Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading in 2017

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2017 was the year I really got my reading life back. Ever since probably my freshman or sophomore year of high school, I’ve really struggled to read as much as I want to. After realizing I only read 11 books in 2015 (gasp!), I set the goal to read at least 12 in 2016. At the end of the year, I’d surpassed that goal and read 17! Taking advantage of that momentum, I set what I thought was an ambitious goal of 20 books in 2017. I hit my goal on September 7th, with The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. Since then, I’ve bumped my total up to 29 books finished in 2017!.

I’ve been thinking about how I managed to read so much this year. This is what I’ve come up with:

I finally jumped on the audiobooks train. As someone who commutes a lot for both work and skating, I know this seems like an obvious answer, but it’s taken me years to actually get into them. This year, though, I finally figured out that while I’m not good at paying attention to fiction audiobooks, I love fast-paced non-fiction on audiobook (at that point, it’s practically a podcast!). I also started throwing money at the problem, and paid for Audible. Yes, I could download free audiobooks from the library, but they don’t have the best selection (for me), and typically not the narrators I want. Paying for what I want has definitely helped me read more.

I read at work. I understand that this is very unique given my situation as a para, but when your kid is taking a quiz, what else is there for you to do? I also checked out for about 15-20 minutes almost daily while he was in advisory and not needing my support. Plus, his english class had 5 required reads last year, and I read along with him to make sure we could talk about them before class.

I consumed other media that made me want to read. Following book bloggers on Instagram and listening to podcasts like Literary Disco and What Should I Read Next? every week definitely served as a reminder to keep the TV off when I got home and spend the time reading instead. That’s a huge tip for any area of your life, really: in this social media age, make sure you’re following the stuff that motivates you and brings positive things into your life.

I traveled quite a bit. I started by Shannon Hale while on the plane down to Knoxville, Tennessee, for the ProSkater Performance Camp and Live Audition, and I finished it while driving back from Ann Arbor, Michigan, from Nation’s Cup. I finished Emma by Jane Austen on the flight home from Evansville, Indiana, from the National Theater on Ice Competition.

And quite simply, but most importantly, I just chose to read. I read in coffee shops between rinks, on summer afternoons between my am job and pm job, while waiting for dates to pick me up, and for hours on Saturday afternoons, when I didn’t have other plans. Some lunch breaks, I intentionally went and sat by myself because I needed the time alone to read.

I also read a lot of really good books in 2017, which definitely helped me stay motivated (and keep the TV off). You can view my full list on Goodreads, but I wanted to highlight my favorite reading experiences from the year here.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin While I know Rubin barely needs an introduction, I enjoyed this book even more than I thought I would. While I’m a sucker for everything in the self-help genre, I really appreciated her memoir-style writing here. While I haven’t started my own Happiness Project (yet….I’ve definitely considered it), this book did change how I thought about my day-to-day. Perhaps most importantly, it made me stop apologizing for making time to just have fun, doing what I think is fun (instead of what other people around me consider fun). Definitely recommend, especially to start off the year.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie I read these both back-to-back, and they will now be forever linked in my mind. The Westing Game is a piece of children’s literature my student had to read for school, and it tells the story of a mysterious millionaire who challenges his neighbors to solve the mystery of his own death, promising to reward to winner with his inheritance. Similarly, Christie’s And Then There Were None is definitely one of her creepier books, as a murder mystery unfolds on a secluded island as the houseguests disappear one by one. While reading them, it really did feel like I was reading the ‘kid’ version and the ‘grown up’ version of the same book. I loved them both, and they left me equally reeling.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThis was probably my 4th reading of The Two Towers, but my first since probably age 14. Reading Tolkien will always feel like going home to me: his voice has such strong connections to my childhood. Whenever I’d open this up, I felt everything I was worried about just fall away and I just sunk into the story. Coming back to his writing as an adult is also exciting: it’s fun to see what parts I remember, and what went right over my head as a kid. The Return of the King is definitely due for a re-read this year.

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti It was a Saturday towards the end of June: I’d had a crazy work week finishing finals at the school I work at, my team had practice all day that Sunday, I worked Monday and had team practice that night, then flew out Tuesday night after work for Nationals. That Friday night before, my boyfriend broke up with me. I woke up Saturday morning to a gorgeous, sunny day, with no good morning texts, and surprisingly, no rink to rush to. I lay down on the couch, and finished this book in one day. It was exactly what I needed. It was funny, and nostalgic, and told the best stories of what being a human is all about: friendship, hard work, family legacy, wine, and chocolate. Lots and lots of wine and chocolate. Her essays were fantastic, I wanted to try every single one of her recipes, and the illustrations were worthy of framing. I would read Nicoletti’s grocery list if I could get my hands on it (and the way she cooks, it’s probably worth stealing). She’s also hilarious on Instagram (if not Grandma-friendly).

Emma by Jane Austen As a lifelong P&P fangirl, I have a major confession to make: Emma has stolen my heart, and won the title of my favorite Austen work. I underlined and dog-eared and read aloud to my mom almost every single page. I snorted out loud on the plane while I was reading. While Darcy is still probably my first pick of Austen heroes, in real life, I think Mr. Knightley would be the best match for me. Emma is also the perfect heroine, in that she’s incredibly imperfect, and we love her anyway.

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler If Voracious was the chocolate-covered binge that gave my heart a post-break-up-pep-talk, then The Amateur Marriage was the empowering friend helping me voice what I don’t want in the future. It was almost eerie: If my ex and I had stayed together, I guarantee you that this book would have been about us (and that’s not a good thing). It was refreshing, and gave me a vehicle to get a lot of important, big picture thinking done. It was also beautifully written, and while I know Anne Tyler isn’t exactly an undiscovered author, it made me realize that she may be underrated, at least in my circles.

Grit by Angela Duckworth. I LOVED this, and it’s probably the book I recommended the most this year. Duckworth pulls together everything she’s learned from years of studying the psychology of grit: how grit affects our success, and how to become gritter people (you know at the bottom of my posts when I say ‘be the grittiest!’? That’s from this book!). In it, she talks about why being tenacious is so vital to our success as a person, and even more important than intelligence, or talent. I loved it, and ended up applying a lot of her lessons to skating, in particular. I listened to this on audio (she reads it herself...and does a great job!), but I’m considering buying the physical book and re-reading it so I can take notes.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. Another great research-based read, I found Vanderkam’s position that we aren’t busy, but have more than enough time for everything we want to accomplish, extremely encouraging. She helped me re-frame my own thought processes, and instead of complaining about being busy, stop and ask myself what it is I want to be doing. I also love her simple way to re-frame: what are we wanting all this free-time for, really? Don’t we want free-time so we can put things that are important to us in it? So why not just fill our time with those important things to begin with?

Spinster: Making A Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick. Forget the cheesy title: this is another research-based heavy hitter, talking about the history of the single woman in America from the Victorian era through today, and what that means to us as individuals. I also listened to this on audio, and often sat in my driveway after getting home so I could hear a bit more. I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished it in September, and it’s another one that really changed how I thought about myself, my future, and how I want to (and whether or not I want to) add a guy to this mix someday. It also made me want to move to NYC and be a writer, but that might just be me. Since reading, solitude seems so much sweeter.

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien While his kids were growing up, J.R.R. Tolkien would write responses to their letters to Father Christmas every winter. This is a collection of his letters. Like I said earlier, Tolkien has changed my life and every time I read him I feel nothing but peace, so Christmas is the perfect time to get some of his work read. I loved his whimsical characters like Polar Bear, and the goblins that live in the mountains. I also found his letters from the WW2 years very poignant. This one is so quick, that I can see myself turning back to it every Christmas from now on.

Guys, I am so excited. I notice such a big difference in my mental clarity and happiness when I make the time to read. I am ridiculously looking forward to starting my list of reads in 2018, and setting a new goal on Goodreads (I’m going with 36!). I don’t really make ‘reading lists’ for myself (because the minute it’s required, I start dragging my feet), but I have been putting some thought into what I want more of in my reading life for 2018.

In 2017, I read a 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction, and that is definitely a ratio that felt really good and I’d like to keep. I would like to read more classics in 2018, after Austen and Tolkien reminded me this year how good it feels to really have to think about a book. Some definites on that front would be The Return of the King, Persuasion, and The Canterbury Tales. I also want to read more Kate Morton, Anne Tyler, re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series, finally finish L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, and get through a couple of poetry collections that have been waiting for me.

What did your reading life look like in 2017? What do you want in 2018?

Be the grittiest! xo Gillian

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