Ask a Literary Lady: I Need a Better New Year’s Resolution Than “Read More”

Dear Literary Lady,

Every year, my New Year’s resolution is to read more, but I never know if I actually have. What are some reading-related resolutions I can make that have tangible, measurable results, so I can ensure that I’m on track?

H.B., Portland, OR

Dear H.B.,

It’s great that you want to read more, but as far as New Year’s resolutions go, it might be too vague. There are many ways one can “read more,” but to make a reading habit that lasts throughout the year, you have to ask yourself—what do you want read more of, and why?

Do you want to increase the number of books you read each year? Do you want to devote more time to reading? Do you want to expand the variety of books you read? Or do you want to be more well-read? All of these are worthy goals, but they have different motivations. By identifying your motivations, you can narrow down your New Year’s resolution and ensure that you set goals that resonate with you all year.

Being specific in your goal-setting requires more than just describing what you want to achieve at the very end of 2017. If you tell yourself you’re going to accomplish something by 2017, you’ll become discouraged in March when you’re only a quarter of the way there, and that New Year’s resolution will fall by the wayside. I would suggest breaking down your 2017 resolution into monthly, weekly, or even daily increments. You can measure your progress at each stage and feel a sense of accomplishment when you hit those small milestones.

As with any goal-setting activity, I cannot overstate the importance of being highly specific about what you are doing, and when you are doing it. Below are a few suggestions of ways you can swap out general reading-related resolutions for more specific (and more fun!) goals.

Instead of saying “I will read more in 2017,” try the following:

1. Make a list of all the books you want to read in 2017. It’s a great way to wrack your brains for all the books you meant to read, but never got around to. Ask friends and family to weigh in on your list, and be sure to leave some space open on your list for new suggestions. Once 2017 kicks off and you start reading, you’ll have a list you can check off each time you finish a book.

2. Resolve to read for at least a half hour a day. It doesn’t matter if you read two pages in half an hour or twenty pages, the point is that you’re sitting down with a book and unplugging for a bit.

3. Assign yourself a different genre each month. If you’re not a very adventurous reader, this is the year to force yourself to branch out. Devote one month to reading poetry, another to science fiction, another to autobiographies, and so on and so forth. By the end of 2017, you’ll be familiar with all the different sections in a bookstore, and you might even have some new favorites.

4. Be an armchair traveller in 2017. Make it your goal to read books written about other cultures and countries. Explore the most celebrated books around the world and devote a couple months to reading fiction from a different continent. What are people reading in Italy, in Japan, in South Africa, in the Caribbean? What new voices are being translated for American readers?

5. Resolve to keep a book log or journal. After every book you read, write down your impressions of it, your questions, your likes and dislikes. Even though you haven’t set any goals about what kind of books you’ll read or how many, the act of writing after reading will help you get more out of the books you do read. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot more about what kind of reader you are.

There are a lot of ways to “read more.” You could increase the quantity or the quality of the books you read, you could read more widely in different genres, or you could read more of the classics. You could become more knowledgeable about literary studies, or you could simply spend more time ruminating over your personal thoughts on books.

My suggestion is to figure out what kind of reader you want to be at the end of 2017, and build your New Year’s resolution around that!

Love and paperbacks,
Literary Lady

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