Reading Resolutions for 2021

Eight ways to make 2021 a memorable and meaningful year of reading.

Several weeks into the New Year, you might find yourself among the 80% of us who make some sort of New Year’s resolution only to find that right about this time in February that your resolve has slipped.

Junk food, a billion hours of streaming television content (of both the trashy and excellent varieties), and winter-induced lethargy all beckon against our best intentions to eat better, move more, and nourish our minds and souls with books.

And all of that is under the best circumstances, during what I’ve taken to calling, Normal Times. This year we are in a different situation, indeed. #PandemicWall is real. Further, I’m writing to you from Chicago where it is not an exaggeration to say we are trapped in a never-ending prison of ice and snow (yep, definitely not dramatic).  

Consider this a mid-February check-in / pep talk / #PandemicWall overture.

How are we doing on our reading goals?

For those of us who love to read, our resolutions typically include setting a goal of the number of books we would like to read in a year.

For many, they are a helpful tool to help people stay focused on reading books. For others, an annual reading goal number is an arbitrary numeric marker that is besides the point of simply enjoying reading.

But, for all of the bad vibes out there about Goodreads, consistently the one feature that always gets mentioned in our customer discovery interviews as the one bright spot is the annual reading goal. People love it.

We have our own annual reading goal tracker on Italic Type (I’m at 8/65) — and of the people who use Italic Type on a regular basis, almost 100%  have set theirs for 2021.

Setting a goal for the number of books you want to read in the year is a great way to start setting your intention to focus on reading. But don’t just stop there. Let’s also think about: what you hope to learn? What new ideas do you want to be exposed to? What new communities of readers and writers do you want to engage with?

Moving forward on Italic Type, our intention is to let users set more specific, meaningful reading resolutions. So, I might have a macro goal of 65 books a year — but I’ll be able to also set goals like I want 2 of those books to be poetry, half to be from women or POC authors, I want to read at least 10 books with friends, etc...

Here are a few of the reading resolutions that I’m thinking about for the New Year. Consider adopting some of these or planning your own to refocus and improve your reading through the Winter, through the #PandemicWall, and for the rest of the year ahead.

#1) Learn more about people, places, and cultures different than our own

One of the most impactful, eye-opening books I read last year was Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russel Hochschild. A nonfiction work of anthropological study, she explores the increasingly right-wing political circles of Louisiana locals from 2011-2016. For myself, and Hochschild for that matter, it’s clear we don’t agree with 99% of the opinions and beliefs of her subjects. But I found a lot of hope in being able to identify the 1% of areas from corporate greed to pollution regulation where progress might be made together.

Reading is a radical act of empathy. And I’m looking for more of these experiences this year.

#2) James Baldwin + Zora Neale Hurston – more than just names

Everyone has heard of James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston. Speaking for myself, I’m tired of just hearing about them, seeing their names referenced in other books and articles, and just nodding and moving along. I want to read their stuff!

Starting with Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin and Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Neale Hurston.

#3) Stay in touch by reading together

Reading is more fun when you do it together! It’s my favorite way of staying connected to friends of mine scattered around the country. It’s one of the main reasons Italic Type came into being — we wanted to create an experience where you could be connected on the same book while still reading individually and asynchronously. Shoutout to my college friends Abby, Erin, and Lana who I’ve done 2-person book clubs with! And to my former colleagues Ben B., Ben G., and Paul who have read the same book with me on Italic Type.

If you have friends in a different part of the world, country, or even in the same city — using Italic Type to read a book together is not only a great way to make sure you stay on track to hit your annual goal — but it seriously is the best way to stay in touch with the friends you care about most.

#4) Have fun with it!

Reading is supposed to be fun! Let yourself off the hook a little bit if you don’t love the book everyone is raving about. If you decide to stop reading a book, no big whoop. Move it into your Pause section and keep on trucking.

If you love “beach reads” or “genre fiction” or “chick lit” or any of the other marvelously derisive terms the industry uses to label books, go for it!

One of the most surprisingly delightful books I read last year was Exotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It read like a truly excellent “rom com” in novel form, and it was fabulous, and I loved it. (Some really good erotica stories too).

#5) Take pleasure in the unexpected discovery of something off the "Backlist"

Doesn’t it always seem like “everyone” (i.e. “Book Twitter”, bookstagram, etc..) are always talking about the same 7 novels. That’s not an accident. And while sometimes, some of them are exceptional, more often than not I’ve come away from reading the latest “It” book feeling a little “meh”.

The “Backlist” is the book industry term for a book that is 2 years or older from its release date. Almost two-thirds of the books sold each year come from the Backlist, with no obvious tie to a big marketing push.

I love finding backlist gems like Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, The Collective by Don Lee, and Dalva by Jim Harrison.

It’s fun to join in the zeitgeist-y conversation, but it’s also fun to discover something off the beaten path and bring your own meaning and discussion to it.

#6) There's always something to learn

This one is a little contra #4 - but hear me out. I don’t think having fun with reading — meaning cutting yourself slack about your pace and what you like — is mutually exclusive with the following: Give books a chance to teach you something.

Even if what a book is teaching you is that you hate it, thinking about why you hate it, can sometimes be an important exercise.

When I’m reading on my own, I’m much more likely to put on a book on Pause if I decide I don’t like it. But participating in so many book clubs through the years has taught me how to have patience with a book.

The patience is worth it.

#7) Think in smaller units than # of books per year

Especially towards the beginning of the year, thinking about reading goals as a single annual number can be daunting. For example, I’m currently at 8 of 65, so I have a long way to go.

Start thinking about goals for a number of books a month. Or 30 minutes of reading a day.

If you’re someone who wants to go from reading 5 books in 2020, to 12 books in 2021, it’s mentally much easier to wrap your mind around the idea of 1 book a month.

#8) Go totally out of your comfort zone with poetry, philosophy, drama, or graphic novel

Yes, you should embrace what you like. And try to have patience reading things that aren’t your main bread and butter. But you should also try to pick at least one new area for yourself to explore for the year.

I recently read Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill, a novel infused with history, philosophy, and poetry references. Who doesn’t want to be able to casually quote Keats or Tennyson?! Last year I read one book of poetry “Nearing Ninety” by Judith Viorst.

This year my goal is to read at least two more books of poetry. I’ll be honest, one of them will probably be Mary Oliver. But we have to start somewhere :)

Let’s keep the conversation going! What are your reading resolutions this year?

Email me at and let me know.

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