This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.
Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.
This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.
Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.
The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.
Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.
Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.
The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.
Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.
At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.
Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.
Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell