It’s resolution time, and I’m making some reading resolutions, as I do just about every year.
I’d like to read more than last year, which was a down year reading-wise for me. I keep track of what I read in a journal on my computer — what I read, when and where I read it, a sentence or two about my response to the book.
One of my reading resolutions for this year is to model my journal after New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul’s entries in “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.”
“Bob” is Paul’s name for the reading journal, which she started in high school and has continued ever since. The entries tell a tale of reading as a reflection of life and vice versa.
It is a reminder to me of the difference between tracking my life and experiencing it. We have innumerable tools that allow us to quantify our experiences. A quick internet search will turn up numerous templates for creating a reading log where you track things like release year, genre, number of pages, author gender and race, and any other data points you wish.
I want to keep a record of what I’ve done, but I don’t want the record itself to be the point of the recording.
It’s like a couple of years ago, when I received a Fitbit as a gift, and for months I enthusiastically monitored my steps and my sleep. One day I woke up feeling refreshed, believing I’d had a good night of sleep, until I logged onto my Fitbit app, which told me I’d been restless over a dozen times in the night. I suddenly felt tired.
The metrics shouldn’t crowd out the experience. I felt good. I didn’t need a highfalutin’ watch to tell me otherwise.
But reflection is an essential part of learning, and reflection is driven not by data but by questions: What have I done? Why? What are the results of what I’ve done? How do I feel about what I’ve done?
For example, three or four years ago I made a resolution to read more books by nonwhite authors, getting it into my mind that I should aim for a 50-50 ratio. I made this resolution not because I’m a liberal do-gooder but because I recognized that so many of the books I was responding to most strongly were stories rooted in experiences different from my own.
I don’t know if I hit the ratio or not — the only counting I do is the total number of books read — but I know that my understanding of what’s going on around me has deepened. I realize there’s still much to learn, but I can’t know what I don’t know unless I go looking.
My blindness shames me a bit. Until I read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer,” I’d only seen the Vietnam War from an American perspective through books like Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” and Karl Marlantes’ “Matterhorn.” “The Sympathizer” sent me to an older book, “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh, and I now better understand the war and its costs — for both sides.
With hindsight, I wonder how I could’ve been so blinkered for so long. My reading resolution helped me become a little smarter, maybe a little wiser.
Set some reading goals, but also try to be aware of why you’re setting them. I don’t want to read more because I’m chasing a number, but because I know what I’m missing out on if I read less.
John Warner is the author of “Tough Day for the Army.”
Below: Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read next based on the last five books you’ve read. To get a reading from the Biblioracle, send a list of the last five books you’ve read to firstname.lastname@example.org. Write “Biblioracle” in the subject line.