One of the best things about being an author is an effect I never dreamed I’d have. Many of the people around me have started challenging themselves as readers. They are reading more or being more intentional with what they’re reading. It’s exciting!
Before the start of the new year, my husband and I talked about this. He shared some of his goals for reading this year, and we discussed how to maintain practicality in such a challenge.
Looks Different for Everyone
I believe this looks different for every reader; however, one aspect of the approach is necessary for all. Any reading challenge—regardless of what it looks like for an individual—cannot be carved in stone or fashioned in such a way that it becomes a drudgery or a burden. That’s a quick way to burn out and give up reading.
At this point I will reference junior high, high school and college English classes. While that’s a topic for a whole other post, I have met far too many people (nearly all of them) who talk about literature in school and discuss how it took them years after graduation to love reading again. I am one of them. Still others haven’t regained that enjoyment yet.
I think book clubs, online book discussions, book bloggers and reading challenges provide outstanding ways to draw people back to a love of reading. They can, of course, do the opposite if they get too rigid (or we try to take on too much).
Since this concept varies from reader to reader, I thought it would be fun to examine some of the ways readers challenge themselves; so I sent out a set of questions on the topic to my newsletter subscribers and social media followers. The responses are just as diverse as I expected. Check out what they have to say!
I love reading, always have. I had never read the Jane Austen novels so that has been one of my reading goals. In the summer of 2019, I read Northanger Abbey. Last summer I read Pride and Prejudice. I have completed reading Emma and am currently reading Persuasion. Well on my way to reading all of her novels. I am loving reading these period fictions.
This college semester, I am taking a class on Film and Literature which is a concentration on the Austen novels. We have been watching Pride and Prejudice movie versions in the class. The BBC did an excellent mini-series with Colin Firth in it that we watched in its entirety in class. We saw a few scenes from the 1940 version done in Hollywood with Lawrence Olivier (not at all the same, the costumes were not true to the period—looked like Gone with the Wind dresses. Also, a zombie version, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, was made in 2016. I watched that one last night on our cable channels.
One thing that I didn’t know was that the movie, Clueless, is a modern adaptation of Emma, and a very good one according to our professor. So now I’ve got to re-watch Clueless. I can also see some similarities in Jane Austen’s book, Pride and Prejudice, and the movie, Bridgette Jones’ Diary. If you have read the book and seen the movie, maybe you agree with me.
I am competitive and I love reading books, so I have learned to be wary of any challenge. I signed up on Goodreads to read 24 books this year. I read 8 books in January and I had to force myself to stop, because I could feel myself becoming obsessed with reaching the goal. I currently have 4 other books (each about half read) that are begging me to finish. There are 3 more on my current TBR shelf, and the library just sent a notification that my holds are ready for pick up.
I try but [reading challenges] just stress me out. I pick a goal for total books on Goodreads and to read the Bible every year. That’s enough!
I read what I want to read, but I do enjoy seeing if I can complete a challenge. It stretches me as a reader, or challenges my creativity to see if I can squeak what I wanted to read into the challenge categories.
Well I’m a fairly new (consistent) reader and trying to push myself to read more so reading challenges are sometimes the motivation I need to keep going. I’ve been trying to challenge myself both in how many books I read but also in the content (not ONLY read fiction etc.) I wouldn’t say I really feel “stress” because ultimately it’s something that’s good for me so if I read then great, but if I’m not going as quickly as I’d like I try and give myself some grace. At least with me this year I started a reading challenge as a New Year’s resolution.
For me, a number of books is a challenge but also the length of the book is challenging! It’s hard for me, in between classes and work, to stay engaged in one book. I’ve been challenging myself to read books I have already bought that I started and never finished.
Reading challenges can get frustrating and stressful if they aren’t catered towards more books I like. I’d love to branch out and find new areas of literature to understand. I get excited by new books. I just love being in a book store.
I have tried a reading challenge or two or three and fail miserably every time. There is no set starting goal. I have in the past, with my busy schedule, challenged myself to read at least one book per month. But if I finish and started a new one before the month was over, I did have to finish the second also before the month was up!
The Many Colors of Reading Challenges
As you’ve seen from the readers above, challenging ourselves comes in ways as diverse as readers. I have a few that came to mind that I wanted to give a closer examination.
The first and simplest is also the most open-ended: Just Read. Sometimes we have to challenge ourselves to pick up a book and start turning pages. This could happen after a book burnout or when we decide for the first time to make reading part of our life or after we’ve gone through a little reading slump for some reason. Once we start and reading has moved past the “new-thing-I-do” to a habit, then we can add on to our challenge—one book a month; one a season; one a week.
The danger lies with getting bogged down by numbers, especially others’ numbers. If you are on Goodreads—which I hope you are!—you can set your book goal for the year. This is a fun annual tradition to make, and it’s such a joy to look back at previous years to see what books you read in 2009, read your reviews of them and discover your shortest and longest and first and last books read for every year. It’s like a reading journal online! But, as with any good thing, it can become overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.
When you choose a single digit number but all the friends you see are choosing two- and three-digit goals, it’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up. Or, if you aim for the stars and set a goal of 100 or 50 and fall way short in December, it’s easy to walk away from the old year feeling deflated.
Hold those numbers loosely and know that you can’t compare numbers because those numbers represent completely different people in different stages of life.
Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
I’m rather fond of this approach. Often when I ask readers their favorite kinds of books, they can answer me right away: cozy mystery, sweet romance, fantasy. That’s so great! But … it’s so easy to fall into a rut of only reading one type of book and miss a world-sized library of other options.
Sure, it’s just fine if you have a favorite genre and that nine out of ten books you read come from there, but be brave and daring with book #10. Give it a shot! You never know. You might just find a new favorite genre or author. Even when I haven’t reached The End a fan of something new, I’ve always been glad I gave it a shot.
My best example of this is Jane Austen. I’m sorry, friends, but I do not care for her books. (Please don’t kick me out of all the bookish circles!) I did try to enjoy two of her books—please don’t ask me which ones; I can’t for the life of me remember. At the last page, I realized I just didn’t enjoy it, but I turned back to that cover and thanked Ms. Austen for her contributions to literature. I have an immense appreciation for her.
Another big way this plays out is with nonfiction. Most often, the readers I engage focus primarily (if not solely) on fiction. Shake it up every now and then! Learn something new—basket weaving, quilting, woodworking—or read a biography about someone you admire or want to know more about, perhaps your favorite cozy mystery author whose books you read all the time. Read a book of encouragement for your season of life—mother to young kids, stressed-out up-and-comer, gentleman closing in on the retirement date who wants to start a second career.
Whoever you are and whatever you’re in to, the nonfiction section has a book (or thousands) for you.
Earn Your RD—Doctorate of Reading!
For the record, I think an RD should be a thing.
What I’m really getting at with this is to encourage you to think of reading a little differently than you may have before.
Think of reading as a degree that you can tailor to your desires, pick up and set down as you wish, continue for your entire life and even obtain for free (thank you to our fantastic public library systems).
Are you as pumped up as I am?
What does this look like for me?
Before I toss it over to you, I wanted to share what challenging myself as a reader looks like for me right now.
Over the past few years, I’ve tried to be intentional in my book diversity. If I feel like I’ve read too many fantasies, I reach for a nonfiction or a classic. I’ve slowly picked at some of those classics I somehow missed, despite my English major.
I’ve also chosen to be picky. If I don’t think I’ll enjoy a book or gain some value from it even if I don’t, I won’t pick it up. The reason for this is I have limited reading time; and what time I do have, I have chosen to give a good portion of to my critique partners and the authors I’ve chosen as my “people,” the ones whose launch teams I join.
Currently, I’ve been choosing books based on research or a culture that interested me or my teetering stack of books I bought last year during my tour of area indie bookstores. Next month, I will switch gears to fantasy and that will likely be where I camp out for a while. I’m sure I won’t be able to go the entire rest of the year without reaching for another genre, but I am intentionally choosing primarily fantasy since I will begin writing my fantasy series this summer.
To do this, I will challenge myself with a list. I have a bunch of titles already in mind, then my fabulous reader friends who join in to my monthly Logos & Mythos Book Club LIVE on my Facebook page gave me a whole other list of suggestions. Sometime before next month’s club, I will pull those two lists together and make an intentional plan for which books I will read first.
What does this look like for you?
Now, it’s your turn! I want to know how you challenge yourself as a reader. Leave me a comment and let me know what challenging your reading self looks like!
I also have a few suggestions for you, if you’d like to give a structured challenge a try:
Christine, also known as The Uncorked Librarian, has a no-pressure challenge going on all year long. Check out her Mulan-inspired March Challenge. And, if you’re looking for something specific to read, she has a whole bunch of setting-specific book lists … like this one, featuring my novel Any Good Thing!
This summer, I will have my third annual Summer Reading Challenge over on my Facebook page. I hope you’ll join us! I do have a list, but you can read none, one or a hundred. I also have daily posts and opportunities to earn points. Oh, and did I mention … PRIZES!
Follow me and keep an eye open for more detailed posts as we get closer to summer time.