Originally published December 2017
It’s easy. Just pick up one book. Any book. And read.
I’ve got mixed feelings about reading challenges. On one hand, I love them. (Not to be confused with actually participating in one.) When challenges work, they push book lovers to expand their boundaries into other genres, new authors and different perspectives.
On the other, they can be intimidating, meaning people who rarely pick up a book aren’t necessarily incentivized. For someone just connecting with reading as a hobby, feeling like you’re being told the books you like aren’t the ones you should be reading, or that you should be reading MORE! MORE! MORE! is a huge turnoff.
And I want everyone to love reading.
In Pew Research Center’s last study on book reading in 2016, the average adult reader completed 12 books a year. But the TYPICAL reader finished just four. With that in mind, reading challenges need to reach everyone – not just the book nerd already devouring classics and new releases with equal ferocity.
So – if you are looking to improve upon your current reading habits – whether that’s reading A book in 2018 or reading a hundred – here are a few ideas to get you started:
Audits aren’t just for the office. To get an idea of where you want to go, it helps to know where you are. After seeing a friend post a detailed look at what he read last year in terms of male versus female versus minority writers, I looked at everything I read last year:
- 16 males, 3 of which were of color
- 13 females, 2 of which were of color
I also broke down fiction versus nonfiction, with fiction coming out on top 21 – 8.
Also? I’ve got two authors on the list that had really bad years. (Al Franken and Kathy Griffin)
From a genre perspective, it’s clear I love me some messy family drama. That aside, I had an upswing in coming-of-age stories (3) and a smattering of mystery (2) and fantasy (1). I should note, I have seen over the years a cyclical pattern to my reading. Some years are heavy on mystery, others on YA. But regardless, I’d like to bring a little more balance to my mix.
Identify areas to differentiate. Once you’ve got a rough idea of what you might be missing, it makes it easier to choose a new book. For me, that means looking past the typically hyped authors for a few emerging artists, particularly of color. And I love mysteries, so maybe I should make an attempt to read a few more this year.
At the same time, read what you like. If you are begrudgingly getting back to books because you know it’s good for you, or you’ve been dared to read at least one thing, the last thing you should do is pick up an 800+ page bestseller just because it’s THE book of the year (Think “Goldfinch” or anything by Franzen). Chances are you’ll get 20 pages in, become discouraged and give it up before you give it a chance. Start with something engaging and smallish, so you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment.
Consider a different kind of classic. I know my knee-jerk reaction to the word “classic” is “I did high school once. No one needs to read Chaucer after high school.” Perhaps the best way around this oft-included challenge requirement is to update your definition of “classic.” Think:
- John Irving
- Pat Conroy
- Stephen King
- Maya Angelou
- Alice Walker
- Margaret Atwood
- Khaled Hosseini
- Tom Clancy
- Rohinton Mistry
Ask for help already. Local bookstores, especially independently-owned stores, need you to survive. With that in mind, they’re going to want to make sure you have a successful visit and will make every effort to match you to the right book. Never be afraid to ask a bookseller or a librarian for a good recommendation.
Remember, reading challenges are not a test of anything. Especially your intelligence. The point of a reading challenge is to push yourself to read a little more. Or a little differently. About different things. But you won’t get very far if you spend too much time trying to tackle a book you just can’t get into. Don’t be afraid to kick a book to the curb if it’s not your thing, for whatever reason. Just pick up something different and try again.
Looking to sign up for a book challenge? Try one of these:
POPSUGAR 2018 Challenge (This is actually pretty interesting. I may print this one out myself.)
Whatever you do, don’t stop reading. And share your favorites with your friends.