In recent years, I have not been consistent about keeping a journal or diary, which I did through my teen years and into undergrad. But since 2013 I have remained consistent in tracking my reading. I track my reading because it’s an opportunity to think deeply and critically about what I’m reading and make sure that I’m reading books by a diverse swath of writers, but my book log has also become a way to track my seasonal moods and obsessions. Looking at my log reminds me of the other things that were going on in my life at the time I encountered a book. It has become a more “secret” diary than I ever could have intentionally created. I don’t write much outside of notes on the books, but my memory supplies the rest, all of the fears and joys and pains and surprises that accompanied my reading of any particular book rising up when I look back at the list.
In the months before I was laid off from the publishing house I worked at, I was stressed and anxious almost all the time. My reading at the time reflects that stress—or rather, I can infer that anxiety when I look at what I was reading at the time: everything was work related, and almost nothing was purely for pleasure. They were manuscripts under consideration, books the publisher had released, books I was reviewing or thinking about reviewing, and books for the Poetry Book Club I was running (these are the only books I remember really enjoying during that time). Books were all responsibilities to attend to, not joyful engagement with language or storytelling.
Then, a couple of weeks before I was laid off, I went to a cabin with my brother and some friends and ended up spending the weekend reading The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy which was on the shelves at the rental. Clancy’s work is pure U.S. military propaganda, but I loved his books and the movie of The Hunt for Red October as a kid. Bizarre choice, sure, but I was fascinated by the political intrigue and the unusual setting aboard submarines (not to mention Sean Connery’s performance in the movie), and so the book occupies a unique place in my reading life. That cabin weekend, something in my brain snapped into “pleasure and comfort” mode and I couldn’t focus on any of the “work” books I’d packed. I got home and re-read another problematic comfort book (Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game—a great book by an awful person), and then managed to read two more books for work.