Reading into the new year
My 2021 resolutions are a small and ambitious, but attainable. That last part is key; after a year like 2020 I have no desire whatsoever to punish myself (which is also why this post is coming mid-January and not the cool, crisp, exacting 1st of the year).
At the top of my list is what a lot of nerds like me aim for which is to read more. And in the spirit of good goals I had to ask myself: How much more? And by when? Here it is: I’d like to read a book a week, or 52 books in a year. Not such a novel goal, but if 2020 has taught me anything it is to appreciate and welcome experiences that feel familiar, right and even mundane.
But I have never done this before, so the sparkly newness of this ambition is also lighting up a dim entry to this year. In 2020, as might be understandable in a year of massive social upheaval, political division, and threat to public health, I read just a handful of books. As one author put it:
“Almost two months went by in which all I could read were tweets, the news and despairing emails from friends.” Megan Nolan, A Year of Reading Dangerously
The books I did read were not particularly chosen for intentional growth or even for intentional entertainment. I read what I found lying around, essentially – what my friends Jill and Rachel left behind after their January visit, their airport thrillers. A novel my grandmother was giving away. A few books chosen by book clubs at work.
On the same hand, my ideal way of going to bed each night is with a heavy blanket and a good book — and I have so many interests to explore!—so why aren’t I living that life?
I have had a decent excuse: My beautiful, otherworldly children — worth any sacrifice. So it is mostly an observation, rather than a complaint, that since having kids my ambitious projects have morphed into punctuated versions of themselves. Books became articles. Sleep became naps. Creative exploration became doodles or wisps of a thought. But I can confidently say now that my kids are both sleeping through the night, entirely nappy-trained, and about to enter school that I can no longer blame them for my lack of doing things I love to do. In fact I would like to model these habits for my kids who are now of the age that they carefully take note of what I do (for better or worse!). If I can encourage them to be regular readers by reading more myself it is an undeniable win-win situation; I open up their worlds, and I open up mine.
Here’s how I’ll do it.
I’m giving up weekday TV.
As much as I appreciate keeping up with the amazing shows y’all are watching, and as much as a good evening cry with Call the Midwife got me through 2020, I want to explore my own mind. I want to quiet the scattershot electricity that buzzes through my brain. I want to focus more, and this is one quiet way to be both entertained and thoughtful. On the weekends, will I binge watch my favorite shows? I’m hoping not. I’ll forgive myself if I do, but I’d like to move toward movies which are so much less of a commitment while still inspiring, immersive stories that also allow me spend time with and connect with my partner.
I’m planning ahead.
I will try to plan my books out a month ahead of time at least (got a paper planner for doing just this). At minimum I will know at least what I’m reading next week. I love the idea of having a schedule for this because I can think ahead to important events that will be happening this year – my ten year wedding anniversary in May, for example, or September when we should have paid off our debt – and book those books in (excuse the pun) where I know they will be meaningful. I should note that most of the time I get my books from the library (one of the world’s best institutions that we frankly don’t deserve. You should use the library too, if you can!). This has the added benefit of forcing me to plan ahead since often the books I want have a wait list I need to sign up for weeks in advance.
I’m giving myself a deadline.
Sunday night, that’s my deadline for finishing each book. Although I appreciate a good bookend (so many good books puns) to the work week, I cannot choose a Friday because I know I am exhausted on Friday evenings. In fact, I am trialing my first week as I write this and three out of four night this week I’ve gone to bed with my kids between 8 and 9p.m., which doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading. Building in buffer at the weekend should buy me a few more hours and allow for those busier weeks where I can still prioritize my sleep.
I’ll review what I’ve read.
Not a Goodreads user, here. Maybe I’ll become one if I find a good reason? But I don’t want yet another distraction in my life. Yet another platform. I do however like keeping notes of what I’ve read and what I get from each pile of pages. This week as I’ve gotten up early each day to write (another annual resolution) I have naturally written down what I’ve learned from the books I am reading. I think this says a lot about what reading does for me, and though I hope the process goes a little faster in future weeks (so that I can write other things too), I do very much like the idea of sharing thoughts and reactions with a community of other readers. Even (and perhaps especially) if that community is small. I have already gotten so much out of one simple tweet about my second book of the year.
I won’t keep a grueling pace.
As I’ve mentioned above, reading is not something I wish to punish myself with. If a book a week is too ambitious I will alter my course to a book every other week, and if that is too much, then a book a month will suffice. It will still be better than what I managed to read last year. But as with most new things I’ll give this a try for a month and then reassess.
I’ll keep a list of recommendations.
I received a stack of wonderful books for Christmas that I would like to get through, but I also have a backlog of titles I’ve been collecting for years, even some recommended by my dad before he passed away in 2012. I also have a lot I want to learn about — native Florida gardening, homesteading and backyard chickens, the history I should have learned in school but didn’t, and yes, a few tech books. It seems daily someone has another interesting read to recommend. I’ll keep them all in a Todoist list and if it gets too difficult to decide which one to read next maybe I’ll put them all in a hat. This should make the planning part easier.
That’s it! Are you reading more this year, too? I would in fact love to know what you’re reading and what you’re getting from the pages. Let us book nerds unite and support each other in stepping away from the screens for a bit to explore some different worlds. My first book is The Simple Path to Wealth, which I will share some thoughts on soon.