I’ve always been a reader, but at some point after becoming a parent, my reading gravitated entirely to nonfiction. Partly the function of my work as a writer, researcher, strategist, etc., partly due to my cluelessness as a parent (let’s just say I digested my fair share of parenting tomes), and also a practical function of time. A few months ago, I decided this had to change.
In late October, I realized that I truly missed fiction. I missed reading stories at my own pace, vs. following at the pace of a film. I missed the larger role in the process that my imagination plays. I had just finished unpacking all of my books for our finally-finished dining room / library and realized I had few fiction books left since 1999 when I moved to a small apartment in San Francisco and sold most of them to make space. Around the same time, I observed my daughter’s joy upon reading now that she’s a tween. Recalling my love of reading books was like remembering an old friend, and how much fun we used to have together. I found that I missed the simple delight of the fiction enjoyment process, not bogged down by feeling some responsibility for learning information, as I tend to feel with nonfiction. So I took two steps: 1) I read A Wrinkle in Time with my daughter. 2) I read The Martian for myself. Not a bad way to get back in the saddle.
At some point earlier in 2015, I also realized I had bookmarks in 38 books, on various shelves in my home and office. That meant I had begun reading that many books and then sidetracked to another book. All of them were nonfiction, of course. A friend gave me good advice: life is short; don’t feel you need to finish them all. That said, I determined I should at the very least skim the remainder of the books since I’d been holding onto them this long. Books that I truly detest, I donate or take back to the library pretty quickly.
Now that it’s 2016 and I have settled into my annual goal setting task, I made two reading goals and asked my friends to help me with the second. First, I’m determined to finish the 38 nonfiction books I started, whether that means skimming or reading them in full. With 52 weeks in the year, I figure a solid goal is to finish 1 per week since I’ll inevitably feel the need to start a few more this year for business purposes. So far, I’ve finished 2 books, so it’s not a bad start.
My second goal is to get back to reading fiction regularly. I’ve set a loose goal of reading 1 fiction book per month. It’s similar to a book club pattern and gives me the flexibility to read over the course of the month or in a binge session if I’m really hooked. (Don’t ask me where I’ll find the time. I’m still working on that piece.) I enlisted friends on Facebook to help get me started. Dozens of people shared books they have read and loved recently as well as over the years. Some even sent me their own book lists of favorites. Then I found some of my old reading lists, plus I trolled The New York Times Bestseller Lists and the NPR Books recommendations. I was more than ready.
I created a spreadsheet, then put all of the books into Goodreads. My work is now cut out for me as I have more than 350 books in the “To Read” category. In the process, I also updated Goodreads with more of the books that I’ve read, connecting with more people and becoming more active. It’s a great site — highly recommended.
It’s been a great exercise so far, allowing me to reconnect with my love of reading, particularly in genres where I used to spend months drinking in delicate, enticing prose, like science fiction and stage plays. I took a special trip to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco just to put me in the right mood. (And of course I bought a few books… must support local bookstores!) To my happy surprise, they had a solid collection of Tom Stoppard books, and he happens to be my favorite playwright, so I picked up two more of his plays. I also picked up the Red Mars trilogy that I’ve heard about for years and always wanted to read.
Now I’m ready to go. Last night, I finished reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, and this past weekend, I began reading Tom Stoppard’s book-script for Parade’s End, a BBC TV five-part series based on the novel by Ford Madox Ford. It will be an extra special treat to watch the series after reading the book. I’ll likely be too busy reading to provide regular updates here, but I’ll be marking books read in Goodreads as the year progresses. Find me on Goodreads and we can share books together.