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Reading the world, slowly

By April 25, 2021September 14th, 2022No Comments

Back in 2015, I had my final inpatient mental hospitalization. That May, I’d experienced the first break-up of my second marriage. I was hurt beyond imagination – we both were. Then there were dramas with my family. Summer of 2015 hit me hard, and I was unsure if I could tolerate my own hopelessness and grief. 

So unsure, that I drove myself to the hospital for help. I spent the next two August weeks with a small pile of books and a roommate who was an art student, ten years younger; the thing I remember about her is telling crazy stories about my childhood and my life and teaching, and the two of us laughing so hard at midnight that the nursing staff banged on our door to tell us to shut up. I spent time thinking about how to reconnect with my purpose of being.

At some point during those weeks, I committed to dive head-first into becoming a better human. I embraced my curiosity as a lease on life. as the thing that could save me from being swallowed by my own small mind. 

When I got home from that last stay, I did two things: I got my tattoo, and I started thinking about making meaning in my life. I started reading more blogs from different writers. I don’t recall where on the internet I found this blog about one woman’s mission to Read the World in year, but it struck me then as such a profound way to experience the vastness of the world, and the beauty. I decided I would read the world, but, slowly.  Starting with the books I already owned (yes, book collector for life!), I began reading and learning from voices and perspectives and stories that so differed from my own. 

As I read a story, book, essay, or poem from an author in one country, I’d make notes in my journal, and write short reviews of the experience. Through a series of unfortunate technical fails, the blog content was lost in 2016. All I have remaining from the reading and writing I did during that year is a google sheet where I tracked authors and books from each country, and the status of my reading. A checklist. I was so frustrated that I left the project behind not long after (I think maybe I updated the spreadsheet once in the past 5 years). 

Until recently, I had all but forgotten this project, and its origins in my life. Opening that spreadsheet with its checklist, I remembered the awe I felt when first compiling it. So many countries, so many histories, and so many stories that exist, and for each of those, multitudes that will never be told. 

In a way, I’m glad I forgot about this, because when I started it, it was probably more “goal oriented” than it should have been. Remembering anew has caused a desire in me to dig into stories, to learn from this world that has felt so inaccessible this past year. And now, six years after that hot August hospital stay, I have so many better questions to ask the stories.

Jess Ingrassellino

About Jess Ingrassellino