In the past year I have read a book a day. Every day for 365 days. I didn't just read, I also wrote and posted on my website (the most truthful site name ever) my response to what I'd read, my personal and visceral (no time for editing) reaction to the book. If I loved a book, I put it on my Great Books list. I also put together lists of the best books I read on sorrow, on life, and on love and sex (the most popular list, according to site stats). I have a list of best mysteries and thrillers, best short story collections, best books for young readers, and I still have to put together my list of best non-fiction.
So why did I undertake this year of reading? For pleasure, for indulgence, for comfort. I have four kids and even without a job, I have plenty to do. But for one year I decided to stop doing anything extracurricular to my family and to devote the time I'd spend at a job on doing what I love to do, read books.
There was more to my quest besides just seeking pleasure and an excuse to sit around and read all day. After losing a sister to cancer and finding myself still bereft, even lost, three years later, I decided to turn to books for answers on how to get going again and how to define purpose and meaning in my life. I knew reading would get me started and writing every day would force me to focus.
What did I find in my year of reading one book a day and writing about it? I found everything I wanted and more. I found wisdom, a lot of it; I found insight into sorrow and loss and death; I found new meaning in sex and love; I found wry humor and belly-ache causing laughs; and I found ten-hanky scenes of such deep catharsis that I felt as if I had shed a skin when the book was over. I discovered new wells of resilience and joy, empathy and beauty. I found book readers around the world and around my block. I found the peace in sitting still and reading for hours at a time; I found the discipline to sit and write after reading; I found the satisfaction of understanding more about life every day. I made new friends, re-built old relationships, and let all the excess junk in my life go. I realized that my kids could do their own laundry, make their own snacks, vacuum and clean up from dinner and get their homework done without my breathing down their necks. I found love and pride in them for me, and support beyond what I could have imagined.
Any downsides to my year of reading? I cannot think of one. There are people who have told me I must have lost out on savoring a good book, rushed as I was. But I was never rushed in my reading. Dinner was rushed, my hair wasn't shampooed that often, my clothes were wrinkly, weeds overcame the garden, and my butt got bigger. But it was all worth it, because I made time for reading and reading gave me back joy and pleasure and solace. Be honest, all you book lovers out there, if you could sit in a chair for two or three or even four hours a day, reading a book, would you not find yourself immersed? Of course there are books that demand rest and recuperation, for example Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past, and obviously no one is going to read War and Peace in one day unless they want their brain to just explode. But through deep reading of a few hours, many books can be savored, understood, and loved.
I know this year of intense reading was an indulgence and that I was lucky to have had the opportunity to addict myself and survive, financially and emotionally, with my family still intact after a year of mommy sitting on the couch and reading. But I justify the indulgence of my addiction by what I gained in terms of knowledge, comfort, inspiration, and friendships. From reading great books, I now know that life is about filling our moments with all the people and interests and activities that we can never have enough of. Life is painful, we lose loved ones, we fail at relationships, our jobs bottom out. But fulfillment is never found in enduring what hurts or bores or depresses: it is found in discovering joy. Through a year spent reading one book a day, I discovered a world of joy. I have loved reading and reading has loved me back.
In the year to come I'll keep up the addiction but lessen the dose: I will continue to read and review two to three books a week on my site and I'll also be here on Huffington Post, sharing thoughts on reading, creating lists of best books by theme (sex and love, anyone?), and sharing stories from the stacks. And there is a book in my future, a book about all the pleasures and benefits of reading (did I mention I was not sick one day during my 365 days of reading?). Anybody can join me in the book bin of peace: just pick up a book, plop down, and start reading.