new post: Reading Goals, in which I declare victory on the common “I should read more” resolution
Like many, I’ve long wanted to read more. Even my love of browsing bookstores was getting cramped by the guilty knowledge that I had more books waiting patiently on shelves at home than I would ever get to. But now, at the end of this year, I feel I can claim victory. I did it: I read more.
One boost was the daily reading habit I started last year, which has been great. I set a fifteen minute timer, and don’t allow myself to read that particular book outside the daily dose. This keeps me from cheating and going longer, which I think helps me keep the habit: I know it’s only ever “just” 15 minutes, and done. By a quick review of my Goodreads list, I got through some seventeen books this way in 2020. (Granted, some of those were the shortest and fastest reads – comics and graphic novels. No apologies.)
Being locked down due to the pandemic probably didn’t hurt the amount I was able to sit and read, although switching to full-time remote work did cut down on commute audiobook time.
Book clubs definitely helped. The computer book club I ran (until I stepped down in October) prompted me to get through five books, and the Tournament of Books’ virtual Camp ToB was a fun way to go through six really enjoyable reads that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. I struggle with book clubs sometimes, resenting the obligation of having to read something, but it’s fun in small doses (and the ToB online community is a surprisingly good one).
I had also set an ambitious Goodreads reading goal for this year: 50 books. And I made it! As mentioned, some of those were quickies, but some were not, e.g., Emma (476 pages), Madame Bovary (411), The Paying Guests (564), and that’s not even getting into those computer books, like Coders at Work (632).
But I’ve decided that the numbers of books, and their page-counts don’t matter. Is this because I participated in a writers’ novel swap group, and so read several full-length novels without even getting credit for them in my Goodreads count? Yes.
Errr, no. No, that’s not it, really. As I said to start, I’ve wanted to read more, and to my own surprise, I’m actually doing it. I enjoy it, and I’m actually prioritizing doing it, and it’s happening. Having a quantifiable goal in Goodreads, and a tracking app that makes a satisfying ding! when I read each day, and following along with a book club, those are all things that helped me build the habit of reading back into my life. I’ll continue with those practices as far as they’re still fun, but the reading is the thing.
P.S. Gretchen Rubin has announced regular, daily reading as her “Happier” podcast’s 2021 goal. Last year they encouraged listeners to walk 20 minutes in ’20; this year their suggestion is to read for 21 minutes in ’21. See her blog post for details, hints, and tips. Maybe I’ll up my daily timer…
finished Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman 📚
finished Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard today 📚 what a staggering work. lyrically written, much of it more like poetry than prose, her view of nature probing its ruthless violence as much as its unbelievable beauty. I’ll be rereading this for sure. maybe annually
just ordered the first book for this summer’s Camp TOB: The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. I haven’t done a group book club like this before; little worried that time pressure will make it less fun. but going to give it a shot & read some books I otherwise wouldn’t! 📚
rest in peace, Christopher Tolkien. I’m sure I’ve read more of J.R.R.’s writing, thanks to Christopher’s beyond-painstaking editing & publishing, than the original trilogy (plus) combined. ?
journal – reading update, in which I change my serial reading, and put down Wolf Hall for the last time ?
I praised the Serial Reader app last month, thinking at the time it would be a fun & significant boost to my reading time. But following Dorian Gray, I started and abandoned several others that just weren’t for me. As I dug deeper into the titles, I felt like I was grasping for something good, instead of picking from the (long) list of books on my existing “to-read” list. I tried a couple that were on my list, like Little Women, and Middlemarch, but didn’t enjoy either of them. So, although it’s clever, I decided Serial Reader isn’t for me, after all.
But the strict daily reading time still seemed good, so I’ve been trying simply sticking to that habit, with the help of the iOS app Streaks. It’s a simple daily reminder app that’s meant to keep you from “breaking the chain”, maintaining regular daily habits. I’ve tried it before, but eventually rebelled against what came to feel like tyrannical nagging. So far this time, however, for reminding me to stay on something I enjoy, it’s been going great. That’s 17 days in a row, since I’m counting. The books I’ve read this way have admittedly been quick and light: the first two omnibus editions of an anime my daughter recommended: Vinland Saga. I may continue graphic novels for this daily habit for a while; I have Watchmen sitting over there on the shelf.
On another front, I admit defeat, for the third and final time, at trying to get through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I want to love this book, and the second (Bring Up the Bodies) which is also on my shelf, and the third which is due out next year, but it’s just not happening. I pride myself on being undaunted by tougher prose: The Odyssey, Don Quixote, some of the deeper Tolkien, including his Beowulf, but I find Mantel’s style a slog too far. The setting is too foreign, the characters too numerous, and the pronouns too ambiguous. I’m pretty bummed by this concession, but also looking forward to starting a book I’ll look forward to each night.
just finished my first full book on the clever Serial Reader app (The Picture of Dorian Gray). there are lots of older & public-domain titles on my list, anyway, & I found the 10 to 20-minute chunks of reading each day fun & easy to stay on top of. recommended! ?
finally had the time & focus today to really dig in to The Fall of Gondolin, the latest (& last) from J.R.R./Christopher Tolkien. enjoyed looking up and learning some new (very old) words along the way. gems like:
just finished Data and Goliath, by Bruce Schneier, for this month’s Austin Computer Book Club meetup. it was eye-opening and kind of horrifying, but pragmatic, interesting, and more timely with each passing day’s headlines ?
I recently started The Library Book by Susan Orlean, via an audiobook that somewhat ironically I bought, rather than getting from the library. (This title was also just selected as this year’s Mayor’s Book Club book, so I have a head start there, ha ha.) It’s really good so far, a unique blend of LA history, in broad strokes and small ones, with a little mystery and a huge dose of detailed examples of how awesome libraries are.
And they really are. They’re kind of a miracle, in many ways. I spent the afternoon yesterday working at our big, beautiful new Central Library, and then attended a wonderful talk with Rachel Kushner, author of the excellent The Mars Room. The circumstances that led me there last night were Byzantine, when I thought about it, but it was so nice. I feel happier just being at the library, and I should make the effort to get there – including branches – more often.
librarians should “read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world.”
- Susan Orlean, quoting Althea Warren, director of the LA Public Library 1933-47, in The Library Book
when you order the cheapest used book you can find and it winds up being signed by the author (if barely) & has his business card tucked in the back ? ?
just finished Anna Burns’ Milkman. haven’t enjoyed a book this thoroughly in a long time. the unique style might not be to everyone’s taste, but I fucking loved it. the story, the style, the characters, the insights… every page was a delight. a masterpiece. ?
just finished The Sisters Brothers, a book I liked so much the first time that I not only intended to reread it, I actually did! Just in time for the movie to be gone from theaters, lol/sob. but what a great book, I enjoyed it as much as I remembered. ?
finished The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Another gripping & masterfully written story from an author I like a lot, though for me, imagining the railroad as a literal underground construction didn’t add as much to the story as I’d expected.
finished reading God Save Texas, by Lawrence Wright. I enjoyed the mix of history, personal anecdotes, and political analysis. some of the stories cast recent events – in Texas & the US more broadly – in an interesting, some-of-this-ain’t-all-that-new light. ?
finished Functional Thinking by Neal Ford for yesterday’s @atxcompbookclub. I found juggling examples in several different languages to be more work than it was worth, but as an intro, background, & argument in favor of functional programming, it nailed it. ?
finished reading: The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. I really enjoyed this modern telling of The Iliad story, which I knew broadly but have never read. This is so well written, evocative, with superb characterization. highly recommended. ?
…Next was a title that’s been on my list since the 2011 Tournament of Books, where it got to the semis. This opening round review is a good one.
book review: Next, by James Hynes: really enjoyed this. I think I would have even if I weren’t so familiar with much of the setting (a bright, hot day in downtown & south Austin), but that was a bonus for sure. (and what a final act!) ?
at last, it begins! “Every day for the next few weeks a judge will read two of these novels and select one to advance. Then another set of readers will offer commentary… Eventually one novel reigns supreme & we award its author a live rooster” #ToB18
book review: The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch. a literary sci-fi apocalypse story with interesting ideas and moving scenes, undercut for me by some suspension-of-disbelief breaking aspects & a few gory moments ?
book review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. overall, not bad, but it didn’t meet the expectations I had after a truly great first chapter, some of the historical period parts struck me as awkward, and a patch or two were a slog ? #ToB18