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How to set reading goals and challenges

My aim with Make America Read is to encourage people to read more and more widely, and that's a reading resolution I take on myself every year. I read a great deal — but spend more time than I'd like thumbing through my phone. (Seriously. I downloaded a screen-time tracking app this month and whoa! My estimate of time on my phone was off by nearly two hours.) And because reading is comfort for me, I default to familiar, easy reading. (Ask me how many times I've reread L.M. Montgomery's novels.) Reading expands your perspective, builds compassion and critical thinking, and encourages civil discourse around hard questions — if you let it, if you read beyond your default. 

But I don't do well with vague resolutions. I need specifics. If you do, too, here's some help for getting more out of your reading life in 2018. 

First, set a reading goal. Consider how much you read this year and pick a number that's reachable. It's not a competition. It's accountability. If you don't know how much you read, a couple stats that might help: The average American reads 12 books a year. The median is four. My 2018 goal is 100 books, which is my annual average. 

Nowset up plans to reach that goal. I've shared before how I read about 100 books a year. (Key #1: Always carry a book with you. Key #2: Start and end your day with a book, not your phone. Also: Keep a list.) These tips shared recently on Book Riot echo my advice and offer a few other good suggestions. My 2018 plan includes daily screen-free time, set up with the help of that app, Moment, and daily screen limits. Maybe yours includes a weekly library trip, or finally using GoodReads consistently. Aim for three things to make it easier to have books at the ready and time in your day to enjoy them. 

Reading more is a good start to reading more widely. Once you're working with more quantity, you've more room to mix up content. Which brings me to my favorite tip from that Book Riot article — genre hop! — and the next step to achieving our goal of reading more widely: Set reading challenges. 

My rule of thumb: Reading challenges shouldn't eat up more than 25 to 50 percent of your annual reading goal. You want room for serendipitous library finds and recommendations from friends. I really like the Read Harder Challenge because it offers a wide variety, asking you to read everything from an Oprah Book Club selection to an assigned classic you never finished, and is a manageable size — for me. Twenty-four books might overwhelm your list, but that's OK. Just pick some of the tasks. Or find a list that suits youOr, better yet, create your own reading challenge with the help of this list. 

Some challenges to consider: 

  • Set aside 10 percent of your reading goal for books recommended by others. 
  • Pick an issue and read two books about it: one by someone whose views are similar to yours, one by someone whose views are not the same. 
  • Read a nonfiction book chain. Read a book about a subject that interests you, then use the references/bibliography to find a second book. Let the second lead you to a third.  
  • Have kids? Read one book together each quarter. 
  • Read a book set in every place you'll travel to this year. 
  • Think of five states or cities you've never visited. Read a book set in each of those states. 

I'll be taking on the Read Harder Challenge again this year, and would love to hear what challenges you tackle.