2020 Reading Goals and Anticipated Releases

Review copies have started to feel like an obligation I don’t want. Almost as soon as one comes through the door, I regret having asked for or accepted it. (Now I have to read the danged thing, and follow through with a review!) So I’m going to cut back severely this year. The idea is to wait until late in 2020 to figure out which are the really worthwhile releases, and then only read those instead of wading through a lot of mediocre stuff.

“Until one has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover how bad the majority of them are. In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless,’ while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be ‘This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to’. … The best practice, it has always seemed to me, would be simply to ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews … to the few that seem to matter.” (from “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” in Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell)

These are the January to May 2020 releases I own so far, with perhaps a few more on the way. I acquired a lot of these in September through November, before I made the decision to cut down on review copies.


I’m also looking forward to new books by Sebastian Barry, Susanna Clarke, Stephanie Danler, Anne Enright, Yaa Gyasi, John Irving, Daisy Johnson, Daniel Kehlmann, Sue Monk Kidd, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, Maya Shanbhag Lang, Helen Macdonald, Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, Sarah Moss, Mark O’Connell, Maggie O’Farrell, Anne Tyler, Abraham Verghese, Raynor Winn and Molly Wizenberg.

I can still access new/pre-release books via my public library and NetGalley/Edelweiss, especially fiction to review for BookBrowse and nonfiction for Kirkus and the TLS.

This resolution is not about denying or punishing myself, as bloggers’ book-buying bans sometimes seem to be, so if an unmissable book (e.g. HAMNET) is offered on Twitter or via my blog, I won’t consider it cheating to say yes. FOMO will likely be a chronic condition for me this year, but ultimately I hope to do myself a favor.

With the reading time I’m saving, I plan to make major inroads into those 440 print books I own and haven’t read yet, and to do a lot of re-reading (I only managed one and a bit rereads in 2019). I might well blog less often and only feature those books that have been exceptional for me. I’ve set aside this shelf of mostly fiction that I think deserves re-reading soon:

“I do not think we go back to the exciting books,—they do not usually leave a good taste in the mouth; neither to the dull books, which leave no taste at all in the mouth; but to the quiet, mildly tonic and stimulating books,—books that have the virtues of sanity and good nature, and that keep faith with us.” (from “On the Re-Reading of Books” in Literary Values by John Burroughs)

I hope (as always) to read more classics, literature in translation and doorstoppers. Travel and biography are consistently neglected categories for me. Though I won’t set specific goals for these genres, I will aim to see measurable progress. I will also take advantage of the Wellcome Book Prize being on hiatus this year to catch up on some of the previous winners and shortlisted books that I’ve never managed to read.

Mostly, I want to avoid any situations that make me feel guilty or mean (so no more books received direct from the author, and any review books that disappoint will be quietly dropped), follow my whims, and enjoy my reading.

 

What are some of your goals (reading-related or otherwise) for 2020?

36 responses

  1. My goal is not to have any reading goals! I’m extremely good at guilt, so having obligations on the reading front is a definite no-no. I’ll continue to source ideas from people like you though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose even a book club could be seen as an obligation? (Though plenty of the members of mine rarely or never finish the book — sigh!)

      I’m glad my blog can give you some good ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gosh, our book club members are very conscientious. We always finish unless we really really can’t, and have great discussions too. It’s a really good group.

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    2. Only the three retirees and I consistently finish the books. Other people turn up with a half-read or unread copy for the socializing, which is fine, but means they can barely participate in the discussion, which is ostensibly the point!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your goals sound practical and sensible. My goal is to try and cull my TBR mountain to some sort of sensible amount, but I need to be in the right frame of mind to attempt it. After all, they are on the mountain for a reason.
    I can’t wait for the Hilary Mantel and Susanna Clarke books even though they are fiction and I so rarely read fiction. But their previous books are among my all time favourites.
    Happy New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will aim to be first in the library holds queue for Clarke and Mantel!

      I have tried to be brutal about my online TBR, but like you say, I must have heard good things about the book somehow, so unless it has a really low average rating or I really have no idea why I’d want to read it, I tend to keep it on there just in case.

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  3. Your plan sounds good! I don’t have as many review copies as you, so I’m not in desperate need of cutting back, but as you know I’d also like to re-read a lot more this year. Writing a list of my favourite posts also made me reflect that I’d like to spend more time writing longer, comparative or thematic posts and less time on lots of short book reviews. I have a few big thematic posts I’ve wanted to write for some time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PS I didn’t know Yaa Gyasi and Julianne Pachico had new books coming – exciting!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ll try not to go on NetGalley much either, unless I’m desperate to obtain one specific book. (Browsing the site is a surefire way to get dozens more books on my Kindle.)

      I really enjoy writing comparative posts or discussing a few books on a particular theme. I find that a lot more rewarding than writing a single-book review, despite what Orwell says above.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] thanks to Bookish Beck for reminding me of John Irving’s new book, Darkness As a Bride (seriously, how did I […]

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  5. Goodness knows why I forgot to add the new Irving to my ‘anticipated 2020’ list (I have only been tracking its progress for three years…).

    I cut back on ARCs last year and intend to cut back even further this year – I’m pretty hopeless at posting timely reviews of ARCS but even so, I still get sent them!

    Hope you have a relaxed reading year 🙂

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    1. Most of the time my little request e-mails result in a book dropping through my letterbox. So the challenge this year is to NOT immediately fire off an e-mail the moment I hear about an interesting book.

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  6. An excellent plan. I’m starting the year with #TBR20, so a book-buying ban until I’ve cleared 20 books from the TBR. I have Paul Auster reading week in Feb, and after that no plans, other to join in things when I fancy and not be too ruled by the tyranny of blog tours and review copies unnecessarily also. I like the idea of Wellcome Prize backlist reading though… how about the idea of an informal buddy read for the backlist for around the time it’d be on?

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    1. I thought about hosting a ‘Not the Wellcome Prize’ blog tour (inspired by the Not the Booker, run by the Guardian) where people could choose their favourite book or two that would have been eligible this year if it were running. But I’m not even sure I could get away with using the name like that. What do you think? If not, a buddy read of the backlist would be great. I will probably only read the ones I can readily access through libraries, though.

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      1. Why not ask them? They might be flattered or disinterested in the idea (either way would work in your favour) or alternatively maybe nobody answers and you are free to do as you wish. Would it be wrong to call it Not Wellcome Here? 😛

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    2. I’ll consider it! I’ve also gotten a few previously long-/shortlisted books out from the library, so at the very least I’ll catch up on them.

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  7. I often feel like that about review copies. I don’t receive too many and there are a couple of publishers who send me the kinds of things I really love, but everything else can feel overwhelming. I am trying to not put pressure on myself these days. I still have 4 books of 2019 to review, but that’s the way it is. I certainly need to buy fewer books, because financially I can’t justify it. I see a copy of The Street on your shelf, which I read and reviewed recently, it’s outstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to hear you speak up for The Street. I won a copy through a Virago giveaway and wasn’t sure about it, but it sounds like it’s a (formerly) forgotten gem. I’ll try to read it soon.

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  8. I’m always reading for my blog, or reading comps for my novel on submission, or reading to inform my novel-in-progress. In 2020, I’d like to read a couple books just for pleasure. This year, that was Ross Gay’s THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS, which I keep coming back to–maybe because I set out to read it just because.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a reasonable goal! I hope you can manage it. (The Book of Delights was one of Carolyn’s recommendations in the guest blog she did for me: https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/nonfiction-recommendations-from-carolyn-oliver/. It sounds great.)

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  9. Sounds like a sensible plan, Rebecca. I’m absolutely determined not to accept books from authors – something that I’ve managed to stick to this year. It’s just too personal if I don’t like them. Perfectly happy not to review unsolicited proofs if they don’t suit or I don’t have time; requested copies are a little different although I’ve always been clear that I’ll only review books I enjoy. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a couple of bad experiences this year where authors were (or so it seemed to me) extremely ungrateful for a 3- or 3.5-star review. This made me a little gun shy for a while and I stopped putting ratings on reviews if I thought there was any chance of the author seeing it on Twitter.

      I had just 7 unsolicited copies come in this year. One was a brilliant surprise and ended up on my best-of list at the end of the year, but several of the others I knew wouldn’t be for me and didn’t even open up. I don’t feel guilty about those, but I do somewhat about ones I request and then end up DNFing. Thus the major cutback on review copies, full stop!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sounds like a sensible plan. I can live with the Thames & Hudson books i request from their catalogues to read for Shiny each year (up to 8 books a year) and am glad to be on Dean Street Press’s list for about 3 novels twice a year, and I am fortunate that I’m not so prolific a reviewer that I get unsolicited copies. I hardly ever accept authors’ books apart from ones where I’ve worked on the book with the author, and they’re not for review as such, but gifts. I am making myself keep off NetGalley’s site and just look at emails they and publishers send me, which is working quite well.

    I plan to get the TBR back down in 2020 – and should manage that as I won’t be spending a day of each weekend working at athletics events, so more reading time. I will then do more re-reading in 2021, I hope!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point; I’d better not do any NetGalley browsing this year! It would be nice to still be able to support some smaller publishers through reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Your goals sound so wonderful, Rebecca. It makes me happy to hear you’re following more of your bookish bliss than the obligation of review copies.

    Also, I looked up that Stephanie Danler book since I loved Sweetbitterso much… wow, it looks really harrowing. Not sure I’ll be up for that. But maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m hoping it will be similar to The Glass Castle.

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  12. Paul at Halfman, Halfbook | Reply

    You seem to have come to similar conclusions as I have about review copies. I can’t keep up. I am only going to be requesting them from three or four publishers this year and will source the rest independently from the library or buying. I have so many other and library book that I want to read and I don’t think that I will suffer from FOMO too much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very sensible cutback, I think. For me it wasn’t so much feeling overwhelmed as not liking the sense of obligation, and not wanting to feel that I have to give positive reviews. I like being able to tag the author and publisher on Twitter, but people seem to get really uptight if the rating is below 4 stars.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Paul at Halfman, Halfbook

        It can feel that you are part of the marketing sausage machine at times. Then when you consider what Back Listed Pod have done by delving through the back catalogues of publishers, there is scope for much wider dialogue on all books, not just new books.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. You nailed it with your comment at the end that you want 2020 to be about enjoying your reading by following your own interests and whims rather than being pushed down a path just to fulfill a review commitment. I’ve weaned myself off Netgalley largely – very rarely go there now because I know if I do, I’ll end up requesting. I did end up with a load of ARCs at the end of the year because of a secret santa organiser who got carried away and asked lots of publishers for books. A few look interesting but most are YA or very light books which don’t hold much attraction for me. Since I never made the request personally, I don’t feel obliged to read or review them…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even a quick browse of NetGalley or Edelweiss seems to end with me requesting loads of books, so I’m going to try to visit the sites only when I have a review to post, or one book to request for a particular reason.

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      1. Good plan. I haven’t even dared look at Edelweiss

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  14. Ahhh! That Orwell quotation. It makes me giggle. Today, I do not agree. But I seem to recall feeling differently about this when I wasn’t quite so picky about selecting what I’d like to write on. And I assume that he, with his journalistic experience, would have had much more reason to possess that perspective.

    I’m excited on your behalf, by the idea of your drawing some borders around your reading time so that your choices suit you more in the moment. It’s so fun to feel a sense of obligation towards reading – it’s time-consuming as it is, so one should enjoy it as much as possible! (Which, when it’s work, admittedly is a little complicated.)

    And I agree that it’s hard to make time for rereading. Some might think that, when one reads an inordinate amount, that it’s easier to fit in the old faves and rereading in general, but I feel like it’s the opposite, because you are sharply aware that you could be even more up-to-date and read just a few more fresh releases, and how tempting is that! 🙂 Good luck with the FOMO though…

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    1. I’ve managed to finish one reread so far this year. If I try to have one or two on the go at all times I could probably get through 20 this year, which is not as many as I set aside on that shelf but would be miles ahead of what I’ve managed in other years. I’m itchy to start a whole new pile of books, but with 18 that I’m currently reading it will be a while yet. Am I allowed to start more if I can get that down to 10 by the end of the weekend? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, absolutely. Ten is an invitation to me, as well. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  15. […] halfway through the year: how am I doing on the reading goals I set for myself? Pretty […]

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