Year of the lost book

The Enterprise - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

For the first time in my adult read­ing life, I didn’t keep track of a sin­gle book I read last year.

It felt lib­er­at­ing at the time. In the early days of my book blog­ging, young and fancy free, I got a lit­tle ob­sessed with num­bers. I churned through nov­els in days, ex­cited that my read­ing was dic­tated by my own in­ter­ests rather than a school sched­ule. I cat­a­logued each book and re­viewed it, too, shar­ing my thoughts on­line.

Each year was com­pet­i­tive with the year prior. If I read 80 books in 2013, next had to be 90. Pub­lish­ers be­gan send­ing them, and I cre­ated a pile of ad­vance reader copies that seemed to grow (and over­whelm) by the day.

Read­ing be­came less a plea­sur­able pur­suit than strange strug­gle to “keep up.” I’d earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a vo­ra­cious reader, and I wanted to crank out con­tent to ap­pease . . . some­one. Writ­ers? Pub­lish­ers? Read­ers? My­self?

Re­gard­less, hav­ing chil­dren quickly sti­fled my en­ergy for any­thing that wasn’t sleep­ing. Ex­haus­tion made my once-nightly rit­ual of get­ting through a few chap­ters very chal­leng­ing. My read­ing slowed down, then stopped com­pletely. The pa­per­back on my night­stand would go un­touched for weeks, even months.

I dis­cov­ered some­thing in that time: words are an in­trin­sic part of my iden­tity. I just don’t feel like my­self with­out my books. I’ve al­ways been one to dive into other places, try on other lives . . . and not hav­ing a novel (or three) go­ing made my ev­ery­day life feel strange. Too real, maybe, with­out the dis­trac­tion a great story can pro­vide.

Part of my dis­in­ter­est came from my self-im­posed pres­sure to read early and often, then eval­u­ate ev­ery­thing I’d con­sumed. The 800-word book re­views that once made me proud now felt like un­wanted as­sign­ments. I’d turned some­thing I loved into work. And for what?

For 2018, with the kids sleep­ing more and our house­hold in less tu­mult, I vowed to re­turn to read­ing — just with­out the re­quire­ment that I cat­e­go­rize, map out, dis­sect and eval­u­ate sto­ries. I was tired of the ob­ses­sive need to ac­count for ev­ery­thing. Life was stress­ful enough. I just wanted to read.

So I stopped keep­ing track last year. I set no goals for how many books to get through, nor kept a run­ning list of what I’d pur­chased or fin­ished or bor­rowed from the li­brary. Cold turkey. I have com­pre­hen­sive ac­count­ings of every story I read for al­most a decade, but 2018 is the year of the lost book.

It worked. I got back my read­ing mojo. I cer­tainly don’t read as much as I used to, and I’ve dropped off ev­ery­one’s radar as a re­viewer. But it doesn’t mat­ter.

What does? Well, turns out I miss my lists. When I re­flect on my fa­vorite reads last year, there’s . . . noth­ing. A blank.

Did I not read any­thing com­pelling in 2018? Noth­ing mem­o­rable, in­flu­en­tial, worth­while? This can’t be true, es­pe­cially know­ing I give most books the 10-page test — if it doesn’t hold my at­ten­tion after 10 pages, I quit.

Yet with­out my trusty spread­sheets, I strug­gle to think of a sin­gle ti­tle I loved last year.

Given how much I used to en­joy com­pil­ing those best-of lists each De­cem­ber, it was dis­ap­point­ing not to re­flect on my year in books. Free­ing to read for the joy of read­ing, sure, but now . . . a lit­tle strange.

So I’m back. On Sun­day I flipped on the lights of my dor­mant Goodreads ac­count, shak­ing the dust from every sur­face. I’ve fin­ished three au­dio books since Jan. 1, with an­other wrap­ping up neatly soon. I’m thick in the mid­dle of a great mem­oir on my Kin­dle.

And, of course, there’s my kids’ bed­time read­ing. This doesn’t count to­ward my per­sonal read­ing goals, I guess, but it’s cer­tainly part of my daily life.

For Hadley, it’s “Five Lit­tle Pump­kins.” For Oliver, “Where Do Dig­gers Sleep at Night?”

I love that my kids are in­ter­ested in books, and that daily read­ing is be­com­ing a habit.

I love less the fact that I’ve read both sto­ries so often that the spines are crack­ing, and I could (and prob­a­bly will) re­cite them in my sleep.

Still: a book is a book. And the world is my (read­ing) oys­ter once again.

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