Our Reading Lives

Reader Resolutions: Why I’m Going To Write in My Books in 2015

Johann Thorsson

Staff Writer

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984, Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient. He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If you are anything like me (and I suspect you may be, since you are reading this) your resolution my have something to do with books. Well, here is my readerly resolution for next year: I am going to destroy my books. Not in the kill-them-with-fire-from-space kind of way usually reserved only for Australian spiders, but in the write-in-them-with-a-pen kind of way.

You see, my books are usually still in pristine condition after reading. I bend the spine as little as I can while reading, and I get dizzy just thinking about marking books, even with a pencil. But the idea of reading more actively has been swimming around in the back of my head recently, of somehow immersing myself more in the text. Of conversing with the writer, if you will.

I then read a post in The New York Review of Books blog that allowed me to commit to the decision.

Try this experiment, I eventually told them: from now on always read with a pen in your hands, not beside you on the table, but actually in your hand, ready, armed. And always make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical, even aggressive. Put a question mark by everything you find suspect. Underline anything you really appreciate. Feel free to write “splendid,” but also, “I don’t believe a word of it.” And even “bullshit.”

And this, from the same:

Some readers will fear that the pen-in-hand approach denies us those wonderful moments when we fall under a writer’s spell, the moments when we succumb to a style, and are happy to succumb to it, when suddenly it seems to us that this approach to the world, be it Proust’s or Woolf’s or Beckett’s or Bernhard’s, is really, at least for the moment, the only approach we are interested in, moments that are no doubt among the most exciting in our reading experience.

No, I wouldn’t want to miss out on that. But if writers are to entice us into their vision, let us make them work for it.

I think this approach will allow me to enjoy my books more, and will make reading more of a project. It may also add a little fun and a sense of mischief to my reading. After making this decision I’m actually really looking forward to to it.

Another, more shocking thing I’m thinking of doing next year is a blasphemy among us book people… I’m going to try to not buy any new books.

My shelves are already full of books, many of which I have yet to read, many of which I really want to re-read. Next year, for instance, I plan to finally read (and destroy) Anna Karenina, re-read Moby-Dick and finish my recently purchased collection of Alice Munro stories. I’ll take another stab at Gravity’s Rainbow and re-read To Kill a Mockingbird.

My Kindle alone has enough books to sustain me through most of 2015. I fear that I will crack sometime around the middle of February and go on a mad Amazon shopping spree. But maybe not. We’ll see.

What about you, what crazy bookish New-Year’s resolutions are you considering?