Why I’m actually going to do the reading in 2016

Like pretty much everyone else on earth, I’m rubbish at New Year’s resolutions. In my early 20s I made the same resolutions over and over again – stop drinking, stop smoking, exercise more, lose weight, fall over less – and failed at every single one of them. I did eventually ditch the drinking and smoking, but that had absolutely bugger all to do with a “New Year, New You” thing.

And yet, I feel compelled each year to make some kind of resolution, if only so that when people ask me what mine is I have something to tell them and don’t end up stuck in a neverending conversation about how futile the things are. So a few years back, I resolved to only pick resolutions that would be enjoyable to keep.

One year I decided to overdress more often. Another year I resolved to try more varieties of tea. Last year I went with buying fewer, better quality clothes. And this year, I’m going to read more.

I used to read a lot. An awful lot. But I very rarely read the thing I was meant to be reading; my bookshelves are filled with the aftermath of two degrees in literature, and I’ve read maybe 30% of what’s on them.

At university I was a master of SparkNotes, and the Wikipedia scan, and just completely making it up as I went along. I’d say something blindingly obvious at the start of the seminar just so it wasn’t immediately apparent I hadn’t got past page 15, and then I’d sit back, smug that I’d already contributed and so couldn’t be caught out. It almost always worked.

I did the reading every now and then. It hurt my brain.

It wasn’t that I’d failed to do the reading because I was drunk, though (it was a bit that, but not entirely, I promise.) I actually spent quite a lot of my time reading things I wasn’t really meant to be reading. When I was meant to be reading Gawain and the Green Knight I’d pick up a Douglas Coupland. Instead of Paradise Lost, I read some Graham Greene. It was only when I was meant to be reading Virginia Woolf that I would give up reading entirely and go to the pub, because I really hate Virginia Woolf. The rest of the time I’d just leave it til the last minute and then try to binge-read overnight.

But last year I quite literally lost my ability to read. The depression muddled my brain to the point where I couldn’t cope with anything that was longer than 140 characters. I’d try to read an email, and realise that I couldn’t even keep my concentration to the end of a sentence. Then I’d start getting anxious about that fact, and my vision would start swimming and soon I could barely even see any words, let alone discern their meaning.

So I became a bit scared of books. They’d always been one of my favourite things (up until I was 23 my CV basically just read “I LOVE BOOKS”), but now they were taunting me, and I couldn’t quite cope with it. When we went to New Zealand I loaded up my kindle ready to read for the full 24hr flight, but I never opened anything other than the New Zealand guide book. I just couldn’t cope with trying and failing again.

But, in the spirit of not being terrified of things anymore, I’ve decided to stop being scared of inanimate objects that in reality can only inflict papercuts on me. So in 2016, I’m getting back into reading.

The past three nights I’ve completely ignored the advice of all the doctors who’ve told me that the best thing to do for insomnia is to keep bed just for sleeping, and I’ve been reading in bed. It’s been lovely; words make sense to my brain again, and I can make it through 50 pages before I start totally losing my concentration. Matilda the cat has been coming to join me, and helpfully pins me to the bed to ensure I can’t flee in terror if my brain wanders off halfway through a page.

And it’s not messed my sleep up at all. Perhaps it’s the years of desperately trying to read an entire novel overnight and inevitably passing out with a book on my face somewhere around 4.30am that did it, but bed and reading actually makes me more sleepy, not less. And these days I have a husband to retrieve the book from my face before morning.

So I’m hopeful that this resolution will stick, too, and that I’ll finally make it through some of the books I claim to have read but never have. Maybe I’ll even listen to my mother in law and actually read To Kill A Mockingbird. Maybe.

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