I’ve always read a lot. When I was younger, we practically lived at the library and the beach over summers. I kicked ass at summer library reading challenges. It was a competition, and it involved books, of course I was in it to win. Even if “winning” only meant stickers and satisfaction.
Over the years as work and life became more demanding, reading was my escape. The past few years, I read Young Adult (YA) books like my life depended on it. They could be read quickly, most asked nothing of me, and they were quickly engaging, the very definition of a guilty pleasure. When I found books in that genre that were well-written, like the Hunger Games or the Daughter of Smoke and Bones trilogies, I fell in love all over again.
As 2015 approached, one of my friends posted on Facebook they were doing the PopSugar Reading Challenge. The book challenge sounded like fun, why not? The challenge would force me to expand out of my comfort zone, and if there is something that I love, it’s a good challenge.
Unintentionally, 2015 became a year to stretch myself. Days into the new year, work challenged me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Throughout 2015, life, relationships, and my health challenged me in other ways. There were times I had too much going on and needed an escape. Other times I didn’t have enough going on and needed perspective. My problems and worries became minor in comparison to those I in the books I read. Through it all, I kept going back to the list of books and the checklist.
I read whenever I could. Audiobooks provided incentive to cook healthier, keeping me entertained as I spent time in my least favorite room, the kitchen. They kept me walking longer as I listened, not wanting scenes to end before my walk did. Insomnia kept me awake late into the night, and reading helped distract me from the fact that I couldn’t sleep. When some of my health challenges kicked in and I had to stop paddling outrigger canoes for the rest of the racing season, I took books to the beach on weekends so I could escape the heat while getting my ocean-time.
Shaking sand out of books at the end of the day before going inside is one sign of a good day.
The challenge started out as a fun way to read books I wouldn’t normally read. And I won’t lie, there were some I struggled my way through, skimming some pages, groaning over plot twists, sentence structures, or in one irritating case, the author clearly feeling pleased with his own cleverness. There were books I wouldn’t have completed if not for the ability to check off that category on the list.
More importantly, there were books I wouldn’t have picked up if not for the category on the list.
The best part is that I read So. Many. Books. From best sellers to those recommended to me, to those with a cover that caught my eye. Yet I barely scratched the surface. In 2013, there were 304,000 books published in the U.S. This number doesn’t include all of the self-published books. One article said the numbers are closer to three million published pieces of work for 2014. For all of my reading this year, I only read around 60+ books in 2015, which is more than one a week. Of those that I read:
- I escaped to Finland with Russian and American spies (Red Sparrow)
- To India and China during the Opium Wars (The Ibis Trilogy)
- To Africa, to America and back to Africa with a Nigerian woman (Americanah)
- I followed a French blind girl and a German boy during World War II (All the Light We Cannot See)
- Watched damaged and artistic twins grow into the people they will become (I’ll Give You the Sun)
- Cried with a torn family after their oldest daughter committed suicide (Everything I Never Told You)
- Watched generations grow, take root and fight over cattle then oil in Texas (The Son)
- I finally read (and disliked) the decline and deprivation of Dorian Gray
- Read through a zombie apocalypse (The Girl with All The Gifts), and I watched a virus take over the world, leaving people to rely on physical avatars (Lock In)
- I helped Looking for Alaska, and read several Rainbow Rowell books after falling in love with Eleanor & Park in 2014.
- It wasn’t all fiction, there were a few memoirs and Creativity, Inc qualified both for work and the non-fiction checklist.
- And I really want to find JK Rowling and punch her in the face for being so extremely talented as I read The Silkworm. Seriously, no one should be allowed to create the Harry Potter Series, then turn around and create another set of characters, complex plots and make it all work so well. No one. At one point, thinking of punching JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith distracted me so much I had to go back and re-read one section. Her talent with words, characters, and plot amaze me.
Somewhere in the year, I found my footing, found my voice again, without even realizing I had lost it. One of the categories, “Read a book by an author with your initials” left me feeling frustrated. None of the authors with my initials had books I wanted to read. I hoped there was at least an Asian author (please let there be a talented Kim Lee), but instead I left that category towards the end.
My frustration with the lack of book for that category coincided with the end of October and the start of NaNoWriMo. At a bar on Halloween, I signed up to write a novel in November. And I did it. The book is terrible and probably is the opposite of everything I admire the most, but I did it. There’s no good authors with my initials? Fine. Here’s my entry into the fray.
The other day as I dusted off my draft, having taken a break from it for a few weeks. Ghosts of book structures, plots, and characters I had read all year surrounded me, filling me with ideas of how to fix it. Even if I can’t fix it and have to start with something else, I wrote a book. More importantly, I now know I can do it.
As the ghosts surrounded me, I realized the depth of my feelings, the magnitude of what I had learned throughout the year. I was in love with reading again, with the magic of words, with a well-told story. As I look back, there is no cynical judgement or the guilt from pleasure of light reading, or guilt from the time I spent diving into these worlds. There is only my renewed love of reading and books again. My endless love for a good story told in a unique way, with the broad glimpse into other worlds, and the increased appreciation of my own life.
It was a year of falling in love. With books, with words, with writing, with other cultures, and with a new best friend. Even though it also was a year of disappointments, frustrations, and heartbreak, I wouldn’t ask for any of it to change. Except for the heartbreak part, that part can suck it.