Reading at Year’s End

Time can be a line, a river, a steady stream of sand, something that flows— inexorable, implacable. Time can be a circle or a gyre, a recurring series of events—years, holidays, seasons. Time may in actuality be none of these things, but we remain bound by our perception and experience of it.

I have always been mindful of time, being on time, focused on the relative value of how I am or am not spending “my” time. I am also drawn to recurring events—the first, familiar tinges of green on trees in spring; the salty, slippery crunch of corn-on-the-cob at summer barbecues; the warmth and sparkle of decorations and presents and ginger cookies at Christmas. Because my birthday comes so close upon the new year—that arbitrary designation that nevertheless feels meaningful and real—the transition from one year to the next tends to feel profound.

But less so this year because I am not feeling the month, season, year as I normally would, and haven’t been for months. Perhaps this stems from the messiness of the past several weeks, both personally and beyond. It all feels too chaotic to close, as if the year is going out like a tantrumy child we’re all trying to ignore rather than a grand dame making a stately exit. And 2020 is a black box, an eerie basement, a shadowy cave; I shrink from it. So the impending end of 2019 somehow doesn’t feel believable to me this time around the sun. And yet the river flows along anyway—inexorable, implacable.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

But the one place I am feeling the year’s close is in my reading life, which manifests as a kind of urgency. This urgency stems perhaps from a drive to finish as many volumes as possible before the made-up deadline we have all agreed to believe in. But that deadline also makes me feel that what I choose to read matters, that the dwindling time is precious and ought not to be wasted on less-than-stellar books.

And so I am reading with determination. The book I am into now deals with stories, with their joys and distractions and pitfalls and how they help us make sense of the world. It is fantastical and lovely and a page-turner. I frequently find myself tearing through and realize I’ve read, but barely absorbed, a paragraph. So despite the urgency, that memento mori metronome, I make myself stop, re-read, savor, absorb, contemplate, appreciate. Because I don’t want to absorb books like a glutton at a feast. I want to know them, hold them in my hands, tuck them into the corners of my brain and the cupboards of my heart, to carry them beyond the reading experience itself.

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