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2021 Reading List to Guide Intentions for the New Year

A new take on New Years resolutions; a book a month to guide you through the year and keep you aligned with what you want to focus on.

stack of books next to a plant in a windowsill

Like everyone else, I have set my fair share of new year's resolutions only to completely forget about them by March. Inspired by the Happiness Project, where one woman created a theme for each month of the year to focus on, this year I am trying something new.

I am going to aim to read one book a month, each around a theme that I want to be intentional around or in an area where I want to be inspired to grow. You can follow along with my list or make your own!

“The more aware of your intentions and your experiences you become, the more you will be able to connect the two, and the more you will be able to create the experiences of your life consciously. This is the development of mastery. It is the creation of authentic power.” — Gary Zukav

Here are my themes to guide the year:

January: Antiracism

February: Compassion

March: Meaningful Living

April: Self

May: Resilience

June: Family

July: Freedom

August: Fun

September: Zen

October: Community

November: Education

December: Rest

If you have already read the book I'm planning to read, but want to stick with these topics, I have included other books around each focus area that I have gained a lot from. (On mobile you may need to scroll on the book to view the other picks).

Many of these picks are also available via Audible, which is one of my favorite ways to make it through books. If you are committed to keeping up with a regular habit of finishing titles, audiobooks are one of the best ways to be successful. I love listening to audiobooks while cooking, folding laundry, driving and just enjoying a few moments to myself! You can get your first audiobook for free when you subscribe to Audible! Totally worth it in my experience if you keep up on your listening!

January : Antiracism

This one was actually picked for me, since it is being read by the YMCA board that I am on, but I think it is a great way to start the year and happens to coincide with MLK Day. I have heard excellent things about How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, listened to interviews with author and have his children's book, so I am excited to dive in.

February : Compassion

For February I want to lean into the topic of love, and more specifically compassion. I have been wanting to read one of Tara Brach's books ever since falling in love with her talks and podcast, so I am really looking forward to reading Radical Compassion.

“If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

March : Meaningful Living

Since this is usually about the time of year I fall back on autopilot and have forgotten all that I had intended for the year, I want to focus on creating a meaningul life in March. I think The Invitation is just the book to keep me on track and I am so excited to read it. Here is part of the poem that inspired the book, also written by the author, which I'm convinced will have anyone who reads it picking up a copy:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive. It doesnt interest me what planets are squaring your moon... I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful to be realistic to remember the limitations of being human.

April : Self

I find that motherhood has a way of drowning out one's identity, especially during a child's first year when their needs are so all-encompassing. I'm inspired to think that perhaps this could be an opportunity for growth, rather than some dark and confusing time, which it has been in the past. I haven't been able to land on which book exactly I'll be ready for, so this is the selection I'll be choosing from. Maybe I'll even work through more than one!

May : Resilience

Since I will be just about to welcome baby number 3, I want to make sure I am feeling mentally strong and ready to take on the challenge of 3 kids 5 and under, especially since it will be the start of summer and end of preschool when I do so. I love practical books that are based in real science and offer tangible insights that can be applied to everyday life. That seems to be just the recipe for Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness.

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

June : Family

Knowing I will be in bed with a newborn for at least some of the month, I am looking forward to finishing a book I have started several times and never been able to commit to. Cutting for Stone is a family saga and renowned novel that spans continents and generations. After having my last baby I read The Red Tent and it is still one of my top 5 favorite books. I am hopeful that this read will also join the list.

July : Freedom

One thing I am hoping to do in the coming year is reevaluate the holidays that we celebrate as a family, how we celebrate them and what values we are instilling in our children through those celebrations. The Fourth of July is one that I feel needs some real work and so while I want to appreciate our freedoms and celebrate them, I want to be mindful in how exactly we do that. To bring my attention to this I am looking forward to reading Freedom: Medicine Words for Your Brave Revolution.

"As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. "Élie Wiesel, Night

August : Fun

Let's be real, we will be at the beach and I will want to dive into a good story. The final book I have to read on my late friend's recommneded list is the Song of Achilles, which she read after I had shared the author's follow up novel, Circe. My husband has already read it and told me, "there's more homoerotica than I was ready for," so I'm confident it will make for a riveting summer read.

September : Zen

With my older two in preschool I am naively assuming that I will be able to spend time on my study of Zen. While I always read more than one book at a time, and will be working my way through The Book of Serenity throughout the year alongside my other reads, I want to dedicate some time to actually finishing it, or taking up something new since it can be a bit dense and can require a lot of mental energy to digest it. If I can, I'll move on to the Blue Cliff Records, but we shall see where I'm at.

October : Community

I am hopeful that by this time the pandemic will be behind us and we can again come together and foster community in more meaningful ways. I am also hopeful my family will have found our forever home in the community where my husband and I grew up and can begin to truly put down roots. I actually studied community planning in college and this is an area that bleeds into my career goals of becoming a teacher so I am really excited about these (I am ambitiously adding a second one I have yet to read, but no promises!).

“The river never drinks its own water. The tree never tastes its own fruit. The field never consumes its own harvest. They selflessly strive for the well-being of all those around them. —Mewari proverb, India”Margaret J. Wheatley, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now

November : Education

I am set to begin an accelerated Master's in Teaching program at the start of 2021, so I want to get ready and in the zone so to speak by reading something inspiring of my passion for education. I have heard Brene Brown speak so many times about the impact Bell Hooks' writing has had on her and I am eager to experience the same.

December : Relax

The last month of the year tends to be busy in general, but since it will also be my last month before starting school and in effect working as a student teacher I want to make sure I enter that next phase with the proper mindset. I, like everyone else, can easily get sucked into thinking that my worth is tied to my productivity and Do Less is the anticdote to that. I'm looking to reassess what matters most to me and to let go of the things that don't, using this book as my guide.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Share any recommendations or suggestions in the comments!