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.