New Year’s Resolutions: Will You Change How You Read?

by Patrick on January 4, 2010

I spent the New Year’s weekend emptying my tiny apartment of extraneous items (Goodbye, shipping container for laptop I no longer possess!  See you in hell, corduroy pants that no longer fit!).  Whenever I go excavating in the deep recesses my domicile, I always turn up some interesting stuff.  This time, I found a reading journal I tried to keep in 2005.  I was working at a truly painful and depressing job in Iowa City at the time (Let’s just say that standardized testing and customer service work is a deadly combination), and I probably needed something to make me feel like I was progressing as a human being.  Apparently writing down some thoughts on every book I read that year seemed like the way forward.  Like I said, it was a weird time.

I read a lot that year, but the first entry in the journal is dated 2/14/05.  The reason for this is that the first book I read in 2005 was Robert Caro’s massive and wonderful The Power Broker.  I wrote a full three pages in a notebook (in pretty small handwriting) about the book, including thoughts on its structure and pacing, its strengths and weaknesses.  Reading back through it, I remembered things about the book I’d forgotten.  It was incredible.

Looking at the journal now, it appears I only kept it up until April.  I’m not sure why I stopped.  I was keeping a lot of journals at the time, trying to sort out a bunch of things, and maybe the thought of one more journal was simply too much to bear.  It was, in the end, a New Year’s Reading Resolution that didn’t stick.  I wonder if I’d have had different luck if blogging platforms like Tumblr or social networking sites like Goodreads had been around at the time.  My reading journal felt different than a Goodreads account for the simple reason that it was private.  I never expected or wanted anyone but myself to read it.

The reading journal seemed like a good idea, a worthwhile way to spend some time.  A good book is enhanced by thinking about it after the fact, and what better way to do that than with a journal.  But I don’t think I’ll be keeping one this year.  I already blog enough about what I read.

But I ask you here, good reader, what is your New Year’s reading resolution?  Do you want to read more old books?  More new ones?  More books by women or by men (or a healthy balance of both sexes)?  Maybe you want to keep a list of what you read for the first time (I do that every year).  Let us know what you aim to do this year, and we’ll help you stick to it.

Here’s mine:  I’d like to read at least two books published before 1900.  I tend to read exclusively contemporary stuff (partially for work reasons, but also because it’s where my taste lies), and I’d like to broaden my mind for 2010.  I set the bar pretty low at 2, but I figure they’ll be long and difficult.  War and Peace, maybe.  Or Moby Dick.  I don’t know.  We’ll have to see.

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Catie Disabato 01.04.10 at 3:37 pm

Reading resolutions:
I tend to read a lot of sci-fi influenced or absurdist fiction. Nothing that is actually shelved in a Sci-fi section of a bookstore, but I enjoy writing that involves alternate worlds, time travel, etc. often in an absurdist rather than high-fantasy way. I tend to stick with literary fiction. My reading resolution is to try to get over my literary bias and try to delve into some classic or iconic sci-fi/fantasy. I’d like to read some H.G. Wells, whom I’ve never read, and maybe the Dune series. The Difference Engine is also on my list.

On the opposite side of things, I think I’ve been reading absurdist fiction too exclusively the past few years. The only “realists” that I read the past year are Marilynne Robinson, Dan Chaon, and Lorrie Moore – and my favorite of the two Moore novels I’ve read, “Anagrams,” has an alternate-universe element to it. My second reading resolution is to embrace realism with open arms, rather than boredom and suspicion.

Sarah McCoy 01.04.10 at 3:56 pm

Hi Patrick,
It seems we both had New Year’s resolutions on the brain today: http://www.sarahmccoy.wordpress.com.

In response to your post re: reading resolutions pre-1900. Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING is clutch and just makes the cut with an 1899 publication date. Spin the Charles Dickens wheel and take your pick. I’m partial to TALE OF TWO CITIES. Lewis Carroll’s Alice never disappoints. Dumas if you’re in a swashbuckling mood. MADAME BOVARY if you’re feeling saucy. Then of course there’s Victor Hugo, Henry James, Jules Verne, and Jane Austen … oo, what about Mark Twain? Well shoot, now you’ve got me in the spirit. I think I may pick up Anna Sewall’s BLACK BEAUTY. I’ve always wanted to read it and never have.

Also, I love the idea of keeping a reading journal. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to do that before. Great idea! Happy 2010 reading to you.

Yours truly, Sarah

Anne 01.04.10 at 8:48 pm

This year my friend Lisa and I are confronting our “books of shame” — the books we should have read by now but haven’t. She’s going to read LITTLE WOMEN and I will finally tackle PRIDE & PREJUDICE. I should probably read MOBY-DICK as well, but that may have to wait for 2011.

For the last 5 years I’ve kept a list of everything I’ve read. I mark the books I most enjoyed with an asterisk, but I don’t make any other notes on them. Too bad — sometimes I look back at those titles and have no idea what the books are about.

Alanna 01.05.10 at 10:01 am

I, too, keep a list of what I read. My resolution this year is to beat last year’s number (which is always my goal). I’m hoping to add classics to my list as well, so I will look forward to everyone’s recommendations on those.

Erin 01.05.10 at 10:25 am

Oddly, I tend to go for the big heavy mountainous books first. My mother says I “enjoy a weighty tome.” Like 2009 got me thru a giant FDR biography and The Brothers Karamazov, for example. Also, Neil Gabler’s great bio of Walt Disney. The first resolution is to take a big bite out of all the books I already have that I haven’t gotten to yet, also to read the books this guy at work is always loaning me (a book about Woody Allen’s films, a George Carlin anthology, and Invisible History -that intimidating book about Afghanistan). And I suppose the other goal is to read the stacks of smaller, thinner tomes. I think I put them off because I figure I should read the big hard stuff first. Not that a small book can’t be hard. On that note, I should finally finish Crying of Lot 49 for pete’s sake.

k 01.05.10 at 11:46 am

No one tells you Moby Dick is funny, but it is. At least in the first part. War and Peace is a brick of a book, but a worthy one. Both would be great choices. If you haven’t read Don Quixote, that’s the best, the novel king of the world.

k 01.05.10 at 11:48 am

Herodotus’s Histories is such an epic and fascinating and essential and old book that you’d get pre-A.D. out of the way as well.

Lynn 01.07.10 at 7:39 am

I finally read “Moby Dick” over the holidays, and it was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. “k” is absolutely right: I laughed out loud at the hilarity in the book’s beginning. And what added to the fun was coming across dialogue that was used in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Molly 01.07.10 at 8:14 am

Patrick: I recommend Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in Whiter as one of your pre-1900 novels. It’s wonderful prose–and a page-turner-thriller, to boot.

Bob 01.07.10 at 8:48 am

Nice post. Here’s the three specific reading goals I made for 2010:
*Read two Pulitzer prize winners, one that wins in 2010
*Complete Silman’s Reassess Your Chess workbook
*Review all books I read in 2010 at amazon.com

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