Reading Deeper in 2021

Like almost every book lover, my reading life looked different in 2020. I read more books than I ever have before, by a lot. I finished 88 books in 2020, a personal record by more than 25 books. That number felt great, but getting to it didn’t always feel so great. I was reading for the win – the goal was not to enjoy reading, but to finish books, and lots of them. Having the twofold stress of the pandemic and a pregnancy, short and light-hearted books were a lifeline, and always being just around the corner from finishing a book gave me something to look forward to.

I don’t regret reading this way, but I did miss depth in my reading life, and I especially missed a slower, calmer reading experience. Last year, I went for quantity over quality, but this year I’m focusing on quality. That means I’ll stop shying away from those long or challenging reads, but more than that, it means I will focus on enjoying the reading experience rather than bolstering my book tally.

I always set some categories to read in each year to keep my reading broad and varied – like a series, a mystery novel, a Jane Austen reread – but this year I’ve also set some general goals. These are big-picture principles that will guide my reading life this year. I hope these goals will help me select great books and build good reading habits in 2021.

  1. Read Less. Yep. You heard that right. I want to improve my reading life – and the rest of my life – by reading less. I got so stuck on completing books in 2020. I never took a walk in silence, because I could get through some audiobook; I zoomed through a book so I could mark it as finished, instead of slowing down to savor beautiful prose or ponder big ideas. I was enjoying books, but not enjoying the act of reading. This year, I want to read to read. I also want to make room in my life for quiet, without always adding the noise of new information. I want to take time to contemplate the books I read. I want to listen to an audiobook at normal speed. I want to take a walk in silence.
  2. Better Myself. I want to do more learning and growing this year. I want to learn something this year that will make my life better every day. In December, I read Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel (one of my favorite books of 2020), and it truly made my life better. Simple living is a passion of mine, and this book had me wondering what else I can learn from others to make my life simpler and better. I’m particularly interested in books on habit like Atomic Habits and One Small Step Can Change Your Life, personal growth books like The Chemistry of Calm, and contemplative nonfiction like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet.
  3. Learn Something. I don’t read enough history. This year I’m eager to learn more about history and the lives of interesting people through some great biographies. Reading biography is actually a huge stretch for me. I usually include a biography on my yearly reading challenge, and usually that category goes unmet all year (along with the book of poetry I always think I’ll read). My list currently includes Woody Holton’s Abigail Adams and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. Honestly, those will probably keep me busy quite a while, but I would love some great biography recommendations if you have them. My underlying goal here is to stop thinking of this genre as dry and boring, so I read it more naturally in the future.
  4. Explore children’s literature. I already have a collection of picture books I love. I wrote in the past about weeding out the twaddle and keeping only the very best books to read with my kids. Now that my oldest is four, I’m eager to build a library full of great books for older kids. This year, I want to read a lot of children’s chapter books so I can pick great read alouds and surround my kids with great books to choose from when they’re ready to read for themselves. To meet this goal, I’m doing buddy reads with my sister-in-law (an elementary school teacher and my favorite children’s book expert), reading beginner chapter books like My Father’s Dragon with Bub, and taking on whatever catches my fancy on my own, like the Little House series. I’m always looking for great recommendations, so please share your favorites!
  5. Go long. I was not that pandemic reader taking on War and Peace. I rarely even touched a book longer than 350 pages. That’s okay, except I almost always find great pleasure in a long book that has stood the test of time. If a book is long and still everyone loves it, there must be something great about it. Two of my very favorite books, Les Miserables and Middlemarch (which has a great free audiobook version on Librivox), are so long I’d once resolved never to read them, and boy am I glad I didn’t stick to that resolution. The thing is, you cannot enjoy a long book if you can’t enjoy the reading experience. In 2020, I stuck with very short reads, because I did not have the fortitude for intimidating page counts, but this year I want to stop looking at the numbers and just savor a great, long book. It almost always pays off. Unless it’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Skip that one.

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