I sped through The Little House on the Prairie and onto The Series of Unfortunate Events. The Boxcar Children, American Girl, and a pile of non-fiction books about horses cluttered my desk and filled my backpack. I read on the way to school. I read on the way home from school. I spent weekends sitting on the edge of my bed reading aloud to my very own imaginary classroom of students.
Sometime unbeknownst to me reading just sort of slipped away. It wasn't something I prioritized anymore or had to do in order to feel content. I was more interested in learning how to apply makeup, planning sleepovers, and babysitting for various families in our neighborhood. Before I knew it, I was 16 and licensed to drive with a new job at an assisted living home. Not much time had passed until I was throwing my graduation cap up in the air among my classmates, saying goodbye to the tiny town I grew up in, and moving to the Twin Cities.
When I got here, I didn't know who I was anymore. I questioned if I had ever really known. I distinctly remember staring at myself in the mirror on the back of my dorm room door just after my mom, younger sister, and little brother had helped me unpack and said goodbye...leaving me in a new, uncomfortable life that felt two sizes too big.
In this unfitted and newfound life of mine, I used reading as a getaway. When I couldn't sleep at night because my mind was whirring with questions, worries, and homesick thoughts, I pulled out my iPad and opened the trusty Kindle app. I would read a few pages or chapters at a time and in that short time be reminded that there were indeed worlds outside of my reality and words outside of the constant conversation going on in my head. When things felt turbulent and unpredictable, reading allowed a way to focus on something outside of my monotonous worries. It gave me a distraction and someplace else to go.
As I settled into my new home, routine, and circle of friends, my love for reading waned again. Distracted by homework, chronic pain, family matters, and plans for surgery just up ahead, I forgot about the books in my desk drawer and the potent discovery of my escape.
In March of 2015, I woke up one morning groggy and sore. I was still slowly and begrudgingly recovering from two major joint surgeries, but for some reason I felt excited to wake up. I grabbed my iPad from my desk and downloaded a few books I'd wanted to read for a long time. As they nestled their way into my Kindle app, I felt the need to start another one immediately.
I quickly walked to brunch, ate, and returned straight to my dorm room. I opened the blinds, cracked the window, and crawled back into bed. I started to read. I continued to read. Then, I read some more. I laid in bed all day swiping pages on my iPad screen and remembering what it felt like to escape.
Shortly thereafter, I found out about the Goodreads app and the Barnes and Noble in my area that had a huge selection of used books. (!!!) My short little "to read" list grew from one or two unfamiliar titles to a good hundred and counting. I knew there was a long way to go and it was utterly ridiculous to think that I could read hundreds of books in the little free time I had...but something told me to try. And try I did.
Being back to school and maintaining life as a student gave me a run for my money yet again, though. I could hardly complete my reading for class, much less choose a title off of my list for leisure. Even still, I tried. I prioritized the fleeting time as best I could and made sure my weekends consisted of blocks of time devoted to self care. And somewhere amongst all that, I read 25 in 2015.
As I completed my 25th and final book of this year, I paused for a moment and genuinely became teary eyed. Before I could even wonder "why the heck am I crying right now?!" my mind flashed back to each of the books that had passed through my hands in the last 365 days and how each of those books had refined bits and pieces of me I'd forgotten existed. Books filled with underlines, circles, stars, and notes in the margins. Books filled with words that resonated with me in a way that made me feel found. Books that sparked conversations. Books that had taught me and undoubtedly changed me.
I'm a long way from finishing my "to read" list, but I've found that even in that gaping space between now and not yet, it feels like I've found a little piece of myself again...and that feels good. So good.
"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know." -Cheryl Strayed, Wild
1.) As My Body Attacks Itself
2.) Brain on Fire
3.) A Long Walk to Water
4.) The Idea That is America
5.) An Unquiet Mind
6.) A Love Worth Giving
7.) Gone Girl
8.) The Best Yes
9.) Eight Twenty Eight
11.) Go Set a Watchman
12.) Grace Eventually
13.) The Sister Season
14.) Until I Say Goodbye
15.) Jesus Feminist
16.) A Stolen Life
18.) Who Needs Theology
19.) Reflections from the North Country
20.) The Problem of Pain
21.) Prozac Nation
22.) Every Bitter Thing is Sweet
24.) The Bell Jar