One of the highlights of the changing year, for the past five years of my life, has been the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge. My wife pointed this out to me at the start of 2016 and I’ve used it to guide some of my reading for each year since then. The idea is fairly simple: many of us get set in our reading habits. The reading challenge listed categories of books, with a total of twelve volumes, that often forced you to read things you normally wouldn’t. In pre-pandemic Januaries we’d go to a local independent bookstore and pick out some of our chosen books to fit the various categories. It became kind of an extended holiday ritual.
It must be tricky to come up with new categories all the time. Therefore it’s understandable that the Modern Mrs. Darcy has decided to shake things up a bit for 2021 with a somewhat more complex scheme of determining what to read. Unfortunately for me, I have about enough complexity in my life right now. For a reading challenge what I crave is simple-minded direction: read a book in (blank) category. So now I’ll be left to my own imagination for 2021. Not that that’s ever a problem. My reading wishlist is enormous and, like the universe, expanding rapidly. Every year new books of great interest appear. Every year I learn of books I should’ve read long before now. I also do research, in my own way, and these books can be rather insistent regarding one’s time.
Goodreads also has a reading challenge (which I also started taking in 2016), but it’s based purely on the number of books you pledge. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you can tick off that final pledged book (hopefully in September or October), and still have a few months of bonus reading left. Each year becomes a year in books. Like many people, I’ve survived the pandemic so far by spending lots of time with books. For my last post of the year tomorrow I’ll do my traditional summary of the year’s reading. I began the year thinking of Sea Lab 2020, a formative, optimistic Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood. We were then hearing rumors of a new disease in China, not anticipating that 45 would decide to sacrifice over 300,000 Americans on the altar of his personal disinterest and pride. Through it all, however, there have been books. Reading improves intelligence. Let’s all hope, then, for a much more intelligent 2021 ahead.