As a kid and for much of my young adult life I used to devour books at a rapid rate. I’m a massive fan of libraries, as a kid I would drive my Mum mad wanting to go to either a museum or a ideally a library. I’d bring home stacks of books and disappear into them over the next few weeks before having to return them. My bedroom had multiple bookcases full of second hand books. Even my first jobs as an adult were in academic libraries, firstly part time as an evening and weekend library assistant and then full time as a computer technican at a university library.
But I can pretty much put a line in the sand for when I stopped reading – December 2007 – when I joined Facebook. Its so easy to lose hours scrolling through pictures, memes, the briefest of updates on endless forms of social media, with very little to no outcome at the end of it – apart from lost time.
I stumbled over a news article a few months ago, I don’t remember where, probably Facebook, it said reading for 15 minutes a day can aid in memory and ward off dementia as we age. They recommended fiction but more importantly a subject that is outside our normal life experience – scifi and fantasy being excellent choices.
I decided that I was going to make an attempt to read more. Yes it likely helps my brain, but more importantly, I missed reading. I missed that spark you get when starting a new book that grabs you, meeting new characters, and sometimes, that bittersweet feeling when you can’t wait to find out what happens at the end, but also know that you are going to lose the characters or world you have come to love.
So with that, I have reduced my social media usage and increased my reading time. Not physical books with moving parts, I like virtual books. I like to grab my iPhone or iPad and pick up where I left off. And because I’m a tight arse, (thrifty some might say), I use the Libby app which allows borrowing of books from the local Public Library using their Overdrive system without leaving my chair. (Check with your local library, as its used worldwide and is completely free in many places.)
Reviewing what I digitally checked out of the library for 2021, for the first half of the year I borrowed almost exclusively audio books. These were for my twice weekly commute (to a real office… with real humans!) and also when I run three times a week.
I did borrow a handful of ebooks too, but I admit they were all automatically returned before I even read them.
In June and September I half read two books before losing interest. I’m not going to give you the titles, but one was an author who I have loved their books before, and the second was a highly recommended book club one, which I was enjoying but … anyway, I put the half reading down to simply being out of practise and scrolling social media is much less demanding.
In October I finally picked up a book and read it completely, a non-fiction autobiography. Go me… Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky – while I can’t cook, I like to read about people who can.
And then we were on a roll, ok not quite yet …
I got through two out of three novellas in a three author compilation book, it felt like a chore. I won’t name the book but lets just say I shouldn’t have wasted my time on it. Life is too short to read boring literature. If I wanted to do that, I’d have studied English Lit.
I started another non-fiction book of short travel stories by various celebrities. I barely started it. Far too entitled and pretentious, and since I’d barely been past the front gate most of the year… well it didn’t seem like a good fit.
I started a scifi book I just couldn’t get into. I started to wonder if I was ever going to get my love of reading back.
Then came November and I started listening to Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi and I loved it. I even started walking a few extra kilometres regularly between my running, simply so I could listen. Padma’s got an interesting personal story, her writing, her relationships and her struggle with endometriosis but mostly the cooking and food… I also liked hearing it in her voice, it added to the story.
I then read another book, with my eyes and not my ears. A “cosy” murder mystery, Jana DeLeon’s Rumble in the Bayou. Not really my cup of tea but … well, cosy. At least I finished it.
Then back to the non-fiction I went with 138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell – I literally read that in two days as I couldn’t put it down.
Next up I tried the library’s bookclub recommendation for a group read young adult fiction novel. I really love a lot of young adult fiction. I listened to nearly 3 hours of this 8 hour book and hated it. I don’t know why I kept at it for so long. I wanted so badly to like it. I didn’t like any of the characters including the main protagonist. I hated the voice reading the story too. I was 10 minutes into a 30 minute run when I stopped mid run and returned the audio book to the library. I simply was not able to listen to another word. Maybe I wasn’t the target audience … or maybe it was just shit?
But to hell with my data plan, I can’t run without listening to something, so regardless of the cost, I immediately started streaming The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Oh my god! This book was by far my favourite for 2021. I was completely and totally captured by the first chapter. Thank goodness its a long audiobook, as it got me through all of December and now into the New Year. I have technically finished it, with only the epilog to go. I’m heartbroken to leave this amazing story behind me. I loved everything about it, the humour, the characters, the location. Its sweet and tender and if anyone doesn’t like this book there is clearly something wrong with them. I’m am fairly sure the narration added greatly to the book as the characters came alive listening to this one. A complete contrast to the book prior which I suspect was partly the narration that put me off it.
In November I also read a bunch of non-fiction – Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin, Female Nomad and Friends by Rita Golden Gelman, Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen, All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Smith and What I was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman.
On my commute to work I also listened to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
I had a number of false starts too, but if it didn’t grab me quickly, I put it down and tried something else. Its not a failure to not like a book. Nothing hinges on me not finishing it, I’m not being quizzed at the end, or having to write a thesis regarding the author’s hidden metaphor. If the author says the curtains were green its likely they were green.
December I started about 3 or 4 fiction books and struggled to settle on any of them. Turns out I am far more picky about fiction than non-fiction. I finally settled into The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and this was again a standout work for me. I believe they are making this into a movie and I really hope they don’t fuck it up as the book is brilliant.
For the commute in December I started listening to Simon Winchester’s Pacific, and likely this will be it for most of January and possibly February since its 14 hours long. I could actually cross the Pacific faster than it takes to listen. I’m enjoying the interesting historical facts and the way one leads to another, its a real skill to weave a story this way and reminds me of Bill Bryson’s way of spinning a yarn.
I also had a few more false starts later in December until I hit upon The 52 Week Project by Lauren Keenan. Again non-fiction and a quick read by a Kiwi Author.
Yesterday I started the 1942 historically set novel The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan – 35 pages in and I think I’ll make it to the end. Back to food again – do I see a trend here?
Next up for my running audio entertainment I have the autobiography Blood, Sweat and Steel by Curtis McGrath. An account of an army engineer who stood on a mine in Afghanistan and lost his legs. Upon returning to Australia, after his recovery, with prosthetic legs he became an elite athlete competing at the Paralympics. If he can do that, I can damn well complete a 4km run 3 days a week.Follow @paula_from_nz