Tips for Participating in Reading Challenges

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At the start of the year, I wrote a post about my annual reading challenge. The challenge is fairly simple: to read a diverse selection of books up to 26 books, or one book every two weeks. The challenge contains a mix of book choices from genres (romance, mystery, historical fiction) to prompts (a book with a person’s name in the title, a book set in your hometown, a book with a one-word title, etc.).

My goal for the year is 32 books, however, and so far, I have completed 10. I’m well on my way to reaching my numerical goal.

But doing this challenge isn’t about the quantity of books. It’s about expanding my reading knowledge and being accountable for continuing to read throughout the year. No, I do not feel pressure to meet my number goal, and I don’t race through books to check it off my list. If I do race through a book, it’s usually because it’s a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down.

Opponents of reading challenges say they are too much like homework assignments. I view them more like a game, a scavenger hunt where you’re given clues to find certain items. In this case, book titles that fit a particular description. Others say they don’t want to feel pressure to reach reading goals, even though they can determine what those goals should be.

Search the Internet and you’ll find numerous reading challenges, such as Popsugar, Goodreads or this one at Booklist Queen. If these sites don’t fit your reading goals, you can always create your own. For ideas on how to do that, check out Bookriot’s DIY Reading Challenge. There are different approaches to doing reading challenges that have nothing to do with a set quantity.

Maybe you love mysteries, but want to explore other mystery authors. Choose to read one book each month from a mystery author you’ve never read before. Or choose ten places you’ve never been to before, and choose 10 books that take place in those locations.

You get the idea. That’s the fun part of reading challenges.

If you have done a reading challenge, you know already how it can improve your reading. Here are a few other benefits of doing reading challenges:

— It gets you out of your comfort zone so you’re not reading the same author or genre all the time, and allows you to choose books that you wouldn’t normally read.
— It adds a fun element to reading, much like a scavenger hunt. It’s a game, although there are no set prizes.
— It’s a different way to enjoy reading. It’s really less about the quantity of books and more about enhancing the experience. You can still focus on quality books and you can still take your time reading them. It’s about making a commitment to read more books and read different styles.
— It makes you accountable. A reading challenge gives you a plan for reading more books. Some people perform better if they have a plan in place.
— It gives you a chance to make a dent in your TBR bookshelf.

Meanwhile, opponents of reading challenges cite several objections:
— Having a target goal puts pressure on you to perform at a level you may not ready for or at a faster pace than you’re used to.
— The challenge can seem like a chore, like homework. It’s something you have to do, rather than something you want to do.
— You may find yourself racing through books just to meet your target goal rather than going at a slower pace that allows you to enjoy the book.
— In a challenge with prompts, you may have to do some research to find some of the more obscure titles. It may take time to find a book that takes place in Asia, for instance, or a book published the year you were born. That can be more work than you are willing to put into it.
— Setting reading goals might ruin your enjoyment of the activity.

While some of these objections have some merit, I find that the benefits often outweigh the downsides. In the four years I’ve done this challenge, I can’t tell you how many new authors I’ve discovered, and different genres that I never would have read.

According to an article in Atlantic magazine, people who enjoyed reading challenges the most didn’t seem to care if they finished them or not. They didn’t care if they hit their target of 50 books. If their goal was to read more books and having a target goal helped them achieve that, they were satisfied with the outcome.

If you’re intrigued by reading challenges, here are a few helpful tips for participating in them:

— Set a small goal to start. Maybe choose five books by minority authors, or five nonfiction books if you’re used to reading fiction. Or do a summer reading challenge – one book on a selected topic for June, July and August.
— You don’t have to follow the established reading challenges like Goodreads if it doesn’t fit your reading goals.
— Keep track of your accomplishments. Keep a small notebook or a spreadsheet, and jot down what you read.
— Don’t worry about quantity. If setting a number goal scares you, don’t worry about it. Focus on the diversity or quality of books instead.
— Don’t overthink the challenge. Challenges exist to help you become a better reader. If you set a goal for reading 10 non-fiction books and you only read seven, don’t beat yourself up over it.
— Don’t take it too seriously. Reading challenges are meant to be fun ways to discover new authors and new genres.
— Reward yourself. While most challenges don’t offer prizes, you can always reward yourself when you complete your challenge.

Remember, you are in control of your reading challenge. You determine how many books you want to read, the types of books you want to read and how much time you’re willing to spend reading them. No one is forcing you to finish the challenge. But imagine how good you’ll feel about yourself when you do.

12 Ways Reading Every Day Can Improve Your Life

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February’s theme is “For the Love of Books”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about our collective love of books – from finding books on a budget and downsizing a book collection, to honoring our libraries and independent bookstores and showcasing the best resources for book clubs.

The good news – perhaps the best news – is that books are alive and well, thank you very much. It doesn’t matter if you read books with an E-reader or the traditional print version, reading is more popular than ever. One wonders what any of us would do if we did not have books to read.

Much has been written about the benefits of reading, including scores of scientific evidence of its neurological and physiological benefits. Studies find that reading just 10 or 15 minutes a day can alter your brain’s functioning power.

A recent Lifehack article outlines some additional benefits to reading. Here’s how reading books can transform your life.

1. Reading stimulates the brain. Recent studies show that reading can slow the cognitive decline in dementia patients. The brain may not be a muscle in the traditional sense, but it can act like one in that it must be worked frequently to improve different cognitive functions, such as memory and math skills. The more you read, the stronger your brain becomes.

2. Reading expands knowledge. The more you read, the more you increase your knowledge of the world. Non-fiction helps you understand current events, science, technology, relationships and even your own pets. Meanwhile, reading fiction gives you insights into human behavior and motivation. Reading expands your view of the outside world.

3. Reading helps increase vocabulary and writing skills. As any professional writer can tell you, if you want to improve your writing and vocabulary, read a lot of books. Be aware of the writing styles too. As you read, it’s helpful to keep a dictionary handy in case you come across unfamiliar terms. Author Susan Reynolds in Psychology Today suggests firing up your writing brain by reading complex literary and non-fiction subjects, like science and art, which forces your brain to think more deeply, a skill that will help you become a better writer.

4. Reading is a form of relaxation and helps reduce stress. The most relaxing activity I know of is reading. Even reading for 15 minutes a day can slow down your heart rate and help you find your center again. Reading provides an escape from the pressures and problems of your day.

5. Reading increases tolerance for life’s uncertainties. A study cited in The Atlantic magazine finds that reading and writing can increase a person’s tolerance for uncertainty. Study participants who read short stories were less likely to need cognitive closure – to reach a conclusion quickly or were less likely to have an aversion to ambiguity and confusion. Reading teaches them that sometimes there are no clear cut solutions to problems and that not all stories end happily or at all. Fiction readers, especially those who were avid readers, were able to think more creatively and not get tied down to one idea.

6. Reading teaches empathy. An article in Real Simple magazine suggests that reading can help you understand a person’s emotions and motivations. By reading about different characters, whether fictional or true, readers can observe human behavior in action. When dealing with real life scenarios, they’re more likely to empathize with people going through difficulties.

7. Reading provides quality “Me Time.” Life can be stressful, and sometimes you want to get away from it all. But if you can’t take a vacation, immersing yourself in a good book is the next best thing. Think of it as a vacation for your mind. And because reading is a solo activity, it provides the quality “Me Time” most people crave.

8. Reading improves critical and analytical thinking skills. If you’ve ever read a spy thriller or a mystery novel and followed the clues to figure out “whodunit,” you’ve learned to use your analytical skills to solve the mystery on your own. Likewise, quietly observing plot development, character development, dialogue and story structure as you read along improves your thinking skills. But you don’t have to read just mysteries to achieve this. Non-fiction books can do the trick as well.

9. Reading helps improve focus and concentration. When you spend time alone with a book, the rest of the world just seems to fall away. When you read, you block out all outside distractions. It helps to turn off the TV and the radio too, which do little to build your brain’s cognitive function. The more complex the book, the more concentration and focus will be required.

10. Reading sets an example for kids. A friend of mine, who is an avid reader, once told me that she reads in front of her two young toddler sons so she can set an example for them. Studies back this up. Kids can develop an interest in reading early on simply by watching their parents read, or better yet, hearing their parents read out loud to them.

11. Reading can help you sleep better. Studies show that reading before bedtime can improve the quality of your sleep, as long as you read a printed book rather than an e-reader or tablet. The light from these devices can interfere with sleep. I’ve had nights when I lie awake at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. After reading for a half hour or so, I’m drowsy enough to get back to sleep.

12. Reading provides cheap entertainment. Reading is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment you can find. It doesn’t cost much to read a book (unless you purchased the book brand new). The only cost is the cost of the book, but even that can be minimized if you buy second-hand or borrow it. If you’re on a budget, reading is a low-cost option to entertaining yourself.