As we move into a new decade, I have taken some time to review my reading life.
As in every area of life, I have changed quite a bit as a reader over the last 2 or 3 years. While my reading interests remain largely the same, my approach to books has evolved. A few years ago, if I started a book, I had to finish it. Since I’ve started teaching, however, I’ve realized that I don’t have time to waste on books I don’t love, or at least like.
I recently finished reading Sarah Clarkson’s Book Girl. I found myself thinking about reading from many new avenues as I read Sarah’s reflections on the purpose reading plays in a woman’s life. One point that stood out to me in this book was the emphasis on quality over quantity in reading.
Sarah’s book log, I’m sure, is probably 10 times the length of my own. However, the books she chooses are books that do something more than just entertain (think genre fiction dime-a-dozen kinds of stories); they speak to the soul.
And if it takes you 6 months to finish The Brothers Karamozov, then so what? It was time well invested.
While I was reading Clarkson’s book, I also took the time to read some blogs and Good Reads postings to see what other people’s 2020 book goals are. I was struck by how many people seemed to emphasize quantity over quality. While I know that every reader has different amounts of time to read and different ways of processing a story, I was still surprised at the number of posts I saw that mentioned reading 100, 200, or more books in a year.
I speak candidly on this because I am, to a large degree, born of that same school of thought. However, I’m slowly being converted to a different way of viewing my reading experience.
Here’s what I think.
A good book demands your time. It requires more of you than just the reading of words on a page. It requires a space in your mind to unfurl its petals and blossom into the full depth of the author’s message. For me, this process takes time, and I find that when I rush on to the next book, I can sometimes miss out on something important in the one I just finished.
Each person’s encounter with a book is different. We all have different experiences, different backgrounds, different personalities and temperaments that affect the way we interact with a story and how the story impacts us. You can’t synthesize a book by reading other people’s opinions. And you can’t fully come to an opinion you can “own” without really analyzing how the story is landing in your heart.
My personality type demands time and space to process things. So, maybe this is just a “me-thing.” And please don’t think that I’m bashing readers who set a goal of how many books they want to read in a year. I get a kick out of seeing how many titles I can finish in a year too. I’m simply saying that in a world that emphasizes speed and turnout, reading is a lovely place for the mind to explore without having to feel like you must bow down to those pressures.
While I don’t set a “number” goal of books for myself each year, I do have several reading goals that I try to accomplish within a calendar year. Here are some that I have been working on:
Reading the Classics:
When I was in high school, I encountered a blogger who introduced me to the Classics Club. The premise is that you choose 50 classic books that you want to read in a 5 year period and commit to blogging about each of those titles as you finish them.
At the time, I did not have a blog, but I liked the idea of tackling the classics in such a clear-cut way. So, I made a list of books and decided that I wanted to read 50 classics before I graduated college.
Typically, when I set goals like this, I don’t get very far before sputtering out. This goal was not like that, though. My log reveals that I tackled about 40 classics in that 5 year period. And, in the process, I discovered some books that I love.
The first Shakespeare work I read was The Merchant of Venice. I was a junior in high school at the time, and my English class wasn’t emphasizing literature studies to the extent that I wanted. So, I started getting up an hour earlier every morning to read both The Merchant of Venice and Great Expectations.
Approaching Shakespeare without any guidance is kind of dangerous. You run the risk of spoiling your opinion on the playwright simply because you don’t have the tools you need to navigate his work and see the layers of his genius. So, while I survived The Merchant of Venice, I didn’t truly come to enjoy reading Shakespeare until I took a literature course in college.
Because of how much I enjoyed that class, I have recently tried to read one work of Shakespeare a year. In 2018, I finally read Romeo and Juliet, and in 2019, I tackled Julius Caesar.
The secret, I’ve found, to enjoying Shakespeare, or any other classic that is mentally taxing, is to read it out loud. I try to tackle 1 scene a day, usually in the summer when I have more time to devote to such things. I find that reading the words out loud allows me to better decode the meanings of passages, and it’s just more fun when you get to put your emotions into the characters you’re reading.
Process What You Read
This was an unspoken goal I set for myself last year. I realized that I had read many classics but remembered little of their plots, and even less of their deeper meanings. So, I started a new book journal.
Every time I finish a classic, I write a brief analysis of the story. I usually include important characters, settings, motifs, symbols (if they’re crucial to the theme), and the various themes I was able to extract from the book. This practice really helps me to better interact with the story, and the act of writing my analysis down keeps me from forgetting the plot 3 weeks later.
Tackling the TBR List
Even though I’m a die-hard list maker, I don’t really have a formal TBR list. However, I have selected a few titles and authors I want to tackle this year.
- A Russian novel (I’m leaning towards either Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment)
- Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
- Something written by Thomas Merton (I’ve never read any of his work, but I’ve heard great things about his books)
- A Shakespeare play (King Lear or a re-read of another tragedy)
- A Jane Austen novel (either Emma, Northanger Abbey, or Persuasion)
What are your reading goals for 2020? Let me know in the comments below!