I love to read, always have.
As a girl I plowed through all of Louisa May Alcott’s novels and anything by L.M. Montgomery. I devoured biographies of Clara Barton, Marie Curie, and George Washington Carver. I read everything on my shelf, on my older brother’s shelf, and on the acres of white wooden shelves that lined a wall in our home.
I checked out stacks of books from the school, public, and church libraries, and from the university where my father taught. And I used any spare moment to read.
I read the daily comics in the paper after breakfast. I read as soon as my schoolwork was finished, at night with a nightlight, in the bath, and even at the dinner table when I could get away with it.
Sometime around second grade, I developed a taste for mysteries. My brothers’ Hardy Boys books led me to Nancy Drew. Then I discovered Trixie Belden, moved to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, then Wilkie Collins, Dorothy Sayers, and so on. These were the books I turned to for relaxed reading during summertime. Outside of assigned school reading, I didn’t read in any other genre.
Then, Life Happened
In the decade after college, I had five kids and my reading took a back seat. I did read a lot of quality picture books — and reread them approximately 1,234 times. As my children grew older, I revisited classics from my childhood like Black Beauty, Little House on the Prairie, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Any spare reading time was given completely to my old favorite: mysteries.
After a few years of this literary diet, my brain began to feel a little flabby, so every now and then I varied the genres I chose, and threw in some meatier options. A friend mentioned Outliers on social media so I read it and several other books by Malcom Gladwell. I reread Anna Karenina. (It was even better the second time around.) I branched out — and enjoyed doing so — but I still wasn’t fully satisfied by my reading.
The diversity was nice, but the choices were haphazard. If a title caught my attention, I would add it to my bedside pile. Otherwise, I fell back on old, easy favorites.
“I knew that varied and frequent reading nourishes good writing, so I wanted to read more widely, but it just wasn’t happening.”
I always had a vague mental list of books I wanted to read: books that were well-reviewed in various publications; books that friends recommended; books mentioned during an interesting radio interview. I would read a few each year, but always suspected that I could find time for more. And I knew that varied, and frequent reading nourishes good writing so I wanted to read more widely, but it just wasn’t happening. My habits weren’t leading me to the kind of reading I desired.
Making a Reading List
So, this year I decided to be more intentional about my reading choices. Instead of reading whatever title came to mind when I was ready to start a new book, I made a list of books I’d like to finish before the year ends. I divided the list into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, books related to writing, and books related to my practice of Christian spiritual disciplines.
I chose some books because I’ve wanted to read them for a long time. Others I had never heard of before I sat down to compile my list. My selections are influenced by my personal taste, what my older children are reading for school, Pulitzer lists, and friends’ recommendations.
Fiction Reading List: Classics, Contemporary, and Middle Grade
The fiction selections are a mix of classical (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte; Macbeth by Shakespeare) and contemporary (Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.) And, because I’m currently writing a middle-grade novel and I read aloud with three grade-school-aged children, there are several middle-grade books on the fiction list as well, including The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, and a biography of E.B. White.
Nonfiction Reading List: Biography, Criticism, and Poetry
A couple of my nonfiction selections are Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah Moore, Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior. My poetry list includes collections by Gwendolyn Brooks, Malcom Guite, and Li-Young Lee. DIY MFA, by Gabriela Pereira and On Writing Well, by William Zissner are two of the books I chose to move me forward as a writer.
Finally, I’ve selected several books and chapters from the Bible for personal study and reflection. In all, I’ve assigned myself over thirty books to read.
Will I finish my list before January 1, 2019?
I’m not sure it matters. But I do know this: steady, deliberate effort accomplishes far more than the slapdash approach I’ve taken in the past.
Anyway, finishing a list isn’t my goal.
I want a new habit of intentional reading.
I want a reading habit that will stimulate my thinking and feed my writing. Consistently working my way through this list will get me there whether I actually read every book or not.
Want to see my full list?
2018 Reading List
Or you can use the 2018 Reading List menu tab at the top of my Home Page. (I’ll update the list as I finish each book.)