One of the best reading streaks I ever had came during one of the worst years of my life.
I’m the kind of person who is always reading something. I’m like Rory Gilmore, with a book stuffed in my bag even if I’m on my way to a bookstore… even when I’m out on a date. But it’s not every day I stumble on one of those golden books; a book that meets you right where you are and becomes a favorite before you even finish reading it. Those reading moments are rare.
But during this particular year, I entered into a reading streak so excellent that I still look back on that time almost fondly; and if you ask me for a list of my favorite books, half of what you get will be books I discovered that year.
Here’s what happened: I decided to move in with my grandparents. (It’s a long story!) But the day I arrived, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer, and she died three days later.
Suddenly, what started out as a weird lark turned into an intense year of grief. I hung out with my grieving family and just kept my lovely, sad grandpa company. I made him dinner, taught him to use the wash machine, watched World War II documentaries with him, and watched him pastor and care for others even as he struggled with his own loss.
It was a good year, to be honest – saying it was hard doesn’t preclude that it was good. But yeah, it was not fun.
A few weeks after I got there, I discovered a big Borders five minutes from my grandpa’s house. (Remember Borders?! Ahh, lovely Borders!) I started going regularly… and thus began my experience of stumbling on just the right book, at just the right time, over and over and over again.
First of all, there was Nick Hornby, who has since become my favorite author. (I vividly remember sitting in a chair that year, reading High Fidelity and waiting for a cute boy I’d just met to call.) I read lots of Hornby that year.
There was my grandma’s Bible, found on her desk, which confirmed that, yeah, death is our last great enemy and the world is not how it’s supposed to be.
There was The Year of Magical Thinking, which helped me know that the things surrounding me were normal (or as normal as the absurdity of death can ever be) and that I was not crazy (or not TOO crazy).
There was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which met me so dearly in my confusion that it’s still one of my very favorite books. My sister read it later, and she said that it was so insightful on children and how they process grief and I was like “Children? Really? I thought Jonathan Safran Foer was just describing the inside of my head.”
I’ve always considered that year a gift – a horrible, awesome gift – not only because I had the privilege of just Being There for someone who needed me, but also because of that streak of reading comfort.
When I moved out later that year I carried a stack of lessons and some very good books with me.
I had learned to stay put, even when things get hard. I’d learned that it was worth it, giving up a year of your regular life to help the guy that had paved the way for that life in the first place. I learned that a year was enough – that we can bury ourselves forever in other people’s problems, but it’s better to have the sheer guts to return to our own. And I’d learned that, even when it all goes dark, the right words at the right time can remind us that (really and truly) we are not alone.