13 Literary New Year's Resolutions for a Productive, Supercharged Year of the Book
It's that time of year again when all of our ambitions spill forth from the dark corners of our minds, and instead stand resplendent as New Year's Resolutions. As I've started to consider goals for the coming year, I stumbled upon last year's list of resolutions and had a good laugh: practice my German daily (more like once a month); learn to play an instrument (my neighbors soon put an end to my trumpet-based ambitions); and eat better (I am actually breaking open a bag of Christmas cookies as I sit here and type).
And yet, despite my abject failure last year, I can't help but think that my naïve, lofty, and in some cases ludicrous goals somehow made a difference regardless. So, I'm going to make some new ones this year. At this point, I'd like to make a bit of a confession to you: My name is Hannah, and I have a problem. I love books; I spend far more of my paycheck than could possibly be considered rational buying new books; I have all the local libraries bookmarked on Google Maps; I actually own and use a real live bookmark — but my literary life is disorganized, tired, stuck in a rut, and I don't think I'm the only one.
So, if you too have been looking at your shelves with a sigh in your heart, reading your prose with a small prick of panic, or just ambling from book to book without ever making your way past Chapter One, I just may have the solution for you — a resolution solution. 13 ways to to breathe new life into your bibliophilia.
We'll do it together.
Write Every Day
It doesn't matter what you have to say — the simple act of putting pen to paper can make all the difference in the world. Whether you're journaling, channeling your creative energy into poetry, or making real headway on your novel, writing every day will strengthen your literary muscle and provide a record that you can comb through for insights into your passions and processes. Speaking from experience, I can say that if I hadn't written down last year's resolutions, I wouldn't feel as comfortable reveling in how far I've come, or as ready to commit to new acts of artistic bravery... like writing every day!
Go To Readings
Whether you find them at your local library, a downtown coffee house, or an independent bookseller near you, hearing authors read their work is a fantastic way to revitalize your passion for fiction and develop a flair for the dramatic. You'll meet interesting people, hear the work as the author intended, and hopefully draw inspiration from the sheer passion of the participants. As a bonus resolution for the braver, why not get on up their and read some of your own work? Trust me, there's no safer audience than a group of book-lovers gathered together for the love of literature.
Reorganize Those Bookshelves
Nothing breathes new life into a worn out old way of life like a little reorganization. By taking all those books off the shelves and holding them close as you move them to an entirely new structure, you'll rediscover lost loves, take comfort in old favorites, and maybe even stumble upon something you've been meaning to read for months among the piles of perfectly stacked pages. Me? I'm taking a big step — I've always been a little neurotic when it comes to my personal shelving system, but to shake things up I'm moving from organizing my tomes by height to aligning them by color. A color based system is unorthodox, I know, and perhaps even a bit unwise, but I am hoping that by creating new patterns I'll not only spice up my living room, but also learn a little something new about my literary habits.
Update Your Vocabulary
My grandmother, bless her, used to read the dictionary whenever she had a spare moment — I'm not entirely certain that it contributed to any marked development of her vocabulary, but I've always admired the effort she put in. Too often I find myself falling back on the same stale phrases, and resorting to the word at hand rather than le mot juste, but no more! This will be the year of the grand advance, the march on lexicography — this will be the year thesauruses tremble when I pass. Why not join me in taking on the world of words one synonym at a time.
Discover Online Fiction
Believe it or not, the world of literature has expanded beyond the scope of the tactile, physical object — these days, there's enough great fiction online to fill even the most epic of libraries. Whether you're interested in going the fanfiction route or simply looking for a few great pieces to read on the go without putting a single tree in harm's way, exploring the world of online fiction is a great way to expand your literary horizons, without ever even leaving the house.
Share Your Writing
You may not have guessed it based on my utter delight in writing for Bustle, but I'm actually an incredibly shy person, and sharing my writing has been one of the more difficult habits I have tried to develop over the past few years. Every time I stretch myself creatively I back away from criticism like a cat faced with a big ol' bucket of water — but this year I'm bound and determined. This year I'm putting myself out there. After all, when it comes to reading it takes two to tango, and you'll never become a lord of the dance unless you let other people in on your written work.
Read for Pleasure
Every day, before I make the first of many, many pots of coffee, I scan my feed reader, look over any notes from the previous day's work, and set out to take in all the news I need to do my job properly. Sure, I take a book on the subway whenever I can, but more often than not I'm skimming critical texts or trying desperately to stay abreast of current events, and I don't think I'm the only one. All too often in this fast-paced world of ours we let necessity trump desire, and yet there is so much to be gleaned from pure fictional pleasure. When you read for yourself you're giving back to your brain, you're feeding your interests and allowing yourself to discover the secrets of your innermost urges. Plus, reading for pleasure is absolutely guaranteed to be one hell of a good time.
Share Your Books
I know a lot of you out there have a strict no-loan policy, and I get it, I really do — it can be heart-wrenching when a beloved volume disappears, forever lost to the vague promises that it will be returned, never to be seen again. I understand, and yet I refuse to be governed by fear — as Tennyson once wrote "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," and if you are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, your bravery will not go unrewarded. When you share your books you'll have the pleasure of speaking about them to the people you care about most, you'll be expanding the circle of readers who admire and follow the authors you're invested in, and don't forget, you'll be able to borrow great books in return. That's what I call a win, win, win.
Support Your Independent Booksellers
Independent booksellers are like elephants — they're rare, they're endangered, and they're simply too wonderful to watch fade from this world. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of walking into a small shop staffed by experts and displaying unusual texts by unknown authors just waiting to be discovered knows how special this experience can be. Don't get me wrong, I understand the allure of Amazon (those prices, free shipping — c'mon, I might be principled but I'm not crazy), but I think we can do better. I think we can be the positive change we want to see in the world, beginning with how we buy books. Who's with me?
Read More Works by Women
Women make ferocious, talented, exceptional authors — and yet, they're read far less frequently than their male counterparts, but it doesn't have to be this way. This year, let's all do our part to break down the subtle biases that privilege male fiction and take up books by the host of talented women among us. From children's books to academic treatises, from novellas to non-fiction, poetry to philosophy, the next time you pick out a new book, why not make it a point to choose a female author and do your part to bring equality to the world of literature. I know that's what I'll be doing, so watch this space for some great recommendations in the coming months.
Make Notes in the Margins
The tradition of jotting down notes in the margins of your favorite book is a long and storied one, and whether you lean more towards Sylvia Plath or Franz Kafka, I can personally guarantee that some of your favorite writers have been avid makers of marginalia. Of course, marginalia is not only for the published authors among us — why not take up the pen yourself? Representing your thoughts as you first have them will be not only a serve as a brilliant way to work out just what you're thinking about any given text, but also an excellent refresher if you ever choose to revisit a particular book. As an added bonus, if you ever enter the cannon as a literary luminary we'll all have the chance to oooh and ahhh over your penmanship in years to come.
Read Outside Your Comfort Zone
One of the quickest ways to jerk yourself out of a rut is to do the unusual, the unexpected, the unfamiliar — if you're a regular reader of the great contemporary masters, why not pick up a YA thriller; if you regularly turn to Agatha Christie to unwind, give science fiction ago; if you like to loosen up with a little poetry before bed, try non-fiction instead. Simply by stretching yourself you'll find new and exciting ways to love literature, even if you only develop an increased reverence for the old standbys. Let's live by the age old Suessian example and give green eggs and ham a go in whatever form they might take, literarily speaking.
Visit Your Local Library
Of all the magical wonderlands in all the world, I'd have to say that the library is my personal favorite; and yet, these days it's all too uncommon to find me splayed out amongst the stacks, gorging on books with hunger and abandon. The joy of discovery, the absolute freedom of free books, the community of like-minded literature lovers, all this and more can be found at your local library, so why not put down the mouse and pull on your coat for a quick and easy trip to the happiest place on earth. Once you make it in, you'll be swinging from the stacks in no time.