Writers and Editors on their Literary Resolutions
As far as resolutions go, drinking less or working out more seem so familiar, so perennial, that they’re impersonal and doomed for failure. For my New Year’s resolution I looked for one that spoke to my individual excesses and shortfalls directly. So as 2014 came to a close I turned to my bookshelves as a way to take inventory of my life and look for ways I could improve myself. I’ll make this admission: if my bookcases were submitted to a VIDA count, I’d have a lot of explaining to do. Reading better seemed like a more worthy goal for 2015.
What what would “reading better” look like? I remembered learning that Alexander Chee read only books by women authors for three years, and that seemed like an experience I could benefit from. But improving the diversity in my reading list shouldn’t stop with gender. For the next 12 months, I won’t read any books written by straight white men. I plan to enrich my daily life by making certain there’s room for diversity in my reading life. And hopefully that experience will influence my reading choices and general outlook for years to come. By making this resolution public but publishing it here, I’m holding myself accountable and doing what I can to make it stick.
While creating a more inclusive TBR pile for 2015 (please feel free to suggest titles by tweeting them at @benasam), I wondered if there were more folks making literary resolutions. So starting with Alexander Chee, I reached out to writers, editors, and others in the literary world to see what changes they were planning and was happy to receive an enthusiastic response. These responses may inspire you to make similar resolutions for yourself, but don’t be afraid to add some new ones in the comments.
“My resolution is: I am handwriting the 1st draft of my new novel. I have resolved to handwrite first drafts next year for everything I can. Also to read more alone in bars.”
– Alexander Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh, and The Queen of the Night, forthcoming 2/16 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, The New York Times Book Review, and The Morning News, among others. He teaches writing at Columbia University.
“My literary resolution is to stop being so precious about writing and treating it like this fraught important thing when really it is just a job. I have a bad tendency to only write when I have a lot of hours free and conditions are good, and I want to get better at taking little scraps of time where I can. The way I treat it now is as if a prep cook decided she could only chop 10 lbs of onions if she had a perfectly sharpened knife and could take the time to get the ideal angle on each little slice. If I keep acting like that, the onions will never get chopped. So to speak. Man, if I’d thought about it a little bit longer I could have come up with a better metaphor but, in the spirit of my resolution, WHATEVER!”
– Emily Gould is the author of Friendship and the co-owner, with Ruth Curry, of Emily Books.
“My literary resolutions are the same as my non-literary ones (namely, nonexistent). But let’s say hypothetically:
Make every (literary) decision with the knowledge that death awaits and there is no time for the inessential.
Stop being so morbid. Lighten up for Christ’s sake.
Overcome the crippling ambivalence I feel toward pretty much everything except Leonard Michaels and coffee.
Drink less coffee. Or, on occasion, more.”
– Yelena Akhtiorskaya has written a novel called Panic in a Suitcase, which came out this summer and caused her both elation and stress. She also writes short stories about her parents’ friends, most of which have appeared in N+1. She grew up in Brighton Beach. She now lives on the upper west side with her cat, but it is not as bad as it sounds.
“My new year’s resolution is to finally finish building my time machine, so I can travel 20 years back in time and convince my younger self to never write about time travel.”
– Alex Epstein was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight. He is the author of ten works of fiction in Hebrew, and in 2003 was awarded the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. His work has appeared in Guernica, Iowa Review, Electric Literature, Words Without Borders, Kenyon Review, PEN America, and elsewhere. He lives in Tel Aviv. Two of his collections of micro-fiction, Blue Has No South and Lunar Savings Time, are available in English from Clockroot Books.
“I resolve to read more work in translation. Two of my favorite author discoveries last year were translated from another language. As a writer, I think it’s a great way to learn about voice.”
– Catherine Lacey is the author of Nobody Is Ever Missing.
“My goals are to set aside at least one hour a day for uninterrupted personal reading, read more women, and to write everyday — none of which I have done with any consistency. Oh yeah, I’d also like to learn a few new words every week. I’m pretty good with attending readings, so no resolutions to that end. Just need to stay consistent.”
– Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel The Residue Years was praised by publications including The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Times of London, and The Sydney Morning Herald. The novel was honored with the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the Center For Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First novel prize, the PEN/ Hemingway Award For First Fiction, and the Hurston / Wright Legacy Award. Jackson has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, The Center For Fiction, and the Urban Artist Initiative. Jackson teaches writing at New York University and Columbia University. Find him at www.mitchellsjackson.com or @mitchsjackson.
“I recently had something of a probate hearing for all my books: each was considered and recommended for continued inclusion in my collection — or not. I kept those I’ve read and loved; I kept those I haven’t read but intend to; and I kept those given to me by someone important to me, whether or not I plan to read them. The others were sold to the local used bookstore. I received $99 for them, which purchased groceries, sixty pounds of timothy hay pellets for my large rabbit, and a glass of tempranillo. I like thinking that the unwanted books were nevertheless consumed, via conversion into food and drink for me and my family. My literary resolution this year is to buy no new books until I’ve read all the books I already have, and I don’t expect one year will be nearly enough time for the task.”
– Merritt Tierce is the author of the novel Love Me Back (Doubleday). She is a 2013 National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree and a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She lives in Texas with her husband and children.
“I need to ritualize my writing habits in 2015. What that means is every day, at a certain time, for a certain amount of time, I need to be working at my desk. I usually write pretty regularly, but right now writing occupies the same head space in my life as “going to the gym.” Fingers crossed, in 2015 it’ll be closer to “brushing your teeth.”
– Bill Cheng is the author of Southern Cross the Dog.
“Although I knew it in theory, the events of this year really brought home the fact that reading is a political act. For 2015, my goal is to read 2:1 — two books written by or about people of color for every book by or about a white person. In 2014 I read more internationally, which got me beyond my own country; now it’s time to get beyond my own skin.”
– Jenn Northington has worked in books since 2004, as a bookseller and events planner. She’s also the co-founder of the Bookrageous podcast and a freelance writer and reviewer.
“Until relatively recently, I worked in film. During these pre-publishing days, I made sure to keep a notebook full of impressions, sentences, dates, titles, and threads of thought inspired by what I was reading. Now that books are work-related and part of my daily conversations, I’ve become lazy about this kind of record-keeping, about making sure there is a personal account of what I’ve consumed, learned, loved, and hated. In 2015, I’d like to make sure I return to putting my book-related thoughts in a notebook, because tracking how and why and what and where I read means, for me, a return to the love of it, rather than just a mercenary plowing through the TBR pile.”
“My literary new year’s resolution is to read slower. I want to try and re-discover the kind of reading where you savor every page instead of thinking about unread emails, progress through the book, progress through the to-be-read pile, and the quantity of remaining tea bags in cupboard.”
– Jonathan Lee is the Associate Editor of A Public Space and author of the forthcoming novel High Dive
“My resolution is to read fewer books. I finished 161 books in 2014, which is just too many. I know it sounds like I’m bragging (I am, a little), but staying up on lit means reading quickly and voraciously. Thinking back on all 161 of those books, I’ve retained so little of any of them. In 2015, I’m going to do less — read slower, more deliberately. In a way, my resolution is to be more patient.”
– Kevin Nguyen is the Editorial Director of Oyster and edits The Oyster Review.
“In honor of the read-a-thons that brought me such joy in elementary school, in 2015 I’ve resolved to have a monthly personal read-a-thon. No errands or grading or dishes. Just me and some snacks and a pile of books. Maybe I’ll go for a run at some point during the day, but probably not.
– Kirstin Valdez Quade received a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Narrative, The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, she currently teaches at the University of Michigan. Her debut story collection, , is due out this March from W. W. Norton & Company.
“I don’t typically resolve at the end of the year, because I put too much arbitrary pressure on myself as it is. That said, one thing I’m starting to realize I’d like to do more is: I need to remember that no one expects anything from me, writing-wise. If I gave up forever or wrote seven unimpeachable novels in the next year, the global/historical impact would be minimal to zero. So, if I’m going to keep at it, I should allow myself to do what I want, and try not to worry too much about what a thing is or how it might fit into the rest of the world. If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that that part is out of my control anyway.”
– Colin Winnette is the author of several books, most recently Coyote (Les Figues Press). His new novel, Haints Stay, is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in 2015. It’s a western. A quick google search will reveal that his website is colinwinnette.net.
“My literary resolution for 2015 is to read more books by dead writers. As an editor, there is a constant pressure to read the hot young literary bestseller, and I don’t have anything against writers who are alive, but reading (or even rereading!) more classics would be a wonderful way to recalibrate and try to consider the big picture. I hold out hope that some of the books that I work on will be read in, say, thirty years’ time, so I really should be measuring them against those that have already proven themselves truly enduring reads. The list of masterworks of literature that I’ve never read is too long and embarrassing to list here, but Moby-Dick and Confederacy of Dunces come to mind…”
– Peter Blackstock is an editor at Grove Atlantic. His acquisitions include Fobbit by David Abrams, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris, the forthcoming debut novel The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and a collection of stories by actor Jesse Eisenberg. He lives in Queens, New York.
“My resolution is to buy more books. I mean that literally. I don’t pirate books, but as a writer/editor/critic I receive a lot of review copies and I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped supporting writers, presses, and bookstores as much as I should. We have to support the things we care about if they are going to continue to exist, and (for better or worse) that tends to mean spending money. Books are more important to me than a few more extra cups of coffee each month. I also aim to read more diversely, in every sense of the word. As a writer, I hope to finish that one almost done novel, finish a draft of that other novel, work on that one short story, finally finish that other thing, do a few more of those things, maybe work on that big thing, and write those other things at least a few times.”
– Lincoln Michel is the online editor of Electric Literature and the coeditor of Gigantic. His debut collection, Upright Beasts, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.
“My resolution for this year is the same as every year — read and mark my thoughts on the stories in Best American Short Stories, write letters to Steven Heighton, attend at least two Selected Shorts, excavate the spirit of Jack Kerouac and ask him what he thinks of the new draft, attend readings, tell person reading they did a good job, and special for this year: screw up courage to begin this reading series I’ve been thinking about. This is in addition to my goals for writing, being a human, erring on the side of kindness or absence, getting bangs, etc, etc…”
– Marie-Helene Bertino’s debut novel 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS is a Barnes & Noble Fall ’14 Discover Great New Writers pick and an NPR Best Book of 2014. Her debut collection of short stories SAFE AS HOUSES received The 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was named an Outstanding Collection by The Story Prize. She teaches at NYU and in the low-residency MFA program at IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts). For more information, please visit: www.mariehelenebertino.com.
“I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of Patrick Modiano until he won the Nobel Prize in 2014. So this year I’m set to familiarize myself with his oeuvre, starting with his 1978 novel Missing Person. A detective thriller + meditation on identity? That’s my jam.”
“My resolution is to read or reread a handful of classics that I either haven’t had the chance to pick up or that I read in high school where I’m guessing I skipped through a lot, and didn’t quite appreciate the book as much as I would now, ten pages a day until I finish. I recently did this with Don Quixote, and now I’m looking at a few George Eliot books I’d like to check out, some Dickens, and a handful of books Melville House reissued in the Neversink Library series.”
– Jason Diamond is the founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn. He’s an Associate Editor at Mensjournal.com, and a columnist at Electric Literature.