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Challenge: Reading Every Day


Artwork by Ella Stewart

I have always been a voracious reader who demolishes a book in hours, chowing down on exciting plots, complex characters, and political and social intrigue like it is my last meal. For years, reading was what I did instead of playing with other kids at school, going out, or doing work. I suspect that my introversion and lack of social life has created the ideal conditions for my reading habits.

I recall being on a trip with some friends to Nepal. We were trekking the Annapurna circuit in 2015, and I was 14.

"How many books have you ever read?" asked one girl.

"I'm not sure," I replied… because I was unsure.

"Guess… like a thousand? Wait, OMG, have you read a million?" she queried.

"I'm not sure," I repeated, and then I continued reading.

I did not stay in touch with any friends from that trip. I was too busy reading in seclusion and then thinking about what I was reading while walking to talk to them. I managed to knock off the Entire Game of Thrones series on that trip, which is something I remain proud of to this day.

In 2018, I sort of just… stopped reading. I did not pick up a book unless it was for my school English classes, and even then, I just went on Schmoop and read their notes instead of the actual copy I had. I was dealing with a huge depressive period in my life and spent most of my spare time crying or eating.

Then, in 2020, a little thing called COVID happened. Suddenly I had all the time in the world to read. But unfortunately, living through a pandemic is not conducive to good mental health.

In 2021, I weakly attempted to make rereading a hobby. I reopened my untouched Goodreads account, and I was bombarded with the progress of my friends on the platform. So many new books had come out! I felt like I had missed out on so much and would never be able to catch up. I tried and failed to reignite my passion for literature repeatedly. Picking up random books in my family's Kindle library, I found I could not focus, and the entire time I tried to read, I was just watching the percentage at the bottom of the page, which tells you your progress.

I also realised that when I wasn't reading, I had nothing; no hobbies that marked me out as unique or quirky. As a teenager, this realisation would have been devastating for me. But now, as an adult, I wondered if I should accept that I had somehow lost the love of reading I used to have. This may sound dramatic, but as a big overthinker, reading has always provided me with an escape from my life. I suspect I enjoy reading so much because I feel my life is so dull that I would rather jump into someone else's and step into their skin for a day.

Reading over what I have written, I will accept that I am melodramatic, but I believe Lorde and Lana Del Rey are the culprits for this, not my capricious mental health.

However, despite the background noise (university being online, crippling anxiety, being bad at netball, a pandemic, and a close friend dying), I found 2020 and 2021 were the happiest times of my life. I became fitter than ever because I had nothing to do, and I learned to be alone with myself and how to live with my brain. Then I discovered a genre called Afrofuturism, and I devoured it like a starving person. I read all of Octavia Butler's works and found that this genre and other sci-fi novels gave me the new and exciting content I needed to relaunch myself into the literary world. It made me realise how much was out there, and I now viewed reading books, not as some race where I had to get through them ASAP, but as a boundless journey where there was so much about the world for me to uncover and I had the rest of myself to do that.

So, I began 2022 with a goal in mind. I felt refreshed and revived by my sudden weird turnaround. I was going to do the Goodreads yearly reading challenge. For the uninitiated, this is a challenge I have wanted to do because it would make me feel accomplished and boost my self-esteem, where you read 52 books a year (about once a week). I charged ye olde trusty Kindle and then proceeded… not to read.

I failed the challenge in January, which was impressive because it usually takes me longer to give up on things. Luckily, I bounced back in February and read feverishly. At the time, I was dogsitting in a nice house by myself (aside from the dog, of course), and it was the university holidays. I was happy and felt very young and successful, sunbathing by the pool and reading because I had so much free time. I felt like a lady of leisure; I wore linen sets and roleplayed being a real adult. It was good. Once university started, I realised I needed to up my game, so I started taking my Kindle to uni with me, and now I was cosplaying being the mysterious girl who sits in the cafe talking to no one, reading for hours. I also discovered that reading right before bed helps me fall asleep. I just sort of pass out. That's been great. If you have read my previous challenges, you would know that I love to sleep and optimise sleep. I generally like efficiency and optimising all parts of my life to live with as much ease and organisation as possible. My psychiatrist says it's my obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I think I am just a Gemini and in my hot girl season.

I am thrilled to say that I am currently (at the end of March) up to reading my 18th book of the year. I have been reading and reading and reading. I have embraced this genre of book I saw someone refer to as She is Not Feeling Good, which is essentially just literature chronicling the lives and psychological states of crazy ladies. I love this and relate to these characters a concerning amount. My favourite book this year has been Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, and I cannot believe it is her debut novel. I even want to buy a paperback (I only purchase paperbacks if a book is life-changing) to go through and annotate all the great lines in it.

Bringing reading back into my life and incorporating as much or as little as I have time for each day has given me a peaceful little corner of the world I can recede into as long as I have my trusty Kindle. When life is very chaotic with a constant influx of bad news and international disasters, reading provides a space away from all that, where I can unwind. I think that everyone needs an activity like that in their lives.

Note: I was raised in a Kindle family - as much as we all hate Jeff Bezos, it is important to note that Kindles and Amazon's Audible App have made literature accessible to a much broader audience than if we still relied only on paperbacks today. As I write this, I am reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a book that retails for $22 at Dymocks and $14 on Kindle. My pro tip is that if you choose to read classics or older books, they will often be available at a very low price. Virginia Woolf's Orlando is $18 at Dymocks and just $3 on Kindle. If you read a lot, you will benefit from using Kindle because these prices add up when you are literally always reading.

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