Better, faster, stronger: These words are either part of a Kanye West song or how you want to feel in the new year. Sure, you could look at the whole endeavor pessimistically. Jan. 1 is just another day on the calendar, as much of an opportunity to prime oneself for failure by setting unrealistically high goals as the other 364 days. But there is something undeniably appealing about boarding the bandwagon with the rest of the hopeful resolutioners around the country. (Even if they do take up all the ellipticals each January.) Along with acquiring fatter wallets or slimmer abs, many aim to be brainier, whether it's by committing to a weekly Sudoku practice or sticking one's nose in a book more often than before.
"How do you find the time to read?" a colleague asked me during a holiday party after I'd mentioned reading over 50 books in 2015. It's true, there are endless distractions tempting us away from our well-intentioned to-be-read lists: friends, jobs, Netflix, phone apps. Living in New York provides even more worthy diversions, but also serves as a dreamscape of sorts for the bibliophile: an excess of cozy bars, libraries, live readings and indie bookstores for every interest somehow leave me with more books in my tote bag than when I'd started my day. But, aside from humble-bragging, I'm here to tell you that you can get better at reading more, TV binges and all. (Commutes on public transit are a big help.)
No judgment, though, if your main goals exclude books. The Cool Kids Book Club -- which, if you have picked up a book ever, you are a part of -- is open to everyone, but truly is for the willing. If reading White Teeth is like pulling teeth (but, um, why would it be), we're not here to shame you.
Let's talk about ways you can be a better reader in 2016, whether your goal is to finish one tome or 100.
Write down what you read.
Part of the reason I made it to 57 books in 2015 was thanks to the handy community-based website Goodreads (which, it must be mentioned, was purchased in 2013 by the somewhat book-unfriendly Amazon). The site allows users to set a reading goal, which updates with every book logged. It will even tell you if you're on track for the year. Gamifying your reading goals and seeing the physical progress made throughout the year provides easy motivation to keep going (and, even better, a simple way to recall exactly what you've read).
Narrow your scope.
Staring down at a mental image of ALL THE BOOKS! is pretty intimidating. Instead of going into the year hoping you'll read "books," why not try focusing on "sci-fi books," "books written by women," or "books by authors of color," just to name a few? (More fun ideas: Books in translation! Famous authors' first books! Non-fiction!) This is a useful idea if you're already a good reader but worry you're in a rut -- for example, after realizing my 2015 book list skewed heavily toward contemporary authors, I'm aiming to read at least 12 books published in 1980 or earlier.
Make reading social.
If you live near even a mid-sized city with a library or bookstore, chances are there's an author visiting you soon. While visits from huge names even your mom will recognize (David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, etc.) are few and far between, there are plenty of authors with more modest followings that hold readings for recently released books. Research one who sounds intriguing and make yourself go -- at worst, you got out of the house, and at best, you've found a new book to take home (and an author you can say you saw way back when).
The benefits of an exercise buddy have long been touted for keeping a workout routine -- why not apply the same idea for reading? Even if you and a friend are reading different books or at different paces, it's always exciting to have a pal to encourage you and offer recommendations. If no friends are interested, posting about your reading on Instagram or Twitter will add a sense of accountability, and make you feel more likely to grab your book instead of trying to reach the next Candy Crush level.
If your goal is to read a book a week, don't beat yourself up if you don't reach it with doorstops like Infinite Jest or Les Miserables on your list. This doesn't mean you should necessarily stick to novellas in order to reach your goal. Reading just for the sake of bragging about numbers may cause you to skip major details or pass over a book's nuanced language, not to mention miss out on the many science-backed benefits of reading. Instead, realize that your goal, like age, ain't nothing but a number, and just make sure whatever you're reading is a juicy, engrossing story.
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