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?

39 Responses to Do You Plan Your Reading?

  1. Elisabeth Warner December 19, 2018 at 5:20 am #

    My current goal is to read all the books on my “to-be-read” bookshelf by next year (I just counted 55, so about one a week). I have it separated by fiction and nonfiction, so I plan on alternating between each shelf.

    • Bob Hostetler December 19, 2018 at 8:15 am #

      “By next year,” Elisabeth? You have only 12 days! 🙂

      • Laura December 19, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

        So little time, so many books!

        You all may think I’m a bit crazy, but I am on a ketogenic diet now and the main goal is not weight loss. That’s just a nice kicker.

        The diet prescribed by Dr. Donald Colbert does an amazing job of helping me have more energy and need less sleep. Not trying to sign any of you up, but just saying, being able to read and write more is a powerful motivator for me. Otherwise, it seems like my appetite for reading just can’t be satisfied in the time left at the end of the day.

  2. Brenda Jackson December 19, 2018 at 5:27 am #

    That’s very interesting. On the whole, I am a planning fiend about EVERYTHING. But I would not be able to keep a reading plan and stick with it. I read mostly non-fiction (2018 was an exception cuz I discovered an author’s fiction series that had been out for a while so was gobbling up one after the other. Unfortunately now I’m caught up). And my non-fic themes around 2-3 broad categories.

    Often reading non-fic books, the book recommends other books which leads me on a bunny chase which propels me through the year.

    • Bob Hostetler December 19, 2018 at 8:16 am #

      Oh, I go down those bunny trails, too. It’s part of the thrill of reading.

  3. Sharon K Connell December 19, 2018 at 5:58 am #

    Unless it’s a required read for something special, I never plan what I’ll be reading. Perusing the books available and landing on a title or book cover that peaks my interest at the time is what I prefer. It’s like going to the movies. You look through the offerings and then decide what sounds best to you. This way it doesn’t seem like a chore to be done.

    Like Elisabeth, I have a TBR list to choose from. Although my list is more like 100+. With my own writing to get done and edited, I don’t read as much as I used to, but it’s a welcome break when I decide to shut down the LT.

    • Bob Hostetler December 19, 2018 at 8:18 am #

      Funny you should mention it, Sharon; I also plan some (not all) of my movie watching. My wife and I have a weekly date night that often includes a movie, so when I see a preview or news of one I don’t want to miss, I’ll mark it on my calendar…especially since some of the movies that most interest us show only in certain theaters that we don’t pass in the course of our daily lives.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 19, 2018 at 7:17 am #

    My reading is today informed
    by fell circumstance, despair,
    and by the demons that have swarmed
    my life; they’re everywhere.
    I read to keep my pecker up;
    I read to save my soul;
    I read so I may daily sup
    on the dreams that keep me whole.
    My pancreas and lungs are full
    of dire malignancy;
    but my heart will ride the wild maned-bull
    and when the bell rings, I’ll be free.
    So in the bloody dawn, my friends, watch this flag unfurl;
    pancreatic cancer, on hearing my name, will cry like a little girl.

    (And yes, to the British-educated, ‘pecker’ shall always be a colloquialism for ‘courage’.)

    • Bob Hostetler December 19, 2018 at 8:19 am #

      I’m soooo glad you explained the Britishism, Andrew. Phew!

    • Judith Robl December 19, 2018 at 10:04 am #

      Andrew, one of the things I most admire about you is your courage in the face of the realities with which you live. It is evidence that you know where to lean when times are hard. Blessings and prayers, Judith

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 19, 2018 at 2:43 pm #

        Judith, thank you so much for this.

        I have powerful motivation to stay alive; supporting my dear, wonderful wife, and taking care of our eighteen (count ’em!) dogs.

        I will decrease so that they can go forward.

  5. Damon J. Gray December 19, 2018 at 8:44 am #

    Good morning, Bobert!

    Like you, I have a “plan” but it is very flexible. I just finished Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together,” and to my shame/embarrassment confess that I really did not care for it.

    The coming year will see entries from Lee Strobel, Chuck Coleson, Lewis Black (current), Randy Alcorn (whom I have never read), Anne Lamott (drives me nuts, but I read her stuff) and the six-ton entry – The Robe, Lloyd Douglas.

    There will doubtless be others added to the list, but that will get me started.

  6. E. Piotrowicz December 19, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    I’ve also made myself an annual literature “syllabus” for the past few years. Some years I have focused on just one author’s work in order to study the development of their craft over a lifetime. I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from this kind of analysis. Most recently, I’ve chosen books that I think will complement each other topically from various genres: for example, I’ve paired a history of the Soviets with “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” (Solzhenitsyn), topped off with “Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father.” I love designing my year’s reading list – but I do usually end up with plenty of un-planned reads!

  7. Judith Robl December 19, 2018 at 10:08 am #

    My reading plan is to pick up the nearest thing when I can snatch some time.

    At the present, I’m reading Tongue of the Prophets by Robert St. John. Only sixty-some years after publication.

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D December 19, 2018 at 10:42 am #

    Bob, what a wonderful Idea! I never thought of having a reading plan before. I love it! Thanks for suggesting it. I read a lot of “weighty tomes,” given my profession and am currently on a John Grisham kick but I love the idea of picking such a variety of books. Thanks so much for the food for thought and reading to complete!

    • Laura December 19, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

      I understand your predicament. It seems like there’s so much reading to do just to stay current in one subject. How can a person find time for anything that’s just enjoyable?

      It does amuse me, though, when I someone asks me what I like to do for fun. I usually say “fun” is a four-letter work in my dictionary. That’s because the people I work with are unbelievers and their idea of a good time is my idea of hell on earth.

      When I tell them I like reading and that I might just as soon read a book or article on nuclear fission as anything else, they look at me like I have two heads. Apparently, a lot of people either don’t read at all, or they stick to one or two favorite subjects. But if there’s a promise of adventure or enlightenment, I’ll probably read it.

      • Jennifer Mugrage December 19, 2018 at 8:06 pm #

        Reminds me of that comic:

        Introvert: I’m just to going to stay home this weekend, read, and watch movies.

        Extravert: OK, but remember, you have to have fun once in a while!

        Introvert: That’s what I’m doing.

        • Laura December 20, 2018 at 7:39 am #

          Exactly! And not just a comic either. I’ve had this exact conversation several times with those bubbly people who think staying home one weekend is a terrible tragedy.

          I get a lot of joy reading with God. He just shows me things, so it seems no matter what the subject, there’s always some light I can glean. That’s way more interesting than partying, even though I am physically active most days.

  9. Kathleen Denly December 19, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    I do plan my reading, but I rarely stick to the plan. LOL I have decided I am a moody reader. If I planned to read a mystery but I am in the mood for sci-fi, I go for the sci-fi. Otherwise my reading becomes yet another chore or item on my to-do list and I begin to dread it. Sometimes I read things because I committed to someone else that I would. That, I stick to because it affects someone other than myself, but the rest is decided by how I am feeling. That said, my moods tend to bring me through everything from memoirs to practical how-to’s and through almost every genre of fiction. So I don’t feel I get stuck in one place too often. My biggest reading problem is the common one: so many books, so little time.

  10. Laura December 19, 2018 at 11:30 am #

    I normally plan my reading about 2 weeks at a time. And by plan, I mean put a bunch of ebooks on my Kindle. Many are through Kindle Unlimited (KU) so I skim a lot but most don’t make the cut. Whether I buy books or read them through KU, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of my reads have historically been non-fiction, but this year I’m getting back into fiction after many years of avoiding it.

    Until I found this blog last month, I honestly never knew there was such a thing as Christian fiction, except for prairie days and Amish romance. I just never got into those too much. I’m very excited to curl up this December with The Story Peddler by Lisa A Franklin and some other speculative fiction by Jaye L Knight. The cold weather months get me in the mood for reading!

  11. Roberta Sarver December 19, 2018 at 11:31 am #

    A reading plan? Why didn’t I think of that before? !

    I go from volumes I spot at book sales and thrift stores, to recommendations from friends, which I can find at the public library (the books, not the friends). Or sometimes I just hear about a book in a conversation and buy it online.

    I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, but once in a while get an urge to treat myself to an escape through a good fiction book. I’m feeling like that right now. Someone recommended Francine Rivers, so she’s probably my next pick, when time allows.

    Thanks for posting your list. I will print it out as a reminder–like copying recipes from a famous chef.

  12. Shirlee Abbott December 19, 2018 at 12:17 pm #

    I have a pattern, not a plan. I’m usually reading two or more novels (one historic fiction) and at least one non-fiction book on a topic near to my heart (health, education, child development or language). I try to have something in progress to move my faith forward (spiritual growth, prayer or a biography of an exemplary Christian) and something to improve my writing. I keep a to-read list, and I regularly and prayerfully browse the library shelves for something beyond my routine. That gives me four or more different books going at the same time. By year’s end, I’ve covered a list similar to yours, Bob, without the poetry. Perhaps I should wander through the library’s poetry section now and again.

  13. claire o'sullivan December 19, 2018 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Bob and everyone ~great post and responses, as always.

    Plan? Plan? Here is mine. I often attempt to read within my genre of writing (supposedly romance) and more than often read in other genres, authors famous and not.

    Some old writings, semi-contemporary, and the rest, very contemporary. No erotica, no Amish.

    My ‘plan’ is based on price (because currently I have purchased more novels than my husband cares to see on the bank statement. Even my Kindle is crammed).

    Also because I purchase almost all my books through Facebook sites and Twitter (social media is not dead as marketing tools), I stop everything, look up the book and determine can I read this, is it Christian, does it have a zillion swear words, is it at least clean? Is it 180 pages or 500 pages, I prefer around 380. I read the blurb and the sample. Then, I check out how/who it is published through, although there are several authors who are self-published who do quite well, and who have awards. And yes, I do evaluate stars (though I see often where reviews are removed). I read the reviews and by the end of that, I either buy it (currently hoping for an Amazon gift card for Christmas) or put it on my wish list.

    Also, I look at cookbooks since I did once upon a time self-publish one. I don’t enjoy Stephen King’s horrors however his diction, plot, characters, grammar are perfect. I do love military/political thrillers which messes up my romance writing…

    • Jennifer Mugrage December 19, 2018 at 8:00 pm #

      “No erotica, no Amish.”

      Laughing so hard ….

      • claire o'sullivan December 20, 2018 at 2:18 am #

        better than ‘got erotica, got Amish.’ Or, sorta like no anchovies, no pineapple.

        also absolutely no Amish Zombies in Space. Nope. NOOO. It’s a real title…

        • L K Simonds December 20, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

          Funny! I laughed out loud.

        • Jennifer Mugrage December 20, 2018 at 7:47 pm #

          Yes, and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Which I haven’t read, but gosh, the title is enough to make you smile.

          The Christian satirical site Babylon Bee has an article on this. I tried to post the link just now, but messed up somehow. Anyway, the title is “Local Woman Convinced Amish Romance Novels Are Totally Not Porn.” 😀

          • claire o'sullivan December 21, 2018 at 1:44 am #

            Oh, how funny!

            Titles out there are now Amish Vampires versus Amish Zombies in Space…

            I know Amish novels are the hot ticket Christian romance genre right now, but, golly. I love the Amish lifestyle. I understand the people are wary but otherwise incredibly friendly and willing to lend a hand (except in marriage to an ‘English’). I just don’t have an interest in reading about romance in that venue. Besides, how many criminals and cops are Amish?

            ‘Ole,’ Lars’ stern look said it all. ‘We know you stole the axe from Lena’s barn.’

  14. Angela Breidenbach December 19, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

    I have a very long, fluid list of books that range education, genealogy, personal growth, fiction, history, biblical, science, writing craft, and more. I know I can’t get through that long list in one year. But I keep adding to it and working through it. I see it as a personal reading journey for my life rather than an annual plan.

  15. Joy Neal Kidney December 19, 2018 at 4:33 pm #

    I guess I’m spontaneous. I’m signed up for “Write That Book” so I’m getting acquainted with several authors who are new to me. I’m enjoying that, as well as new books dealing with WWII lately.

  16. Amy Marie December 19, 2018 at 6:58 pm #

    For the last few years, I’ve joined on online Back to Classics book club and you have twelve titles in different categories which are at least 50? years old. I try to read a good chunk of those that I chose. That is really the only planning I’ve done. Otherwise, I’m a very emotional reader! Ha! I tend to read books that are a bit more challenging in the summer and lighter books in the school year due to home educating my children. 🙂 Very interesting post! Thank you!

  17. Jennifer Mugrage December 19, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

    My reading “plan” is sort of like when we were reading Choose Your Adventure books when we were kids. You know, you start down one path, but one of pages with choices on it offers two intriguing options, so you stick your finger in there so that you can go back to it. And pretty soon you have four fingers from each hand stuck in places in the book that you want to go back to so you can explore the other path.

    Just lately, though, I have been neglecting those fingers because I have been busy landing a 747 … i.e. finishing my current WIP, which is a rather all-consuming emotional and cognitive experience which I want to enjoy fully.

  18. L K Simonds December 20, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

    Bob, I’m so envious. I don’t know how to carve out the kind of time it would take me to read that many books, though it sounds luxuriously wonderful. May I ask (and will you answer) how many hours a week do you spend reading?

  19. L K Simonds December 20, 2018 at 4:27 pm #

    Yes, the Desperate Pastor blog helped. And this current post is an inspiring read at the threshold of a fresh year. Thanks so much and Merry Christmas!

  20. Lynn L Brown December 22, 2018 at 3:47 am #

    Your reading plan is a really good idea, Bob! I’ll use it in my annual planning session for my business.

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