Do You Plan Your Reading?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, of course, I mean the annual celebration of our Lord’s nativity, which is rich with meaning and blessing for me and my family. So, Merry Christmas!

But there’s something else that makes this time of year wonderful to me: the joyful preparation of a reading plan for the coming year, which I do every year in late December and early January. That plan becomes something like a syllabus that will allow me to derive maximum variety and benefit from my reading throughout the course of a year. My annual reading plan always includes:

  • a minimum of one biography;
  • at least one memoir;
  • a healthy dose of at least four classics (e.g., Pascal, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, etc.);
  • at least one history book;
  • several writing books;
  • at least two books by authors I’ve never read before;
  • a minimum of one poetry book;
  • a few books from my favorite authors, such as C.S. Lewis and Wendell Berry;
  • a minimum of two books in a new discipline or field of interest (e.g., logic, gardening, ethics, archaeology, etc.);
  • at least one children’s book, since I am still a child at heart and a great admirer of picture books and juvenile literature;
  • one or two selections from a short list of books I reread every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful, from A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner to The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer.

Finally, for good measure, I require that at least one of the books on my list (in any category) must be what I call a “mule-choker,” a book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read, such as Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer).

Usually, by the time December rolls around, I have quite a few titles already on my list, from reading book reviews or hearing recommendations from friends. Since I’m reading constantly, I don’t have to buy or borrow a book I’m interested in right away; I simply add it to my list for the coming year, and that way I don’t forget it or feel pressure to squeeze it into my current stack.

My reading is not entirely void of spontaneity, however. The above list accounts for roughly twenty-five books; I often read four times that number during a given year. So, there’s ample opportunity to read a book on a whim or stay in a favorite genre. Nor do I carve my reading plan in granite; I’m free to substitute books, shift priorities, or even add whole categories. It’s my plan, after all, not the Ten Commandments.

And, while my writer’s annual reading plan is no talisman, it has delivered me from overdosing on one writer or genre, reading only the least challenging books, and that listless feeling of staring at my bookcase like a teenager standing before an open refrigerator, wondering, What do I want, what do I want? After all, the menu’s already been prepared; I need only place my order, and I’m ready for a readable feast.

How about you? Do you plan your reading? Or keep it spontaneous?

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