New Year, New Reads

It’s that time of year when readers everywhere reflect on their reading goals from the past year, decide what worked and what didn’t work, and rethink the way they’ll choose to approach their reading lives in the next 12 months.

Looking back on last year’s reading, I really accomplished more than I imagined I would. I set a reading goal for, I think, around 40 books for the year, and I managed to hit that goal less than halfway through the year. So I did what many Goodreads bookworms do with a lot of time left for reading: I adjusted my reading goal and set it to 100. And you know what? I made it. And not only that, I surpassed it by 17 books. I never imagined that I would read so much in just one year.

So clearly, some things worked for me this last year and some things didn’t. Reflecting on these things, I’ve decided to make a few tweaks to the way I’m choosing to approach my reading life this year.

What Didn’t Work

  1. Setting a numbered reading goal.  Setting a numbered reading goal did help me to push through those times that I started getting too comfortable with doing nothing and needed a push to get going with a book again. But it also put more pressure on me to hit that goal, which meant that any time I looked at a big, sweeping historical novel that I wanted to read, I pushed it aside for later. Bigger books mean more time, and time is of the essence when we’re trying to meet a goal! I hate how my mind thought that way, and so instead of setting a goal for books to read this year, I’m going to try to set a page number goal instead. This way, every page has value, and I shouldn’t feel bad if I spend my entire year reading 30-40 books, especially when they’re big ones!
  2. Planning out my TBR pile.  If I’ve discovered anything about myself this year, it’s that I’m a mood reader, through and through. One time this year, I tried to plan out my TBR pile – what I hoped that I would read in that one month. Within the first few days, I had already diverged from the plan and picked up an entirely different book somewhere else on my shelf that was not in that planned TBR pile. After that, each book I picked up next seemed to depend entirely on which way the wind was blowing for me that day. Planning out my reading each month, much less each year like some do, is ridiculous. It just doesn’t work for me, and I’m not going to try to force it. I enjoy reading best when I’m reading something I feel like reading in that moment. Why try to change something that brings so much happiness?
  3. Participating in long-term (and fairly specific) reading challenges.  These hit me the same way planning out my reading does. I have the best intentions, the best, I promise. But if the mood hits or time demands I spend it differently, I’m not going to force it in a different direction. I might be able to participate in a long-term reading challenge here and there – and I won’t be consistent or as reliable as some – but ultimately, committing to something and sticking with it is just difficult, especially when much of my reading time is determined by grad school. Maybe when I graduate and have more time to devote to reading challenges, I’ll be more successful.
  4. Sticking to what I’m comfortable with.  I love to read what I enjoy most, and a lot of the time, that equates to fiction (historical fiction, fiction with magical elements, fantasy, mystery, and so forth). But if I only read what I’m most comfortable with, I miss out on being intentional about diversifying my reading. Sticking to what I know and what I’m comfortable with doesn’t help me expand my reading. That being said, I did expand my reading a lot this last year in comparison to the previous year. I was intentional about expanding my perspective and making sure I was in a position to not only be aware of books that were written by different perspectives than my own (in other words, less white men, and less white people in general), but to also pick them up, crack them open, and dive in. But this type of work is never over, and I can always do better. I would say that the previous year (2017) was a year in which I mostly stuck to what I was comfortable with. This year, I expanded my reading, and the definition of “what I’m comfortable with” has changed the more that reading has expanded. I’m comfortable with, and am hungry for, so much more now than I was a year ago. I want to read about tough topics and be challenged by others’ perspectives that are outside of my own personal experiences. And I’m glad I laid the groundwork for this type of reading last year, but I can always do better, and I know my reading life will always be richer for it.

What Worked

  1. Setting a numbered reading goal.  Wait, I just talked about how setting a numbered reading goal didn’t work for me! But let me explain. While this may seem silly, and I agree that numbers truly aren’t everything, setting a numbered reading goal did help push me to keep reading, even when I had moments of just not wanting to (especially after finishing a semester of grad school!). Don’t get me wrong, if I felt like sitting around doing nothing but watching Netflix for a few hours at a time, I did it. I didn’t deny myself my “recharge time” in the way that I chose to recharge. But because of that reading goal, there was a point where I had to stop that Netflix binge before it spiraled out of control, refocus, and pick out that next book to read.
  2. Taking part in the #bookstagram Instagram community.  As a junior high teacher, I witness the effects of growing up with technology (and being completely immersed in it) every single day when I see my students. So many of them are literally addicted to their technology, most especially their phones. And their obsessions have cost them in other areas: they struggle to hold real, meaningful conversations; they’re less empathetic; rarely do they see a world beyond themselves. I speak of the majority, but there are students that give me hope for the future, the ones who can make eye contact and hold a meaningful conversation with their peers and adults alike, who empathize with those different than them and who want to change the world in a way that is better for everyone and not just themselves. I see this light on Instagram through the #bookstagram community: a group of people coming together around a shared interest and a desire to learn from one another and from what they’re reading. So while I, like my own junior high students, have spent a significant amount of time on social media this last year, most of it was intentional and meaningful – it made my life mostly richer, not poorer.
  3. Used, local bookstores. I have a few favorite used bookstores where I live, and these change the game when it comes to acquiring books and especially stumbling upon really great books that are no longer newly published but are worth a read. While they might not be the newest, shiniest books that the book community is talking about right now, I’ve found some really lovely gems that I never would’ve picked up otherwise. And better yet, I get to talk about them afterwards and help others rediscover it for themselves.
  4. The Libby app. My local library is a bit disappointing, if I’m being honest. You would think that living in Bentonville, in Benton County, Arkansas, home of Wal-Mart, our library would be fairly representative of the somewhat large population it serves. But it feels a bit more like a small town library. It’s like it hasn’t grown with the area around it. Sure, they have a ton of classes and programs for kids (and if a library wants to stick around, it has to invest in its children), but in doing so, it seems to forget about the adults. Waitlists for new audiobooks are especially long, and many audiobooks I want to listen to are often not available (I’ve put in requests, but they’re usually denied). So while my local library is a bit disappointing, I am happy that I do have access to their audiobooks through the Libby app. I didn’t used to listen to audiobooks, but I got going using the Libby app a lot more this year, and it really was a game changer for my reading life, especially helping me to get to those nonfiction books that I usually struggle to read on paper.

New Year, New Reads

Moving into this next year, I want to keep these reflections at the forefront of my mind so my 2019 reading life can be better than the year before. The new year will bring with it so many new books that have yet to be published, backlisted books that I’ve yet to discover or that lie in wait on my shelves, and I’m sure many more new-to-me books that I didn’t have time to get to last year or years previous but that will make their debut this year, finally.

In the meantime, I’m off to read. See you on the other side of the page, readers!


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