Reading Challenges

I talk (write) from time to time about reading challenges. I felt like now was a good time to expand upon that topic a bit.

In my personal life, I am often asked about reading challenges because it is something that occupies a part of my life and is foreign to many people in my physical world. The challenges I participate in and follow on my own are similar in style and different in execution. I like challenges that help me to choose books from my groaning pile of books to be read. This typically manifests itself in the form of ‘tasks’. Each task can help lead me to a book I may have overlooked for a long time, or introduce me to a book I may never have seen. Not all reading challenges are set up this way, but my favorites are.

Reading challenges can look very different from one another. They can be competitive or not. They are usually individual, but are sometimes team challenges. They can last for a day, a week, a month, a season, a year, or any other amount of time desired. This summer, I am planning to actively participate in one competitive team challenge and follow along with one competitive individual challenge.

My team challenge is on GoodReads and is hosted by the group Nothing But Reading Challenges. The Wheelathon 5 challenge will run for 10 weeks starting June 12. Teams have been established and we know what we are trying to accomplish as a team for the first two weeks. This challenge looks more complicated than I hope it will be. Essentially, as a team we get a phrase (Egyptian Cruise) that we read books to spell out. To spell out this phrase, we can use the title of the book, the author, the series name or the name of major characters. In addition to getting points for spelling out the phrase, there are 200 tasks that members can use to get bonus points. The team with the most points at the end of the challenge wins. There is no great prize for winning, just bragging rights!

Individually, I will be following the Seasonal Reading Challenge, also on GoodReads. This challenge will run from June 1-August 31. Tasks in this challenge can require 1-3 books and there are 65 tasks to be tackled by each reader. Tasks will be assigned points and point values range from 5 to 50 per task. If my math is correct, a reader would need to read over 100 books to complete this challenge, but for many that is the goal. I like this challenge because it is competitive, but more against yourself than other players. If you finish the challenge(!), you get to design a task for the following season. There are other awards for participants who may not manage to finish the challenge, but are still active posters. This group looks a little bit strict about posting and how things qualify, so I plan on tracking my progress this season here. If I manage to do well (and stick with it), perhaps I will join in next season.

So, what does a task look like? From the team challenge, a task might say “Read a book set in Canada” or “Read a book with a lizard on the cover”. This can make going to the library into a scavenger hunt (if your library is open) or can make an interesting adventure into your own library-physical and digital. At the SRC, many of the tasks are similar to that, but they also include things like “Pick a Listopia with the word ‘Action’ in the title and read a book off of that listopia” or “Read a book with an author whose initials can be found in the word ‘MOVIES’.” For both challenges there are also tasks about genres and specific words in the title. Planning for reading challenge reads can be almost as fun as reading the books.

My next challenge is to figure out how to read books which will work for both challenges, so I am not trying to commit myself to reading 3 books each week for my team challenge and 3 books each week for my individual challenge and maintain the rest of my life. Wish me luck!

Physical Books

In recent years, I have become an avid digital book reader. I enjoy listening to books when my eyes or hands are otherwise engaged and I am unable to curl up with a new book. And I have found it incredibly convenient to be able to purchase or borrow digital titles any time I want. However, I have lately found that I miss the feel of a new-to-me book in my hands. With both my library and local bookstore closed, getting a new physical book into my possession has been a struggle. Of course, I have access to Kindle Unlimited, Overdrive, Libby, Hoopla, and a variety of other online sources for digital books, but when I am listening to a thunderstorm, or curling up for bed, I want a *real* book.

Audio books have a special place in my life. I prefer to listen to a good story while working out, completing a jigsaw puzzle or knitting. I have also found they help make both indoor and outdoor chores more tolerable. I don’t have the same relationship with books I listen to instead of read, but I can still appreciate the craft, the word play and can further enjoy the narration (when done well). My older niece has started to enjoy them, too. She also likes the fact that we can both listen while we use our hands to work on arts and crafts projects and we aren’t quite as stifled with one of us needing to hold and read a book. Audio books certainly have a place in my life.

Digital books have become very popular and I certainly have benefited from the medium. I love having a library of books at my fingertips. I own both a Nook and a Kindle and have apps for both of them on various devices. I pick up free and cheap books for either app on a variety of sites. And of course, I have a fantastic local library resource. The best thing about being digital, is in the middle of the night (or snow storm or nap time or whatever), I can pick up the next book in whatever series I may be reading, or that books whose title I have just now remembered. Digital books have made my life more convenient.

Physical books, however, will always be my favorite. Even with all of my other options, I was a weekly visitor to my local library and would frequently walk out with 10 or more books I just needed to have right now. I used the hold feature to make sure I had early access to new releases and less popular titles alike. Browsing the shelves was an afternoon activity for me. I own hundreds (if not more) physical books and proudly house them in a main floor library in my home. There is not a room in my house that does not have a few (or more) books in it.

During this unprecedented time of everything being closed and leaving the house being frowned upon, I have missed bringing new-to-me titles into my home. I made a comment about this to my husband last week. He immediately made a plan to visit our local dollar store, without telling me. He went there with the sole purpose of being able to inexpensively bring me home a collection of new titles. Our dollar store is awesome, it carries a wide variety of hard and soft cover books that are always $1.00. I have made some amazing finds there. So, he goes out, purportedly, for our weekly grocery shopping and comes home with two bags full of new titles for me to peruse. I am a very lucky woman!

So while there is a great variety of types and availability for books new and old, I am glad for the old standard and am glad when I feel the heft of a new exciting story. Are other people experiencing this? Have most of us readers moved to the digital world?

Beta Reading

Several weeks ago, before the world turned topsy turvy, I offered up my services as a beta reader to several authors. My timing could not have been worse! I did some research, put together some feedback worksheets and put myself out there for clients. Then, the world changed. My world was not spared this change, and I have found myself reading more about what is happening in the great wide “out there” and focusing less on these amazing manuscripts I have been given.

After a few scary weeks, filled with the unknown and people (family) around all the time, my new normal has begun. I am satisfied with my altered life and am excited about getting back to my beta reading; both finishing up my previously accepted manuscripts and taking on a few more.

What is beta reading? one may ask. In the simplest form, it is reading a manuscript before it is sent to agents or publishers (or self-published) to look for plot holes, character issues, glaring grammatical errors and the likes. The hope is to further polish a novel before it gets into the hands of readers and reviewers who will either love it or hate it.

I had a spate of poorly edited advanced reader copies at the end of last year into the beginning of this year, and thought that perhaps if there were a few more people offering beta reading services (for free or a nominal fee), then maybe more new authors would use them. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have gotten a number of requests and the several manuscripts I have read have been more polished than some of the published works I have encountered.

So, while I may not have picked the best time to start a new endeavor, the idea of starting something new when life has taken on a new normal is exciting. And now that my life for the foreseeable future is somewhat more predictable, I am thrilled to be embarking on this experience.

Pandemic Traveling

So, 2020 has been a crazy year! I was pleased to wake up this morning and realize May has arrived. The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. Through much of March, and all of April, I did not physically travel any further than my neighborhood. My dog and I enjoy our daily walks, but in our current situation, we have not ventured as far as we did in the Fall. Thank goodness I am a reader. Through my books, I have (vicariously) been all over the world. I have read about places I have been, and places I have not been. I have read about times I remember, and times before I was born, and times not yet reached yet. I am grateful that I am a reader and have no need to feel limited or isolated during my lockdown experience.

Some books are character driven, some are plot driven, but occasionally, I will find a book where the setting becomes so alive, it transports me there. Whether it’s a fast-paced thriller, or a study of character, a book with a strong sense of place transforms the way I feel about my experience. One of the best examples I have read recently is <u>The Dry</u> by Jane Harper. Maybe traveling to the Australian desert in the middle of a drought would not top my vacation wish list, but this gripping mystery took me there and added atmosphere to the small-town mystery.

I have read a handful of other books that allowed me to experience upper Michigan, Siberia, the Old West and present day Cleveland, Ohio. Not every book with an interesting setting inspires the sense of place, but I enjoy the ones which do. I will be keeping my eyes open for more atmospheric titles as I move through my spring and summer reading. At the moment, I think I am about ready for a Caribbean trip, maybe that will help me choose a fresh book for my weekend reading.

Have you read any good books recently which evoke a strong sense of place?