As you may have noticed, recent Checking the Shelf posts have focused on setting and achieving goals for our real lives and for our reading lives. Make no mistake about it: one’s reading life often feels like an entirely separate existence, a shadow existence that lasts for minutes or hours at a time and gives us the freedom to walk through grand cathedrals of words at our leisure. Our reading life is so vital to our real life that it is important to check in every once in a while to re-evaluate its overall health, just as you would take your car in for a tune-up or bring yourself to the doctor for a physical examination. The results of these evaluations may include the type of aftercare suggestions that I have already given you: appreciate your love for so-called “guilty pleasure” books and (perhaps) make it a goal to work your way through the stacks of books you wish you had read years ago. My final recommendation, as we come to the end of the first month of a new year, is that you dare yourself to read outside your comfort zone.
It is so easy to fall into a rut. Whether it’s the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, or just our daily rituals, the everyday can become mundane. Our reading lives, as magical and escapist as they are, are not immune to ruts. It makes sense: we find what we like, we keep at it and before we know it, all we read is anime or presidential biographies or paranormal romances. Maybe some of you are quite content with keeping at it, and that’s fine. However, just keep in mind that reading different types of books can only enrich your reading life, just as taking new adventures and seeing new sights enriches our real lives. If you’re still hesitant about experimenting with exotic locales, heart-racing thrillers, or quiet coming-of-age tales, consider looking at it like this: you are giving yourself a reading makeover. I know this sounds like an outlandish metaphor, but think about the thousands of hours that daytime TV has devoted to makeovers—cutting off floor-length braids, redecorating living rooms, and swapping out mom jeans for sleek skirts. Let me be clear: I could not care less if you wear sweatpants or rock a 1986 hairstyle in 2015. Be yourself and love yourself. What I want you to take away from this is the visual of people feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Sometimes when you relinquish control and attempt to see yourself or the world a little differently, what you gain in new perspective is more than what you lose in the comfort of constancy.
I was inspired to give myself a reading makeover after finding POPSUGAR’s 2015 Reading Challenge via my dependable friend, Pinterest. This checklist includes 50 suggestions that are meant to shake up our usual reading habits. Some of the more intriguing entries on this list include reading a book based entirely on its cover, a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t, and a book with bad reviews. As the website states, there’s no obligation to check off all 50 books.
This should be fun! I’m so excited, in fact, that I already have a few of my picks planned out. For instance, I will finally read A Separate Peace about 13 years after I was supposed to read it for an English class (Sorry, Ms. Mund). There is already a checkmark on my 2015 list; I recently completed Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, which satisfies the “read a book with non-human characters” suggestion, as it is told from the perspective of a very wise old dog named Enzo (Being that I am a dog person, I pretty much cried my way through this gem of a story). I am hoping that by the time you read this, I will have completed my second book of the year, Persepolis, and can check off “graphic novel” (to be clear, this will actually be the first graphic novel that I have read for pleasure and not because it was included in a syllabus. The challenge is already working its magic!). *
I would love it if you all took this challenge with me. Push your reading limits and you will not only widen the scope of your knowledge, but also the scope of the conversations you are able to engage in and the people with whom you can engage—readers you had previously written off because their tastes did not align with yours.
Grand cathedrals of words are waiting. Their doors are open to you.
*I decided to put Persepolis on hold and instead conquer A Separate Peace. Though I cannot say that I necessarily enjoyed reading it, I was able to find some meaning in Knowles’ story that I had not picked up when I was fifteen-years-old. Oh, and I am accepting graphic novel recommendations.