I read a lot. Some of that comes with the whole “librarian” territory, but I could perform my job satisfactorily while reading a lot less than I currently do. I’ve always loved reading. For most of my life it’s been my primary form of entertainment and escapism. Bad day at work? Lose myself in a book. Anxious about that big presentation tomorrow? Lose myself in a book. Reading might not be the healthiest coping mechanism, but I can think of worse options.
My reading roots are pretty solidly planted in the genre fiction world. My earliest reading memory is of my mom reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to me when I was 5 or 6 years old. In middle school, I attempted to read my way through the entire science fiction/fantasy section at my local library. My dad, a college statistics professor, belonged to the science fiction book of the month club so I raided his bookshelves as well. He also helpfully enlisted his favorite nerdy graduate students to recommend new titles and authors for me. My favorite book-nerd bragging right is that I read Game of Thrones in 1997 after seeing some guy reading it at a mall food court. I was fourteen. Teenaged-Karen hated it – WAY too much politics, not enough dragons.
As an adult, I like to think of myself as a reader of broad tastes. Last year, that perception was tested when one of my favorite bookish websites, Book Riot, published their first annual “Read Harder” challenge. The challenge consisted of 24 categories and some of them were truly a stretch for me (particularly the romance novel and audio book categories). But I LOVED doing the challenge. I read things I never would have tried and discovered that I actually enjoy listening to audiobooks (if they have a narrator I like). I also identified some major gaps in my reading patterns, so this year I decided to track my reading a little more closely. I went full-nerd and created a spreadsheet.
Over at Book Riot’s comics-focused sister-site, Panels, Swapna Krishna posted a Google spreadsheet that she uses to track her reading and I knew that I had to do the same. I’m particularly interested in tracking a handful of categories when it comes to my reading: target audience age, diversity of characters and creators, gender of characters and creators, format and medium. Reality check time: I like to think of myself as a reader with broad tastes, but when left to my own devices I tend to get stuck in ruts. At various times I’ve gone through prolonged phases where I’ve read fantasy books exclusively, books by dead white guys exclusively, comics published by Image exclusively, and young adult novels exclusively. But I’m the most satisfied when I’m actually achieving my goal of reading broadly.
For some of the categories that I’m tracking this year, I want to hit a minimum threshold. Inspired by K.T. Bradford’s reading challenge, I want to make sure that at least 50% of the books I read are written or illustrated by people of color and that 50% of the books I read are written or illustrated by women. The results tab on my handy-dandy spreadsheet lets me keep a close eye on those percentages and modify my “to be read” pile when either one begins dipping too low.
Wiser people than myself have written extensively about the importance of books (and other forms of media) functioning as both windows and mirrors – it is important to see people who resemble us reflected in the media we consume (books as mirrors), but it is also important to see people who are different from us represented (books as windows). So go out there and read something totally out of your wheelhouse.
Do you love spreadsheets as much as I do? Have you ever participated in a reading challenge? Want a reading recommendation? Hit me up in the comments.
Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger. #WorkOutNerdOut