A few years ago a friend posted on her Facebook that she wanted to do a hundred book challenge. She linked to an article and the challenge was passed around our circle. The idea was to not only read a hundred books (or fifty depending on your schedule), but to broaden the reader’s literary base by reading new genres and topics. I thought this was a grand idea and committed myself wholeheartedly to the project. Since that time I have successfully completed the challenge two times and am working on a third year. Not only has the challenge reinforced my love for books, but it has brought up some interesting questions and made me learn more about myself than I would have initially expected. Here are some things that I find notable and for all my fellow readers out there you may too.
1. I can’t read 100 books in a year. Just the notion of accepting the challenge forced me to really think about what was achievable. I find I have a terrible habit of setting the bar too high and then feeling bad about myself when I fall short. I’ve seen many a motivational poster that encouraged the viewer to “Shoot for the Stars!” Although it is true that you have to push yourself to know what is possible, I have found that knowing your limitations and finding a way to work successfully within the margins leads to a happier and less stressful existence. Sometimes the path less traveled takes you to a remarkably beautiful place, and sometimes you trip, fall down a hole, and get bit by a rattlesnake. For me, two books a week just didn’t feel achievable, so I wussed out and decided on fifty, and I’m OK with that.
2. I had to reevaluate how I spend (i.e. waste) my time. If I had to guess, I’d say that before the challenge I read thirty books a year… maybe. I already felt like my life was in a time-crunch. If I was going to read fifty books, I was going to have to make some adjustments. I read in Time Magazine (of course!) that the average American wastes six months of their life waiting at red lights. That got me thinking, where else do I waste time? Doctor’s offices, waiting in any sort of line, and trying to fall asleep were big ones that seemed unavoidable. But there were active ones too. How many hours have I spent watching TV, playing Farmville, or clicking refresh on Facebook? I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are amazed that I can find the time to read as much as I do, but at the end of the day I’d say that it is largely about being creative and making choices. First and foremost I quit Farmville and decided what TV shows I could live without. Second, I always carry a book in my purse. Not only does it make my purse an excellent bludgeoning weapon for would-be-muggers, but ten minutes in the grocery checkout equals ten minutes of reading. Waiting for the doctor is less stressful because I have something to occupy my mind. I go to bed earlier, set a limit on how much I’ll allow myself to read (otherwise I would be up all night), and give my body time to wind down, so when it’s time to fall asleep it’s easier. Reading has had many side benefits outside the pleasure of good entertainment.
3. I read for pleasure; as an escape; for information. In that order. The blog that outlined the challenge specified that it was meant to broaden a reader’s scope and perspective. I went into the challenge with the best of intentions. In some ways I was successful and in other ways I absolutely was not. In the seventh grade I discovered Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. I had read over a hundred Babysitter Club books before that, dozens of Nancy Drew’s, Roald Dahl and Beverly Clearly. Nothing captivated me the way Amber did. It’s the first time I can remember staying up all night to read anything. From there I read Piers Anthony, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and many others. Maybe another day I will bore you with stories of me as a sad child, but for today, let it suffice when I say that for me Fantasy was an escape from the torments of grade school and unpopularity. There was something quite extraordinary about being able to imagine an entirely different reality. To have it be so real that I could suspend disbelief and have it make a perfect kind of sense. I think the best Fantasy always defines what it is to be human. The fantastical elements can be allegorical or can provide contrast, but the core is always a very human story. The challenge has broadened what kinds of fantasy (and science fiction) I read, and I have read more nonfiction and regular fiction novels than ever before, but I find that I get the most pleasure when I read fantasy. So when you look at my reading list that is what you will see, because ultimately that is why I read.
Overall, I think the challenge has enriched my life. It has certainly made me take a closer look at my reading habits and the importance of literature in my own life. Here’s to another fifty books in 2012.