I can count the number of books I read in 2020 on one hand. If you know me, you will know this is Not Good. Me, Sope Martins, the girl who grew up in a library, the girl who had a book Idol competition when she moved to a different country because she couldn’t play favourites, the girl who used to sneak read books while “watching” tv with her family. That girl read almost nothing in 2020.
I wish I could say it was COVID-19, but it wasn’t. Sure, a small part of my unwillingness to read stemmed from the little fireball of fear and uncertainty that lodged itself in my chest at the start of the year as I watched the new coronavirus make its way across the globe, and only grew bigger when it landed in my country in March.
If I’m being honest, television and social media rewired my brain.
In my heyday I could read two or three books in a day. Seriously. I would read and read and surface from time to time to forage for food then go back to reading. I read about everything – the flora and fauna of Australia, a brief history of the world, YA fiction, crime novels – you name it, I read it.
Until I didn’t.
It started in 2018, but I didn’t really notice. Burned out from a job that played whack-a-mole with my circadian rhythm, I just needed a break. Before, a break for me would have been laying under a duvet in a cold room with a mug of frothy hot chocolate, a rather large bar of chocolate, and of course, a book. Or two. Or ten. Let’s be honest – however many of them would fit in the bed with me.
Bibliophilia, thy definition used to be Sope Martins.
Where was I? Back to 2018; Burned out and needing a break, my mind did not instantly go to books. I was too tired to read. That had never happened to me before, but I was too tired to even care. What my mind needed was a complete shutdown.
For two weeks, I curled up in my bed, shut off my phone and binge watched whatever I could get my hands on. The Crown, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Korean dramas. Anything. Everything. You name it, I watched it. And in the middle of that binge, a switch flipped. My brain, which had always been an active kind of brain, found the bliss of not having to work so damn hard. This was Nirvana! Where had that internal white noise machine been hiding itself all my life?
My brain had found passive entertainment and it didn’t want to let go. That year, whenever I needed to relax, I found myself reluctant to pick up a book and all too eager to click the button on my remote. The era of television had begun.
2018 was the year that books lost their place in my life.
If I’m being honest though, it started earlier than that – 2012. In 2012, I moved from London to Lagos and encountered a whole new way of life. Gone was the cocoon of safety and security. Gone were the things I took for granted - good public transport, hours long walks through clean(ish) streets, libraries filled with books, and my beloved free healthcare. In Lags, you had to be sharp to survive and sharpness was not a skill I had learned growing up in the United Kingdom of staid and well laid out. It would prove to be a hard slog.
Lagos was an alien land filled with hours long traffic that had no discernible genesis, dramatic people who shouted when they should have whispered, and stared until their eyeballs threatened to pop out. In Lagos, a trip to the supermarket became a pilgrimage – fighting my way through traffic and potholes to get to a carpark with cars overflowing onto the street and people jostling in the-mile-long queue at the checkout only to get my turn and be told, “the POS is not working.”
In this hustling, bustling, hurly-burly riot of a city, I struggled to find the moments of peace that had always been at my fingertips in London. I struggled to find my time to read. Don’t get me wrong, I still read - I had to. I wish I could say it was because I loved reading (which I did) but really it was because my job demanded that I read. As a book reviewer, it was the very least I could do.
From 2012 to 2020, Lagos chipped away at my habit of reading until late December 2020 after a tally of the year that was about to end, I came to the startling realisation that it had been A Year Without Books. Forgive me for capitalising each word but how else will you understand the severity of this?
And so was birthed my quest to read 365 books in 365 days.
Can I do it? Let’s find out.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a little story about Book 1 of 2021.