Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021: A Reading Retrospective

I seem to enjoy using the words "reflection" and "retrospective." Hmm. 


It’s apparently customary for people who write and read to reflect on their writing and reading at the end of the year. Even if, like me, you consider reading your vocation as well as work, yet somehow don’t have “reading goals.”*


My to-be-read pile: 
nothing but good times ahead



I do track what I read (because it involves writing in a notebook, as much as for any other reason, and what is not to love about writing in a notebook?) and I (separately) record thoughts as I read. I am also, on occasion, moved to share thoughts publicly, sometimes in formal reviews and sometimes on Instagram and/or Twitter in a #SundaySentence post.

 

However, I don’t have goals like “read XXX books this year” or “revisit Author Name’s work” or “read a lot of books about maps,” although I have, in various recent years, done both of those last two.

 

This past year, as in the year previous, I consciously broadened my reading horizons. I read books by people who are underrepresented in the publishing world, so a good dose of thoughtful work on systemic racism/sexism/ablism (and also joyful work by those writers). I also read books on subjects that sounded interesting: maps, nature, plus random other things (popular music, growing up in difficult circumstances). I’ve also chosen to read books released by small publishing companies.

 

From this year of reading, although I won’t share numbers or specifics, I will share these two thoughts:

 

First, I strongly suggest ignoring “best of” lists unless you or someone you know has a book on one and, then by all means, pay attention and celebrate. But also, it’s good to read more widely than someone else’s “best of” judgment.


Second, I suggest that you choose works you wouldn’t otherwise easily run into. (Remember lingering in a bookstore or browsing library shelves? May we experience those joys again.) You can still read the old faithfuls—Lord knows these days a weekend “comfort read” is a well-deserved pleasure for anyone breathing at the end of the day.


But also, consciously go beyond. Read a book in translation, a work by someone with a disability community (I’m looking forward to the novel True Biz, by Sara Nović), a book of historical fiction from a small press, an #ownvoices memoir. You won’t regret it.


However you feel about the book itself, the experience will be valuable—much more valuable than, say, whipping through ten picture books so that you’ve read a predetermined “goal” number of books by arbitrary time. That said, if you haven’t read a picture book in a while, you could! The range of people publishing, and the works they’re sharing in various formats, grows more interesting all the time.

 

I’ve found that these types of reading “goals”—the resolution to read books that challenge my expectations and complacency, that provide unexpected pleasures, that a small business believes in—have enriched my life in a way that “read all the XX nominees” or “read all the bestsellers” or “read XXX number of books” doesn’t.

 

Your mileage may vary, of course. Because it’s YOUR life that you’re seeking to enrich through reading, not someone else’s. And more power to that goal—enriching your life through learning and enjoyment is enough.

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*“Writing goals” are something else entirely. They're harder to avoid for writers, for one thing. And although I have had a visibly productive writing year in aggregate by many measures, some days my “writing goal” was “do some.”)