By Brittney Reed-Saltz
I am a mood reader, which is the literary embodiment of that Robert Burns poem about the best laid plans of mice and men. Even if I make a nicely-organized TBR list, those plans go oft awry.
Being a mood reader means that it might take me years–literal years–to get around to a book that has been recommended to me or that has been gathering dust on my shelf, but I don’t think it’s an entirely bad thing. My fickle nature leads to plenty of fun detours and pit stops that I wouldn’t get to enjoy if my attention span were more linear.
Often I find that these detours turn into pleasant little journeys, when a book contains a reference to something else that I then simply must read. Spring is a fertile time for these excursions, which is appropriate. What better time to explore and discover new things than when the earth is waking up and starting over fresh?
In Spring 2017, I had a thrilling season of mood reading, when connections abounded and every book that I finished pointed me in another direction. It all started when I read Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. That put me in mind of another book about writing that I had originally read in college: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.
Revisiting Woolf’s analysis of women’s place in the world and the obstacles they must overcome to write reminded me of how much I enjoyed Woolf’s writing in college. It also made me think about all the Woolf novels I had yet to read. So I went on a little trip through some of her work and life, reading a biography, devouring To the Lighthouse and Orlando.
From Orlando, I became curious about its inspiration, Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West. So I read one of her novels, All Passion Spent, and whiled away some violet-scented hours with Virginia and Vita’s collected correspondence.
All Passion Spent features a French housekeeper and long passages of French, which I had to translate with help from Monsieur Google because I do not speak the language. That planted the subconscious urge in my mind to take a detour, this time to France. I read two fun advice books, Polish Your Poise With Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott and the tongue-in-cheek delight How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas.
Well, can you spend any time reading glamorous French books without taking an existential turn? I couldn’t. I ended up reading Sarah Bakewell’s illuminating study of the existentialist movement, At the Existentialist Café.
Bakewell’s discussions of Albert Camus reminded me of reading his novel The Stranger in high school. I realized that I remembered almost nothing about it, so I made it my next project. And then, I couldn’t get enough of Camus! I fell in love with him through A Happy Death, The Fall, The Plague, and a good chunk of the essay collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.
I had time for a couple more French-related interludes before my mood turned. Although Samuel Beckett was Irish, he spent most of his adult life in Paris, where his play Waiting for Godot premiered. I read it sitting on my back porch one night, wondering why I hadn’t read it before. And American essayist David Sedaris made for witty company through Me Talk Pretty One Day, never more so than when he was recounting his faltering attempts to communicate in French.
(What happened after that? A complete departure into horror novels that lasted all summer.)
As the daffodils and pear trees bloom and the equinox approaches, I wonder what moody reading detours this Spring has in store for me. I know that no matter what catches my attention, my library will indulge my quirks and save my wallet with every book I discover.