Thursday, November 12, 2015

35 Books And Counting


This past weekend, the weather turned. After a record-breaking week of sunny days with temperatures soaring to the mid-80s, Sunday was a different story. Wet, gray, and cold, fall rushed in quickly, caught us unaware. I didn't mind; I spent most of the day lying on my couch, the heat on, a cup of tea beside me, and a book in my hands. Fates and Furies, by the incredible Lauren Groff. I read for a little over three hours, pausing only to shift my position, refill my tea cup, adjust the heat. Otherwise, I was deep into the novel. When I reached the last few pages and emerged from my trance, I truly felt as if I had been somewhere else. My own life - dogs, husband, friends - felt unfamiliar, off-kilter, and it's hard to explain what happened to me on the couch, even though it has happened before. Certain books take hold, the emotions on the page sloughing into my own life like a second set of skin. 

It isn't always the best books that capture me this way. Sometimes they are - Fates and Furies is, I think, nearly perfect - but usually it's the books I read at the exact right time, the exact right moment in my life. Fates and Furies is about marriage and perception, devotion and creativity, sacrifice and secrets. It's about two sides of one marriage, the story a couple presents to the world and to themselves, and the complicated truths that lurk beneath. I read it in the days leading up to my third wedding anniversary, our thirteenth year together. Marriage has been on my mind and to dive so deeply into Lotto and Mathilde's felt like an incredible gift.

I've said it before, but 2015 has been an overall unspectacular year. Upheaval. Transitions. Career difficulties. Disappointments. Changes in plans. Nothing too tragic, of course, just a general sense of ennui, punctuated by moments of joy. (In other words: life.)

At the same time, it's been an incredible year. Last January, I made a New Year's resolution to read 35 books, and when I reached the last page of Fates and Furies, I also reached that goal. (Now I'm shooting for 40.) This marks the most books I've read in a given year since I was a pre-teen and spent my summers plowing through The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series. Knowing I read so many books, being able to gaze lovingly at my spreadsheet of titles, authors, and stars, gives me an intense satisfaction. I may not have traveled the world or made a million dollars or published my own magnum opus, but look at what I've accomplished. It's a powerful feeling. I also feel like reading so many books (most of them novels, most of the contemporary) taught me so much about writing my own. I won't say I learned more about writing in 2015 than I did while in my MFA program, because my MFA provided a great foundation. But in the end that's all the MFA was - a solid place, upon which I could build a world made of books. 

It's obvious, but a good reminder nonetheless: books are not an escape, but rather a way to experience things I can't. No day is a waste if I spent part of it reading. 2015 will be remembered as an amazing year, because of the depth and breadth of books I read.

PS: The best books I read in 2014. I will do a similar post at the end of 2015, when I have my final tally. 

PPS: Photo credit.