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A Year in Reading: Carolyn Quimby

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When the world began falling apart, I decided to apply for grad school. I had been hemming and hawing for years about what to go back for. A PhD in English Lit? No for various (though mainly) job-related reasons. An MFA in creative nonfiction? Uh…maybe later. An MLIS? Yes then no; yes then no. I knew I wanted to go back eventually, but I talked myself in circles for years. Then 2020 happened.

I started my MLIS program this summer. My first class involved learning the basics of coding. I read about HTML, CSS, Javascript, MySQL, FTPs, VPNs, and a whole host of other acronyms. It was a far cry from the literary fiction I tend to read—though I found myself enjoying coding more than I thought I would. I felt nostalgia for the baby coding I would do on my secret Xanga as a pre-teen. This fall I’m taking a class all about human information behavior, which requires me to read anywhere from 60 to 120 pages of theory per week. While the class is super interesting, it’s a huge reason why I can’t find the proper brain space for novels. The other reason is that my brain (and attention span) seems to be irreparably broken from the onslaught of the last couple of years, but I digress. My program has been great so far but I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking forward to my breaks during which I plan to inhale as many books as possible.

While I read less for pleasure than ever before, I wasn’t always distracted and the reading wasn’t always bad. I read and reviewed Jo Ann Beard’s Festival Days, and I was reminded why she’s one of the greatest writers working today. As spring bloomed around me, I made my way through Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which was beautifully written and totally engrossing. On the eve of my 30th birthday, I devoured Lily King’s Writers & Lovers and I felt so seen. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m slowly making my way through a few books: Sequoia Nagamatsu’s forthcoming novel, How High We Go in the Dark; Julia Fine’s The Upstairs House; and Chelsea Bieker’s Godshot.

I also leaned heavily on audiobooks this year to squeeze in reading whenever I could. In no particular order, here are some books I listened to and enjoyed this year: Becky Cooper’s We Keep the Dead Close; Hilarie Burton’s The Rural Diaries; Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, and Sutton Foster’s Hooked. They kept me company as I took my daily walks, ran errands, cleaned the apartment, and took long post-vaccine road trips to visit friends and family. While I can’t listen to all kinds of books (i.e., literary fiction or anything heavily plotted are no gos), I am grateful for audiobooks and their ever-increasing presence in my reading life.

In many ways, 2021 seemed just as strange and unmoored as 2020. Of course, I wish I had read more—though that’s the case even during my most prolific reading years. There’s simply never enough time to read everything we want. In 2022, I vow to put down the books I’m not enjoying and make my way through the unread books I already own. If the last two years have shown us anything, there’s no guarantees or certainty in life, so read the book or don’t; apply to grad school or don’t; take the road trip or don’t. And when all else fails, try an audiobook.

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