When I was just out of college, I worked for an organization that had the decency to offer its employees "career enhancement classes." I signed up. We sat in classrooms, at student desks that made us feel clumsy, overgrown. The teacher asked us each to write a schedule of a weekday in our ideal life. Later we'd repeat the exercise, substituting our real lives. The instructor's idea was apparent: We'd then compare the two lists to see where elements of the ideal could be imported—cut and pasted—onto the real.
Twenty years later I can recall the gist of my two schedules and the particular agitation I felt at their disparity. I was working at a "job job" when I wanted to be writing full-time. But already at 24 I understood two simple things I could do every day that would make my life, well, better: I could run and I could read. (The third and putative "R," writing, would be the hardest to do and only slightly less crucial.) Running allowed me to appreciate the incremental seasonal changes of the physical world. Reading grounded me, then as now, reminding me who I was and who I wanted to become. Reading—not occasionally, not only on vacation but every day—gives me nourishment and enlarges my life in mysterious and essential ways, as each of these eight books has done.
Mona Simpson is the author of the novels A Regular Guy
and Off Keck Road
What's on Mona Simpson's Bookshelf? Read more!