Leaning Into Ideas Rather Than Details

I just finished reading This is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestinian Festival of Literature, one of the most stunning collections of essays I’ve ever read. I spent over a month slowly reading the words, letting them sink in. Some days, I’d take a break. Often, I would only read one or two essays a night.

grown-up-1637302_960_720As December drew to a close, I knew I could have sped through a few more essays at a time to get one more book read before the year ended. Instead, I chose to savor each story and poem.

It’s with this mindset and intention that I’m entering 2018. After spending a few years tracking my reading goals with a set number, this year I decided to take a break. I’ve made a list of twenty books I’d like to read, and I know more will come. I want to slow down, to savor, to go deeper into these books.

It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot last year or that I rushed through my books. But sometimes, when a number is attached to a goal, I make it about the destination rather than the journey. I’m learning that some years are for measurable goals and other years are for visions and ideas.

I have a friend who creates categories she wants to learn more about each year and tailors the books she reads to those categories. Other friends do a “clear the shelf” challenge, where they stack books on a shelf in their home and try to empty it by the year’s end. (I suppose this is similar to my list…)

I was thinking about goals I have for this year and many of them are like my reading list. I have some ideas and hopes but none are conducive to creating a spreadsheet or checklist. I like that this year of lean in means leaning into the ideas rather than details. I’m not throwing out details but I’m also holding my goals a bit more loosely. I have a feeling that things are swirling around this year and I want to be open to learning rather than achieving.

In her chapter called “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg says,

“…we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil” (pp 18-19).

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Especially now at the start of the year, in these months when we turn the compost and wait for spring, I’m setting my goals knowing that there is some waiting to be done. I’m resting with an overarching vision of my year.

This is pretty counterintuitive for me. I like checklists and goals but it also feels peaceful and right. Maybe this year of lean in will mean big things but right now, lean in means leaning into immeasurable goals.

How do you set goals? Are you a checklist person or an ideas person? Have you ever switched up the way you track your goals?

52 Books

For the first time in my life, I made a reading goal for myself. Bea is at a wonderfully independent stage – I can sit in the playroom or backyard and read while she goes on her own little adventures. She likes to have me in eyesight, but doesn’t necessarily want me to interact with her during this playtime.

I decided to try to read 52 books this year – a book per week. Yesterday, I finished my 52nd book. Frank thought I should up my goal to 100 books for the year, but I think I’ll just go back to reading without goals. Or maybe I’ll use the rest of the year to finally tackle my copy of War and Peace. We’ll see…


Of these 52 books, 13 were 5-star and only one was 1-star. I thought I’d share my top-5 favorite reads of the year so far. You can find all of my 5 star books over at Pinterest and all of my reading at Goodreads.

1) An Alter in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
This series of essays on life and faith was encouraging and thought-provoking. Brown’s ability to connect life-stories with lessons and thoughts on spirituality without it sounding like a short blog post was refreshing. It was a good reminder of what spiritual memoir can look like.

2) Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
I’ve kind of stalled out on the TV show, but Kerman’s memoir is an important book. She brings up questions of prison reform and social inequality through an engaging telling of her own experience in a minimum-security prison. She also gives a list of resources at the end, which I found helpful for the “now what?” questions I had upon finishing.

3) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel of a Nigerian woman who moves to the US for college and then back to Nigeria as an adult brings up important questions of race, fitting in, and immigrant culture. It’s a well-done novel – one in which you learn, which I enjoy. D.L. Mayfield wrote a wonderful review over at SheLoves magazine.

4) God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu
Sometimes I can get mired down with the news – Why can’t we learn from our mistakes? Is it so hard to love our neighbors? Tutu’s thoughts on hope and reconciliation are as important today as they were ten years ago. I especially appreciated his point of view because he actively practices what he expresses.

5) Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
I appreciated Cleveland’s view that we need to recognize differences in order to better understand each other. She talks about how we are wired to form groups – it’s a survival technique – but that we still need to be aware that we have more in common with The Other group than we’d like to think. This is a book I have connected to many other books and conversations, even after finishing it.

Have you ever made a reading goal? What are some 5-star books you’ve read this year?