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?
Samantha Brinn Merel says
I love this piece. Reading has always been a crucial part of my life too, inextricably tied to the season and years of change, and events both big and small. I’ve read some really great stuff lately. Here goes…I’m a loud and proud romance novel lover and can give you tons of suggestions if thats your thing. Otherwise, here are some more of my favorites from this year…Maine and Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, Inferno by Dan Brown, and if YA is your speed, I’m in love with the Divergent trilogy.
I’ve read most of those! I really love J. Courtney Sullivan and I thought Where’d You Go Bernadette was fantastic. I should try the Divergent series… I’ve heard so many good things!
I JUST finished The Goldfinch and loved it. It is definitely a long one but not in a dragging kind of way. My best friend had raved about Donna Tartt so I picked this one up. She was so right!
And I have The Signature of All Things all wrapped up to give to my mom or grandma for Christmas (we all share anyways).
I’ve heard good things about the essay collection but haven’t read it myself it. It’s on my list.
This summer and fall I have gone back to reading. When I read, I plow through subject areas- at one point it was any and all Russian Literature then it was magical realism and now I’m obsessed with a biography on Queen Elizabeth I. Have you read The Imperfectionists? It’s a multi-character book. I loved it.
No, I haven’t read the Imperfectionists. I’ll check it out… I often plow through certain genres too. I’ll get on a mystery kick or a chick lit kick or a political thriller kick…
Claudia Schmidt says
I too am a reader and I will just tell you that with a toddler, it might be a little while before you can really spend as much time as you once did finding the time to read, but you will have time again when they get a bit older. I couldn’t really ever find much time to read until my 2 were about 10 and 12 and now they’re 16 and 18 and I have LOTS of free time for reading so hang in there. And….I just finished The Goldfinch – it’s Tolstoy like in it’s size and scope! I loved it. Just started Signature of All Things this week and am already loving it, it’s wonderful. xo
Tamara (at PenPaperPad) says
I just started reading again this month. There’s something about the end of the year that brings me back to the things that I enjoy the most. I mostly have been reading continuations of series that I love: Stephanie Plum, The Spellmans and the Divergent series. I feel like there’s something missing if I’m closing my eyes to reading a monitor rather than a book.
I think that’s part of it for me too. I didn’t write about it, but I think I’m ready to go back to “real” books for a while. I think I’m burned out on reading only on the Kindle. Something about only reading a screen somehow makes you feel less disconnected in certain books, at least for me.
Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha says
First of all, that picture of your son is breathtaking!!
I am reading The Goldfinch and it is heartbreaking but fantastic. Keeps me up too late at night!
And thanks for more book suggestions, as always!
Oh, Sarah, that’s so good to hear! I’m sure I’ll like but its size is sort of scary!
Jessica, threes years ago after I had started my blog I had the same thought about reading. I realized I was on my computer too much and missed reading. I vowed to read 50 books a year and have been doing it ever since. I read at night like you do. One thing about writing about books sometimes on my blog that I don’t like . . . every person and their mother has written a book that I know at all loosely via the internet wants to send me a book to read and review. This *sounds* good . . . but it’s not. I’m not a straight-up book blogger. And I’m not really in the business of those kinds of reviews–at least not in the amount that people request them from me. I hate saying no, but I have gotten better at it! I want to read what I want to read. I don’t always want it to feel like an assignment. Sounds like you get that too!
How appropriate—I just talked about books today on my blog lol. I’ve read the Interestings and recommend it. I also have Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on my to-read list as well.
I can relate to books as markers in my life. I still remember the book I was reading when I first became a mom, and therefore baffled at how long it took me to finish a novel compared to not having a baby!
What an awesome new year’s resolution.
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