I didn’t want to call it a New Year’s resolution, but it kind of is.
As I looked at the sudden pile of books I had accumulated as a direct result of my recent birthday, followed by a second wave of books gifted over the Christmas period, I felt compelled to take some action. Then there were the half-finished books on my shelves, my bedside table, and clogging up my sadly neglected Kindle reader. Despite a massive decluttering of my book collection prior to moving house last September, my shelves were overflowing with texts I wouldn’t dare to give away until I had at least read them. I was also conscious that despite fortnightly trips to the library throughout the year, I had hardly read anything through 2016. I could renew them the maximum number of times allowed (a total of nine weeks at my local library!) and still have to do the slightly guilty march to the returns slot, hoping I wouldn’t accidentally leave a bookmark perched inside the book somewhere between the title page and the contents.
There were reasons for not reading as often as a self-professed book geek ought: a raging social media addiction that I took steps to tame by deactivating my various accounts until I remembered how to live without the constant influx of random bytes of disconnected information spanning the entire emotional spectrum. (As an ISTP on the Myers-Briggs personality typing system, emotions are beyond exhausting.) There were months of stress as our landlords suddenly decided they wanted to move back into the house that had been our home for 2 ½ years, and we had to try to find somewhere new to live in a very short space of time. My health was in all the poorer after a long, difficult process of formally leaving the church community that had defined the parameters of nearly every aspect of my life for some thirteen years. There were positive reasons, too: I poured myself into my art. In the absence of an all-consuming involvement in religion, I rediscovered the Star Wars fandom that had, for most of my life, been a source of joy and acceptance. I started intensely following Formula One racing – a sport that had long interested me but that I hadn’t had the time to follow because I was exhausted from trying live a life to gain the approval of people who didn’t very much care for me. So I worked on my own health, trying to form healthy regular habits of eating healthy, cycling, and decluttering the possessions I’d accumulated through my entire adulthood. Somehow reading books from cover-to-cover fell to the wayside.
Thus, my New Year’s ‘resolution’ became this vague, undefined idea: in 2017, I want to read more books –
not just borrow piles of them from the library only to return them without knowing anything about them beyond their blurbs. I want to finish reading them, too – not just give up after a couple of pages. I want to read more variety: not just the old faithful staples (though I will still read them anyway), but get up to date on the arts, humanities and sciences that intrigue me but that I missed in my time involved in a community that often discouraged me from reading outside the accepted authors. (I wrote a post on the topic of religiously motivated control of reading materials – through subtle manipulation, rather than outright censorship – on a different blog; I might repost it here at some later point as I think it is still relevant to my thoughts on the importance of reading in my own life.)
Is it too vague for a resolution to merely say, “I’ll just read more books”? Perhaps. I do know that I tend to be more successful at things if I can create a specific goal for myself: in the past, my New Year’s resolutions have always been far more detailed and defined. For much of my adult life, on January 1st each year, I filled out a page in my journal with specific goals for areas I categorise under headings like, “Intellectual goals,” “Physical health goals,” “Creative goals,” “Spiritual goals,” and so on.
This year… I didn’t. As great as goals are, they sometimes also become sources of self-condemnation when I inevitably fail to fulfill all of them.
Instead of a lengthy to-do list in my journal, I wrote a little facebook status in the early days of 2017 about how I’d like to read more books this year. I want less mindless refreshing of my increasingly toxic facebook newsfeed, and more mindful learning from a more diverse range of texts than the highly selective information that social media could give me.
A few friends responded positively and asked if I could update them on what I was reading this year. I liked that idea. I find that I stay motivated better if I have friends cheering me on, and immediately thought of my blog. I didn’t want to necessarily commit to facebooking my results because it’s highly likely I will long-term deactivate at some stage, and I already regularly share thoughts on books and writing on my blog – interspersed with a variety of other pet topics. I have been a blogger for years, at least since 2006. Before that, I had a GeoCities site (remember those?). I enjoy the creative outlet of blogging – especially as someone whose lengthy status updates frequently exceed the character limits of most social media.
However, I then remembered some of the other writings on my blog (my other blog, my current main one).
It’s not that it is a secret blog, per say, but I want to keep the relative anonymity I have on there.
The sorts of posts I write on there are not aimed at the people who know me in real life. Oh, I know that a handful of my in-real-life family and friends have been some of my most faithful long-term blog audience, and I appreciate them very much. But overall, that blog was a space of personal catharsis for me, where I connected with like-minded strangers going through similar circumstances, in the safe space of pseudonyms and carefully controlled sharing of specific aspects of our lives that we were struggling with.
In addition, I was using that blog, and the ones before it, to share creative works in progress, and to write about the stuff I learned in my university days as a Sociology Honours student specialising in the intersection of animal rights and welfare, agriculture, climate change action and environmentalism, and different cultural value systems.
That stuff isn’t a secret, but in the context of my then-church, my community, and the very disparate views of various groups of friends and family, I simply didn’t find my own social circles to be particularly amenable to my perspective on life – no matter how much thought and education lay behind those ideas. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to convert them to my opinions. I just didn’t like the intensity of their anger.
I’ve since learned that it’s a common problem for people enmeshed in dysfunctional relationships: once you try to individuate, like any healthy human being finding their place within society, you find that there are people in your life who don’t like you being yourself. I’m speculating here, but maybe it’s because they want you to validate their own life choices by emulating theirs; maybe it doesn’t even occur to them that you’re a separate human with a mind, will and imagination of your own; or maybe they frame life as a series of either/or propositions and it’s frightening for them to discover that not everyone sees life so plainly demarcated as they do. It wouldn’t matter what I wrote, it was guaranteed to inadvertently offend in-real-life relatives and friends and I had learned from cold, hard personal experience that some conversations are best had face-to-face… and other conversations perhaps best not had at all. That’s why my blogs have usually been kept separate from the rest of my life: to give me free space to dialogue on these issues, without constantly looking over my shoulder wondering which relative or ‘friend’ is next planning to criticise me for my viewpoint.
That is, as much as my blog would’ve been a useful forum in which to give myself a platform for presenting the success – or otherwise – of my 2017 ‘more books’ resolution, I didn’t necessarily want some of my in real life acquaintances reading some of my older posts that chronicle my journey over the course of my adulthood.
So, here’s a new one – one that my in real life friends are welcome to read (if they want). For now it will just be a space for my responses to the books that I’ve read – in their entirety – but over time I may expand it. (Or, I might give up and just go back to my main blog!) If there will be any possible conflict, it will be when some of them realise that I blatantly read ‘forbidden’ texts like the Harry Potter series. Or, best case scenario, people will understand that it’s entirely possible – even healthy – to read a variety of books, even if we don’t agree with them, because it’s all part of developing the skills of critical thinking, expanding our intellectual horizons, and developing greater empathy for those we perceive as “others.”
So, here ‘tis. My new blog. I hope the readers enjoy it!