I can’t remember the last time I made a New Years’ Resolution. They’ve just never been for me.
But this year I’ve decided to make one. I’ve decided to read more.
Some of you who read my blog regularly or know me at all might be confused because I’m always talking about books: recommending them, giving them, posting about them, and, yes, reading them.
But here’s the thing: I miss the joy in reading.
Reading has always sustained me. Not only is it one of the most important parts of my identity and sense of self — mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, educator, writer, reader…. — but it’s what calms me, brings me peace, and makes me think most deeply.
It’s even one of the major ways that I mark the passage of time — its transitions, its struggles, its joys. When I was in grade school and starting to realize that my life didn’t look like many of the kids’ lives on TV (on a farm in the snowy Adirondacks with no neighbors, far away from other children) it was Laura Ingalls Wilder with whom I identified most strongly. She and I both lived on pioneer land, had farm chores, could explore the wilderness, and create our own adventures. When I was in college, I learned about the excitement of finding new authors in the literary fiction aisles of my college town independent bookstore. When I was in England during my junior year, in the massive and cold university library I discovered memoirs of women suffering from eating disorders and read them one by one, gradually learning about recovery and personal growth. When my dad died from cancer at age 53, I read (and re-read) Joan Didion’s incredible memoir about grieving the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking, and she became a sort of grief coach, teaching me about how the brain and the soul learns to cope with loss on their own time.
For every year, for every new apartment and house, for every event, for every time period, I can remember what I was reading, where I would read, and where I would get my books.
I’m a night reader. I read in the dark, quiet hours before I sleep. My contacts are off, my glasses and pajamas are on, the events of the day are behind me, and I push every thought and worry gently from my mind as I open the pages.
So what’s happened? Why aren’t I reading? At least not the novels and literature that make me feel connected and calmed. Life happened, I suppose. My toddler’s sleep is inconsistent and difficult, at best. I’m going to bed an hour or two earlier than I used to even a year ago, and I’m certainly better rested, but these hours used to be my sacred reading time. And I’m watching more television (“Scandal” and “The Walking Dead” have become serious addictions), and television is not a bad thing in itself, especially for parents, as I’ve written about before. I’ve been reading and writing about a lot of nonfiction for the blog, which I do like and love to share with readers. And of course, along with my co-editor, I edited and created our own book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.
I miss novels. I miss literature. I miss characters and beautiful language.
So that’s my resolution: more novels. (Maybe even a few memoirs in there too….)
And here are my first candidates to reclaim my reading life:
1) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I read “The Secret History” years ago and enjoyed it. But based on the hype and description of the plot of this apparently mesmerizing new novel I think I’ll like this one more.
2)The Signature of All Things: A Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve had this on my Kindle for weeks. Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her nonfiction is brilliant (although I wasn’t a huge fan of the ubiquitous “Eat, Pray, Love“), and I’ve adored a couple of the novels that I’ve read.
3) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I’ve started this book several times since the summer. I know I would love it, I really do. There is nothing that I like better than an epic story with multiple characters coming together and then apart, complex friendships and relationships, and subthemes of class and power. I’m a huge fan of every other novel that she’s written. I’m giving it another chance.
4) This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. This isn’t fiction but a collection of her essays describing the story about how she became a writer and how she’s learned to resolve the complexities of love and family in her own life. It’s received glowing reviews. She’s a brilliant novelist and her portrait of a friendship in the memoir “Truth & Beauty” is unflinching and honest.
I would love to add to my list. Which riveting novels have you read recently and loved? Have you read any of those first four on my list? What did you think?