After I posted my 2017 reading list, I had a few questions on social media about how I come up with my yearly lists, why I make them, and how it works for me. I thought it might be helpful to walk you through it in case anyone is a bookish list-making mood!
Why Make a List?
I make a yearly list for a few reasons. While I’m not by nature a list maker, giving myself a little yearly “syllabus” for my continuing education is something that I find motivating. While I may have quit grad school to focus on my family, I firmly believe that whether we’re in academia or not we can nurture the life of the mind.
My list is a reminder to me that reading is an important part of who I am and my personal development and that I will make it a priority in the new year.
My list also fulfills the practical need to have a new book ready as soon as I finish my current book so that I don’t binge-watch Netflix in the lag time when I’m hunting for a new book. (Because I have been known to do some epic binge-watching.) And my list helps stretch me. I try to include books that aren’t page-turners but are rich and worth reading.
If I don’t make a list, I’m tempted to grab the most exciting and easiest read on the shelf (I’m a homeschooling mum–rich in love but poor in hours of sleep each night and brain cells). My list helps me prioritize some more intense theological texts and classics that I might otherwise put off forever.
But what if something at the used book store catches your eye? Or you hear of a book you’re dying to read? Go for it! The list is to help you make reading a central part of your year and stay motivated. It’s not a prison to keep you from reading whatever strikes your fancy.
You can always add to or alter your list. We’re grown ups! We can read what we want!
How to Create Your Reading List
First consider how many books you’re likely to read in one year. If you fly through dozens of books a year, try 50 or more! If you read a moderate amount, try two per month. If you’re out of practice, try just one per month (you can always add more if you want to!)
Then consider how you want to organize your list. Instead of one massive list of titles, I break my list up month by month. Then I have smaller milestones to check off along the way. But some folks like to just have them all together. It’s up to you!
Now, what to choose! The best thing you can do for your list for the new year is to keep a running log of books you want to read. Maybe a friend recommended something that piqued your interested or a film adaption of something is coming out and you want to read the book before you see it. I keep my list in my planner and that’s the foundation of my list for each year.
If you haven’t kept a running list over the past year but want to make a reading list for this year, here’s a couple of things you might do:
- Check your shelves for books that you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet. I’m always amazed at how many books are in the house that I haven’t gotten around to reading! And it’s 100% free to read books you already own.
- Ask friends for recommendations. My best reads of each year are often books I’ve never heard of that were suggested by friends! Opening up a thread on social media asking what your friend’s favorite recent reads are often turns up some great recommendations.
- Look up some booklists that fit your interests.
Things to Consider
Maybe you mostly read for entertainment and just want a list to keep track of your reading plans. That’s fine! But maybe you really want to expand your mind this year and read some things that will challenge you and exercise your brain. Here’s some categories you might want to include in your list:
- Classic novels. I am a huge fan of classic literature. They’re classics for a reason. Just because you’re not in any literature classes anymore doesn’t mean you can’t keep reading difficult, but worthwhile texts. Maybe you love British lit and want to add more British novelists. Maybe you finally want to tackle the Russian greats. Sprinkle some classics in there.
- Non-fiction. Novels are my books of choice so sometimes it’s hard for me to branch out into non-fiction, but really good non-fiction books or essays can round out a reading list beautifully.
- Spiritual writings. I think it’s important to have a spiritual text on hand throughout the year. While I often escape to light reading, I can forget that the spiritual writings I read each year are often the most transformative.
When organizing your list make sure to sprinkle some lighter books into the months when you’re reading a denser or longer text. That way if you feel like picking up a book but you haven’t slept through the night in years and your brain feels like mush (AKA parenting) you have a second option and can keep up your reading momentum even when you’re not up for a rigorous brain exercise.
Get Some Accountability
If you feel really overwhelmed about a certain book, find a reading buddy to read it with you. But don’t choose me because it took me a year longer to finish The Brothers Karamazov than my reading buddy. (Sorry, Kaitlin!)
Share your list with a friends or on a blog or social media. Keep up with your reading goals by sharing and encouraging friends with theirs!
I’ve also put together a Catholic reading challenge #cathLIT2019 to give us all some accountability for reading 19 Catholic titles in 2019! You can see all the categories with book suggestions here.
And if you’re more in the mood for some comfort reads this year, don’t forget about The Literary Medicine Cabinet!
I also use goodreads to help keep up a list. Then, it the end of the year, it does a big compilation of your years books in review, so I feel like I’ve really accomplished something 😉
I have an account and I really should do something with it! I just feel like it’s ONE MORE THING on the computer, ya know?
I love these tips! I always make a reading list for my year too! I have found it fun to challenge myself to read more classics and books I normally would leave for years without touching, and I’ve found the book challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy really helps me make a commitment to some books out of my normal comfort zone. http://modernmrsdarcy.com/reading-challenge-2017/
A tip for getting through the big long classics – audible/audio books keeps me engaged through the seemingly long and random tangents that would otherwise tempt me to put a book down for a month or seven.
I also find it really helpful to use GoodReads to keep a running list of books I want to read, otherwise I constantly loose my “to-read” list. 🙂
Stacey D. says
I have wanted to read Jane Austen for a while but don’t know where to start. Do you have a recommendation?
Jumping in with my two cents here: I personally believe that you cannot go wrong with anything by Jane Austen (and I’m pretty sure Haley will agree with me on that), but if you’re completely new and not sure where to start, I have yet to meet a person who didn’t enjoy Pride & Prejudice. It’s popular for a reason. I would start with that one, Emma, or Northanger Abbey. Enjoy! 🙂
You definitely can’t go wrong with Pride and Prejudice! I would NOT start with Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey. NA is fun, but it’s a different animal and not on the same level as the others. MP may be my favorite, but it’s very different, too and if you’re not already in to Austen, it would be a hard one to start with. I recommend P&P and then following it up with Emma!
I first read P&P, which I liked. Then I read Northanger Abbey and thought it was soooo boooooorrrriiinnnngggg. So I haven’t read the others but I think you’ve convinced me to give one is them a try this year. Maybe audio as suggested above.
Stacey D. says
Thanks, Hannah & Hailey! I thought it might be cliche to read Pride & Prejudice first but I have always wanted to read it. I really appreciate it.
I usually just browse my collection to choose something, but I recently ran across a doctors of the church in a year file on fb in the Carmelites unite group. It covers works by Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Therese of Lisieux, so that’s what I’m doing this year.
That sounds awesome!
Justine Rauch says
These are great tips! I’ve been working on reading 12 books in a year (going on year 3!) and I keep losing book recommendations from the last two years and I’m struggling with where to start with my 2017 list. Thanks for the inspiration, I can’t wait to get rolling (reading ha ha)!
You can do it! 🙂
Thanks so much for this. I’ve always made it a goal to read “x amount” of books but I’ve never taken the time to sit down and figure out exactly which ones, during which months. I just wrote it all in my calendar and I’m really excited. I’m planning to read one theological book and one non-religious book per month!
Love that goal!
Another vote for GoodReads. It makes recommending books to friends easy, and they have yearly book challenges. You choose how many you hope to read and it has a progress bar to let you know how you’re doing. It’s great for keeping track both of the books you’ve read and the ones you hope to read. It also can suggest books based on what you’ve liked previously. And it integrates really well with the kindle since it’s owned by Amazon. It’s awesome.
This is so helpful, Haley! Thank you for sacrificing precious reading time to put it together. 🙂 I always try to have a spiritual book that I’m “currently reading” but I never tie it to reading goals because I go through them really, really slowly. My only requirement is that I’m consistently reading the book and reflecting on it. I do plan to track my other reading this year using Goodreads. I’d make up a spreadsheet on my own, but why bother if they’ll track it for me?
Love you. 🙂 Maybe 2017 can be the year we read something super page turning together.