On 52 in 52
*Art created by students at the middle school across the street from my office. Warms my heart!
Two months ago someone asked me what I was doing to take care of
myself, and without pausing to think, I replied, “well, I’ve read
twenty books since April”. For my whole life, books and stories have
served as my retreat for when life gets challenging. It wasn’t until I answered that question though, that I realized out of all the things I was doing to heal, the dinners with friends, long walks outside, and making plans to get excited about, that the time I spent alone with a book was the most healing for my heart and mind.
Five years ago this summer, I started a job that, to me, felt very
fancy and important. Until then I had been scraping by as AmeriCorps
volunteer, and then all of the sudden I was surrounded by people in
suits with degrees from fancy schools. I was intimidated and felt out of my depth and had the need to prove myself. I had recently discovered Tumblr and the blog 52Books. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, but when I counted up how many books I had read in the previous year, I only came up with 24. Reading 52 books in a year felt like a daunting and impressive challenge, and I took it on partly because I thought I would enjoy it, but also because I was trying to show my new co-workers that I deserved a seat at the table.
For a while I thought I would start the project at the beginning of the calendar year, but then I got tired of waiting and decided to start in the middle of August. Excited and motivated by the challenge, I was reading at a faster rate than I had ever before. By winter I was making good progress, but it still wasn’t a sure thing that I would be able to meet my goal. At the same time, I was regaining confidence in myself and my abilities, especially in my professional life. My co-workers and I had formed a tight unit, and it was hard to imagine the days where I once felt intimidated by them.
And then a really sad thing happened to someone in our group.
And I didn’t really know how to handle the weight of the sadness that I felt.
And so I retreated. It was winter, and I honestly remember so little of those months, but I read and read and read.
It was the only way I could get through the days. It was the only way to still my mind.
And then I looked up, and it was summer, and somewhere along the way I got so close to hitting my goal. And as it became increasingly clear that not only would I read 52 books that year, but I would hit the goal early, I started asking people what book I should read for that significant milestone. A friend of mine suggested a book that I had loved as a girl, and I immediately thought of Jacob Have I Loved. The book I checked out over and over again in middle school, until I bought my own copy at a school book fair.
I still remember reading the book four years ago. I was on a bus back from Baltimore, where I had spent the weekend with a friend and her family. I finished the book and I cried. I cried because the ending always gets me. I cried because I hit a goal I didn’t think possible. I cried for all the ways life had changed in the year since I had started the project; changed in about a thousand good ways and in one incredibly hard way.
I was slowly starting to feel like myself again, and being able to hunker down with books through that dark season was such a big part of that.
I continued to keep track of what I read each year (with my reading year starting in mid-August), but I never again read 52 (or more) books in a year. Until this year.
This was a tough year, and this spring I was hurting and I needed a retreat. I remember a week where I read five books. Read so fast my head was spinning. But it was the only thing I could think of to do to keep my mind from going places I didn’t want it to go.
Summer is almost over and I feel so different than I did at the start of it. Reading got me through the toughest days.
People sometimes comment on how much I read, how they could never do it. This is my thing. I think everyone has their thing that they do when times get tough. If you don’t you should find it. But this is mine.
I finished my “year in reading” about a week and a half ago. I read 55 books, which is one less than I read in my first year, and I like that I didn’t manage to break that record. I’ll post the list later this week.
Throughout the past few years of keeping track of how many books I’ve read I’ve learned that it’s definitely not the number that matters, but rather what the books do for me that counts.
*Picture of my former team, taken in February of 2010. This is the last picture we will ever have of this group of friends.
"The more experience players, the Dragos to my Rocky, studied word lists and appeared intensly focuse on something the rest of us couldn’t see. Many wore fanny packs without irony-serious fanny packs bulging with mystery."
-Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically)
Anyone have any idea what is in those fanny packs?
I have never seen The Princess Bride, and I was about to say I don’t
like fantasy but then I realized that isn’t quite true, I just don’t
normally read epic fantasy series (which are my brothers’ favorite
types of books).
But! I’ve been thinking of reading The Princess Bride, and from what
I’ve heard I think I’ll really like it.
So my question. Have any of you read the book and would you recommend it to the casual fantasy reader?
Loved this essay! So glad to finally sit down with this book.
Infinite Jest, Page 191: “Expansion”
"Expansion" - an erasure poem from page 191 of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
I’m loving this Tumblr so much!