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Mark Each Year in Books: Thoughts on Reading Traditions


Mark Each Year in Books: Thoughts on Reading Traditions

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Mark Each Year in Books: Thoughts on Reading Traditions


Published on January 11, 2024


So this is the new year, Ben Gibbard sings in my head for a number of days (or weeks) around New Year’s Eve. The holiday season means a million different things, and to me it is strange and weird and personal, not full of gifts but specific, meaningful dates, a vague feeling like I should do something to mark the solstice, and a great pleasure taken in being in bed well before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

It is a season of traditions, and my partner and I have been talking about them: where we lack them, where we’ve rejected them, where we want to create them. Considering creating a tradition can feel sort of silly, at times: Hey, I’m just making this thing up! But all traditions were made up by people at some point. A repeated action given meaning, resonance, value. Something you do to mark the seasons, the calendar, the turning of the years. An occasion or a memory. 

So of course I’m thinking about reading traditions as well as seasonal ones.

It has been a very long time since I could commit the time to an annual reread of any sort, but when I was a kid I went to Middle-earth every year. There was no hobbit season, so to speak, but I suspect this was a summer journey, taken when the days were long and wistful and mine to spend or waste. This probably lasted for all of middle school, if not longer.

Would I have done that if I had a constant influx of new things to read? In a small town, the local library might not offer as many fantasy books as a kid wants to read, and one’s parents’ bookshelves may have a plethora of tales too dense for an 11-year-old brain. I reread the books the way people now rewatch the movies: to spend time with old friends, for comfort, for experiencing a whole wide range of emotions and adventures without moving from my seat.

People reread a lot of things, as a cursory Reddit search will demonstrate. I reread Wicked when I need it, but is that a tradition or a balm? I have a huge stack of things I would like to reread—books for inspiration, books I want to remember better, characters I want to revisit—but my time is committed elsewhere. 

How else can reading be a tradition? If I had kids I would read them Earthsea, and The Hobbit, and Prydain, and a lot of other books as well; children offer a lot of ways to create reading traditions, from what you read aloud to what books you might give on certain birthdays. (Though I strongly believe you should never, ever give a kid a book because it is or might be good for them. Give a kid a book because you think they might love it.)

But when you are an adult you may have to make your own fun. Everyone online seems to love the idea of Iceland’s Jólabókaflóðið, but I would like to know how many people outside of Iceland actually really do open their Christmas presents on December 24th and promptly sit down to read the book(s) they’ve been given. If I did Christmas, or presents, I would do this. Maybe. I like to think I would do this. But you have to have a full-house buy-in, don’t you? Or at least majority rule. 

What I recommend, if you cannot convince everyone in your Christmas-celebrating household to give and read books (and if you have New Year’s Day off and no one tugging at your sleeve for entertainment), is to start each new year as you mean to go on. Pick the book you most want to read, no should or ought to involved; get a toasty beverage and your softest pants; and commit. Stay on the couch. The couch is your island. You only leave your island when necessary. (Bed island is also delightful.) You aren’t just reading; you’re making a choice, committing to something you enjoy, and staying the hell off the internet. These are all very good goals regardless of the year.

You can also do this on your birthday. The primary activity of any birthday can, or could be, doing precisely what you want to and nothing else; if what you want to do is read, to be waited on while you turn pages and nibble petit fours or grapes or Skittles or whatever, that can be a tradition. I did this a couple of years in a row with Expanse books, but now I’m out of those and will have to come up with something different. (Those books really do lend themselves to sitting down and reading in giant, tasty chunks, though.)

Is reading before bed every night a tradition, or a ritual, and what’s the difference, anyway? I tend to think a ritual has a different kind of intention than a tradition, which feels looser, less formal, inasmuch as anything to do with reading alone in your coziest clothes can be formal. 

You could also argue that a ritual is something you do alone, and a tradition is something you do with other people, but that can be complicated where reading is concerned. Do you want to hang out with strangers and read? I think fondly of Ramona Quimby’s love for sustained silent reading (she preferred the term to “drop everything and read”), but the thing about reading in a classroom is that you’re stuck inside with those people anyway; you might as well get to read. I balk at the idea of going somewhere on purpose to read with other readers. I would rather, I think, just read in the bar

Is reading seasonally appropriate books a tradition? Does that mean snowy books in winter or light books in summer? Beach reads or big wintry tomes? Is horror in October “traditional”? Why is it so hard to get away from the idea of rereads? Is it because traditions are often about doing the same thing at the same time? Is reading, itself, not “the same thing,” or does it have to be the same story?

I have more questions than answers; I have fewer traditions than wishes. I think there must be more readerly ways to mark the passage of time than merely returning to the old and well-loved. Maybe it’s something physical—rearranging, reordering, sorting and culling, digging out old friends and letting go of things you no longer love. Maybe it’s planning what to read next, what to take on a trip, what to pre-order so you have it as soon as possible. Maybe it’s something I just haven’t thought of yet. What would you do to mark each year in books? 

Molly Templeton lives and writes in Oregon, and spends as much time as possible in the woods. Sometimes she talks about books on Bluesky.

About the Author

Molly Templeton


Molly Templeton has been a bookseller, an alt-weekly editor, and assistant managing editor of, among other things. She now lives and writes in Oregon, and spends as much time as possible in the woods.
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