Christine Hume, author of “Saturation Project,” recommends modern stories that turn patriarchal folklore on its head.
At the end of story-telling is myth-making: exhausted, stripped down narrative, pure grammar crystalized into affect. And when it’s good . . . Myth-structure holds the power to awaken us to our own history and also to make ourselves into strangers.
Do you have a reading plan for 2021? If you’ve never put a reading plan together, the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some resources I’ve collected that can help.
But you don’t have to develop a formal reading plan to find these articles useful. Maybe you’d like some advice on how to keep track of the books you read. Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding a few reading challenges to motivate you or help you discover new kinds of literature.
Either way, you might find something you can use in these articles.
Tirzah Price has developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of her 2021 reading. She provides a link where you can download a copy of her template, which you can then modify to fit your own needs. She even provides a video tutorial to help you work with the spreadsheet.
2021 is the seventh year for Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge. This year’s challenge “has 24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”
“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”
Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)
But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.
“We continue to experience a publishing pile-up, as books postponed from 2020 spill over into the new year’s catalogue. As a result, this season offers an embarrassment of riches for the reader of novels,” writes Cal Flyn, deputy editor of Five Books. Although this article follows the traditional Five-Books approach of featuring five covers, Flyn discusses additional titles in the discussion.
Here novelist Louise Candlish puts a particular spin on the discussion: “dislikable is not the same as irredeemable, and for this reason, there is no place on my list for any love-to-hate Tom Ripleys or morbidly mesmerising Humbert Humberts.”
Here she explains why she dislikes these 10 irredeemable characters. Because this list is in The Guardian, her emphasis is decidedly British. But #9 is the product of an American author, and #10 is from a very recent novel.
“Ray Bradbury is one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th century. He transformed science fiction’s position in American literature during the 1950s. There were other fine sci-fi writers, but Ray was the one who first engaged the mainstream audience. He had a huge impact on both American literature and popular culture.”
In this article, which came out at the end of December, Kelly Coyne writes, “It is often in the home where the plainest expressions of politics appear. This year, you could see it everywhere in the domestic novel.”
Coyne reflects on recent novels that “thrust white liberal parents into a harsh light” in the ways in which they interact with domestic workers.
You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.
I keep reading things like “I can’t wait to be done with 2020 and move on to 2021.” Do most people truly believe that merely taking one calendar off the wall and hanging up another one is going to change their day-to-day existence? Such magical thinking. Reality doesn’t work that way. The truth is still out there.
As I write this post in the first full week of January, we are in our 44th week of lockdown. (The last social event we attended was a monthly lunch excursion to a restaurant on March 6, 2020.) Even with the good news of the arrival of vaccines, I expect we won’t see any substantive change in our daily lives until July 1, 2021, at the earliest. I’m preparing for another six months, at least, just like the previous nine months:
Looking back on how well I fulfilled my reading plan for 2020 made me realize that the year well illustrates the validity of the old proverb “Man plans. God laughs.” And there are some lessons to be learned from this realization.
The biggest lesson is that, since we probably won’t see significant change in our current situation for at least half of this new year, the whole notion of a plan feels irrelevant. Last year I had my whole year’s reading planned out, month by month. But when COVID-19 hit and brought with it heightened anxiety along with reader’s and writer’s block, I was only able to get back to reading by ditching the plan. I allowed myself to stand in front of my TBR shelves and look for the book that called to me the loudest. I kept up that process, sometimes letting one book lead me to the next, at other times finding a new book to set me off on a different chain of association.
I have therefore decided not to use the label of plan at all for 2021. Instead, I’m going to focus on some goals that will still be possible no matter which particular books I may read. For example, one part of my plan for last year was to use the Blog Discussion Challenge to motivate me to write some substantive blog posts. Even though I didn’t meet my original quota, I was able to write about just about anything—including a look at why I was having trouble reading and writing—and call it a discussion post. So this year I’m going to talk about reading and writing goals instead of a reading and writing plan.
After looking at last year’s plan, I’m describing this year’s goals in relation to last year’s in two major areas:
I. Elements I’m keeping from last year
II. Elements I’m dropping from last year, replacing, or adding
I. Elements I’m Keeping from 2020
Most of these are general challenges and goals.
1. Goodreads Challenge
I did make last year’s goal of 55, but I had to rush and include a couple of particularly short works. I’m therefore going to dial my challenge goal back to 50 books, a number I think I can more easily achieve.
2. The Classics Club
Although I had good intentions last year, I didn’t come even close to my goal of crossing six books off my Classics Club list.
I’m going to cut back this year’s goal to four and hope for the best.
3. 2021 Book Blog Discussion Challenge
I signed up for the 2020 Discussion Challenge to motivate myself to write substantive posts on literary topics. Despite not writing as many discussion posts as I had wanted to (because, you know, COVID-19), I enjoyed working on the 12 that I did manage and was pleased with the results. I’m therefore signing up for the 2021 Discussion Challenge with the goal of writing one discussion post per month.
II. Elements I’m Dropping, Replacing, or Adding
For 2021 I’m taking the focus off reading exclusively and incorporating the intention to write about more of the books I read. Not every book I read warrants a review on the blog, but many do, and I need to make more of an effort to discuss those. For me, writing seems to take some time; thoughts swirl around in the unconscious before percolating to the surface of awareness. It’s too easy for me to finish reading one book, then immediately pick up another one without going back to revisit the first one again.
I will need to follow through and return to each previous book to finish the reading process. And this emphasis on writing may have a secondary effect of influencing me to choose more meaty books to read so that they’ll be ones I’ll want to review.
Here, then, is a new goal I’m adding for 2021:
4. to review 50% of the books I read on this blog
I’m also adding another reading goal this year:
5. to read more of my TBR books
Here is my current TBR shelf of Book of the Month editions I haven’t gotten to yet:
The shelf contains 22 books, with two more to be added as soon as my January box arrives. And those are just my Book of the Month books. Several other shelves contain books I’ve been wanting to read for some time, including Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light We Cannot See, The Hours, Crime and Punishment, A God in Ruins, and Trust Exercise.
I do not acquire books haphazardly; I chose every book on these shelves for particular reasons. They’re all good books that I want to read.
When I jettisoned the calendar part of last year’s reading plan at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing myself to choose whatever book I wanted to read next proved to be a tremendously freeing experience. Suddenly reading became an adventure again, not just some productivity goal to tick off on a to-do list.
This rediscovery of the joy of reading convinced me not to include a specific reading calendar in this year’s goals. I still have several reading projects I’m interested in pursuing, so I’m keeping the list of projects, but I’m treating them as possibilities rather than requirements tied to specific completion dates.
I just went back and reread my reading plan for 2020. Then I had a good laugh.
I did relatively well with Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals. I didn’t meet most of the goals, but I’m being gentle with myself in evaluating how well I did under the COVID-19 circumstances.
Here’s a look at those original goals, with my current assessments presented in the white paragraphs.
Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals
1. Goodreads Challenge
Since I easily exceeded my 2019 goal of 50 books, I’m cautiously raising my 2020 goal to 55.
I did make this goal, even though I resorted to a couple of books from my “short-enough-to-be-read-in-one-day” TBR shelf.
Here are my stats, according to Goodreads:
books read: 58 pages read: 19,629
shortest book: How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf, 64 pages
longest book: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, 1,157 pages
average book length: 338 pages
my average rating: 3.9
2. The Classics Club
Even though I just met my goal of 4 books read from this list last year, for 2020 I’m increasing my goal to 6. If I don’t increase my efforts, I might not get through my Classics Club list in my lifetime.
I failed miserably at this one. I only read 2 books from my list, and I didn’t write the follow-up reviews (although I have high hopes of catching up on this omission in 2021).
3. 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge
Although I’m staying away from most challenges that require me to read books in specific categories, I’ve signed up for this challenge to motivate myself to write more substantive blog posts in 2020. I’m aiming to write 2 discussion posts per month.
Two posts per month would total 24 such posts. My final count, including this post, will be 12. That’s not too bad, considering that my pandemic experience included the lack of ability to focus on one idea long enough to write about it.
You can find the list of my discussion posts here.
Part II: The Calendar
I’m setting myself specific monthly challenges. I hope that these projections will allow me sufficient time each month to read other works, such as my monthly book club selection and my monthly choice from Book of the Month, in addition to new releases.
The Jackson Brody novels by Kate Atkinson:
One Good Turn
When Will There Be Good News?
Started Early, Took My Dog
And here is where we end. I did finish Atkinson’s 5 Jackson Brody novels, but, once again, I didn’t blog about them. The rest of my carefully constructed dated assignments dissipated in the pandemic fog.
For 10 of the first 15 days of March I couldn’t read at all. When I thought I was once again ready to pick up a book, I told myself to just choose the book that interested me the most (which turned out to be Long Bright River by Liz Moore). For the rest of the year I followed the same procedure, standing in front of my TBR shelves and choosing whatever book seemed to call to me at that time.
The experience of this past year will affect how I formulate a reading plan for 2021, but I’m still processing exactly how. Thanks for listening, and I hope that, if you evaluate your own 2020 year in reading, you’ll be gentle with yourself. Congratulate yourself on what you did accomplish and don’t worry about what you didn’t. Whatever, if you’re still around to read in 2021, you’re one of the lucky ones.
The group of 15 ladies successfully transitioned from over 20 years of dinner and monthly meetings at the Rancho Santa Margarita City Hall to a virtual format — and were even able to welcome back a few members! Most recently, the club held its annual holiday party on Zoom complete with holiday sweaters, a book swap, and a meaningful book discussion.
Kerine Wint, a software engineering graduate who loves to read science fiction and fantasy, writes, “2020 is the year that has made having an escape a necessity.” Speculative fiction is, she says, “ a vehicle that shows us so many new worlds, allowing us to view and understand ourselves and others unlike us.”
As an added bonus, at the end of the article are links to similar links in other genres: mystery, literary fiction, romance, and young adult.
All readers think of people involved in any aspect of producing books as essential workers. Publishers Weekly agrees:
The most important people in the book business in 2020 are not the powerhouse agents or the megabestselling authors or the Big Five CEOs. They are the booksellers, debut and midlist authors, editors, librarians, printers, publicists, sales representatives, and warehouse workers, to mention just a few—the workers, who have been the most important people in the business all along.
Author Les Edgerton believes that dark novels needn’t have completely dark endings: “To endure page after page of never-ending pain and sorrow and to culminate in the same morass of tragedy would only be nihilism, and the best books don’t end like that.”
Here he lists some novels that illustrate an ending that combines something good with something bad to achieve a realistic view of life.
BookBrowse surveyed readers and book clubs to see how book clubs are adapting to conditions brought about by the current pandemic. You can download their report on current conditions and implications for the future.
Dwight Garner discusses the dual nature of reading in 2020: “This was the worst year, and nothing made sense any longer, except when it was the best year, because time for reading seemed to expand like one of those endless summer afternoons when one was in the late stages of grade school.”
Community reading programs have always interested me. I like the idea of people from different backgrounds and experiences coming together to read something together. There is something so calming about people being capable of this. I find it very comforting. However, it can be hard to feel like we’re part of a community at times. So I went searching for community reading programs of the “one book one community” type.
Starting today, we’ll be counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. Join us, won’t you, on this very special journey.
I must read five books in December to complete my Goodreads Challenge, so I’m turning to the list of books that can be read in one day. Here are some titles I’ve collected throughout 2020 because I knew I’d probably end up needing them when I turned the calendar page to December.
The books in the first section all weigh in at around 200 pages. The second section offers a list of articles you can consult if you need more selections to choose from.
Henry James: A Critical Biography by Rebecca West
Bright Lights, Big City by Jan McInery
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick
The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis by Mark Gluth
The Conversations by César Aira (translated by Katherine Silver)
The World I Live In by Helen Keller
Love by Hanne Ørstavik
This Thing We Call Literature by Arthur Krystal
Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy
The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee
“I’ve defined ‘short’ here as ‘about 200 pages or less’ (readable in one sitting)” writes Namera Tanjeem, compiler of this list that can help you knock off both the sheer number game and the classic book genre.
This list was designed to fit a category in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2020: “read a sci-fi or fantasy novella that’s under 120 pages.” But there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose these suggestions to fit your own needs.
From June, the time of COVID-19 isolation, comes this list of short audiobooks to help readers escape from the overwhelming news crush. The longest of these is just over five and a half hours, and most are considerably shorter than that.
Emily Martin uses the categories that William Riggan explores in his book Pícaros, Madmen, Naifs, and Clowns: The Unreliable First-Person Narrator to look at ways crime writers employ them to build suspense.
Next March’s Tournament of Books, something that I only recently discovered, has posted its long list of 77 books. “In a few weeks we’ll release the shortlist of the 16 or so books that will be in play come March.”
As a result of the shrinking book coverage by newspapers and magazine over recent years, Humanities Tennessee has created Chapter 16: “a part-digital, part-print publication that covers literature and literary life in the state.” The publication offers its contents free to readers and to any publications that want to reproduce it.
“In his own life, the novelist failed to truly acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation. But he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction.”
Casey Cep writes:
A new book by Michael Gorra, “The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War” (Liveright), traces Faulkner’s literary depictions of the military conflict in the nineteenth century and his personal engagement with the racial conflict of the twentieth. The latter struggle, within the novelist himself, is the real war of Gorra’s subtitle. In “The Saddest Words,” Faulkner emerges as a character as tragic as any he invented: a writer who brilliantly portrayed the way that the South’s refusal to accept its defeat led to cultural decay, but a Southerner whose private letters and public statements were riddled with the very racism that his books so pointedly damned.