Monday through Saturday I wake up at 5:15 A.M. to read before getting ready for work. I settled on this time despite not being a morning person, because it was the only time I could find to be absolutely to myself and not risk falling asleep, or preferring to play games, or watch a movie with my wife instead of reading. At 5:15 A.M. I am entirely on my own. My youngest will wake up at about 6:30 A.M., come downstairs and give me a hug, and ask for breakfast. A cereal bar, a bowl of cereal, a glass of water—she’s set and quiet for the next 20–30 minutes. By then I am either finishing my reading, or already on to writing up my notes. At 7:45 A.M., I leave my books and notebooks for the shower, and the rest of the day is work and family until the kids go to bed at night. This is my day.
I started this routine when I was reading The Magic Mountain with a group on LibraryThing. Afterwards, I turned to Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, and now I have continued on to Crime and Punishment. In the evenings, I am reading Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time, the abridged, single volume edition of Joseph Frank’s authoritative literary biography, after which I will continue chronologically through the remainder of Dostoevsky’s novels and A Writer’s Diary.
While reading a chapter, I use a pencil to underline and make notes in the margin—usually cross-references, or keywords. After reading, I skim through a second time to make further marks and refresh my mind on all the details, and I begin ruminating about what I have read. Finally, I begin to write my notes.1 They usually start as a summarization of the action, or the characters. On more successful days, this will verge off into reflective consideration of a very personal sort. This constitutes a sort of commonplace book, though a relatively focused one. I will introduce other works as they relate to my thoughts, but the notebooks are specifically focused on the texts I have been reading, and in fact, I keep separate notebooks for each book I read.
This is just the latest iteration in my attempt to come to terms with my reading, and my need to write something about my reading. I am constantly tempted to return to this blog, or some other forum to share my reading thoughts, but that is a very different thing from what I am now doing, and the one does not readily translate into the other.
Admittedly, I am stuck wondering how much I really have to say that would be of any interest to the world. I am a mere reader, and not a scholar. And the informal reading blogs are typically devoted to summary and reviews, which is not to my taste. I would rather read someone’s reflections on their reading, what it has meant to them, and to what considerations it leads them. The truth, though, is that I am much too busy reading books to spend time reading many blogs. A private pursuit. A private life. Rewarding, if insular.
It is good, sometimes, to open the window and let in the air and the far off noises.