Ask anyone who knows me: I am obsessed with books. My dream house includes plans for a library with bookshelves tall enough to necessitate a sliding ladder. Belle was always my favorite princess because of her love of reading. Some of the world’s most magnificent libraries have brought me to tears (Alexandria, Egypt to name one).
It’s this love of the written word that made me want to be a writer to begin with. Maybe it’s this love of words that drew me to study the stories people tell about God and get a degree in Religion. I have an abnormal love of learning and have said I would go to school forever if someone would pay for it (Anyone dying to fund my return to an incomplete seminary degree I started sixteen years ago? No?). If you ask any expert on writing what to do to become a better writer, the first thing they will say is, “read more.”
So I set out this year with a goal to read 52 books. I read on my kindle and on my phone, listened to audiobooks, borrowed from the library, and supported author friends in launching their precious book babies into the world. By the beginning of December, I had busted my goal apart and read 59 books (and countless essays and articles online).
My head was swimming with all the beautiful, wonderful words. And I needed a break. My love of reading had become a duty as a writer. I needed to read more to grow my craft. I needed to support every author friend that was putting together a launch team. I needed to recommend the best books in my monthly newsletter to my reader (and articles and podcasts, and oh, so much noise in my mind!). My love of story had turned into a duty to take in more information at a breakneck pace. And I wasn’t loving it anymore. Sometimes even the things we love can become burdensome. Sometimes we need to reevaluate our reasons.
So, I took December off of social media, reading, podcasts, news. I work in online communications so I couldn’t log off completely. But outside of work, I let the only words I take into my mind during Advent be one short devotional and Scripture.
It was a relief to have some quiet for a time. But it is not sustainable as a writer or even as a lover of words. I long to be a learner but I also have limited time (and limited capacity in a middle-aged brain that is pulled in a million different directions). I want to be smarter in what I consume and I don’t ever want it to just be more information. I want it to be part of transformation.
So, here’s a look back on what I read in 2019 and my goals for the coming year. What about you—what do your bookshelves look like?
I read 59 books in 2019. I read:
-38 books by women, 21 by men
-51 modern authors, 8 ancient/classics
-43 books by white western authors, 9 by Asian/Middle Eastern, 1 Ancient Eastern, 2 European, and 5 by Black American authors
-12 focused on topics that were “secular;” the remaining were focused on topics of faith by authors that were: 6 Christian-Catholic, 20 Christian-Evangelical, 18 Christian-mainline/progressive, 3 other religions
-10 book launches – meaning I received an early copy of a new book by a publisher/author to read and review as the book was being released
-4 youth fiction, 4 fiction, 3 devotional, 48 non-fiction or memoir
The books I read explored these themes:
-social/justice issues: refugee issues, immigration, Israel/Palestine, Indigenous people, Iraq, hospitality, race, culture, poverty, shalom, conflict/peace
-activism, empathy, feminism
-suffering, weakness, failure, lament
-healing, spirituality, enneagram, mental health
-contemplation, prayer, mysticism, monasticism, silence, liturgy
-faith: paradox, eternity, presence of God, discernment, shifting faith/deconstruction, the Bible, gratitude, waiting
My 2020 Learning Goals
As a non-fiction writer in the spheres of faith and justice (and largely female audiences online), it makes sense that I read more women authors than men, more non-fiction than novels, and more faith-focused than secular books. This is the world in which I live and write and network every day. But it also means there are some glaring gaps in the information I am taking in. I want to read widely as well as deeply.
I am not placing a number goal in the next year because I want to feel freedom from that pressure even if it is self-imposed. But I do have some goals to broaden the scope of what I read in the next year and grow in some spots I feel were lacking this year.
I want to read more by classic/ancient authors this year. I love new books that are coming out and we have a lot of great things to say today about life and faith. But there is also a fount of wisdom we are missing, the foundations of our whole civilization and faith were built on early thinkers. I want to explore their writings more this year.
I want to read more by authors of color this year. Of course, as a person steeped in white protestant culture, it is easy to stay in those circles of authors. I have lived in Asia and the Middle East and gravitate toward authors that write about or are from that part of the world as well. But I want to read more books written by authors outside of the context of life and faith I know. I want to place myself as a humble learner about contexts and views I am missing in my own blindspots.
I want to read more fiction this year. Though I write and read mostly non-fiction, I value story. The best non-fiction isn’t how-to. It is immersed in character and place. I want to live more in the world of story this year. I also just need to escape from some heavy topics and read for fun again!
I want to read more on writing this year. It would be lovely if this writing life consisted of just sitting down and putting words on the page. Honestly, that takes up the least amount of time sometimes. I do all my own web design, editing, social media, and email marketing. Then there is tons of reading articles and getting familiar with the voice of an outlet you want to write for, pitching the piece, writing it, editing it, sharing it. Honestly, time for actually building the craft of writing can be hard to find. I want to spend more time this year reading books about how to really grow as a writer (not grow a platform or get a contract but how to be a better artist).
So, what about you? What did you read last year that you loved? Where can you grow as a learner? What are your goals in 2020?
Comment here and join me on Goodreads as we learn together!
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