29 December 2017

Another Round of Resolutions? (And Better Luck Next Year?)

By Art Taylor

Around the last week of each year, I always find myself percolating over a new round of resolutions—and looking back over the previous new year's resolutions too, trying to tally how well I did.

To be honest, 2017's plans and promises (which I documented at SleuthSayers in early January) didn't get kept so successfully, despite some strong momentum early on.

Several small resolutions did get attention intermittently (eat more fruit, watch my posture, etc.), and I plan to be more diligent about those again continuing into 2018. One key component of keeping resolutions isn't just to develop a routine, but also to take clear steps toward maintaining that routine more easily; for example, like my fellow SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks, I'm thinking about some version of a standing desk to help that better-posture plan.

One joint resolution did get kept this year. My wife Tara and I are always cutting out recipes from newspapers, magazines, and more—saving them out more quickly than we actually make them, which I imagine others might do too. So this past year, we set out to either cook or discard at least one recipe a week‚ and in the process we ate very well and found a few favorites to save permanently.

But bigger resolutions unfortunately seemed hit-and-miss. I did keep what might best be called a gratitude journal through late summer—a daily reflection of something positive about each day—but our move this summer (the sale of our townhouse, purchase of new house, packing, unpacking, etc.) was so all-consuming that it threw that nightly routine out of whack, and I never regained traction. The same is true of my perennial "Write FIRST!" plans; my summer writing ambitions basically imploded. I did finish a few stories, but plans for the larger project—the novel—ultimately proved elusive.

Another year, another chance?

Clearly, better focus will be key.

One resolution I always enjoy planning relates to reading instead of writing. In years past, those reading resolutions have included finishing at least four new short stories each week (2014), tackling all of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels (2015), and pushing through War & Peace at the rate of one chapter a day (2016). I didn't make such a resolution this past year (for reasons I'll explain another time), but I'm currently considering several possibilities for 2018. The most rewarding thing about the chapter-a-day War & Peace wasn't just that I finally completed it (after trying and failing before) but also that I felt a deeper connection with the characters by inhabiting their world for a full year—enlightening in several ways to live with a book that long. In the spirit of that plan, I'm thinking about trying Dickens' Bleak House in 2018, and I've already calculated how to pace it out—basically a chapter every 4-5 days.

Another idea: With the just-released collection of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories, I could pace out over 12 months all 28 stand-alone tales and then the serialized stories that became Red Harvest and The Dain Curse; in fact, I've already made a head start of that one, since I read the first two stories aloud to Tara just this week. A final possibility: Because I have (like all of us) a stockpile of books I've bought and never read, I've considered some checklist of titles to pull down from the shelves and finally read—a resolution that Tara is considering for her bookshelves as well.

Any advice on which of these to pursue?

For those looking for their own reading challenges, check out My Reader's Block where Bev Hankins offers a list of fun possibilities each year, particularly good for folks interested in classic crime novels. (And Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora has not only taken up these challenges but has also set the standard for charting your progress along the way, so check his posts out too.)

Do others have reading resolutions to share? Or resolutions generally? 

Looking forward to hearing about everyone's plans for 2018—and best wishes to all for a happy start to the new year!  


  1. It good to be organized, disciplined. Reading Hammett is always a good idea. I thought I'd be more organized when I retired. No. More naps. I blame the fact I'm half Italian. But I'm getting work done and we know you are. Have a good year, buddy. It's nice to be among the SleuthSayers.

  2. A fun post, Art. I just finished Hammett's The Thin Man, which, amazingly, I don't think I'd ever read before. I never knew The Dain Curse and Red Harvest were originally serial stories.

    I've never made it through War and Peace either, so maybe I'll try your approach. Bleak House is one of my all-time faves, though. I think I read it over the first summer that I wasn't taking grad courses while still teaching.

    I want to read a novel by at least six new authors this year (I'd say one a month, but I'm so slow it would interfere with my own writing). This past year, I read a work by every single writer who was at a one-day panel/workshop with me in June and that's how I finally discovered Lindsay Faye. Read all six of her books this year.

    And I need to find a more efficient way to write short stories. I love them, but seem to reinvent the wheel every time I sit down to write one.

    While I'm at it, Congrats to John Floyd, Janice Law, David Edgerley Gates, and Rob Lopresti, who all have stories in the Jan/Feb issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I have to be more forthcoming with shout outs, too.

  3. Hi, O'Neil and Steve --
    Thanks for being the first to chime in!

    O'Neil: You're one of the most productive people I know, so whatever you're doing, keep on keeping on!

    And Steve: Thanks for the recommendation of Bleak House--good to hear it's one of your favorites. And yours are all good reading plans: read work by folks you meet or work with, read new authors. (And like you, I'm looking for more efficiency. I feel as well like each time I sit down with a story I'm learning to write for the first time....)

    And yes, congrats to our SleuthSayers crew for recent pubs!

  4. Lots of great points, Art. I especially love the one about having better posture. I hear my parents' voices echoing in my head, telling me to do that many years ago.

    And I like the idea of pacing out the stories. I might try that, too.

    And I'm also planning a resolutions post for my next column on Tuesday. I guess it's just that time of year. Happy New Year to you!

  5. I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but I have, in past years, set writing goals, and they've always been the same: write and submit 52 short stories each year. During the nine years I've been keeping track, I met or exceeded my goals four times and fell short four times. This year I whiffed. The demise of two of my primary markets threw my plans in the hopper, and I'm still working on finding new markets and building relationships with new editors. So, my primary plan is: Continue to regroup (as outlined in "One More Time, From the Top," my October 21 guest post) and see where this new approach leads. Maybe by 2019 I'll have a better feel for what I can (and want) to do in the current publishing environment and can once again set reasonable goals.

  6. 52 stories in 52 weeks? Michael, you amaze me, you do! Hope that the regrouping continues at a fine pace.

    And Paul, looking forward to your resolutions essay ahead as well. That time of year indeed!

  7. My only real goal was to read 50 books in the year. Genre did not matter (although the majority turned out to be crime fiction). Glad to say I'm finishing the year at 54.


  8. Whoa, Mary! That's impressive. I'm a very slow reader, and so much of my reading is dedicated to stuff for class that it doesn't leave a tremendous amount of time for other stuff. I'm always impressed at the pace other readers keep--envious even!

  9. Great resolutions, Art. I too love Hammett, and Highsmith also.

    Like you and Steve, I am a slow reader, but I thought I read a lot of books--until I saw Mary's goal of 50. That IS impressive.

  10. I don't make New Year's resolutions any more. No real reason, just because I don't.
    On the other hand, I do try-outs of what might be resolutions in Lent - I can handle 40 days of almost anything.
    "Bleak House" is great, but I'd also recommend Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend", which has some satisfying twists and turns in it. Of course, if it's ultimate villains you want, "Martin Chuzzlewit" has that with Jonas Chuzzlewit, who must have hit WAY too close to home for some Victorian housewives.
    I think I may re-read War & Peace according to your plan - I have the "new" (2007) Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation and haven't cracked it yet. (I did read, years ago, the Constance Garnett translation - BTW, I still love her translation of "The Brothers Karamazov" and "Anna Karenina" better than anyone else's.)
    Happy New Year to All!

  11. Thanks for the other Dickens recommendations, Eve. For all the classics I've read (I feel like I'm ahead of many people), Dickens is a real blind spot. I've only read a few of his books--and none of the ones you mention.

    When I read War & Peace, I shuttled back and forth between the new P&V translation and the Maude translation (one in print, one on Kindle). I first read Anna Karenina in the Maude translation as well; have since read the P&V of that one; haven't read the Garnett translation, though I know it's considered by many the definitive.

    Two quick articles you might appreciate on those translations of Anna Karenina. I'm not smart enough or attentive enough to be able to articulate myself a comparison of various translations, but did enjoy these takes on the choices made by various translators. Hope you enjoy!

    From the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/28/books/review/new-translations-of-tolstoys-anna-karenina.html?_r=0

    From the New York Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/06/23/socks-translating-anna-karenina/

  12. I get almost all of my recipes from the internet. Oldest bestest favorite is allrecipes.com, but I have others. I found a new website this week called geniuskitchen.com ... I save the html pages into a folder, print them out & if I change anything I make a notation on the page. Husband said, since I have so many recipes now, I should publish a cookbook. I had to explain about copyright violations to him!

  13. Yes, Elizabeth — we get lots of recipes off-line as well, and those are great sites, agreed! What's different is that we tend to make those online recipes immediately, since we're usually searching out something to make with ingredients we have on-hand, whereas a recipe we see in a magazine or newspaper is one that catches our eye but that we might not have ingredients for or time for—so we put them in a folder and then..... Piles of them to deal with! We're working our way through....

  14. Eve, I agree about Our Mutual Friend. I read it several years ago and was amazed at how modern it felt. I think it was when the serialized version was on BBC (?). And The Brothers Karamazov is another one of my favorites. I don't remember what translation I read first, but the Matlaw (Norton Crit edition) is the one currently on my shelf.

    On a sadder note, I just saw a few minutes ago on Facebook that Sue Grafton has passed away, finally succumbing to cancer. The family says they will follow her wishes not to have any of the books adapted for the screen and not to have a ghost writer continue the Kinsey Milhone series. As her daughter put it, "As far as we are concerned, the alphabet ends with 'Y.'"

  15. Wow - another sucker-punch from 2017. I'm very glad that Sue Grafton's family is honoring her wishes.

  16. Blog on this coming January 27! The Bad Girl Book Club - yes, it exists :) I also use the one chapter a week or night, to get through books I 'should' read, rather than those I long to.

  17. Looking forward to your post, Melodie!

    And yes, heartbreaking about Sue Grafton--in so many ways.


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