I have always been an avid reader. My sisters and I weren’t allowed to watch much television growing up, so books were my great escape. I read with a voracious appetite, every evening, weekend, vacation.
At any given time, I would be tucked in a corner somewhere with my gals from the Babysitter’s Club or learning everything I needed to know about life from Judy Blume.
As I grew older, school (then work) chipped away at my free time, and the more challenging I found making time for reading.
Years passed, and I figured out I missed the genuine relaxation and escape that only an excellent book can provide -- the rush of a thrilling page-turner, that gooey feeling when you are falling in love right along with the characters, that urgent need to get home as soon as possible so you can pick up the book and find out what happens next.
The true love of reading never left me and, though I still read enough to stay sane, it was only just barely enough. I had to do something about it.
I realized that, as with every other facet of my life, I had to set goals if I wanted to make reading a priority again. Since 2011 I have set a reading challenge for myself every year and, whether you want to read more, or are simply in a reading rut, I have discovered a few tips for staying an active reader along the way.
1. Annual Reading Challenges
In 2011, I made a New Year’s resolution to read 50 books in a year. This was a colossal and, in retrospect, ridiculous first goal, especially because I was in my last year of grad school.
Still, I read constantly. I had a long list of recommendations from friends and family, readers who I trusted wouldn’t steer me in the wrong direction of all the excellent novels I had missed over the past few years.
It wasn't the amount that really mattered to me, but the variety and challenge of reading everything I could get my hands on just in an attempt to reach that goal.
I discovered YA fiction for the first time, new authors, and the fun of a long series like the Sookie Stackhouse books (hey, I’m no snob). I read constantly, adding the books to the long list in the back of my journal with a deep feeling of satisfaction as it inched toward my goal.
However, that fall I got a job that sucked all the extra time and energy out of my life. By the time the bell tolled midnight on New Year’s Eve of 2012, I was 13 books shy of my goal. While I didn’t hit 50, I did read about 30 books more than I had the year before, which I consider a win.
And I have adopted this reading challenge method every year since, adding one more book to the list than I read the year prior, in an effort to challenge myself.
I am tracking this challenge on Goodreads, an online peer network for books. I have apps and trackers for everything (gym workouts, menstrual cycles, etc) so why not a tracker for books? Much more advanced than the messy journal list of yore. It has helped me to stay on task and keeps me motivated to pick up the book instead of the remote when I am on the fence of what to do with my time.
2. Book Clubs
Before I started a book club with a few girlfriends last year, I had always (unfairly) thought of them as stuffy and pretentious. But once it started, it soon became (and still is) the highlight of my month.
We meet once a month, make a book-themed dinner, drink wine and, yes, actually discuss the book.
(I would have assumed that this goes without saying, but people are often shocked that we don’t use the pretense of a book club to get drunk on a weekday.)
It has kept me reading books that I may have otherwise put down, reengaged my interest in discussion and debate about novels, and guarantees that I will read at least 12 books in a year. I would highly recommend starting a book club with friends or co-workers who love to read.
3. Social Media
If you don’t have people in your life who love to read, go online to keep yourself engaged and accountable.
Goodreads not only has the reading challenge, but also has literally millions of readers who enjoy discussing books.
Or you can start your own online discussion on Twitter or Facebook, posting your progress as you go along. I followed a reading tag on Twitter for the month of July that encourages people to read a little every day (#JulyReading).
You can start your own hashtag with your friends or different communities you follow online. #xoJanebookclub anyone? Just a thought. (Note: I haven't forgotten about this and I'm working on it! --Marianne)
4. Other Formats (Audio Books and E-Readers)
While I am pretty old-fashioned in my love of reading physical books, I have dabbled with both audio books and e-readers.
Audio books are great for long commutes or when you can’t use your eyes for another thing for staring at a screen all day. I often listen to audio books through Audible.com for long walks or while doing chores around my house.
E-readers have the benefit of being light-weight and thus far more practical for trips. Plus they have the added bonus of purchasing books on the device.
I have set my reading goal at 40 books this year, one book more than I have ever read in a year. Based on my reading challenge tracker, I am well on my way.
And you can do this, too! Whether your goal is to make a point of reading a little every day, to read outside your usual genre, or to read more than you ever have before, you can do it! Tailor the goal to your lifestyle.
All that matters is engaging with what you love about reading -- and maybe getting so lost in the pages of a good book that it takes days to resurface.