Reading challenges

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Reading challenges have become popular in recent years: you know, where someone gives you a guide or a format for reading a number of different types of books with a view to expanding your reading horizons. They can be useful for people who feel they are stuck in a bit of a literary rut or good for those who are motivated by a deadline. Those sorts of things usually work for me – I am usually the one in my book club who is up late the night before we meet, racing through the final chapters of that month’s book! I think it’s a personality thing.

What I hear from from people more often though is that they would just like to read more. That they are haunted by their ‘to read’ pile (but, book fiends that we are, we still can’t resist acquiring more). And they would just love to carve out a bit of time in their week to read. When I started this blog, I knew that I would have to make time to read if I was serious about it. And I have. I read for about an hour a day – an hour a day I didn’t have before I started blogging! Which just goes to show that if you want something enough you’ll find a way of doing it. And I believe I am a happier calmer person as a result.

So, if that’s you, and if you don’t necessarily need to widen your reading, but would rather just deepen your reading habit, I would like to share my personal reading challenge with you. I think of it as a yogic or mindful rather than a HIT reading challenge!  Join me if you like, it’s about quality rather than quantity.

You can download the challenge here.

Are you doing a reading challenge of your own that you can recommend?

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Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

Apologies, I’m a little late with the new year message, but if like me you have a family you’ll know why! – two weeks of intense Christmas-ness. And with the kids having only just gone back to school, this may well be the first real breath I have taken for about a month! Ah well, I hope you had a good one and here’s to a happy and successful 2017.

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Many of you will have made New Year’s resolutions this week. January doesn’t really work for me as a resolution-making month; I find I have a greater chance of success in September at the start of the new academic year. I also love Autumn more than I do Winter so I have more mental and physical energy. That said, I am looking out of my window at a cold but beautiful sunny day and I am feeling pretty good about life! So, rather than make new resolutions, I am resolving to consolidate and reaffirm my existing ones like making sure I swim at least once a week. I was doing pretty well but then December happened!

2017-01-04-14-16-54We have also completed a rather intense phase of building work in our house so I’m itching to get things back under control domestically. When thinking about this I was reminded of a book I picked up a couple of years ago called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ll give you the sub-title which more or less sums up what the book is about:

“Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”

 

 

Gretchen is a mother of two young girls who lives in New York City. She wrote this book after thinking that perhaps she could squeeze more joy out of life by applying herself to a year-long programme of change. She breaks the areas of her life down into eleven different categories and focuses on a different one each month (December is the month for having everything in place and practicing it all in toto – she calls it “Boot Camp Perfect”). For each category she identifies five or six or so different ‘tasks’ that will help her to meet that month’s goal. So, for example, January’s goal is health-related and is to “Boost Energy”. The tasks are not only related to physical health (go to bed earlier, exercise better) but also to mental health (“toss, restore, organize”), linked to clearing the clutter in her home and unblocking energy.

2017-01-04-13-30-54Other examples: June is a month to “Make Time for Friends” and September to “Pursue a Passion”. Her basic premise is that in order to implement change successfully you have to make things habitual. Once these habits are embedded in your lifestyle they are hard to break – for example, I manage to find 5-10 minutes each day to brush and floss my teeth, but found it really hard to find the same amount of time to drink enough water…until I got into the habit of drinking a glass at 10, 12, 2 and 4 o’clock each day. Sounds banal but it works.

 

 

Gretchen has an approach I can relate to – it’s systematic, involves planning and lists, and takes the pressure off the first week of the new year; I know that if I made a new year’s resolution to eat more healthily from January 1st I’d fail before the week was out as I still have half a Christmas cake and a mountain of fancy chocolate gifts in the house! You get a whole month to implement each new ‘set’ of tasks and a whole year to make the overall transformation. It’s all about changing habits, gradually.

The book is not a self-righteous instruction book, as I find so many titles in the self-help and ‘how-to-change’ genres are, it’s written very much as a diary of Gretchen’s own progress in implementing her programme. I embraced the book enthusiastically after I’d read it and it really did help me to embed some practical changes in my life which I would say have improved my happiness and wellbeing. The author also has a website, which you can access here, on the same theme where she writes regularly about happiness and habits and also about her passion for books (another reason why I like her!).

Since this book was published in 2009, she has also written and published Happier at Home which I picked up last summer while on my holiday in New York but haven’t yet read, and Better than Before. (I’m resolving now to read the former!)

I’d definitely recommend The Happiness Project. It’s for people who are serious about making change in their lives and who could benefit from a framework on how to do it.

What changes have you resolved to make this year?

Are there any books that you have found helpful in making change in your life?

Reading hack #2 – audiobooks

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A few years ago, when I had a proper job, I used to commute 100 miles a day, three days a week, by car. Seven and a half hours a week driving alone.  I did this for nearly three years. Seems crazy now, but the two things that kept me sane were Radio 4 and audiobooks. One of the frustrations of car travel for me is the amount of dead time. I enjoy listening to music of course, but audiobooks make me feel that I am doing something for my brain whilst sitting in traffic or on cruise control on the motorway (wasn’t there a report published just this week saying that Britain has the most congested roads in Europe – I can well believe it).

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Most of my journeys now are shorter ones so I’ve fallen out of the audiobook habit. I subscribed to an audiobook provider recently, however, to get a copy of one of my teenage son’s English Literature set texts, and it has renewed my interest. What is more, with a smartphone or tablet I can listen not just in the car, but whilst doing mundane tasks, during exercise, etc. I’m currently listening to Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, so I look forward to reviewing it here in due course.

 

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My kids have always enjoyed audiobooks too; for years now, it has been a tradition that whenever we travel to Ireland to see family we have to listen to The Twits read by Simon Callow, possibly the best children’s audiobook ever! That plus Matilda gets us to Holyhead!

 

 

If our family holiday involves a lot of driving, we will pick an audiobook for the journey. Now that the kids are a bit older, the titles are getting more sophisticated. Last year we listened to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which provoked a lot of in-car discussion!

I will always go for unabridged audiobooks as for me a book is about the words and the way an author puts beautiful sentences together, as well as the story. But if you don’t mind edited highlights, there are also radio broadcasts to enjoy: Radio 4’s Book of the Week and Book at Bedtime run for five 15-minute episodes a week so you can get these on the iPlayer or podcast if you want to listen to something shorter and for free.

So, a few options if you find yourself with time to spare on the move.

Happy listening!

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Reading hack #1 – book reviews save you time

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I’ve blogged here before about how time vanishes and that if you’re a reader it can be so frustrating when it takes ages to read a book. Well, I would like to demonstrate that reading book reviews, rather than eating into more of your precious time, can actually save you time. Bear with me!

First, time is precious, so you don’t want to waste valuable reading time on something you’re not going to enjoy, right? And, if you’re like me, you don’t like giving up on books. I have to really dislike a book before I’ll give up on it. If it’s just that I’m not getting into it then I only allow myself to give up by promising that I’ll come back to it later; I felt able to re-shelve Zadie Smith’s White Teeth a few years ago after making this bargain! So, following a book reviewer you trust or who is on the same wavelength as you can help you choose more wisely.

Second, book reviews can help you engage with the conversation about a book even if you haven’t read it. Do you remember those How to bluff your way in… books? Great for appearing informed at dinner parties/interviews/meetings! Seriously, though, they can help you put things in context. You can watch those bookish Sky Arts TV programmes or listen to the high-brow radio shows and still feel part of it because you know something about the books being discussed.

Third, it can give you background and context about a book so you already have a bit of knowledge about it before you start. A book review can set a scene or give you some of the themes to look out for, thereby enhancing your appreciation of a book. Perhaps even give you some good angles for your book group!

books-1655783_1280There are so many books published that you may find people in your usual circle haven’t read the same things as you. But you will always find book review websites (whose authors would love you to post comments or engage in conversation, hint, hint!), or online reading communities, who have read your favourite most recent read. Sometimes, if I read a book I love (or loathe, though these are very few) I’m just bursting to talk about it with someone. I can always do that online.

Do you enjoy reading book reviews? If so, why? Or if not, why not?

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