Posted by Anna Schaeffer
During my senior year of high school in 2016, I began to wrestle with some of the beliefs and worldviews surrounding me. Right before the winter break of that year, a teacher I greatly respect made an offhand comment about how much you could improve yourself by reading one book every week. I decided then to see what books held in store for me: to learn from others who’d walked through life before me, to examine life through an unfamiliar perspective, to process my thoughts in parallel with much more brilliant and thoughtful minds than mine.
Two years later, almost exactly, I look back and see that this may have launched the most formative practice of my life. The goal is no longer a book a week for one year, or two, but for as long as I can read.
I wanted a digital system to track books as well as my reflections, so I (with minimal to no understanding of web design) decided on the Blogging for Idiots™️ option: an Instagram account. I called it “anotherweekanotherbook” and made it private, so only I could see it.
My first book was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. I photographed the title page, wrote two or three sentences of summary, and posted it. That was January 1 of 2017; this coming January 2019, I’ll post my 115th reflection (I’m a few ahead of schedule thanks to some excellent recommendations by friends) on a now-public account. Each post is captioned with a paragraph of summary and reflections and accompanied by a picture of something in my life—a skyline, a plant, a memory—that represents a personal connection to the book.
I found over time that the books not only helped me better process my own life, but began to guide me as well. At the close of C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces (after equally influential reads of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qareshi and Denver Moore and Ron Hall’s Same Kind of Different as Me), I sat down and rededicated my life to my faith.
My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid told of the pain of loving someone dying of HIV/AIDS. The Bluest Eye and God Help the Child by Toni Morrison showed me the power and beauty of bold writing. A friend’s gift of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar with a handwritten note inside helped me walk with her through a time of severe mental illness. Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof catalyzed my interest in nonfiction writing or journalism for the sake of justice.
I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy about an unjust American system of justice and the fight against death row; within the week, I purchased a plane ticket to Montgomery, Alabama for the grand opening of the museum and lynching memorial built by his organization, Equal Justice Initiative.
Some books have altered the trajectory of my life substantially, like when I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, an analysis of systematic racism in the US judicial system, and declared a minor in Criminology. Others affected unexpected areas of my life; Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer was the impetus for becoming a vegetarian.
One of the greatest results of Another Week, Another Book is the community that has sprung up around me. Dear friends and strangers alike offer to lend or give books, and two publishing companies have sent me free copies to review. The value of this experience is not limited to the words on the pages. My reading has sparked dialogues I never would’ve expected, plunging deep beneath the surface level to the vulnerable place where truth finds an anchor.
I am a different person than who I was before the first book that marked the genesis of this journey two years ago. However, it is a change that has gradually evolved, a change built by every book; letter by letter, page by page.
I am thankful for authors and the voices within their books, whether brave interviewees or fictional characters, and the honesty with which they share personal experience. My hope is that by reading, and reading, and reading, I will be able to love the people around me better and live a life that helps point the trajectory of our world towards justice and peace.
My other hope is that you’ll share your book recommendations with me!