Sunday Salon: Looking Ahead

As December approaches, my mind is turning toward finishing out the year and my plans for next year. I don’t like to set a lot of formal goals for my reading, especially not ones guided by numbers. My main goal, always, is to enjoy my reading, and anything beyond that starts to feel like work.

Last year, my only non-negotiable, must-do goal was to read or discard all the books I’ve had for longer than 4 years. That worked out beautifully, so I intend to do the same next year. There are 21 books that I’ve had on my shelves since 2008, so I’ll be reading or discarding all of those for sure. That should be easy enough (although I’m already looking at my 2009 and 2010 lists with fear and trepidation). I can completely relate to this line from Junot Diaz (from The New Yorker‘s Tumblr):

Eventually everything I have gets read. But naturally I buy more than I can read, so there is always at least a hundred-book margin between what I own and what I’ve read. What’s cool is that I’ve caught up a couple of times, and this year I intend to catch up again. But then I’ll buy too much and the race starts again.

I despair of ever getting caught up, but it is fun to try. I have a couple of ideas for making it easier (and more fun) next year.

C.B. James’s TBR Double Dare is a great way to work on getting caught up. Last year, I made it all the way to April 1 and didn’t miss those new books at all (OK, maybe a little, but I got over it). I almost decided against joining this year because I get exercise by walking to the library, but then I realized that January to April is not prime walking weather anyway, so I wouldn’t go so very much. I plan to read exclusively from my shelves (which includes my embarrassingly large e-reader shelf) between January 1 and April 1. I will have to make exceptions for book group books, a few library books I already have on hold, and a few new books I’ve already requested through Netgalley.

Another idea I have in mind is limiting the number of new releases that I read next year. Book blogging has made me more aware of new titles and given me immediate access to free copies of many of them. It’s also encouraged me to branch out and try books and authors I never would have heard of otherwise. It’s great; it really is. However, when I look back at the 2011 releases I’ve read this year, plenty of them were quite good, but only a few truly knocked my socks off. I don’t particularly regret many of those reads, but they also didn’t make my reading life all that much richer. I read them because they were there, and they were perfectly fine, but I feel that in reading these books, I neglected so many classics, so many older titles by favorite authors, and so many older (and often dead) writers that I’ve been meaning to try to ages.

So next year, I plan to limit myself to 24 titles released in 2012. That’s two a month, which really shouldn’t feel like a deprivation, but I think it’s enough of a limit to force me to think about each and every review copy I accept and every new “hot” book I put on hold at the library. I know right now that I’ll need to leave space for The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King’s new Dark Tower book, as well as Laurie King’s new Mary Russell adventure. I already have seven 2012 releases on request at Netgalley (although I might not read all of those), so that leaves 15 slots. It’s doable, but enough to make me think more carefully about whether I have to read every new book that comes along. If a book is good, it’ll still be good a year from now.

If anyone else is interested in joining me in this, I could turn it into a challenge. It would be casual, with each person setting his or her own limit.

As for the rest of 2011, I’d really like to clear the decks of review copies I picked up at BEA and a few others that have come my way. It’s pretty telling that I’ve had these books for months and very few of them are calling out to me. I don’t like having review copies hanging around for more than six months, and a few of these are approaching that date. I don’t make promises to read all my review copies, but I do always make a good faith effort, and I’d like to make that effort on these before the end of the year. So the rest of 2011 might be heavy on the new releases, but most of them are ones I haven’t seen written about extensively, so I’m hoping no one will be sick of them by the time I post.

So what are your plans for the rest of the year? Any resolutions you’re on the brink of fulfilling (or giving up on)? Have you started giving much thought to next year?

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51 Responses to Sunday Salon: Looking Ahead

  1. Harriet says:

    I’d never heard of the Double Dare Challenge and am wondering if I am brave enough to do it. Nice post, raising some interesting issues. Thanks.

  2. Kristen M. says:

    My goal for this year was to read 50 books from my TBR. I think I’m only around 30 now but I’ve also done some re-reads from my shelves so I think the idea of reading more of what I already own was achieved. I am also going to try and clear away review copies during the rest of the year and to stick to my shelves again next year (and be more selective with review books). I’m starting a year of Dickens next year too so that means a lot of re-reads and reading of novels that have been on my shelves for a while. That also means steering clear of a lot of 2012 releases! I’m just starting to think about my 2012 goals so I appreciate this post right now.

    • Teresa says:

      A year of Dickens, huh? I don’t think I could do a year of Dickens, but I like that idea of focusing on a favorite author for a year. I’ve been yearning to read some Thomas Hardy, so maybe I’ll think about that, if not for next year, then for the year after.

  3. gaskella says:

    I’ve just gone and signed up again. It’s a great challenge, and hopefully I will acquire fewer new books during the three months as well as reducing the TBR slightly faster.

  4. litlove says:

    This has been a year of more planned reading than usual for me. I’ve done a lot of readalongs and challenges,as well as having more review copies than I usually do. So already I’m thinking that 2012 will be free form. I’ve given up with trying to impose limits on obtaining books – I always end up ignoring them! So I think I’ll just see what happens next year as I go along.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve done very few challenges and readalongs, other than the ones Jenny and I do together, and I’ve found the free-form approach works for me. Even the few readalongs I’ve done have been free-form and low commitment.

  5. Lisa says:

    I’ve discovered so many wonderful books this year from bloggers, and as usual the new books seem more immediately exciting that the ones on my TBR pile (which themselves were the new exciting books at one point). I did try Jenny’s reading list method, which worked great for one month but not so well since, as I got distracted with the new books. I’m going to try the double-dare, though giving up library books will be a real challenge.

    • Teresa says:

      The new books do seem so much more exciting, don’t they? But you make a good point that all the books on our shelves were new and exciting acquisitions at some point.

      Good luck with the Double Dare!

  6. Deb says:

    In 2010, my NYR was to stop buying books until I had cleared my tbr mountain (a highly unlikely scenario). I could get books from the library, but I couldn’t buy any books (new or used–farewell, Friends of the Library book sale). This was both a space consideration and a financial decision, and (with an admitted couple of hiccups) I did make it through the year without bringing more new books into the house. So when 2011 started, I continued with that approach: Just library and tbr. In fact, I just finished Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY this weekend. It had been in my trb pile for years. It was published the year my first child was born–and she’s in college now.

    • Teresa says:

      I can’t quite do an outright buying ban, but I’ve tried giving myself an allowance by telling myself that all my TBR has to fit on a single bookcase. Ideally, that would motivate me to read the books I own to make room for more and make me think harder about the books I buy. That worked well for most of the year, but thanks to the Borders closing sale, the bookcase is overflowing again. I’m hoping the TBR Dare will help me get it back under control.

  7. Frances says:

    I always marvel at how disciplined you are. You write these posts and then you actually do these things unlike so many of us who publish our best intentions and then… well, do something else. I am in for the TBR Double Dare though as it was helpful to my groaning shelves and more than a bit eye opening this year as to my acquisition habits. And the idea of limiting the number of new releases is interesting too. But probably not happy news to publicists reading here. :) The only thing I have planned is reading The Savage Detectives with Richard and company in January.

    • Teresa says:

      You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything here about whether I’ve stuck to my plan of not letting my TBR bookcase overflow again. Because it’s overflowing for sure now.

      And I will reassure those publicists out there by saying that I hope my 24-book limit will mean I’m reading books I’m likely to love and not a bunch of books I feel lukewarm about. So perhaps I won’t be putting people off their books with my expressions of disappointment and indifference. That’s a good thing, right?

  8. Victoria says:

    I think I will have to join the TBR challenge, because the current state of affairs is getting silly – I buy and I borrow new books, and read about half of them, and then the other half sits and languishes for years and years and years. I could probably read for 5 or 6 years from my TBR with no trouble! I have already started a buying moratorium (and have kept to it for a month now), but will have to do the same for library books and review copies. Hopefully I can follow your example and you can keep me strong. :-)

    • Teresa says:

      I could probably manage 3 years from my TBR, if that’s all I read, but with my tiny condo, I really need to keep an eye on space. It also seems silly to me to buy books I’m unlikely to read more than once. Good luck with getting through your TBR!

  9. Bookish Hobbit says:

    I’ve set myself some rules with the intention of reading through that TBR pile this coming year. I am pretty sure that I won’t read them all, but I aim to put a sizable dent in that pile that’s wanting to be a mountain. I’m not planning on abstaining from purchasing books, but I need to have read a certain number from the pile before I indulge in that desire. I’m hoping that this keeps me from going on crazy book-buying binges and maintaining progress.

    • Teresa says:

      That sounds like a good plan. I love the idea of catching up completely, but I know that’s unlikely to happen. Limiting the amount of shelf space I could devote to unread books worked really well for me for most of the year.

  10. cbjames says:

    I have a couple of reading projects that I hope to finish before the end of the year, but I just keep falling further behind. I want to finish 1Q84, but not until New Year’s Eve. I’m pacing myself and loving it. I’ve about 200 pages of Tristram Shandy still to go. And I have the last two Martin Beck mysteries to finish.

    I’ve a feeling I’ll be doing all of these during Christmas break at year’s end.

  11. I love thinking about my reading lists and reading plans, and like many book bloggers, I have a huge number of unread books in my library. I’m doing the Mount TBR challenge at My Reader’s Block with Bev. And I’m doing the Return to the Classics Challenge (which I’m going to try to fulfill mostly with books I already own). There is something very satisfying about making a list or a plan.

    • Teresa says:

      I do like having a plan, as long as it’s not so ambitious that I feel hemmed in. (I’ve had that happen in the past, when I joined every challenge and accepted every review copy that looked interesting.)

  12. Iris says:

    I really think I should join you on your ‘new year’s resolutions’. I have been thinking about cutting down on review copies (and I don’t even receive that many, +- 1 a month) and not requesting everything that looks interesting on Netgalley, I never keep up anyway. I’d like to pay more attention to all those books calling me from the shelves. The thing is, I find it very hard to make the ‘big decision’ and pronouncing it to the world. Let me contemplate for a little while longer ;)

    • Teresa says:

      I tend to go crazy on Netgalley and request more than I have time to read. I don’t feel bad about that, except that it makes me wish I had more time to read everything that interests me. I’m thinking that I may just start browsing Netgalley when I’m looking for a new book to read, instead of just when I want to know what’s newly added there.

  13. Gavin says:

    I am joining The TBR Double Dare and hope to make it through to April 1st but I am including several holds from my library, Ready Player One and The Sense of An Ending being two of them. I have made an effort to stick to my book buying ban and to use my library but somehow books keep finding their way onto my personal TBR stacks. I’d like to spend 2012 reading those books, plan on joining in on a couple of read-alongs and continue with Once Upon A Time and R.I.P. And I’d love to reread some Dickens.

    • Teresa says:

      I know what you mean about the books finding their way onto the shelves despite our bans. I’m not sure how my shelves got back to their overflowing state, but they did!

  14. Steph says:

    Every year I say I am going to try to read more internationally, and I know that I have done terribly this year. I think I have only read books from American and British authors, and maybe one or two other countries thrown in there, but I know that my reading has been very narrow. I also haven’t had as much reading time this year as in years past, so I think that’s why I’ve automatically been reaching for books that fall within my comfort zone.

    I have no idea what 2012 will bring, as the first half of the year is going to be focused on finishing up my dissertation (finally!), and then I’m not sure about what comes post-graduation. Maybe traveling the world, maybe moving to a new city and starting a new position… with all those uncertainties ahead, I feel like all I can do is vow to try to read as much as I can, and be happy with that.

    • Teresa says:

      I can totally understand going for your comfort zone when you have limited time to read. When time is scarce, it gets more precious and feels riskier to try out something new. I’m always trying to expand my international reading, but I don’t have a set goal in mind; it’s just something I keep in mind.

      And it sounds like you have a big year ahead!

  15. Anastasia says:

    I had a reading goal of 200 books this year, but I think I’ve given up on that. :D Otherwise I’m completely free! I don’t have any review books I need to read right away, and all the rest of my TBR books have been packed so all I have left is stuff on my Kindle/iPod Touch. This year I also had a “no buying paper books” goal which I ALMOST succeeded at. I definitely bought less books this year than I did the year before!

    For next year, though, I’m going to buy as many books as I can afford and not regret a single one of them. I think I’m going to give up on a specific “books read” goal, too, and I’m going to accept way less review books. So next year should be really fun! I’ve liked reading books from my own shelves(/ereader) or from the library without worrying about review commitments– it’s really relaxing! I’m going to try and do that more in 2012.

    • Teresa says:

      That feeling of freedom is so nice isn’t it? It seems like cutting back on review copies is a common goal. I’ve gotten some great ones this year, but it doesn’t take much for them to start to feel like an obligation (even when I tell myself and state in my review policy that I’m only agreeing to *consider* the books I receive for review–no promises).

  16. Kathleen says:

    I’m always playing catch up with my shelves. It is nice to know that I’m not the only one!

  17. amymckie says:

    Wow, great goals for next year. I was hoping to clear out my shelves some and, well, I kind of did because when I moved in March I gave away hundreds, but still so many to go! I’m impressed especially at your 24 new book goal – I am inspired to try to do that myself. Though umm… maybe I will keep it between us in case I can’t do it ;) heh

    • Teresa says:

      Moving is a huge motivator for getting rid of books. I very nearly caught up on unread books when I moved 5 years ago, but the pile has piled up again, and I’m not going anywhere soon!

      And LOL on keeping the 24-book limit. between us.

  18. I am completely with you on limiting new releases — I was not very wowed this year — made more challenging as I try to make my top ten list. Last year’s top ten was hard because picking ten was limiting; this year, I’m struggling for ten. Very disappointing.

    I also love your read/discard goal — I might use that as my wife would rejoice at all the shelf space!

    • Teresa says:

      I think just about all the 2011 releases that wowed me are ones I wanted to read before the review copy offer came along, which tells me something about my own instincts for what I’ll like.

      The read or discard goal was a great help this year! I think I got through all my 2007 acquisitions by September because I knew I had to if I wanted to read them at all.

  19. Rebecca Reid says:

    My goal is to not make any plans. Other than January when I want to read Shakespeare in depth. I can’t really plan how life will be once little Monkey arrives in February!

    I would love to weed my shelves of books I purchased so many years ago. But I have no idea when I acquired the books I have :( I’m just a hoarder, though, so I’m not sure I’d be able to elminate the books I HAVENT yet read. It’s always in that “someday” category.

    • Teresa says:

      With the little Monkey on the way, I think you have plenty to plan for without adding reading plans on top of it.

      The weeding method works well for me partly because I had so few unread books before 2006, and I could tell from my LibraryThing catalog when I got most of them. If I’d be collecting heavily for long before that, it wouldn’t work.

  20. Rebecca H. says:

    I’m still feeling inspired by Alan Jacobs’s book about reading at whim, and I don’t want to make any plans for myself. Your post did inspire me to go back and figure out when I collected all my TBR books, and just reading the books from 2007 and earlier would take me much of the year. Yikes! I think I will try to read from my TBR shelves as much as possible, but I’m not setting any rules.

    • Teresa says:

      I can see the appeal of reading totally by whim. One of the things that makes me want to whittle down my unread collection is that I’ll feel more free to read by whim without worrying about being buried by all the unread books I keep collecting :)

  21. Anne Smith says:

    Like Rebecca I don’t really want to make any specific plans for reading (mostly because I am so very bad at keeping to a plan). My TBR pile seems to be ever growing and I have to admit that I sometimes feel guilty when I see a book that have been there for more than a year. It’s just that there always seems to be shiny new titles distracting me! I would make a terrible reviewer.

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    • Teresa says:

      It is hard not to get distracted by all those shiny new titles. I keep telling myself that they’ll still be good books in 5 years–or 10–if they’re any good at all.

  22. Stefanie says:

    Wow, you’ve got you plans pretty much nailed down already! Mine are still in flux. I don’t think I could set a goal to read all unread books acquired before 2008. There are just too many and I don’t keep track of when I bought a book, they just eventually end up in the “wow, I’ve had this a long time” category. But I hope to read some of those books and decrease the size of that category. Good luck with your goals!

    • Teresa says:

      It’s mostly just LibraryThing and my obsessiveness about cataloging my books there that enables me to keep track. I also used to put books on my TBR bookcase in the order I obtained them, which I admit is a little weird.

  23. Vasilly says:

    I love the Diaz quote. It’s one of my favorites and so true. I brought in a ton of new books this year so I’m spending the rest of the year reading my ARCs and library books. I’m also participating in the TBR Dare next year since I’ll have a hectic school schedule and it’ll be easier reading books I own than looking up new reads, placing them on hold at the library, and picking them up.

    Hotel World is a great book. I hope you enjoy it.

    • Teresa says:

      I really love that quote. I’m going to use that idea of “catching up” as inspiration! And I like your idea that going to the shelves is a time saver.

      I’m really looking forward to Hotel World. I’ve never read any Ali Smith, and I know I must!

  24. Heather says:

    I think I’ve basically abandoned my plan (from two years ago, now!) of reading a set list of 21 books I already own…I’ve read, um, exactly a third of that list since December 1st, 2009, which kind of makes me think that list-directed reading doesn’t work so well for me.

    As of now I’m undecided as to whether I will have any reading goals for 2012 or not. The TBR Double Dare sounds fun, and I do keep saying I want to read more of the books I own, though I keep on checking more books out of the library instead. But maybe the TBR Double Dare will be just the sort of loose encouragement I need …

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve always done well with list-directed reading, as long as I leave some room for whims. I do go through phases regarding how closely I hew to my list, but I’ve always loved working through a list.

      The TBR Dare is good fun! A lot of people last year didn’t make it very far into the year last year, but quite a few made it to April–or nearly there.

  25. The last couple of years my goal has been to have 50 percent of the books I read to be my books (meaning books I purchased) and 50 percent to be from other sources… and I haven’t made it yet. I always get so distracted by review copies. I’m not quite sure what my goal will be for this year, but I’m impressed by your decision to limit 2012 books. I don’t have that sort of self-control, it seems.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve tried alternating review copies, TBR shelf books, and library books, and that works OK for a while, but it’s not a pattern I can sustain long-term. I think overall I’ve hit that balance, though. It looks like about a third of the books I’ve read this year have been review copies, which is what I was hoping for (it’ll go up a bit as I clear my shelves this month, though).

      And we’ll have to wait and see whether I have the self-control to keep to my 24-book plan :)

  26. Pingback: Plans for 2012 | Iris on Books

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