Life Imitates Heart

The books I’ve read have become my passport

When the new year arrived, I decided I was going to read less this year (I cannot for the life of me remember what my reasoning was, though I think it had something to do with carving out more time to finish *an important thing* and the fact that I’m starting grad school this fall).

But then I accidentally read 40 books in six months. Whoops!

Over the past four years, I’ve kept track of the books I’ve read, through Goodreads and on paper, and this list has turned into something of a passport, a roadmap in reverse. Not just a map to how my reading habits have changed, but also a literal, physical map of where I’ve been. Because while books have the power to take us to new places, we can pack them in our suitcases and bring them with us on adventures, too. So it’s no surprise (but also slightly serendipitous) that these lists I started keeping began the same year I started to push my boundaries, to run head first into change instead of dropping it back on the stove like a hot pan.

Anymore, I have trouble sitting still, staying in one place too long, settling in. I hate the feeling of getting comfortable. That same wanderlust is submerged in my reading too. The only thing I am ever certain of is that Harry Potter will end up on the list, somewhere and somehow. I can’t go a year without it, the same way I know I’ll always have a basketball and rollerblades thrown somewhere in the back of my car. But the rest is up for grabs. My taste, the stories that thrill me and reel me in, are not the pure fantasy IV drip that they once were.

For that reason, I’m glad I started keeping these lists because it’s fun to look back and remember where I’ve been. I remember racing to pick up The Bone Season sequel at the Bloomington Barnes & Noble before spring break, sobbing in bed at my ISU apartment during the first chapter of The Art of Racing in the Rain just a few short months after my dog had died. I burned through the A Discovery of Witches trilogy that summer, laying on the porch of the house I’d be living in that next semester. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone out loud to my sister during our first of many trips to Colorado, birthing a new Harry Potter tradition. I remember curling around Into Thin Air under my desk lamp in my basement bedroom as my stressful final semester on campus crashed around me like a hurricane, and falling head over heels in love with mountains in a way that took my breath away, how that book spawned an Everest obsession in me that has yet to abate.

The books I read during the summer of 2016 are a chronicle of the greatest three months of my life. The Crossroads of Should and Must, a book I read just after graduation, helped me take a leap of faith just a month later that was the most terrifying and perfect decision I’ve ever made. I read Me Before You alone in a slightly shady motel in North Platte, Nebraska after driving ten hours along I-80 by myself, the very beginning of that terrifying and perfect decision. That summer was a deluge of books that I felt so keenly in my soul because I had finally let it loose on a small university town in Wyoming, setting my love of mountains on fire. Everything I Never Told YouThe Light Between OceansAll the Bright PlacesMissoulaThe Wrath & the Dawn, Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (possibly the one blip). A Torch Against the Night was the first book I read when I got back to Illinois in September, and it wasn’t until this moment that I realized how fitting that was. I missed my mountains.

In 2017, I spent January powering through all seven Harry Potter books, reading Order of the Pheonix at a quaint Dixon bookstore as rain pounded against the glass, and later in my hotel bed while the rest of my AmeriCorps family, who were also there for training, were off drinking in someone else’s room, watching the Bachelorette. I ducked out of work early to get to the end of Deathly Hallows before the month was up. I read most of You Are a Badass on the floor of my bedroom that spring, oscillating between crippling anxiety and a fierce determination to just get my life together already (updated: I haven’t). I read the last hundred pages of The Song Rising at my desk at work in a full sweat. I went to Hawaii that August and Homegoing was the first book I ever read on a beach, while This is Really Happening is the first book I ever read on a beach while getting irrevocably sunburned. More Happy Than Not found me both at an end and beginning; I started it in the Honolulu airport on my way home from visiting my friend and finished it the weekend I moved into my new apartment, a few days before I started a new job.

Life is a wild ride. I can remember the books I read when I was on the highest point of the rollercoaster, looking down (All the Bright Places), the ones I read when I was falling (The Art of Racing in the Rain), and the ones I read at the bottom, when that climb back to the top felt impossible. Some people chronicle their lives in photographs, but I like to do it in stories. A picture only captures a moment — usually, a carefully curated and filtered one — and I like to remember more than that. I like to remember the way the palm trees looked over the pages of Holding Up the Universe, and the rain against the bookstore window as I tried to do the impossible. I like to remember the parts that weren’t perfect, the tear in the back cover of The Handmaid’s Tale from trying to cram too much into my backpack at the airport, the slight annoyances that two friends on vacation together start to feel after being crammed in a car for a week.

Books are my passport, the kind that has snapshots of my life embedded in its pages, the kind that leaves breadcrumbs back to where I’ve been. But even that’s an unfair analogy since I can’t turn around and gobble them up, can’t race backward to perfectly retrace my steps. I cannot relive those wild rides of mine, but I can stay on the same track, going up and up and sometimes falling down, leaving bookmarks along the way so that I can always look back and remember my life through the stories that helped me make sense of it.

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