While I will always write these posts for myself, I figured no one was actually waiting on tenterhooks to see what I read last year, and that it would be no big deal if I didn’t get around to writing my 2022 reading recap for a while. Then I got a text from a friend saying that she was checking my blog every few days waiting for “2022 in Books” to go up, which warmed my heart so much, so, hi A! This post is for you!
(For the few of you who still follow my blog but don’t follow me on social media or Substack and have been wondering what I’m up to, I do owe you a “what I’ve been up to” update post at some point. For now, please see this Substack post which summarizes a bunch of the things I’ve been doing/preparing for.)
After two somewhat driftless years of focusing on just making it through a global pandemic, 2022 for me was “the year a ton of stuff happened*” which felt extra intense given that I hadn’t been used to running at full speed in a while. That is my explanation for why, after reading 102 and 100 books in the two previous years, I squeaked out of 2022 only having finished 65 books.
*Stuff that happened: I jumped back into performing after several years of a pandemic-forced hiatus, the concerto project picked back up, I continued to write professionally, I got married and went on my honeymoon, etc.
I am aware 65 is a perfectly respectable number of books to read in a year, but I feel a little sheepish about it given that “girl who reads a lot” sort of became my personality; at multiple points throughout the year, friends would introduce me to new people by saying something like “This is Sharon, she reads a lot.” Such an introduction usually prompts people to ask the same questions (I mean, what else do you ask someone who you’re told reads a lot?) so, an FAQ:
Somehow, without really meaning to, I read 102 new books in 2021. (As always, I only count books in English that are new to me, so re-reads don’t count, my stumbling through children’s books in other languages doesn’t count, and I only count books I’ve finished. I have a very generous “if you truly hate the book you don’t have to finish it” rule for myself.)
Quick aside: ever since I started logging my reading, I’ve been dying to run a bunch of nerdy data analysis; I think it would be interesting to track my ratio of, say, fiction to non-fiction, and to analyze what percentage of my reading is by writers of color, women and nonbinary folks, etc. I also casually noticed that this year, I was sometimes blowing through 10+ books a month, but nearly came to a stop as soon as the Animal Crossing: New Horizons update dropped. (I just think that would be a super funny graph.)
However, I am so tired (we are still in a pandemic) and it was hard enough for me to grit my teeth and make this post, so alas, no graphs and charts for me.
(Okay, it’s not one weird trick so much as it’s a multi-part framework, but if you expect a clickbait title to be truthful, hello sweet summer child, maybe the internet is not the place for you.)
So I spent most of 2020 feeling really crappy on the practicing front (and also, on all the fronts, ICYMI we are in a whole-ass pandemic). I had bursts of forced productivity where I bullied myself into expending all my energy pounding away at music like everything was fine, followed by long stretches of burnout where I felt hopeless and uncreative and all my discipline evaporated like it had gotten dusted in the Thanos snap. My pre-pandemic practicing routine was pretty rigorous and at the start of 2021, I found myself wondering how I was going to work my way back up to that, particularly as my relationship to practicing felt overly burdened with guilt and self-loathing after many months of false starts and forced busywork.
For the past few months I’ve been working my way back into a healthy practicing routine, and making minute but definite progress, and it all is happening only because I gave myself new rules and expectations that would have horrified my pre-pandemic self and honestly may horrify you too. But they’ve been instrumental (ha) in getting me to move forward and trust myself and actually feel good about sitting down at the piano, so I’m going to share what’s worked for me. (I have already written about and been interviewed about the crappiness of maintaining a practice routine during the pandemic with no live performances to work for, so that’s all I’ll say here because this post is not about that.)
Some disclaimers before we get started: the tips and methods I detail here are what I consider “harm reduction” guidelines for practicing; they are not practice/productivity hacks, they are not how I normally operate to achieve professional-level work, and I do not endorse or recommend this with kids—this is solely an account of the framework that has helped me to drag myself forward while in the recovery stage of dealing with a protracted crisis.