The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 6:33 pm

My New Year's resolution -- read 26 books in 2015

By Kara Hackett The Journal Gazette

If you’ve ever tried making a New Year's resolution, you probably know your odds of achieving it aren’t great.

Most studies say resolution-makers have about a 50-50 success rate.

So last year, a reporter at The Indianapolis Star devised a way to beat the odds with a reading resolution.

Michael Anthony Adams wrote an article last January challenging every Hoosier to read 26 books in 2014, and he asked those who accepted the challenge to hold themselves accountable on Twitter by tweeting about their progress using the hashtag #Read26Indy.

The rules were simple: Read 26 books in one year — the equivalent of about one every two weeks. But you can read at your own pace, and there’s no required reading list. You can read whatever you want. You could use the #Read26Indy hashtag to post your progress on Twitter, review your books or get advice from other readers.

Ken Bugajski, 43, of Fort Wayne, an English professor at the University of Saint Francis, saw the challenge circulating among his followers on Twitter last January, and he thought it was a great idea.

He wanted to get an online group of Fort Wayne readers involved, so he sent out a tweet to see whether anyone was interested in joining him, and about 35 people said they were, so he started the hashtag #Read26FW on Twitter as a way for them to stay in touch.

The group has never met in person, but throughout the year, it has shared book reviews and suggestions silently on social media. And even though only about 10 of the original 35 have remained faithful to reading all 26 books, Bugajski said he considers the challenge a success for the community of readers it’s creating, and this year, he’s opening it to users on Facebook.

He started a new Facebook page called Read26FW to serve as another headquarters for the group, and there are already 26 members agreeing to read in 2015. He said anyone is welcome to take the challenge and join the group, so I took him up on the offer.

I’m not sure exactly which 26 books I’ll read yet, but I’ve listed a few ideas below. I’m already a few pages into "Through Painted Deserts" by Donald Miller, so that will probably be my first book, and to be honest, I’m not sure whether I’ll get through all 26 in one year. But that’s OK.

Bugajski said he just made the cutoff this year, completing his 28th book in mid-December.

The great thing about the #Read26FW challenge is that even though there’s the benefit of accountability when you share your progress with other readers online, there’s no pressure from the group to finish.

He said most people tweet when they start and finish a new book. Some tweet progress reports and quotes from the book while they’re reading. But as an English teacher, he wanted to make the challenge feel as unlike a school assignment as possible.

"It’s just effort to create community," Bugajski said. "It’s supposed to be as flexible as possible."

If it were an assignment, some members of the group would pass with flying colors.

Reneta Thurairatnam, 34, of Fort Wayne works as a vice president and wealth adviser at Lake City Bank, but in her spare time during 2014 she read a whopping 47 books for the #Read26FW challenge.

Thurairatnam said she started the challenge last January when she saw Bugajski’s post on Twitter, and even though she’s been an avid reader since childhood, she never knew exactly how many books she was reading each year.

"The challenge helps me keep track of the months I read more and what books I read," Thurairatnam said.

It turns out she reads mostly historical fiction books, but she’s working on expanding her horizons. When she takes the challenge again in 2015, she wants to read more nonfiction and be more consistent about her reading pace each month.

She says the key to being successful at the challenge is not necessarily competing with other readers, but competing with yourself and stretching your own limitations.

"Go at your own pace, and don’t beat yourself up," Thurairatnam said. "Different people experience books in different ways. My husband gets really thoughtful about what he reads, but he doesn’t read all the time like I do. This challenge is more about trying to find what you like."

Even if you don’t have the willpower to follow through, this challenge might be a good way to start reading something new in the New Year.

Tips for taking the #Read26FW challenge:

• Start a family reading night. "One of the things we do in my family is, my wife and daughter and I pick one night each week and have a reading night," Bugajski said. "That means no TV, and no one is allowed to use electronic devices." He said the talking-and-technology fast only lasts a few hours, so it’s not the whole night. But keeping distractions at bay on a regular basis and focusing on reading helps his family accomplish its goals.

• Use the #Read26FW group as accountability partners. You don’t have to post often on social media to take the challenge, but the more you post about what you’re reading, the more obligated you’ll feel to finish your books and accomplish your goals. "Just knowing that people will see the progress I’m making keeps me on track," Bugajski said.

• Make the challenge your own. It’s helpful to take advice from other readers, but the benefit is you can read what you want and when you want. If you lean into your personal interests, and find a reading schedule that works for you, you’re more likely to accomplish your goal. Think about what types of books you’ve enjoyed most in the past, and read more in that genre to get going. But don’t be afraid to try something new on occasion.

Reader’s Choices:

• "The Pearl that Broke its Shell" by Nadia Hashimi. Recommended by: Thurairatnam. A novel about the lives of Pakistani girls in Islamic culture. "I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, and this is probably my favorite," Thurairatnam said.

• "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. Recommended by: Thurairatnam. A novel about a Chinese-American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio riddled with suicide, murder and flashbacks.

• "Yes Please" by Amy Poehler. Recommended by Bugajski. A hilarious collection of stories, lists, poetry, photos, mantras and advice from funny-woman Poehler, who starred on "Saturday Night Live" and spawned the TV series "Parks and Recreation."

• The "Shoppaholic" series by Sophie Kinsella. Recommended by Thurairatnam. A series of novels that follows the protagonist Becky Bloomwood through her adventures in shopping and life. "There’s not a lot of depth in these books, but I like reading them after reading something heavy," Thurairatnam said. "I love Kinsella’s voice. It’s really light, and she’s hilarious."

• "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell. Recommended by Bugajski. A novel about twin sisters who grew up addicted to fan fiction books similar to to JK Rowling's "Harry Potter." Now one sister must experience college on her own as a budding writer, and question herself, as well as her love of fan fiction, in general. "For a lot of us who are readers and tweet about reading, it’s easy to identify with a character who likes to read a lot," Bugajski said.

On my reading list:

1. "Through Painted Deserts" by Donald Miller. A road-trip memoir about three months spent crossing the country in a Volkswagen camping van and finding light, God and beauty on the open road.

2. "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn cover the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

3. "Naked" by David Sedaris. A collection of essays by American humorist David Sedaris.

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