Realistic, Flexible, and Tolerant
May 11th, 2011

Last year I was something of a New Year’s Resolutions maven.  I laid out my resolutions on January first and lived up to each of them all year long.  It was incredibly satisfying.

So far, this year has been different.  At the moment, I’m one for nine.  (I have actually been pretty good about carrying reusable grocery bags.)  Here we are, more than a third of the way through the year and I have only one victory to my name.  I still have plenty of time to make good on most of my promises, but there’s one in particular that has been a real struggle and I have a strong suspicion that it’s not going to improve.  My nemesis this year?  Reading.

This particular failing hits me hard because my reading goal for last year – to read more nonfiction – was a smashing success.  I devoured one nonfiction title after another.  As a lifetime reader of novels up to that point I was both invigorated by and impressed with my ability to find such strong affection for a new genre.  Not only did I like trying something different, but I liked having a reading goal for the year.  I established a new reading goal for this year – to read literary classics – and was eager to replicate last year’s success.

By this time last year I’d finished about five books within my goal category.  My tally this year: none.  I’ve been 20 pages into Anna Karenina for about three months now.  Every time I pick it up I enjoy what I read, but can’t seem to plow through more than three or four pages at a time and finally stalled out completely a month or so ago.  It’s completely depressing.  I’ve had some big distractions lately which make my failure slightly more tolerable.  Nevertheless, I’m still disappointed in myself.

The silver lining to all this, though, is that I’m about to permit myself a paradigm shift.

I don’t like not reading.  And for whatever reason Tolstoy, Cather, Dickens, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Proulx, and Franzen aren’t doing it for me right now.  As long as I keep myself boxed into this category, reading just doesn’t appeal to me.  Since not reading at all is not a path I’m willing to take (that would be a bigger failure than merely flaking out on my classics goal), I’ve decided to change tack.  And I have my new niece to thank for that.

I flew out to the West coast last Friday to visit my sister’s tiny and darling lump of a baby.  Since I wasn’t especially enthralled with the book I had brought along I started perusing her shelves when I got here.  Without much thought I picked up her copy of “Prep.”  For reasons I can’t adequately articulate, but which almost certainly relate exclusively to misperceptions about the quality of the writing and the relevance of the subject matter, I didn’t read it when it hit the bestseller lists about five years ago.  Something about being in vacation mode permitted me to indulge myself of a book with a pink grosgrain belt displayed across the dust cover.  But within the first 10 pages I was hooked.  Not only did I quickly discover how brilliant Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing is, but I remembered how great it feels to get lost in a book.

I bring this all up today because in the life of this blog I’ve been a big advocate of goals.  I still am a big advocate of goals.  I think it’s important to identify the things about ourselves that we wish were different and earmark them for improvement.  However, I also think it’s important to be realistic, flexible, and tolerant when we fall short of our ambitions.  In this case I’m choosing a lesser of evils.  Better to read what engages me (within reason, of course – no Danielle Steele around here) than not to read at all.  Perhaps later in the year I’ll find myself with renewed vigor for the classics.  But for the moment I’m happy to be devouring something unexpected, fun, and wickedly clever.  For the moment it was more important to renew my vigor for reading in the first place.

11 Responses to “Realistic, Flexible, and Tolerant”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I read that book when it came out and enjoyed it. And in my opinion, life is too short to read Dickens again. :)

  2. E Says:

    Try A Tale of Two Cities…….please. It’s one of my favorites.

  3. Ana Says:

    I also picked up “Prep” from my sister’s bookshelf and ended up enjoying it, to my surprise!
    Her other book “American Wife” is AMAZING; the writing is fantastic and the storyline (though familiar) is fascinating. We read it for our book club last summer (my choice) and it stimulated one of the liveliest discussions we’ve ever had.

  4. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I loved Prep! I think it is important that we read, that we are kind to ourselves about what we read and when we read it.

  5. Gale Says:

    E – It’s GAP’s all-time favorite as well. And it’s one that intend to keep on the list for the year. Anna Karenina may not get finished, but that one will. I promise.

  6. Amy W Says:

    Maybe start with something less humongous (or more fun) than Anna Karenina, which can be quite a slog since it switches between two separate story lines – you’d get into one and then have to switch to the other. Don’t keep beating yourself up with the same book – switch to something that works for you.

  7. Gale Says:

    Amy W – This is good advice. Thank you. I don’t intend to abandon my goal completely. As I mentioned to E, I still plan to read A Tale of Two Cities. But breaking up the classics with lighter fare is probably a good idea as well. This may just not be the year for Anna Karenina, and that’s okay.

  8. Laura H. Says:

    Ah this post speaks to me…I read James Patterson when I’m on vacation, or when I’m tired of the more literary stuff. Sometimes my book club picks a novel that I feel is a little beneath me too, but I still read it, and often times I enjoy it. Case in point – the Twilight books. I’m not a fanatic…just devoured the books a few years ago when they came out and then got over it.
    Put down the Dickens and read something Dickensian, but more relevant…John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. My favorite book!

  9. Gale Says:

    Laura H – I also loved A Prayer for Owen Meany. I read it in high school, but haven’t read it since. I was thinking that my 2012 reading goal would be “Books I’ve read, loved, and need to read again.” Books on this list would include Owen Meany, Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Animal Dreams, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.

    Also, I’m not limited this year’s list to traditional classics. I’m also going to read some modern classics. I’ve never read The Joy Luck Club, and I’m really looking forward to it.

  10. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Life has a way of kicking those resolutions in the butt… one of the reasons I don’t make them anymore…

    Reading is such a luxury (though it’s a necessity) – when I actually get to read for more than 15 or 20 minutes it’s such pleasure. I’ve got a few books planned for this spring/summer – hoping I have time (fingers crossed). And there’s always poetry nearby, in part because it can be picked up and put down so easily.

  11. Kathryn Says:

    I am so glad you decided to go with the reading you really wanted to do rather than sticking with a goal completely out of your interests, at least for now. Forcing oneself to read the classics I think might be better served when you’re in high school and maybe not reading much of anything on your own. But if you are a big reader, and I am, once you get to adulthood there are just way too many fantastic reads in the genres you do like that until the mood for something radically different really strikes you will be pushing a noodle uphill to get yourself to do it. Also…word to the wise: Don’t offer to read your friends manuscript unless you REALLY want to. It is like a 350 page weight around my neck that I need to read, and I’m sure it’s good, but there are soo many other books!!