Literary Resolutions

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions”, wrote Mark Twain in Nevada’s Territorial Enterprise on January 1, 1863. “Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

A century and a half later, we’re still deluding ourselves. A recent survey shows that four out of five people will fail to keep their vows of self-improvement over the next twelve months, but we don’t need ‘research’ to tell us that New Year’s resolutions suck. Just maybe, if the calendar year started in spring, we would be up for abstinence and avocado; as it is, our serotonin-starved brains are still craving carbs, cashmere and television programmes featuring either Benedict Cumberbatch, a Labrador, or both.

This does, however, make January the perfect time to upgrade your literary habits. Now is not the time for Norovirus-marinated gyms and desperate two-for-one bars. Now is the time for a quiet night in with a book, while grazing on leftover pigs-in-blankets and coffee creams. It’s frugal, it’s carbon neutral, it’s retro, it’s smug: in short, it’s so 2012.  Anyway, according to the British Liver Trust detoxing in January is futile, and Antony Horowitz’s new Sherlock Holmes novel is even better when you’ve got half an unfinished bottle of Advocaat propped beside the armchair.

So, what will yours be?

To come up with mine, I started by looking at what did and didn’t work last year. In my January 2011 Bookdiva column, I vowed to escape my fiction comfort zone and explore books I don’t naturally gravitate towards – more American and Japanese writers, more biographies, more debut novels and more science. Have I succeeded? Sort of. I’ve certainly scaled up my debut reading – Justin Torres’ We The Animals and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! have been two of my recent favourites. I also did well with the Americans, once Franzen and Egan got me started on a transatlantic roll. And I’ve gorged on neuroscience – David Eagleman’s Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain rather appropriately blew my mind. But Japanese writers and biographies? Not so much. Although Christopher Ross’s Mishima’s Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend looks good, so maybe I can make up for both shortfallings in one go.