books + reading · goals

Revisiting The Syllabus

For the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get myself to read the books that I want to read.

I never have a problem with reading fiction. Reading is my favorite hobby and I’ve always loved it. I love getting lost in a good novel. I constantly have a list of novels To Be Read, that I update on Goodreads when I get recommendations. (Just finished Darling Rose Gold – so good – and currently loving The Holdout.)

Nonfiction has never been my thing. Yes, I’ve read and loved books by Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle – but they were the exceptions, not the rules. For me to read nonfiction, it has to be incredibly well-written and entertaining. It has to be significantly relevant to me at the exact moment I am reading it, like a writing book I read during a creative spree or a parenting book I reach for when facing a challenge like tantrums or sleep. Or it has to be focused on self-help, introspection, or personal growth – like The Gifts Of Imperfection, which is my favorite of Brene Brown’s books.

There are several books that I want to have read but haven’t been able to make myself actually read. I’ve written about this previously in a post called Slow Jams Syllabus. In that post, I wrote down a list of all the books I was struggling to read. I called them “slow jams” because I could not manage to read any of them cover to cover. When I start a good novel, I usually speed through it in a few days. With these books about writing, parenting, mindfulness – I couldn’t do that. Which then made them trickier to read at all. I get a little buzz of accomplishment when I finish a book; I love clicking “I’ve finished this book!” on my Goodreads app and seeing the book move from my Want To Read list to my Read list. With a slow jam, it takes me longer to finish it, and then I often lose my momentum and abandon the book for yet another enjoyable novel.

Usually, the reason I want to read these “slow jam” books is educational; I want to learn more about a topic or do some work in a specific area. My last Slow Jams Syllabus included books on writing, meditation/mindfulness/spirituality, and parenting – plus a few wild cards. The last time I wrote about this, I created my syllabus and I set myself a deadline: Read these books by January 2020. There were 12 books on the list and 10 on the “wait list” I created. It’s way past January 2020, and I’ve read five. And that is okay.

This month, I went through those 22 titles and I sorted them into these categories.

Finished them – yay! No Drama Discipline; No Bad Kids; Meditation Now Or Never. Happiness Is An Inside Job; and Buddhism Is Not What You Think.

Would still love to finish these books someday: Story Craft; The Portable MFA in Creative Writing; Writing To Change The World; Bestseller; The Soul Of Discipline; The Untethered Soul; Parenting From the Inside Out; and Writing Mysteries

Going to keep them on my shelf as a reference – no longer stressing about reading them cover to cover: Full Catastrophe Living; Traveling Mercies; The Happiest Kids In The World; and Wherever You Go There You Are. 

No longer care if I ever finish them: Start Here Now; MBSR Every Day; Designing Your Life;The White Album; and Bark.

It felt satisfying to categorize these books and to accept that if I haven’t read them between April 2018 and now, then I may not ever read them in their entirety.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this is that lately, there are entire new categories of nonfiction books that I want to encourage myself to read. The same categories (writing, parenting, mindfulness) are still somewhat present, but the books I currently want to read most are focused on transracial adoption; adoption; race; and current social issues and politics. Stay tuned for my new syllabus and an update on how I’m doing with tackling the required reading so far.

books on white wooden shelves
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

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