I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I was obsessed with The Fabulous Five, a series focused on five best friends navigating the trials and tribulations of junior high. I still remember the excitement as my family drove to the bookstore in Peoria (the “big city” near my tiny hometown), buying several of the newest books in the series, and then devouring them in record time. (My parents would get mad at me for reading at the dinner table, but my older brothers loved it because it was about the only time I was quiet.) To this day, I still get excited walking into a bookstore … the smell, the hushed conversations, the possibilities!
But, like it does for many people, reading for fun waned during my early 20s. Between college and law school, my brain just couldn’t handle any more information. It took me a couple of years post-schooling to get back into the groove of reading regularly, although the habit still ebbed and flowed depending on the season of life.
Then, in 2016, a colleague introduced me to Goodreads. (I know, I know. Totally late to that party.) Using the app became an easy way for me to track books I wanted to read and a great source of recommendations based on books I had read. In 2018, I decided to step up to the Goodreads Challenge by setting a goal of 24 books and – plot twist! – I ended up reading 56. How did I turn back into the full-on book nerd of my childhood? Here’s what worked for me:
- Don’t charge your phone by your bed. I moved my phone from my nightstand to a dresser on the other side of our bedroom, and this simple step has been key. Instead of mindlessly scrolling social media before bed, I pick up my kindle.
- Stop reading a book that doesn’t interest you. I’m not sure why, but I always felt the need to finish every book I started, even if I was bored and struggling. Because of this arbitrary rule, I would take months to finish a book I didn’t like instead of moving on to something I did. In 2018, I permitted myself to stop if I wasn’t hooked in the first 50 pages and haven’t looked back since.
- Use the library. I started checking out eBooks from the library and having so many options at my fingertips ensures I always have something to read. Also, related to Tip #2, it feels easier to stop reading a book I don’t like if I haven’t spent money on it.
- Travel, even just a short distance. (Side note: Do you remember traveling? It was so fun and I miss it!) In 2018, I frequently traveled for work and personal, which meant plenty of downtime in airports and hotels. Now that I’m not jumping on a plane every month, I’ve found just the simple act of changing my physical location – moving to a room with a comfy couch and glass of wine – provides the change of scenery needed to refocus.
Looking forward to 2021, I’m setting my Goodreads goal to 32 books. It’s not as ambitious as years past, but I’m trying to be honest about where my life is right now … which is working from home during a pandemic with a husband, two dogs, and a one-year-old. (Wait, now that I mention it, do children’s books count? Because I read Everything is Mama two times before 7 a.m. today!)
In case you want to set your own reading challenge for 2021 or are just looking for some suggestions to help make it through the cold winter months, here are some books I’ve read and loved over the last few years as well as some I’m looking forward to reading in the new year.
Books I’ve Recently Read and Loved:
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – Named one of the best books of 2020 by The New York Times, I was immediately invested in the complex characters and relationships.
- Educated by Tara Westover – A stunning memoir from a woman raised by survivalists in Idaho. I literally recommend this book to everyone.
- This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – I read this a couple years ago yet can still feel the weight of the family’s struggle and sacrifice to support their transgender daughter.
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle – While admittedly full of woo-woo, this book challenged me in unexpected ways, especially the chapter on race.
- Know My Name by Chanel Miller – This heartbreaking piece by “Jane Doe” of the Stanford sexual assault case is beautifully written and unflinchingly honest.
- Any book written by Kristin Hannah – Always a great escape, I especially loved The Nightingale and The Great Alone.
- It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny – For anyone who has been through some stuff, Nora’s take on grief will make you feel less alone.
- Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – I was so excited to read that Reece Witherspoon is turning this into a movie. The book and its heroine are smart, funny, and unexpected.
- Circe by Madeline Miller – While an atypical choice for me, I was captivated by the Greek enchantress who challenged mortals and gods alike.
Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading:
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth – I’m currently reading this for a work book club, and it has made me think about skills I want to cultivate in myself and my daughter.
- The Guest List by Lucy Foley – I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriller and this just won the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award.
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid – Identified as one of the best books of 2020 by multiple lists, reviewers say this book intentionally makes you uncomfortable in addressing issues surrounding race and white privilege.
- Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner – I’ve been a fan for years and am looking forward to her new novel focusing on female friendships.
- Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David – A recent guest on my favorite podcast, this author and expert takes on toxic positivity and adapting in an uncertain world.
- You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgement-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting by Lindsay Powers – A reviewer described this as the best parenting book she’s ever read. Since my one-year-old is running headfirst into toddlerhood, I figure we’ll take all the help we can get.
- American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson – This espionage thriller has received rave reviews.
What are some of your favorite books or what are you looking forward to reading in the new year? Please share your recommendations in the comments for all of us book nerds. Happy reading!