Be More Intentional With Reading Challenges

Reading Challenges

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Reading challenges are one of my favorite ways to read. And explore new books. Besides having a handy list of the books I want to read, the challenges require me to search outside my comfort zone when looking for new books. And this is especially important because of the limited time I have to read.

Mothers are notoriously busy. And we often have difficulty doing things for ourselves. It’s not that we don’t want to. But with children who need looking after, meals to prepare, the house to clean, among other responsibilities, it can be next to impossible finding the down-time to read.

When I was younger, I could just read whatever whenever I felt like it. I had years to tackle that to-be-read pile that was steadily growing.

But with age (and kids) I’ve come to realize that I must be intentional about what I read. I’ve learned that not every book that interests me will ever make it into my hands.

After my 3rd child was born (and I found myself with a little time in the evenings) I decided to finally break down that list I had been slowly building for years. I made a rough count of how many books I wanted to read. Then I broke down how long it would take me to complete the list if I read one book per week.

It came to about 25 years. Doable. Except for the fact that I was constantly adding to that list. And with three kids under the age of four, there was no guarantee I could even finish one book a week.

It was disheartening, to say the least. So I had to take a step back and make a new plan.

Different Types

The problem was how to narrow down that list. And that is where reading challenges come in. Being a somewhat competitive person who LOVES lists, this is the perfect solution to focus me.

The question is then which reading challenge to use. I don’t know if you have ever done a search for reading challenges but there are a lot. I mean, there are pages and pages.

And there are multiple ways to run a reading challenge. It often depends on how much control you like to have over your reading list.

Some people need structure. Others fight it. It’s important to know which type of person you are before choosing. This will often indicate whether or not you will succeed.

For example, I like to have a little structure. But not too much.

If I’m told what to read and when I’ll bristle. And won’t follow along. Even with an incentive.

However, if you give me the ultimate freedom to do what I want, I just won’t do anything. Analysis paralysis. The struggle is real.

Luckily, there are all kinds of challenges out there.

Structured

The easiest reading challenges to find are structured ones. It simply depends on the type of structure you are looking for. Do you want structure in how long it takes to read a book? How about what type of book you? Or even the specific book you must read?

Knowing this can help you narrow down what will work for you from the thousands of different reading challenges out there.

As I mentioned before, I don’t like to feel restricted. But I also don’t like being left rudderless. What I’ve found that works for me are to use those structured challenges. But join multiple so I can pick and choose what I want to follow.

Here are some different ways people have found to structure their reading challenge.

  • Some challenges require you to finish one book a month. Others, one book a week. Still others even more. An example of this would be the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.
  • A challenge that tells you what type of book to read would be a topical challenge. The best example I have for this is the Victorian Reading Challenge or the Back to the Classics Challenge.
  • If you want to be able to talk about your book or share your experience, you should join a book club. Like the Anchored Women Book Club.
  • Pre-chosen. If you are not like me and have no idea what to read, why not try one of the many challenges that give you the list to read. The Christian Reading Challenge for Women or Men would fit this category.

Unstructured

Some people really like to have more freedom in their reading. Being told what to read and when to read it can remind you of school.

And for someone who already struggles to read, this can be a turn-off. Choosing the book you want to read based on your mood or current interest, can be inspiring.

In this case, you are going to want a challenge that is freer.

  • Free-format. How about a challenge that tells you how many books to read but not what type? If you have a list of books that you want to read but don’t know how to tackle the list, why not try this type? An example would be the Scholé Sisters 5X5 Challenge. You choose 5 books from five different subject areas to read. The topics are up to you, as are the books themselves. You are simply guided by the set number.
  • This type of challenge can be more structured if you want. The 20 for 2020 Literary Challenge fulfills this. You have the categories of 20 different books but that is the extent of the structure. No time limits, no date limits.
  • Create your own. If you still want to be intentional about reading but don’t really care to stick to a setlist, you can create your own challenge. Try the Goodreads Reading Challenge if this is more what you are looking for. Simply choose the number of books you wish to complete in the year and get started.

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Choose Your Reading Challenge

Now that you know what kind of challenges are out there, it’s time to choose.

For me, I picked from the topics that most interested me and went from there. I wanted both structure and a more free form so I kind of picked from all over the place.

You can choose to pick only one challenge and focus on it while reading for pleasure on the side. Or you can be like me and go for multiple. Just be aware that if you pick more than one, the chances of actually finishing one are slim. You must be prepared for this possibility.

For me, the possibility of finishing a challenge is less important than actually reading as much and as varied as possible. So I don’t mind having so many.

Classics

Because I’m always trying to keep up with that long list of classics I’ve never gotten around to, I chose both the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge and the Victorian Reading Challenge (my favorite classics genre). And because they have similar prompts, I can double dip.

For example, I’m reading The Time Machine by HG Wells as my Genre Classic on the Back to the Classics list and as my January/ February Journeys & Travels selection for the Victorian Reading Challenge.

There are multiple challenges you can choose from here. Any reader worth his salt will tell you that the number of classics they have read is woefully inadequate.

You can read more about one of my classic challenges in my post Back to the Classics Reading Challenge 2020.

Modern

But I don’t always want to be stuck in the past. I like knowing what is more modern. And I want to be able to read books that have only recently been written as well.

That’s where the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge (affectionately known as the MMD Challenge) comes in. And since some of the prompts on this list are classics as well, I can keep on double-dipping.

Remember The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky? That book I never finished last year (or the multiple other years I’ve had it on my list)? Well, I’m really pushing myself to get it done this year because it can be found on at least four of my current reading lists.

But this is also where I can read the latest thriller or literary piece written more recently than the 1970s.

The 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge fits perfectly here as well.

Christian

My faith is very important to me. I’m always looking for ways to keep my eyes on Jesus. And to increase my understanding of His commands.

So the Christian Reading Challenge for Women (there is also one for men) and the Intentional By Grace Reading Challenge both fulfill this desire.

Plus, I can double dip here as well. Not to mention, the added bonus of having books already chosen for me. I’m much less knowledgeable about Christian books than I am about the classics.

Other than Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and Elisabeth Elliot (most of whom are classics authors), I really didn’t know what authors I should be reading.

So having a list ready-made is necessary for me here.

Book Club

I’m a pretty solitary and introverted person. However, sometimes I do like to get together with other people of similar interests.

And one of my favorite types of get-together is a book club.

Reading the same book as others at the same time, then discussing it is a pleasure I learned when at the university. I don’t always like the restriction of having others choose my books. However, finding the right book club can fix that.

Chances are good that your local library has a book club that you could join if you want the pleasure of meeting in person but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you know someone in your circle of friends who is part of a book club that you can join.

But if this is not a possibility for you, there are online options. And this works best for me.

First, because as a busy homeschool mom of four, getting out of the house to meet up with others on a regular basis is not so easy.

Secondly, because I like reading in English. And living in France, it is not so easy to find an English reading book club. Possibly, I could find something like this in larger cities like Paris. But in smaller cities and villages, there is not much interest in something like this.

The most recent book club I’ve found that I enjoy is the Anchored Women Book Club. Kayse of anchored-women.com has chosen one new book for each month of the year.

When you choose to join the book club, you will be invited to a Facebook group where discussions take place throughout the month regarding the current choice.

I really like the list which is geared towards Christian women and mothers.

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Reading Schedule

As you can read in my post 4 Ways to Fulfill Mother Culture, I worked on four or five different challenges for the year 2019. I knew that I would never be able to complete all of them. But it gave me a broad enough list to work off of so that I would not feel restricted.

This worked for me.

The trick is admitting that I do not need to complete every book on the list. But that I stay consistent with my reading. And that I don’t always stick to the same type of books.

One way that I have done this is to give a time limit when I would like to finish a book (based on its length and difficulty) and break it down to a weekly schedule.

Since I am usually working on more than one book at a time, I will try to schedule each book on a different day in the week. Sundays & Tuesdays are for fun books, the easy reads. Mondays and Thursdays I will read a classic. Wednesdays & Fridays are work or homeschool books. And Saturdays will be an audiobook from any category. (This is the day I usually try to go walking alone so listening to a book is ideal.)

I try to read at least half an hour every night before bed. More if I have the time.

The goal is really to read in a timely manner. I try to break down my reading to reflect this. So if a book has twelve long chapters, I will try to read one chapter a week for three months. If the chapters are shorter, I will read two or three per week to finish it quicker. The longer the book, the more time I schedule.

Keeping Track

Now that you have chosen your challenge (or challenges), what is the best way to keep track?

I have multiple systems that I either currently use, or have used in the past.

The first, and most old-school, is a simple notebook or reading journal. I write the list of the books I want to read on the first page and simply mark them off as I finish them.

This can be elaborated by writing other information about the book like length, publishing date, the dates you started and finished reading, etc. You can also add this information to your commonplace book. (For you Charlotte Mason fans.)

I’ve also created an Excel spreadsheet with my list of books I want to read. I created columns for genre, title, author, and date read.

My most current favorites are three-fold. First, I create a list of books based on the reading challenge. I paste this in my bullet journal so that I have a copy where I keep track of the rest of my life.

Then I create a weekly reading schedule where I focus on one book per day. I write this book on my daily schedule. Which I only mark off if I’ve managed to read at least a chapter within that week.

Last, I’ve added it to my Trello board that is basically a breakdown of my quarter goals. Within the card for each book, I created a checklist of chapters or sections. I then check it off to keep track of my progress.

List of Challenges

Here is a complete list of the challenges and book clubs that I have joined for 2020. Even though the year has already started, you can join any of them at any time.

Conclusion

There are so many books out there. And more are being published every year. As a voracious reader who is also a busy homeschool mom, how am I able to keep track of the books that I not only want to read but finish throughout the year?

The best answer I’ve come up with is a reading challenge.

But in order to be challenged to read outside my comfort zone, I’ve joined multiple different types. Sometimes because I want to have a structure keep me on track. Sometimes because I want to just go with the gut and read a “guilty pleasure.”

And with less time to devote to reading than in my youth. I need to be intentional.

Whether you choose a structured challenge that gives you the books to read, an unstructured challenge that only limits the type or number of books, or a book club, being intentional has never been easier.

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