I read a lot. I read novels, articles, plays, poems, non-fiction books, serious blog posts, silly blog posts; you name it I am probably reading it. I read books written this year and books written centuries ago (the darker the better), and I read in both English and French. I wish I had kept up with my Spanish studies, but unfortunately I was just too lazy and I’m too lazy to force my other half to speak to me in his mother tongue), but if I spoke Spanish I would read in Spanish too. I’m currently reading two books, one on my Kindle, and one paperback, just because I always leave my Kindle under my pillow, and it easier to grab the paperback that I leave on the couch or my desk every time I sit down to breastfeed a child or two.
I don’t read enough now though, I just don’t have the time. When I was childless I would read on the subway to and from work, while eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would read while watching TV (the frequent commercial breaks drive me insane), in the bath, in bed before I went to sleep (and when I woke up in the morning). After I had my first child I would read while she nursed, and read while trying to get her to sleep. When the second one arrived I stopped reading while I was nursing them because I kept getting distracted, but I made up for it when both children were fast asleep, devouring library books from the awesome Queens Library collection. When we left NYC to move across the country I sent 7 boxes of books along to the Salvation Army, and packed another 10 up to take with us. I have just finished unpacking those boxes and lovingly placing them in bookcases around our new home, a year and a half after I packed them up. Some of them still smell of my last home back in France, the home I left in 2002. Those books moved from France to California, over to NYC, and back to California again. Last night I touched my copy of De Nerval’s Aurelia and smelt the pages, chastising myself for having forgotten entire paragraphs that I used to be able to conjure up, memorized from so many reads. There is a faint smell of benzoin incense and dust, gathered from years travelling the world and being placed on bookshelves and packed into boxes.
Not so long ago I would walk into a book shop and browse for hours, always leaving with at least two books, usually more. My Amazon wish list has always been nearly only books, because every time I run into something I want I put it there, knowing that I will otherwise forget about it. I now have to choose between Kindle and physical copy: will I read it again, or not? Can I find it second hand or not? Because space does become an issue after a while! And will I get through all of these books that I haven’t actually got to yet, the ones that used to be piled up next to my bed, waiting for me to open them and enter into their world? I have enough to keep me going for a long time, and a library nearby to use too. Money is tighter than it used to be back in those book shop binges, but it has led me to appreciate my collection even more. I found my tenth copy of Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers at the bottom of a box, pages falling out after too many reads, and the copy I purchased last year, for the first time as a hardcover, and placed them together on my desk, a constant reminder that one day I will also write an epic novel. I haven’t had a chance to reread it again this year, surprising as I look forward to revisiting it, imagining myself as Jacqueline, understanding Abra a little bit more. Old favorites, my alternative to comfort food or Netflix binges.
After I unpacked all of the books I felt that somewhere over the past few years I had lost some of that unconditional love I had for literature, the intense need to hold a book close to my heart before opening a new world, page by page. I realized that I needed to challenge myself again, move away from the scrolling of social media, back into the magic of someone else’s imagination swimming with my own. I started thinking about doing a reading challenge in 2018, something that I have done in the past, and wanted it to be a little more than just “read X many books by the end of the year”. As I have less time to read nowadays I want to make that time count, nourish my brain and my heart rather than just speed through something that I only half-heartedly like. Instagram is a jewel mine for finding awesome book recommendations, and I follow some people who accomplished some awesome reading challenges in 2017, and who always have great reviews and insights. One of them, @bookish.harpy (Sarah-Jayne), is starting a shared reading challenge in January that really captured my attention. So much so that I have already signed myself up for January’s edition, and my three books are here on my desk waiting to be opened! The first challenge is to read a book written by a Native American, a book from a country that the US is in conflict with, and a book from a predominantly Muslim country. The main theme is to represent diversity, and to read books from those who are not represented as much as they should be. I am also adding an extra challenge for me: all books must be written by a woman. I have chosen Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, The Crossing by Samar Yazbek, and Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi. I haven’t read any reviews, the only reason I chose them was because from their summaries they all sounded like something I would enjoy. Join me if you feel like branching out and discovering something new, and also follow Sarah-Jayne on Instagram because her feed is gorgeous, and it’s pretty much thanks to her that I have about 100 new books on my to-read list.
Books have always been my safe place, my home, and so very important to me. I hope to pass this love on to my children too, that there are so many worlds to discover between the pages of a book, so much knowledge to feast upon, and so much inspiration to dive into. And while the world around me worries me more and more every day, I hold on to the fact that books will always remain our way of sharing stories, sharing history, and sharing truths.
This past week I started two books, one started with the main character sitting in a coffee shop on the west side of Sixth Ave between Houston and Bleecker, which is opposite one of my old apartments in NYC, and the second had the words “Orchard St” on the first page, where I worked and hung out for many, many years. A sign? Who knows...