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Challenge Yourself To Read Better In 2014

There’s a lot of reflection that happens around this time every year: hundreds of “best of” lists and retrospectives on what was great, or what sucked. It’s a time that we, collectively, take stock of what’s happened. And, while it’s helpful to giving us perspective on the past, it can also be a chance to make the future better.

If you’re prone to list-making, I have an exercise I’ll humbly suggest. Write out all the books you read this year - Goodreads is a great place to put a list together, and I personally track what I read in a Google doc. Then go through and break down what you actually read: how many books were adult, YA, non-fiction? How many featured characters of color? How many were written by writers of color? How many featured LGBT characters or issues? How many were native English texts and how many were translations? How many were written by women, how many by men?

The results are likely to surprise you. 

Playwright Stephen Spotswood blogged about something similar he did in tracking the specifics of his own original plays. Much like making a personal year-end list, he found it illuminating because it gave him a better sense of trends in his own work. But he also looked forward, using the knowledge he gained from making that list to better focus his own work and challenge himself in areas that had less representation.

How can your new information help make you a better reader/writer/human?

When you have your list, take stock of what’s there but really focus on what isn’t. Did you go a full year without reading a book that took place outside your home country? Without a story that featured a main character of a different race/gender/sexual orientation as you? It’s shockingly easy to do when you’re not consciously going for stories outside of your normal experience. But when we know that books have the power to expand empathy, change minds, and improve people, it seems like a waste not to regularly engage with stories that challenge your worldview.

In a recent article, Aidan Moher explained the argument against this very eloquently: people often don’t want to consciously change their reading habits because, “I just read what I want to.” Moher himself said this for years, but then decided for his 2013 New Year’s reading resolution to split his reading 50/50 between male and female authors. The result is he expanded his worldview and read books he might have otherwise overlooked. And when your reading life is altered, it impacts how you think, feel, interact: that’s the power of the written word. Moher spent a year gaining a perspective outside himself - which is the basic first step to being a better human being - just by thinking a little harder about what ended up on his shelf.

So what did you find in your list? More importantly, what was missing? There’s no better time than at the turn of the New Year to think about what you’d like next year’s list to look like.

Here are some resources to help if you want to set a reading goal for next year:
Image By Jeremy Johnson, Meddling with Nature ( [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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