Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions Kept and Ignored

As I mentioned almost exactly a year ago in a similar post, 88% of New Year’s resolutions go unfulfilled. This means that almost all of us didn’t meet our goals for 2010, assuming we made any. We can all explain, justify, render irrelevant the gap, but the reality is that no matter how good our intentions, chances are this year’s resolutions will go similarly unresolved. One thing we can do to improve our chances, or at least according to Good Morning America, is to share our resolutions with the world. In fact, you are 10% more likely to follow through. Granted this stat comes from an unverified source and, if your goal is to slim down from a size 12 to a size 6, sharing that unrealistic target with the general public probably won’t increase the odds. But it does make sense to me. Other people’s opinions matter. Moreover, and perhaps as importantly, perhaps making one’s goals publicly traded forces one to set the bar at an achievable level.

So what about 2010? It was a really good year for me—I moved into a condo in New York, my book was published, I spent a month at the fabulous Vermont Studio Center, I am making good progress on a next manuscript. But none of these were explicit goals for the year. What DID I resolve last year? I vowed to read a couple of books I hated. First, at least one or two by German writers, a category of fiction that I tend to avoid (a long story but influenced by two years living in Munich). I also wanted to read Robert Fagles’ translation of The Aenied. So, I give myself a B. I read Herta Muller’s The Land of Green Plums and half of Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum. I skimmed The Aeneid, yes, searching for the juicy parts. It wasn’t lack of interest but I just had too many other books I really really wanted to read.

Yet, here’s something that surprised me—I wrote last year that I similarly disliked reading nonfiction memoir, historical accounts, biography, autobiography, the story of other people’s lives, true stories. I prefer fiction. Why? Generally I find that fictional stories tend to be better written and more engaging stories than their true to life counterparts. For some reason, when something extraordinary is recounted in a work of nonfiction (meaning it supposedly really happened), I find myself saying, “Really?” or “Well, that’s not so interesting.” What that says about my level of skepticism, I don’t know. Or perhaps what that says about my own perception of my level of skepticism, I don’t know.

Because…. in 2010, in addition to books of poetry, fiction, and nonfictional essays, I read at least 8 books of nonfictional history and biography. Included in the list: The Young Romantics, The Lemon Tree, American Priestess, The American Colony, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, The Courtier and the Heretic, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness.

Surprising myself, I really enjoyed all of them. Granted, three of these were important to research I’m doing on Israel, but I enjoyed all of them, necessary or not. This is not to say that I’m going to start voraciously consuming the latest celebrity or political autobiography/biography on the Barnes and Noble shelves. But it won’t be because I might not find Sarah Palin’s ghost written narrative entertaining but that given the world of books to read, I’d prefer to spend my few dollars of consciousness reading something more edifying or at least books about better people. I suppose that admission marks me a bit of snob. Oh well.

So what about 2011? I am going to finish Fagles’ The Aeneid. Beyond that, I’m not going to commit. Not yet anyway.

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