I am nothing if not triumphantly confident in the dead of winter. It might be because I am mostly covered—wrapped up in dark, thick tights, shapeless dresses, and oversized sweaters. I wear my hair down more. I wear hats. The red lipstick I’ve been wearing a lot lately (with little, if anything else on my face) is ruddy, like the bottom of a glass of red wine you left out overnight or drying blood. I start to feel a little impervious, not invincible, but certainly more able to withstand sudden bursts of cold wind. The dead of winter is when I started running. It’s when I went back to graduate school, both times. It’s when Zac and I started looking for a place to live. It’s when I found and decided to keep Bagel. I make some of my best decisions between December and February.

At some point on January 1st of this year, I sat down at my desk with a sheet of graph paper and started taking notes. I made a color-code list out of those notes in the back of my planner. I gave that page a tab labelled “Resolutions.” The tab is a festive pink. It’s officially week two and it’s already a miraculous failure. Over the last week, I’ve gone to bed on time exactly zero times. I’ve gotten out of bed without hitting the snooze once. I got four hours of sleep that night. I have not started a single book I planned to read in order to complete my self-imposed reading syllabus. I only stuck to my plans to write 300 words a day three times. My average daily water intake is about 4 glasses and I’ve already ordered Chinese food twice.

On the other hand, I have gotten in a Facebook fight with a former professor that ended with him declaring in all caps that he teaches many “DEAD WHITE AND BLACK WOMEN” much to my eternal delight, ignored a Twitter troll who wanted to know where I stood on the “few billion unborn babies” murdered by feminists, and made some pretty serviceable vegetarian pad thai. All accomplishments for which they do not make merit badges. I also managed to sneak in at least a half-hour of yoga every day and started meditating. Unfortunately, the five to ten minutes I’ve spent each day with my legs pretzeled has made it painfully obvious that I have a 31 year-old’s knees and a total inability to count above two without thinking about whether that mole on my back is funny-haha or funny-cancer.

The nine straight days of yoga and eight days of meditation aren’t nothing.  Nine is the absolute most I could do anything this year that I set out to do once a day. But the page is still mostly unchecked boxes. The thing is, I don’t actually feel all that bad about only getting the year 30-50% right so far. It’s down right impossible to make a bunch of changes in your life all at once. That only one or two things are clicking right now doesn’t mean I won’t get the hang of waking up on time next week or next month. Clearing out my brain a bit each day might help me become a better writer. I don’t know how to fix the water thing, though. I’m a 31 year-old woman who regularly looks at the empty water glass on her desk and thinks, “I’m thirsty” before redirecting her attention back to her computer without doing anything to satisfy that very real need.

I got out of bed this year and thought about how to make myself and my relationships a priority (and also maybe get a cat. Zac’s talking a big game about pet rats but their tails aren’t terribly fluffy.) That’s better than two years ago when I spent the morning dry heaving because I’d already thrown up an entire bottle of prosecco before bed. I don’t remember actually getting out of bed that day. Does jotting down a list of goals for the year mean that I finish the year having finished the shitty first draft of a novel, done yoga every day, and gotten to eight breaths before wondering whatever happened to the lady who starred in The Secret World of Alex Mack? Maybe. I might as well try. What’s wrong with being (overly) confident?*

*did I get the song stuck in your head?

2017 Reading Syllabus

In 2016, I read 76 books (24 more than 2015; 46 more than 2014):

  • 41 were romances
  • 4 were YA
  • 7 were literary fiction (whatever that is)
  • 1 was philosophy
  • 2 were on writing
  • 3 were horror
  • 1 was a book of poetry
  • 2 were scientific, one of those was about moss.
  • 5 were science fiction or fantasy.
  • 5 were memoir or biography
  • 5 were history
  • 2 were on feminism

(Don’t bother checking my math. A couple books fell into more than one category and I counted them in both)

Those 76 books were written by 46 authors:

  • 33 of them were women
  • 12 were people of color

Top 5 (in no particular order):

  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Gilead by Marianne Robinson/The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Honestly, this isn’t bad. It’s not great either. It’s a good reminder why I made the syllabus in 2015 and why I am bringing it back this year. I could have happily spent 2016 chasing bluestocking heroines and besotted rakes through London’s toniest ballrooms (and it seems I spent a lot of it doing just that), but I would have missed out on some seriously great writing (before any of you suggest otherwise, I would have missed out on great writing if I’d avoided the ballrooms altogether.)  Only a handful of the books I read this year were challenging. And while the gender breakdown was overwhelmingly female, the books I read were pretty white. I can do better. I can always do better.

With that in mind, I present the 2017 Reading Syllabus. 2015 focused on diversifying my reading. 2017 doesn’t necessarily to that in obvious ways, though it certainly allows for it in a lot of the categories and it fills in a couple gaps. Instead, this year I want to read as a means of undersimg_4478tanding and resistance. There are items on the list, like Wicked or One Hundred Years of Solitude that are just there because it’s high time I read them (Wicked is Zac’s favorite book and it’s silly how long I have put off reading it.) But there are others  that are there as a means of reminding me of what is at stake right now (the Authors category is entirely female; Regions will have me read all non-white authors). Reading is a political act and much as it is a personal pastime. When I am devoting a lot of my energy outside of work to remaining obviously busy by giving myself a relentless to-do list, I have to remind myself that we make time for things that are important and vacuuming the apartment every week isn’t as important as cultivating an inner life. I also have to remind myself of the needlepoint my mother had hanging in the kitchen growing up that read “A clean house is a sign of a misspent life.” It was hanging from a red ribbon strung up at the center of a curtain rod. The rod, the curtains, the ribbon, and the needlepoint were almost unforgivable dusty as if to drive the point home for anyone visiting our cluttered house. We make time for the things that are important. This is important to me.

2017 Reading Syllabus:

  • Authors:
    • Elena Ferrante
    • Toni Morrison
    • Margaret Atwood
    • Virginia Woolf
    • Joan Didion
    • bell hooks
  • Books:
    • Wicked
    • Blood Meridian
    • Sound and the Fury
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Genres:
    • Feminist Sci-Fi
    • Intersectional Feminist Sci-Fi
    • Epic Fantasy
    • Urban Fantasy
  • Regions:
    • Living African author
    • Living Central or South American author
    • Living Middle Eastern author
    • Living Asian author
  • Other Criteria
    • A book about Whiteness
    • A pre-Soviet Russian novel
    • A Soviet novel
    • A post-Soviet Russian novel
    • A book about Reconstruction
    • A book about Islam
    • A book about about the Holocaust
    • A short story collection
    • A poetry collection
    • a STEM book

If you have suggestions that you think might fit into any of these categories, send them my way.