It’s a new year and for those of you who have been following my stuff over the years, you may know that it’s time for a sporadic update on New Year’s resolutions. I’ve attempted to do these in a public, online way for a few years now and have found it to be a middling exercise at best. Yes, I have accomplished some major tasks, but I’ve left just as many on the resolution-year floor, and I essentially abandoned the practice in 2014. I did this with the understanding that goals are still very important to a person’s life, but setting them arbitrarily at the beginning of each year isn’t a necessary way to make sure these things become habits in your life.
Besides all of this, over the course of writing for this new blog I have decided on a more overarching goal of streamlining my writing life in a few ways. While I do have two published books under my belt, if I’m ever going to make this into a career I need to keep improving my abilities and also find publication with a major house. I also need a vast improvement in my short story writing skills, with the hopes of finding a place for a few of them in literary journals by the end of the year. Basically, though I feel I have met some important goals, it’s time to spend an entire year focusing on my fiction writing.
To that end, I announce the first pseudo-experiment of 2016: My Year of Living Fictionally. What this means is that I am only going to read fiction this year. Those who know me well probably understand what a difficult decision this was to make, but after discussing it many times with my wife I have decided that this will help further my goal of becoming a better writer. What this means practically is I’m not going to read any nonfiction books this year, and outside of my two magazine subscriptions (Harper’s and Mother Jones) and whatever I manage to save to Instapaper over the year I plan to avoid reading much in the way of news. I also plan to extend this notion to film, eliminating documentaries from my movie-watching queue.
My hope here being that the more fiction I intake, the more I will understand about certain authors I’ve yet to tackle, as well as those I have. I have begun compiling a list which I will share shortly, but I also want to use this opportunity to cast a line of inquiry toward the people who do actually take the time to read my work. So, without further ado, your humble narrator turns to the gallery of readers out there to ask: what books do you think I should read this year? Just remember, they must be fiction. No biography, and no journalism (i.e. none of the stuff I’ve been obsessed with for years). Please put your suggestions in the comments or email them to me directly.
I should also mention one more extension of this project: I will be taking a year (at least) off from the journalism I’ve been performing in my neighborhood for the past five years. In figuring out how to maximize my year, I have decided that this pursuit of mine has run its course for now. While I know I have made an impact in my local area through this work, I had to make a decision as to which writing I want to spend an entire year to improve. The decision was to move the local journo stuff to the back-burner, and see if I feel like picking it up again in a year. I have one final story on the traffic study Minneapolis is wrapping up in our area to file for MinnyApple, and that’s it.
Here is my starter reading list, which I plan on expanding both with more of my own selections and those I solicit from people around me.
I do have a few other long-standing goals I hope to accomplish this year, but they’re mostly hold-overs from prior failures (I have been meaning to re-learn piano for a few years now with nothing to show for it, for example) so I won’t bother mentioning them here. For now, I’m going to keep my New Year’s resolution to a year of living (really reading) fictionally. And for those of you who have interest in following this little experiment, I’ll be posting updates (as well as continuing my series on “how to write”) on my blog.
(For more insight into the importance of reading books, check out this video by The School of Life. H/t to Maria Popova and her amazing site Brain Pickings, which locates tons of amazing stuff like this and is well worth checking out.)
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.