New year’s resolutions can be tough to stick to, even one as fun as trying to meet an ambitious reading goal. Sure, you have all these amazing books you want to get to, but life just seems to keep getting in the way. Before you know it, January is nearly over and you feel like you’ve barely made a dent! No worries, we’ve all been there. Whether you’re right on track for completing your goal or you’re trying to play catch-up already, here are five tips for making it to the end of your challenge.
#1: Get organized, but be flexible.
I love spreadsheets. I use them for everything, but especially for doing book challenges. I have the prompts laid out, slots for what titles I want to read and the order in which I’ll read them. If you’ve read my previous essay on why you should do book challenges, then you know the minute the 2020 list was out, I was making a spreadsheet. That being said, I only ever fill out 70 percent of the sheet at the beginning of the year.
Why? A year is a long time, and trying to slot books into every category right at the beginning is not only tough but also not a successful strategy. There are going to be lots of new, cool books released during the year that you will want to read, and books you haven’t discovered yet! Give yourself some room to grow in your challenge and fill in slots with reads you come across later, lest you accumulate so many books that you want to read that you have to save them for next year and start a vicious cycle by accident (which I totally did, and yes, it did backfire spectacularly).
Here are some fantastic books releasing this year that might make great additions to your list:
- Empire City by Matt Gallagher
- Rutting Season by Mandeliene Smith
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
#2: Vary the book lengths.
There is maybe one person in the world who has the dedication necessary to read War and Peace, 1Q84, Dhalgren, House of Leaves, In Search of Lost Time, and Middlemarch all in one year, and it’s probably not you—or me. There’s no shame in devising lofty reading goals, but don’t force yourself to speed through massive tomes. If you do want to tackle an especially long or challenging book, vary it up with some shorter reads as well. There are lots of great short books that pack just as much narrative punch. You could also consider graphic novels that you can read in one sitting (those count too). And there’s no shame in enjoying a good novella or play!
Here are some of my recommended short reads to help you blast through your reading schedule:
- Elevation by Stephen King
- The Heart and Other Viscera by Félix J. Palma
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
#3: Read what you actually want to read (but be curious!).
Whether you’re trying to reach a certain number of books read or you’re filling in specific prompts, be sure you’re picking books that you actually want to read. If you only want to read a book for the prestige of saying you read it (looking at you, Infinite Jest), then you’re likely to stall and waste perfectly good reading time. Sticking to authors—or genres—you like is a good way to make sure that you’re moving efficiently through your challenge.
That doesn’t mean you should only stick to books you know you’ll like. Work to integrate some reads you wouldn’t normally pick out but have grabbed your interest. If you’re not someone who reads a lot of nonfiction, don’t be afraid to seek out books that tie to what you’re already interested in. Maybe you can find a read connected to a show or documentary that really impressed you, or take a recommendation from friends, family, and favorite authors. That way, your reading goal can also help you grow and expand your tastes. Now, this could mean that you might end up reading books you don’t like, but that just comes with the territory. Just keep an open mind, and an open book, and you might be surprised by what you find.
Here are a few books that have sparked my curiosity to read this year:
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean
- Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham
- The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
#4: Switch up your format to read multiple books at once.
If you are the kind of person who only likes to read physical books or e-reads, this is not the advice for you. If you’re more adaptable, though, consider reading multiple books at a time in multi-formats. I often carry a book in my purse (because yes, I am that person), but I almost always have an audiobook on my phone at the ready, too, in case my commute gets boring. Sometimes, additionally, especially with library books, I’ll switch formats depending on if I have to return one version before I’m done.
Some books I prefer to listen to in audiobook version, such as memoirs where the author reads her or his own work. Longer readers are less daunting in a digital format, where I can see only the percentage of how much I’ve read (as opposed to the heft of the pages). Try books formatted a few ways to see what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to use resources, like your local library!
Here are some fantastic books that are read by their authors:
- Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
- Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
- The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
#5: Read a little every day.
Okay, so this one seems totally obvious, but in practice, it can actually be pretty difficult. Whether you’re in school, working one (or several) jobs, or just have a very busy calendar, making time to read can be tough. Engaging with books in multiple formats and varying the length of the books helps, but there are also some other strategies. Short story collections make it easy to quickly pick up and put down books, with manageable reads that are of chapter lengths. Choosing a set amount of time to sit down and make some reading happen can be helpful, too, especially if you have a long commute or like to unwind before bed.
Most important, though, don’t beat yourself up if you end up in a stretch where you aren’t reading much. Reading every day is the ideal, but there’s nothing wrong with carving out a nice, long reading session on a weekend, or slipping in book time whenever you hit the gym or travel. Your goal is just that—yours. So make sure it’s working for you, not against you.
Here are some great short story collections that will help you read a little every day or in bursts:
- The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
- You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
- Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Keep reading to learn more about each of Sara’s recommended books: