Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ruminations on the Reading Resolution

Every year for the past ten years my New Years Resolutions have remained the same: take more pictures, gain 10 lbs (yes, you read that correctly), and be nicer to other people. The first resolution generally fails in part due to residual film hoarding compulsions of my youth – before these fancy schmancy digital cameras were invented. The second fails due to my ridiculously high metabolism and not having a comfort drive-thru food. The third is relative so I can’t comment on its definitive success or failure – I know I *try* (sometimes) but I also know that it’s an ongoing process.

This year, there’s been a lot of buzz around the bookstore and publishing communities about the Reading Resolution. I’m not certain whether this concept is revolutionary to this year or if I simply missed it in years past. I love this idea conceptually, but wonder if it wouldn’t yield the same results for me as annual resolutions one and three…While reading is something that I obviously enjoy doing and discussing, what would be a realistic way for me to take that passion and incorporate it into a reasonable goal? Let’s look at some variations on reading resolutions others have set:

• Reading a Classic
There are numerous books that fall into this category, that have somehow escaped my reading scope even though everybody else read it in high school or college and every book ever written references it. I’m concerned that this goal will make me stagnant in my reading endeavors. As possibly the most extreme example of this, my friend Becky has been trying to read Ulysses for the last three years. She makes headway for about 20 pages and then another book catches her eye. Then she finishes that one, decides to go back to Ulysses (which is her goal!) and makes slow, slow progress reading an average of a page per day for three weeks or not reading anything because she doesn’t feel like reading Joyce. I do not want this to happen to me. What I miss about school are the discussions in class, not the homework and falling behind on things I *should* be doing.
All that said, I do need to read the following: Emma, Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Moby Dick, Madame Bovary, Ulysses (yes, it’s there, I’m gonna do it…some day), Infinite Jest, The Corrections, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Lord of the Flies, Lolita, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter (at least the first one); anything by Kerouac, Thompson, and Kesey, and so many others. One of the curses of working in a bookstore is that your “To Read” list seems to grow by two with every one read, and then that number triples while you’re shelving.

•Reading More
There are two ways one can read “More”.
-The first: reading faster. I have always been a slow reader. I love reading and I’m pretty good at it and with words in general, I just take my time with it. I read at approximately the same speed as I would if I were reading aloud—my own book-on-tape narrating in my head every time I crack the cover. While I often do say that I wish I read faster so I could read more, I’m not sure that this is 100% true. Whenever someone suggests learning how to speed read, a small part of my stomach twitches because I’m doubtful that I’d get the same enjoyment reading truly good description if I didn’t let it sink in; I wouldn’t experience things along with the character.
-The second: devoting more time to reading. This is a noble goal. For me, and I’m sure for many others, sadly, more difficult than I’m willing to admit. I leave work late-ish, get home in time to eat dinner (not always in time to help make it) and then there’s about an hour or two that I have free time before I get sleepy around 10pm. Sometimes I spend this time reading – put pjs on early, get into bed around 8:30 and read until I pass out. Those nights are nice. Sometimes I spend that time playing scrabble or watching a documentary with my fiancĂ©, and rarely I venture out into the “real world” and socialize with other people. Then there are nights where grocery shopping and laundry need to happen – both of which take up a chunk of that free time. I mostly read on the bus, when I’m home alone, in a waiting room, and on the rare occasion I find myself taking time off from work to visit parents/grandma, in an airport and on planes. In my case, devoting more time to reading would largely mean playing hooky – great for me and reading, less great for my boss.

• Turning it into math: Reading for X amount every Y period of time
This is a step-by-step variation on the “Reading More” goal for people who enjoy rules and mini-goals. It would instantly set me up for failure. It also harkens back to my “homework” comment and would be less encouraging for me to “reach my full reading potential” because I’ll either be concentrating on the clock or the page numbers and thus draw my focus from the book.

• Reading Differently
By “differently” I mean branching out of your reading comfort zones. I’m primarily a literary fiction reader who dabbles in psychology/sociology and history books when I feel like I haven’t learned anything for a while. For me, this would largely mean reading Science Fiction, Fantasy, Spirituality, and Science books. I like this goal, but would I measure it? Would I have to read one “other” book for every literary fiction book I read? Or would I set a goal for a number of “other” books I read in a year? This also has the possibility of rendering me a stagnant reader, as the Classics section explains.

• Writing
Writing and reading are strongly related. I am currently in the middle of Pam Houston’s book Contents May Have Shifted (out in February!) and, as any good book will, it’s making me miss my college writing classes a lot. Reading like a writer and writing like a reader both add perspectives to each other that can change the reading/writing experience remarkably. Writing is definitely something I haven't done enough of in recent years.

In general, resolutions are great. They help to renew your energy about accomplishing a task that has been neglected for some reason or another, and can add valuable assets to your everyday life (such as exercising, and cutting back on vices like cigarettes, coffee, and junk food) …at least for a little while. A lot of New Years Resolutions articles focus heavily on how temporal the year-long goal is and how that spark fades after a few months (or weeks or days). Instead, the articles suggest making lifelong resolutions and goals that are not confined to a year – which is how I’m rationalizing writing a New Years blog post more than half way through January.

As with everything, resolutions work differently for different people. Some folks need structure to improve their lives in noticeable ways, while others are satiated knowing that they’re working toward an eventual life improvement strategy.

As for me and my reading resolution, I seem to be the latter and so I’m keeping it very open ended. I’m going to strive to be more mindful in making my reading choices. When choosing what to read, I’ll both read more books outside my standard picks and throw in a few classics when they suit my mood. I’ll also write when inspiration strikes me and read when I can and I feel like it – either by finding time or making time. Essentially, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m already doing, but “better”. I resolve to keep reading pleasurable, and I'll read “more” in that I'll try to have more time to myself, to enjoy it.

What about you? Do you have a reading resolution, or other New Years Resolution (I’m also still retaining the three annual resolutions as well as hoping to go on a vacation somewhere other than my parents’ house) you’d like to share – thus making it public and adding incentive/pressure for your success?