It may not surprise you to know that I don’t set diet-related New Year’s Resolutions. But I do weirdly love the idea of resolutions and just generally, setting goals to stretch yourself as a person (which is very different from resolving to change your body). I set professional goals every year when I write my business plan. And this year, I also set a goal to read 50 books. Which, I’m proud to report, I blew past! According to my GoodReads tally, I read 52 books in 2018. And since everyone is doing their year-end best books lists, I thought it would be fun to offer my top 10 list. A lot of these were published in 2018, some 2017 (though I haven’t rigorously fact-checked that).
- Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
- How To Be A Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonia (full disclosure: She blurbed my book, but that’s not why I love hers.)
- Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
- Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong (full disclosure: We share a publisher, but I’m listing because it’s such a moving portrait of dementia and family.)
- The Good House by Ann Leary
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
- The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith (full disclosure, she’s my cousin but also this book is brilliant, genre-bending, and beautiful.)
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- Educated by Tara Westover. (I know, who didn’t love this one? But also. So good.)
If you want to see my full list, check out my read shelf on GoodReads. To be honest, if I finished it, I really liked it (see below), so everything on here is pretty solid. One exception: I was super disappointed by the ending of The Witch Elm (and I normally LOVE Tana French, so all of the sad faces). The other author who let me down this year is my beloved Kate Atkinson — I found Transcription oddly soulless and gave up three-quarters of the way through when I realized I just didn’t care about anybody. Oh and I really do not get why everybody loved Less.So maybe skip those, or don’t and tell me why I was wrong.
Now, a note about how I got to 52: I didn’t keep a tally in 2017, because I didn’t start using GoodReads until my publisher told me I had to, back when we started planning my own book launch back in May. But I know I read way fewer. Maybe 20? If I’m being generous? My official excuses are that I was first buried in writing my own and then in having a new baby, both of which are gigantic brain sucks. But let’s be honest, it was really because I stared at my phone way too much. Which, I realized midway through the year, was NOT making me happy. Writers have to read (I mean, if we don’t, who will?). And my brain is just calmer, happier and more productive when I’m reading a ton.
So back in June I set myself a goal to read 50 books by the end of 2018. Which felt like a lot, especially because I’d wasted the first six months, but turned out to be pretty easy once I did a little problem-solving to get back my reading time. I thought I’d share how I did that here, in case this is something other people would find helpful.
The hands-down biggest change was to get my daily phone time down from 5 to 7 hours (WHAT) to under 3, and preferably under 2. I was totally shocked to realize just how much time I was losing to the phone, but it had become my default way to relax. Except that I didn’t find it very relaxing. So I downloaded the Moment app (yes, it is highly ironic that I needed an app to get me to use my phone less) to track my time and guilt trip me whenever I went over. I also turned off all notifications. And the really key thing was: I stopped keeping my phone on my bedside table at night. (Yes, I had to go buy an alarm clock.) This meant that I no longer end each day trying to read the whole Internet. I stick my phone on the charger in the kitchen at 8:30pm and don’t pick it up again until I’ve been awake for at least one hour in the morning.
This means I read for at least half an hour in the morning and again for half an hour before bed, and often more. It. Is. The. Best. The only sort-of-downside is I’m now often way behind on the news. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t all that up on the news before, I just told myself I used my phone to read the New York Times and then read Facebook instead.
Two other tricks for reading more: Know what you’re reading next. (Like, have the book waiting on your nightstand or in your Kindle or keep a running “want to read” list on GoodReads or someplace.) And give yourself permission to stop reading if you don’t love the book. I got this from Gretchen Rubin and it’s so freeing. When you’re in bad book purgatory, reading just grinds to a halt because you don’t look forward to it.
For 2019, I’m setting a goal of 75 books. I was going to make it 100 (to double this year’s goal) but I know I can hit that easily by reading tons of YA and other “fast reads.” Which is no shade on YA (I adore it!), but I also want to get at least 10 more challenging books on the list. For me, that mostly means non-fiction. (Yes it is also ironic that the non-fiction writer prefers to read fiction… Hello, I’m Virginia, and I like STORIES.) So I’m scaling back the quantity a bit to push myself a little more on the books themselves. I’ll report back! And I’d love to know: What’s the best book you read this year? And what are you excited to read in 2019?