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  • The Archer

200 Books

In 2016 I had a boring corporate job that involved an hour a day sending emails and 7 hours a day of wondering why I bothered in the first place. I told my boss that I needed more work, he was apathetic. I had always thought that I might enjoy such a situation but it turns out free time is only fun if you aren't trapped in a cubicle with the bored lady in the cubicle behind you watching everything you do.

That's when I began to read in a greater earnest than I had ever done before. I had the Kindle app on my computer so I could read 7 hours a day at work. I was addicted to refreshing my page at the library to see when my books would become available. I began to keep a list of the books I read that year and how they ranked on a scale of 1-10.

At the end of the year I had read 188 books.

This number surprised me, I had done it without really trying, it just sort of happened by coincidence. If I added only a book a month I would reach 200 and that seemed like a good goal to have. Since 2016 I have met that goal only once, in 2019, but it is fun every year to try.

200 books a year breaks down into almost 4 books a week or a book every other day. I generally cannot maintain this level of rigor and use Yom Tov and vacations to make up for days that I missed. This often leads to a family conflict along the lines of "Archer flew in to see us and all she does is read."

Every year I try to read 200 books. On the surface, I love this. It gives me a challenge to face, makes my life seem like it has some purpose some goal. Yes, there are plenty of terrible books in the pile but it is all worth it for when you read that one book that brings you to the edge of your seat because you care about the characters so much, you wish you could crawl into the pages and tell them their mother isn't dead or yes they are dying of AIDS but in an apartment across down their baby daughter just took her first steps. I'm the girl that gasps aloud in the subway when the pieces fit together in a way I can see. I'm the girl that sobs while smiling because the sadness a book brings you feels so good.

Every year I try to read 200 books.

Who cares? It's impossible to remember each book when you read at such a high volume. There is no trophy for what I do, and I can't take it with me. This is my way of pushing back the void that lingers in my life-the void that says I have no point without a husband and a family. These 200 books times the number of years I live will be my legacy. The one line at my poorly attended funeral where the Rabbi looks at his notecard and says "She loved to read." Why push myself for something that means absolutely nothing at all?

Every year I try to read 200 books.

My books are like my security blanket. When I was 14 I went through a weird patch in my life where my entire construed identity was destroyed in a moment. Feeling like I had nothing, I chose to wear a purple ski cap every single day from December 24 to March 12. I matured the tinsiest bit to realize that there are other ways to deal with issues-and 10 years later I carry a book with me every place I go. In a commuter city it makes sense. I never know when I'll be stuck on the side of the highway cause some loser threw up all over the bus.

Oh that was me? Yikes I suck.

I also don't know when I'll be eating at a friend's house and their toddler will decide to dump the bottle of baby powder on the baby's head and suddenly everyone is running around trying to save the baby and I'm left alone at the table twiddling my thumbs which is obviously fine and so expected but usually I have a phone and heaven forbid I should ever be left alone with my thoughts so thankfully I brought 3 books to this 90 minute shabbos meal. I never have to deal with awkwardness or boredom. I have my books.

Every year I try to read 200 books.

I have the Kindle app on my phone and a subscription to the virtual library that allows me to download ebooks. While waiting for a chuppah to begin, during speeches at a vort or dinner of honor, while my grandmother complains for the umpteenth time that she doesn't like the food at her independent living facility, I am able to read. I can grab a paragraph or two (or 18 pages, let's be real) on line at Trader Joe's. I wonder if I am missing out on life. If I am supposed to be present in these moments and endure my own boredom to see what comes out. Somehow, I also have ample time to be bored and direct an entire production of the Sound of Music featuring people I went to high school with in my head. I don't think I'm missing out on life and even if I am, what was there to miss out on in the first place?

Every year I try to read 200 books.

I make reading an experience. I sit through my hour each way commute by reading the entire time. I ignore the packed crowd around me for my brain is gone. I take a lunch break so that no one will find me and give me more work for one blessed hour. I go to the park outside my office with the Wall Street types. I pretend I am one of them. The power by proximity is dazzling. When it is nice out on the weekend I take the train to the main park. I watch the people until seeing the couples arm in arm hurts too much and then I tilt my head to the sun, trying to breathe it all in. I read my book and feel the power that comes from being one of the 8 million blood cells in my city's veins. I am what everyone wants to be. I am busy. I am reading.

Every year I try to read 200 books.

Bella Swan in the classic piece of literature that will live on when the world has burned to a crisp, Twilight, is described as a bookworm. We see her read once, in her backyard on one of Forks's few sunny days, unaware that sex incarnate, her classmate Edward Cullen, is watching her and wants to eat her and also to eat her. Whenever Bella described herself this way I rolled my eyes a bit. In my mind you can't be a bookworm if you move to a new house and bring 6 books with you. I bring 6 books with me on a day trip. She also moves to a town where there is no functioning library and does not immediately kill herself. If I lived in Forks and was faced with a murderous vampire, as Bella is at the end of the book I would be begging for death, not because the vampire was torturing me (idk I think that part is hawt) but because I live in a place with 2000 books in circulation total. Or, she could have just avoided all this and used her dad's chief of police money to buy a Borders (which still existed as Twilight takes place in the early 2000s, Harry Potter in the 90s, and Hunger Games starts next month.)

Every year I try to read 200 books.

The best days of the year are New Years Eve, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. These are the 3 days that publishers use to announce their slate of new books for the spring, summer, and fall. I have a date with myself on each of these days poring through the lists of upcoming books that others are anticipating and psyching myself up for all the newest books by my favorite authors. Curating the list of books I want to read is almost the best part.

Every year I try to read 200 books.

Sometimes I think about how my goals will change if I ever get married. I won't have the time to sit and read at my leisure anymore. I will hopefully have a car and while I often read while driving, I hope that if I have kids in the backseat whose lives actually matter (dark!) I will kick that habit. I might have a husband who thinks that Friday night is not 600 pages or bust night but is instead just....bust night. I may have to change my goals and adjust my list so I don't read every single book that comes out. I hope to have kids who want to go on a picnic or beach trip where we all just read but according to my research you can't abort a baby because it doesn't feel like a reader. So I may even have offspring who don't like to read.

One of the many difficulties of being single at my age is you develop habits. One of these habits for me is my single minded focus on completing this arbitrary goal and using books as a way to hide my face-if my face is covered you can't see me, that's how peekaboo works.

I'm terrified of getting married and breaking my habits. What if I'm married and I don't get the level of Vitamin D I need anymore because I'm always doing errands? What If I read under 100 books one year because my kids "need" me. What if my husband wants to talk to me after a long day and expects me to listen to him when we both know the only person in the relationship whose problems matter is me?

All I know is that the things that free you can trap you as well. Books and goals are what has given me the power to go on over these past few years. Somehow I need to restack the piles of books so that they give me strength but don't hold me prisoner. I'd like to see what else is out there. As soon as I finish this book.

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