Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading More: Helpful Habits (your mileage may vary)

This started out as an end-of-year reading review, but it took a sharp turn to the left. I will definitely get back to my reading wrap-up, because I  read some wonderful books in 2015, but today I wanted to follow this rabbit trail.

2015 was my most successful year of reading so far. I read more books, tried new genres, and took more from the books I finished. As I look back, I realized that my reading habits were a little different, and they made all the difference for the year.

1. Audiobooks — Yes, it's likely that I'm the last holdout to "discover" the appeal of audiobooks. Before last year, I never felt like the cost was worthwhile to me. Now though, our library offers access to several apps where I can download eBooks and audiobooks with my library card. I use Hoopla; for the most part, I like it a lot. They have a sizable library, and I've found some interesting options there. It's easier to pick up the latest bestsellers than to wait on the hold list, so I have checked out more modern literature this year. Because they return automatically, there are no library fines to worry about, so I can download more books than I would otherwise check out. Finally, I find myself more likely to cue up a book while I'm doing something else (which has also increased my knitting... double win).

A word of warning: as their library has increased, Hoopla also has added quite a few explicit adult titles. While I'll use their catalog myself, I wouldn't set my kids loose to pick a book.

There was one thing about audiobooks that surprised me. I found myself tackling some books that I had avoided in the past: particularly long books that were intimidating because of their sheer weight and books that are heavy on dialect. I fell in love with The Count of Monte Christo. I own a beautiful leather-bound edition, but it was so thick and gilded and way-too-smart-for-me-looking that I had never pulled it off the shelf. While it took several months to listen to on audio, I adored it. (I don't know if I have ever mentioned this, but my French is atrocious. Listening on audio with an excellent reader meant that I got all the pronunciations right in my head. Yay!) I also listened to my first Dickens, an author I have avoided in the past. I have always struggled with British accents, and the skilled narrator made a big difference for me.

2. Lists: my Bullet Journal — I have tried several times to keep track of my reading, always unsuccessfully. My specific book-tracking notebooks was never in the right place, so I promised myself to write it down later (never did), and eventually it got lost altogether. Usually, I would stumble across those abandoned journals with their ten or twelve entries months later. This year I started a Bullet Journal. It has been only moderately successful for other parts of my life, but it was a slam-dunk when it came to tracking my books. My BuJo is always around, and I have made it a priority to write titles down as I finish them. The list has had a peculiar effect on me, too. I'm not the most organized person, and sometimes I forget that I'm reading a book (or choose to forget a book that I don't really want to finish). Seeing those titles on the list, with their empty check boxes leering at me, gave me the kick I needed to decide whether to finish them or cross them off the list.

3. Which brings me to my favorite new reading habit... not finishing books. Don't get me wrong, I have always been willing to bury dull books at the bottom of the reading pile, slowly slide them under the bed until they disappear, or "accidentally" put them away on my shelves, never to pull them off again. What I haven't been willing to do is to DECIDE that a book isn't worth my time or isn't right for me right now. I fought it for years because I thought it would lead me to quit books whenever they got hard. In fact, it turns out that the opposite has been true. Knowing that I can quit a book if it doesn't work for me right now has freed me up to try some new things, both modern works and classics. I've branched out into some genres and authors that I had never tried before. Some were terrible, but a lot of them were lovely surprises.

4. Commonplace book — Okay, I know I just said that #3 was my favorite new habit, but you know... I reserve the right to change my mind without notice. On that note, THIS has been my absolute favorite change to my reading diet. I'll warn you now, keeping a commonplace book won't necessarily help you read faster. It takes time to write down those favorite passages. It takes time to mull over what the author is trying to communicate. However, this one habit has helped me to get more out of my books than anything else that I've tried. If you aren't sure what a commonplace book is, check this out.

Educators and researchers alike seem to agree that writing down helps to cement things in our mind. My own experience this year has echoed this. I remember my books as a whole—and particular passages—better since I started keeping a commonplace. One thing that has surprised me is how much I love to leaf through my pages and read the quotes and notes I wrote down. It's like running into old friends at the grocery story and spending a few minutes catching up in the aisles.

Thinking about my commonplace reminds me that Reading More isn't just about accruing more finished titles on a list, it's also about getting more out of the books I read. That's a goal that's worth my time in the New Year!

How about you? What habits have helped you to Read More? Are there new ideas that you want to try in the upcoming year to help you get more out of your books?

Monday, December 14, 2015

'Tis the Season panic about not getting it all done! Along with the beauty of the Advent season and the wonder of Christmas, December also brings the end of a school term for most homeschoolers. “What do I do if we aren’t ‘caught up’?!” is a questions that I see popping up all over the place. As that end-of-term deadline looms, moms are pulling out those beautiful, color-coded, spreadsheet schedules that they so lovingly crafted in August and measuring them against where their children are now.


If you are anything like me, all you can see is the lessons unfinished, the subjects that never took off, the boxes left unchecked. The panic rises as you think of how behind you are, frantically calculate ways to finish off everything (only three easy weeks of 16-hour days; that’s doable, right?!), and then decide that the only way to “get it done” is to cancel Christmas and your vacation.

Sound familiar?

Step back from the cliff, mama.

Read more at the CME Retreat blog