As a new year begins, many people commit to strict diets or exercise regimes or vow to save more money. Book nerd that I am, I like to formulate a series of “reading resolutions”—goals to help me refocus and improve my reading experience in the months to come.
Sometimes I don’t accomplish all that I hoped—I really ought to have read more literature in translation last year, though I’m glad to have encountered Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults (translated by Ann Goldstein) and Juan Pablo Villalobos’ I Don’t Expect Anyone To Believe Me (translated by Daniel Hahn)—but that isn’t exactly the point.
Sometimes, too, new resolutions form over the course of the year. Like many Americans, I sought out more work by Black writers in 2020; as a result, books by Claudia Rankine, Les and Tamara Payne, Raven Leilani, Deesha Philyaw, and Randall Kenan were among my favorites of the year.
Those caveats aside, here are my reading resolutions for 2021:
Read more literature in translation. See above. Rodrigo Fuentes’ collection of stories about life in rural Guatemala, Trout, Belly Up, translated by Ellen Jones (Charco Press, Jan. 28), looks like a good place to start, as does Sea Loves Me (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb. 23), a selection of stories by the Mozambican writer Mia Couto.
Read more to understand current events. Surely, we’ve all had enough up-to-the-minute current events, lurching from tweet to tweet, over the past four years, you say? Perhaps. But nonfiction that explores a timely topic with depth can offer insight you’ll never get from the latest breaking story on CNN or trending topic on Twitter. And, I’ll confess, my nonfiction reading often leans toward memoir, biography, and history—all worthy genres, but isn’t the point to read a bit more outside my comfort zone? A good place to start would be Charles Kenny’s The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease (Scribner, Jan. 19), which is, technically, a history, but will surely put the Covid-19 pandemic into better context. Likewise, Charles M. Blow’s The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (Harper/HarperCollins, Jan. 26) promises outside-the-box thinking about racial politics in America, suggesting that Black voters could form solid majorities if they were to reverse the Great Migration and move back to the South. “Valuable as a thought experiment alone,” says our reviewer,“but also an ‘actual plan’ for effecting lasting political change.”
Read more debut authors. It felt like 2020 was the year when books by our modern masters were met with a yawn—sorry, Messrs. Amis and DeLillo—while work from new talents thrilled ordinary readers and prize judges alike. Debut novels won both the Booker Prize and the Kirkus Prize, and dozens of others showed up on awards shortlists and best books of the year lists. A few 2021 debuts on my radar: Mateo Askaripour’s novel, Black Buck (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan. 12), Dantiel W. Moniz’s story collection, Milk Blood Heat (Grove, Feb. 2), and Zak Salih’s novel, Let’s Get Back to the Party (Algonquin, Feb. 16).
Explore the work of a writer I haven’t read. The news last month of John le Carré’s death confronted me with a sad realization: I’ve never read any of his books. What better author to explore in 2021, especially since he has such a robust backlist—up to and including his last novel, Agent Running in the Field, published in 2019? Kirkus called it a “tragicomic salute to both the recuperative powers of its has-been hero and the remarkable career of its nonpareil author.”
Here’s to a rewarding year of reading for us all. Check back in a year to see how I did.
Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.