Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of New Year’s resolutions, from the classic “Lose 20 pounds” to “Go completely vegetarian” to “Be happy and content with who I am.” But the only ones I’ve ever completed were reading resolutions. In December 2013 I resolved to read 52 books in 2014, and by god, I did it. That sense of accomplishment propelled me to read more ambitiously and fearlessly in 2015, so I set a higher number goal.
As this year draws to a close, I organize for the new year and realize I want to read with more intention. I want to read with more purpose and intent. Today, I’m really excited to share with you my process for how to set reading resolutions for the new year. Grab a pen and paper, make yourself a cup of piping hot tea, and put on some relaxing music. Let’s brainstorm big.
When I think about resolutions, I think about myself a year from today and wonder about the person I’ll have become having lived another year. What will I have learned? How will I have changed in a positive way? How will I have overcome challenges? What new places will I have seen? What accomplishments will I have made? How will I have become more enlightened? (And let’s not forget: What new fandoms will I have joined?)
In a blog post about New Year’s resolutions, YA author Heather Demetrios wrote that she stopped making individual resolutions and instead thinks about the year ahead in one word, a theme like “perspective.” I want to apply that theory to reading resolutions for the year to come, so this model I’m showing you will be based on the one-word theme for your best reading year yet. Consider words like: Enlightenment. Understanding. Expertise. Accomplishment. Many of our reading goals (e.g. read 100 books, read more diverse books, familiarize myself with an author or genre, etc) fall under these big “Wow” words. Below, I go through these four theme words and offer concrete, realistic, and challenging reading resolutions for each of them. As you form your reading resolutions for the new year, focus on one theme for the year or cherry pick resolutions from each one. Let’s get started.
Enlightenment — the reader who seeks to know more about the world
This reader wants to learn about the world with more depth. She wishes to travel to other countries, visit different periods in history, understand socioeconomic issues, and feel better versed in the domestic and global problems as a citizen of this planet—and do it all through the pages of a book. She wants to get a better grasp on science and religion both and be exposed to arts and animals of other cultures. I call this person an intellectually curious reader. (Also the reader who would have majored in all the humanity fields if she could.)
Does this sound like you? I definitely feel this way. I am making a conscious effort to read more nonfiction over the coming year. I have that thirst to learn more of the world through literature and books. Fiction will always be my first love, but I feel a first for facts.
Here are two reading resolutions for the Enlightenment reader:
- Pursue the annals of history that you never got a chance to study in school. One way to do this is to focus on one country (i.e. Japan, Russia, Nigeria) or one era (i.e. the Middle Ages, the Crusades, Colonial America) or one war (American Revolutionary War, World War II, the Boer War) or one revolution (i.e. Russian, Industrial, Civil Rights) and read 3-5 books to hear from different perspectives.
- Pursue reading experiences that challenge you to shake up your beliefs by confronting gritty issues of modern society. My mother loves these kinds of books—one year she read many books that had to do with crime, inequality, and large socioeconomic issues like poverty and drugs. Reading books that are intellectually and ethically provocative help you grow and evolve as a socially conscious and informed citizen of the world.
Understanding — the reader who seeks to gain perspective on other cultures and identities
The “Understanding” reader wishes to understand the world by reading about the lives of those who have a different cultural perspective or identity. In other words, this reader constantly makes it his goal to read more “diverse” writing. He makes a conscious effort to immerse himself in writing that reflects many different experiences and backgrounds.
Sound like you? I have made diversity a goal of mine for a while now, and my colleagues at Book Riot make a big effort to highlight diverse writers. Maybe you want to really get down to it this year and commit to making diversity your MO for the next 12 months. If so, here are two different ways you could set reading resolutions that help you understand other people’s experiences better.
- See the world beyond your country through another person’s eyes. I love memoirs that talk about life in another country. One of my favorites is by “Climbing the Mango Tree: A Memoir of Childhood in India” by Madhur Jaffrey, a chef known for beautiful cookbooks like her latest, “Vegetarian India: A Journey through the Best of Indian Home Cooking.” This amazing list of “10 Travel Memoirs by Novelists of Color” should give you plenty of reading material for looking at the world through others’ eyes.
- Read a book that is by a person who is differently abled (“disabled”) or which features disability in a prominent way. I include disability here because in my mind it is one of the most overlooked and underrepresented perspectives that fall under the term “diverse.” That’s why one reading resolution could be to immerse yourself in the shoes of someone who has physical or mental limitations. Here is a good list of 10 books about disabilities for adults.
Expertise — the reader who seeks to immerse herself in specific book niches
This is for the reader who wants to fully understand a new genre or type of literature all at once and do it fast. She wants to get all the references and feel like she can go her own with a bunch of fantasy nerds at the next D & D game night. For her, 2016 is all about mastering that knowledge fast.
This is definitely me at times. I love zeroing in on a genre or subgenre and making it my pet project. Also, I love adopting new fandoms and tend to binge on new canons. With a nod to one of the reading resolutions above, I have made “YA contemporary romance featuring disability, chronic illness, and mental illness” my sub-subgenre niche over the last few years. Admittedly, I’m getting really nerdy about it. But anyway, it’s definitely enticing to become an expert in a topic of literature. For this reader whose guiding theme word is “Expertise,” here are two suggested reading resolutions.
- A reading resolution for a broader genre could be to read your way through 25% of a list of “best of” in your genre. For example, Paste Magazine’s list of the 30 best horror novels; NPR’s top 100 reader-voted favorites in science fiction and fantasy; and Flavorwire’s essential mystery novels list. Reading 25% of each list gets you closer towards understanding which novels truly are essential ones to know within the genre. For more lists, just Google, “best __genre__ novels” or “list of essential __genre__ novels.”
- To get up-to-speed fast with what’s going on in a genre, check out the major awards for the genre and read your way through the last few years. If you Google, “list of awards in __genre__” you’ll find the premiere genre awards. For example, for mysteries the main award is the Edgar Award, which encompasses many categories. You could go 5 or 10 years back and read the winner and/or nominees. This is a great technique for getting caught up with what works and authors are at the forefront of the genre at the moment.
Accomplishment — the reader who seeks to grow as a reader through ambition and motivation
The reader who sets her reading aspirations by “accomplishment” is one who continually tops herself with how many books she wants to read. No book is too long, no book is too “difficult,” and no challenge is too daunting—she is a super reader of another breed of superhero.
Sound like you? When I’m motivated, my reading ambitions are the first thing to get added to my New Year’s resolutions list. I love feeling accomplished, and who wouldn’t? Here are two ways to set your reading resolutions in the new year if you fall under the “Accomplishment” theme.
- Read a “challenging” or difficult book. These are what I call “brag books,” the books you brag to other people about reading. Dropping in a quiet reference to some obscure plot twist in House of Leaves? Or dangling out “yes but do we have books in common?” bait to your date when you casually refer to something in Finnegan’s Wake. Yeah, I’ve been there, and I must admit I totally love those kind of trophy reads. Here’s a list of “50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers” by Flavorwire. Try to pick a few off that list for your list of resolutions, dear Reading Accomplishment Avenger.
- Read a set number of books for the year. Okay, I know that sounds really obvious, but see if you can take what you read last year and push it up 15 or 20 or…wait, you just took this year’s goal and added 50 to it, didn’t you? If you’re panicking about what number, do not just pick whatever your friends chose. I tried that and it wasn’t pretty. Strategize based on what you have managed so far and inch it up incrementally, promising yourself you’ll never go below the lowest number you’ve read.