Reading as a Competitive Sport

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Jamie Canaves published an article today on BookRiot on “Calling a Time-Out on Reading for Sport” She speaks of tracking books read, page counts, planning your next book before finishing the one you are in, frenetic reading in the spare moments, and not reading fat books when you can read a couple thin ones.

Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. I have a Goodreads Challenge, I do watch page counts (and have used my librarian privilege on Goodreads to add them when the publisher leaves them out!), and because I review books do think ahead about what I’m going to read. I think twice before leaning into a long book. Some of this is fun. It didn’t bother me that my reading numbers were down in 2020. After all, it was 2020. My reading challenge usually is at least 25 percent less than what I read the previous year.

I sense a certain uneasiness of readers about reading under pressure. I asked recently about how people who had set reading goals felt they were doing. I shared mine, which weren’t numerical, but about kinds of books I wanted to read to get out of my own “reading ruts.” Most of the responses I received were a pushback about numbers and simply reading for enjoyment and moving from book to book serendipitously.

Where the article hits me is that I do recognize that reading has changed for me. Some time ago, I knew someone who started making some stained glass items for a few friends, and this suddenly turned into more, and a hobby became a job. That’s what has happened with reviewing and blogging on books. While I still enjoy it, especially when I can put on some good music with a good beverage at my side, reading often seems a bit more like work. I’m aware of the pile awaiting review as well as books I’ve purchased that I wanted to read. I’m thinking about what books I’ll finish for review in the coming week. And I spend time keeping track of and requesting books that I think will be interesting to review. Some of the books I read are for work–I interview authors as part of my job, usually about a dozen a year. Other books I read, I choose for their relevance not only for me but for work colleagues

In fact, if there is anything that would bring reviewing and blogging to an end, other than a health crisis, this would be it. And that is a warning signal. Maybe I need to listen to the BookRiot writer. I want others to know the joys of a good book. If I lose that, I suspect it will come across in my reviews. It may be time to revisit the old books I’ve wanted to re-read but have deferred because of the new ones awaiting. Maybe I just have to admit that I cannot read all those new books people are buzzing about. It may be a matter of reading when, and at a pace that keeps it enjoyable. At some point, I may need to scale back the blog from six days to three or four. I’m not there yet.

I do believe reading should enrich our lives. When it doesn’t, something has gone awry. It could be pressures we feel from others or ones we place on ourselves. I appreciate the friends who push back about reading goals. I suspect most of us have enough of these in the rest of life. Sometimes we just need to lose ourselves in a book. At other times, we may read something with such challenging ideas that we need to read slowly and reflectively. As Mortimer Adler put it, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

My 2021 Reading Challenge Update

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A number of you at least took a look at my Bob on Books 2021 Reading Challenge from back in December. I never heard if any of you took it on, but a query from a Facebook friend suggested it was time to pull it out and see if I’ve made any progress or if it was just a fanciful New Year’s Resolution. Turns out, I had read in a number of areas, and was reminded of things I need to look at. So here is what I wrote, with notes in vivid red on what I read:

Old. Read one book that was written before your lifetime. One of the hazards of reviewing is that many of the books I read are published in the same year I’m writing. Old books can give a sense of perspective at times. My book: Death Of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh, published in 1940. Not exactly an ancient classic, but at least before my lifetime.

New. At the same time, I tend to read authors I like and am familiar with in different genres. Most have published a number of books, so I can keep doing that for a long time. Find a new author in your favorite genre–read reviews, talk to your bookseller, or local librarian. My book: I had never read either Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood. Read The Road and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Different genre. We tend to have our favorite genres. Get some recommendations and a book in a different genre. My son introduced me to graphic books, which I’m coming to like. A friend has been bugging me about reading a few thrillers. That might be the different genre for this year. My book: Thanks, James for reminding me about this one and giving me some suggestions. Dean Koontz will fill the new category for me as well!

Science or technology. I’ve observed that most people have never talked to a working scientist. The ones I’ve talked to have opened my eyes to the wonders of the world. There is so much we see but don’t really understand. I want to read something that will help me understand some part of the physical world a bit better. My book: Carl Zimmer’s Life’s Edge fills this category exploring what we mean when we say something is alive.

Issues. Go deeper on one issue in the news. If you’ve already formed an opinion, try reading something that takes a different perspective. There are people as intelligent as I am who disagree with me. I’m curious why. Are you? My book: Early this year, I read a book about reparations rather than just racial reconciliation. I wasn’t convinced before and still am not sure, but I better understand the case. The book? Dear White Christians by Jennifer Harvey.

Foreign country. Read a book about a country or a person from a country other than the one in which you reside. It could be history, biography, or even a travel book. My book: Closest I’ve gotten in this category is Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff on a rescue effort on the icecap in Greenland.

Local history. From writing about the town where I grew up, I’ve discovered that both I and many of my readers knew little about the place where we grew up. So, now I have a book about Columbus on my reading stack–I’ve lived here 30 years and don’t know that much about my current home town. My book: I read that book, The Columbus Anthology, kind of a literary review edited by Amanda Page that exposed me to a number of writers who call Columbus home. Still feel like it would be good to read a good history of this place.

Foreign fiction. Fiction written by someone not from my country of origin allows us to see the world through a person who sees it from a different perspective. My book: In addition to a couple of Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books, I’ve read Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Old People, as well as the Atwood and Marsh books.

Re-reads. It can be a fascinating thing to re-read something we read at a different time of our lives. The book hasn’t changed but it is a mirror reflecting how we have. My book: No re-reads, I’m afraid. I’ve wanted to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia probably last read at least 25 years ago.

Religious Text. Here I have several suggestions. You could go deeper in exploring something in your own faith or you could read about a different religious tradition within your faith. You could read about another faith to understand it better. Spiritual but not religious? You might try a work of philosophy. Whatever is the case, we all could do with living up to the tenets of what we believe and understanding others better. My book: I read Thunder In the Soul by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the outstanding Jewish religious leaders and thinkers of the 20th century.

A possible new hobby or interest. Yes, I know, reading is your hobby. It is one of mine as well. But you might try reading about a hobby you might take up or an interest you could pursue. My book: None here, but there is a book on singing technique that I’d like to get into, and perhaps I ought to read a book on painting technique before joining my wife in plein air painting outings this summer.

Health. This is a year that has reminded us we can’t take our health for granted–physical, mental, or spiritual. Read a book for you. It might be to better understand your body and care for it, or perhaps books to help us understand ourselves. Books on the Enneagram have helped been helpful in my own self-understanding. Perhaps you’ve discovered how important resilience is and want to learn how to cultivate that. My book: Nothing here. My last visit to my doc suggests I might want to read something about low carb diets. Any suggestions?

Actually, that’s not bad for two and a half months and without trying too hard. Taking a look reminds me of the reading areas to take a look at and suggest some things I want to look for or just pull off the shelf and onto the TBR pile At some point, I want to read some older theology, something I’ve not done so much since I’ve not been part of the Dead Theologians group. How about you? The idea of the Reading Challenge was to suggest some goals to get out of one’s reading “ruts.” Yours will likely be different than mine, but part of the value of reading is new ideas, new perspectives to help us avoid “hardening of the attitudes.” There are still nine and a half months in 2021 to work on that!

What to Do If You Are Behind on Your Reading Challenge

reading challenge goalReading challenges like Goodreads Reading Challenge have encouraged many people to set aside more time for something they love–reading. It’s fun to see the numbers add up, especially if you are on, or ahead of pace to meet your reading goal.

But what if you are not? You wanted to read a book a week, 52 in total and here it is, November, and you have read 20. What do you do? Here are some thoughts, facetious and otherwise.

  1. Read and count lots of children’s books. Many for younger readers are very short, and each counts as a book. You could probably binge over a weekend and reach your goal.
  2. Go on an extended reading binge for the rest of the year. Still choose relatively short, page-turners to read. At this point (November 12) you have just over six weeks. Five books a week will do get you there.
  3. Count audiobooks and listen to them while driving, working out, whenever you can.
  4. Re-define “read.” You could just skim these books, read the first sentence of each paragraph and get a sense of this.

I’ll be honest, none of this sounds like any fun, except for maybe the children’s books. Mostly, it feels pretty driven and kind of defeats the purpose of reading, which is enjoyment that grows our minds and view of the world.

I suspect that a better tack might be to look at what has hampered your reading. It might be that life has happened in a big way–an illness, a new job, a break up, or even a marriage, or a new baby. It’s probably best to forget the goals, and live in the change you are in, and be the person you hope to become amid it, which may take work. Start reading when the bandwidth and desire are there. If your are a reader, let me assure you, it’s lurking in there, just waiting for a chance to come out.

A few thoughts for the rest of us who just need to recalibrate our reading goals:

  1. Unless you are close, ditch the goal for the year. You made the goal. You are allowed to change it or set it aside.
  2. Goodreads actually allows you to change the goal. If reaching a goal means something to you, set a goal that is reasonable to reach at this point–perhaps your current total plus two. That will get you started. You might even exceed your goal. Won’t that feel good.
  3. Figure out when you will read. Fifteen minutes a day allows you to read 15 books of average size a year. That should allow you to read at least two books before the year ends. The minute a day of reading per books you want to read each year is a good rule of thumb for setting goals. If you are able to read an hour a day, then you have a chance of making that 52 book goal next year.
  4. Make reading a reward for something, and reward yourself in your favorite chair accompanied by your favorite drink. This isn’t study hall!
  5. Start with books in a genre or on a subject you enjoy, if you are getting back into the groove. That may not be War and Peace, as much as you think you should read it! Pick that up during a year when you are ahead of the pace needed to reach your goal, or after your reach your goal.

Unless you are a student or are doing work related reading, you probably just read for your own personal amusement and enrichment. If reading goals help you be more intentional in pursuing what amuses and enriches you–great! But if the goal is making you miserable, then you either need to get a better goal or just be someone who enjoys reading without goals. Maybe just keeping a tally of the books you’ve read is all you need.

Happy reading, goals or not!

 

Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

Accessed 12/25/2018 at 8:20 pm ET

Yesterday, I wrote about reading resolutions. I noted that of all the reading resolutions shared with me, none had to do with numbers. Nor did mine. Yet numerical reading challenges are a big deal among many bibliophiles.

The most famous is Goodreads’ yearly reading challenges. You have to have a free Goodreads account. Each year, you can set your own challenge goal beginning a few days before January 1. People set a variety of challenge goals from reading one book to hundreds. As you can see from above, the average is 60, a healthy goal of more than one per week. Your home page will show a progress bar, and whether you are ahead, behind, or on track to reach your goal. All your friends can see how you are progressing as well. You can also see how many pages you’ve read and compare your statistics to past years, what reading you’ve done in various categories and more.

LibraryThing also offers challenges at different levels (50, 75, etc.) and allows you to join groups and post what books you are reading. People make up a variety of creative challenges of reading different genres, reading through the alphabet (each book title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet), and a variety of other creative challenges.

Other groups I’ve seen offer monthly challenges. These involve the whole group reading a different type of book each month: eg. science fiction one month, a book about presidents the next. I know one group that is trying to read consecutively biographies of each U.S. president. I could see such challenges building a sense of community–physical or virtual.

I think if this sort of thing is fun and life-giving and occurs in the context of reading that enriches your life, then there is no harm in this, and even positive value in encouraging you and others in your challenge to read, and maybe get exposed to books they might not otherwise read. Personally, it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. For the fun of it, I always set a goal on Goodreads, but it is a low one for me. I don’t want my reading driven by one of these goals.

It is interesting to me to see how people actually do on Goodreads in comparison with goals. For example, people pledged to read an average of 60 books. So far this year (as of the evening of 12/25 when I’m writing this), they’ve actually read just under 13, a bit over one a month. More striking to me is that slightly less than 0.7 percent of people have completed their challenge with a week to go. Maybe there will be a spurt in the last week. I wonder how many will read a bunch of really short books to reach their goal (I’ve heard of people doing this).

This suggests to me that this reading challenge thing isn’t working for quite a number of people. I would propose, instead, thinking about the number of minutes a day you want to read and figuring out where you will set aside that time in your day. A rough guide is that for every minute you read, you will read that many books in a year (15 minutes, 15 books; 60 minutes, 60 books; etc.). That might vary based on length of the book and the type of book.

The real point is figuring out where in your life you will make space for reading, if you share my belief that reading is a valuable, life-enriching activity. It might mean something as simple as deciding to read a book for the twenty minutes of your mass transit commute each day instead of flipping through your phone. I get 30 minutes of reading in on my Kindle each day while on my treadmill. Hopefully some of your time is in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage.

Mortimer Adler is reputed to have said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” It seems to me that the only benefit of any of these number games is to set us up for books to get through to us. If that isn’t happening in our number games, it might be better to abandon them, or at least ask ourselves why we are reading. What good is it to read 52 books if we can’t express what the value of any of these was to our lives? By the same token, a single book that changes our mind, that captures our imagination, that informs a critical choice, that gives us hope, or that inspires by example counts for more than all those forgotten books.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t want to read more; I want to read well. I hope that for you. My reviews started and continue to function as a way of helping me read well, by trying to capture the essence and significance of a book. At least some times, that seems to be helpful for others, in figuring out what is worthy of their time and attention.

So, my hope for all of us in 2019 is that we read well, however few or many books we read. It seems to me that this is what the precious gift of literacy is all about.

 

Reading Resolutions for 2019

resolutions

Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I asked followers what their 2019 reading goals are. Here are the responses, in the order received:

  • Read read read read
  • I’d like to branch out and try new authors and writing styles.
  • I have set the goal that I will spend 2019 reading only from my own stacks. No library books (unless needed for a class) and no new purchases. It won’t be easy.
  • To read more. And get a job at the library (for real).
  • Just to read…
  •  I’d like to read at least 2 nights or more a week. I have enough books to last a lifetime and want to get enough for 4 to 5 lifetimes so I need to catch up.
  • Read more bios and autobiographies.
  • Not to feel obligated to finish every book I start. Start more, finish the good ones.
  • Reduce my bought-not-read shelf by 5 and read a book in Spanish.

I loved every one of these goals! I identify with those whose goal is “just to read.”  I’m not sure I have much more of a program than that. It also makes good sense to read the books we already have and our families, and the family budgets probably appreciate this. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to work at a library. I hope the person who shared this goal lets us know how it goes if she gets the job. I know I’d probably be broke if I worked in a bookstore. I think the aim to read more diversely, which shows up in several goals, makes sense. I like the idea of reading a book in another language to brush up one’s knowledge of the language. Perhaps I should dust off my French…

Compulsiveness can kill the joy of reading. That’s why I like the idea of not feeling obligated to finish every book we start. If it’s not working, move on. Likewise, I noted that no one set a numerical goal for the number of books they would read. This is a big deal on Goodreads. I always set a low one for me so I don’t stress out about it and can get the nice badge!

So, my reading resolutions for 2019?

  1. I want to grow in what I would call “attentive reading,” where I’m actively engaged in thinking about what I read, why I am reacting as I do to it, and what I want to carry into my life from what I want to read.
  2. I want to read at least one more book from my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list. Leading candidates right now are Chernow’s George Washington, and Taylor’s Secular Age. Both are tomes, so if you see a drop in the number of my reviews, that’s probably why (unless I’m reading another big book).
  3. I’d like to read at least one collection of poetry this year. I have them in my TBR piles, and one on my “Ten Books…” list above.
  4. I like the idea of reading a book in another language. It had better be French, and even this is pretty dusty. Any suggestions, from those who know French literature, of something that is not too demanding?
  5. Finally, I want to be more selective in the books I request for review. Any book I request for review, I feel I need to read. In particular, I want to ask, “am I really interested in this?” and “is this saying something fresh, or is it just a repackaging of old ideas?”

I better stop there. I will probably break at least one of these resolutions as it is. And more might be an exercise in compulsiveness. It’s not a good thing to start hating something you love!

The only reason I see for reading goals is they bring focus to what gives us joy. As frustrating as it is to admit sometimes, we can’t read everything–not even everything we think we’d like. If goals can help us think about what we really want to read, what will be life-giving and world-enlarging, then they seem a good thing. If not, then just “read read read read.” As someone has said, “the way is made by walking.”

Happy walking and reading in 2019!

How Do You Read So Many Books?

My Review Stats Goodreads

My reading stats as of 11/13/2018

A friend asked that question recently over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page. Yes, I do read quite a few books, 155 so far this year. I’m far from alone. Just two examples. Teddy Roosevelt was reputed to read a book a day. Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day (I typically read about 125). Both far exceed me. Here are a few thoughts on how that works for me:

  1. There are other things I don’t do. I don’t watch very much TV. If you cut out an hour of TV a day, you can read 60 books in a year.
  2. I try to cut out other distractions when I read, which slow me down as well as divert my attention from the text. Keeping the cell phone out of sight and hearing is key. I need to stay away from screens when I read.
  3. I try to read when I am most alert, which for me is early in the day. Sometimes, I stand when I read when I have to read closely, and might be inclined to doze off!
  4. I always have something available to read–on breaks, in airports. This is when I do some lighter reading.
  5. There is something to reading skills–reading speed, comprehension–that improve with practice. I pay attention to chapter titles, headings, first sentences in paragraphs, which tip me off to meaning.
  6. I find punctuating reading with some physical activity–say five minutes of walking–results in greater alertness.
  7. I always have books on hand to read next, the proverbial TBR (to be read) pile.
  8. I vary my reading–fiction, history, biography, sports, theology, science and more.
  9. I’ve been part of a book group, and over the years, we’ve read nearly one hundred books together.
  10. Track your progress, which is a kind of reinforcer in itself. Goodreads has a reading challenge. Be realistic and keep it fun.

The point in reading though is not how many books we read, but what happens in us as a result of what we read. Books can enlarge our world, enlarge our ideas of a life well-lived, sharpen our thinking, and feed our imagination. There are times to read quickly, times to read carefully, and times to savor the richness of wordplay in a poem or particularly well-written passage. Hopefully these ideas will help you make more space in your life for books, whatever number you read.

 

Regimented Reading

Aiiieeeee!_readers

By Nancy Wong (Personal collection of Nancy Wong) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I came across a post today on Bookriot that I found a bit puzzling. It was titled An Experimental Year with Regimented ReadingThe writer admitted to struggling with a reading slump, which I have to admit to not understanding. A reading slump for me would be like an eating slump. Something would have to be seriously wrong with me! So perhaps I wasn’t the most sympathetic to the writer’s proposed remedy which was a reading regimen, written out month by month, color coded by “too long on the TBR” (green), series books (yellow), new releases (hot pink), and re-reads (blue) with asterisks (*) by the priority reads. The writer has planned this out until January. I would love to hear a report about how this worked.

A list like that might be the one thing to put me in a slump! I have enough else that is planned and scheduled, that scheduling my reading would drive me up a wall. That said, as I reflected on it, I have to admit that there is a certain method to my reading madness that guides my decisions of what I read next. Here is some of what governs my choices. I usually read on my Kindle during morning exercise on the treadmill. I alternate books I’ve purchased “just because” and e-galley’s I’ve requested for review. In print books, I usually have something “Christian-related” I’m reading and, because I review books from a number of publishers, many of these are new releases I’ve requested for review. I try to mix in older “backlist” or classic works, often something our Dead Theologians group is reading. Often my choices come down to what strikes my fancy when I’ve finished one book. Then I have a mix of history, science, current events and fiction that I choose from, usually alternating among these. A gift from my son usually jumps to the top of the pile.

Sometimes, I choose books that are related to something I might be speaking on or is something we are talking about in our organization. Then there are times where I’ve been reading or researching something, and it sparks an interest in something I want to read more deeply about. This happened recently researching posts about my hometown, and the sobering discovery of significant Klan activity in the 1920’s in a northern, industrial town. I wanted to find out more about that as a part of local history that tended to be glossed over.

In making the transition from simply reading to reviewing, I’m aware that some of the choices I make have to do with books I’ve agreed to review or are newly published. I probably get around to these more quickly than I once did, realizing that it’s probably a good idea to write about a book while people are interested in it. Sadly, it also reflects the reality that this is often a very short period. That’s a dynamic I wrestle with–seeing new releases on my TBR pile and hearing the clock ticking. Most of the time though, I’m pretty good at choosing things I enjoy reading. Perhaps it would be good to be more sparing in the choices so that the pile is smaller!

So, I guess I have a bit of my own regimen after all, just not written down. The closest to a plan are a few piles from which I choose my next books. The biggest dilemma is often having to choose among a number of good choices. I guess I’ve never wrestled with slumps because there are so many things I’m curious about, and so many genres and authors I enjoy.

So, how do you choose your books? Do you have any kind of plan? Do you ever get into a reading slump? What helps you get out of it? It would be fun to hear. We really are all different, and it seems to me that reading is one of those areas where there is no single “right” way to go about it. Perhaps that’s why we like it.

 

Bob on Books Tips For Reading Well in 2018

man-reading

Man Reading, Vaino Hamalainen, 1897

Among the resolutions people make each year is some variant on “read more books.” That’s certainly a goal that I can applaud when the average number of books read by adults is 12 a year (a number skewed by avid readers; most read about 4 a year). But I have a hunch that many of these resolutions fare no better than those of losing weight or exercising more, and probably for the same reasons: lack of specific goals that are realistic, forming a habit, social support and a good coach. I will come back to these but I want to address something I hear less about–reading well.

For a number who read this blog, I don’t have to convince you about the value of reading, and in many cases, you already have good reading habits and exceed that book a month average. And even if you don’t, you probably sense that reading isn’t about numbers of books but part of a well-lived life. You read not only for amusement or diversion but to better understand your world and how to live one’s life in it. That can be anything from understanding the inner workings of your computer and how to use it better to a work of philosophy or theology or even a great novel that explores fundamental questions of life’s meaning, living virtuously, or the nature of God.

So a few thoughts on reading well, and then a few tips for those who do want to read more:

  1. Reading well is an act of attentiveness. We read well when we read without external and internal distractions. A place of quiet and a time when we are not distracted with other concerns helps us “engage the page.” It also helps to turn off the notifications on your phone or tablet, or better yet, put the electronics in another room. Read on an e-reader without other apps if you prefer these to physical books.
  2. Visual media often encourages us to passively absorb content. Books of substance require our active engagement–noticing plot, characters, and the use of literary devices like foreshadowing, allusions and more. Non-fiction often involves following an argument, and paying attention to the logic, the evidence, and whether the argument is consistent. Reading well can mean jotting notes, asking questions, or even arguing with the author. Above all it means reflecting on what we read, and how the book connects with our lives.
  3. Reading well over time means choosing good books to read. What is “good”? I’m not sure there is one good or simple answer. There are a number of “great books” lists out there and they are worth a look. You might choose one of those to read this year. One test of a book’s worth is whether people are still reading the book and finding value in it long after its author has passed. Also, in almost any genre, there are reviews, websites, and online groups. Over time, you will find sources of good recommendations.
  4. Finally, I’d suggest choosing something to read off the beaten path. Reading authors from other cultures, or a genre you don’t read can stretch your horizons. This year, I want to work in some poetry and get around to the Langston Hughes and Seamus Heaney that I’ve had laying around.

And now a few thoughts for those who simply want to read more and get into the reading habit.

  1. Set a realistic goal. Rather than focus on numbers of books, figure out where you can regularly find 10-15 minutes a day to read. You probably spend more time than that on social media. Do you know if you read 15 minutes a day, you will end up reading 15 books a year?
  2. Start with something you like. Don’t choose something others say you should read if you don’t think it is interesting. Choose something you’ve always wanted to read.
  3. Try doing this for a month–15 minutes a day with reading you enjoy. The idea is to form a habit. I started an exercise routine taking 5 minutes a day, then gradually expanded it. Forming the habit was the most important part.
  4. Finding some friends who read, or are trying to, and getting together to talk books can help. Many of us find exercising with others helps. Reading and talking books can work the same way.
  5. Finally, get a good coach. I have a number of friends who work with personal trainers or life coaches. But book coaches? Where do you find those? I’d start with a local bookseller or librarian. Any of them worth their salt can learn about your reading interests or topics you’d like to read about and suggest some good things to read.

I mentioned that finding good sources of book reviews can help you find worthy books that you will love. Hopefully Bob on Books will be one of them. My goal in writing reviews is to tell you enough about a book to help you decide if it is something you will want to read, or just something it’s good to know about. I’m looking forward to digging into the books on my “to be read” pile and telling you about them. To reading well in 2018!

Category Reading Challenges

2016

LibraryThing’s Category Challenge Group

Many of us who read lots of books or want to read more have participated in reading challenges. Many have participated in a read a book a week challenge. Goodreads allows you to set up your own challenge and to see your friends challenges.

As I continue to get acquainted with LibraryThing, one thing I’ve discovered is they have a thing called “category challenges.” When they first started in 2008, the challenge was to come up with 8 categories of books in which they would read 8 books. Next year it was 9 and 9. Eventually they decided to let people set as many or as few categories as they please and read as many or as few in each as they want. People who sign up for this are in a group, each with their own page and thread of comments from other group members.

People are really creative with their challenges. One, for example came up with a “leap year” challenge, an acronym, which stands for:

L: Let Them Eat Cake — historical fiction
E: Elementary, My Dear Watson — mysteries
A: All You Need Is Love — romance and chick lit
P: Play It Again, Sam — re-reads
Y: Yer a Wizard, Harry — fantasy
E: Everybody! — CATs, dogs, and group reads
A: Age Before Beauty — from my TBR shelves
R: Roam If You Want To — set outside the U.S. and U.K.

I’m not sure if I like being that structured in reading, although I love the creativity! My reading follows what I tend to be interested in or exploring at the time. It is interesting, though, that most of us do have our default categories. Some of my defaults categories:

  • history, especially American, European, Civil War, and military history generally.
  • biographies, especially presidential biographies.
  • mysteries, especially some of the classic writers.
  • science fiction–currently I’m intrigued  with Philip K. Dick among others.
  • historical fiction–I want to read some Hilary Mantel this year.
  • sports–every year I read a baseball book. I also have a bio on Vince Lombardi, a legendary football coach.
  • higher education, because I work in collegiate ministry.
  • theology, biblical studies, spiritual formation and lots of “faith and…” books.

The one benefit of category challenges is they offer us the chance to break out of our reading ruts.  Here are four for me (we’ll see how many of these I get to):

  1. Different ethnic and cultural voices.
  2. Books on books, especially fiction, inspired by yesterday’s post.
  3. Different religious voices, including atheist voices.
  4. Youngstown books–I have a stack that I’ve browsed but not really read.

And one for fun is to read or re-read the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers.

How about you? What categories are your defaults? If you did a category challenge, what would be your “break out” categories?

Reading Better in 2015

"Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1" by Guillaume Paumier - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1” by Guillaume Paumier – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Reading more” seems to be one of those resolutions people are making right now. Perhaps the most famous to do so is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to read 26 books “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies” (according to this article on Mashable). Mark would like us to read along with him. He’s set up a Facebook page where he is posting the books he is reading and hosting moderated discussions of the book. Based on the first title he has selected, it appears he won’t be reading fluff! (I understand that the book he chose, The End of Power, by Moses Naim, has spiked in sales since Zuckerberg chose it.)

I think this is great! I love the idea of high profile people encouraging reading, sharing what they read, and encouraging the rest of us to join them.   Zuckerberg is joining tech leader Bill Gates, who  has long been know for reading good stuff and sharing it with us. You can find reviews of what he has been reading on his blog. I discovered in checking out his blog that there are two of us on the planet who have actually read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century!

One thing I’m afraid of is that “reading more” will go the way of “exercising more” and “eating less”. That is, we look back at wistfully at the end of the year and say, “maybe next year.” What I want to recommend instead is “reading better”. I’m convinced that when we read better, we may read more. But the numbers of books matter less than having your life enriched and world enlarged by the books you read. Here are my ideas for “reading better.”

1. Read as you can, not as you can’t. It may be that you are an active person who can’t sit still and read for more than 15 minutes at a time. If you read 15 minutes a day, you can read 15 average size books in a year. Trying to read when you really want to be doing something else is miserable and isn’t going to encourage you to read at all, let alone more or better.

2. Read when you can give your attention to what you are reading and enter into the world of the book. Different books need different levels of attention. “Beach reads” take less attention than a serious book on climate change or a Tolstoy novel. Attempting to read a book when you can’t give it the attention it requires is just an exercise in frustration.

3. On a related note, I don’t recommend reading on a phone or tablet that has other applications running besides your reader. If we see we have mail or a text, we are already distracted. If we read them, our reading becomes disconnected.

4. Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read. I know nothing that will put you off of reading more quickly that trying to trudge through a book that you really don’t like because someone thinks that all the cool people should read that book! One way to find books you might like is to read is to follow reviewers who seem to have similar takes on books you’ve liked.

5. If you find people with similar interests, forming a book group can not only help you read more but the discussions will take you more deeply into the book as you hear others “take” on the book. One book group I’m in has wrestled through some good but challenging books and helped each other make sense of books I’d probably have given up reading alone.

6. Reflect on what you read. Maybe it means keeping a “commonplace book” to jot down quotes you like. I started writing reviews to reflect on and remember what I read. Goodreads is a great place to do this and has the added benefits of discovering what your friends are reading and think of what they’ve read.

reading challenge7. While I’m talking about Goodreads, they have this thing called the “Reading Challenge”. Set goals that are realistic. Zuckerberg’s is a book every two weeks. More is not better. Better is better. Compulsively reading to reach a goal is not better. Choosing short, easy to read books just so you can “catch up” seems beside the point.

8. Read at least one book that differs from what you usually read. If you are a die-hard liberal, read a thoughtful conservative writer, and vice versa. If all your books are written by Americans, read something by an author from a different country, preferably a non-Western country. If you are religious (or not!), read something outside your tradition, or even something from another religion. I’ve found this both strengthens my own beliefs and enlarges my understanding of the world.

9. Read one intellectually challenging book on a topic you care about deeply . I’m not suggesting you read intellectually challenging books that hold no interest for you. I love singing and sing in a choral group but never had any formal training. Reading about music theory has helped me begin to appreciate more deeply what is going on in the music I sing which feeds my love for it.

10. Read something just for fun. I read a baseball book in the summer of each year. No profound reason except that I like baseball–and there are some great baseball writers out there and some great writers who are baseball fans.

I’d love to hear your ideas about reading better!