I finished reading my 100th book of 2021 yesterday. 100 books a year is a stretch goal for me – I usually end up with around 75. But I hit 100 with an entire month of reading still ahead of me. There have been an unusual number of mysteries and romance novels this year, as my reading life trended toward comfort and avoidance. 100 still feels big to me, and I will definitely be rewarding myself with the traditional Reading Goal Prize, a pepperoni personal pan pizza.
When we cleaned out my grandmother JoJo’s apartment this fall after she died, I found a treasure: her handwritten reading log, which picks up in 2004. We think she had been keeping track since my grandpa Bobby retired in 1987, and this log begins at #1736.
This log starts in 2004 at 1736 and ends in 2018 at 3335. That’s an average of 107 books each year. ONE HUNDRED SEVEN. I knew she was always reading. We talked books every time we talked – she liked to give a detailed outline of whatever plot she was in the middle of at the time. We traded recommendations. I know that she read more books after this log ends, because she saw Amy Jo Burns’ “Shiner” on my Instagram and asked me to send it to her through the mail last year, which of course I did. Because she was my grandma, she got the book and promptly put $20 in a card back to me to cover the shipping cost. Reading was one of JoJo’s big losses over the last couple of years as her eyes and her mind slowed, and I know it hit her hard. No wonder. She read ONE HUNDRED BOOKS A YEAR for over thirty years!
JoJo read a lot of pulp fiction – Danielle Steele, James Patterson and David Baldacci. I knew she would read whatever I recommended to her, would at least try it even if she ended up hating it. I once gave my Grandpa Bobby a book on the Creed by one of my seminary professors, because he was always asking me what I was learning in school, and bless Bobby’s heart, he hated that book. But he read it! “I read it, Dana Beth. Now, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about most of the time, but I did read it.”
But this log tells me that JoJo wasn’t just reading supermarket check-out line fiction. Her librarians knew and loved her, and they pressed literary fiction and classics into her hands. She knew what was on the NYT bestseller list, and she wanted to read it. If she saw a book mentioned in the newspaper or on TV, she downloaded it to her Nook. In addition to all the Sandra Brown and Sue Grafton, JoJo read Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett, August Wilson, Colson Whitehead, Isabel Allende and Neil Gaiman. I didn’t know until after she died that she had been reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, dear to my own heart. And it wasn’t until just this minute, reviewing her list again, that I discovered she’d already read the entire Nevada Barr National Parks mystery series that my friend Meredith just told me about this year.
I guess this is what good grief feels like – simultaneous delight and despair. I am DELIGHTED to learn that JoJo was even more widely-read than I knew, and slightly chastened to think of all the times I shared a recommendation with her complete with content warning, when she’d been reading hard-hitting literary fiction for decades before I even knew what that meant. But I am also gutted that I can’t call her up and ask why she never TOLD me she had read Louise Penny, what she thought about Anna Pigeon solving murders in national parks, who told her to put Isabelle Allende on her TBR pile, and what she’s reading right this minute.
We never have enough time with each other, do we?