At the annual urging of my Goodreads app, I set a reading goal each year. One year ago today, I set what I’d considered the lofty goal of reading 30 books during 2020. I consider myself something of a bookworm, but consistent with most things in my life, my commitment to this or any leisure activity I pursue is governed by my real-life family/professional commitments. I love to read, but my responsibilities see to it that reading does not become an obsession. My literary commitment thus runs hot and cold. Add to that, if I don’t devour a book in three days, that book languishes on my nightstand for weeks before I dig in and commit myself. Thirty books sounded like a lot, but an attainable lot.
Like much of the rest of the world, I found myself with a bit more time on my hands in 2020 than I’d expected to have. Too, like much of the rest of the world, I needed an escape from the reality the earth’s circumstances foisted upon us. So I read. A lot. Sixty-two books, mostly novels with some non-fiction thrown in, filed under “attempts at being informed.”
I escaped to places and times I’ll never get to experience–World War II-era Poland, to Spain via Barcelona and Madrid, Sweden, and survival camp in northern Ontario. I canoed down the Mississippi River and partied with NYC socialites post-Depression. I hopped rail cars crossing the Mexico-US border fleeing certain death at the hands of drug cartels. People know I’m a bibliophile, and during the year I also received a number of “fill-in-the-blanks” books with titles such as It’s Your Weirdness that Makes You Wonderful, 642 Things to Write About, The Journal of Awesome, and Zen as F*ck (obviously the * character is legitimately in the title because if you know me at all, you know I’m not shy about expressing my feelings with a well-placed “fuck.” Reading a stable of authors whose command of language falls nothing short of majestic is why I read: their work takes me places. And I needed the change of scenery. Didn’t we all though?
I read much, but even with these thoughtful writing and reflection prompts to guide me, produced little. I know I am far from alone in that regard–the writing little part, that is.
Bereft of the words usually in abundant supply, I messed up a lot last year, and I passed on opportunities I regret having denied. I held a death-grip vise on words that others needed me to say, words others needed and deserved to hear. To have given them voice would have disclosed pieces of myself I didn’t know resided in me. Sharing them felt akin to exposing and hiding myself at once. You learn too late that you lose the right to say what you should have expressed all along. You want to make it right, but this time it’s you who is denied that opportunity.
I don’t ever make new year’s resolutions, but I hope to do what I didn’t and undo what I did during this atrocity of a year. New year’s optimism means that people are speaking as if the calendar flipping to January 1 is going to repair the insanity, but I know better. 2019 nearly took me out, and I naively believed that 2020 was coming to rescue this damsel in distress because a page had been turned. Spoiler alert: 2020 wasn’t the massive clean slate I’d dreamed about. Nor is this January 1 the panacea for the derailment we’re slogging through.
But you have to begin somewhere, right? So I begin by thanking my lucky stars I found even a particle of solace in the literary travels I took in 2020. As I tee up my 2021 reading goal, thirty-two books feels right–it’s more than a book every two weeks and so much better for my brain than Candy Crush. I am hoping against hope–though less naively than last year–that the new year brings something of a return to normal, that I’ll experience the world beyond the confines of my home office and dog-walking route. It seems the opposite of a goal to in fact, read fewer books than I did last year, but big picture?? It’s a good goal. To quote from the final of 2020’s sixty-two reads, The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: “Books taught me to think, to feel, and to live a thousand lives.”
Perhaps I’ll find my voice again, because again from Zafón: “One writes for oneself, and one rewrites for others.” Writing tells me how I feel–that’s my six-word memoir. Must it follow then that writing will help me identify what’s in my head and my heart? Will that create the spark I need to find and connect the words to construct the sentences that need to be spoken? Maybe?? I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t necessarily follow. But there is plenty of time for rewrites. Maybe I’ll get the narrative right this time.