NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!

Lezlie



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Joy of Reading Challenges



As the year winds down, even the most dedicated of Reading Challenge fanatics find it hard to push forward with those promises we made ourselves when our New Year's Resolutions were fresh and those challenges were so irresistible. With this in mind, I thought I would take a look back and share with you some of the things reading challenges have done for me.

I stumbled upon the world of book blogs in January of 2008 when I was looking for material to supplement my reading of classics. Searching randomly online, I started coming across various blogs and I was thrilled to find a community filled with people as passionate as I was about books and reading. Then I started seeing the posts about reading challenges. From blog to blog I followed links showing me the wonderful opportunities to join with others in an effort to work through our to-be-read piles, tackle intimidating classics, progress through lists of award winners or recommended reading, and stretch our reading boundaries beyond our comfort zones. I discovered that every reader had his or her own reasons for joining challenges. Some challenges assist in reaching specific goals such as reading the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die or exploring Japanese or Jewish Literature. Some are just plain fun to try to complete, such as the What's In a Name Challenge or the A-Z Challenge. There are readers who diligently plan their reading to complete the challenges for which they've signed up. There are readers who mostly enjoy making the lists for the challenges and actually completing them is entirely optional. No matter the goals or the level of commitment to finishing, everyone seemed to be having such a good time! I was hooked. My own blog, Books 'N Border Collies, was created within days so I could join in the fun.

I learned a lot in that first year about myself and my reading habits. First was that I can't follow a predetermined list of reading for more than a couple of weeks at most. After signing up for a number of challenges and gleefully creating my book lists for them, I found I had my entire year mapped out. It wasn't long before I was altering those lists almost daily. I learned I operate more efficiently when I have goal, but I need flexibility to reach it.

Second, I learned that even the broadest reader has boundaries and comfort levels that can and should be challenged. I stuck to challenges that first year which I was fairly certain I would finish and within whose rules I knew I would find books that suited my tastes. Even so, I made discoveries that urged me to test myself the second year. The Art History, War Through the Generations, and Essay Challenges all ended up including books I loved that I would never have even looked at much less read if it had not been for the reading challenges. And the Dewey Decimal System Challenge opened my eyes to literary explorations that have made trips to the library an entirely new experience. Who knew I was capable of spending an entertaining hour in the Math and Technology sections? Certainly not me! And just try to pry me away from the Philosophy and Religion shelves. Go ahead. Try.

Third, I learned through the New Author Challenge that I have no problems at all picking up new-to-me writers. In fact, I have more issues trying to get through all the works of favorite authors because there are always dozens more on the horizon I can't wait to pick up. And since I am not a traveler, I've learned that writers from other countries and cultures are essential to assisting me in my understanding of the wider world.

Fourth, I learned that not reaching my reading goals is in no way a failure. Sometimes I'm not learning what I meant to learn, but I'm finding new and fascinating topics that I didn't know I was interested in. Or I'm discovering that a big project I had mapped out isn't nearly as easy to conduct as it sounded when I started. As long as I'm reading and learning, I'm bettering myself which helps me to better the world around me.

Reading challenges have made me a better reader and a more well-rounded person. They've helped me to understand the past, live in the present and think more productively about the future. They've made me more aware of the world beyond my personal experience. And if I never do another reading challenge again, I can take my new knowledge wherever my literary endeavors take me, face new authors, books and subjects boldly, and think to myself, "Cool! I could have used this for the Book Awards Challenge!"

Happy Reading, Everyone!



28 comments:

Amateur Reader said...

I was a Challenge skeptic at first. But I have been changing my mind and now, in a fit of madness, am even considering hosting one.

Lezlie said...

Amateur Reader ~ Good for you! I was never brave or dedicated enough to host one, but I enthusiastically applaud those that are. Can you tell me what the theme would be, or are you keeping that close to the vest for now?

Lezlie

Book Psmith said...

Very well said and I couldn't agree with you more. The New Author Challenge is one I wanted to join at the beginning of the year but didn't think I could read that many new authors but here it is in October and the majority of my reads this years have been by new-to-me authors. I was looking through some of your other posts and thanks for leading me to The Bibliophile's Devotional...it is going on my wishlist.

Lezlie said...

Book Psmith ~ Thank you! I counted up mine from last year before I committed to 50 new-to-me authors this year. :-) And that Devotional could well be my top read for next year. I'm glad you found it here!

Lezlie

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Great post, Lezlie! I've found that just in the short time I've been a part of the book blogging community, my reading comfort levels have been pretty much decimated. In a good way. I no longer limit myself to certain genres, and I have even discovered ones I never knew existed (steampunk, anyone?) I'm loving the daily influx of new books and thoughtful reviews that I find in my Google Reader every morning. I'll be around for awhile...

Nymeth said...

I love challenges and I'm truly grateful to them for those very same reasons...but I'm going to need a year's break before I can enjoy them properly again, I think :(

Lezlie said...

Bookshelf Monstrosity ~ Thanks! And I agree. There is no longer and genre or subject that I won't at least take a look at. I still have preferences, but I'm more inclined to pick up something outside of them than I was before.

Nymeth ~ The need to take a break from the challenges is what prompted me to finally write this. Next year I'm not joining any challenges. I'm taking all I've learned from them and seeing what happens if I let myself run wild.

Lezlie

~Jennifer~ said...

This is such a great, motivational post. I've been reading book blogs and watching the challenges from the sidelines for a while now. I only recently (about 2 weeks ago) decided to take the plunge and try the challenges and book blogging for myself. It has quickly become an obsession.

Andi said...

Amen to everything! I'm waning in my reading challenge willingness and gusto, but they have helped me expand.

Amateur Reader said...

Not a secret, exactly. 19th century (more or less) classics in a neglected language, probably Italian, maybe Spanish.

But I've come up with a crazy twist, never before seen in the history of reading challenges. I'm still thinking about how it would work.

Jenny said...

Great post! I def. don't pressure myself to finish challenges or even work on them if I feel like not reading what I've outlined. They're just for fun and I would go crazy if I really tried to finish them all. Like you said, my entire year of reading would already be mapped out, lol!

Lezlie said...

Jennifer ~ Welcome to our addiction! :-) I hope you come to love it as much as we do. And I need to come visit your blog, too!

Andi ~ Thanks! I'm seeing a lot of "old timers" in need of a challenge break.

Amateur Reader ~ I can't wait to see the final product! It sounds tempting. . . :-)

Jenny ~ Thank you! That kind of attitude will keep challenges exciting for you for a long time. When you start taking it too seriously, that's when the burn-out happens. Keep it fun!!

Lezlie

Heather J. said...

This is a great post - I'll be linking to it at some point down the road, I'm sure. :)

Booklogged said...

Wonderful post, Lezlie! I second everything you said. I took a break from challenges last year in hopes of catching up with and learning to manage my review books. I think I've done that and now I'm ready to join some challenges. In fact I'm been waiting to see some pop up on the web. Isn't it about time for the 2010 challenges to start showing up?

Carrie K. said...

What a wonderful post! I loved reading this - and I'm with you, challenges have stretched my reading in ways I truly appreciate.

joanna said...

Very deep, Lezlie. :-) My favorite thing about challenges is finding books I wouldn't have normally picked up. And I know that this isn't the most intellectual reason for joining, but I just love making those lists!! ;-)

Poppy Q said...

Hi Lezlie. My basic book blog is really only to remind me about what I have read, and to save me repeating myself. I love reading others blogs, but I have no interest in following challenges. I prefer to make my own book journey, and see where each read leads me.

Rebecca Reid said...

I at first thought challenges seemed silly. Why not just read the book yourself? But I have since, of course, become a huge challenge addict and am trying to step back and get back to my projects!

So this post a way of saying you aren't doing any for the coming months? Just curious!

Lezlie said...

Heather ~ Thank you! That would be great!

Booklogged ~ Those 2010 challenges are definitely gearing up. I think the 2010 Countdown Challenge may already be underway, and as we slip into November I'm sure we'll start seeing them popping up regularly. We gotta have time to make those lists! :-)

Carrie ~ Thanks! Venturing into new reading territory is by far my favorite part of the challenges now. I'm glad you've had the same experience! Which ones are you looking forward to for 2010?

Joanna ~ I try not to be frivolous *all* the time. :-) I totally had you in mind when I commented on the lovers of list-making. I'm not sure that part is *not* intellectual. It shows extraordinary organizational skills! I love that part, too, but I it always turns out that I ultimately can't follow the lists I made. LOL!

Poppy ~ Not everyone hops on the challenge train, and there's not a thing wrong with that. I will be following *your* method next year. :-)

Rebecca ~ I think there is something about the competitive aspect that finally ropes some skeptics in, even if you're only "competing" with yourself. But I'm with you on the projects. You are correct. I will be taking a leave of absence from challenges in 2010 and focusing on my Lifetime Learning Project and exploring the 1001 Books list. Hopefully, we'll both make a lot of progress! :-)

Lezlie

Thomas said...

Lezlie, so much of what you said is how I feel about book challenges. There are aspects that I love (making the list, forcing myself to read outside the box) and there are other parts I don't like (predetermined reading feels constraining after a while).

I am glad they are there. But these days I tend to use them for inspiration only.

Lezlie said...

Thomas ~ I think most of us do pretty well with them until it gets toward the end of the year and all the reading starts feeling obligatory. I like the "inspiration" angle, too. I'm sure I'll be watching the themes of the upcoming challenges for ideas during my "no challenges" year.

Lezlie

Hazra said...

Wow! I am so inspired by your challenge reading! All I know is that my challenge progress is abysmally slow. I don't think I'll be joining any more challenges because I just don't read challenge books; they usually end up at the bottom of my pile!

Anna said...

I'm so glad you decided to join the WWII challenge and that you found it rewarding! I only committed to 2 challenges this year, the WWII challenge, of course, and Everything Austen. I'm enjoying them, but for me, I find that I actually complete challenges when they involve books I was planning to read anyway. But I agree that opening yourself up to different kinds of books is great, too.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Lezlie said...

Hazra ~ I'm glad it inspired you! Your situation is another that can happen. As soon as we feel like we *have* to read something, we don't want to read it anymore. I get that way toward the end of the year.

Anna ~ It's all in our own personal goals, right? You worked hard at that War Through the Generations Challenge, not just as the co-hostess but as a participant, too! I don't blame you for keeping them to the bare minimum.

Lezlie

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I choose my challenges carefully. I did a 10k day a few months ago and I'm gonna try NaNo next month. It's good to push ourselves every now and then.

Lezlie said...

Karen ~ I absolutely agree! It keeps us from getting too complacent. Good luck with NaNo! Is that where people are writing a novel in a month? Or am I thinking of something else?

Lezlie

Jeane said...

I used to think challenges were kind of silly, but then I got involved in one and was hooked! I had so much fun I even tried hosting one- but I think maybe I jumped into it too quickly. Not too many people seem to be participating and I'm even having difficulty finishing it myself. I think my little variety theme was a poor choice....

Lezlie said...

Jeane ~ If I remember correctly, you started hosting your challenge fairly well into the year. I think people are already involved in so many challenges by that time that the only new ones they tend to sign up for during the year are ones they've done before and have been waiting for. I think variety is usually great for a challenge, so maybe it was just the timing. Maybe you could try starting it in January when everyone is still suffering from "Challenge Sign Up Fever". I'll bet there'd be more takers!

Lezlie