By Kira Homsher
Like most people, I am never able to follow through with all of my lofty New Year’s resolutions. For the past few years, however, I’ve been setting reading goals, which have enabled me to read many more books per year and to be more mindful about how I spend my time. When you set a target number of books to read, you augment what would normally be a casual pursuit with a regular structure, keeping you on track when you might otherwise fall prey to the capricious whims of boredom and distraction. The first year I set a reading goal, I cautiously aimed for twenty books. I exceeded this goal and raised my number to thirty the following year. Now, I shoot for forty books a year.
I’ve found that visualizing my progress provides me with a consistent source of motivation. I keep a written list of the books I read on a page in my planner, and I can feel my endorphins spike every time I add a title to the list. This year, I joined Goodreads’ annual reading challenge, which actually keeps you on schedule by alerting you to when you are falling behind. You can view the covers of the books you’ve read in a given year, visualizing your accomplishments and piecing memories together around the map of your literary milieu.
The main pitfall in keeping a reading list is that it in no way accounts for the actual amount of reading you get done in a year. Reading lists don’t include short stories, poems, articles, or essays. They don’t include the staggering amount of texts, emails, signs, and words you consume on a daily basis. That being said, you can include books of all shapes and sizes in your list. My 2019 reading list includes books from 150-800 pages and spans the literary gamut from YA novels to heady theory and criticism. I don’t want to train my literary eyes on any particular style or genre of writing so much as I simply want to keep reading every day.
If you’re feeling guilty about not reading enough, I highly recommend alchemizing that sense of guilt to your own advantage by setting a yearly reading goal. I still haven’t been able to get myself to cook healthy meals, go to the gym, or wake up before 11 AM, but even I’ve managed to benefit from a healthy, structured dose of literature.
2 thoughts on “Yearly Reading Goals”
For some people, Kira, your reading goal might be tweaked to be not “books read,” but “books started.” I have over the years come to understand that we are under no ethical obligation to finish a book we start, and that in fact finishing some books is a costly mistake. Yes, we feel a sense of accomplishment when we finally get to that last page, but we should be mindful of what business people know of as “opportunity costs.” An hour reading any book is an hour that might have been better spent reading a different book. Maybe not even a better book, but just a different book. Implicit in your post, as I read it, is the assumption that we read not just for the moment’s amusement, but for other reasons as well, such as becoming better writers or better thinkers or better human beings. Just as some medieval monks were said to keep skulls in their cells as a constant reminder of mortality (and thus the vanity of wasted time), I keep Lydia Davis’s fine translation of Marcel Proust’s inexhaustible Swann’s Way at hand, as a reminder of my mortality, i.e. the limited reading time that I have left, and as a reminder to waste no time continuing to read any book if there is a more pleasing and instructive book at hand. I think that every young writer should carefully read (and enjoy, and benefit from) the first chapter of Moby Dick and Mrs. Dalloway, without feeling any guilt about not reading on, if they find themselves drawn next to some other book.
I really like your little amendment to my post. I completely agree that the whole notion of reading goals sort of sets the expectation that you should finish all the books you start, when in fact many books might not be worth finishing at all. I can certainly think of a few books I finished only because I felt I was “in too deep” (for example, Murakami’s 1Q84) and I do regret wasting that time when I could’ve been reading something far more enjoyable & instructive. I’ll certainly go into my 2020 reading goal with this in mind — thanks very much for the response!