. And it’s haunted you ever since. Admit it. It has.

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Image: Joni Mitchell self-portrait by Jenny J via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Books That Are Worth Re-Reading

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Further to yesterday’s post about the pleasures of re-reading as an adult, I thought I’d make some suggestions about books that I think are worth a second read (or a first if you haven’t gotten to them yet!):

1. I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. Although some see this book as fanning the flames of the Mommy Wars (more on that tomorrow), I thought it was a terrifically funny – and moving – portrait of the over-stressed working mom. See yesterday for more on that one.

2. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee. This is, in my opinion, a masterpiece and one of the very few novels I’ve read more than once (three times actually). It provides a stark, haunting portrait of a middle-aged man coping with disillusionment (both personal and professional), longing,  fatherhood, and masculinity…all set against the backdrop of a post-apartheid South Africa. Again, not everyone’s cup of tea – many people can’t stand the notoriously aloof Coetzee – but I discovered new layers of meaning with each additional read. I don’t always agree with the choices for Booker Prize, but this time I did (Winner: 1999).

3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s hard to believe that this is the only book that Lee ever wrote. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to re-read it – feeling I’d done my duty back in 9th grade when it was assigned in every freshman English class in the United States – but I re-read it in one of my book groups and was really glad that I did. In addition to all of the usual themes of childhood, race relations and the morality of violence, this book offers a glorious peek into the Depression-era American South.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – This one may be more familiar to British readers, even though it is set in America.  It tells the story of a mother coming to terms with her psychopathic son. Like Disgrace, this is a pretty dark tale, so brace yourself before reading. I’ve only read it once but feel like it demands a second read.

5. Anything by Jane Austen.

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I am always drawn to the Stuff White People Like website, where the authors make fun of (upscale) white culture. Check out today’s entry on the Vespa Scooter.

Image: Jane Austen’s EMMA by Allie via Flickr under a Creative Commons Website.

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Guilty Pleasures of Adulthood: The Joys of Re-Reading

OK, admit it. You probably didn’t think I was going to end that sentence with “re-reading.” Sorry to disappoint.

But I was really taken with an editorial in last Saturday’s New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg about the pleasures of re-reading. In it, the author confesses that as much as she admires people who are widely read, she herself is much more of a re-reader.

I’m the opposite. I almost never re-read books. In fact, I compulsively get rid of books once I’ve read them, either returning them to the library or giving them away. (The zeal with which I “throw things away”  is yet another variant on my own personal ziplock conflict with my husband, btw…)

Part of this is because I live in a closet. But mostly it’s because I always feel like there’s a better use of my time. There are so many classics out there that I’ve never read that if I’m going to re-read something, I feel that it ought to be “important” – Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, for example. (This is also, btw, why I can be such a buzz kill in book clubs.)

But lately, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the great pleasures of getting older is that it gives you the opportunity to re-read. You pick up something that resonated for you at one point in your life and you see what it means to you now. As Klinkenborg puts it so eloquently:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.

A great example of this process for me – and which, interestingly, did not lie in the realm of the classics – was when I re-read Allison Pearson’s brilliant I Don’t Know How She Does It. I first read this funny and moving treatment of working-mom-hell when I was deeply ensconced in working-mom-hell and recognized myself in the stressed-out, over-performing, irreverent central character. (As did so many of my friends. My favorite anecdote from this book is when the main character wishes that she could create a special check-out line in grocery stores for particularly harried working mothers. I hear you, sister.)

The second time I read the book, however, I’d moved out of that phase of life into an entirely different one. I was trying to write a novel of my own and thought that it would be helpful if I read someone else who got the tone that I was shooting for right – i.e. a voice that was funny and insightful but also tinged with sadness and moments of darkness. And it worked. Because I already knew the plot line, I could read the book for the language…the tone…the rhythm of events. In short, I read it less as a mother and more as a writer. And it was a totally different experience.

I’m sure that there are loads of books out there that I could be re-reading if I would just let myself…stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.

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Speaking of paranoia about not being sufficiently well-read, via the ever fabulous Very Short List I came across this link to a book aptly titled Beowolf on the Beach which gives plot summaries of all the classics. Crib notes for grown ups!

Book Babel: Half Read Tower of Shame by Pindec via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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