How to Make a SMART Reading Resolution for the New Year

Jennifer Denslow
Dec 27, 2018 · 4 min read

The last few days of the year are at time to recover from the holiday festivities while looking forward to the new year. I think about some kind of New Year’s resolution about this time, and although I am familiar with the SMART formula for setting goals thanks to the ample professional development I’ve participated in over the years as well as the many WW meetings I’ve attended, I usually don’t get past “specific” to the “measurable, achievable,realistic, and time-bound”.

Except for reading resolutions.

I enjoy making an intention to bring more, and more variety of books into my life. Setting a reading resolution for the new year is fun and easy and it’s low-stakes as well. If you don’t succeed at reading Moby Dick this year, you can’t really beat yourself up for it. I mean, I have a Master’s degree in English and I’ve never read it, and my self-esteem is intact. The Internet is full of reading challenges, of course. Here you’ll find a list of possible goals to set for yourself as a reader.

Choosing one of those challenges makes your goal specific.

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge is one I always look forward to taking part in every year. I have yet to finish it, but I have read books I otherwise would not have because of the challenge. In 2017, I read Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah, which remains one of the best books I’ve EVER read, because of this challenge. The task was to read a book set within 50 miles of where you live, and since I’d already read The Outsiders, I picked up Askew’s novel from my bookshelf. Read Harder challenges include 24 prompts, and the list is notable for asking readers to stretch themselves. In fact, in the introduction to this year’s challenge, which you’ll find HERE, Rachel Manwill reiterates that Book Riot encourages readers “…to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you wouldn’t try.”

The Pop Sugar challenge, found HERE, may be a little lighter, but I guess that depends on the books you choose. Pop Sugar offers 50 ideas, ranging from “a book with a two word title” to “a book you see someone reading in a movie or on TV”. I’ve pursued this challenge as well, and found it fun and a little cheekier than the Book Riot roster.

Make your challenge measurable by setting a goal for the number of books you want to read this year and declare it on Goodreads. I overestimated my goal this year since I’d read a lot the year before. I didn’t read the 120 books I thought I would. I did publish a book, though, so I’m going to cut myself some slack. Still, my goal was achievable, given my normal reading habits and in a normal year, I might well have reached it. There’s something to be said for making a goal that is a stretch. Rudyard Kipling said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” When you set your goal, think about what’s achievable given your circumstances.

A reading goal should be realistic, but let yourself dream a little, too. One way to challenge yourself is to invest time reading a specific author or genre. For several years I’ve decided “this is the year” to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, and I still haven’t, but I still decide it’s something I want to accomplish. While I believe that the best way to experience Shakespeare is to see a live production, I was inspired by movie critic Roger Ebert’s account of reading through the Bard’s canon while on a fellowship in South Africa. A Sunday afternoon is enough time to read one of the plays. Granted, that may not be enough time to really digest it but it’s a lovely idea, to pile up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon and wander into another place. Shakespeare’s descriptions are so vivid I know I’ll be easily lost in Ilyria or Verona or wherever else he sets his scene and the language is always fascinatingly lush or coarse, depending on who’s speaking. Again this year I will resolve to continue reading Shakespeare.

A good goal is time-bound, and a year is a good chunk of time. I have ignored the question of why one should make a reading resolution, I suspect because the idea that reading just for the sake of reading is a good thing. Setting a goal, “SMART” or not, is just another way to make room for books in our lives.

Jennifer Denslow

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Author, Career Educator, and Snail Mail Enthusiast