My Unemployment Reading List

When faced with the fact that I was going to be unemployed for a long while (though I never imagined it would be this long) and because I had been on a strict diet of academic books for so long, I returned to one of my lifelong favorite pastimes, reading…for fun.

Since I had nothing but time ahead of me, I took the opportunity to dive into some serial fantasy novels. I started with Harry Potter, read straight through all 7 episodes, and turned to Tolkien’s Trilogy. How many times have I read that? Like Tolkien’s, I have read and re-read the 5-part fantasy quest called The Belgariad by David Eddings. Eddings has created some of my favorite characters, like Polgara, the wise and willful sorceress and her ancient wise-cracking father, Belgarath, or Silk, the pick-pocket prince. (I was in the middle of book 3, Magician’s Gambit, in 1986 when Charles and I met on the lawn of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford. He claims that he fell for me because I was actually reading in public—in addition to the cute little shorts I was wearing, naturally.) I thoroughly enjoyed reading these old favorites and re-visiting those Other Places and Peoples: Hogwarts, Middle Earth, The Vale of Aldur and the snake kingdom of Nyissa. I threw in a few Marion Zimmer Bradley books, too, just to revisit her Avalon and Darkover.

I discovered new serial writers with new worlds to inhabit, like Guy Gavriel Kay, editor with Christopher Tolkien on The Silmarillion. I read the 676-page tome, Tigana, was captured by Kay’s imagination—strongly influenced by JRR Tolkien but with fresh adventures, and so bought his trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry. My one complaint about Kay is his vivid, demented imagination regarding human torture. Some things, I don’t want in my head.

Then I took up the really big challenge: to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction series, the Mars Trilogy.  This is a brilliant speculation the terra-formation of Mars from the initial landing party on Red Mars to the evolution of plant life in Green Mars and to the final transformation on Blue Mars. Not only does this saga provide detailed scientific explanations for planetary development, Robinson also examines philosophical and ethical problems and the creation of new Martian cultures. It took me one whole summer to read all three (nearly 2000 pages!) and it has had a long-lasting impact. I’m still contemplating the idea of “viriditas,” which I think means something like the power of plants to grow, like a weed pushing stubbornly through concrete. You know, I’ve been unemployed for so long now, I might just read the Mars Trilogy again!

A friend of mine insisted I begin reading Stephen King’s horror tales and started me on The Stand, certainly one of his longest. I admit to being somewhat surprised at the good quality of writing and narrative. He is a master storyteller. Now I find I need a little King, a little gratuitous horror every few months. I explored other horror writers like Dean Koontz and Bentley Little, although Little’s imagination, like Kay’s, is too corporeally horrifying for my taste.

I’m reading around genres now; some favorites include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Isabel Allende’s Zorro, Tereza Batista by Jorge Amado (Charles was reading this when we met—we did fall in love over our books).  I have a pile of books to read yet and some I’m sure will hate and give up on (no point wasting good reading time) and others, who knows…maybe a new treasure.

So what have you been reading to soothe your over-taxed nerves?

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