A new year of reading

Usually I have an ambitious list of reading plans built up for the new year. I plan out elaborate lists, goals, and challenges for which books I’ll read and how many. This year, I’m feeling resistant to such plans, and thinking about this new year of reading more organically. So this won’t be a tidy list, but a stream of consciousness musing on what I want from my reading life in the coming months.

This year I want to read books that matter, whatever form mattering takes. This could mean personal growth or parenting books that teach me important things and improve my life. It could mean reading about important events in history I should know more about. It could mean reading a book that was really important to a friend. In short, I want more than just entertainment from my reading life.

In the past few years, I’ve come to crave the comfort of rereading my favorites, especially Jane Austen. I’ve read every Austen novel at least once and my current project is to reread all in the fancy cloth-bound editions my mother-in-law gifted me a few years ago. It would be a real shame for any these beautiful copies to go unread! Along those lines, I have a beautiful, new, cloth-bound copy of my beloved Middlemarch and it deserves to be read as well.

That leads nicely into my next point: I want to read the books on my shelves. I have so many books I purchased with great excitement and left to languish on my shelves ever since, some for over a decade (I’m looking at you, Hero With a Thousand Faces). I made a point of this in the last few months and it’s so satisfying. It’s a win-win because I can cross something off my TBR, and if I don’t like it, I can get it off my shelf and out of my life.

I want to pick up classics again. Many of my favorite books are pretty freaking old – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, North and South. The problem is, the classics have all been on my TBR so long at this point, they’ve gone stale and it’s hard to get excited about them. Please, if you have a favorite classic (or old book that has flown under the radar of classic-dom), share!

I made a goal last year of reading more children’s literature, more as a duty to my children than anything else, and, wow, did I love it. I was surprised to find that my five star reads of the year were disproportionately middle grade. A great children’s book is a great everyone book, and I’m hungry to find more gems in this category and continue some of the series I started last year (The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Vanderbeekers, Little House).

In 2022, I don’t want my reading life to revolve around goals and checklists. I simply want it to be rich and joyful. May we all be so lucky!

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.

The Master Plan

I’ve mentioned some “major life goals” that inspired our newfound financial outlook. One of these goals I covered in my first post–my staying home with Little Guy. Now we’re finally in a place to share our Master Plan more broadly, so here you go!

Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have really wanted to be closer to my family and friends in Minnesota. I’ve missed them over the years, obviously, but when I finished working I felt their absence more than ever. We didn’t want Little Guy to grow up without these people and their support, company, and general awesomeness in his everyday life.

At the same time, The Husband has always been ready to practice law on his own. He worked for himself by necessity in the past and did amazing, despite having no experience and being unsure what practice area to focus on. Since starting at his current firm, he has really discovered a great fit in elder law and estate planning. He even writes an awesome Medicaid blog that you should check out!

One day we were talking about our life, and we realized we weren’t quite satisfied with it.¬†Where both of us wanted to be long-term was not where our current life was taking us. We wanted to live our life more deliberately, and really thought about what we wanted out of our future. We devised our Master Plan–move to the Twin Cities area (Wisconsin-side) by July of 2018. There, The Husband will start a solo practice as an estate planning and Medicaid attorney.

What The Husband wants, and what I want for him, is a solo practice of his own. We love the personal and professional freedom this will give him, and the opportunity is ripe right now. Little Guy is a very little guy, so we’re not taking him away from friends or switching schools; our expenses and space needs aren’t much right now, and will only grow as time goes on. The risks are smaller now than they will be at any time in the future, and the payoff for those risks is the life we want.

Because we’ll be plunging into the unknown (and unsalaried), we set a major savings goal: three months’ expenses, moving expenses, and Minnesota bar exam fees in the bank in one year or less. Through constant efforts at frugalizing our lifestyle and getting less stupid about money, we are well on our way to that goal after just three months.

We’re very excited about this (somewhat crazy) dream of ours. And I’m excited to share with all of you the strange and sundry ways we’re making it happen.