Reflecting on a year passed

Some things have become quite clear as the year has passed, and that is that I don’t do well under any form of rules for my buying habits. This seems to be a general trend for me, although it has been especially obvious with books since that’s what the majority of my money goes to. I never go overboard in the sense that I spend more money that I have, or that I can afford. I never drown in books in my room because I have nowhere to put them either (although, it’s getting there, I need more shelf-space!). But whenever I say to myself that I’ll only buy x amount of books, or only from x places, I set myself up for failure. I suppose I am a born ‘rebel’, determined to break the rules even if I’m the one who made them.

I made a few reading related goals at the end of last year, a few of these were related to the buying of books – all of which I broke within the first few months of the year, then discarded. I had one big goal which was to read about 50% nonfiction, another thing I tweaked although I have definitely read more nonfiction than previous years so I consider it a win. Something I noticed as I was reading nonfiction, and trying to prioritise them, was that nonfiction (non-memoir) books takes me longer to read than fiction. The reason is probably that I read nonfiction the way I do course literature – I read it as if I’m going to get tested on it. By that I mean I read it slowly in order to remember as much of it as possible, to understand it, to add the knowledge to my minds’ library that I can use at a later date if the day ever comes when this knowledge will be useful. And I guess it’s not that strange that my reading is different for the two forms of writing – since I also read them for different reasons.

   I read fiction to be entertained, to experience different world views and different lived experiences, to be inspired by beautiful writing and to be spellbound by stories, words, magic. But I read nonfiction to broaden my horizons, to learn about things I didn’t know about before, to go deeper into areas I’ve only tiptoed on, to get a richer understanding of our world, to see the differences and the similarities between cultures, people, places, species. Sometimes the reasons overlap, some books cross the borders, do multiple things, and challenge my perceptions of these two “genres” of writing. But as a general observation, I have a slower reading pace when I’m reading nonfiction (memoirs not included, since they don’t seem to follow the same pace).

Which is why I was okay with not reading as many nonfiction books as fiction in the entirety of the year, because then I’d have to read a lot less in total, and another one of my goals was to read 70 books this year. I’m closing in on it, with only 4 books left to reach it. Which should be fairly easy to do before the last day of December.

Another goal that I was hoping to make real progress with was to read more translated books. Although this year has been a definite improvement, and the amount of books I’ve read this year from non-English authors have been at least half of the books I’ve read, the countries are not as diverse as I would like them to be. The majority of the translated books I’ve read are from Japan, which isn’t something I necessarily want to change as I want to become closely familiar with Japanese literature as a whole. But I feel I’ve still only dipped my toe into the other countries in Asia, not to talk of the entire continent of Africa and South America. I can only keep trying to find new authors and new titles from around the world to keep widening my net within literature.

One of my smaller goals was to reread two books that weren’t my two most reread books (The Little Prince and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). This goal I have definitely surpassed. I reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in January, followed by The Order of the Phoenix late in the summer. I also reread both Winnie the Pooh books this autumn. All of the rereading I did was a lot of fun and I hope to keep revisiting old favourites in upcoming years.

Lastly I made a goal to annotate more in my books. I wanted to interact more with my books when I’m reading, not to be afraid of writing in them, putting pencil to paper and leave a mark of my having been there. One thing I have noticed though is that underlining is almost as passive as not doing any annotating at all – which is to say, underlining is only useful to remember specific quotes or sections. But it doesn’t show any of your reactions to what is said in the text. You can’t tell whether the underlinings were something that angered you, made you happy, inspired you, or made you want to hit the author in the face. I guess I just realised that underlining isn’t enough for me, because if I reread a book I’ve annotated years from now I won’t know what those underlinings (or sticky note marks) mean or meant to the me back then, then they won’t serve much of a purpose and it’ll only annoy me with cluttering the text.

   I also seem to have become used to underlining so that I almost do it passively now, barely reflecting on the text because I have underlined it I don’t have to remember it. This discussion is a bit simplified, and only my experience on it, but basically I’ve realised I want to keep pushing myself to read more critically and with more awareness, and one way to do this is to annotate. In the form of marginalia. This is what I’m trying to move towards now. I’m not planning to start filling all of the books I read in scribbles, but that I at least have a pencil at hand so that when the thought strikes I’ll be able to jot it down.

So these were a few of the things I learned from my goals for this year, how I did and how some of them were discarded early on while others are still in progress. For next year I’m planning to cut back and simplify a bit more, also because of the goal I had to read what I want, not what I think I should – kind of fits into that. I’ll talk more about the goals for the upcoming year in a future post, later in the month.

If you had any goals for your reading in 2016, I’d love to hear how they went, if you changed them or forgot about them or even actively decided to throw it all out the window. Does reading goals work for you? And do you have any plans for your reading in 2017 already brewing?

Until next time, happy reading!

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