New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite holidays—not so much for the champagne and crowds, but for the call to renewal that it brings. As a child I was an avid New Year’s resolution-maker, always with an eye toward self-improvement: I would pledge to write in my diary more often and keep my room neater. By now, I’ve given up on both of those endeavors, but, this year, I thought I’d try giving the classic New Year’s resolutions a literary spin. Let’s see how these play out over the course of the year.
1. Lose weight. OK, not literally. But I plan to make 2011 the year that I try to switch to mostly e-galleys, because the mountain of books in my apartment is weighing me down. As I continually weed out all the books I don’t want (and is it my fault if some publicist who clearly never reads TNR keeps sending me thrillers and pop history?), I feel guilty for the waste—in postage, in paper, in all the extra books that flood the used bookstores. There has to be a better way. Now, I just have to get publishers to help me out by providing electronic versions of all the books that I want …
2. Exercise more. My mind, that is. As a reader, I’m guilty of sticking too closely to my comfort zone, which for me tends to mean literary fiction. Next year, I want to branch out—to poetry, history, music, nature, even cookbooks, which I’ve often thought about trying to write about but haven’t yet figured out how. There are a lot of books that initially catch my eye but which I end up not writing about because they don’t fall within my “niche.” I’d like to pull some of them out of the cracks.
3. Learn a new language. I have a degree in comparative literature and read a few languages well, yet even I didn’t review many books in translation this year. Critics love to bemoan the dearth of foreign literature available in translation in this country, and to avow our support for presses—like Open Letter or Archipelago Books—that devote their resources to promoting global literature. But how often do we actually review it? This year, I pledge to devote more space to work in translation.
4. Quit smoking. This one’s a stretch—I don’t think I do anything with books that is actually unhealthy (unless you count the occasional sniffing). But I do have some bad reading habits, like trying to balance my book on my lap while using one hand to search the Internet on my laptop and the other to check my e-mail on my phone. When I read on a plane, I’m struck by how much deeper my absorption feels, in this artificial environment free from all distractions. This year, I plan to try to re-create that airplane atmosphere at home, with a comfy chair, decent light, and an app for my phone that will incinerate it if I check my mail too often.
5. Spend more time with family and friends. Too often, I feel like I read in a vacuum. I often push particular favorites on people I know (many of whom, I’m sure, are ready to stop hearing about Charles Bock and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). But meaningful discussions about books are too rare. Even though I didn’t love Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom as much as some critics, the book brought about a welcome cultural moment—for a few weeks, everyone was reading it, and everyone had an opinion. I wish that happened more often, and, this year, I plan to try to bring it about more by seeking out others who are reading what I’m reading. I’ve been a slacker about using social media for this purpose, but I notice that my friends do, and it might be worth a try.
Ruth Franklin is a senior editor for The New Republic.