Sunday Salon: Reading Plans

I’ve never been much of a planner when it comes to my reading life. As an academic, my reading has often been planned for me, in courses and lists and shoulds and ought-tos, to such a degree that I haven’t wanted to guide even myself by more than whim. I’ve shied away from book clubs — no one can tell me what to read! I don’t even like those “Best Novels of the Twentieth Century” or “One Hundred Books Everyone Should Read” lists — they always seem oddly constructed and not what I would choose, myself. I’ve never joined a challenge or a dare in the book blog world. Why discipline something that’s supposed to be fun?

So it was a surprise this summer when I started to feel a need to carve out a plan for my reading. I was taking on some big classics, as well as some 600-700-page books by Stephen King for the readalong Teresa and I are doing, and I didn’t want them to crowd out everything else. I have also been wanting to read mostly off the “bottom” of my TBR list — the books that have been there the longest. So I wrote out a plan for the books I wanted to read in June, July and August, including a few new releases I was excited about, and with a couple of tweaks here and there, I stuck to it.

The thing is, it was oddly rewarding. I got to read a whole raft of books I’ve had on my list for many years, and I got through my projects as well. I had the best reading summer I’ve had in ages, and there was still room for whimsy. It didn’t feel regimented or pressured — it felt more like Christmas morning. Just because there’s a prescribed time to open gifts doesn’t mean the gifts aren’t wonderful!

So I’m thinking of doing another reading plan for this fall. Now that the semester has begun again, things are busier, so I’m putting fewer books on the list for each month, trying to make it manageable. I’m including at least one nonfiction book a month, and since for some reason my reading this year has been really disproportionately male (unusual for me — I’m usually naturally about fifty-fifty), I’m reading some more of the women authors I’ve been waiting to get to for years. And there’s plenty of room for serendipitous encounters with books I can’t resist! I have it planned through November and the end of the Dark Tower readalong, and honestly, I can’t wait.

Do you plan your reading, or do you pick up books according to whim, chance, and mood? Are you a rebel, like me, or do you enjoy having lists to read from? Is your reading beautifully orderly or gloriously disorderly?

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30 Responses to Sunday Salon: Reading Plans

  1. I usually plan out the next three or so books I’m going to read, with room for deviation—I just can’t read the same genre twice in a row, which helps me root around at the bottom of my massive reading list.

    • Jenny says:

      I frequently read not only the same genre, but the same author twice in a row. But if I had that limitation, I know I would have even more of a tendency to think ahead!

  2. Jeanne says:

    Gloriously disorderly. This is the first post that’s ever made me stop and consider whether I’ve rebelled enough and should think about a reading plan. Someday.

    • Jenny says:

      There’s a lot to be said for rebellion, but I really do feel that the past few months have been whatever the opposite of stale, flat, and unprofitable is. Fresh, bumpy, and profitable?

  3. I’m totally a whim, chance, and mood person. That’s why I don’t join challenges!

    • Jenny says:

      That’s been my approach so far, and I still haven’t found a challenge that appeals to me (except my personal challenge to read more authors of color, and that’s pretty vague.) I wonder if planning will inspire me to do more in that direction.

  4. litlove says:

    It’s a bit of both. I always have a pool of preferred choices, and I pick from that, until somehow, a different pool gradually forms itself and I move on. I completely understand how being an academic makes you feel like you want to keep reading for pleasure free. I used to feel exactly the same! But I’ve also found a lot of pleasure in committing myself to read different books, or just authors I’ve ‘been meaning to get to’ for ages. Here’s to a wonderful, bookish autumn!

    • Jenny says:

      I think that choosing my reading from my TBR (the pool you’re talking about) has been good for me in that respect, and for about a year I’ve been trying to read mostly the books that have been there longest, which means the authors I’ve wanted to read for ages. But a more structured plan has also been much nicer than I expected.

  5. justbookreading says:

    I’ve tried lists but I usually end up deviating at some point and feeling disappointed because there’s always some other book I want to read that isn’t on the list. Now I put together a short stack and work my way through it. It works better than a list for me.

    • Jenny says:

      Ah, but this is the genius of my approach — I have a list that’s shorter than the number of books I can actually read in a month. That way, if there’s a book I want to add, I can do it easily. One month this summer, for instance, I had seven books on the list and actually read ten. No disappointment!

  6. Disorderly, although I don’t think I’d use the word “glorious” in the same sentence LOL…..whatever turns up at the library on my reserved list, whatever comes in the mail, whatever someone lends me, whatever….

  7. Of course you haven’t joined any challenges. Most challenges ain’t run right. Unlike the one I’m announcing not this week, but the week after, which is run just right.

    You discipline something that’s supposed to be fun because a little discipline can make it more fun. Baudelaire followed by Verlaine followed by Laforgue with a side of Hugo – how is this not fun?

    • Jenny says:

      Well, AR, I have to say that I was sorely tempted by the All Ubu, All the Time Thing you did, and would have done it had I not been busy with the Greeks. So I look forward avidly to the challenge you’re presenting week after next. And your vision of discipline (just add Apollinaire and I’m yours) is admittedly pure fun. How did I not see this before?

      • Atsa good point. The reason Apollinaire was not on that list, which I was taking from real life, was that I ran out of stream following that thread a year or so ago. Apollinaire was the logical next step, but I needed a break.

        Lists and list-making are so useful not so much to establish a single path, but to mark out any number of possible paths. If I want to follow, say, the Nightwood path, where can I go?

      • Jenny says:

        Apollinaire is probably my favorite poet of that era, tipping into modern poetry as he does. He’s not as knotted as Mallarme, but he does some lovely stuff. When you gather steam again, give it a try.

        And Nightwood seems to be any number of possible paths, in itself.

  8. Sylvie says:

    Between my annual self-challenge (this year, 12 unread books I own) and my book salon, I don’t feel like I have much choice, but these have both gotten me to read more for pleasure than before. The book salon is theme-based so I have some flexibility there, and the theme usually leads me to things I might not discover otherwise. Perhaps next year’s monthly challenge should be to read whatever darn book looks best on my Goodreads list!

  9. Lisa says:

    I don’t usually have a plan, and I’m not going at reading on a schedule (I’m pretty much an honorary member of two book groups), though for the last couple of years I’ve been trying (mostly in vain) to reduce the TBR pile. This year, I did select some books to read over the summer, and I piled them up on my computer desk as a reminder – but the stack is now twice as big as it was in June. Did you set a schedule (so many days per book – or so many books per month) ?

    • Jenny says:

      I chose the books I needed to read — the Greek and Roman classics and the Stephen King — and then added other books I’d been wanting to read from my TBR. During the summer, I can typically read about 8-10 books a month, so I put 7 books each month on my list, to leave room for things I hadn’t remembered or that I would run across and want to read. Sometimes books spilled over from one month to another, but mostly it worked perfectly. This fall, when things are busier, I’m putting 5 books a month on my list, in the hope that I’ll read 7 or 8.

  10. Jenny says:

    I’ve tried to set myself on reading plans, but I always get cranky and start deviating from my plans. I am good at anticipating what Future Me would like to read, but not so good at coming up with a reading plan that Future Me will consent to stick to.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s partly why I’m only planning a couple of months in advance, and making a list that looks like so much fun I can’t possibly resist it, rather than one that looks like a syllabus. But as soon as it stops being fun, I’ll quit.

  11. Teresa says:

    It won’t surprise you one bit to know that I’ve always been a planner in my reading. Always, always, always a planner. It’s just the level and planning and regimentation that has varies at different points in my life. The way it tends to work these days is that I keep a list on my computer of books I want to read. If I’ve committed to something–like the Classics Circuit or the Dark Tower–I’ll put the book for that at the top of the list, followed by review copies, then all the books that I own. When I’m deciding on my next book to read, I just scroll down starting at the top until I see something that fits my mood. And if there’s something I hear about that I must read *now,* I allow myself to do that.

    At one time, I thought challenges would totally suit my list-making nature, but I find that it just turns into too many lists, and not much actual payoff. Shorter, more limited commitments work better for me.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, I know you’re a planner! For some reason, I never have been. But for the past few months, having a clear path has felt right. Odd how things come and go.

  12. Emily says:

    It’s odd how having more structure can sometimes be so satisfying. I sometimes even find that I accomplish more in my spare time when I have less of it—paradoxically, the things I’ve been avoiding become the things that I use to procrastinate about the new things, so at least one tier of things are getting done. :-)

    In my reading life I like a mix of structure and whimsy. Group or coordinated reads are fun, as are larger projects, but I also love the process of finishing one book and perusing my shelves for the next one purely based on my mood at the moment.

    • Jenny says:

      You know, Emily, there’s actual research showing that the more you have to do, the more you get done, so you’re not crazy! I think that having a list of books I want to get read in, say, October allows me a limited amount of mood-based choosing (plus I have time and space for things that are not on the list at all.) But I do want to get through what’s on there. It’s a nice mix.

  13. rebeccareid says:

    I was a planner for a while in blogging reading but lately I’ve been reading what I want more or less and I love it! It’s nice to break the mold a little…but if you’ve never planned before, that can be fun too.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ll plan as long as it’s fun, but maybe after that I’ll rebel again. I just didn’t realize what a little discipline could do for me!

      • ithinkisawsomething says:

        I think I am the same and you’ve inspired me to draw up a list for the first time in my life! I don’t promise to stick to it though.

      • Jenny says:

        Well, there’s no need for excessive discipline, either. I find myself straying right now for a silly reason — I ran out of books because all my interlibrary loans aren’t in yet! I’ve had to go into my October list! So I think it’s okay to be flexible. :)

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