Some thoughts on goals

I’ve been a little frustrated with myself this week, because I haven’t been reading as much has I should.

Which translates to: I’ve only finished reading six books this month. You know, only six. And only two classics.

But as I was sitting here just now, looking at Pinterest, thinking about how I should be reading, I realized, you know what? It’s okay.

I want to be one of those people who doesn’t waste hours on social media. One of those who reads in her free time, and reads edifying, meaty books, not fluffy stuff (not all the time.) And because the pull of social media is strong, and it’s easy to – whoops! – lose an hour or three, I feel guilty when I catch myself browsing instead of reading.

All of this is well and good. Really. And in fact, most of the time I would be decently successful at it. I used to read constantly, all the time, in all the quiet spaces and spare five minutes and oops I forgot my chores kind of way. I could resurrect that with a little thought and self-awareness.

I’m going to give myself permission not to. Not right now. Not completely.

I’ve been working on a creative writing project, one that’s been cooking for literally decades, and the timer’s dinged. So every day, for as much as six or seven hours, I’ve been hanging out in another world, building something on a blank white screen. It’s been amazing. It’s also tiring.

I don’t feel exhausted when I stop, I feel energized, which is why I think I’ve taken so long to come to that realization. My brain is tired.

I also don’t want to read anything that might infect the voices I’m writing in. No genre fiction. None of the T.V. shows I usually watch (I literally spent an hour scrolling through Netflix saying “don’t want to watch that now” until I finally just turned the TV off). I wrote earlier this week that as a result of this fast that kind of naturally developed, I’m more or less solely reading nonfiction and classics. I do enjoy those kinds of books when I do read, which is not never, but just – less. But those kinds of books do take a deeper level of concentration than the skim-through YA or fantasy that I usually turn to when I’m mentally fatigued.

So, I scroll through social media. And I’m going to be okay with that.

Setting goals for yourself is important, and valuable. Having the discipline to follow through with those goals is also important. For me, the Rule Follower, it’s more important to recognize when the goals need to become a little flexible. I had imagined myself spending all summer reading. I’m doing something else, which is wonderful and valuable and definitely not a waste of time, but that means I need to adjust my reading goals.

This blog is still finding its voice, and I’m still working on consistency, but at its heart it is a place for me to think about my year (and hopefully years) focusing on reading the classics. A place for reflection, and, hopefully, for inspiration. And, most importantly, a place for honesty.

So, honestly? I’m reading less (overall) than I would like. And it’s fine.


Midyear Update

Despite my best intentions, I’ve still failed to post regularly. Oops.

This summer has turned into The Time I Actually Finish That One Novel I’m Writing, and since I’ve got great traction on it, a lot of things have fallen to the wayside.

A funny result of this is, however, that I am reading a lot more classics. Indeed, most of my non-classics reading has fallen by the wayside as I’ve more-or-less subconsciously halted all YA and fantasy reading; I don’t want their voices in my head as I write.

This has slowed down my reading pace some, as I just can’t zip through The Marble Faun or Richard III as fast as the latest YA hit.

images.jpeg   81bqdCHk00L.jpgThus far this year, I’ve read 23 classics and nonfiction works. This does include the rereads I did of all of Jane Austen’s six novels, and of Lord of the Rings. Still, out of 47 total books, that’s pretty good. Just less than half. I’m also 90% complete on my (admittedly lowballed) Goodreads reading challenge (52 books). I might be updating that soon.

It’s been nice, actually, to have these intense hours of writing the story in my head, and then reading books that are thoughtful and slow and filled with lovely prose. Or amazing insults. Seriously, Shakespeare pulled out all the insults for Richard III. And the ladies get the best ones.

One of my goals in the next week or so is to finish off the handful of books I’ve been rotating through:

Richard III 
Sons and Lovers
The Marble Faun
David Copperfield (maybe someday hopefully)

The other goal is to reinstate and actually follow my blogging schedule. Now that I’m reading more, I should have more to write on. Some future posts include a review of One Hundred Years of Solitude and my reflection on why the classics matter.

It’s Okay to not Read.

I have spent the last ten or so posts discussing how to read the classics, and suggesting, through lists and reviews what to read, but any valuable discussion of reading the classics will also include thoughts on why we even should bother.

Before that post (coming Friday!), I want to say this first: It is totally okay if you don’t. Don’t read. Don’t read the classics.

Yesterday I was in a discussion about reading. Actually, I mostly listened while the others discussed, because the topic was about finding time to read. I read between 75-100 books every year, so this is not a problem for me. But I was very interested in the other perspectives, because sometimes for me reading is so natural that I forget people struggle with it, and that they have various (very legitimate) reasons for struggling: it’s been forced on them as an assignment, their lives are busy with other things, they read a lot already as a student and don’t find more reading relaxing. . . even I start watching a whole lot of TV when I’m in the stressful middle of the semester teaching. Reading takes energy that TV doesn’t.

Reading takes work and practice and sometimes discipline. If you weren’t a reader when you were a kid, it might be harder for you to begin reading the classics. If you really want to, but struggle, try establishing a regular reading habit first. Read whatever strikes your interest – YA, romance, historical fiction – and once you regularly finish books (whatever regularly looks like for you), throw a short classic from a similar genre into the mix. Build from there.

The good news is that you can get better at reading. So don’t write yourself off!

Now, all of this is for adults who just want to read out of interest. If you’re a student in a literature class, things are different. Technically, you do have to read the book. Look out for another post about how to handle that in a couple of weeks.

An Odd Reading Tip

Currently, I am reading five books, including three that count as classics. Throughout the day I will read ten pages of one, a chapter of another, and so on. As long as I can remember, I usually have at least two books going at the same time, even if one is for

images 5.25.37 PM.jpeg
Sometimes that grad program felt like 100 years of solitude. 

school and the other for fun. But in grad school, when I was reading four novels a week for my various classes, I stumbled on a handy reading method that helps me with books that I find more challenging. Although I first began doing it conciously to help me plow through those thousands of pages of reading in grad school, I’ve begun to adapt it for my own reading. it has helped me finish books that I like, but might otherwise have put down for various reasons.

The tip:

If you find yourself getting bored with a book, try reading two or more at the same time.

It’s that simple!

The key to making this successful is to vary the time period, difficulty level, and “flavor” of the books.

Copperfield_cover_serial.jpgTime period: Right now I’m reading a book written in the mid-1850s, one from the early 1900s, and one from the late 1900s. This helps because the style is usually different, helping you with the next two items to vary

Difficulty level: Usually older books take more concentration; this can lead to reading fatigue. In order to avoid this, you can read a little of the harder book, then switch to the easier one to rest your eyes and your brain.

“Flavor”: by flavor I mean difference in tone, or genre (or both). To explain by example, 7597._UY200_.jpgone of the classics I am reading is David Copperfield. Like a lot of Dickens books, if I read too much at one time it can feel like a heavy dose of sentimentality. At the same time, I am reading Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence. This Modernist book features spare prose and is rather bleak, so by itself it might get too depressing. But the two balance out each other. The third classic is 100 Years of Solitude. Marquez’s book is magical realism. When I get overwhelmed by the number of Aurelianos and strange events I can go back to one of the more realistic works and take a break.
By rotating through these very different works, I avoid that all-too-common problem, that of overloading on one tone or genre, putting the book down, and not wanting to take it back up again.

It can also help you through those “dry spells” that crop up in novels (I’m looking at you, Dickens, with your five pages of description). If you’re bored, just read something else for a day or two; however, you do have to employ some self-discipline and pick that second (or third or fourth) book back up!

39d2f832be2027356c8aeb62f760924f.jpgOne common comment I hear people make is that they could never read multiple books at the same time, as they get them mixed up. To that I ask, can you keep the plot lines and characters of multiple TV shows straight? Sometimes the difficulty arises from a lack of attention. Another benefit of this reading method: reading significantly different works also makes it easier to keep the characters and plots straight.

And finally, like so many things to do with reading old books, the more you do it, the easier it gets!