To be honest, I couldn’t remember what I set as my 2019 reading goals. I knew I wanted to read 100 books, but other than that I guess my goals didn’t really guide my reading this year. I was pretty nervous to go back this week to check in with my reading goals, because I was certain I had spectacularly failed. When I flipped to my goals page in my book journal, I was shocked to find just two goals there:
- Read 100 books.
- Read 1 nonfiction book each month.
Apparently, January Sara knew that December Sara wouldn’t remember anything too complicated. I had also included various other challenges and book lists that I set more as inspiration than goals, some of which impacted by reading quite a bit and others that didn’t at all. Here are my reflections on the goals, lists, and challenges that I set in 2019.
Read 100 Books
I generally read a lot, but I’d never cracked 100 books in a year. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, and I decided 2019 was the year to go for it. I ended up meeting and exceeding this goal by reading 111 books for my biggest reading year ever by a long shot. I had mixed feelings about this goal throughout the year.
- I loved beginning the year of reading ambitiously. Starting the year reading like crazy helped me keep reading, because, for me, reading begets reading.
- The feeling of accomplishment is awesome. It’s not like many people in real life ask me how many I’ve read this year, but it’s pretty cool to know it’s over 100 books.
- Reading more helped me reading more of a variety of books. If I’m going to read 20 or so books in a year, I want them all to be excellent. When I know I’m going to be reading close to 100, I actually want to mix in some fluffy reads or page-turning thrillers.
- Making my end-of-the year lists was particularly fun this year. It was harder to whittle down each category, but I felt like every book that ended up on a list was exceptional and something I truly loved.
- I hit a lull around September when my goal of 100 books started to feel like more of an obligation. Luckily I was ahead in my reading so I didn’t feel too much pressure to pick up books when I didn’t feel like it. Around this time, I told myself that I’d finish my 100 books this year and never set the goal again.
- Even though I was ahead in my reading, and even though there were multiple lengthy books on my TBR, I just didn’t pick up any big books this year. I’m not sure if this is directly related to my numerical reading goal, or if it has more to do with my attention span and when I read, but this is something I’m going to try to change next year.
Thoughts Overall. I think I may set this reading goal again. I loved the variety it brought into my reading life and I don’t feel like I sacrificed quality for quantity. I may try to set a goal of reading one 500+ page book each season to make sure I’m getting in the epic stories I tend to love.
Read 1 Nonfiction Book Every Month
I ended up reading 20 nonfiction books this year, and I am so glad that I set this goal. I’ve always enjoyed reading nonfiction, but I do think I’m almost always prone to choosing a fiction book over a nonfiction. Not only did this goal help me prioritize nonfiction, it also helped me figure out what types of nonfiction I tend to enjoy.
Nonfiction that Works for Me
- Investigative journalism. Turns out I love a good in-depth news story, but I also love the story behind how that story emerged. She Said, Bad Blood, and Columbine were some of my favorites this year, and I look forward to getting to some other buzzed about 2019 books (Catch and Kill, for one) as well as some backlist classics.
- Essay collections. Two of my favorite books this year were Trick Mirror and Black is the Body. Good essay writers blow my mind, maybe this is especially for me because I teach essay writing and have read a lot of formulaic essays in my life. To me, good essayists articulate their points in varying ways and surprise you how each point ultimately comes together. Plus since I listen to a lot of nonfiction books on audio, essays that take about 1 hour to listen to can feel like particularly well-done podcasts.
- Surprising memoirs. I really enjoy memoirs, but this year I read a few that were over-the-top wonderful because of the way they took me by surprise. Whether it was because of a particularly vulnerable and necessary perspective (Know My Name), a unique narrative style (I Am, I Am, I Am) or some combination of both (In the Dream House, Good Talk), memoirs that do something outside the box are sure to really make an impression.
Nonfiction that Doesn’t Work for Me
- Business books. To be fair, I only read one of these this year (The Power of Moments), but I’ve been trying these sort of pop-psychology, productivity books for years now and they just never work for me. Often the major takeaway is explained early and is fairly straightforward, but then the author spends hundreds of pages providing extraneous examples. For this reason, I think I prefer this type of reading in article format.
Thoughts Overall. I loved this goal, but now that reading nonfiction has become a well-established part of my reading life, I’m not sure I need this goal anymore. I may try to focus on a different genre to read more of in 2020.
2019 Lists and Challenges
While I didn’t mentally commit to participating in any reading challenges this year, I did write a few in my reading journal along with a list of classics and award winners I want to read at some point. My plan was to use the challenge categories and book lists if I ever needed reading inspiration. That didn’t happen once. And do you want to guess how many of the “classics and award winners” I read from my list? That’s right, zero. I’ll be using the same reading journal in 202 since I didn’t fill it up, and I think I will bookmark these pages with the intent to use them in the way I planned last year. And it’s perfectly fine if I don’t as long as I keep reading widely.
If you're interested, here are the classic and award winning books January 2019 Sara wanted to read for whatever reason:
- The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Plum
- The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
- Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
- The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
- Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- Claudine at School by Colette
- Goodbye, Columbus by Philiph Roth
- All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
- Shadow Country by Peter Mattheissen
- The Round House by Louise Erdrich
- The Leavers by Lisa Ko
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Someone by Alice McDermott
- Plainsong by Kent Haruf
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
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