2021 Resolutions, reading and otherwise

It’s the reading resolutions we’re all always so interested in, isn’t it? Which is fair enough, and I have a few of those. They tie into a more general purpose for 2021, though, which can be boiled down to: be more intentional. Spend my time more intentionally. Cook, eat, maintain contact with friends, choose and read books, write my own work, develop my career, with a certain level of intentionality, which 2020 seemed to steal from me. I don’t want to drift, and I don’t want to run my engine frantically in place. I want to make choices.

With that in mind, my reading choices this year will be aligned along the following axes:

  1. Read better. Not more, exactly. I already know how many books I can read in a year while maintaining full-time employment; I top out at around 200 and I’m perfectly happy with that. What I’d like to do is cut down even more on the number of books I read out of a sense that they might be professionally useful to me, or otherwise out of un-joyful obligation. (Sometimes obligations are joyful!) I pick up so many titles because I imagine that many of my clients might enjoy a book but want to do some quality control first. It’s not a bad impulse, but it means I spend more of my reading time than I would like following other people’s whims, instead of my own deepest interests. Since I’m not paid for the time I spend reading, this imbalance seems worth addressing.
  2. Find more older books to enjoy. Everything you could describe as “a classic” that I read in 2020–including but not limited to Shirley, The Lonely Londoners, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, My Antonia, East Lynne–I enjoyed immensely. (Actually, not quite: I didn’t love Crime and Punishment or The Aeneid. Still worth it, though, just.) Most of the books I read that were mid-to recent-backlist were also excellent: Zami, A View of the Empire at Sunset, The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Air, and The Fifth Season, among many, many others, made big impressions. There’s so much I’m still missing.
  3. Chill the fuck out about the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I’m starting to wonder if I should stop even participating in this, since all it does is engage my competitive perfectionist side. This year I’ve deliberately set my target unprecedentedly low (75 books), so as to feel better when I overachieve. We’ll see if that psychological approach actually works or not. I spent a good fifteen minutes this evening angsting over the need to choose my next read quickly so my stats don’t drop, so I’m inclined to be pessimistic on this one, but I think choosing what to read next will always be fraught.
  4. Keep actively seeking out authors of colour and queer authors. Durrr. I might try and work a few more translations in here, and it’d be good to seek out and support more nonbinary writers, too.

21 thoughts on “2021 Resolutions, reading and otherwise

  1. I have some similar goals (and am overdue for this kind of post). And agree on C&P. Glad I read it, kinda meh. Still reading more Dostoyevsky this year though!

    Getting off the Goodreads train is one of the best things I ever did!

    1. I’m so intrigued to hear this. A part of me is like “but hoooowww will I track my reading?!” and another part of me knows that I kept a book log long before I joined Goodreads, and have maintained that alongside Goodreads, so actually it would make zero difference. Feels like a big step, though, somehow.

      I’d quite like to read more Dostoevsky too. Maybe Devils? What are you going to go for?

    1. All excellent. African writers in particular I would like to pay more attention to, within the more general framework of “more authors of colour”. It feels a lot easier to pat oneself on the back for picking up Tayari Jones than it does to actively seek out authors of colour who aren’t Anglo-American and who have likely received smaller print runs.

  2. What if you just skimmed proofs of those buzzy new books you feel you should know about? You could even set up an exclusive Goodreads shelf called “sampled for work” or suchlike so that they wouldn’t count towards your reading total for the year. Just reading the first and/or last chapters and glancing at the writing style in between would be enough to give you a good sense of quality and readalikes so you can make recommendations. Then you could feel that everything you read cover to cover is something you choose for yourself, for pleasure and/or education.

    Goodreads is already telling me I’m 8 books behind, but I know it’ll all balance out as the year goes on. My BIPOC ratio last year was nearly 15% and my lit in translation percent only 6.6, so I’d like to improve those figures. I find it strangely difficult; I’d hoped I would simply read more diversely incidentally, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The keys for me will be better record-keeping and more use of libraries.

    It’s all too easy to drift through life. I spent much of my twenties in that way, and recently I’ve lost a feeling of agency. It’s like all my previous choices have set me on a path and now I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get off it. You’ve got so many possibilities ahead of you and you have the smarts and confidence to get what you want. I hope it will be a great year for you! I’ll be cheering you along.

    1. That’s an idea. It frustrates me to do reading that doesn’t “count”, but then skimming that stuff often takes barely any time, and quality + readalikes is exactly what I’m looking for.

      I’ve certainly had to pay close attention to the diversity of my reading in order to maintain and improve it. I did two big book orders back in the summer which really helped, and following hashtags like Diverse December and #decolonizebooks helps, too. I’m forever making lists of classic BIPOC authors I need to read—it appeals to that side of me too!

      Honestly, I’m terrified about the direction my career is taking (or not taking), and so much of it is out of my hands. All I can do is try.

    1. I’ll comb through your best-of list and make a note of some translated titles! A colleague of mine loves Charco Press and I obviously need to check them out, bc said colleague’s tastes are impeccable.

      1. I have Dead Girls by Selva Almada from Charco but have yet to read. I discovered Fleur Jaeggy this year and am really interested to read more of her work.

  3. I’m also finding the Goodreads book counter unhelpfully stressful, so I’ve also set a low goal this year. Like you, I was perfectly capable of counting my books before I joined GR, so I don’t really need to know that it thinks I’m 3 books behind.

    I would LOVE to hear your thoughts about The Testament of Jessie Lamb. I thought it was flawed in many ways but it got to me so deeply that I’ve read it twice and written two different blog posts about it, so…

    1. I feel DEEPLY conflicted about Jessie Lamb. I think Rogers is very successful in showing us both the rightness of her point and the absolute wrongness of her reasoning: her bodily autonomy is being used to make a point, but it’s also a brutal waste of her potential, and I think it’s extremely reflective of many teenagers who can see the value of their deaths more clearly than the value of their lives. I seem to recall thinking some of the execution was inelegant, though not the details. I’ll have a look at your posts again—I remember reading them the first time!

  4. I feel the same about the Goodreads Challenge – I dropped it las t year, and deleted all my data, leaving just the books I had reviewed on my blog. I have a similar goal of trying to read better. Have a great 2021, Elle! 🙂

  5. I think greater intentionality and choice is such a great goal. 2020 really showed me that relationships require intentional connection and made me think about where I want to put that energy. And I’m impressed that you can read 200 books while working full-time! I’ve always found reading book reviews helpful when it comes to working at a bookstore and recommending books. That way I felt like I knew something about the books I was recommending but I wasn’t spending my reading time on stuff I didn’t want to.

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