I am not a big fan of sweeping New Year’s resolutions — for reading, or for anything else. I can be very goal-oriented, but I prefer to focus on flexible goals I can easily incorporate into my life, that I can revisit and change or meet with a degree of ease and move on from.
New Year’s resolutions tend to be quantitive and concrete. Lose a certain amount of weight, earn or save a certain amount of money, make a big purchase, or read a certain amount of books. Most New Year’s resolutions also fail.
I prefer goals that are kinder, and more realistic — more like intentions. Instead of focusing on reading four books a month, for example, you might want to focus on reading more broadly. That might mean opening up to new genres, new authors, new time periods, or new formats. Or you might want to be a more mindful book consumer. Or you might seek ways to make reading more central to your life.
The beauty of intentions is that they’re flexible and less limited. I love to get immersed in a sweeping, long, heavy tome of a book and I don’t want to feel like I am endangering some arbitrary goal I’ve set for myself by really allowing myself to savor that kind of work. I sometimes overcommit and need to prioritize one thing over another. I want intentions and goals I can come back to, that I won’t sabotage with a little neglect.
Here are some examples I’ve tried or am planning to. I tried to focus on goals you can reach and move on to the next one from, or that you can start and walk away from during a busy season and come back to, or that you might be able to incorporate into your reading life well beyond 2023.
Read Something You’ve Always Meant To Read
There is a certain satisfaction in finishing a long, well-loved classic. In the case of something like Swann’s Way, it’s like you’re finally in on something. You might have always had an idea of what the madeleine meant, but after making your way through the book, you finally really know. This year, I finally read Middlemarch and understood why it’s a book that has stood the test of time. I loved spending a good portion of my winter with Dorothea and in that English town, and I felt accomplished when I closed the back cover of something that has sat at the bottom of my TBR pile for years.
Put Down Something You’ve Always Meant to Read
Perhaps equally as satisfying is putting down the book you just can’t seem to get through. I am too embarrassed to count the number of times I attempted to read Infinite Jest. For years, I would pick up that book and, once again, try to get through that wretched first chapter. I never got beyond it. It was freeing to finally donate that heavy volume and free up space on my bookshelf. Life is short. I’d rather read books that I love.
Become an Expert
And when I love something, I don’t want to let it go. If you find an author you love, a worthy goal is to read through all of their books chronologically. I did this with Octavia Butler’s books two years ago and it was amazing to see how her work and her worldview progressed and changed over the course of her writing career. I was sad to finish Fledgling, Butler’s last novel, knowing I had come to the end. For some especially prolific authors, this could be a much longer-term reading resolution.
Or maybe you’re interested in a topic or genre and want to do a deep, focused dive into that area, be it CliFi, stories from a particular area of the world, sweeping generational dramas, or stories told in fragments like Jenny Offill’s Weather or Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Find a library subject guide or a syllabus, or do some deep internet research and create your own reading guide, and take some time to become really well acquainted with something.
Be a Good Book Consumer
Amazon is convenient, but it hurts bookstores. An excellent reading resolution is to be aware of who you’re supporting. When you can, shop indie and local. Shop online at bookshop.org, which offers support to independent booksellers. When listening to audiobooks, try libro.fm, which also allows you to support a bookstore of your choice.
Supporting your local library either by patronizing in person or through the Libby app is also a money-saving way to be a good book-loving community member.
Reading can be a solitary act, but it’s more fun to build community around it. Joining a book club, be it online (might I suggest one) or IRL with friends, helps motivate you to make reading a regular habit. It also helps to expand your horizons. These past several months with FBC, I’ve read books I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of. And having a group with which to talk about them made me feel even more engaged with the texts.
Keep a Journal
No matter how much time I spend with a book and no matter how I might love it, several months later, it’s hard for me to remember exactly how I felt or what parts of it I loved most. I’ve made a habit out of writing a little bit about each book I’ve read so I can refer back to my impressions later. You might consider doing this the analog way, like I do, or keeping a personal or public blog where you record your thoughts. I find it helps me not only to remember what I read but to think a little more deeply about it, too.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to fall into reading habits, to just read the things that are popular at the time, to stick to the same authors, regions, time periods, or genres, but trying something new can be rewarding. I read Mad Honey last week, at the recommendation of a friend, knowing only that it was a suspenseful murder mystery. Not normally my speed, but I ended up recommending it to others.
I also started listening to audiobooks this year. It turns out that I love them and can’t believe I waited this long to try listening. Is there a format or genre or subject you’ve been resistant to trying? You might be surprised by what you find when you stretch your limits.
Resolve to Read Slowly
This intention is sort of the polar opposite of most people’s reading resolutions, but it is an intriguing one. The writer Yiyun Li, whose most recent work is The Book of Goose, describes herself as a “patient reader,” and instructs her students to be the same. Alternating between books and limiting herself to about 10 pages per day of each, Li says she is able to savor both the words on the page and the worlds they depict. I really love this idea of what seems like a more mindful reading practice.
To be completely honest, though, I am not a particularly patient person, especially when it comes to finding out how the plot of a story I love unfolds. While I am not sure this is a reading resolution I can actually adhere to, it’s one I might give a try. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll move on to my next goal, which will be just as worthy.