My planning for a year’s reading always involves looking back at the previous reading year.
In 2019, I’d planned to focus on series reading. In the previous year, 25% of my reading had revolved around various series, moving ahead or finishing. In 2019, only 18 of the books I read were in series, mostly projects that I started and finished in the same year (like Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers volumes, and Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet – although the final volume won’t be published until this summer). Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but I’ll take this as a success, because my reason for concentrating on series was that I had a habit of beginning but leaving them unfinished.
Another 2019 goal was to read more short story collections. I’d read 14 the previous year and, in 2019, I read 25. Gold star, I’d say. And I was exceptionally pleased that several were collections in translation. This year I will finish reading through Mavis Gallant’s stories and…choose the subject of my next story project!
Perhaps it would be a stretch to say that I made exceptional progress on my other two goals: to read more books by my MRE (MustReadEverything) authors, and to read more of the books that have lingered on my shelves for more than 20 years, sometimes untouched and sometimes begun but abandoned midway. In the previous year, I’d read maybe a dozen of my MRE authors’ books and a handful of 20Somethings and Stuck: in 2019, I read two books by MRE authors and two 20Somethings (not the same two, at least).
But this small mark of progress still feels like progress to me. Partly because the 20Somethings were such outstanding reading experiences for me in 2019. But mainly because I more often took time during the year to explore some authors’ backlists – as with Lee Maracle, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Azar Nafisi, Manjushree Thapa, Dominique Fortier, and Marie-Claire Blais – to not simply read one book and make vague inward promises to read more. Which is how the whole idea of MustReadEverything authors came about to start with. (Still, I hope to read more than 4 MRE authors and 20Somethings this year.)
But those goals will have to fend for themselves in 2020: I’ve got other reading projects in mind and underway.
Unlike other years, my projects were underway early enough to make library requests in December.
Early enough to tidy the end-of-year stacks and make way for fresh reading.
So I’m already busy reading for all of these.
Here and Elsewhere
Could be because one of these projects is related to a calendar that Mr BIP bought for me a couple of months ago.
In thinking about how easy it is to allow one’s world to get smaller, when one is overwhelmed by some of the sadness and struggle in this world, I started looking around for evidence of the opposite truth. It’s also easy to allow your world to get bigger under the same set of circumstances.
Something as small and unassuming as this desk calendar by a Toronto artist (each month with a quotation from the work of an author associated with this city and printed on 100% recycled paper with VOC-free inks) can be a spark to widen one’s view on the world.
More on this next week, but here’s a sneak peak in the accompanying image.
The Writing Life
Could also be because I’d planned to begin this last January, so this January could be viewed as a late start. But I’ve got a few biographical works and essay collections which have been untouched for too long. Often these were lucky finds in second-hand shops or library-sale bins, recognized as being ‘interesting’ rather than ‘essential’.
Often they were about classic writers, not necessarily favourite writers. But this doesn’t matter. Not really. In recent years, I’ve absolutely loved some books of letters or essays by/about writers like James Salter and John Steinbeck (and other writers whose initials are not J.S.) and I hadn’t considered them favourites of mine (I’d never heard of James Salter at the time).
It’s more likely that I’ll pick up a collection of letters by Gabrielle Roy or Carol Shields than by a writer whose works I haven’t read or have barely read (and only perhaps distantly admired or appreciated, rather than loved). So this project is designed to force a fleeting focus on a few volumes on my own shelves, which will be joined by some library loans along the way.
More on this later in January, but once more there’s a clue in the side-bar, and I’ll introduce a second writer to my stacks in February and read the two alongside, until one of them makes way for a third. I’m aiming for six in 2020, but I’m not sure how long each will reside in my stacks (or how many library volumes might pad out my reading plans).
Read the Change
Could also be because my reader’s heart still resists non-fiction. Most statistics around my reading habits change from year to year. (Some dramatically, like one year’s busiest reading months being the next year’s quietest.) But in 2018 and 2019, the one stat stubbornly unchanged was the amount of non-fiction: just 22% in each year. (I don’t count poetry as non-fiction, otherwise 2019 would have been higher, as I read more than twice as much poetry during the past year.)
In recent years, I’ve heard some fascinating interviews on topics with some urgency attached, on podcasts hosted by smart readers like David Naimon (Between the Covers) and Pamela Paul (the NYT Book Review). So, why not?
At least part of the reason that I resist this, is because reading about certain subjects is inevitably intertwined with making changes in my daily life. When there are footnotes involved, whether data-driven or anecdotal truths, I feel a different sense of involvement. So I actually don’t want to read that book about meditation because I already have this vague idea that I should probably be doing it, and if I read specifics about that, I might actually have to DO it (rather than glance guiltily at that app on my phone instead). Ridiculous, right?
During each year, I post four times about the short story collections I discover as I’m reading along. For each of these projects, I’m planning to post quarterly as well, but perhaps I’ll be inspired to share my discoveries more frequently, as I’m turning pages during 2020.