2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

On Challenges and Obstacles

So I have taken on a reading challenge for 2011. Yes, I know, those of you who know me are thinking that this is nothing new, I read all the time, yadda yadda, blah blah blah. But this is a formal challenge – 111 in ’11 – which is a feature on another blog that we found. Basically, this book blogger set up her own challenge to read 111 books this year and is inviting others to join her. There will be monthly check-ins to monitor progress, and everyone who completes the challenge will be eligible to win free books (Free Books she said!) at the end of the year. The challenge was set up using a cool looking site called GoodReads which allows you to set a numeric challenge for yourself and to track your progress online. You will notice a widget for my personal 111 challenge. At this moment, I am behind schedule with twenty-two books (19% of the challenge) logged to date. While I knew this year’s numbers were low, it was still a little sad and surprising to see it in black-and-white, especially given that I have averaged 131.375 books per year over the past eight years (no, I’m NOT a huge dork; ok, well, maybe I am. Sigh.).

The whole I’m-already-behind-in-the-challenge thing got me thinking about reading and time and how many people I know who claim (and I am inclined to believe them) that they would love to read more but just don’t seem to be able to find the time. Time, it seems, is the great enemy of us all – particularly readers. If you read seriously (defined any way you like), you probably find it difficult to read in five-minute (or even fifteen-minute) windows; I certainly do. But finding chunks of time that are longer than that, when things are quiet and there are no other distractions, is very difficult. I am learning to read in smaller time chunks and with interruptions – this is greatly increasing my ability to find pockets of reading time, but it has been an adjustment since previously I was a die-hard Sit-In-A-Quiet-Room-For-At-Least-An-Hour kind of reader. But let’s be honest, that doesn’t really work for most lives – mine included.

So how/when do we read? Well, my mother is getting ready to have two minor surgeries this week (I’m calling them minor because they are short procedures – I am aware that to anyone having surgery there is no such thing as minor though, believe me) and asked me to lend her a few books that I think she might like because she will not be able to “do” anything after the surgeries and will have some spare time. To her, reading is something you do when you cannot do anything else (i.e., active). As I have said, I had always previously been a set-aside-chunks-of-time, sit-in-a-quiet-room reader, who had multiple books going at once. At the moment, I have three books on loan from my best friend sitting on the coffee table awaiting my attention; they are joined on that same table by the book I am currently reading and four others that are on the short list to be taken up next and two copies of the New York Review of Books that I keep insisting I am going to get to next. To me, reading was always something you did all the time. To other friends, I know reading is something they do when the kids are in bed or when they are sick or on vacation. To them, reading is something you do when you can find the time.

I do not have an actual “job” (as in a place that I have to go eight or more hours a day) or small children for whom I am a primary caretaker. I do not even have pets that require attention – my two frogs, Butch and Sundance, live in a plastic cube and only need to be fed pellets twice a week. Yet somehow, even I find that I feel like I do not have enough time to read as much as I would like.

Now granted, my life is busier and fuller these days than it has ever been with extraordinarily happy-making things. I have a wonderful Significant Other (teehee – I don’t really like that expression, but “boyfriend” never quite sounds right to me at the ripe old age of thirty-MGPHRMM) with equally wonderful kids, and am lucky enough to get to share their lives on a daily basis. I live in the same town as my best friend and her family and my parents. I have great friends. I am finally moving (slowly, but at least there is some discernible movement) on writing, and the blog thing is proving more fun than I would have ever imagined. And I still have had time to read twenty-two books so far this year. Many people I know cannot imagine taking that amount of time to dedicate to something they love as I love books. Things are great. But I am still behind schedule, and now have a widget to remind me. Daily. Sigh.

I remember how excited I was when I first walked away from my corporate job and decided to go officially unemployed and unofficially into the world of writing. I was so glad to not have to drag my butt to a place and a job I hated that I was positively giddy for months – at last, I told myself, I would have all the time in the world to read! But you know what I discovered? Even with all the time in the world (i.e., no job, no family of my own, no pets, no obligations) I did not read significantly more books in 2010 (my first official year of unemployment) than I had in previous years. In 2010 I read 155 books; although perilously close, this is not my all time high (156 in 2007). What happened in 2007, you ask? Well, I was promoted to Assistant Vice President at my then-employer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. And I went on my first solo week-long vacation to Aruba (me, a bag of books, and a few bathing suits/pairs of shorts). So I had one week of days spent doing nothing but reading, and fifty-one others spent working at a busier and higher level than ever before and the product was more books read than ever before. Yet in 2009, the year my company learned it would be bought and in which I spent six months “working from home” (i.e., not working at all) because there was nothing to do while acquisition negotiations moved along – glacially, I might add – I read only 140 books, a decline of nearly 10% over the previous two years in which I was traveling for work and playing volleyball on a regular basis.

When I thought about the numbers, I came to a few interesting (and upon further reflection somewhat surprising – at least to me) realizations. First, we always make time for the things that are important regardless of how busy we are. The amount of time we can make may vary, but the fact of our ability to make it does not. Second, the importance of things changes and evolves as new things enter our lives. This change/evolution does not mean that the old things are no longer important it just means that other things have entered into the race for importance – and this is ok. Evolution is the natural order (take that, Creationists!). Third, the amount of “available” time we have actually does not have anything to do with how we spend it. Even with seemingly all the time in the world, there will be things you want to do but do not get around to. This is, I believe, human nature. Which leads me to my fourth, perhaps gravest, realization: there will never be enough time to do everything you want. As my friend Aubrey once pointed out, in a sentence that struck me as unduly harsh at the time but which I have since come to realize is a remarkable piece of wisdom: “Jill, you will never read all the books you want to before you die.” And this is ok (and probably also a part of human nature), because I believe the amount of stuff you want increases with the amount of time (or money) you have.

When I was busy I read a lot to escape the busy-ness – when I was on trains and planes, in waiting rooms, at home at night. The same happened when I was searching for something – I read to find possible alternatives or to lose myself in other people’s joys and sorrows. When I was unhappy at work/with the seemingly meandering and pointless direction of my life while I waited to be able to leave the job I hated, I was often too unhappy and/or unfocused to concentrate enough to escape properly. This can also, conversely, happen when one is too happy with life – when all is right with the world and you are in the express lane to Everything You Ever Wanted (Even If You Didn’t Always Previously Know It Was What You Wanted – teehee) you do not want to escape and often cannot concentrate on other people’s joys because of the immediacy of your own.

So who knows what will become of my 111 book challenge… I will endeavor to read all 111 books, not only because of the challenges, but because I truly enjoy reading (and have stacks and stacks of things I have to at least make a dent in before I die!) – but I will not beat myself up if I do not meet the challenge. I will always need books in my life. But I’m pleased to report that I no longer need them to escape my life or to be my life. I am passionate about reading and l do still love the escape it offers, don’t get me wrong. I know I will find the time to read as much as I need to in order to feed that passion and to enjoy the moments of escape. But I will also find the time to live my life – not just another author’s through his/her words… 🙂

3 comments to On Challenges and Obstacles

  • Sharon Franclemont

    Thank you Jill, I do so love to read your blogs. Your insight into things reminds me of things I should “find time” for. I started re-reading a series that I love by LaHaye and Jenkins.
    Even my husband Francledad has started reading “fiction” I didn’t know he knew what fiction was. So thank you for coming into our lives and the lives of those we love. Looking forward to “reading” your blogs.

  • Lynn

    Good Lord, 111! Let’s see, I read 46 books last year and am up to 13 this year. And that’s not counting the hundreds of pages of the Old Testament that I’ve put under my belt. My literary project, as you know, is to read the Bible, cover to cover. An academic study bible, with footnotes and maps. That my beloved heterosexual life partner, Jill, bought me for Christmas 10 years ago and I’m only now (in the last 2 years) making headway. So while I won’t be joining you in the 111 challenge, I’m working towards my own goal of 1,111 more pages of the bible by year’s end. Grrr argh.

  • […] to listen to a lot of background music.  I have mused on the reading thing before – check out “On Challenges and Obstacles” if you are interested in my thoughts on this particular topic.  As for the alone-in-my-head […]

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>