Books have always been my savior. They propel me through the best of times and the worst of times.
I remember spending hours upon hours at the public library. My mom would take my brother and me regularly in the summers. When I was old enough, I could bike on my own to the library and back. The first section I would go to was the young adult section, start with the A’s, and work my through the shelves to the Z’s, picking any books off the shelf that looked interesting. Then I would meander over to the nonfiction section, particularly the 640s (cookbooks and housekeeping) and the 800s (literature). Each trip resulted in me borrowing a minimum of ten books.
Fast-forward to 2014. My days of hanging out in the public library, borrowing ten-plus books, were mostly over. Since starting college, the only time I had stepped foot in a public library was in Mitchell, South Dakota. It was the summer of 2012, and the apartment I was renting was a block from the public library. Every weekend, I parked myself at a desk in the back corner and used the Wi-Fi to binge “The Office” because my apartment didn’t have Internet. The only books I read that summer (and any other summer) were ones I found at used bookstores or in the book section of Goodwill.
I didn’t have time to go to the public library, not when there were many other study options on campus (when I wasn’t working at student paper or holed up in the J school). I also didn’t have time—nor did I make the time—to read books unless they were required reading for class. I could count the number of books I read each year on one hand. I probably read the most books during the summer of 2013, and that was because I was avoiding the humid heat of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Despite not having much time at all for reading, I had hundreds of books. In 2014, when my mom was packing up our house and donating unneeded items, she took photos of my bookshelves so I could sort which to keep and which to donate. I had nearly 200 books to sort. Meanwhile, at my apartment in Lincoln, I also had nearly 200 books. So I sorted through them and got rid of almost 75 percent of my collection—most of which I donated to Lincoln Public Libraries. I remember driving away after dropping off almost five boxes of books, close to tears. I knew I wouldn’t get to reading all of them. And I sure as hell didn’t want to be moving them around when I didn’t know where I’d end up.
Once my internship in Denver ended and I moved to Chicago, I knew I wanted to get back into reading. One of the first things I did (after setting up our Internet) was walk to the nearest Chicago Public Library and get a library card. Then, when 2015 rolled around, I created a Goodreads account and selected my challenge: fifty books in 365 days. With each book I read, I wrote a review and posted it on this blog. By the end of 2015, I had read fifty-one books and reviewed fifty. So in 2016, I set my sights on reading sixty books, no reviews required. I soared beyond that with sixty-five books, clocking in the final one at just before midnight on December 31.
My passion for reading had returned.
I realized this one day at work when I was waiting on magazine proofs to edit. I had opened up CPL’s Overdrive and was going through the recently added e-books, adding fifty-seven books to my wish list. My to-read list was already backlogged and here I was, adding even more books to that list. As I was handed the next round of proofs and I closed the window, I realized just how much I had missed reading. And how glad I was to have that habit back in my life.
Reading those sixty-five books last year got me through tough times. The first half of the year was rough. The second half of the year, while slightly better, was still a garbage fire (looking at you, 2016 news cycle). So I escaped into whichever book I was reading at the moment—major kudos to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Lord John series. I started a book club—Not Oprah’s Book Club, where we read books not written by cis white men—with my close friends in Chicago. I was so into reading I didn’t want to stop and write reviews after each book, thus the severe lack of writing last year.
Now it’s 2017, and I’m back. This is going to be my most literary year yet. My reading challenge(s) are set, I’m signed up for multiple literary/book-related newsletters, and marked three book events in my calendar for the first part of the year.
First up, my reading challenges. The first one is my Goodreads Challenge: ~minimum~ thirty books read and each book will have a 500-plus-word review, to be posted to this blog. Why thirty books and not, say, seventy? Several reasons. One is that I have a second reading challenge, which will be shared in mid-February. Another is that I have a couple projects that need my attention (*cough*Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing*cough*). Yet another is that I want to slow down, really dive into whatever book I’m reading and devote time to reviewing it.
To help me with my reading challenge this year is Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Since picking reading back up, I’ve been looking for ways to expand what I read. This year’s list, with six contributions from well-known authors, is just what I’ve been looking for. There are only twenty-four items on the Read Harder list, so most of my Goodreads Challenge is done for me. The only thing left to do is find the books that fit the categories.
Next, my literary/book-related newsletters. I’ve been getting newsletters from Publisher’s Weekly for awhile now; same with Book Riot. I’ve added Buzzfeed’s Reader newsletter, Women and Children First Bookstore, and Volumes Bookcafé. I’m always looking for new suggestions; I want to read anything and everything I am able to.
And third: book events. The first is Volumes Bookcafé’s “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf,” which will tie in to my book club meeting (we’re reading Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”). The second is Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women” reading and book signing in March—I saw Gay with Gloria Steinem in 2015, and read “Bad Feminist” as part of my 2015 challenge. Finally, there is Printer’s Row Lit Fest, something I’ve been going to for three years now. It’s the only festival my introvert self can tolerate.
I don’t know what 2017 will shape up to be. All I know is that my reading habit is back for good. Thank god.
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