I have a love-hate relationship with new years resolutions. I hate making them because I hate going against my word. However, I love the promise of a new year and the hope of becoming a better human. I can be fairly idealistic.
Last year when we enclosed our patio and made a home library, I had dreams of sitting and reading for hours. While there was definitely some of that kind of time spent in my library, my soul was still weary from losing my best friend, my sister. I needed time to grieve. Thankfully the Lord has given me that time and reignited my passion for not only reading His Word, but also to dig in to some of the incredible books that surround me every day.
So instead of resolving to read a certain number of a certain type of book, I've outlined aspirations centered more around the type of reader I'd like to be, not the quantity of material I can consume. Here are my reading aspirations for a new year.
Make Time for Reading
This seems like an obvious place to start, but it's the make-or-break characteristic of a reader. Last year I didn't seem to have the emotional energy for reading, therefore I didn't have any time to read. I watched a lot of TV.
This January, we're trying out a new rhythm - no TV after dinner. This was our pattern, and it felt really good to a weary body at the end of the day. But just like eating sugar, that good feeling didn't last as long as the soul satisfying feeling of reading a good book. So we're trimming our TV diet.
While I'm not against TV watching, my family and I have decided to reclaim our evenings as time for soul pursuits rather than turning into vegetables after dinner. It's a tricky shift, but we've already experienced the benefits of quiet time in the evening. If I fall asleep reading a good book, I probably needed the rest anyways.
This is just one simple habit I'm working to change in making time for reading. There are so many other ways to grab a few extra minutes of reading each day that can really add up:
- Have a quiet time in the afternoon where everyone rests or reads - we called this FOB when I worked at Pine Cove - "Flat On Back"
- Leave a book in the bathroom...it's about the only place I can have a minute of uninterrupted time
- Wake up a little earlier than usual to get extra reading time
- Read with your husband at night before you go to sleep
Leave Time for Thinking
Even a good fiction novel can deeply nourish your soul with a touch of contemplation. Asking good questions of the story and the author can yield delicious fruit. I love the Teaching the Classics program by Adam and Missy Andrews. They demonstrate how asking the right kinds of questions can bring a bounty of discoveries from even the simplest of stories.
I'm a pretty fast reader, and often times I find myself skimming a story to get to the part I want to read rather than allowing the author to tell me the story like they intended the story to be told. As I read in the evenings, there is plenty of time to occasionally stare off into space and just let the themes and ideas marinate in my mind and in my heart. I want to read deeply and savor the richness of great books.
Mark Up My Books...at Least Some of Them
I know there are many people out there who are deeply passionate about not marking in your books. I just can't do it. I'll think of a quote I wanted to remember later, and I don't want to spend hours hunting it down again. Even my precious books will submit to my marking, although I will do it very neatly and purposefully.
I have a number of favorite tools I like to use to annotate my books. Here are some of my favorites:
- For light highlights, I like to use a soft yellow colored pencil. It's easy to find my highlight again, but it doesn't totally take over the appearance of the page. My favorite is the Ohuhu Yellow #554
- I like underlining with FriXion erasable pens (to correct my mistakes if I need to)
- When I'm reading my Bible, I love using these gel highlighters (really only the blue)
I don't feel like I have to write in every book I read, but I do think differently about my reading when I'm intending on marking up my books.
Write Down What I Want To Remeber
I used to be excellent at remembering everything I read. Then I had kids. I swear that my head is like a sieve—it doesn't retain much of value. While I can cling pretty well to movie quotes, I have to write down great ideas from books if I want to remember them.
I used to keep up with my commonplace book very regularly. I'm pulling it back out as well to help me retain some of the lovely works I'm contemplating. Writing it down helps me mull over the quotes as I write, which in turn helps me remember them better. It also gives me a longer memory of the great books I've read when I can look back over my notes over the years and see the treasures I've harvested.
Initiate Conversations About Great Ideas
I don't have to be a part of a book club to have great conversations about the ideas I'm contemplating from what I'm reading. My friends and family don't even have to have read Charlotte's Web for example to participate in a fruitful conversation about what it means to be a great friend.
Initiating conversations can be risky, but it can also be very rewarding. Eleanor Roosevelt believed that great minds discuss ideas. Ask an open ended question, and be willing to entertain different opinions on the subject.
Your friendships will be enriched as you begin cultivating conversations that center around building character in one another.
Read to Feed My Soul...Not Because I Have To
I fear putting a number on my reading aspirations for the year because I'm too quick to manipulate a system to work in my advantage. Let's face it—I'm pretty good at weaseling out of work. If I need to read 50 books in a year, I'm going to pick the ones with the fewest pages! If I pick a thick book, I don't want to feel like a failure when I complete it because I only made it through one book in a month or two and didn't hit my quota.
James Sire expresses this idea beautifully in his book How to Read Slowly:
Most of my reading is for perspective. I rarely read anything, including Agatha Christie, for mere nonintellectual entertainment. That's because I enjoy paying attention to the subtleties of good writing, and when we do that we get more than entertained. We pick up a writer's conception of life, his understanding of human nature, his views on the good, the true, and the beautiful; in short, we learn the author's world view and, if the work we are reading is well written, perhaps we even begin to experience that world view vicariously.
Here is where I believe reading becomes of most value. We are not just bifurcating our lives into the dull pursuit of information and world view on the one hand and the exciting pursuit of sheer entertainment on the other. We are putting together what should never be split—excitement and knowledge, joy and truth, ecstasy and value. Indeed, in such moments of reading we are living the good life.
He recommends reading through the best that has been thought and said in the world by which he means the Great Books of the Western World compiled by Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins. It just so happens that my husband bought me a used set of these volumes. I can't wait to dig in!
So I'm not going to put a number on my reading list this year, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Having goals like that can really push you beyond what you thought was possible. What really matters is your purpose in putting the number out there.
Not Fear Big Words or Big Ideas
Too often I shy away from an excellent book because I'm afraid that I will fail to understand either the vocabulary or the ideas presented within the pages. I'm sure that reclaiming my own education has given me confidence to tackle some bigger authors like Plato, Homer, and Shakespeare. As I learn how to slow down, think deep, and wait patiently as a reader, these authors become accessible to me.
I'm also learning to not fear putting a book down and letting the ideas settle for a moment before I pick it back up again. I may even have to read something twice or three times before the ideas really begin to form in my mind. That's okay too! Repetition doesn't mean that I'm stupid. It just means that my brain needs conditioning to be able to wrap itself around a certain concept. I'm not afraid of a little mental stretching!
On My Stack to Read First
So those are my reading aspiration for the new year. I've already amassed a small stack of treasures to dig in to. Here's what's on my list:
A Wrinkle in Time - because I've never finished this book, and I'm really fascinated with the symbolism of light and darkness that play a huge role in this story. That, and I want to read it before the movie comes out.
Charlotte's Web - I'm reading this one with my youngest and a couple of her friends. I love modeling the kind of reader that I want my kids to become. There is a special bond created when we share a good conversation over a good book.
Defeating Darwinism - This is a book I'm reading through again with my Challenge B daughter. It's one of my all time favorite reads - such a fascinating book.
Living by the Book - I'm reading through this one again with my two oldest. It's really a fantastic resource for learning how to study the Bible on your own. It gives such practical tips for studying the Word.
The Big Picture - My husband is reading this one out loud at night before we go to sleep. It's also been a great book for becoming familiar with the grander story of the Bible. As we read together, we always end up having great conversations about the ideas presented. I'm so glad we can share this book together.
The 12 Week Year - There has been a lot of buzz about this book among my blogging friends. I'm hoping to glean some productive work ideas from this one.
Generations - My mother-in-law showed me this book, and I was fascinated by the way that the author presents a theory for understanding American history from a new perspective. I love it when you can see patterns emerge over time. Like did you know that we never had a president that was part of the "Silent" generation (those born between 1925 and 1942)? I'm the most excited to read this one.
The Nightingale - This one just arrived on my doorstep this weekend as a gift from my mother-in-law (she knows my love language). I've heard great recommendations about this one. I'm excited to read it.
Plato's Apology and Crito - These are the first two reading recommendations from Adler's Great Books of the World series. My husband and I just finished reading through them and discussing them. Apology covers Socrates's trial and defense of his method of teaching and examining lives around him. Then Crito is a conversation between Socrates and Crito where Crito tries to convince Socrates to escape, and Socrates discusses the nature of following the law. They are both excellent and fascinating.
I'm excited to see what adventures await me between the pages of these great books!
What books are on your reading list this year?