I’m starting off the new year and this blog with something relatively simple: my 2017 reading goals.
I love goals. I love lists, spreadsheets, plans, tasks I can cross off, metrics I can measure my success against. It’s the way my brain works. Reading goals aren’t for everyone. Maybe you’re the kind of person who feels trapped and pressured by the idea of reading goals, as if you’re giving yourself an ultimatum. For me, setting goals feels more like getting myself ready for a long, beautiful climb up a beloved mountain. Setting goals, and then monitoring my progress toward those goals, is part of the joy of reading.
In 2016 I started tracking my reading on a spreadsheet because I wanted to be able to see what I was reading. This year, thanks to a little formula magic inspired by this blog post, I can analyze the data throughout the year, measuring my progress against my goals, and it is going to make everything so much more fun.
1. Read Without Guilt
Last December, I pulled myself out of a bad reading slump by reading a whole lot of space opera, romance, YA, and mysteries. I read over a hundred books last year, but between September and November, I only read four. Because of various things going on in my personal life, I could not get myself to read. I would pick up books and not be able to finish them. Nothing seemed to be able to hold my interest; I was too distracted and antsy. When I’m not reading, I’m not happy. This is just the way I’m built. I know this about myself, but sometimes, even knowing it, it’s hard to change my behavior.
Then, in December, I read twenty-nine books. Thanks to a whole lot of fun, light, entertaining-but-not-life-changing books, I leapt out of my reading slump like it never happened. Allowing myself to read purely for entertainment reminded me how much I love to read. I ended up reading some of my favorite books of the year in December (Homegoing and Guapa), which I doubt I would have gotten to if I hadn’t spent two weeks reading nothing but fluff.
So in 2017, one of my goals is to let go of all guilt associated with reading. I am just going to read, read, read. Some of what I read will be big and beautiful and meaningful. Some of it will be lighthearted fluff. I refuse to keep judging and censoring my own reading. I’ll analyze my reading and I’ll think critically about it. But I’m going to let myself read whatever I want to read. Whatever brings me joy.
2. Keep a Reading Journal
I read a lot of books and I read fast. Sometimes I try to slow myself down but it never works. Even though I keep a record of what I read, I often find that soon after I’ve read a book, the details blur and disappear. I’ve been wanting to keep a reading journal for years, so I’m making a goal to actually do it in 2017. I want to write something about every book that moves me or challenges me or means something to me, right after I finish it.
3. Always Nonfiction
When faced with a choice between fiction and nonfiction, I will always, always, always choose fiction. I love fiction more than just about anything else on this planet. I like reading nonfiction, too, but if I have to choose, nonfiction never wins. Last year, about 20% of books I read were nonfiction. For me, this is an enormous percentage. It’s because of a small, miraculous change I made in how I read: reading more than one book at a time! As long as I’ve got a novel going at the same time, I’ll happily read nonfiction, and sometimes I’ll even choose to read nonfiction over the novel I’m reading. Allowing myself to read several novels during the (usually much longer) time it takes me to read a nonfiction book has been so liberating. My goal for 2017 is to always have a nonfiction book going, no matter what else I’m reading.
4. Booking Buying with a Conscience
I have a limited budget and can’t afford to buy that many books. Last year, over half of the books I read came from the library. Libraries are my favorite thing about civilization. But I love books, and sometimes I can’t resist buying them. Last year I bought somewhere around thirty books that I then read. The rest of what I read I either borrowed or already had on my shelves.
I’m not going to stop buying books, but I’m not going to buy that many, and so I want to think carefully about what books I buy. I already buy all of my books from independent bookstores (and the library book sale, obviously) because bookstores are fabulous magical places and I want them to last. Beyond that, I buy books either because I love them desperately and feel compelled to own them, or because I’ve heard good things about them. These are great reasons to buy books. But as someone who’s hoping to publish a book one day, I’m starting to think a lot more about how important it is to keep supporting authors, as directly as I can, with my money. I want to use my limited budget where it’s going to be most useful. I’m going to try waiting it out for bestsellers at the library, and buy more of the books I love that no one has ever heard of.
5. Everyone Writes Great Books
I don’t have specific goals about reading books written by diverse voices. Everyone writes great books. I want to read all the great books. I keep a reading spreadsheet so that I can analyze what I’m reading throughout the year. At the end of the year, I want my data to be a big beautiful mess of humans. I want my spreadsheet to be full of queer and trans authors, authors of color, authors from all over the world, young authors, authors who have been writing books for decades. I want my spreadsheet to reflect all of the people and ideas and stories that inhabit this world. Immigrants write great books. Women and men and genderqueer people write great books. White people write great books. People of all faiths write great books. People who disagree with me write great books. I want to read all the great books.
I want my spreadsheet to reflect the astounding variety of great books that get written, every year, by humans—not just the books the US publishing industry deems noteworthy and successful.
6. Read Harder Challenges
They’ve been around since 2015, but I only just discovered them, so this year I’ve decided to tackle the 2015, 2016 and 2017 challenges all at once. There are lots of reading challenges out there, but these are especially appealing to me because the tasks are a great mix of books I’d be reading anyway and books I never would have picked up without a little nudge from a welcoming checklist. You can check out the Read Harder tasks on this spreadsheet, and add your own recommendations for books that fit the task!
7. Read More Books Published Before 1900
Last year, out of the 112 books I read, only twenty of them were published before 2000, and only one of those (the Constitution of the United States) was published before 1900. I like contemporary fiction. Most of what I read is contemporary fiction. I’m going to keep reading contemporary fiction. I’m not going to set lofty goals about how many older books I want to read this year. I’m not going to go on a rant about how important it is to read the “classics” and how reading old books will make me smarter and blah blah blah.
But here’s the thing. Humans have been around for a while now. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written somewhere around four thousand years ago. Four thousand years ago! Sure, it’s hardly a blip as far as the universe is concerned, but when we’re talking human history, four thousand years is a long time. I can’t conceive of what it was like to be a human four thousand years ago. I can’t imagine what it will be like to be a human four thousand years from now (if we manage to last that long). But by some miracle, we have this bit of poetry, this story written by a human who was living on the planet back then, that has survived, that we can read. It’s astounding. I want to read more books written a long, long time ago simply because it is miraculous to me that I can. Because there is something deeply humbling in the experience of being moved by words that have survived so many generations. Because it is comforting and strange that we have been struggling with this business of being human—and writing about it—for a long time.
Here’s to a 2017 full of beautiful books!