On manifestos

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.

35 Books

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.

Why limit? 

  • 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.)

Why 35?

  • 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

tbr-final-dareThe TBR Triple Dog Dare, hosted by James Reads Books

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.

 

movie challengeBook to Movie Challenge 2015 hosted by ebookclassics

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

IT'S GONNA BE SO FUN. Photo © Greg Martin, via http://franzenfreude.tumblr.com/

IT’S GONNA BE SO FUN. Photo © Greg Martin, via http://franzenfreude.tumblr.com/

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.

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62 comments

  1. Parallel & Perpendicular

    This past year, I read almost one hundred books, and I started my own blog where I wanted to write about what I read, and because I felt this immense pressure to read more, I didn’t get to write about some books that I wanted to because I had already moved on to the next three or four books. And it can be hard to try and go back to that place with the book where I can engage with it, although I’m still trying to read a ton of books this year because the vast numbers of books that could be important to me is always on my mind. So I’ve decided (for now) to make a commitment to write more. We’ll see. I think the important thing with any of these challenges is just to make sure to not be too hard on yourself. These challenges are not the end-all, be-all of reading, and don’t make someone a good or bad reader.

  2. nicolaliteraryramblings

    Guilty as charged. New to blogging last year am now one of the overly enthusiastic crowd dropping TBR into many a written conversation, and indeed spent the last six months blithely creating goals and accepting challenges with great alacrity. This year have indeed resolved to slow down a bit but am aware that part of the joy of sharing views with other book-lovers means I end up ticking books off lists. Which is of course entirely for my own satisfaction rather than other people’s, yet can’t help myself keeping track on the blog! So the Triple Dog Dare very timely for me and am looking forward to reading what is in house and share your passion for then watching the adaptations. Can’t promise to stop the list-making though…

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    Your post reminded me of a tweet I saw last year where the author objected to the fact that people chose her book only because it would count as a diverse choice. That really got me thinking; I can understand how that would bother her. Thanks for the link to the Feminist RH challenge post; lots of good suggestions on that list.

  4. Geoff W

    Hilarious! And I agree, I actually stopped following LitHub pretty quick because it was just more of the same old hoity-toity stuff regurgitated by another conglomerate. I’m less picky about the number I read because I commute two hours every day by train and read fast and enjoy reading constantly. I’ve debated doing a 52 books year where I get to read one book a week, but that just gave me anxiety because I read whenever I have spare time (including walking!) because it calms me down.

    Good luck in 2016!

    • lauratfrey

      Do you listen to audio or do you actually read with you walk?? Please tell me more.

      Yeah LitHub is very hit and miss, and often just kinda boring. I want a hybrid of Book Riot and LitHub, like, if Book Riot could write slightly longer articles, about the kinds of books they cover on LitHub, I’d be set.

      • Geoff W

        I’m not a big fan of either. BR was a bit too buzzfeeed for me, but I can see the perks of both.

        I read while I walk. It’s easiest with my kindle, but I’ve done books too. Not always the safest but it makes sure I wait for the traffic lights and the crosswalk signs 🙂

    • Rick @ The Book-A-Week Project

      Geoff, reading while walking is actually one of my favorite things to do. It’s incredibly relaxing, and my favorite way to read (fie on you, Winter!!!). Most people seem to think this is a super power, though. Everyone I know has no clue how I manage to walk without bumping into things or tripping. Can’t say how I don’t. I just don’t. Works for some and not others, maybe?

      • Geoff W

        Yeah it’s so weird. People always ask how I don’t crash into stuff and I just don’t know because I do when I’m not reading. If anything it makes me more aware.

      • Naomi

        It’s true! I also have a history of reading while walking (I call it a history because I don’t do it as much since having kids and a dog), and you just don’t bump into stuff somehow.

  5. Stefanie

    That manifesto writer totally wanted a bucket of cookies from the MN State Fair! Very wise and measured plans you have made. Your rundown on challenges and resolutions had me cracking up because it is so true in so many ways. Good luck with your plans!

    • lauratfrey

      Thanks! Glad the humour came through. I was actually very annoyed by the **manifesto** but… I mean really, it doesn’t matter all that much. So I wanted to have some fun with it.

  6. The Paperback Princess

    “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.” <– this is my favourite.
    Blogging about anything is kind of narcissistic if you really stop and think about it. The idea that anyone cares about anything you're doing enough to write about it in a public space is insane. But here we are anyway!
    You make some solid points though – especially about writing thoughtful, quality posts about what you've read. I just don't think I can read more slowly, more closely, more in-depth. Although I really have been hankering to re-read more of my favourites. FOMO is real.

    • lauratfrey

      I know, I was going to say something about how blogging is essentially the same things as all the stuff I was complaining about. But then I just kind of hoped no one would notice 😉

  7. Naomi

    It’ll be fun to see which books you decide to choose as your 35, and it will also be nice to see more reviews of them – I love your reviews.
    I’m also looking forward to hearing more about your own challenges/events – I’m curious to see what you have in mind for Franzen in February!

  8. Rick @ The Book-A-Week Project

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but challenges (for the most part) feel very Book Blogging v1.0 to me. I feel like, as a whole, the “community” is kind of outgrowing them in this 2.0 phase (maybe even 3.0). I completely understand why they’re done (I’m as guilty as anyone), but for the most part people probably don’t care. If it’s around a certain topic, then maybe, but things like the TBR challenge (which is a good one, as a concept) mean nothing to anyone but the blogger.

    I loved the snark in this post. There’s not enough of it in book blogging haha. I’ve gotten a little less snarky and sometimes that bums me out 😀

    I’m actually quite curious to see if you can stick to 35 books. I LOVE the thought behind it. Me reading a book a week is great for me, but there are definitely times when I’m forcing myself through a book rather than taking the time the book deserves. Good luck, I hope it’s fulfilling!

    As for Franzen in February, what’s the gist of the event? Do we read Franzen? Talk about him? Talk about his feuds? All of the above? I own two or three of his books and haven’t read anything, so I’d love to tackle him that month. I wonder if anyone wants to do a Franzen read-along…

    • lauratfrey

      Very good point. I think the community is confused, because I feel like there are more challenges than ever this year, but the community is just too big and widespread to support it. Like how many TBR challenges are there? I know of three off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more. And yeah TBR is the head-scratcher for me. Who cares? I’m going the one I’m doing because I like the blogger, basically, otherwise I would just do it, and maybe tell people, but not in a “sign up and join me” way.

      Bring back the snark! It’s ever so fun.

      I think I can do it. My main strategy is to read one book at a time.

      The gist is basically an excuse for me to finally publish my conspiracy theory re. The Corrections and Fly Away Home being the same story. I’m going to do some “on theme” reading (not necessarily one of his books, hence the “friends and foes” things, I may have placed an order for a Weiner book on Dec. 31 to circumvent my TBR challenge) and try to post a few times with some fun Franzen-y stuff. Maybe I should look for some guest posts… you wanna do one?? I can see it now: “My First Franzen” lol.

  9. Elle

    “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.”

    ^ ahahaha. THIS. You are my favourite right now. In fact, you get a cookie just for writing that.

  10. didibooksenglish

    AMEN to this post! You probably read my reading diversely post last year. I said some of the same things. Some people really have to get over themselves. Don’t get me started with the bingo cards. (insert eyeball rolling here…) I came to that conclusion last year when I decided to set my goal at 50 books with the idea that I would focus on counting pages not books. I also decided to read for pleasure because as you put it Ain’t nobody got time for this reading rat race! Will be interested to see what your 35 titles will be. Good Luck and I wish you pleasurable reading this 2016! 🙂

  11. J.

    Great post, Laura, and lots to think about. I’m wondering if I should go back and reduce my yearly goal. Reading is only half of it, as you said: for writers and bloggers there has to be more. I’m actually really interested to see how this goes for you, and how you go about limiting yourself. It’s a good plan.

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of LitHub, but after that post I’m not too keen to try them out. I’ve been noticing more and more of that attitude on BookRiot, too.

    Good luck! I hope you enjoy your reading much more this year. 🙂

  12. Grab the Lapels

    When I read a book for review, I take lots of notes when I read, develop criteria for the evaluation of the book, fashion an outline, write the post, edit it, and then proofread it. This all takes several days. This also the method I teach to my ENG 101 students. There is no way I can continue to review as I do AND read so many books in one year, so having reasonable expectations about reading less, I believe, is a smart move. I’m hoping you feel that your reviews get better and better with this more careful reading, too! I’m excited to see what you read/review this coming year 🙂

  13. Grab the Lapels

    Oh! I’d also like to add that I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading challenges, especially specific ones that get readers to try new works. My problem is when I open my WordPress reader and all I see are posts about the challenge, but never any reviews. Usually, I click on a specific blog, and if all of their updates are about how they are going to do a challenge, or other posts that aren’t actually reviews or book related, I unfollow that blog. If the blogger mentions the challenge and then gets reviewing, that’s great! There can be a sense of community established by doing a challenge WITH other people.

    Lectito, a book review blog, wrote a great post about my concern, and her advice comes from experience: http://lectito.me/2015/12/09/why-no-ones-reading-your-book-blog-and-how-to-change-that/

  14. roxannemfelix

    I DO care. A lot! Your blog postings set me free Laura! By the way, I don’t know where you find such excellent postings but that article On Pandering was fabulous. More than fabulous. It was like a cold, refreshing ice tea on a very hot, sweltering summer day. Why? Because when I published my first real piece of work I was *stunned* by the sexism that was rampant at all the publishing events I went to … And the lack of commentary on it all. And god forbid that I, as an emerging writer, should ever complain about that. Anyway – your goals for the year resonate with everything I seek to do … but often forget/neglect to do … which is savor. Appreciate the moment. Concentrate on the present. Stop thinking about what’s next. Happy New Year!

  15. Melissa

    Thanks for the shout out! 🙂

    I still love reading challenges, mostly because I use them as lists that nudge me in the direction of all the unread books on my shelves. I only end up completing a few of them each year, which is perfectly fine by me. And I LOVE that you’re doing Franzen in February. Any time I mention my love for Franzen, I get major side eye. lol

  16. Cathy746books

    Oops. I am probably the ultimate irritating challenge person because my whole blog is my challenge! Great post Laura, enjoy your 35 books – I look forward to hearing how you get on.

  17. Meredith Bratland (@MeredithBratlan)

    Now I’m really thinking about whether I should finish my 2015 reading recap post and 2016 goals! Honestly, who really cares except me? Blogging sometimes feels really self-indulgent but everyone seems to have a fascination with other people’s lives (myself included). I loved the sass of this post (#zerofucksgiven might make some appearances in my reviews).

    I’m having trouble deciding if I should include my worst books of 2015 in my recap because it seems that it doesn’t serve anyone. On the other hand, sometimes I like to read why someone doesn’t like something if it’s a thoughtful criticism.

    PS – Thanks for the introduction to Feminist Texican Reads, what a well-done blog in both design and writing.

    • lauratfrey

      I care, I care! Write it please 🙂 Blogging is totally self indulgent. The disconnect with this manifesto is that it’s not a blog. If I’m on Meredithbratlan,com, it’s because I care what Meredith is reading. If I’m on LitHub.com, I want general lit news, criticism etc, not some random dude’s ***manifesto*** 🙂

      Oh do the worst books. Please? 🙂

  18. Kristilyn

    I’ve gone from really paying attention to the quantity of books I’ve read to really not giving a shit. lol. With two kids, if I’m reading that’s a GOOD thing. And I know there are so many people on Twitter who talk about reading diversity and why we need to read this or that, but I’m just going to read what I want. If all I read this year are cozy mysteries and historical romances, whatever. At least I’m reading and happy.

    And I gave up on the Goodreads challenge last year. I think I challenged myself to read 100 books and I hit it, but it was so much nicer to do it on my own terms than to see that damn widget over and over again about how behind or ahead I was in my reading.

    • lauratfrey

      Yup. I think because I came into blogging already being a parent, a lot of blogging things and trends made me go, “really? Who has time for that?” from the beginning!

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  20. mdachsel

    I’m doing #95books this year, though I am quite certain I won’t get anywhere near it. It’s the closet thing to a challenge I’ve done, but I like seeing the hashtag on Twitter so I’m joining in. Looking forward to seeing what you will read. Will you count the advent calendar as one of the 35 if you do it again?

  21. writereads

    Well said, as per usual.
    I’m going to blog more (with no qualifications as to what “more” means”)
    I’m going to get through a bit more of my TBR pile (again, no qualifications).
    I do like the idea of reading more deeply. I have noticed myself getting back to note-taking/journaling while reading, which I’m quite enjoying. -Tania

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