On January 1, 2018, I resolved to read one book per week for the entire year. I love books, but have often struggled in my adult life to just sit down and read something that wasn't assigned in a class. I'm sure many of us have had a friend recommend a good book to us, only to let it sit on our mental bookshelf untouched. My inability to make a dent in my book list became a source of frustration when I graduated from a liberal arts college and no longer had someone assigning me literature for homework. Something had to be done.
Setting a Plan
The upcoming New Year provided an excellent excuse to begin a new reading habit. So as the year's end approached, I put together a simple spreadsheet with fifty-two slots and sent out a call on social media for aid. The response was deafening—dozens of friends recommended over one hundred books and authors, some familiar, most new. One December afternoon, I curled up and spent some delightful hours going through all the titles and carefully selecting the ones that would go into the weekly spreadsheet.
Each week had a single book assigned to it, roughly laid out based on what I anticipated my year would look like. I placed shorter, fun books during testing weeks and busy internships, scheduled longer or more challenging books during slow times, and scattered already-beloved books and authors throughout the calendar. The result was a full year of reading neatly laid out in front of me. On January 1, I picked up The Pickwick Papers and jumped in.
To be honest, I didn't think the resolution would stick. I've really struggled to maintain regular activities like journaling or letter-writing in the past. But, to my surprise, it has stuck, so much so that I plan to extend this year's practice into a regular annual habit. Even when I've missed a week or two due to tests, travel, or just plain laziness, the allure of all those enthralling books and what they have to offer has drawn me back every time.
Reaping the Rewards
The practice of reading regularly and abundantly, far from feeling like a self-imposed chore, has brought me a great deal of joy. The abundance of stories filling my days has enhanced my daily life, adding depth and flavor to ordinary experiences. I enjoy telling friends that I finally read their recommendations, and our conversations and relationships are the richer for the stories that we now share. Connections and themes that I never noticed before reveal themselves in multiple works, lending a sense of unity to all of these disparate books.
Reading is no longer a solitary activity, but instead a vibrant conversation across space and time in which I am taking part. The more you read, the more you can see the nature of the author shining through the words on the page, and the more you feel that relationship grow. If I feel like it, I make marginalia in my books. Dialoguing with authors as they write really helps me unfold the meaning behind their stories. Through scribbled notes in the margin I've debated with Dorothy Sayers, shared breathless moments of wonder with Sheldon Vanauken, and carried the fire through the apocalypse with Cormac McCarthy.
There is an art to reading regularly that I have discovered through trial and much error. We often forget how fruitful (and fun) reading can be when confronted daily with the clickbait and sound bites of modern media. Reading all the way through a book is a potent reminder of the amazing power that we have to turn words on a page into vibrant images and experiences. Even a few months of regular reading will give you great confidence in that capacity. You might even get some of your friends to pick up your reading habit!
Good stories have the power to inspire, comfort, and embolden us unlike anything else. Far from isolating us, reading regularly connects us to each other, to the writers behind the page, and to greater truths and principles as we search for meaning in the modern world.
As C.S. Lewis wrote to his goddaughter Lucy in the preface to his classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
Want To Try This for Yourself?
Here are a few tips that I'd recommend if you’re interested in trying this resolution yourself.
01. You get to read whatever you want.
This may seem obvious, but many of us feel at some level that there are books we ought to read, because they are classics, or important works, or whatever. This attitude must be abolished if you are to get any real reading done (and enjoy yourself in the process). Do you prefer murder mysteries? Fill your year with them. History? Read about a different century every month. Children’s literature? Theology? Military strategy? Poetry? Go for whatever sounds most exciting or enthralling to you. The probability that you will start and finish a book on schedule goes up dramatically if you are reading things that you like. (The probability that you will stumble across and enjoy the great classics goes up, too!)
02. Mix it up.
Put ghost stories next to autobiography. Place a western and a sci-fi novel back to back. Give yourself a short book one week and a long one the next. Borrow from a friend or the library. Go book shopping. Make it fun! Also, if you are like me and you just cannot ignore the "should-read" books, bracket those in your schedule with books you can't put down.
03. Don't give up when you miss a week.
Sometimes your plan to read Adam Smith's 800-page Theory of Moral Sentiments will clash with midterms and there's nothing you can do about it. Just put the missed book on the docket for next year and keep moving. The most important thing is to enjoy the books you read, not stress about the ones that get moved. If you have to, just read shorter works during busy times. (The Little Prince, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi are all great classic stories that run fewer than fifty pages.)
04. Plan ahead.
Yes, for the whole year. Far from being stifling, this helped me get excited about reading more! April brought The Neverending Story and Watership Down. Oscar Wilde and William Goldman told their stories in June. Halloween week will bring with it Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Shakespeare’s The Winter's Tale will add a warm glow to Christmas Eve. There is something really magical in always having something to look forward to, and a well-curated book list adds a sparkle of anticipation to everyday life like few other things can.