Well I’m late in getting this out there, but I wanted to share a few thoughts about reading in 2021. And I don’t just mean my own reading goals or what books are coming out. I mean that now, if ever, seems to me a good time to stop and think about what it means to be reading at this time – in the year following the infamous 2020. What does reading mean in the midst of a global pandemic, following a year of political divides and civil unrest? A year of financial crisis, environmental disasters (as I write this, most of Texas is without power following a crazy snow storm), and racial injustice?
I believed that in this moment, reading means a lot of things. But more than anything else, it means community.
I see a lot of readers setting themselves challenges – a certain number of books, books in certain genres or categories, a particular prize list of books, “50 books by Gemini authors”, fill-out-this-bingo-card-of-books, etc. And all of these are great approaches to reading. And in fact, they are the kind of challenges that I’ve often used to push myself to read more. But recently I’ve realized the limitation of “reading more” versus becoming a better reader.
What do I mean by “better reader”? I don’t mean reading faster. I don’t mean reading James Joyce. I mean connecting reading to real life. I mean connection and community.
In this pandemic, we’ve all experienced some level of isolation. Many of us turned to books as a way of connecting with the outside world, and that is powerful. But it is not as powerful as the dialogue that exists between readers after those books are closed. The way that the literary community has adjusted to our new “virtual” reality has been astounding. Book clubs, lectures, classes, and readings have continue to connect readers virtually. Whole conferences, open mics, and writing programs are being offered in virtual formats. And even though this has been going on for some time, it took me a long time to understand how these types of activities could make me a “better reader”.
Recently, I just so happened to attend a reading with three authors who’s books I’ve read in the past 6 months. And their discussion (on craft, on subject matter, on theme, on process, on the publishing industry, on academia…) has been on my mind all week. For the first time in months, I felt the way that literature, writers, and readers come together to make up a community. And not just any community, but one that is capable of educating, of connecting people, and of fostering real change. If we don’t talk about Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste or Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, then we are limiting the potential our reading has to affect change in our world.
I think that readers deserve better. So this year, 2021, my goal is to read in order to connect. To learn. To change.