Without much deliberate planning, I reached the first-quarter mark of my reading challenge right around the time I reached the arbitrary designation of the end of the first quarter of my life (because we all will end up centenarians, right?). When Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was first published a little over a decade ago (September 2004) I was firmly in the middle of my Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings kick and earnestly tried to read it. I had to stop after about twenty pages in. There were many more false starts over the next ten years. But in light of the book becoming a BBC series (which I am already about a week behind on) and taking on the task of finishing 100 books this year, I was determined that this year I would finish it.
This time, it was a far more approachable book. Somehow, I finally reached the right time in my life to appreciate the 700+ page period novel with a smattering of magic, and had obtained the depth of knowledge to really understand and appreciate Clarke’s many references and the commentary and window into the past she was providing with the way she shaped her story. In the middle of many feelings of disappointment about the place I have reached in my life (and what might be turning into a minor quarter-life crisis), I felt a moment of accomplishment—one of my remaining childhood reading goals finally met on the way to completing really the only quantifiable goal I set for myself this year. Reading about the fall of a man who tried to shape a section of the world to suit his will seemed apt, and made me think about how little control we every really have about life.
Having only read about a quarter of the books I need to with the summer solstice already almost here has brought into sharp relief how much my reading habits have changed. I used to read a minimum of 300 books each year as part of summer reading—I’m pretty sure I single-handedly kept some texts in circulation at the Scranton Memorial Library (what can I say, summer reading was a competitive sport in my book). However, I cannot remember the last time I entered the town library before this year.
When I was in middle school, I never imagined a time when that place wouldn’t be a cornerstone of my routine. But our middle school selves rarely have any idea about what will really happen in the future. Neither do our high school selves; even at eighteen, twenty-five seems worlds away. Until suddenly, we’ve arrived. And the reality both is and isn’t exactly what we expected. My dream was always some combination of being in some far away city reading, writing, and teaching, working part-time as a diplomat, and returning to my remote ranch when I wanted to see my family in the U.S. These are all dreams deferred, to say the least. Instead, I find myself spinning my wheels a little bit while I am trying to take my next steps forward. It is not a condition confined to my experience; life is harder than it was supposed to be. Being part of a generation that was supposed to have everything set up, and have the finances and the freedom to utilize our intellect and ambitions to the fullest potential, many of us are still muddling forward trying to push against the mounting problems that come with corrupt and disinterested-in-the-future governments, corporations, and world-financiers. It was supposed to be our world for the taking, changing, and shaping; it very clearly is not that. It’s a very hard pill to swallow for someone who has always been more driven, ambitious, and in control of life to not have the next ten years planned clearly, to have to step back and surf the wave.
But that is the lesson to be taken from both the quarter-way goal, and hitting the quarter-life mark in life: sometimes one can do their best to control the tide but have no choice but to just keep paddling and ride out the storm to its end. Life is unpredictable, wily, and completely out of anyone’s control, no matter what we might tell ourselves. Milestones will come and go, and be exactly what one makes of them. I don’t know what comes next, I don’t know if I can give an accurate picture of what the next twenty-five years should bring or if I shouldn’t even try. I’m sure I cannot, so I might as well just enjoy the waves and keep swimming slowly but surely towards shore.