Each month each of us pick a challenge or habit to work on, then we interview one another to see how the challenge or habit-building went. Alexys interviewed Taryn on her February 2020 challenge, which was reading at least 25 pages of a book each day.
A: How did you decide on 25 pages a day? I find that some days I can only get through 10 pages of a book, but it still feels good to read.
T: I didn’t want to do chapters, since different books have completely different chapter lengths. I picked 25 pages because I knew it wouldn’t take me too long where I could easily say I’m too busy, but it wasn’t too short where I didn’t feel like I learned something for the day.
A: How set were you on 25 pages?
T: During the week, I would try to read at least 25 pages and a little more until I found a good stopping point, so some days I would read 26 pages, some days 30. Usually on the weekend, I would be busy one day and maybe only read 10 pages, so I would read closer to 40 the next day to balance it out. There were also a couple evenings where I read. Those evenings I didn’t keep track of how much I read, but I definitely read longer than what I did in the mornings.
A: Were there any days you didn’t read 25 pages? How did you feel about it; were you able to just try again the next day or did you feel like you didn’t fully accomplish your goal for the day?
T: Yeah, I definitely felt guilty the days I skipped or read less, but I made up for it. There’s very much my personality. I tend to take leisure activities and somehow make them stressful. After this month, I want to keep the habit but really work on not feeling guilty for the days I skip or when my brain can’t process more than five pages.
A: What are some things you did to be able to focus while reading? This is the biggest problem I have when I’m trying to read a book, finding the time and place in a day where my mind is calm and focused enough to do it. Did you have a ritual when reading, like lighting candles or waiting until a certain time of day or night? Or was it more random, fitting it in when you could. Did you read 25 pages at once or did you tend to break it up throughout the day?
T: Yes! I definitely had a ritual, which is why on the weekends I would get thrown off. I did this challenge last January (tried to do 20 pages a day), but I would squeeze in reading throughout my day. Maybe five pages before work, maybe ten or more pages after, and more on the weekend. But for me at least, that just gave me too many opportunities to make excuses. It definitely put me in a mindset to read more (I read 18 books last year, versus 2 the year before that), but the habit of reading whenever I could didn’t fit me well.
This month, I would wake up about 45 minutes early. I work from home now and don’t have a commute so I use my old commute time to tidy my house, make coffee, and read. I would get out of bed, do a little tidying up until my brain started working, then I would make a cup of coffee, put my phone out of reach, and sit on my couch with a big blanket. When I did all those things, it worked out perfectly. I never overslept my reading time. I was genuinely excited to read each morning. The amount of times I told myself I would do a morning workout but didn’t is embarrassing, but something about reading made me never hit snooze. On the weekend, add wanting to sleep in a little and a talkative husband up at the same time as me, reading didn’t happen much in the mornings. My husband and I did go to a coffee shop twice this month as a date, where we ordered coffee and both read books. It was honestly one of my favorite things we’ve done together.
A: Did you end up liking the books you chose? What do you think you would have done if you didn’t like a book you were reading? Power through it or move on and choose a new book? I feel like I would have a hard time reading something I didn’t like. I would definitely give it a good shot before moving on though.
T: This month I read Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, Dark Safari by Paul Theroux, and How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. And I’m about a quarter of the way through Food Politics by Marion Nestle. I like having a mix of books that are complex where I need to be fully engaged and books that I can casually read. Brown’s book I read more casually. There were parts that were too unrealistic for me to use in the real world so I skimmed. That’s usually what I do when I don’t love something. I’ll still finish it; I just won’t use the brain energy to remember all the details. Kendi’s book was deep and there were times where I had to reread parts. He has a lot of racial vocabulary that made the book harder to follow at times, so it took me longer to read. But I never skimmed over. With Theroux’s book, I love his writing style so much and he includes a lot of history in his writing so I read every bit of his books.
A: Did you pick books you already had in your collection or did you go out and find new books?
T: I already had all the books besides Kendi’s before starting this. I have a solid book collection and probably have ten more books I own but haven’t read yet. My aunt told me to read a Brene Brown book for work. I had read another Paul Theroux book (he mostly writes about solo travel), and I found a signed unproofed copy of Dark Safari at a secondhand book store and took that as a sign to read it. I bought Food Politics secondhand too. I work in food and live in Washington DC, so I thought it would be fitting. I saw Kendi on TV a couple months ago, and again, found a signed copy of his new book. That makes two signed books for my collection and I think I started a new thing for myself.
A: How did you feel at the end of the month? Did you feel like you accomplished a task or did you feel like reading every day actually helped you beyond that (maybe feel more grounded or relaxed)? When I read it gives me a sense of being more present and helps my ability to focus better on other tasks outside of reading.
T: I feel more accomplished than grounded, which isn’t exactly what I wanted. I do want reading to be a calming outlet for me. But I think the subject matter is the reason that this month I didn’t feel calm from this habit. I tend to read books that have deep meaning and are default not relaxing. Racial injustice, how the government’s greed can affect our health, how to be a better leader, and the history and struggle of many African nations do not exactly make me go “ahh what a relaxing morning.” But what it does do and why I want to keep it up, is it gives me something to think and talk about, and teaches me an opinion, a connection, or another viewpoint that I may not have ever known before. Selfishly, I like to have interesting things to say during conversations and books that have very narrow focuses help me know information that’s not common to the general public. Reading also gives me a chance to have deeper conversations. I may not know about a subject I’m discussing, but usually through reading, I have something that allows me to connect better and be more engaged in a conversation. In general, I feel smarter when I read often and that gives me a confidence boost throughout other aspects of my life.
In March, Taryn’s goal is to try to make several recipes she’s been too intimidated to test out. Stay tuned!