the fifty-second book

New Year’s Resolutions are the worst. I’m all for ambition and goal setting (in moderation) and working to be a better human being. You should try to do all of those things. But arbitrarily picking the beginning of the calendar as the moment when you will stop being a go-to-the-gym-once-a-year kinda gal and start being a three-workouts-a-week, smoothie-slurping health nut is a recipe for disappointment.

So, I have a longstanding No New Year’s Resolutions rule. (Instead, I start my goals on other arbitrary dates so I can be disappointed in myself 12 months out of the year, instead of consolidating it all into January!)

But last year, I spent December 31st with a friend who was finishing up a challenge to read 52 extracurricular books in one year. I was super impressed, and maybe a little jealous that she had managed to do it. See, I consider myself a reader – not just a person who reads, but a person whose identity is somewhat grounded in her literacy. Not claiming that is something to strive for, just something that is true. And I realized on that December day that I had not actually been reading much. So, driven by a healthy cocktail of shame and jealousy, I made an exception. I decided to try just one more resolution. I set out to read my own set of 52 books in 52 weeks.

And you know what? I did it. Sunday, I finished Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and promptly threw myself a little congratulatory party. In my apartment. Alone. (Insert party popper emoji here.)

I don’t even need you to be impressed with me. I’m too impressed with myself.

If you’re curious about what I read, there’s a full list here. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I would be head-over-heels thrilled to offer one.

If looking through a 52-item-long list sounds like a lot of work, and you prefer cold hard numerical facts instead, I can make that happen too:

The Stats

  • 22 novels (fiction)
    • 4 children’s books
    • 2 YA novels
  • 20 religion-related non-fiction
  • 7 work-related non-fiction
  • 2 books of short stories
  • 2 languages (51 English, 1 French)
  • 1 book of poetry

And I maybe learned a few things too. Like how I’m notoriously bad at discipline, and can manage to get myself 18 books behind schedule.

But I also learned that I can be the reading queen when I feel a bit of competitive pressure, and can come back from an 18-book deficit in the last third of the year. (insert flexing bicep emoji.)

More lessons: I really love theology. I read far more of it than anything remotely related to language. Which might be a little bit because I was a little burnt out on studying linguistics (gasp!) or even studying, period, but theology doesn’t feel like studying. One of the non-book things I read this year was an introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ The Incarnation by C.S. Lewis. There’s this wonderful line in it:

I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

YES, Lewis, YES. Honestly, I’m not sure if anything he’s written resonated with me more immediately. Except for the pipe part, because that’s not ladylike and smoking indoors is frowned upon and also it kills you.

Last lesson: I’m really bad at reading poetry. And it’s really tough. But also, so, so worth it. Thanks, GMH, for sticking with me.

My distaste for New Year’s Resolutions still stands. But I suppose they aren’t the worst things in the entire world. And if you’re considering a book-a-week challenge for 2016, I would highly recommend it. I know I’ll be doing it again.

(On that note: if you have a book recommendation, let me know now! Or later. Or literally any time. I love book recommendations almost as much as I love ice cream. Maybe more.)

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