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Readerly Resolutions for 2010

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It's almost a new year, and in addition to my usual resolutions (i.e. eat healthier! exercise more!), I'm making some resolutions to become a better reader. Here they are:

1. I will become an omnivorous reader.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction—but I will try some this year. I don't read much genre—but I will try some this year. I don't usually read YA—but I will try some this year. You get the idea. It's like sampling new foods: stretching your boundaries is good for you. I never tried beets until last year, and I'm so glad I did—now they're one of my favorites. Plus, as my mom always says, "How do you know you don't like it until you try it?"

2. I will borrow a Kindle and read an ebook.

I still don't know what to think of ebooks and ebook readers. So I'm going to try one out. That way, whether I end up closer to the "eBooks and Their Ilk Are the Tools of the Devil" camp or "eBooks are the Salvation of Publishing" camp, at least I'll know whereof I speak.

3. I will read the shortlists for (at least) the National Book Awards and the Booker Prize, not just the winner.

If I can manage to see all the Oscar-nominated films, why not give nominated books the same respect? I might not finish before the winner is announced, but that's okay—unlike with movies, I don't have to hurry in to the theater.

4. I will go to more author readings.

Every single day, authors read at bookstores and libraries—and coffeeshops and bars—all over the country. And these readings are amazing: you get to hear the book in the author's own voice, ask questions, and meet the writer. For free. Why am I not taking advantage of this, again?

(And, as always, I will buy the book afterwards. I was once at a reading where a woman began her question thus: "Well, I'm sure your book is great—I haven't read it, but I'll probably get it out of the library... at some point..." Dear authors, I promise I will never do this.)

5. I will read one Big Classic Canonical Book that I keep putting off out of intimidation.

These books are Classic and Canonical for a reason. I still haven't decided which: Middlemarch? Ulysses? Gravity's Rainbow? Bleak House? If you've got suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

6. I will subscribe to a literary journal. (Not just the New Yorker.)

What's the best way to ensure a supply of good books in the future? Support up-and-coming writers now. Journals like One Story and Glimmertrain and Tin House find new writers and showcase their work, and subscribing is a great way to support those emerging writers.

Right now, I'm leaning towards one with a local affiliation, like AGNI (published by Boston University), Redivider (published by the grad students at Emerson College), or the New England Review (published by Middlebury College).

7. I will read more poems. (Not just in the New Yorker.)

I'm ashamed to admit that I very seldom read poetry, even though many of my friends are poets. A good poem is an amazing thing: a perfectly distilled, articulate moment. It opens you up—sometimes slowly, like the blooming of a flower, and sometimes with a quick knife-slice. Cross my heart: I'm going to read more poems in 2010. Resolution #6 will help with this.

8. I will read more short stories. (Not just in the New Yorker.)

What's the point of short stories, you ask? Aren't they inferior to novels? No no no no no. Novels often have a wider scope, but nothing—except maybe a poem—can match a short story for intensity of focus. Stories laser-beam a spotlight on the moment when everything shifts, whether that shift is a glimmer of understanding or a fundamental and irrevocable change. They are hard, bright little gems. Tobias Wolff, a master of the short form, put it elegantly in an interview with The Morning News:

Somebody once described the novel as a prose narrative of a certain length that has something wrong with it. I can think of a few novels that seem to have nothing wrong with them at all, but I can think of a lot more short stories that seem to me to be perfect. Carver's "Cathedral"; Joyce's "The Dead"; Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People"; any number, frankly, by Hemingway: "Hills Like White Elephants," "Another Country"; Chekhov's "Lady with Pet Dog" or his story "Gusef"; I mean I could go on and on. These are stories perfect as snowflakes, it seems to me, where you wouldn't want anything different.

And Nina Sankovitch—of Read All Day fame—points out:

Great writers can create fully rendered characters (often with just one perfect sentence), place them within acute cross-hatchings of landscape and time, and then allow a good shake-up of love, sorrow, fear, or death. There we are: the complete experience of suspense, catharsis, and release, all within ten or twenty or thirty pages.

Short stories are one of the few things I am evangelical about, and I'm always hungry to discover more that I love. This year, I'm going to. (Resolution #6 will help with this, too.)

9. I will re-read an old favorite.

Have you ever listened to an album on repeat, or watched a movie over and over? The first time through, your main concern is always what's going to happen? But the second time around, you notice the smaller things: an unusual riff, an artfully constructed shot, the tiny clues in the opening scenes that hint at the conclusion.

The same thing happens with books. On a rereading, you get to focus on language, little moments, an amazing passage or a single line that slipped by in the first-reading frenzy of omigodwhathappensnext. A second reading is more deliberate, more artful reading. It's sipping a fine wine and savoring the bouquet instead of throwing back a shot of tequila. And it's something I don't do often enough—but will do more in 2010.

10. I will write at least one book review.

It might be for publication, or it might be just an email to a friend. Why? Because a review, however informal, makes you articulate what the book made you feel and think—and why. Books are made to get you thinking, to get you to question your assumptions, to get you to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. They're meant to spark discussion. And odds are, that friend will write back with thoughts of her own—and there's your discussion.

That's my list. Now you tell me: what are your readerly resolutions for the upcoming year?