Like many bibliophiles and fellow writers, I maintain extensive reading lists. Mine are organized roughly by genre, jotted down on receipts and other scraps of paper, and updated in spare moments to a master list on my iPhone. If I’m in a bookstore or library I can readily hunt down my titles.
In 2010, I read voraciously, devouring 56 books. I’m not exactly sure how I accomplished this feat, as I was extremely busy juggling freelance writing and editing gigs, revising and trying to sell my novel, and parenting a toddler. I suppose my reading habit was helped by having a child who would only nap when driven to some distant destination. Much of my reading was done midday in a boring parking lot in a neighboring town, where my son would reliably nod off and allow me an hour-long fictional escape. I read like a criminal, in furtive snatches of stolen time.
Though I’m happy I beat the odds and made it through so many pages in 2010, I now find myself wishing I’d read a little more mindfully sometimes. Was I really reading books, or was I consuming them? Always conscious of the time pressures I faced, I fell into the habit of panicked reading. Done, cross it off the list, on to the next novel! It was like being the first to race out of the concert hall when instead, at times, I should have sat and listened to the reverberation of those final notes.
Here, then, is my list of Reading Resolutions for 2011, with the goal of more mindful reading:
1. Reflect on what you read. Don’t immediately dive into a new book. Take a day or two to think about what you’ve just read, about the world you’ve just visited for the past 300 pages or so. Think of how the book changed, challenged, or confirmed your views. Allow yourself to feel the emotions the narrative stirs up in you. Analyze choices the author made on the page. Select tools from the author’s toolbox that might be useful for your own work. Take time to write down reactions and opinions before they are lost — either in a journal or as a review posted online.
2. Explore new genres. Don’t binge too long on a particular genre or writer. Every couple of months, forge into new territory. How long has it been since you read science fiction? Historical fiction? Something about the Middle Ages? Fantasy? Philosophy? And what is steampunk, anyway?
3. Read globally. Don’t get locked into American writers. Find exciting new voices in translation. Read books from various countries, especially non-Western ones.
4. Respect the elders. Read at least three books written before you were born. Or revisit some of the traditional “classics.”
5. Reread. Think of how children often reread their favorite dogeared books. Retrospective reading is a different kind of reading. Reread a book you read for a college class, or a novel you shelved ten years ago, or a favorite childhood book. Does it speak to you the same way, or does your older self receive a different message from it now? How much did you remember?
6. Reach out to authors. Writing is lonely. Writers love compliments. I occasionally am motivated to send emails to authors immediately after reading their books. When I do, I always get a prompt response, and I always learn something interesting and useful about that writer’s process in the course of a few email exchanges. Try to connect with six new authors whose work you admire.
Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!