As soon as the calendar changed to December 31st, posts began appearing in my Facebook and blog feeds from friends detailing their reading for 2013. Some had set goals to read a certain number of pages; others had set goals to read specific numbers of books or certain genres; some had just been keeping track of their reading and wanted to report their numbers and comment on their favorite (and least-favorite) books of the year. I’m usually in the last category: I started keeping track of my reading on my blog about seven years ago, but have never set goals related to reading. The system that works for me is to create a post for each month that lists the books I have read along with a short paragraph describing my reaction to them. I never really kept track of my reading prior to doing this and worried that it would be too time-consuming and difficult. Instead, I have found over the years that I really like having an easily-accessible record of things I have read, and the part of my brain that loves statistics and order gets a kick out of my final tally each year. At the end of each year I write a summary post that breaks down the numbers between fiction and non-fiction as well as male and female authors, and I also add some thoughts about general trends for the year and a listing of some of the most memorable books.
Despite the fact that I love keeping track of books, and even categorizing what I’ve read, I still have never set any reading goals for the year. The one time that I can remember setting a goal pertaining to reading was when I was 12 and decided to read everything by Judy Blume. I’m not entirely sure why I picked her as the author I wanted to read. I guess because it was the early 1990s and she was one of the few famous young adult authors, and her books were all readily available at my small local library. My reading goal went well until I worked my way down the list to Forever, which has a reputation (unbeknownst to me at the time) as one of the first sexually-explicit teen books. My mom noticed that I had read it and had a rather uncomfortable little chat with me about picking better reading for my maturity level, and I didn’t really enjoy it much anyway. I think that ever since that experience I’ve been a bit leery of setting any firm reading goals for fear that I might run into some sort of unpleasant experience I can’t avoid for fear of not living up to my goal.
Thankfully I have matured a little during the last two decades and have become more flexible (and I’ve become much better at abandoning books when I realize that I really don’t want to read them). This year I have set a general goal of reading more nonfiction. I used to read quite a bit of nonfiction, but have stopped for various reasons. Last year I only read 8 nonfiction books, which sounds impressive until I tell you that I also read 79 fiction books. About a third of those fiction books were finalists in last year’s Whitney Awards or newly published LDS fiction that I wanted to read in order to nominate for the 2013 awards. I have another goal this year of reading at least three Whitney categories and voting on them.
Since this is a blog about Mormon literature, might I suggest a few related goals? You could set a goal to read and vote on some of the Whitney finalists this year. Or perhaps set a goal to read a certain number of newly published books in 2014 and nominate them for awards. You could bone up on recent literary happenings by reading past Whitney winners, or winners of the AML award. Another idea would be to choose a genre you are not familiar with and learn more about it. A number of anthologies have been published during the last few years that would be helpful for this endeavor: Out of the Mount and Saints on Stage for drama, Dispensation for short stories, and Fire in the Pasture for poetry. Reading books by theme is another fun idea. You could look at depictions of polygamy, starting with The Giant Joshua and A Little Lower than the Angels and work your way up to The Lonely Polygamist. Margaret Young is teaching the Mormon Literature class this semester at BYU and will be providing updates on her blog.
You could also set goals that are more related to participating in the world of Mormon letters in different ways. Come to the AML conference or participate in LDS Storymakers; attend a play or poetry reading (they don’t just happen in Utah); set a goal to write reviews of LDS literature on your own blog or as a guest on a site if you don’t have your own. There are, of course, many more things available than any one person has time for, but setting goals can help you clarify what you would like to accomplish and provide a framework for getting something done. Too often, without a goal in place, nothing happens because I spend the whole year thinking stuff like “I’d like to read some more poetry” rather than doing something with that thought. Now it’s your turn—what are your Mormon literature goals for 2014?