Many people love reading books. Reading gives them pleasure and allows them to see the world from a new perspective.
By reading a book, you are permitted to enter someone else’s mind, to find out how they think, to see and understand the world through their eyes.
The benefits of reading books are many. They include stress reduction, improved memory, and enhanced mental agility when you grow older.
Personal development author, Blaz Kos, says,
‘By reading a book you automatically expand your mind, improve your vocabulary, train your creative potential and analytical skills, improve empathy and much more.’
If you are a devoted reader or an aspiring reader, you may like to consider a Reading Challenge.
Reading Challenges get you out of your reading comfort zone.
They spur you on to read more widely.
They help you expand and diversify your reading.
They encourage you to intentionally read books by authors from different countries and cultures, to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise would not try.
During 2020 I tackled my first Reading Challenge, created by Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs Darcy. There were ten categories, listed below, and I have added the books I chose to read to meet the requirement.
2020 Reading Challenge
1. A book published the decade you were born
1984 – George Orwell
2. A debut novel
Act of Grace – Anna Krien
3. A book recommended by a source you trust
Deep Work – Cal Newport
4. A book by a local author
Closing Down – Sally Abbott
5. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone
The Odyssey – Homer
6. A book in translation
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
7. A book nominated for an award in 2020
Bruny – Heather Ross
8. A re-read
Home – Marilynne Robinson
9. A classic you did not read in school
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
10. Three books by the same author
- The Nickel Boys
- The Underground Railroad
- The Colossus of New York
I successfully completed the challenge, although it required a sustained push at the end. I would like to share some of my observations.
(1) Be ready to be challenged:
I never imagined 2020 would be defined by the COVID 19 pandemic. Lockdown posed its own challenges, making it difficult to focus on a particular task. For some, their reading life suffered. Fortunately, this was not my experience.
Our public library was closed for several months which meant I was unable to access the books I wanted to read.
(2) Be flexible:
At the start of the challenge, I researched the different categories and came up with a list of possible reads. As part of my planning, I visited the municipal library to enquire about ‘local authors.’ I spoke with two librarian assistants who both came up blank, not able to produce a single name. This was embarrassing for them and bemusing for me.
As I was sourcing most of my books from the library, it was important to check their availability and make any necessary changes. I had hoped to read three books by Peter Heller but had to settle for Colson Whitehead, who did not disappoint.
(3) Be patient:
When we accept a Reading Challenge there will be moments when we consider giving up. This was my experience when reading Homer’s, The Odyssey. It is an epic poem, beautifully constructed, with much to commend it. But the ‘journey home’ was so arduous I questioned my resolve to undertake it, particularly during a pandemic.
Patience is a tough skill to master. It asks that we put aside our discomfort and persevere. It requires a readiness to take up the book and turn the page.
(4) Be disciplined:
My reading was not limited to the Reading Challenge alone. I read 53 books during 2020. Fortunately, I found the books that made up my Reading Challenge to be of genuine interest and worthy of the time spent.
Given that the Reading Challenge involved 12 books, I knew that if I completed one a month, I would achieve my goal. Unfortunately, several unproductive months during the height of the pandemic crisis meant a scramble at the end.
(5) Be expectant:
It is important to maintain a positive attitude when you are reading. Our reading experience will have its ups and downs. Not every book will excite us to the same extent. Not every book will speak to us and challenge our view of the world. Not every book will inspire hope.
2020 was a year of uncertainty and global change. There was much to raise our anxiety levels and cause us to feel ambivalent about the future. I found the books that I chose for my Reading Challenge to be enlightening, encouraging, and empowering. They provided a way forward in difficult times. As Tom Banfield says,
Here are some of the issues they addressed.
The challenge COVID 19 posed to our mental health
Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad. (George Orwell 1984)
Dealing with distractions in life
A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it is not a philosophical statement – it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done. (Cal Newport Deep Work)
Being grateful for life
When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love. (Marcus Aurelius Meditations)
The importance of forgiveness in maintaining peace with yourself and the world
There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding.
If you forgive you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace. (Marilynne Robinson Home)
Recognising our prejudices and how they influence our thinking
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones. (Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre)
Focussing on the injustices in society and acknowledging ‘Black Lives Matter’
Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man. (Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad)
Should you want to create your own Reading Challenge for 2021 here are some additional suggestions to those above.
- Read a travel memoir
- Read a classic by an author of colour
- Read a book set during wartime
- Read a nonfiction book about technology
- Read a book published in the nineteenth century
- Read a book about a sportsman
- Read a book about trees
- Read a fantasy novel
- Read a book written for young adults
- Read a book that was banned
- Read a book by a Russian author
- Read a book based on a fairy tale
- Read a Pulitzer Prize winning book
- Read a book that became a movie
- Read a book about food
- Read a book set during Christmas
- Read a book by an author who uses a pseudonym
- Read a book with a cat on the cover
- Read a book by or about a person who has a disability
- Read a book with one of the four seasons in the title