If you want to stick with a New Year’s resolution, research suggests adding something good to your life, rather than trying to subtract something you think is bad.
Denying yourself something you want requires a constant struggle, one you’re likely to lose. With enough willpower, you can sometimes get over the hump of that desire and truly change behaviors, but the odds aren’t great.
On the other hand, if you’re adding something that enhances your life, you create a virtuous circle that reinforces the change.
When it comes to reading resolutions, this is pretty easy to achieve. In past years, for example, I’ve pledged to myself to read for at least an hour every day that’s not before bed — when I’m more likely to fall asleep than read — and to diversify my reading by seeking out more authors from nonwhite backgrounds, as well as more books in translation.
This has resulted in changes to behavior that I no longer notice as changes. They’re simply now regular parts of my reading routine.
This year I’ve given myself two reading resolutions.
One is to seek out more books that were popular or critically acclaimed in their time, but that are largely forgotten today. This is motivated by my experience with Thomas Rogers’ “The Confession of a Child of the Century.” The book was published in 1972 and was a finalist for the National Book Award but has been largely forgotten. It turned out to be fantastic.
I’m starting with two books that were finalists for the 1973 National Book Award that I’d also never heard of, “Hermaphrodeity” by onetime, longtime University of Illinois-Chicago professor Alan Friedman, and “The Late Great Creature” by Brock Brower .
If I run short on ideas, I’m going to turn to NeglectedBooks, a passion project website run by Brad Bigelow filled with articles and lists of literally thousands of books that once merited significant attention, but have now been largely forgotten. Bigelow is starting a reading group of selected neglected books for 2023 that looks like a fun way to commune with other readers drawn to the less-beaten path.
My other New Year’s reading resolution is to read more crime and suspense fiction. You might be asking why I want to introduce more stories of death and mayhem into my life, and the answer is that I really enjoy them, but sometimes I forget.
Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels are among my favorite books of all time. Laura Lippman is one of my favorite living authors. I read every book she publishes. Megan Abbott, Lori Rader-Day and Lisa Lutz are all authors whose next books I look forward to with anticipation.
But looking back on my 2022 reading, I see a relative dearth of books in this category. It looks like I got a bit sucked into the literary fiction scene that is my bread and butter in terms of both what I read and what I recommend. No complaints — I had a great year of reading — but a little more variety to the diet, makes everything taste fresher.
In order to find these books, I’m going to two sources. One is the CrimeReads website, which covers new and old mystery and suspense books across dozens of publishers. The other is writer and critic Sarah Weinman’s crime fiction columns in The New York Times. I’ll let the experts do the sorting for me in order to make sure it’s all wheat and no chaff.
If you want help reading something new, just send me your last five reads, and I’ll do my best to surprise.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Gradle Bird” by J.C. Sasser
2. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
3. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
4. “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole
5. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier
— Charles G., Oak Park
I see a pull toward Southern fiction here. I’m going to lean in and suggest a classic about one man’s search for meaning, “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy.
1. “Normal People” by Sally Rooney
2. “Atonement” by Ian McEwan
3. “American War” by Omar El Akkad
4. “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver
5. “Mouth to Mouth” by Antoine Wilson
— Bea T., Tucson, Arizona
I’m in a classic kind of mood I guess, because I’m recommending a different kind of war story, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
1. “Stones for Ibarra” by Harriet Doer
2. “This Is Happiness” by Niall Williams
3. “This Time Tomorrow” by Emma Straub
4. “The Paper Palace” by Miranda Cowley Heller
5. “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin
— Jennifer P., Chicago
Jennifer can start the year with a book that may lead her to other books in the same series, which means the Biblioracle may have her covered through all of January and into February, depending on reading speed: “My Name Is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout.
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].