One of my goals for 2021 is to be more intentional in my reading. Last year, along with many others, I did a lot of comfort reading. That was fine, and I don’t regret it, but there are areas in which I’d like to grow in my reading life. Growth will only occur if I’m deliberate since I’d much rather just pick up one more murder mystery.
One thing that helped a lot in my planning was listening to Episode 265 of theWhat Should I Read Next podcast. Anne’s guest Laura Tremaine had ten questions to ask about your reading life. I journaled through these questions and came up with some ideas on how I wanted to approach my reading in 2021.
Here are the categories I hope to tackle in 2021. These include both challenges plus some work reading:
Poetry – They suggested an anthology, of which I own several. Normally I don’t read one straight through but dip in and out.
Letters – These would be real-life letters, which I love to read. I may combine this category with the next one and read the last book of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s letters that I’ve owned for several years but not yet read.
A book from my To-Be-Read stack – Lots to choose from here!
Old Books – My cut off is anything pre-1950
A Shakespeare play – I’ve read about three fourths of his plays and plan to read one new to me.
A book that requires jumping a hurdle. Either because it’s difficult to read or long or I’m avoiding it for some reason.
A book I started but never finished – There are several possibilities for this category.
Something Russian – Perhaps I should combine the previous category with this one and finally finish Anna Karenina!
Biography and Memoir – This is one of my favorite categories so I’ll have fun choosing a book for this one.
Something Local – I can read a book set in my area or by a local author. Since I work with the local authors at my library, I have many possibilities.
Reading Outside My Comfort Zone – This is a work category and part of the challenge.
Travel Books – I have a couple on my shelves that I’ve been meaning to read.
A Re-Read – I re-read regularly so this will be easy.
A Favorite Topic – I could choose several areas here–writing, genealogy, cooking, needlework, English history, or theology.
Focusing on an author – The idea is to read three or more books by the same author. I hope to choose a non-mystery author to stretch me.
Multicultural/#OwnVoices novel or memoir – This is for work and part of the challenge – I completed this one by reading The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper.
Theology and Christian Living – At least two of each this year.
A Winter Reading Challenge badge – Our library has a winter reading challenge each year, and you can earn badges by reading books in different categories. I earned the Surviving Winter Challenge by reading Snow by John Banville, A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow, and Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac.
My January reading was very satisfying in comfort although not so much in the challenge. I read three nonfiction, one of which was poetry, fifteen fiction books, and one children’s book. Of the fiction, only three weren’t mysteries. As much as I love mysteries, I need to be more adventurous in my reading.
I re-read several Hercule Poirot novels, which could count in the rereading category as well as the focus on a single author category, but they aren’t really stretching my reading life so I won’t count them toward the challenge. Waiting on the Word was poetry and devotional, but since I started it in December, I don’t plan to count it on this list. Also, I finally finished Union with Christ, which I started last year, too, so I’m not counting it either. Business as Usual by Jane Oliver was a delightful novel in letters. It doesn’t count for the challenge since that’s supposed to be real life letters, but it was so wonderful that I don’t care. I loved every second of it and will most likely read it again in the near future.
February is off to a better start as I intentionally chose books to read and am setting aside time daily to make progress in them—theology, nonfiction, and a book on literature. I’d like to add a book on writing and some poetry. I’ve almost decided which poetry anthology to read. In the meantime, I’m listening to a podcast on poetry and one on writing.
Do you plan to read intentionally in 2021? What’s the best book you read in January?
Now that 2020 is behind us and I’ve caught my reading journal up, I’m ready to reflect on what my reading life looked like last year. As with most other people, I have been at home a lot more than normal. While I continued to work from home for most of my regular hours, my commute shrunk to nothing for half the year and is still only a couple of times a week vs. every weekday.
Back in August, I did a reading goals check in on how my reading was going. At that point, I was reading almost 78% fiction and hoping to get to about 30%-70% nonfiction books to fiction books. I ended up reading 106 fiction and 30 nonfiction by the end of 2020. That’s 72% fiction and 28% nonfiction, which isn’t quite 30% but still the highest percentage I’ve read in recent years.
I did manage to squeeze another poetry book in, but because it was one that followed the Christmas calendar and didn’t end until Epiphany, I can’t count it for 2020. I’d like to bump the number of poetry books up to at least one a quarter or, even better, one every other month in 2021.
Audiobooks were so low–only five for the year. Losing my commute did a lot for my exercising and cooking, but killed my listening time. I ended up listening mostly to sermons and podcasts during my walks each day and dropped audiobooks altogether from March on. However, I have hopes for a better listening year in 2021. I’ve already downloaded Hilary Mantel’s third Cromwell book. I loved listening to Bring Up the Bodies on audio so I have high hopes for finishing The Mirror and the Light, too.
The biggest jump was in rereads: 64 of the 139 books I read were ones I had read before. That’s almost 50%! I put that down completely to compulsive comfort reading during the lockdown, pandemic, and political shenanigans throughout the year. I reread several mystery series, including Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid-James series and much of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge series. At the end of the year, I gulped down many of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Here are the books I appreciated or enjoyed this most. Many of them were nonfiction.
Voices from the Past, Volume 2: Puritan Devotional Readings, edited by Richard Rushing – The deep devotion and theology of the Puritan theologians kept me grounded during this difficult year.
Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth Through Journal Writing by Luci Shaw and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton – I read both of these with a group of women and the discussions made the reading so much richer.
Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship by Ruth Chou Simons – The combination of the gorgeous artwork and theological truth made this a great book to read this autumn.
What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport – Both of these books on living a productive life were helpful although from completely different places theologically.
Jenny Walton’s Packing for a Woman’s Journey by Nancy Lindemeyer – I had forgotten how much I loved this book. This is one of two rereads that made my best of 2020 list. It’s filled with beauty–both in writing and subject matter–and I enjoyed every essay.
My fiction reading wasn’t nearly as rich, probably because I did so much rereading for comfort. However there were a few that rose to the top:
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede – For sheer fun, this was a winner. It’s an epistolary novel (my favorite kind!) and clever, witty, and full of the best kind of magic.
The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett – This mystery set in Windsor Castle and involving Queen Elizabeth II and her secretary won’t be out until March 2021, but when it comes out, read it if you love mysteries and/or the royal family. It was a fun, fun book. I sped through it in two days and wasn’t sorry at all. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin – I read the first two of The Broken Earth Trilogy last winter. They are filled with amazing world-building and an intricate plot. Now that things are settling down again, I’m ready to pick up the final book in the trilogy to see how Jemisin ties it all up. She’s inventive and clever, and I recommend these to anyone who likes science fiction/fantasy.
The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge – A reread but a very special one. This story about mental illness and new beginnings is healing and beautiful.
Last, but definitely not least was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – I don’t know if I have the words, with which to praise this book. The plot was simple–a story about a wife of a famous man and their relationship before and after the loss of a child. It was how O’Farrell wrote it–the descriptions were lush, the characters were so well-drawn that you felt that you knew them personally, the plot of tight and held together, and the emotional punch was gut-wrenching and tear-inducing but yet I couldn’t put it down. There is a bit of magical realism and the Black Death, and Shakespeare. If you love any of those things or if you just want a “Thumping Good Read”, pick this one up.
As I reflect on my reading year in 2020, I can see gaps, but overall I’m happy with what I read last year, even if a lot of it was rereading. What was your favorite book from 2020 and what do you hope to read next?
When you consider your reading life, it’s not the number of books that counts but the satisfaction you have in the books that you are reading. For instance, if you read 50 books in a year, but you didn’t like 90% of them, then your reading life isn’t going to make you happy even if you did read a book a week. On the other hand, if you read only 20 books, but they are books you’ve been longing to read, you delighted in each one, and you thought long and hard about them days after finishing, then you have a rich reading life.
This year, I have been fortunate to have a satisfying reading life. Since I’ve mostly been working from home and so have no commute, I achieved my 2020 Goodreads goal of 75 books with three months to spare. Of the 16 books I read since my last check-in, six were nonfiction and ten were fiction. Thus, over a third of books I’ve read this year has been nonfiction, which is a great improvement over last year. The memoirs I read this past month were memorable—Maya Angelou, Ruth Reichl, and Anthony Doerr all had interesting tales to tell in very different ways. Reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made me simultaneously sad and angry for the child Maya was. Living in Rome for a year with Anthony Doerr was a delight to the senses. My mother and I always loved reading Gourmet magazines, and my mother introduced me to the joys of reading about food. I still love to cook and to read about cooking so Reichl’s memoir of her years at Gourmet was a treat to lose myself in, especially since Reichl included a recipe for a chocolate cake that I must make one of these days.
If I can finish two theology books and fit in a book of poetry before the end of December, I will be pleased with this year’s reading , even if I finish nothing else. Add in a book by one of the Puritan theologians though, and my pleasure will turn to delight.
Currently, I am still reading Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne and have Gospel & Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy, a Biblical Theology book recommended by Nancy Guthrie, to start next. I’m two thirds through a reread of September by Rosamund Pilcher. I’ve always loved her long novels and have never reread this one. Since she has a long novel that seems to fit each season—September for fall, Winter Solstice for winter, Coming Home for spring, and The Shell Seekers for summer—I’m toying with the idea of reading one each season over the next year. Even if I don’t, I am still enjoying the foray into Scotland this month. October is a month for rereading Persuasion, which I will probably bring with me when travel to my son’s wedding. There’s something autumn-like and reflective about Austen’s novel of second chances.
A hold from the library just came in for me this week: The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma. I’m an early riser myself so am looking forward to any new tips she may have on how to make the best use of my mornings. I’m I’m about halfway through Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on audio for my October book group. It has been good to view my country and culture through the eyes of someone so different from me in every way.
Overall, my reading life is just grand. How satisfied are you with your reading life?
After listening to the latest podcast episode of What Should You Read Next, I realized that I wanted to do a check-in on my reading goals before September hits. Since 2020 ended up being far different than anything we could have imagined, I wanted to see if I was keeping up my with my original reading goals, did I need to tweak my goals and reading trends, or did I want to throw out my goals altogether?
As of mid-August, I have read 59 of 75 books, listed on my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge. I’ve actually read more this year, but I don’t list everything on Goodreads, particularly those books that I reread for comfort. Here are my current stats, as of mid-August 2020:
Fiction – 46 (78%)
Nonfiction – 13 (22%)
One of my reasons for having a smaller number of books in my 2020 challenge was to have more to read a larger percentage of nonfiction. Even with a couple of months of reading only murder mysteries in order to cope with quarantine, I’m almost at 25% nonfiction, which makes me happy. I’d like to bump that up to 30% by the end of the year, which would require my reading ten more nonfiction books in the next four months—an achievable goal!
Tweaking my goals – While I’ve read a couple of Christian living books, I haven’t finished even one theology book this year. I’d like at least two of my ten nonfiction books to be theology books. If I put my mind to it, I could probably read one a month to give me four for the year, but I’m going to shoot for two theology titles in my final count.
I’ve read one poetry book and would like to squeeze one more in before the end of the year.
Fiction is going well. I’ve read some good new fiction, and I have several more waiting on my ereader for me, thanks to ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies–there are perks to working at a library!). I’ve also reread a few favorites and in December, I am very likely to reread a few more of my favorite Christmas books.
If I had to choose favorite books so far this year, I’d have to choose This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear in nonfiction, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens in fiction, and Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien in audio.
Winspear’s memoir comes out this fall and is a real, sometimes enchanting, often difficult, story of her family and growing up years. It gives the reader a lot of background understanding for her Maisie Dobbs mystery series, and I enjoyed reading about her youth in mid-20th century Britain.
Everybody loved Where the Crawdads Sing when it came out in 2018, and I am late to that party. For the longest time, the hold list was so long at the library that I had decided to wait until it died down. A couple of months ago, I was poking around our library ebook selection, and it was available to borrow, so I snatched it up. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about a young girl, abandoned by everyone, who somehow makes a life for herself in the marshes of North Carolina. There’s nature, family, a murder, and more. I loved every minute of it.
Finally, who can resist listening to stories, written by J.R.R. Tolkien and read by Sir Derek Jacobi. This was a commute listen before the pandemic hit. Every story is enjoyable and the audio version is definitely the way to go because of Derek Jacobi’s first-rate retelling.
I am currently reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, a classic that has long been on my TBR list; What’s Best Next by Matthew Aaron Perman, a Christian productivity book; Union with God by Rankin Wilbourne, a theology book about living the Christian life through our union with Christ; a couple of ARCs that are due out later this fall, and I just downloaded a YA novel about magic in regency England by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer , which should be sheer fun.
How are your reading goals going at this point in the year? What has been your favorite book (or least favorite)? Do you want to tweak some of your reading goals? I’d love to hear about how your reading is going in the comments.
Goodreads and my reading journal have been a good way for me to track my reading for the past couple of years. I tried to catch up in each place once or twice a month so that I didn’t lose track. My goal for 2018 was 80 books. However, unlike last year where I barely squeaked by with short books at the end of the year, this year I hit the goal in October. At the end of 2018, I had read 128 books, 60% more than I had aimed for.
The reason is simple. After struggling to get in 80 books read last year, I decided to make reading more of a priority in 2018. I purposely created routines in my daily life that gave me time to read. I added books, print and digital, to every room and device in the house and at work so that I was never at a loss for material. When you have plenty to read, have books available, and set aside time to do it, reading is more likely to happen.
Here is a snapshot of my reading from the last year:
I think I would have had a higher percentage of audiobooks if I didn’t also listen to podcasts. However, as that is unlikely to change because I like podcasts in the car, an audiobook a month is probably my goal again this year. My nonfiction percentage is too low. It would have been about right if I had read 80 books as I originally planned. I’d like to see if I can bump it up to 25% of my total reading this year.
I might have read even more if I had had more focus on what to read next. Often, I would be torn between several choices and be paralyzed by which one to read so that most of my reading time was gone by the time I decided what to choose. I’m hoping to forestall that problem this year by having a couple of guided reading challenges, already filled out and several of the books at hand. I should then be able to work my way through the lists and not have as much decision paralysis. More on that next week.
My favorite books of 2018:
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – I would never have picked this up and perhaps I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been following the Close Reads podcast as they discussed it. As I read along with them, I was overcome by the beauty of Stegner’s prose, I grew to love the characters, and I began to appreciate what he was doing in the book. This is one I will reread in the future. The library copy had a hold list so I bought a copy and I’m glad. I kept underlining beautiful phrases, sentences, and paragraphs.
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien – a delightful book of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children every year at Christmas, telling of Father Christmas’s adventures along with his great friend, North Polar Bear. The book contains drawings Tolkien did as well. I loved every second of it. The audio was well done, but I found a copy afterward so I could see the pictures Tolkien drew to go with the letters.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson – I’ve been enjoying Atkinson’s work since Life After Life and this one did not disappoint. The story of a young woman, who is asked to spy for her country during World War II. After the war she goes on with her life, but leftovers from her war years haunt her. Full of twists and turns, Atkinson kept me guessing until the very last page.
Excellent Womenby Barbara Pym – this was my first Pym novel, but it won’t be my last. A quiet story about people but so full of truth and wit that I enjoyed every moment. The audio was excellent.
Meet Me at the Museumby Anne Youngson – this was an ARC* that I picked up out of curiosity and I loved it. It’s a novel of letters between a middle-aged farm wife and a museum curator. On the surface that may sound dull, but their conversations and how those conversations affect each of their lives is so well done. This is probably a sleeper novel because it’s in the form of letters, but I have been telling everyone I think may like it to try it. It’s a beautifully written story. I look forward to more from this author in the future.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton- a debut novel that was like Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie. Full of twists and turns and unexpected events, this mystery novel/fantasy is absorbing. I couldn’t put it down until I reached the very last page.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – a delightful tribute to English country house mysteries with a twist. The audio is superb with dual narrators, one who narrates the real-life protagonist and the other who narrates the book she is reading. If you love English detective fiction, do read this up-to-date version of the classic English detective novel.
The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson – the story of a girl who is left a bookstore by her uncle along with a mystery about her family to solve. I enjoyed this story about family and secrets and, of course, books.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – This is the sequel to Wolf Hall, which I adored and which won the Man Booker Prize. This volume also won the Man Booker Prize, but I couldn’t believe that it could be as good as Wolf Hall. However, when I finished it, I thought, “She did it again!”. Mantel not only gets you inside Thomas Cromwell’s head so that you find yourself not just rooting for him but admiring him, but she also portrays the court of Henry VIII and all of the political machinations so that you will find yourself, like I did, being very, very thankful that you did not live and work for that man. If you like history at all, English history in particular, or even are interested in the Reformation in England, you have to read this book. It’s excellent!
A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake – set in Charlestown, which charmed me from the start, this book tells two stories—the modern-day story of a young woman and her search for the truth of her family and the story of a slave revolt in the early 19th century. I couldn’t put it down and really loved it.
Book Girlby Sarah Clarkson – I borrowed this from the library but as soon as I finished it, I bought myself my own copy because this book got who I am as a person. Sarah Clarkson is definitely a kindred spirit and I have since started reading her blog and following her Instagram, loving everything she writes and shares. Full of bookish talk and lots of lovely book lists, I reveled in every word. I can see myself rereading this and going back to this book again and again until I have read every last suggestion in it.
None Like Himby Jen Wilkin – A great book about God’s attributes, how they set Him apart, and who we are in comparison. I listened to this but plan to go back with a paper copy and a pencil to underline and take copious notes. Lots to think about and appreciate about the God who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Off the Clockby Laura Vanderkam – I’ve appreciated Vanderkam’s work since I first read 168 Hours and started reading her blog. She has helped me to think about my time differently, which has enriched my life. A small book but well worth reading if only for the idea of your past, present, and future selves when it comes to events. Several times now I have gone to things I had planned to attend even when I didn’t feel like it because of her advice. Every time I have been so thankful to have made the effort.
A Circle of Quiet and The Summer of the Great-Grandmother(Books 1 and 2 of the Crosswicks Journals) by Madeleine L’Engle – both of these rated five stars for me and I’m stingy with my stars. If you love L’Engle or you love family or you love the idea of place and home or you are a writer wannabe, all of which I am, these books are for you.
Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser – If you always wondered about the reality behind the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder then you will enjoy this book. Fraser delves into the geography, politics, and history behind those famous books. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to hearing Caroline Fraser speak about her book this winter when she comes to town.
New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp – I read this devotional throughout 2018. It was encouraging, challenging, and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it if you want to grow in your understanding and growth in the gospel of Christ.
I believe in rereading books regularly—some require rereading in order to understand them and some are so lovely that I want to experience them again and some are so comfortable that I want to sink into their embrace. So I will reread books despite my ever-growing To Be Read tower of books because a good book is always worth reading more than once.
Persuasionby Jane Austen – a reread for the 10th or 11th time, but oh how I adore this book of redemption and second chances.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – I listened to this on audio and loved it just as much as the first time. Of course, any epistolary novel wins my heart but one set in England during World War II and about books…I loved every second.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – I listened to the audio and fell in love with this book all over again. Reams have been written about it so I won’t go into detail, but this is worth reading and rereading, not only for its structure, but for the main character and his ability to adapt to his circumstances, his intelligence and humor, and his wonderful sense of honor and dignity.
Overall 2018 was a great reading year. I look forward to 2019 and all of the lovely books I will read and think about and write about and share with all of my friends. I hope your reading year is a good one, too.