Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
A FRESH START
By Roxanne Fequiere
The final week of every year has always felt somehow longer to me than all the others. Friends, acquaintances, and colleagues make their way home for the holidays, a hushed skeleton crew of native New Yorkers and those not fortunate enough to get the week off bustling about the city at a slightly subdued pace. Bitter cold thwarts most plans to venture outdoors, and the seemingly endless succession of heather skies and early sundowns creates a flat, listless effect that hangs in the air—cabin fever by way of Harlem, if you will.
This final calendar stretch is usually accompanied by lengthy television appointments, extended naps, prolonged bouts of quietude, and yet my brain remains loath to fall in line. These are the days in which I can plot my circuitous path to betterment, play with spreadsheets and daily planner setups, diligently draft emails that ought to be sent the moment this holiday haze lifts. It helps that the new year is just around the corner, of course—I can hold up the roadmap to personal improvement that I’ve drawn at the end of the week and call them resolutions—but it is with great resignation that I must admit I do this during every bit of downtime I get: Sunday evenings, quiet mornings, train rides, the moments just before sleep catches up with me each night. Boundless ambition, thy name is Sisyphus.
That said, I hardly intend to miss the opportunity to hit the proverbial reset button while I have a whole new year waiting just around the corner. I’m writing from the center of my bed on Day 5 of this interminable week. The white flannel sheets beneath me are earmarked for the washing machine tomorrow; I’ve decided that to enter a new year with sheets that aren’t pristine is simply unconscionable. A stack of linens await placement just to my left, but only after I’ve wiped down the shelf—and entire closet—to which they belong. In the morning, I have an appointment with the lovely ladies at a spa in Koreatown. After thoroughly baking, soaking, and steaming myself in a series of saunas and baths, I’m going in for a body scrub. The thought of forcibly lifting away dead skin and washing it away before stepping into a new chapter in time feels so apt that I only wish I had gotten into the ritual sooner.
And then there are the plans, the promises, the goals for the year ahead. Some seem to write themselves. I’ll be parting ways with my employer in the weeks to come; finding another source of steady income naturally gravitates to the top of my list. I agreed to marry the person I love a handful of years ago and asked him to give me until the age of thirty to actually make that leap. In September, we’re going to make good on that promise. I should probably start to plan that event. Then there are the goals that appear achievable, but require a game plan, one that’s hammered down early and updated often. Attaining fluency in French, dropping a few pounds, reading more, that sort of thing. The latter subset tends to elude me over time, despite my best efforts.
One year ago, I committed to reading three books a month. I was a member of two book clubs at the time, and I reasoned that all I had to do was keep up with each one’s chosen reading and then read another book of my own choosing each month in order to succeed. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I was the type of student who couldn’t bear to show up to class with an assignment unfinished; I found I had little trouble getting my reading done before club gatherings. When the selected tome was particularly thick, I even went to extreme (for me) lengths, listening to the audiobook versions of A Prayer for Owen Meany and Swing Time during showers and commutes too crowded to flip through my physical copies.
My regimented approach to book club reading left ample time for my own book each month too. I made it to June or July before I lost the thread. I have no idea what led me astray now, though I’m willing to bet it was pretty standard stuff: a more-packed-than-usual schedule, a couple of back-to-back trips that knocked me off-course. There were scattered instances of concentrated reading in the second half of the year—I have the fondest memories of devouring Sex & Rage, Goodbye, Vitamin, and The Colossus of Maroussi while sailing the Ionian Sea this past summer—but the momentum never quite regenerated. Naturally, I’m keen to give it another go.
When I settled on trying for three books a month last year, I believe my exact words were: “A book a week is a bit much, but I think this seems doable.” Well, this last year was a bit much. I managed to make it through, though. I think I’ll go for the grail this time. One book a week, and now that I’ve told you all and promised the GAL editor-in-chief that I’ll be writing up each and every one of them, I suppose the lot of you will keep me honest. For January, I’ll be digging deep into the idea of fresh starts, reinvention, hitting that proverbial reset button—a few of my favorite things, as you now know—but until then, I have an apartment to clean, dead skin to scrub away, and more plans to make. This week is long, but it won’t last forever.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.