Setting Reading Goals

Sometime last year, I became curious about how many books I read in a year. I have never kept track and only had a vague reference of how long ago I’d read a particular book – last year? two years ago?

So I began keeping a list of books I read in 2012 and was shocked at how short the list was. Twelve. Twelve months, twelve books. Was that all, really? Take a look at my 2012 list.

Admittedly, 2012 was a bad reading year and I blamed it on the fact that I spent the majority of that year planning my wedding. But I knew, wedding or not, I simply wasn’t making enough time to read.

Jennifer Kierecki Blog Reading GoalsSo I decided to make a reading goal this year. My goal for 2013 is to read 40 books. It’s not a terribly ambitious goal compared to some, but I chose 40 because that’s a little bit more than 3 books a month which seemed reasonable for me.

I’ll admit I was late to the Goodreads party, but it is a great way to make a keep track of reading goals. It will tell me if I’m behind or on track, and right now, at 18 books under my belt, I’m right on track!

If you like to set reading goals, I recently learned about a blog called A Novel Challenge which is a great place to find all the latest reading challenges. I love the idea of challenging myself to read books by a particular author whose work I am interested in, or books related to a certain topic or genre. Maybe it’s not too late to set a summer reading challenge (or maybe I should stick to one challenge at a time!)

With my reading challenge for 2013 well under way, this may not have been the best time to read Stephen King’s 800+ page  11/22/63. Considering I could read two or three books in the time it will take me to read this one, it may set me back, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

I recently wrote about how good readers make good writers. And now that I’m really making time to read as much as possible, I’m finding that it is making a huge impact in my writing. Not only am I writing more, I want to write every chance I get.

I’m a believer now that it isn’t enough for a writer to simply read a book or two here and there. Reading is part of the creative process.

How many books do you read in a year? Do you have a reading goal? Please share your goals in the comments below!

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For the Love of Reading

I’m a book worm. An avid reader. A book-a-holic.

Whatever you want to call me, I love to read.

I have loved to read since I was a kid and if it weren’t for my love of reading, I don’t think I would have discovered my passion for writing. The two go hand-in-hand, after all. As writers, we can appreciate the qualities that make reading so rewarding – we want to emulate those things in our own writing, we want to create good reading.

I’m not exactly sure when my reverence for reading began. I think it may have been in the third grade. I vividly recall our teacher reading to us, The BFG by Roald Dahl. It was even more enjoyable because he read the dialogue of the giants in funny voices – it was pure, engrossing entertainment.

It was around that time in my life I began to invent wild stories about grand adventures, keys to secret rooms and trips to unknown lands. These were the first short stories I ever wrote. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my love of reading and my passion for writing started right around the same time.

if you want to be a writerIn his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’ve been making a point to read as much as possible this year. I listen to audio books on my way to (and from) work so that each morning, I start my day with words, plots, and characters circling in my brain. I read before bed and end my day with my creative mind at work  as I fall asleep.

I’ve written three short stories in the past three months. And I’m certain my increase in reading has contributed to  my increase in writing.

Susan Sontag says, “Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.”

Someone – was it Anne Lamott? – also said, that when we read good books, good books will come out of us.

I read the lyrical prose of Janet Fitch in White Oleander and I wanted to write beautiful words. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I wanted to write a modern love story so heartbreaking it leaves you breathless. I read Water for Elephants and wanted to write a story about a time and a place in the past that feels so authentic it doesn’t feel at all like fiction.

Is there a special book that made you want to be a writer? What books inspire you to write, or to be a better writer?

An Evening with Cheryl Strayed

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Cheryl Strayed – along with about 450 others.

Cherly StrayedStrayed, author of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild, was the recipient of the prestigious Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in recognition of her excellence in literary nonfiction.

I read Wild last year when it was all I seemed to keep hearing about. Strayed tells the story of her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience. Her impulsive decision to hike the trail came after her own failed marriage and the sudden death of her mother which left her family shattered.

It becomes remarkably clear how ill-prepared she is for her hike before she even gets to the trail, when she finds herself unable to even lift her backpack. As I was reading, I found myself wondering what she was thinking, hiking alone? As she hikes through mountain, desert and snow, I was shaking my head in disbelief that she kept going. In her filthy Bob Marley t-shirt, despite the blisters and the loss of several of her toe nails she kept hiking with her destination in mind. I continued reading, knowing I could never have endured the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail, and certainly I could not have done it alone.

My favorite parts of Wild are the sections in which she talks of her mother. I was devastated, sobbing as I read the passage where she describes losing her mom. It was some of the most heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.

What I realized, listening to Strayed speak about her book, was that she never had one, life-changing “Aha moment” on her hike. I think, as a reader, I expected this single moment of realization that is so often found in these sorts of stories. She explained that it was a journey, both inside and outside, of coming to terms with her life. I had my own Aha moment in hearing her describe her journey this way.

Strayed is often asked why she waited so long to write about her hike and she said she had to learn to be the writer who could write this book. On her website she writes, “It took me years of apprenticing myself to the craft before I could write a book.” She also says time gave her the perspective she needed in order to write about the experience. As a writer, it’s encouraging to realize that our experiences, while they may be initially difficult to write about, can make great material down the road.

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

If you haven’t yet read Wild I highly recommend it.

For more about Cheryl Strayed and her books, visit her website www.CherylStrayed.com

What I’m Reading in Non Fiction: The Gifts of Imperfection

I read a lot of fiction. In fact, I read almost entirely fiction, but I do try to read a variety of styles and genres. Then, I made a goal at the beginning of this year to not only spend more time reading, but to read things that will inspire me – including email newsletters and my Twitter feed-  but most importantly, books.

I’ve tried, and failed, a few times so far this year to read non-fiction books that I thought would help me to be more positive and grateful. They were books that I picked up but couldn’t get into. These books, which shall remain titleless, were dry. I had to force myself to read them and found my eyes growing heavy after only a few pages. I hate to not finish a book, but there are too many good books out there to spend my time forcing myself to read ones I don’t enjoy!

Then, I found Brené Brown. Full disclosure, I found her through Oprah. She was featured on a two-part episode of Super Soul Sunday, a show I happen to enjoy. I didn’t expect to be moved, but I was.

Fundamentally, Brené Brown is a researcher specializing in vulnerability and shame. If I had known this before seeing her on Super Soul Sunday, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her books. Who wants to read about shame??!

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_BrownI watched the first episode with Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday, and after the second, I knew I HAD to read her books.

First, I picked up The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who you Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. She talks about embracing our imperfections, and offers guideposts to living wholeheartedly. 

Here is a paragraph that points to what is at the heart of The Gifts of Imperfection: When we can let go of what other people think … we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend  a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving. p 23

I think this is something a lot of us can relate to. This is not my typical reading, but so much of what she says just hit me over the head!

What I love about Brené Brown is that I never feel as though she is some lofty, Ph.D talking down to me. After watching her on Oprah (and eventually her TED talks as well) I had her straightforward, Texan voice in my head as I was reading.

Here are just a few highlights from The Gifts of Imperfection:

  •  Brown says Wholehearted living is a process, a journey. We must decide every day to be our authentic selves. We must practice courage, compassion and connection in our daily lives.
  •  My first “aha” came on page 14 when she writes: “…I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does.”
    I am always downplaying the good things in my life, then find myself frustrated when others don’t seem excited when good things happen for me. How can they be excited when I’m the one downplaying it! Enjoy and celebrate the good things, and when things don’t go your way you can share in the bad as well.
  • “Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves. This is a tall order given how hard most of us are on ourselves.” p 27.
    Self-talk is something I am working on so this really hit home for me.
  • “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” p 50
    We live in a society that wants us to conform. Her first guidepost is, Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What Other People Think. She quotes e.e. cummings, who wrote: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.”
  • My favorite is guidepost #6 Cultivating Creativity: Letting go of Comparison. On Super Soul Sunday, Brene Brown said: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.” As a writer, I can relate to this one on a very personal level. She expands on this in her book, saying “There’s no such thing as creative people, and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
    YES!! As a writer, I know this to be true!

I don’t believe I can really do this book justice in one blog post, I truly can’t recommend it enough.

I’m now reading her latest book, Daring Greatly. If you have read her work, I would love to hear from you! If you haven’t read any of her books, I encourage you to check her out on YouTube and see what you think!

For more information or to purchase Brené Brown’s books, visit her website, BreneBrown.com

You can also follow her blog, Ordinary Courage

Here is a clip from Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday:

Rereading Books: Do you Do it?

Last week, I stumbled upon the 101 Books Blog that posed an interesting question: Will you read a book more than once? (Click Here to read the original post.)

As someone who tries to read as much as possible, it isn’t often I go back and read a book I’ve already read. There are too many new books on my to-read list! A book has to be pretty special for me to take the time to read it again. But there are a few exceptions.

We all have books that move us, and sometimes reading them once just isn’t enough. I have a few favorites which I have read multiple times, and would read again. There is something to be said about reliving a story you love and discovering things you may have missed the first time around. Reading a book a second or third time can feel like visiting an old friend.

The book that stands as the one I have reread the most times (at least three) is White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I can’t get enough of her language, and I feel inspired by her prose each time I read it.

I’ve also read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Neffenegger for a second time, which is also among the ranks of my favorite books of all time. Sometimes, in my excitement, I read a book too quickly and reading it a second time provides insight.

photo(2)I’m also a fan of rereading classics, particularly those books from adolescence. I have children’s books on my shelf that I have revisited as an adult, like Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan, and a favorite of mine growing up, The BFG by Roald Dahl. Some of the stories I’ve read again as an adult are very different from the versions we were told as children, for example The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Both are very different from the movie versions we all watched growing up.

One of my reading challenges for myself this year is to read  books that were assigned reading in school when I hadn’t yet fully developed the appreciation for them. I just recently reread The Giver by Lois Lowry and it was a completely different experience from the first time I read it more than a decade ago. I am looking forward to reading The Great Gatsby again before the movie comes out this summer.

Will you read a book more than once? What books have you read more than once?

Audiobooks: The Same as Reading?

It is a goal of mine this year to fit in as much reading time as I possibly can. I bring a book (or my Kindle) with me just about everywhere I go, so that if I find myself with ten extra minutes, I can spend it reading rather than mindlessly reading my Facebook feed or playing games on my phone. I’ve been trying to turn off the TV earlier to allow more time for reading before bed. And, I’ve started listening to audiobooks.

I tried listening to an audiobook for the first time when I finally started reading the Harry Potter series two summers ago. I had been lugging around these heavy hardcover books for a while and decided to try listening to the series on CD during a long road trip.

I was skeptical at first, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy listening to a book as much as I enjoy reading one and thought I would be too focused on the road to absorb a book. But truly, listening to a book on CD while driving isn’t much different from listening to music or a morning radio talk show. In fact, I was surprised to find that when listening to an audiobook, the scenes play out in my mind just as they do when I’m reading.

I got away from audiobooks for a while, but recently felt the pull to try them again as winter set-in and my long commute is often made even longer by slippery, snow-covered roads this time of year. Listening to an audio book on my commute allows me to get in a whole extra hour of reading every day!

Of course this brings about the debate: is listening to an audiobook the same as reading?

There is something to be said for hearing a book read aloud, and hearing the magic of the words coming to life – particularly if the audiobook is read by the author. But just like with e-readers, I miss being able to pick up a pencil and underline a passage I like, or thumb through the pages to reread a section that struck me. I have considered getting a hard copy as a companion to the audiobook for these reasons.

I have been borrowing books on CD from my local library, but with downloadable apps and MP3 audio books, there is no limit to the ways you can listen to a book, whether its during your commute, on your lunch break or while you’re doing housework.

I’m curious to know what experiences other avid readers have had with audiobooks. Did you love it? Hate it? If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, are you willing to give it a try?

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

“What are you reading?”

It’s the question writer Will Schwalbe asks his mother throughout her treatment for pancreatic cancer. It is a question that one can’t necessarily ask these days, for one can’t be sure someone is reading anything at all.

end of your life book clubBut in The End of Your Life Book Club, Will and his mother start a two-person book club that brings them together as they face the end of her life. Over the two years of her treatment, the books they read ignite conversations about life, faith, courage, gratitude and so much more. The books allow them to talk about things happening in their own lives, and help them to talk about death.

Schwalbe writes, “That’s one of the things books do. They help us talk. But they also give us something we can talk about when we don’t want to talk about ourselves.”

The books they read are wide-ranging, from popular to classic, and include mysteries and poetry.

Will’s mother is not an ordinary woman. We learn about the extraordinary life of Mary Anne who has a passion for helping others, and is devoted to helping refugees. She takes her love of books to new heights in her determination to build a library in Afghanistan where resources are so limited.

“She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you chose – electronic (even though that wasn’t for her) or printed, or audio – is the grandest entertainment, and also how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others.”
Page 326

With Mary Anne’s diagnosis, reader’s know how the book is going to end. But that didn’t stop me from crying openly at the end.

In the beginning, I found myself anxious and slightly impatient, not with the book itself but with my own eagerness to read so many of the books mentioned in The End of your Life Book Club. Readers, never fear, there is an alphabetized list of the authors, books, plays, poems and stories discussed and mentioned throughout. You will not have a shortage of things to read once you have finished this book.

The End of Your Life Book Club isn’t a book about death, it is about life and the life lessons we learn not only from the books we read but the conversations which are inspired by the books we read. I was left with a renewed belief in the transformative power of reading; the power of books to give us experiences we might not have otherwise experienced, to show us settings that feel like places we visited in another lifetime or wish to someday visit, and introduce us to characters who come to feel like old friends.