I Spent 24 Hours Reading Last Weekend and I Didn’t Lose My Mind

Actually, I kind of found it

When I told my husband I’d be reading all weekend, he said, “You do that anyway.” True, yes, because I hadn’t specified reading books. What I usually spend my weekends doing is reading on my phone — sometimes books, but more often Twitter. This weekend, I was planning something quite different: two twelve-hour blocks of straight-up reading — book reading — that I hoped might help me break the compulsive social media habit.

I thought it would be a manic slog, that I’d go a little crazy, that I’d have to push through to flop past the finish line exhausted. I thought writing about it would feel like some kind of gonzo journalism, like writing about trying to eat TGI Friday’s mozzarella sticks for 14 hours. I thought reading for 24 total hours over the course of two days would do something interesting and weird and a little scary to my brain.

I thought reading for 24 total hours over the course of two days would do something interesting and weird and a little scary to my brain.

I didn’t come up with this stunt on my own. It’s called 24 in 48, which is really straightforward — you read for 24 hours within 48 hours, from 12:01am Saturday to 11:59pm Sunday. I’d seen the hashtag flitting around Twitter, intermittently, for years. (It took me an oddly long time to figure out what it meant.) This year was the first time that I heard about the scheduled weekend far enough in advance. I blocked it out on my calendar, a two-day event: READATHON.

Within the first hours, I felt myself slipping into ease. Well, of course, I thought, I can read for a few hours any time. Any minute, I thought, the restlessness would set in. The first few mozzarella sticks are tasty; what happens when you hit hour six?

But that ease never went away. It deepened, settling into my bones. At first it felt like a normal Saturday, just a really good one and with a timer running on my phone. In the afternoon, my husband left to spend the rest of the day with friends. I read for a while slowly pacing my apartment with my e-reader in hand, letting my back stretch out a bit, the screen hovering in front of my eyes.

That evening brought something like the calm that comes with staying in a good hotel room — there is nothing to worry about, everything is taken care of. In a hotel room, there are no dishes to wash, no dog to walk, nothing else you should or could be doing, because anything you should or could be doing is at home, where you are not. While I was reading, I was still at home, among all the piles — metaphorical and real — calling for my attention, but I had built a firm boundary wall: Not today. Not this weekend. I’m reading. The dishes languished. I kept reading.

I had built a firm boundary wall: Not today. Not this weekend. I’m reading.

I read until after 10 p.m. I’d started in bed at 7:30. Breaks for walking the dog, for making lunch, for ordering dinner. Twelve of my sixteen waking hours, though, I was reading. That first day I finished The Amber Spyglass, read all of Alisha Rai’s forthcoming book, Hurts to Love You, and started Blair Braverman’s Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. I follow Blair on Twitter — she’d be starting a 400-mile dogsled race while I was acting like reading in my cozy apartment, in my soft pants, with my mugs of tea, was some sort of endurance event itself.

A little while ago, I spent fifteen months in a job that required me to keep up with new books — not just up with, but ahead of, reading in advance of publication so that I might be one of those people who somehow know what good new books are coming out and when. I had a few months of living on the literary cutting edge, but it always felt precarious. Reading fast enough, reading far enough ahead, reading the right books because — why, because a publicist said something convincing? I was only ever allowed to read books that were new.

When that job ended, I didn’t read a single book for six weeks, except for A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The trailer for the Wrinkle in Time movie had just come out, but I’d reread that within the last few years. (Such is the way for the books that made you — or showed you — who you are.) So I picked up the book from the series that had always eluded me in my childhood rereadings — I’d read it plenty of times, but something about it always felt murky, a world I couldn’t see. That was the only book I read in the six weeks after my job ended.

As that job was ending, too, I got an impulsive tattoo. Impulsive in that I went as a walk-in — decided on Saturday, went in on Sunday — but it wasn’t a new idea. It was an idea that had always been there, the illustration of an ant walking on the hem of Mrs. Whatsit’s skirt in A Wrinkle in Time, as she explains how a tesseract works. I got it on the inside of my forearm. I wasn’t sure why I did it at the time — my job was ending, I felt reckless, to get an impulsive tattoo and spend money I should’ve been saving — but I realized soon after that I’d gotten it to remind myself of who I am. Not just a woman who had been a girl much like Meg, smart and stubborn and out of place, but a reader who’d loved those books with her whole heart, and let them shape her.

The second day of reading was much like the first, but with a bit more back pain. From the couch to the hallway to the bed, flipped over this way and that, on an orthopedic platform of pillows. I finished Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube and cried. I read a whole Meg Wolitzer novel. I started reading a memoir.

I never had to push. It was never work. The strained giddiness I was expecting never came.

Instead, I slipped into a way of being I’d forgotten I had. Not reading for twenty minutes on the subway, or an hour or two on the couch between weekend errands and chores. Reading forever, reading without a horizon in sight. Reading as a base state, a way of being. Certain books had brought me back to that place in adulthood, temporarily. But this time it wasn’t the books, good as they were — it was me.

I slipped into a way of being I’d forgotten I had. Reading forever, reading without a horizon in sight.

I talked to my mom on Monday evening. She’d spent the weekend helping my sister move to a new city for a new job, and my sister had seen me documenting my exploits — using the #24in48 hashtag is part of the deal and, after all, that’s how I’d heard about this in the first place. (It wasn’t a social media detox after all.) “Marissa told me about your readathon,” she said. I told her how it went. I said, “I don’t remember reading when I was little, like, the actual doing of it. But I must’ve done this all the time, just reading forever.” She said I had, of course. This is the person I used to be. It was good to find her again.

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