At the start of this year I set out with some goals. Lose a few pounds, eat better, get outside more, do some writing. Totally typical New Year’s stuff.
I also set myself the goal of reading a book a week.
Not strictly a book every week, but on average. Looking back on the past few years, I’d realized that the time I spent on in-depth reading had declined, and along with it, that sense of satisfaction, conclusion, and reflection that comes from completing a book, enjoying the immersion into curated knowledge and coherent narration or lesson that very little online link-following can match.
We’re now half way through the year (or near enough) to merit a review.
How’d I do? Well looking over my shelves, library check-out records, and Amazon and Audible accounts, here’s the list of completed books for 2017, so far (note that some of these were audiobook listens and there are several re-reads in here, but in all cases it has been years, and often decades, since my first read):
- Origins (Baggott)
- Use of Weapons (Banks)
- Excession (Banks)
- Matter (Banks)
- The Hydrogen Sonata (Banks)
- The Three Body Problem (Liu)
- Storm in a Teacup (Czerski)
- The Clockwork Universe (Dolnick)
- A Study in Scarlet (Doyle)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle)
- The Character of Physical Law (Feynman)
- Six Easy Pieces (Feynman)
- The Information (Gleick)
- Dune (Herbert)
- Dune Messiah (Herbert)
- Children of Dune (Herbert)
- The Mystery of the Yellow Room (Leroux)
- Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (Rovelli)
- Reality is Not What It Seems (Rovelli)
- Whose Body (Sayers)
- Clouds of Witness (Sayers)
- Unnatural Death (Sayers)
- Gaudy Night (Sayers)
- The Diamond Age (Stephenson)
- A Beautiful Question (Wilczek)
Not bad. Right on target, actually, or near enough (in my original conception of this project I’d had the rule that books over a certain length counted as two, which would have put me well over 26).
In fact making this list has been great – if you’d asked me a day ago how well I’d done, the answer would probably have been something like “probably half, maybe two thirds of what I’d targeted.” The process hand’t felt as smooth and easy as I’d expected and definitely proceeded in fits and starts, sometimes ten minutes at a time and never with a glorious day of lying in bed surrounded by books.
Perhaps understandable with two kids, a homestead to reboot, the usual interruptions of a working life, and of course some unexpected surprises (basement flood!). A month of family travel was also, frustratingly but unsurprisingly in retrospect, not well suited to reading. And of course it didn’t help that I have the occasional habit of only considering a book worth picking up if it is vast, obtuse, printed in a tiny font, and contains footnotes in an even tinier font!
Look closely and you can see a few trends and phases. I took some time seeking comfort from the modern world by revisiting the mannered mysteries of the past century. I delved into the Dune series for the first time in almost two decades, before getting derailed half way through God Emperor of Dune for some reason I can’t remember. I spent a lot of time rounding out and refreshing my scientific knowledge as part of homeschool curriculum planning. I finished up Iain Banks’ Culture series books. I spent some time snuggling with old favorites again.
The effort was probably saved by my early summer binge of library audiobooks and some of the compact science gems of Feynman and Rovelli, books that can actually be dispatched in an afternoon or a weekend. In fact the Sayersfest was pretty much over in a week between starting with Whose Body (my original idea had been to read the Wimsey books all in order), jumping around due to limitations in what the library had, and getting irritated with Harriet Vane’s indecisiveness in Gaudy Night and giving the whole thing a rest.
My hope now is to continue the momentum that I finally got going:
- Remember that not everything has to be 800 pages long
- Read more fiction
- Use time walking and working in the garden to roll an audiobook
- Read stuff that fits my energy level and mood rather than trying to force myself through something too “thick” for my state of mind
- Modify my routines to create more opportunities for reading
- Create situations where the distractions of the modern day (Internet, I’m looking at you!) are harder to get to
- Set aside time for reading when I’m fresh (mornings for example)
- Let the family (kids in particular) know that this is a priority for me and I want, and expect, some cooperation and quiet time
- Carry my current book with me on trips to the park with Oliver, etc. rather than just fiddling with my phone
- Get back and finish books rather than picking something new up after getting distracted
Ultimately it is a matter of making something a priority, though. I’ve thought about things like a “no devices in bed” rule or a weekly “tech Sabbath” day but realized the practical impracticality of such things. Instead it is about the little changes and the conscious choices; self-established rules are easy enough to break or make exceptions for anyway…
Meanwhile here are the titles that I’ve got “in work” and aim to finish this year (we’ll see about Pauling, though):
- Exploring the Invisible Universe (Baaquie and Wileboordse)
- Maps of Time (Christian)
- God Emperor of Dune (Herbert)
- General Chemistry (Pauling)
And finally the shortlist of what to pick up next:
- Six Not-So-Easy Pieces (Feynman)
- Heretics of Dune (Herbert)
- Chapterhouse: Dune (Herbert)
- The Dark Forest (Liu)
- Death’s End (Liu)
- The Emperor of All Maladies (Mukherjee)
- The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (Stephenson)
I’ve considered putting Alan Moore’s Jerusalem on this list but realize that it’d pretty much have to be the only book I read for the rest of the year. Maybe I should make reading that beast my sole 2018 goal?
Any similar goals for the year? Any suggestions for titles I should add to my shortlist?