What happens when you wake up one day and realize you don’t remember the last book you read? That was me. This isn’t a tragic tale, but it is a story about a little girl who loved to read and grew up losing herself in books and writing in margins and dog-earing favorite passages and then, slowly over time, stopped. And it’s probably one that sounds familiar to you, too.
Growing up, I had books that changed my life and shook my foundation with how they were written. Books like The Alchemist, Zorba The Greek, The Fountainhead, and All The King’s Men. I read my fair share of beach reads and quick summer novels too, but it was the life-changing books that made me feel like my inner Wonder Woman was on the rise. I would get lost in words and stories, and it made me feel less nervous about my own future. In my teens and 20s, the future was this audacious and infinite concept and books helped to both ground and inspire me to achieve my dreams.
Somewhere in the mix of becoming a young professional and the rise of an always-connected world around me, I slowly stopped reaching for a book and instead would watch TV at night or flip through a magazine or graze the interwebs. I didn’t notice it right away, but over time, something shifted in me too. I was still a go-getter, but I wasn’t surrounded by the new stories and ideas that books had always brought me.
In 2009, that changed. I was traveling a lot internationally (including 3 months as a Kiva fellow – another story for another time), and I spent a lot of time in places without internet connectivity. I had a lot of downtime, so I started reading more. All of the old feelings came back to me in a rush of emotion. I was alive, traveling the world, and best of all had a book in hand. I liked the hunt of arriving in a small town and looking for the used English book shelf in a hostel or cafe. Usually the shelf was a leave-one-take-one, but occasionally I had to buy it. Sometimes the selection wasn’t very good, but I loved seeing what would pop up.
In that time, I discovered something about myself: I still had it. I still had the love of books and the intellectual curiosity to learn about a variety of subjects and people.
When I returned to the U.S. and thought about what I wanted the next chapter of my life to be, towards the top of that list was to continue reading. So I made a few big decisions: I didn’t get a TV and I gave up buying magazines. Of course, there were still ways to get around my new resolve. I scroll through Facebook just like everyone else, I occasionally watch TV online and I’ve been known to read a magazine in a doctor’s office. However, for the most part, it’s just a good book and me.
It’s like eating healthy or working out — I’m simply happier when I’m actively reading. I notice a visible change in how I feel when too much time has gone by without curling up with a book. So it became a habit, like anything else. Something I look forward to at the end of the day or while sitting in a park during lunch or on a lazy Sunday.
I decided to set a target, 52 books in 52 weeks. It seemed just crazy enough that if I hit my goal I’d be ecstatic, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t be heartbroken. I started tracking all of the books I read. I read long books and short books, fiction and nonfiction, plays and books of poetry, travel guides and cookbooks. I don’t discriminate. If I read it cover to cover, it counts. The first few years, I didn’t make it to 52. I didn’t even come close. I was reading 20 to 30 books a year.
In total, it took me five years of trying. Finally in 2013, I hit 52. The last book I read was a book about Presidential houses. I closed the back cover and just sat on the couch in awe. I started to cry. It was incredible to hit a big goal like reading 52 books a year, but I also felt so alive. It’s hard to keep our childhood passions close to us as we grow older and our priorities shift. I had lost mine, but I had found it again and this time I know how to be mindful of that passion and not let it go.
Seven years after starting this “book reading project,” I have to say my attention span has gotten better. It’s a constant battle, but I believe I’m winning the war. I can be anywhere and lose myself in a good book, just like when I was a kid all those years ago. And there is no feeling like it.