Reading Widely, Thinking Deeply

How to Create a 2018 Reading Plan, with Suggestions for Getting Started

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The Rationale

Each December, I begin to think of new things for a fresh year. I’m not a resolution maker per se, but it just feels right to make plans, tie up loose ends and lean optimistically toward the future. I never start a new year without a reading plan. My lofty reading aspirations sometimes get sidetracked around the middle of June, but it’s good exercise — mentally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually – to create a reading plan and stick to it as closely as I can.

When I was in my 20’s, I finished an undergraduate degree in English and then did two intensive years of graduate work, all while trying to maintain a home and juggle being a wife and mama. It took a toll, and I found myself not reading much of anything for several years after graduate school.

Once I found my way back to books, it felt so good to hold them, smell them, look through every page, cover to cover. I began to enjoy again what had become a dull, academic exercise in futility (or at least it felt that way after six years of college). Now, 20 years later, I am back to full-on book nerd status.


The idea for an annual reading plan came from a history professor at a small four-year college in rural Nebraska. It was at that place, with that educator, where I learned the value of reading deeply and widely. And so, each December I sit with a cup of rooibos tea on a dreary day and create my new reading plan. My list is not meant to be comprehensive, and it truly has no rhyme or reason. I read what pleases me, what I’m confident will hold my interest, what feels relevant.

I gather book suggestions from Instagram posts, friends, blogs, and my local library shelves. I include things to challenge myself, but I also list books that are purely for comfort. I sometimes choose books I want to re-read, as a woman with more life experience. I endeavor to include diverse voices, and I don’t worry about length, genre or when a work was published. I give myself space to cross a book off my list later, and I always add things throughout the year.

Be Gentle

While I am vigilant about creating a reading plan and following through, I am careful not to pile guilt on myself when I don’t get around to reading everything on my list. It’s meant to be fun, and I strive to keep it that way all year long.

The List

Below, I’ve listed 10 books included in my 2018 reading plan, with a brief annotation about why I’ll be reading each one. Maybe you’re reading some of the same books. Or perhaps you are out there, creating your own list of 2018 reads. Good for you! We can do this!

1. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I read Coates’ densely-packed essay, “The First White President,” in The Atlantic back in October, and I knew at least one of his books would be at the top of my reading plan.

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The debut novel by Thomas, this book is a recommendation from an Instagram acquaintance. I am confident this book will be important for 2018 and beyond.

3. Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser

Kooser’s poetry is accessible and magical. He’s a former poet laureate and a Nebraskan who lives about 50 miles from me. When he writes about the Nebraska I know and love, it speaks to my soul.

4. Collected Works by Flannery O’Connor

I add O’Connor to my reading plan every year because she’s my favorite writer. No longer in vogue on college campuses, O’Connor still has much to teach us about religion, manners and the darkly comic.

5. The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Dr. Shefali Tsabary

Although I have a grown son and a teen, I truly believe in Dr. Tsabary’s research. Her message is timeless and crucial for every parent.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I haven’t read this novel since I was a freshman in college, and it feels like a good year to re-visit Dickens.

7. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This novel changed my life when I read it as an undergraduate. It stretched my thinking and opened my heart in the very best way. I cannot wait to embrace it like an old friend.

8. “An American Land Ethic” by N. Scott Momaday

This ground-breaking essay is something I have read several times over the past 20 years. It now seems more relevant than ever.

9. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Each year, I try to read a Shakespeare play in conjunction with what our Nebraska Shakespeare team will be presenting in Omaha during the summer’s Shakespeare on the Green performances. This not only keeps me reading Shakespeare, but it’s fun preparation for the summer theater season.

10. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Safran Foer’s latest novel, published in June 2017, seems like a perfect addition to my 2018 reading plan. One of the most unique voices writing today, Safran Foer’s worldview is something I need in my life in 2018.

There you have it. My 2018 reading plan is eclectic and designed to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, challenge my thinking and remind me why reading is a passion worth pursuing. Here’s hoping your 2018 reading causes deep thinking, frequent laughter and much happiness.

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