Three years ago, one of my first-ever blog posts bemoaned my willingness to be distracted from writing because I love to watch the birds at my backyard feeder on snowy days. There was no good place to sit near the window, so I would keep hopping up from my desk to see what was going on.
I fixed that problem. I installed a window seat that overlooks my bird feeder.
Is there a dedicated reader in the world who doesn’t long for, daydream about, fantasize over having a window seat? I don’t know — maybe it’s a chick thing — but I’ve always wanted one. Mine is outfitted with a deep cushion, pillows, and a blanket, and it’s my favorite spot in the house. Whenever I snap a photo of what I’m reading for a #FridayReads tweet, you can be sure the book is on my window seat, where I will be joining it shortly.
So, what books will I be hanging out with in the window seat this year?
I know plenty of people who set reading goals for themselves and participate in numerous reading challenges during the year. Sorry — way too much pressure. Rest assured that plenty of books will be read, but I will not be attempting to meet a pre-ordained number. That is just not how I and my window seat roll.
Nonetheless, I can certainly tell you some of what I plan to read this year. Last time in this same spot, we visited my toppling TBR stack, which, for safety’s sake, is not in the same room as the window seat. There is, however, a short stack of six or seven books on the table next to the seat.
Reading for review: In a reading-taste shift that I would not have predicted, I find that I am drawn as much to nonfiction as to fiction in reading for review. More than half of what I read in 2017 was nonfiction, across an eclectic range of subjects. The last book I finished in December was Island of the Blue Foxes about early Russian exploration in the Pacific. Coming up are two that are due out in February: A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice by William E. Glassley, and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker. I’m a bit less than halfway through Enlightenment, but I’ve already recommended it to a half-dozen people. Stay tuned to find out why.
Reading for a discussion panel: This May, at the Independent-sponsored Washington Writers Conference, I’m moderating a panel on debut authors, all of whom worked in different genres and went down different publishing paths. I’ll be reading their four books in the coming months, and you should feel free to follow along:
- A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur’s Struggle for Purpose by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre.
- Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College by Caroline Kitchener.
- Flood: A Novel by Melissa Scholes Young (reviewed here).
- Don’t Wait to Be Called by Jacob R. Weber (reviewed here).
Reading for Research: Though I’m sure I’ll read a stack of fiction, since reading exceptional fiction helps to up my own game, I’m going to take a flyer and say that reading for research is where the bulk of my attention is going to be focused this year. Certainly, that’s where it needs to be focused. In the blog posting I mentioned earlier, I firmly stated that I was planning to shave a few years off the five years it took to write my first book. Tick tock, baby.
As I noted here last time, my current work in progress, though it only focuses on the years between 1913 and 1932, covers a whole lot of historical thematic ground. (One of the main characters is a journalist who’s chronicling the fight for women’s and minorities’ rights, the blatant, socially accepted re-emergence of the KKK, and a crackdown by an embattled administration that rails against agitators and paid protesters. I find that researching all this helps to take my mind off of current events.)
And though I’ve accumulated a stack of books on the various forces at work during my chosen slice of history, I plan to do much of my research in the newspaper morgue of the Washingtoniana collection, which is currently spread out in various nooks across DC while the MLK Library is under renovation — but also partly available online. Hurrah! If I play my cards right, I won’t have to move a muscle.
One thing I learned well in writing my previous book, though, is to do writing-driven, just-in-time research. Yes, understand the outlines of the historical forces and timeline, but don’t drill down until you have to. Otherwise, the research swallows the writing.
So, more than any book or online archive, in 2018, it’s my laptop that I’ll be inviting to join me in my cozy little window seat. Writing is what I need to be doing this year. Writing is the reason I installed the window seat in the first place. I still love watching the birds.
This column originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books on 11 January 2018.