The Sunday Salon: The Challenge Year

About 20 years ago I started keeping track of the books I read in a book journal, usually a 5x7 hardcover lined notebook. It wasn’t a particularly elegant system - I simply listed the title and author of the book, using a separate page for each month. If the book was a particular favorite, I might jot an asterisk beside it; if it was the second (or third or fourth!) time I’d read it, I would note that too. At the end of each month, I totaled the number of books read during that time, and at the end of the year, I skimmed through the year’s reading and made a “favorites” list. 

One journal lasts a long time, and I’m about to fill up my third such little book. Of course I’ve kept them all, and it’s fun to look back and see when I read the most (usually July) and the least (usually December). That very first journal has some scribbling on the back pages, and I clearly remember letting my friend Karen's daughter draw in the book when we were having lunch together one day and talking about books as we were wont to do. 

That daughter is now ready to graduate from college.

For 2015 I decided to record my reading in a new way. I began keeping track of my books on Goodreads, noting when I started and finished each one, rating them, and often writing a short review, mostly to jog my own memory about the book. I continued to write them all down in my book journal, simply because I’ll always prefer “hard copies” to digital versions of anything. But overall I’m enjoying the Goodreads experience, and will continue it into 2016.

For most all of these 20 years I’ve been keeping track of my reading life, I’ve read an average of 75-85 books every year. When I started my Goodreads account last December, I decided to challenge myself to read 100 books in 2015. It didn’t seem as if it should be that hard to read another 20 books more than usual.

And it wasn’t. I hit the 100 mark early last week, and I’m hoping to make it to 110 before the end of this month (despite the fact that December is historically a low reading month).

But the whole “Challenge” concept put an interesting spin on the way I read. I didn’t necessarily read faster - in fact, I think I read more thoughtfully than I had in the past. Nor did I read more indiscriminately - there were still a few books that I set aside because after the first 50-75 pages I could tell they weren’t for me. What I did do was plan out more reading time. I made sure to keep my book handy, so I could read when dinner was cooking or whenever I had a few minutes during the day. I carried my book around with me, taking it to doctor appointments, even to restaurants if I thought I might have a wait time before meeting a friend. I read more instead of scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. I read while sitting on the couch beside my husband as he watched car racing or soccer - or anything else that wasn’t interesting enough to distract me!

“Challenging" myself made my reading more purposeful. In a way, the challenge validated my reading life - because even though I love to read and count reading as one of my favorite pastimes, I still feel twinges of Puritan guilt about sitting down to read in the middle of the day; or reading when I could be writing or practicing; or reading when I could be walking the dogs; or reading when I should be doing some other household chore like laundry or meal planning or vacuuming. 

So yes, as well as continuing to keep track of books on Goodreads, I will again challenge myself in 2016, this time to read 125 books; additionally, just to make things a little more interesting, I challenge myself to read a book from one of these categories each month: a work of classic literature; a book in translation; or a nonfiction book other than memoir.  I’m currently collating a list of books to choose from in those categories.

Life can be challenging enough these days,  and sometimes I shy away from imposing any more challenges upon myself. But the reading challenge was a positive experience all around, and I’m looking forward to an exciting new year of reading.

If you’re on Goodreads, connect with me here.