Do you ever come across an old list and have almost no memory of the events connected to it? Maybe you’re skimming through a notebook, and you find the jotted-down menu you were planning for Thanksgiving dinner, 2006. Or you find an old, much-scribbled-on Christmas list, and ask yourself, “Did I really get my husband a socket set that year?” The older I get, the more events seem to slip into one side of my brain and slide right out the other, leaving no memory imprint at all. Details I think I’ll never forget become—sooner than I anticipate—more blurry impression than sharp image. Our lives are made up of the small things, and I can hardly remember any of them.
Tim’s grandmother was a dedicated journal-writer. Every evening, for the first two decades I knew her, she wrote a page about the day she had just passed. This used to fascinate me. Here, I thought, was a life well-chronicled! Here was surely a treasure trove of detail; a veritable time machine on paper! When I expressed my interest in the journals, Grammie gave them to me: stacks and stacks and bags and boxes of them.
I sat down to read. And I read with growing astonishment at the things that weren't written. The pages covered, in minute detail, what she had eaten for supper each day, how many miles they had driven, whom they had stopped to see along the way, and what the weather had been, but not a single hint about her personality. Always, the temperature written on the upper right-hand corner of the page. Nothing else. No colorful descriptions; no sentiment or opinion ever expressed; not a single mention of world events or even family events, like great-grandchildren being born. I know, because I looked up the dates of my own children’s births and…nothing. Just a report that the day had been sunny, and the fact that they’d eaten lamb chops with Nellie, and what the meal had cost. This is not the kind of remembering I want to do.
A year ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution: I can’t write down everything, but I resolved to write down the title of every book I read in 2017. Books are mile-markers for me. What I read tells me much about where I am in life. So I did it. I didn’t count books I’ve only partially read: I always have a circulating pile of those. And I didn’t count individual poems or short stories, unless I’d read an entire collection. Keeping a list taught me a few things about my reading habits:
1. I re-read old favorites too often, because it’s easier than doing the work of reading something for the first time.
2. I am a slow reader.
3. I wish I read more current fiction than I do. But Tim just got me an Audible account for my birthday, so maybe that’s a good resolution for 2018.
Now, without further ado, here is what I read in 2017:
(a =audiobook; rr =re-read)
Reading Lolita in Tehran Azar Nafisi
The Power of Self-Forgetfulness Tim Keller
The Road to Character David Brooks
David and Goliath (a, rr) Malcolm Gladwell
Blink (a, rr) Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers, the Story of Success (a, rr) Malcolm Gladwell
The Rainbow Comes and Goes Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
My Descent Into Death Howard Storm
Little Heathens Mildred Armstrong Kalisch
The Body Keeps the Score Bessell Van Der Kolk
Mystery & Manners (Occasional Prose) Flannery O’Connor
The Rain in Portugal Billy Collins
Favorite On the List: Mystery & Manners
Medicus (rr) Ruth Downie
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a, rr) J.K. Rowling
The Westing Game (rr) Ellen Raskin
The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
Whistling Past the Graveyard Susan Crandall
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Ann Rice
Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana Ann Rice
The Secret Diary of Adrian Plass, Age 37 ½ (rr) Adrian Plass
Black Duck (a) Janet Taylor Lisle
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories (rr) Flannery O’Connor
The Magician’s Nephew (a, rr) C.S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces C.S. Lewis
The Good Life (Short Stories) Erin McGraw
Favorite On the List: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
2017 was a watershed year for me in many ways: it’s the year I became a grandmother, and a foster mother, and finished writing a book with my sister. I’m glad I chronicled a sliver of my life this year, even if it’s only to write down the books I read. I’m going to do it again in 2018.