Starting the year with a reading resolution

One of my favorite tools as a reader is Goodreads.com. It's a great resource for keeping track of books you've read and books you want to read, and a fun way to see what your friends are reading.

It also makes it easy to analyze your reading tastes and trends. Since we recently started a new year, I decided to review what I had read throughout 2012. Goodreads makes it easy by giving me both a visual list of book covers of the books I read in 2012 as well as a pie chart of categories.

While I generally think of myself as someone who reads both nonfiction and fiction in equal measure, the books I read last year proved me wrong. Only a small sliver of my reading pie went to nonfiction.

The most alarming statistic for me, though, was that the vast majority of books I read in 2012 also were published in 2012. My tendency to read mostly new books is an occupational hazard, given that I spend so much time reading reviews of new books, as well as ordering them for the library and cataloging them when they come in. Titles that aren't new releases often get relegated to the bottom of my pile.

While there are great new books coming out all the time, I certainly don't want to neglect older books by having such a narrow focus. My reading resolution for 2013 is to vary my reading to include a wider variety of genres and publication dates.

To that end, I am starting 2013 with some older titles that have been languishing on my "to read" list. Of these, the one that has had the most profound impact on me so far is Marilynne Robinson's 1980 novel "Housekeeping."

The story centers on Ruthie, a young girl growing up in the fictional small town of Fingerbone, Idaho. She and her younger sister, Lucille, are abandoned by their mother as small children and raised by their grandmother.

When their grandmother passes away in their adolescence, two elderly maiden sisters-in-law of their grandmother come to care for them. Though they mean well, they are rather confounded by both the girls and the cold climate and soon look for a way out. That way out ends up being Sylvie, the wayward younger sister of Ruthie's mother, who comes back to her hometown to care for her nieces.

While at first the girls rejoice at having someone younger and more like their lost mother to care for them, over time it becomes clear that Sylvie is not quite what they expected. She has led an uprooted life as a transient, spending time on trains and never quite settling down, and some of her behaviors attract unwanted scrutiny from their community.

Ruthie and Lucille, who had always been very close, develop a rift as Ruthie relates more and more to Sylvie and Lucille gravitates away from them toward a life she sees as more respectable within the confines of their small town.

Robinson narrates the story as an older Ruthie, looking back at these pivotal events of her life. The language is poetic and evocative, often dreamlike, weaving the story of a town haunted by a harsh climate and a long ago train wreck with characters haunted by their own histories.

It's a fascinating portrait of family bonds between women, and of one young person embracing eccentricity and her own idea of home in the face of societal disapproval.

The Web can be an incredibly useful tool to facilitate reading, through Goodreads and similar sites, primarily by helping readers discover books and authors that align with their interests. It also gives readers a valuable opportunity to examine their reading habits to illuminate trends and identify treasures they may be overlooking, as was the case with "Housekeeping."

I'm glad I made a point to finally read this one, as now I count it among my favorite novels, and I am looking forward to delving into other older titles I have missed out on through the years.

Kasia Hopkins is an adult services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. She can be reached at khopkins@tufl.info.

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pushpin1 wrote on January 21, 2013 at 4:01 am

Thank you for mentioning Housekeeping. It was made into a wonderful film by Bill Forsyth in the 80s, starring Christine Lahti as Aunt Sylvie. A bit hard to find, but worth the effort.