2015 reading list and a non-strategy for reading more books

I’m adopting a three-tiered reading non-strategy this year. Normally I don’t have a strategy of any kind – I make a list of books I want to read, and then read from it, or not, whatever happens to suit my fancy at any given moment. I have a TBR list, but I’m not married to the list, and it’s always been beautifully fluid.

But there will be a new baby in March, and I’m feeling like I need a bit more structure in 2015. But not too much, because all of my favourite books from last year were all off-list, and I want the freedom to find something truly extraordinary.

So here’s the non-strategy:

Tier 1 – My twelve-book reading list. I feel like a book a month is doable. In fact, it’s conceivable that I reach this goal before the baby even arrives.

Tier 2 – A full 52-book list. I commit to a book a week every year, and rarely make it. I probably won’t make it this year. But I loved the PopSugar Reading Challenge and decided to make a list based on that. The twelve books from Tier 1 are curated from this list, so it’s an additional 40 books, not an addition 52.

Tier 3 – Whatever I want. Late in 2014, I discovered romance novels, and they remind me why I love reading. (I even wrote a romance novel for NaNoWriMo) But I like to read broadly, and I’m not going to have more than a couple romance titles on my reading list. Still, if I want to read twenty-five romance novels, or anything else as it comes along, I’m going to do it.

So that’s why it’s a non-strategy. My reading list is a guide, and a bit more structured than usual. I’ll probably finish Tier 1. But if I decide that what I really want to do is fill 2015 with bare-chested, bekilted Highlanders (in a manner of speaking) that is what I’ll do.

What follows is my Tier 1 reading list.

 Reading List 2015

  1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson
  2. Emma – Jane Austen
  3. Own Your Life – Sally Clarkson
  4. The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
  5. Yes, Please! – Amy Poehler
  6. Jesus Feminist – Sarah Bessey
  7. Hellgoing – Lynn Coady
  8. The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester
  9. The Children Act – Ian McEwan
  10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
  11. Butterflies in November – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
  12. Night Film – Marisha Pessl

If you want to see what else I read this year, you can follow my progress on Goodreads or Pinterest.

Best Reads of 2014

I’m a little late getting my Best Reads list up this year. I was reading right down to the wire trying to finish my Goodreads challenge (missed it by four books). Aside from a numerical goal of 52 books this year, my main reading goal was to finish all my ‘half-reads,’ a goal I also missed, although I did take a big chunk out of that list, and I feel good about it.

I had to take a reading break in the summer – a really difficult first trimester of my current pregnancy made the words on a page swim and left me seasick. Almost four months of reading nothing longer than a Facebook status. And I missed it so much. Now, as that pregnancy nears its completion, I’m trying to cram in as much reading as possible because I know that with a newborn and toddler, I’ll have considerably less time for reading in just a few short weeks.

I’ll have my 2015 reading list and my plan of attack through the tiny months in the next day or so.

The following five books were my favourites in 2014. They are listed in the order I read them.

Best Reads of 2014

Annabel – Kathleen Winters

Annabel is beautiful and haunting, it builds tension in all the right places and characters that are each as deeply layered as the next. It tells the story of a young hermaphrodite, raised as a little boy, who spends most of his life trying to figure out who he is, and how he self-identifies. I love the resolution of this struggle. A perfect example of Newfoundland gothic.

Effigy – Alyssa York

Late in 2013, I read Fauna, York’s latest novel and loved it so much I spent the first part of 2014 in her backlist. Effigy is the reason I love Alissa York. A beautiful story told from multiple points of view over multiple time periods laced together and exploding at the end. It’s what she does, and she’s great at it. It’s a story of Mormons, taxidermy and Western expansion; half a dozen lonely people all living together. I read it in two days.

Pursue the Intentional Life – Jean Fleming

“The truth is that everyone, regardless of age, is already setting patterns for the shape of his or her life.”

Filled with ruminations on living life fully, this book encourages women to reflect on their lives and consciously decide how to live now, in preparation for the future. Beautifully written and poetic, this book is a love letter to life and eternity.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake – Sarah MacLean

This was the very first romance novel I have ever read, and I loved it so much I was determined to see what else the genre had to offer. This book inspired reading eight more romances back to back. Sarah MacLean is a master storyteller. I rushed through, dying to see what would happen next, even though everyone knows how every romance novel is going to end, I was still excited to get there and see how the story unfolded.

And the sexy scenes were SUPER sexy. I think that’s all you really need in a great romance novel – a compelling story and fabulous sexual chemistry between the two leads. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I have a bit of a crush on the Marquess of Ralston.

419 – Will Ferguson

Marvellous. But I’m not surprised. I’ve been a fan of Will Ferguson forever, though this is the first novel he’s written that I’ve read. There are enough whispers of the travel writer I know him for in this book to make it familiar. The characters are wonderful and real. The story is beautifully executed, and the storylines weave and converge seamlessly. I want to read it again. I did think it wrapped up too quickly – the conclusion was jarring and head-spinning after the long, slow lyricism of the rest of the plot, but I can really overlook that.

Incidentally, none of these were part of the ‘half-reads’ goal, and only one was on my planned reading list. Three are by Canadian authors. Only one is non-fiction, and only one is written by a man. This is not representative of my reading year, but I think it’s interesting. If you’d like to see everything I read this year, check out my 2014 shelf on Goodreads, or my Pinterest board.

A Story of Setting Boundaries

If you are a writer, you probably work from home. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have an office, or maybe, like me, you spread out over the dining room table and pack up (or not) when you’re done for the day.

Regardless of where you work in your home, it’s going to be easier to get sidetracked by your house than if you worked in an office. For example, when your daughter walks up to you, her eyes filled with distress because the raisin she has pushed into her left nostril is proving to be stubbornly unretrievable. Or, if that has never happened to you, maybe loading the dishwasher seems just a little more exciting than pushing through a particularly difficult scene.

Conversely, when you work at home, work can distract you from being present at home when you’re not supposed to be working. E-mail is a powerful lure when your husband’s idea of quality time is watching that episode of Family Guy for the fourteenth time. (Of course, I’m not denigrating Seth MacFarlane and is team of talented writers, but it was never my life’s ambition to know the entire seventh season of American Dad by heart.)

Setting boundaries at home has been one of the biggest challenges of stepping out into this life that I’ve chosen, and I’ll admit that I am not always successful. Instead of existing separately, my work and my family life often bleed together into some strange amorphous fog that isn’t particularly productive or in anywhere near intentional. So I don’t actually have any tips about how to do that better, at least not now, when I’m still figuring it out myself.

Notes from a Blue Bike

When I read Notes from a Blue Bike, I eagerly anticipated the section on work, because I knew that Tsh would have something valuable to share about creating an atmosphere of simplicity and intentionality around working from home – it’s what she does after all – and I wasn’t disappointed. Tsh tells a story about a visit she made to Susan Wise Bauer, a historian and professor at William & Mary who has written a boatload of well-respected curricula – from home. When she visited her home office, she saw that she had set up a physical boundary stone between her work and her office:

Here stood a tangible symbol of the very meaning of working with intention—knowing both my gifts and my limits, my callings and my opportunities that need a “no,” and being at peace with understanding the difference. To give myself the time and freedom to create my best art, and to confidently turn down those roles and opportunities that aren’t the best fit.

Later, Tsh added her own small boundary stone to her home office as a reminder of what stayed in and what went out.

Notes from a Blue Bike is full of stories about setting boundaries, making decisions about when to say no and choosing to do what is most valuable to you when you need to do it in all areas of your life. It’s the perfect book for the season that I am in: trying to sort out what is important to my family and what isn’t, what is improving our quality of life and what is taking away from it, how to manage my own work without making it the work of everyone around me.

If the desire simplicity and intentionality is floating around in your life right now, or simply if, like me, you’re trying to figure out where to lay down the boundaries, this is a book where you’ll find encouragement for your journey.

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

Blue Bike Blog Tour

Clearing the Cache

I’ve been reading a lot lately.

It’s pretty much all I’ve been doing since the beginning of January. You see, I started the new year with a vague idea of several unfinished books (and craft projects, but that is another post for another day, maybe never) that I had lying around, and decided that my New Year’s Resolution would be to “clear the cache.”

I love reading one book at a time, curling up under a blanket and devouring it in big, pagey gulps, and then setting it aside and then moving on to the next delicious morsel. Or I should say I used to love reading books in this way because that habit has been growing rust in a garden shed ever since I started an English degree, lo, these many years ago, when I was forced by necessity to have several things on the go at once. I remember longing for a return to the old habits, but, alas. It was never to be again.

Anyway. I started the year with this foggy goal in mind and set out to write a list of the books that I had lying around unfinished. And my master list had 11 titles. ELEVEN. How did this happen?! I hadn’t set these books aside because I hated them. I can’t do that, no matter who tells me it’s okay to set aside a book that makes me want to tear my face off from the wanton misogyny and a general feeling of antipathy concerning all. The. Characters (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones). I spent most of the eighties squirming around on the carpet with an open colouring book and my dad intoning “finish what you start” when what I really wanted to do was leave Ariel mostly black-and-white and go watch DuckTales. So now I have a pathological fear of leaving things undone. Thanks for the unshakable lesson, Dad.

So these books were never abandoned. They were set aside with a full and honest intention to return to them. Some were started for book clubs and launches. Some got set aside when I was working on finishing my novel back in November. Some are about writing, and were put aside when the writing started. A few I started reading for NetGalley and then didn’t finish in time to review them at release (oops). Some I had rebelliously started for pure literary enjoyment, and those got put aside in favour of books I had a responsibility to read, like library books, which were returned when they couldn’t be renewed anymore. There is a whole tangled web of reasons why all these books were started and not finished.

I began to read. This morning I finished the fourth book on my list (a re-read of Pride and Prejudice for a book club), but as I worked through it and shifted books from the pile, more books turned up, and then I had this (admittedly mostly one-sided) conversation with a friend of mine:

books gone wild

I am so ashamed.

But I’m reading on. I have one book in paper, one on my Kobo, and one on the Kindle app on my phone so I can read it while I’m waiting for the pasta to cook. I’m not buying anything new, or borrowing anything more than what is already on the holds list for me at the library. If one of those comes in, it jumps the queue, but then I go back to finishing all those half-read books. And then maybe, some day soon, I can curl up with a book and know that it’s the only one.