A Guide to Creating (and Actually Finishing) a Reading List for This Year
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New books, backlist titles, and classics, oh my! I get goosebumps thinking about approaching a new year and the endless reading possibilities it always holds. Pondering what my 2022 reading list looks like is both exciting… and terrifying. As much as I wish I could, I can’t read all the books — there’s only so much time in the day.
If you’re like me and constantly adding books to your impossibly long “To Be Read” (TBR) list, figuring out what to read can feel completely overwhelming. So, for 2022, I wanted to create a reading list that I can actually accomplish.
Whether you’re an avid reader or are simply looking to read more and don’t know where to start, here are 12 steps to take that will help you build a feasible reading list to accomplish over the next year. And feel free to use the template above to write down books for your 2022 reading list as they come to you!
1. Do a self-audit of the books that you’ve enjoyed from the past three years.
Taking a look at your favorite reads is a great way to figure out what books you might enjoy in the future. And one way to take inventory of your beloved novels is by making a spreadsheet.
You can use a number of free services like Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, or Apple Numbers, depending on what device you have. Grabbing paper and pen works, too. Along with the book title and author, include the genre (i.e., fiction, romance, nonfiction, etc.), length, and type (i.e., short stories, novellas, etc.) — really, any information that will help identify your reading preferences.
If making a spreadsheet isn’t the route you want to take, Erik Nilsson, founder of BookSummaryClub, a platform dubbed “Sparknotes for business owners,” suggests writing this information in the notes app on your phone. “It allows you to look at the list even when you’re on the go. So, if you’re in a bookstore, [you can] open your phone to see which genres you are most likely to read,” Nilsson tells Apartment Therapy. He says this will help you “actually invest in something that you’ll be happy reading.”
Or, you can do what Alyssa Kuchta, author of “Follow Your Bliss,” does: “I like to give books as gifts, so while I don’t do a formal audit, around the holidays I reflect on the books I’ve read throughout the year and consider which I enjoyed the most/would want to share with my friends.” In doing so, Kuchta gets a good sense of the types of books she has been reading as well as the books she wants to read more of.
2. Build a list for a range of moods.
Do you find yourself looking for feel-good love stories around the holidays? Or maybe you crave travel and adventure books when the weather gets cold. Whatever the case, Brianna Goodman, the Editorial Director for Book of the Month, recommends building a list that can suit a variety of moods.
“Something fantastical for when you want an escape, something thought-provoking for when you want to learn, something that will wreck you when you need a good cry,” Goodman says. “Right now you might be surrounded by mistletoe and in the mood to read love story after love story, but who knows how you’ll be feeling three months from now.” This way, when the mood strikes, you don’t have to go searching for the perfect book.
3. Figure out what books from this past year’s TBR list should roll over into the new year.
Not every book will make the cut, and that’s OK. “I think a lot of readers (myself included) feel guilty about books that sit unread on their shelves for too long, so it can be tempting to load up your TBR with a bunch of books you’ve ‘always meant to read,'” Goodman says, “But honestly, if they’ve been sitting on your shelf for a while now, there might be a reason for it.”
Instead of bringing the entirety of last year’s TBR, ask yourself: Are there books with topics or genres I’m no longer interested in? What books would I like to read, just not anytime soon? Are there any books I’ve acquired but don’t see myself actually reading? Those are the books that should stay behind.
Goodman suggests adding your most recent book purchases to the top of your 2022 book list. “Something about the books you bought recently caught the attention of the reader you are now,” she says, “so chances are, these are the books you’re most excited to read and most likely to check off your list.”
4. Reflect on the genres, page lengths, and word size that work best for your interests/habits.
Once you’ve finished your audit and can see your reading trends, take a look at your top genres, page lengths, and — if you want to get granular — word size. Are you reading shorter books? Perhaps you like big, thick reads. Maybe you tend to lean towards eBooks so that you can adjust the font size. You’re creating your reading list, so follow your interests and habits.
Goodman recommends identifying commonalities like the topic or setting. “[It] is a great way to pinpoint the kinds of books you love and will be most likely to finish next year,” Goodman explains. But, she adds, don’t be afraid to shake things up. “If you love murder mysteries because they keep you on the edge of your seat, maybe throw a family drama on your list. Or if you always read books set in the present, maybe try out something set in another time period,” she says. “One of the best feelings is discovering a book you love that’s unlike anything you’ve read before.”
5. Figure out a realistic monthly book quota.
Since all books vary in length, an excellent way to think about your monthly quota is in terms of pages. First, look back at your audit and calculate the average amount of pages you read in a month. You can do this by adding up all the pages you’ve read in the past year and dividing by 12. Then create a monthly reading goal based on that average. For example, if you read about 800 pages a month and plan on diving into Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life,” which clocks in around 720 pages, it’s most likely going to be the only book you read that month. By being honest with how much you can read, you set yourself up for success.
However, keep in mind that you may have had a lot more time to read during the pandemic than you will going forward. Set your monthly goal slightly lower than your calculated pages per month to give yourself some leeway.
6. Don’t be afraid to DNF (Do Not Finish).
Life is too short to read something you’re not vibing with. So permit yourself to put down a book that you’re not enjoying. “There’s nothing worse than burning precious reading days on a book you’re forcing yourself to slog through — there’s plenty of other book fishes in the sea,” Goodman says. “Cut your losses, pick up something new, and get back on track with a book you’ll actually enjoy.”
If you keep pushing through, it could come back to haunt you later. Traci Thomas, host of the book-centric podcast The Stacks Podcast, says that “sometimes, slogging through a book will put you in a reading slump, better to quit (even if just for a little bit).”
7. Utilize in-person and online resources to figure out what books to add to your list.
Libraries offer more than just books. Well, yes, they also have movies, but libraries have real people whose jobs are to know about books. Visit your local libraries or independent bookstore and ask for recommendations. If you are feeling a bit shy, most libraries and bookstores have a ‘Recommendations’ section that you can browse. Or, if you don’t want to leave the house, contact a librarian online. Most local libraries offer online chat services and can also be reached via email or even by phone. Check your local library’s website to see what support they can provide.
Additionally, platforms like Goodreads and The StoryGraph will recommend books based on your past reading selections (you can log books you’ve read here, too). Bookshop.org also features book lists from large media outlets like Buzzfeed while also highlighting user-submitted lists, like this one from bookstagrammer @bookishandblack. Plus, your purchase on Bookshop goes toward supporting independent booksellers, and you can even choose a specific local bookstore that will receive the full profit off your order.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also browse book bloggers’ sites and social media accounts. A few of my favorites include Book Riot, which prides itself on diverse book recommendations, Traci Thomas aka @thestackspod, who keeps it extremely real and honest and has a wonderful book-related podcast, @mentallybooked and their stunning Instagram feed, and UK blogger Chapters of May who not only has a cozy, stunning aesthetic, but her blog posts and recommendations are always spot on. (I also run a bookstagram account myself!)
8. Mix in short stories, novellas, and essay collections.
Many authors have published short stories and essays that you can read to get a sense of an author’s voice, writing style, and who they are as a writer. These are a great way to test out a new author without committing to a full-length novel.
“They’re often much more accessible than the books an author may be most famous for,” Gabriel Sessions, Content Editor at online book club platform Bookclubz, explains. “‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce is a lot easier to read than ‘Ulysses,’ and a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essays and short fiction is way easier than ‘Infinite Jest,’ which everyone famously pretends to read and doesn’t actually read. Professors often use this trick to let students get a handle on such authors’ work.”
Short stories, graphic novels, and the like can also be a nice change of pace even if they’re not your genre. (And there’s no shame in adding an easy digit to your book count for the year.)
9. Try reading in different formats.
You don’t need to stick to one format when reading. In fact, I suggest you don’t. Audiobooks are an easy and fun way to engage with more books, and with eBooks, you can read on the go without having to carry books with you (vacation hack!). After figuring out what books you want to read for the year, check out their electronic and audio options and plan accordingly. Memoirs, for example, are a great audiobook choice because most of the time, they are read by the author themselves.
10. Choose a few classics and/or backlist titles.
This can be tricky because there are so many great options to choose from. But, with the help of previous steps in this guide, deciding will be no problem. Look at the genre and length. What classics and/or backlist titles fall into your reading tastes and habits? (This is a good question to ask your local librarian about, whether in person or online.) Also, will the title fit into any of your mood lists? What is available in formats other than a physical book?
Outside of referring to your audit, Whichbook is an easy-to-navigate website where you can discover books you may enjoy by searching moods, countries, characters, and plots. And on Gnooks, an online literature database, you can type in three authors you like, and authors are recommended based on your selections.
Remember, this is your reading list. And while you’re told you must read “1984” and “The Color Purple” and “Little Fires Everywhere” before watching its Hulu adaptation — it’s OK if you don’t this year (and heck, watch the series!).
11. Make space for new books coming out in 2022.
At the top of the year, after the “Best of 2021” lists fade away, you will start to see articles titled “2022 Preview” and “Books We’re Excited About.” Check these out to see if any of your favorite authors have new releases or see if anything catches your attention right away. These new book roundups will happen again mid-year. But remember, you don’t need to “Keep up with the Joneses.” The books will be there when you’re ready.
12. And remember not to take it all too seriously.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you find that you’re veering away from your chosen books or you’re falling behind on schedule, even with your thought-out TBR list. Remember, we’re still going through a pandemic. Reading should be a fun and leisurely activity, not cause you more stress.
What books do you want to read in 2022? Let us know in the comments below!