How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution to Read More: Read Serendipitously

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I don’t make resolutions.  I’m a road to hell, no follow through, born procrastinator who will rebel with all my being against something I’m supposed to do (especially if I’m the one doing the enforcing).  So when everyone on the subway is reading the latest bestseller, I avoid it like the plague.  When I resolve to read the books I already own before buying new ones, I’m at the bookstore the next week, buying a book I was desperate to read right now.  Back home I’ll spare a guilty glance at the unread books, swearing I’ll get to them next and knowing I probably won’t.

We all have books we should read, books we want to read, but for the life of us, we just can’t get around to starting them.  Not enough time, not enough will.  And around this time of year we resolve to do better next year, making piles or lists that we’re going to stick to no matter what.  But this year, I say forget it.

Reading is a joyous activity, and a solitary one.  It shouldn’t be forced or dictated by trends.  So don’t think about what was reviewed in the Times or what that one-upper from work is reading.  Stop following lists (100 greatest novels in English13 books to read before they become movies!).  Stop piling books in the on-deck circle of your nightstand.

Instead, start reading serendipitously.  Read books when they come to you.  The best books are the ones we weren’t expecting.  The ones we choose on a whim and are up to our eyes in before we know what hit us.  Think about the last book that came along at the right moment and devastated you.  The one that made you cry on public transit or left you bereft on the last page.  [Did that author write other books?  Get one now.]

When you start looking, there are signals everywhere.  Pick up the book that your roommate left the in kitchen; the book in the free bin at work; the book whose cover is calling to you.

Stop in to your local used bookstore and browse.  Chances are you’ll find something you want to read but never got around to.  Now is the time.  The book has chosen you, and you are powerless against it.

Heard an author on the radio? Time to get the book.  Loved Master of None? Order Modern Romance. 

Did you read Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel acceptance speech?  Do.  Then order her books.  Just what you need to balance out all the cheer of the holiday season.

Exchange books with a friend, whatever book they choose.  Then talk about it over drinks.

Get the book you saw that cute girl on the subway reading (seriously, I have friends who met this way).

When you start looking at your reading list as a kind of happy accident, a random tumbling from one world into another, you’ll find that the right books present themselves to you at the right moments, their stories reaching out from the pages to speak to something in your daily life.  That’s what reading more is really about.  Not slogging your way through the literary zeitgeist, but jumping from one magical, hallucination-inducing drug trip to the next.  The more joyful the process, the easier it will be to keep up.

So let the universe dictate your reading list while you sit back and enjoy!

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