I’m shy of resolutions and their self-defeating magnitude, but with each new year, I return to this quiet intention: to read more books. For most mothers, that’s not as simple as it sounds. Work and family and community involvement take up so much of my time that I can only justify entertainment if I’m being somehow productive at the same time: watching Call the Midwife while I fold laundry, listening to The Splendid Table while I cook, enjoying familiar music while I prepare an editor’s letter for Literary Mama. I’ll read an article on my phone while I eat breakfast, but the time is too brief, distractions too likely, and paper too unwieldy for me to manage a book instead. I have the obligatory stack on my bedside table, but some of those books have been there for ten years because I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to read a sentence by the time I get into bed.
It changed my life when, in 2016, I started listening to audiobooks on my phone. I went from reading five, maybe seven books a year to reading more than thirty. This past year, I logged 47 books on Goodreads; that’s about 13,600 pages, if I include the first two thirds of East of Eden as well as the novels I reread, aloud, with my youngest son. Since I live at least half an hour from just about everything, most of those pages were turned by somebody else—an author or an actor who read while I drove and listened.
Now that I consume literature aurally, I can afford to read more widely. I can take a chance on a recommendation that doesn’t seem like my kind of book, since my reading time is no longer so rare and precious. I can take on a 700-page commitment, knowing that I’ll see it through. I can finally get around to classics that I’ve been meaning to get around to for 25 or 30 years. Time that once felt wasted now feels enriched, and although I don’t look forward to days when I have to spend two or more hours in the car, I do look forward to getting back to my book.
I hope that 2020 may be for all of us a year of books—hardbound, paperback, recorded, digital, library, secondhand, gifted, given. We’ll keep the recommendations coming.
Images by Travis Bara, Christian Bowen, Kari Shea, Fischer Twins Photography, Pawel Janiak, Darya Kraplak, Natalya Letunova, Diogo Nunes, Jaliya Rasaputra, Nancy Stapler, Averie Woodard