The Three Books on Your Nightstand

Early this year, when Instagram was flooded with resolutions, and I was already feeling anxious and exhausted, a writer I admire, Abigail Dodds, posted to her Instagram stories a caution about resolutions. Her wise words: Make resolutions for the life that you have. Have you ever thought about that?

If you have four children under five, don’t tell yourself that you’re going to read 100 books this year. Instead, Dodds said, maybe you aim to read as many of the best children’s picture books as you can. It’s important to make goals and habits for the life that we already are walking in—not for the life that we admire on social media.

I’m still chewing on this wisdom, especially as I think about my own resolutions, and especially, my GoodReads Challenge goal for 2019. My husband did read 100 books last year, and he’s going to try to do it again this year. His job as a pastor, chaplain, evangelist, and military officer makes this goal make sense. I, however, spend my days teaching a kindergartener and preschooler about the world.


This year, I have set my goal at 20 (non-picture) books and I will be following Charlotte Mason’s advice to only leave three on the nightstand: one stiff book, one moderately easy book, and one novel. When I do make time to read, I will choose whichever calls to me most. Even if I fall asleep exhausted after two pages, after a while, those two pages will add up to all the pages in my three books.

The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for! — Charlotte Mason, “The Parent’s Review,” Volume 3, no. 2

Part of the discipline for this strategy is be engaged with only three books at a time—no more. (Raise your hand if you started 25 books last year and finished none of them!) The other part of this strategy that I love is that there’s always a book that serves to push me.

I’m hoping to read Mason’s six-volume series on home education this year, as well as the “Illiad” and the “Odyssey” to catch up with my virtual reading group, Mother Culture. Both Mason’s and Homer’s books will benefit me greatly as a home educator. I always like a good heaping spoonful of grace, too, so you better believe that any chapter books that I read out loud to my son this year will also count toward my 20.