A few years ago, I wrote about how I dislike annual reading goals. The act of setting up a number or goal in reading as a yearly resolution feels to me like making reading work, rather than an activity worth enjoying. That’s not to say there’s not value in it — for many readers, there definitely is — but for me, being intentional in my reading brings meaning to my reading life.
Intentional reading is being selective with my reading. I’ve been doing the reading thing long enough now to know what phrases or descriptions ring my bells. I also have a good sense of where I can improve in my reading and I create strategies for getting better. Over the last few years, for example, I recognized how important reading more women and more people of color was; I set the intention of only spending my money on books written by women or people of color. By setting that intention, I work hard to seek out those books, many of which I may otherwise never have discovered, and I’m surrounded by them. If I need to read a book, I have so many fantastic options in my home.
Last fall, I made a decision about my reading life. It was something I needed to do. I’d sort of hinted at needing to change things up in the summer, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to go about it or what it was that I needed to do. When your reading life and your work life are so intimately and intricately tied, it’s hard to tease one of them apart from the other and separate the things you know you should be reading for work-related reasons from those you want to read for you and only you. I love talking about books intelligently and I love being able to be part of a conversation about books that are sparking discussion within the YA and broader book community. But I’m also not, nor have I ever been, a reader who needs to be up on the latest, greatest, or big-budget titles. I rely on reviews by others of those titles to help guide my decisions on them.
I was intrigued by Annika’s post about having only read books by women since 2013. I love when people suss out patterns in their reading and then they go at those things with full force. That’s an intention. But more, when the comments on Annika’s post turned really bothersome — and I moderated those comments for a few days, so I saw some of the worst of it — I decided that taking on a similar intention in my reading would be worthwhile. Why did a woman choosing to read only women make people so angry? What is so scary about choosing to read only women?
Leila answers that question about the challenge in a way that I didn’t know how to articulate while also offering more compelling reasons for taking part in the intentional reading of women’ stories:
And, as I watched that all play out, rather than scaring me off, all of the garbage levelled at that essay—and, of course, at the woman who wrote it—resulted in the realization that this year, every single book that I’ve read that I have connected on a kindred-spirit level has been a book written by a woman. It made me realize that lately, while I haven’t felt particularly welcome in a community that I used to consider welcoming, that I have felt embraced and affirmed and heard and challenged—in a positive way—by those same authors, in those same books.
It made me realize that at the moment, I want to surround myself with women’s voices. That I want to put my energy into listening to them, engaging with them, learning from them, and amplifying them.
I began reading only women in November. Knowing my bookshelves are packed with books by women and people of color, I’ve had so many outstanding options to choose from. Sure, I’ve already missed out on reading a few books I’d been looking forward to, and I know there are more books I’m going to miss out on reading in this coming year. I’ve felt my heart sink opening up packages and finding ARCs by favorite male authors, knowing that I wouldn’t be reading them this year. But the beauty of books and reading is when you set an intention like reading only women, books written by men do not disappear. I can pick up the books I’ve been eager to read in 2017. Or 2018. Or 2019. Or 2020. It doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to vanish into the abyss; they’ll be there when I am ready to pick them up. With the way technology works, even books that might not otherwise have a long shelf life can stick around infinitely thanks to eformats. Likewise, talking about good books never gets tiring and it’s never out of style. Backlist discussions matter as much as, if not even more than, talking about titles the weeks leading up to or immediately after their release dates.
By intentionally limiting the books I’m reading, I’m discovering how my reading is expanding. It seems counterintuitive, but now, rather than sticking to a certain type or genre of book, I’m reaching a little further. I’m excited to read more memoirs by women. I’ve always wanted to do that, but with the intention of reading only women, now I am permitting myself to reach for those books when I may have otherwise kept pushing them off in exchange for something else more timely or more related to what I feel like I should be talking about. I’m thinking about the connections between those books and my own life. Those books and the lives of other women I care about. Those books and teenagers, both those who may be intrigued by the book at hand or those who might find themselves connecting on a personal level to those stories in the future.
My reading has slowed down a bit, too. I’m marking more passages, thinking more critically, and asking more questions of the books I’m enjoying. I’m finding the act of asking questions to be fulfilling more than the desire to seek answers to them. My thinking and engagement in books opens up in a different way when I choose to settle for uncertainty, rather than demand closure. I’ve never needed closure in my reading, but I’m letting myself enjoy the discomfort of not knowing.
I didn’t participate in the Read Harder challenge at Book Riot last year. It felt too restrictive to me in the same way other reading challenges are. But this year, I’m embracing the challenge. I’m really excited to try reading books that I otherwise wouldn’t, especially with my intention of reading only women sitting on top of it. I know I’ll enjoy a wider range of reading while digging even more deeply into the works of women. Rather than expanding only outward, beyond my comfort zone, I’ll also be moving inward, further down the hole of the types of voices and stories I’m hungry to read.
If you aren’t a person who feels driven by goals or numbers, you’re not alone. And if you are a person who is motivated by that, that’s great, too. We’re all different in our approaches to reading. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and there never should be. Spending time thinking about your own needs and interests as a reader and digging into them, questioning them, and redefining them, only makes you better able to talk with or connect to other readers. This is especially true when you work with teen readers who have so little time in their lives for pleasure reading as it is.
I’m excited to see what this year in reading brings. Since embracing intentionality in my reading life and redefining what that means as I go along, rather than once a year, I’m able to walk away at the close of each year feeling like I’ve grown as a reader and as a thinker.
Do you have any reading intentions this year? I’d love to hear them or about any challenges you’re taking on.