I’ve always considered myself a reader. As a child, I read everything in sight: books, yes, but also seed catalogs, cereal boxes and my brothers’ Boy Scout magazines.
I read with abandon, flashlight under the covers, dog-eared pages, over breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a high school senior, I tackled all 864 pages of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” just for fun. In my college comparative literature class, I was the only student who managed to plow through the entire “Divine Comedy” and “Don Quixote.”
However, something happened about a decade ago. I would call that something the internet, specifically the rise of the blog.
I was still reading, yes. I craved words, but I fed the craving with quick hits. Books were shelved while I fell down the rabbit hole of blogging magic. What followed was a strange DIY identity crisis. I tried sewing for the first time, practicing on yards and yards of curtains. I made quilted pillows. I concocted laundry detergent, antiqued the kitchen cupboards, strained my own mozzarella cheese, created elaborate Halloween costumes and gave my kids handmade pajamas every Christmas.
The only problem was, I was miserable. It turns out crafting brought me no joy.
Then came Instagram. Another rabbit hole. The shiny pictures! The home décor! The beautiful children jumping in fall leaves! It was a great way to document, but also to slab away whole hours of time, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.
All along, something gnawed at me. It was a hunger that I couldn’t quite satiate. At the end of 2017, I was inspired by my sister-in-law, Julia, who read a whopping 100 books in a year.
Ah yes, books! I had given them cursory attention for so many years. They were piled on my nightstand and crowding out my shelves, gathering cobwebs. I straightened their slouching spines, brushed off the dust and welcomed them back into my life.
Coming back to books was like sitting down to a three-course meal after a decade of fast food. I had forgotten what long-form writing tasted like. It tasted like joy and beauty and heartbreak and hope.
Reading again, really reading, not just dabbling, has been the ultimate pleasure. In today’s world, reading a book feels indulgent, like a pint of ice cream for breakfast. So much time. So many pages. Who can justify such a thing?
But books, and especially story, are part of our human makeup. For instance, we are the only creature on earth that can project fiction, who can play pretend and go so far as to write it down. We can recognize symbolism and irony, distill truth into a narrative. Studies have shown that reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, increases our empathy.
Who can justify not partaking of this?
I look forward to my evenings, when I tuck under the covers for a date with my stories. From nonfiction like “Being Mortal”; “Between the World and Me”; “Educated”; “I am Malala” and “Prisoners of Geography” to the lyrical fiction of “A Monster Calls”; “All the Light We Cannot See”; “East of Eden” and the exquisite whimsy of “A Gentleman in Moscow,” I have loved every minute of this reading experience.
When I am immersed in books, I talk slower. I listen more. I walk into the world with eyes wide open. Phrases and passages run through my head. I am composing poetry and stories, not quips for another social media post.
To be steeped in words is like sitting in Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon — it is healing. It warms the soul.
This is all sounding a bit dramatic, and perhaps it is, but that’s where books have taken me this year. I read a statistic recently that book sales have slumped because adults are transfixed by the news — it is consuming all their time.
Like with anything we do, reading books is about making time. We must read in the cracks of the day. I delete Instagram off my phone for weeks at a time. I’ve put a curb on my reading of time-sucking websites. I read the print newspaper, but limit my intake of online news (and thereby limit my anxiety about the future of our world). I carry a book wherever I go, tucked in my purse. I read at the dentist, the lobby of the taekwondo studio, during intermission at a play and even waiting in line at the store.
I made a modest goal to read 50 books in 2018. I am right on target, that is, if I somehow manage to read 13 more books in the next five weeks. But really, it was never about the numbers. It was about reading again.
Books have been like lifelong friends standing patiently on the shore for the sea-weary sailor. They were there, waiting, all along. It just took a while for me to find my way back home.