As a child I maxed out my junior library card on a regular basis. Going to the library with my mum after school and bringing home a pile of books to place next to my bed was a constant in my life, and I relished working my way through shelves of children’s books and YA fiction. Fast forward ten years and I didn’t utilize the library system at all while living in Bristol, preferring instead to work on building my own wall of colour-coded books.
But ever since moving to San Francisco – where books, as with rent and just about everything else, are hella expensive – I’ve become a regular at my local library again. I love nothing more than receiving a notification telling me a new title I’ve been waiting for is mine to collect.
This year I set myself a goal to read two books a month, or 24 in a year. I belong to a couple of book clubs and last year I think I managed around 15 in total, so at the start of the year the challenge felt satisfying but achievable. Right now I’m seven and a half books in, ever so slightly ahead of schedule, and I’ve fallen into a reading rhythm, no longer confining reading to just before bed, but also, occasionally, first thing in the morning, or on lazy weekend afternoons.
The last few months have dealt me several blows and I think one of the reasons I’ve latched on to reading is not just because of enjoying the stories, the characters and the journeys my imagination is taken on, but because of the sense of accomplishment in finishing a book. I can control how much I read and when. I don’t own a Kindle but when I place my bookmark between two pages before going to sleep, I make a mental note of how far through the book I am. A quarter, a third, half way, two thirds, twenty pages to go – every finished book is an achievement in expanding my mind, refreshing my vocabulary and sparking my imagination.
I’m not a fan of the word self-care, but spending time reading, instead of watching Netflix or scrolling Instagram, is undoubtedly nourishing. You can escape into another world, switch off and breathe deep. A good book offers a wonderful reason to laugh, sob or smile. A great book can provoke all three responses.
The only problem is that I can’t consume as many as I want – for every book that is returned to the library or placed back on my bookshelf, there are another three to read. Recommendations from friends, “must read” titles from bestseller lists, classics I feel I should have read but never got round to, books of essays… the reading list never ends.
I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who likes to read one book at a time, start to finish. I use magazines as a palate cleanser for a day or two before moving onto the next title, but I can’t juggle multiple narratives – perhaps one novel and one non-fiction title at best. All the books I read are usually mentioned on Instagram but some particular highlights from the year so far include The Perfect Nanny (also known as Lullaby in the UK) by Leila Slimani, Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran, The Mothers by Britt Bennett and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.