One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was visiting the Erie County Bookmobile. It used to come to the fire hall just a few houses down the road and I’d lug my canvas Erie County Library bag down there every two weeks and fill it up again.

I remember spending entire days in my bedroom, lying on my stomach on my canopy bed, then on my back, then on my side, then the other side, then draped over my bed, then in my beanbag chair, with a book in front of my face. I could (and did) read for hours and days on end. It was the ’70s, parents didn’t care what you did as long as you didn’t make too much noise doing it.

Studies have shown that people who read fiction are more empathetic and emotionally intelligent. That doesn’t surprise me because reading puts you in another person’s shoes. You know, it’s like that quote about  how a reader lives a 1,000 lives.  You learn a lot by hearing another person’s thoughts and seeing life through their eyes. Probably what this country needs more than anything are more readers.

Most of the people I know on a certain side of the political spectrum don’t read at all. Ever. Not books. Not newspapers. Not magazines. Not entire articles. A nation full of non-readers is hurting our democracy. But, I digress….that’s a topic for the future.

I got away from reading books in high school and college when it seemed I was ALWAYS reading, but not for pleasure. Then came marriage and a house to take care of and then the babies.

I started reading more regularly again after I started working at the newspaper because publishers were always sending us free books to review and also because I worked with a roomful of readers. Writers are  voracious readers (if they are not, they’re probably not very good writers) and colleagues were always discussing books, trading them back and forth, and reading at lunch. We even had regular in-house book sales/swaps several times a year.  I bought a lot of books, but they just piled up, unread.

Five  years ago, at the start of 2017, I made a New Year’s resolution to find/make time to read more books.  I kept track on a “post it” note in my smartphone (accountability is key) where I would record the title and author when I finished a book.

That year, I read 34 books. In 2018, I read 40.  In 2019, I read 31. In 2020, I read 36.

Why the drop in 2019? I think it’s because I was training for a 50K trail run and just didn’t have the free time. Trail running takes FOREVER.

I’m surprised at having read just 36 books in 2020 given all the free time we had in this past year from hell. I blame the distractions provided by the Internet and the election. (Yeah, that’s right, I can find a way to blame Trump for anything that is wrong in my life.)

Anywhoo, it might also be because I read bigger or more complicated books (Donna Tartt, Edgar Allan Poe, anyone?). Here’s what I was reading in 2020, which will forevermore be known as the Year From Hell.

1. “The Mist” by Stephen King

2. “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

3. “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan

4. “The Twelve” by Justin Cronin

5. “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michelle Richardson

6. “The Book That Matters Most” by Ann Hood

7. “All the Ugly an Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood

8. “On writing” by Stephen King

9. “The woman in the window,” by A.J. Finn

10. “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson

11. “The German Midwife” by Mandy Robotham

12.”Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry.

13. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

14. “Have You Seen Luis Velez?” By Catherine Ryan Hyde

15. “The Freedom Writers Diary” by Erin Gruwell and The Freedom Writers.

16. “Mean streak” by Sandra Brown

17. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

18. “Nickel Boys” by Colston Whitehead

19. “The Last Bathing Beauty” by Amy Sue Nathan

20. “In The Shadow of the Valley” by Bobi Conn

21. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

22. “The World Without Us” by Alan Weidman

23. “Ironweed” by William Kennedy

24. “Sorry I Missed You” by Suzy Krause

25. “Girls of Brackenhill” by Kate Moretti

26. “The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe” by Edgar Allan Poe

27. “There, There” by Tommy Orange

28. “The Things We Wish Were True” by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

29. “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

30. “At The Wolf’s Table by Rosella Pistorino

31. “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson

32. “The Daughters of Erie town” by Connie Schultz

33. “Death on the Nile” by Agatha Christie

34. “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle

35. “Plainsong” by Ken Haruf

36. “The Summer Sand Pact” by Jessie Newton

A few comments:

#3 was surprisingly easy to read and interesting for a non-fiction book.

#5 and #10 were both surprise hits with me. Both sounded far fetched and silly, but I was quickly drawn-in by the characters.

#7 was just disturbing.

#17 is a book everyone should read, especially if, like me, you need diversify the authors you read.

#27 was frustrating because I couldn’t keep all the characters straight. I expected more from this book which had tons of rave reviews.

#29 started out great, but it became a mammoth slog. I felt the same way about #13.

#33 was an unconventional book club choice that left me wondering how I had NEVER read Agatha Christie before. It won’t be the last.

#34 spoke to me on a cellular level. If I owned this book (I borrowed it), I’d have highlighted at least half of it.

This scratch-off poster with 100 “Must-read” books was one my Christmas gifts and will be dictating some of what I read in the coming year. Though, I have to admit there are some daunting titles on here that could slow progress (“War and Peace,” “Gone With the Wind,” etc.).

books

So, if you ask me what I’m looking forward to in 2021, I’m going to set the bar low. Forget about senior proms or graduation or family vacations because who knows if any of those things are in the cards for 2021. I’m looking forward to scratching off at least five of these squares. (See? Accountability).

Everything may suck in the real world, but I can lose myself in a book and forget all about it for awhile.

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.