That’s what I thought my pandemic reading year would look like. Not that anyone thought it would be a year back then. Two or three months, I thought, maybe the summer. We all had energy in March. We were listening to the Berlin Philharmonic and taking drawing classes and streaming opera and attending daily PD with Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle and writing in our notebooks with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and reading War and Peace alongside Yiyun Li. At least I was. That was my March 2020.
My notebook is full of reading plans. But as I’ve shared here many times before, I am strong on the plan, shaky on the execution. And that’s ok. A big part of the pleasure of my reading life is hatching plans.
Still, with so much extra time to read, I anticipated that 2020 would be a fantastic year for books. I thought the stacks would pile up. Maybe I’d even break my previous record for numbers of books finished. Not so much. I’ve struggled to read over the past year and not found as much pleasure and sustenance in books as I usually do.
I made it about an eighth of the way through War and Peace before I abandoned it. I wanted to be the kind of person who read War and Peace at the stately pace of twelve pages a day during a pandemic. But I turned out not to be. I joined several more public readalongs and didn’t finish any.
Although I enjoyed reading from my own stacks, I also missed the motivating pleasure and dopamine hit of constant fresh stacks from the library. I kept forgetting to log finished books on Good Reads and eventually stopped tracking my reading entirely. For the first time in over thirty years, I didn’t keep an accurate list of what I read last year. I bought too many books and often couldn’t remember why I wanted them by the time they arrived. I struggled to figure out what kind of book I needed most during a pandemic and abandoned far more titles than I finished.
Still, the reading year wasn’t all bad.
I had enormous energy for professional development books from March through June and plowed through a couple dozen, taking copious notes and having wonderful ideas.
Poetry was a constant. I read poetry daily, whatever poems happened across my Twitter feed, as well as the poems in the daily poetry emails I signed up for. I also read whole collections consistently and even joined an August challenge to read an entire poetry collection each day (I think I made it about a quarter of the way through that challenge before abandoning it, but that’s still 10 more books of poetry I wouldn’t have read otherwise).
It was a good year for series. I finally finished Jason Reynolds’s Track series. I spent a happy month or two in Tanya Huff’s Confederation series and discovered that I can read and enjoy military sci-fi. Two of my favorite series either concluded (Meghan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series) or had a new title (Martha Wells’s Murderbot series), and while neither book was my favorite, I still enjoying visiting with favorite characters.
Two things have changed permanently about my reading life, I believe.
First, I am reading much more slowly and far less. I stopped blogging weekly about what I’m reading, which meant the weekly drive to finish something, anything, preferably several somethings, by Sunday night no longer drove my reading life. I read now when I can and when I want to. Every night before bed without fail. Otherwise, it’s sporadic. It takes a long time to finish books when you’re only reading for 10-15 minutes before bed, but that’s ok. Since I forgot to track my reading last year, I also couldn’t quantify my reading life, always striving for a higher number than the year before. Reading doesn’t have to be a numbers game. That used to serve me well, but no longer does. Reading more slowly means that I am remembering more of what I read and also enjoying more. It means I am also far more picky. If I don’t love it, I’m not going to spend my precious reading time trying to finish it just so I can say I did.
Second, I have discovered that I love rereading books. I’ve never spent much time rereading, but last year, it feels like a quarter of my reading life was rereading. Many professional development books I wanted to revisit. My favorite comfort reads–Hilary McKay’s Casson Family novels; Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle; Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworths. Poetry. Picture books. And since November, my bedtime reading has been a rereading project. First, Jane Austen in chronological order, which was such an incredible delight. And now Barbara Pym’s decidedly Austenesque novels, in more or less chronological order too.
What has your reading life been like over the past year?