I am someone who loves New Year’s resolutions. I live for fresh calendars and orderly to-do lists, goal setting, and bucket list drafting, reading resolutions and brand new TBR piles. Every year, I look forward to the glittery sense of hopeful anticipation that arises as the late hours of Dec. 31st wane into the early hours of Jan. 1st. I love knowing exactly what I plan to do (and read!) at the beginning of each year, and I love the challenge of actually doing it.
At least, that’s how I’ve celebrated the new year in the past. I've lofty reading goal (or, you know, seven), and an assortment of other accomplishments small and large that I’d like to dedicate myself to as the months tick by. But right now, the sparkle of a fresh new year is just a little less — I dunno — sparkly. I mean, is it just me, or was 2018 just one very long, very mind-numbing repeat of 2017? So much so, in fact, that changing my calendar from 2018 to 2019 feels like little more than an obligatory technicality. I mean, not to be a total pessimist here, but even a perfunctory scan of the last 24 months of headlines indicate that the planet is essentially underwater or on fire and America is as bigoted and misogynistic as it’s ever been.
At a time when truth isn’t truth and fact is on par with some of literature’s most dystopian fiction, where are we to turn in the year ahead? And, more importantly, what are we to read? I don’t know about you, but I am stacking my own TBR pile sky high with fiction. And that — to read more fiction — is the only resolution I’m setting in 2019.
I can't remember a time when I didn't find solace in literature. The answer to any question that could ever occupy the human mind can be found between the pages of books — of this, I am and have always been certain. Because of this, when confronted with the challenges of being a human in the world, I have often turned to nonfiction: everything from biography and politics to social criticism and cookbooks. But in uncharted times — those in which the experiments of fascism and social media collide head-on — the nonfiction just isn’t there; not yet. And certainly that which is there isn’t written with the perspective of time, distance, and the benefit of knowing how it all turns out in the end.
Fiction, however, offers the kind of respite in discouraging times that nonfiction never quite will — for me, at least. There’s a timelessness to fiction, and a slow unfolding of narrative — two things we seem to have lost in our frenetic consumption of instant gratification media. Great fiction offers the benefit of interrogating a given situation from all perspectives in a way that is far less threatening than, say, a partisan soundbite or midnight rage tweet. Fiction lets you get your footing; it guides you towards empathy; it seeks first to understand before being understood.
Can reading fiction solve the crises of the war in Syria, or the deadly politicization of the U.S./Mexico border, or the violence inflicted upon the bodies of women and people of color, or the starving polar bears in the Arctic north, or the ever-increasing number of superstorms weathered every year? No, certainly not directly. But fiction reminds us of our common humanity — it reminds us that, no matter how unique the specifics of our particular moment in history might be, history has, in one way or another, pretty much still been here before. Fiction has been written in dark times, and survived to see the other side; it tells stories of dark times and walks readers towards the light. And that is exactly what I want in the year ahead.