No, you don't *actually* need to read more this year.
What if reading resolutions weren’t about should and more but about making a holistic assessment of how we spend our time?
As I write this in the waning days of 2022, my inbox and Instagram feed are chockablock with suggestions for new year’s resolutions and how to keep them. There are invitations for workout challenges and meditation challenges (an oxymoronic concept if ever there were one, but that’s an essay for a different day), exhortations to practice gratitude and composting and slow fashion, and—you knew it was coming—countless helpful hints for how to read more books in 2023. Don’t get me wrong; I am extremely pro- all of these things. My personal routines include exercise, meditation, and a daily gratitude practice, and one of my intentions for the new year is to avoid fast fashion. I like a goal as much as the next girl, and I’m not here to judge. What I want to interrogate is not whether these things—the exercise and meditation and reading and eating less red meat—are good, but the idea that we should do more of them each year, emphasis on both the should and the more. Why is “read more books” such a popular resolution, and what other frameworks might we bring to thinking about what reading means in our lives?
It’s tempting to dismiss the ubiquity of new year’s resolution-focused content as a product of capitalism. Sell people the belief that they have a problem, then sell them the solution. Tale as old as time, right? Not to mention that in advertising- and affiliate-based business models, you can sell someone else’s solution and still make a tidy profit. Again, no shade. I’m 15 years into a career that exists largely because a lot of people click links to books and many of them buy. When we’re talking about new year’s resolutions for just about any interest or avocation, capitalism is an inextricable and undeniable part of the equation, but it’s not the whole story.
There are indications that humans were making new year’s resolutions as long as 4,000 years ago. The siren song of a new year calls us to conceptualize ourselves as resolute: bold, courageous, tenacious, uncompromising, unflinching, unwavering, unyielding, even if the only resolution we’re likely to keep is to continue resolving. We can’t seem to resist an opportunity to collectively press the reset button. Resolutions reveal our values: the ones we hold, the ones we aspire to hold, and the ones who hope to be perceived as holding, and that’s where the prevalence of “read more books” gets interesting to me.