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Bookish Interests

How to Set a Reading Goal and Stick to It This Time

Wondering how folks make time to conquer their yearly book lists? The tools featured in this article will help you to build reading habits that will spark joy and challenge you at the same time.

Originally published on December 20, 2019.

Reading at least one book per month this year is a GNI team-approved resolution. Wondering how people even make the time? Below, we explore how to double down on your commitment to read a book a month (spoiler alert: a subscription to Book of the Month helps) — or even how to read one each week in 2020. From the ease of getting five relevant, carefully vetted picks each month to the perks of Book of the Month’s new reading challenges, we leave no stone unturned in our exploration of how you can use January as the perfect launching pad to set yourself up for reading success this year.

We’re all in different stages of our relationship with reading — but whatever your pace, we want to encourage you to use the tools featured in this article to not just breeze through books, but to build habits that will spark joy and challenge you all year long.

By Nicole Zhu

Six years ago, while knee-deep in Chicago snow and college coursework, I decided to read a book a week for a whole year. I’d been an avid reader ever since I was a kid, looking forward to the Scholastic Book Fair and even participating in an international book trivia competition in middle school (I was the designated Harry Potter expert). But as I got older, I started reading less, making the same general New Year’s Resolution to “read more” without much follow-up. It wasn’t until I read an article by Julien Smith which laid out some concrete steps for tackling such a huge goal that I decided to take on the challenge myself.

Since then, I’ve read 52 books in 52 weeks every year. Your goal might be to tackle a book a month this go round.

Whatever the magic number or range for you, I have some tips for making the time and mental space for this type of undertaking. When I first started, I read anything and everything just to keep up with the pace of reading a book a week. As I started to track the books and authors I read every year, I was able to reflect on how my reading has changed, whether that’s by genre, author, or subject matter, and make concerted efforts to diversify who and what I read in the coming year. If you want to read more books in 2020, there are steps you can take to get there — from writing it all down to incorporating the extra accountability (and enjoyability) of Book of the Month. Here are some of the best pieces of advice I have after years of resolving to read more.

1. Make a reading resolution

The most common reading resolution is to set a target number of books you want to read in a given year. You may also want to make a reading resolution based on genre (memoir, romance, science fiction, mystery, etc.) or theme (ethical technology, food history, civic engagement, etc.). If you’re a fan of a specific—and prolific—writer, you might want to make it your goal to read their entire body of work. Libraries, such as the New York Public Library, often set their own reading challenges too.

Regardless of the kind of reading resolution, it’s helpful to have a concrete number of books in mind to help pace yourself and break down your goal into manageable steps. If your goal is to read one book a month, Book of the Month can help you make it happen. (Every month they pick five relevant, of-the-moment books for you to choose from, which makes it fun and easy to hit your goal.) They also have a new reading challenge on their app which adds some fun to the tracking process. If your goal is to read 52 books in a year, it’s much easier to break that down into one book a week, which then translates to a certain number of pages per day. You can set a Goodreads reading challenge for the year and Goodreads will let you know if you’re on track to meet your target. I use a combination of Goodreads and this intense spreadsheet (inspired by this article) to keep track of the kinds of books and authors I read, as well as my reasons for reading them. Even if you’re just jotting down a list on your phone, find a way to track your reading progress and embrace mini milestones along the way!

Once you’ve made a reading resolution, here are a few ways I’ve found help me read more books and stay motivated.

2. Proactively build reading into your routine

The most important thing is to develop a reading habit that you can stick to. That habit looks different for different people, and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you. If you can read Dr. Seuss-style (in a house, on a train, on a plane), then read where and when you can. If you’re like me and need least thirty minutes to settle into a book, set aside time to read before bed or incorporate it into a nice weekend ritual with your favorite beverage.

Find your reader profile and create a routine around it. Are you a book quitter or book finisher? Do you prefer audiobooks, ebooks, or physical books? Do you read multiple books at once or read one book at a time? For example, I’m a book finisher who prefers reading physical books (or ebooks when I’m traveling) and I often read multiple books at once.

3. Don’t be afraid to use your local library

Checking out library books will make sure you don’t bankrupt yourself on books and the due dates are great external deadlines to encourage you to finish reading books on time. Most libraries lend audiobooks and ebooks too. Plus, you’re supporting a great institution!

4. Make reading a social activity

Make an otherwise solitary activity a little more social, whether that’s online or in person. I like to share every book I read on social media both for public accountability, but also to strike up fun conversations with folks and crowdsource more book recommendations.

Joining a book club can also help. Book clubs set both the book and meeting cadence, so you’ll have a timeframe in which to read the book and perhaps read around a specific subject. For Eater’s book club, we read books where food is a central element, like The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. For The Cosmos Book Club, we read Asian diaspora literature by women and gender non-binary authors, like Miracle Creek by Angie Kim and The Leavers by Lisa Ko. Plus, book club discussions can be invigorating and connect you with fellow readers.

To expand your reading horizons, go on bookstore dates or host book swaps. Go to your local independent bookstore with a friend and pick out books for each other. Stay in and host a book swap party where everyone brings a book, swaps titles throughout the night, and leaves with a new book.

5. Combine your love for page and screen

Let’s be real. Almost every other movie, TV show, or miniseries nowadays is an adaptation of a book. Combine a movie outing and reading session by comparing the source material and the adaptation. Some of my favorites: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Next on my list is Little Women. (My book club already has plans to see Greta Gerwig’s movie in January.)

6. Plan your next read

Always have a book on deck so you’ll have another book to pick up when you finish the current one. Collect recommendations from friends, podcasts, newsletters, and best book lists as you go. Put books on hold at the library, sign up for Book of the Month, or pick up a book from your stack of unread books (I know you have them).

7. Get a running start

I thought I’d share some of my favorite books with you to give you a running start:

Fiction
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Nonfiction
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Romance
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Normal People by Sally Rooney
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Memoir
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Shrill by Lindy West
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

Essay collections
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

What’s your 2020 reading resolution? If you’re looking for help staying on track, you can get books delivered to your home every month with Book of the Month.

Image by Bridget Badore.