Reading More Widely-and Playfully-With Reading Challenges
Jessica Stone presents Dear Reader for Canterbury’s Community and Student Radio. In her spare time, she also volunteers for Listening Books. She tells us why she does reading challenges!
A few years ago, I responded to a prompt going around social media. It asked readers to think of the top 10 books that had the most impact on them personally. You can try it now if you like. On my list I had childhood books like Anne of Green Gables, as well as books I read as a young adult when I was still regularly astounded by what a story could do to a person–Catch 22, which was the first time I remember wanting to howl from hilarity and pain in the very same moment.
Several of my friends participated as well, so after I came up with my own list, I was curious to see what they had posted. I started to notice something of a pattern. It seemed that the books my male friends had highlighted all had something in common: they were all written by men. Uneasy, I checked my own list again. Though I was relieved to find a decent gender balance represented, my self-satisfaction lasted only as long as it took me to realise that the authors on my list were all white.
My guess is that we read many of the books that have had the most impact on us during the formative years. We can’t go back in time to change our reading choices any more than we can change what spoke to us most profoundly at critical points in our lives. But we can absolutely make sure that other voices get opportunities to speak to us now.
Enter Reading Challenges!
Every year I create a reading challenge for myself. The objective isn’t to read a certain number of books. I can never keep track of how many books I read because the numbers don’t interest me, and the record keeping seems tedious. (If you are the kind of person who likes a good quantitative challenge, though, then audiobooks are a fantastic way to hit those high digits!) What I am interested in is the breadth and variety of my reading.
I hate to think of everything I’m missing out on if I don’t make the effort to look beyond my usual fare. The reading challenges I’m talking about help me do that by offering prompts that nudge me in different directions. It might be a particular genre, or setting, or type of protagonist. Or it might be something like ‘a book your mother recommended to you’. Or ‘a book in translation’, or even ‘a book connected to your favourite television show’.
Before I started creating my own, I tried a challenge I’d seen online by Book Riot. I had a lot of fun with it at first, but towards the end of the year I started feeling pressure to finish the last few categories, which took some of the joy out of it. When I constructed my own, I decided to put it into a bingo card format. This allows multiple ways to win and makes it more fun to try!
You can find more bingo cards here!
I also find the categories make good starting points for bookish conversation. Tired of the usual book club format where everyone reads and discusses the same title? Try taking on a challenge as a group, with everyone choosing their own books based on the same prompt. One month read ‘a book set in the decade in which you were born’, and when you meeting you get to talk about which book you chose and what you loved (or didn’t) about your choice.
I’m convinced there’s a challenge out there for every reader. You could read more books by women, more inclusive books, books that connect you to the natural world, books made into movies, or just a greater variety of books!
Or you could even devise your own audiobook specific challenge!
Do you like reading challenges? Have you created your own? Let us know in the comments!
This post was written by Jessica Stone. She presents Dear Reader, a show about books and the reading life, for Canterbury’s Community and Student Radio. Listen at CSR 97.4FM.
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