I haven’t made any resolutions for 2013. While I’m sure that resolutions are an interesting way of structuring personal narrative, I have always been far more relieved at jettisoning old goals vs. acquiring any new ones.
This year, I’m trying to keep my hope-ceilings modest. I don’t know if Bashar al-Assad will leave Syria, if Mohammad Morsi & pals will stop messing around with Egypt’s chances at democracy, or if I’ll write anything particularly note-worthy. I probably won’t read 365 books*, or two dozen zombie novels, or any stunning number of Jonathans. I doubt I’ll lose any weight, either.
If I were to challenge myself, it wouldn’t be to add any more books to my list (which is already quite crammed, and I prefer to leave room for the serendipitous find). It would be to change the way I read.
My eldest has often come home from school, both in the US and in Egypt, telling me about who can read the “fastest” — just as there is someone who can run the fastest, jump the highest, and stay under water for the longest. From the early grades, children in many US public schools are encouraged to keep daily journals that detail what they’ve read: title, author, summary, minutes read. I suppose there is some benefit to these devices: Teachers know which families don’t read at home, so where extra work is needed.
But, in this sort of “list” mode, reading too often becomes a race to get through as many words as possible. Check! I’ve read Proust. Check! I’ve finished War and Peace. Check check check cheeeeeeeck!
Instead of trying to read any more than I’ve already got on my plate, I want to read with fewer distractions, with larger spaces of time, with more joy and gratitude. I want to take more notes, revel in more sentences, re-read more passages. I want to growl and shake my head at bad literary devices. I want to read aloud more often. I want to ask more questions, and for that to lead to yet more questions. In the happiest clichéd sense, instead of searching for the next book around the corner, I want to just love the one I’m with — which today is Henri Alleg’s wonderful Algerian Memoirs, trans. Gila Walker. (Read it together with Rachid Boujedra’s The Barbary Figs, trans. André Naffis-Sahely, for a fancy New Year’s cocktail.)
*Although yes, if you count picture books, my “number” will be well into the thousands.