Reading time vs. writing time +Colum McCann’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I’m having a hard time getting this writing part done lately. It’s one of my favorite things, but it is also sucks a bit of time from my busy days. I can usually make time for it, but for the last couple of weeks its been nearly impossible to write.

Reading, on the other hand, is much more portable, making it easier to fit into my schedule.

I’m going to whine a bit about the last couple of weeks. Besides all the Christmas stuff (decorating mostly) and presents (easy peasy, thanks to Amazon), it was crazier than normal December. The usual stuff went on–swim practices, swim meets, dance, but then we added to that. There was the normal holiday stuff (Christmas dance recital, holiday festivities, and our own fun Festivus party), but there was also a few extras thrown in for good measure.

My younger daughter, my 11 year old with Down syndrome, developed a bad cough that quickly turned into pneumonia, a double ear infection, and a sinus infection. That was the last week of school, and, with a battery of drugs, we kicked it out pretty quickly, thank goodness.

Almost immediately after that fun, our younger (we thought) dog, Zoey, started walking very strangely. She’s had a cyst on her leg since we adopted her which is benign, but we figured that was the culprit. We took her to the vet only to learn that she had tumors on her breasts (we adopted her after she’d had a couple litters), and one was sitting on a nerve on her leg. While determining that, if they were cancerous, the cancer had not spread to her lungs, the vet took an x-ray of her lungs, and we learned that the deterioration of her spine indicated her age to be closer to ten than five.

We have surgery scheduled for January 11th. We’ll see what happens after that.

Then there was packing up for our Christmas trip, and a trip to Arizona for Christmas (YEAH!!). It’s during this trip that I’m writing this post, finally finding time away from the daily grind to write a post about why I’ve had no time to write.

So, what I’ve learned through it all is that it’s easier to find time to read than it is to find time to write. I can read while waiting for my girls to get done with dance or swim, or whatever. I can read while at the vet’s office. I can read while blow-drying my hair. I can read on a plane or riding in a car, and especially at the airport (as long as the girls don’t need anything). But writing during those times is nearly impossible.

I carry my Kindle everywhere for that reason. It’s easy to pull it out (or a book) and read a page or a chapter or even a whole book. It’s harder to cart a laptop around for writing purposes (although I do carry a notebook usually, just in case a thought or two pop into my head).

All this has lead to my latest dilemma. I’m WAY a head on my reading (although behind on my yearly goal by about three books). I have books to review for about two weeks, if I blog everyday. That’s a good problem to have.

That all goes to say that I’m going to try to do just that–to blog and review what I’ve read. Most of the books have me very excited for literature and for what’s to come in 2016.

Case in point:  Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann. A 2015 book that’s well worth reading.

“Funny thing, the present tense. Technically it cannot exist at all. Once we’re aware of it, it’s gone, no longer present. We dwell, then, in the constant past, even when we’re dreaming of the future.”

Colum McCann, the award winning Irish writer is back with this beautiful collection. The first story “Thirteen Ways of Looking,” is a novella about an elderly retired judge contemplating his life while maneuvering his normal lonely day through a Manhattan snow storm, not knowing it is his last. McCann not only does a beautiful job of presenting his life, but also gives the reader a chance to solve the mystery as to who caused the death blow to our octogenarian narrator.

Following the novella are three shorter stories, all magnificent in their brevity. In “What Time is It Now, Where Are You?” readers are taken on a ride as a writer constructs the story of a Marine calling home on New Year’s Eve, privy to every decision and detail that make the story touchingly realistic.

“Sh’khol” is the story of a Irish mother who adopted a Russian child with special needs. The two live an isolated life off the Irish coast. He disappears with is new Christmas wet suit, and she is forced to face all the chilling possibilities, which includes the daunting realization that raising a teen with severe special needs will become increasingly difficult all alone.

Finally, “Treaty” is the story of an elderly nun who catches a glimpse of the man who kidnapped and tortured her decades before in the South American country where she was doing good works. He is now a diplomat in London for a series of peace talks, forcing the nun to confront her past in order to live.

I’m not usually a fan of novellas or short stories, because they need so much nuance to make them work, and often writers don’t achieve the necessary level. But McCann does. These are all beautiful and well-written. Each left me with an exuberant soul and a deeper appreciation for excellent writing.

I give this collection 5 stars. I loved each of these stories, and suggest this book for you To Be Read pile!!!



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