Of course, like most people, I do aspire to be healthier in the New Year. Maybe I really will stop buying vanilla caramel chocolates to keep at my desk, and I'll pull out that Jillian Michaels video and my yoga mat more than once a month. Maybe, even though I've failed in this resolution every year, 2014 will see me transform into a paragon of health and fitness.
My real resolution, however, involves a different kind of muscle -- one that's been atrophying in recent years. Yes, it's my brain, which needs to be strengthened with a healthy reading regimen. (Is the brain technically a muscle? No matter. You get the point.) Thinking over my weekly routine recently, I was horrified to notice how much my parents' early attempts to instill a lifelong love of reading in me had been eroded. How many days did I come home from work and immediately open Parks and Recreation on Netflix... then keep it playing until I fell asleep? How many Sundays were spent running unnecessary errands and watching football? I don't even like football. But staring at whatever game my boyfriend had chosen to watch on TV often seemed easier than cracking open a book.
Now, obviously there's nothing wrong with a little TV, and the duties of adulthood require time to be spent on cleaning, running errands, and, of course, focusing on work. But I'd started to use the mental demands of my job -- and the ability of my cat to cover every surface of my apartment in fur within minutes of the last vacuuming -- as excuses to stop challenging myself. By the time I felt too lazy to even watch hour-long dramas on TV ("They're just so much commitment," I heard myself telling friends, explaining why I still hadn't sampled Mad Men or Friday Night Lights), the situation had become dire.
As the weather turned cold, the extra time indoors gave me the perfect opportunity to work on my problem. I started in with a hefty book by Saul Bellow, who I'd never gotten around to reading in the past. After 100 pages, I realized I hadn't opened the book in days. Despite my good intentions, if it came down to Augie March or Netflix after a long, stressful day in the office, Netflix was going to win every time. Time to dial back the expectations -- I was easing back in, not starting a doctorate degree, right? I had more success with the Bridget Jones series, then The Hunger Games. So far, so good. Getting back into the habit of poring through the pages of a book rather than gazing at a screen was more daunting than I'd expected, but light, plot-driven tales coaxed me through.
As an English major and someone who has identified as "a reader" her whole life, the idea of being out of practice at reading was foreign. I simply thought I'd always read as easily as I ever had. But reading, like everything else, is a skill that gets rusty with underuse, and that's exactly what had begun to happen. So here's my first resolution: Every day, for the entire year, I'm going to sit down with a book. Some days it may only be a few pages. Hopefully some days it will be a whole book (okay, a very short book). Making it a daily habit is the most important thing to me -- turning off the computer, silencing the phone, and focusing on the words on the page in front of me.
At the moment, that resolution sounds challenging enough, but I'd like to add one more. Like many readers, I have a hard time looking outside the (predominantly white male) mainstream of fiction. I've read Franzen, Eugenides, and Lethem, and many of their works were fantastic -- but in my quest to read each year's critical darlings I missed out on so many less-heralded works that might have given me a greater diversity of perspectives. Knowing that the literary establishment struggles to fairly represent women and, to an even greater degree, people of color, this year I resolve to seek out wonderful authors who fall into those categories. And if I'm reading every day, hopefully I'll have time for the New York Review of Books picks AND those from less well-publicized writers.
In a society where around a quarter of adults haven't read a full book in the past year, maybe we should all determine to read more in the new year. With the ever-increasing distractions of technology, even the already-avowed book lovers among us may need to recommit to the world of literature, to reading a book instead of just switching on our favorite podcast before bed or cutting off our Internet browsing an hour early so we can read a novel instead of 13 more articles depicting the cutest pug/golden retriever/otter puppies ever. (There's time for both in the day, right?) There are many ways to resolve to be a better reader in 2014 -- you could vow to read Modern Library's Top 100 Novels (or, let's be realistic, the top 10); you could try to finish an epic like War and Peace or Infinite Jest every month; you could read only books written by women or only books in a genre you'd previously avoided (hello non-fiction, maybe I'll get to you next year). You could resolve to be a better writer by setting ambitious daily writing goals or setting a date for finishing the first draft of your nascent novel. Whatever it is, give it a shot -- your mind will thank you for the workout just as much as your body.