12.22.2023

what i'm reading: 2023 wrap-up, a reading plan for 2024, and why i now create reading plans

I've finally figured out this reading plan thing. A list that will guide me but not overwhelm me. A way to make sure I read at least a few old titles that have been languishing on my Books Universe list for ages. A list that will keep me obsessively reading, but not obsessed with the list itself.

Here are the results of my 2023 reading plan.

Five current (within three years) nonfiction

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family (2021), Patrick Radden Keefe (review)

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness (2022), Meghan O'Rourke (review)

Madame Restell: the Life, Death and Resurrection of Old New York's Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Independent Abortionist (2023), Jennifer Wright (review)

The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service (2022), Laura Kaplan (review)

Galileo and the Science Deniers (2020), Mario Livio (review to follow)

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (2022), Ed Yong (currently reading; review to follow)

Five older nonfiction from my Books Universe

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018)Michael Pollan 

Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (2006), Bruce  Watson (review)

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia (2019), Christina Thompson (review)

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010), Cordelia Fine (review)

Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement (2014), Jane McAlevey and Bob Ostertag

Ten fiction , including five (total) from authors I have not previously read: Margaret Laurence ✅, Donna Tartt ✅.

This year most of the fiction I read was for the Labour Book Club I was leading through my union. The reading wasn't particularly satisfying, but I loved LBC, so on balance that was a win. 

Of the list of authors I hadn't read but want to sample, five turned out to be too many. But I did read two of them, and in previous years read another two or three, so that is slowly happening. 

Here's the fiction I did read.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (loved, recommend highly)

Crook Manifesto, Colson Whitehead (loved, recommend highly -- of course!)

My Notorious Life, Kate Manning (review)

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart (review)

Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart (loved, recommend highly)

In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck (LBC) (had read before, a very long time ago)

God’s Bits of Wood, Ousmane Sembène (LBC) (review)

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje (LBC) (had read before; a very good book)

The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence (second time I've tried to read this)

The Cold Millions, Jess Walter (LBC) (had read before)

The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash (LBC) (had read before)

For the Win, Cory Doctorow (LBC) (review)

Gilded Mountain, Kate Manning (LBC)

Advance one ongoing goal ✅✅ 

Completed weekly installments of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (whoo-hoo!)

Returned to Taylor Branch's America in the King Years trilogy, and finished the final third of the final book, At Canaan's Edge, abandoned in 2007

My 2024 Plan will separate this goal into two: "advance one ongoing goal" and "one massive book to be read in weekly installments".

Also read

A First Time for Everything, Dan Santat (excellent children's graphic novel, will review)

The Secret Pocket, Peggy Janicki (children's, indigenous, excellent, will review)

Many feature-length stories in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Harpers, The Guardian, Vox, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, saved and tracked through "Reading List" on Chrome

Why do I have a reading plan? 

Sometime in the late 2000s, I realized I was spending less time reading. Or, more accurately, I was spending too much time reading a whole lot of nothing -- scrolling, reading headlines, a paragraph here and there. It was very unsatisfying, and was contributing to feelings of disconnection, lack of focus, and general dissatisfaction. I had all but lost the deep reading that I love, and have done all my life.

With this realization, I began a gradual lessening of time spent on social media, less time consuming news, and more time reading books. The more I did this, the better I felt. 

This is not only because I love and value reading. The larger issue is being intentional about how I use my time. Time is our most valuable resource. Time is our only non-renewable resource. I don't want to waste it -- and by waste, I mean using non-work time in unsatisfying ways. We're all familiar with frittering away time and not knowing where it went. That's what I'm striving to avoid.

I've always been a bit obsessive about how I use my time. I never take on a new project without first figuring out how I will prioritize it in my life, what I will reduce or move in order to fit in the new thing. The internet and social media had fractured that, and I wanted to reclaim it. 

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu was enormously helpful for this. By the time I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, it was clarifying and articulating what I already knew. If this is something you're looking for, I recommend reading both these books.

So in keeping with all of this, a reading plan has helped me focus my reading, and be more intentional with my reading time.

1 comment:

Lorne said...

Thanks for the list; several of the books on it I have read. Allow me to suggest one for your consideration: The North Star: Canada and the Civil War Plots Against Lincoln, by Julian Sher I was amazed to read about the extensive role Canada played in the Confederate cause. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/672140/the-north-star-by-julian-sher/9781039000292