In 2016, I vow to read fewer books.
Before I tell you why, we need to talk about reading challenges, and resolutions, and manifestos, and such. My issues with them are many, and as follows. Oh, I don’t mean YOUR reading challenge, settle down. OR DO I?
- The assumption that people give a shit what you’re reading. Particularly with respect to TBR challenges. Why on earth do I care if, or for how long, you’ve owned a book? I do not. I give a shit if you have something to say about what you’ve read. (I am participating in a TBR challenge this year, so I guess I kind of care. I still find it odd.)
- Approval-seeking. Particularly with respect to diversity challenges. I actually saw someone tweet about how many days it’d been since they’d read a cis-het white male author. That’s wonderful, but talk to me once you’ve reviewed one of those books. You don’t get a cookie for #readingdiverse. (Yes, I unfollowed.)
- Strict rules. Insisting on strict definitions of what constitutes a classic? Nope. Kicking me out of the challenge if I don’t post an update by whatever date? Nope. Insert “Ain’t nobody got time” or “zero fucks” meme here.
- Quantity over quality. You read 52 books this year? 75? 100? 250? 300? That’s nice. Tracking is fine. But challenges that emphasize how many books you read are just weird. I mean, if you read one book this year, you’re ahead of the majority of the population, so calm down.
- Pigeonholing. Particularly with respect to “reading bingo” type challenges with a bunch of categories to fill in. Now, I know the categories aren’t meant to be mutually exclusive, but, it’s kind of implied. So when one of your sixteen categories is “female author,” I’m gonna give it a side eye. Surely, there are better ways to define a challenge category! Check out this great post from Feminist Texican Reads about a Feminist Read Harder Challenge to see what I mean.
The absolute worst example of all of these things, and the inspiration for this post, appears not on a book blog, but on LitHub, of all places. A Reader’s Manifesto for 2016 is about one guy’s reading resolutions, though the title implies it’s for all readers, and pardon me, these are not mere resolutions, this is a manifesto, which is much fancier. Okay then. We’ve got the “assuming people give a shit” angle covered.
We’ve also got the quantity thing covered, as he vows to read more books in 2016. Reading lots of books is literally this guy’s job, so, I don’t see how this is anything to write home about.
Now, on to the approval-seeking. This guy doesn’t just want a cookie, he wants one of those buckets o’ cookies you get at State Fairs*. He went as far as to list all the of-the-moment, female and minority authors he reads, so we know that he is Hip and With It (but notably didn’t include Claire Vaye Watkins, who exposed Rumpus editor Stephen Elliot’s misogyny in her essay On Pandering, where the manifesto-er also writes, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence) (also notably didn’t include Marlon James, who wrote a supportive response to On Pandering, but I’m sure that’s also just a coincidence.)
Most egregiously, this manifesto is purportedly about the author recognizing his white male (cis) (het) privilege, and atoning for it by doing more listening and less talking. “I vow to keep listening,” he says. “My voice can matter, but not nearly as much as theirs,” he says. And obviously, the best way to sit down, shut up, and listen is to publish a fucking manifesto on a major literary website. Just read the books, dude. No manifesto required.
*deep, cleansing breath*
So on that note, and without a shred of irony, here is my 2016 reading resolution, and the challenges I’ll be doing. It’s okay, though, because I know that you guys DO care. A lot.
I meant what I said at the beginning of this post: in 2016, I will read fewer books. In five years of blogging, I’ve gone from reading about twenty books per year to nearly seventy. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. As I mentioned in my 2015 Best Books post, the onslaught of awards and contests and reviews and challenges creates pressure to just keep reading, rather than to read closer or deeper. And reviewing what I read? I’m a fairly fast reader, but a very slow writer. There’s no way I can write about seventy books, or even fifty or forty. I can’t even keep their plots straight.
If I’m not writing and thinking about the books I read, then what am I doing here? Reading seventy books didn’t make for a great reading year, nor did it make me feel like I was on top of all things bookish- if anything, my reading “fear of missing out” was worse than ever.
So, this year, I’m going to limit myself to 35 books. Think of it as an anti-challenge. No blog button, no hashtag, no BS.
- I’ll be forced to be really picky, which should lead to a better year of reading.
- I want to savour reading again. I want to reread favourite passages. I want to make some space to think and write.
- I want to write book reviewsfor other web sites and publications. Narrowing my focus should help me find the time to work on that.
How will I make sure I don’t hit 35 books in, like, August?
- Rereading books.
- DNFing books.
- Reading things that aren’t books (blogs, literary journals, and so on.)
- For most of my adult life, I’ve read 20-25 books per year, so that was my starting point, but going from 70 to 25 is too daunting.
- I’m 35 this year.
- That’s it.
2016 Challenges I’m participating in
For the first three months of 2016 read only the books that were already in your TBR stack as of midnight December 31, 2015.
This works well with my “read fewer books” resolution, since I won’t be acquiring any new books for three months. Plus, this is the last time James will host this event. James is an OG book blogger (his tagline, “Blogging about books since before you were born,” is probably not accurate in my case, but it makes me laugh) who posts quality reviews and has great taste.
The objective of the challenge is to share your reviews of movie or TV book adaptations, and hopefully generate some interesting discussions over the course of the year.
This one works because I don’t have to read any new books. I’ve already acquired Emma (1996) and Anna Karenina (2012) on DVD, and will probably write something about Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) or The Forsyte Saga (2002.) CJ is pulling out all the stops this year, with mini-challenges and prizes galore, plus she’s my book blogging BFF, so of course I’m doing this one!
2016 events on Reading in Bed
Franzen in February: Yes, for real. Watch this space. I’m thinking of a “Friends and Foes” theme, so you can read some Jennifer Weiner or Nell Zink, too. This will be more of an event than a challenge. No sign-ups or prizes, just fun Franzen times.
A classic readalong: My classic readalongs for Moby-Dick and A Tale of Two Cities were super fun. I didn’t do one last year and that makes me sad. Any requests? Probably a late spring/early summer start on this one.
So, that’s it. I’m reading 35 books, I’m only reading books I own for the first three months, and I’m going to watch some adaptations. Please tell me about your plans, but no manifestos, okay?
*I went to the Minnesota State Fair this summer, and you can buy an overflowing, ice cream bucket-sized pail of chocolate chip cookies for $15. It is amazing.