Favorite book + tea pairings

The greatest regret of my life is that I do not like coffee.

Ok, maybe that’s not my greatest regret.

But no matter how many times I try, I cannot seem to force myself to like coffee. I’ve tried all the tricks: Start out with fraps or tons of cream and slowly work your way down. But no matter how many times I try it, I just want to scrub my mouth out with a brush and dish detergent.

There is a silver lining to not liking coffee: TEA!

I love love love tea. I might be a borderline tea snob.

I believe there’s nothing more delicious and cozy than snuggling up with a piping hot cup of tea and a good book.

So whether you enjoy pretending to be British (I do) or are trying to get into drinking tea, here are my recommendations for your rainy afternoon treat:

Note: I don’t use affiliate links in this post.

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie + Earl Grey Supreme

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Confession: This is my all-time favorite tea. I buy it in the large size because it’s that good. Harney and Sons actually says in the product description that most people never go back to regular Earl Grey. They are correct.

I’m not a blood and gore mystery reader. I shamelessly like cozy mysteries because I like to be able to sleep at night. I also like not feeling paranoid that someone’s stalking me.

Murder on the Orient Express is your cozy mystery meets British history meets twisty plot-driven story.

Earl Grey Supreme is the natural companion because it’s the king of Earl Greys, and Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery. It’s also one of the most popular teas in the world, and Agatha Christie is the most bestselling author of all time (behind the Bible and Shakespeare). These two belong together.

Bright but complex, wonderful alone or with a dash of milk, Earl Grey Supreme and Agatha Christie won’t disappoint.

 

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith + Scottish Morn

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Remember how I said I like cozy mysteries? Robert Galbraith is the exception.

In case you’ve been living under a literary rock, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Her Cormoran Strike series ain’t no Harry Potter, I can tell you that much.

Robust, dark, and with just enough bite to thrill, Career of Evil is the perfect pairing for Scottish Morn.

Strike is your perfect jaded (and one-legged) detective. Robin Ellacott, his assistant, is strong, optimistic, intuitive—and perhaps a tad too forgiving. She’s way too good for that annoying chauvinistic boyfriend.

The first book in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, is lighter fare. But the next two books in the series, including Career of Evil, are more grisly. I like these books as occasionally (and deliciously) as a like bold, dark, Scottish Morn tea.

 

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith + Scottish Afternoon

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On the topic of cozy stories, Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series is probably the coziest of cozy stories you’ll pick up.

Filled with hilarious, memorable characters and McCall’s keen, but gentle commentary on Edinburgh life, 44 Scotland Street has much to delight. If you love fast-paced, plot driven stories, this may not be for you. But if you enjoy character studies (and a sprinkling of philosophy here and there), this is your series. Best part? There are 11 books and counting, so you have plenty to sink your teeth into!

I highly recommend 44 Scotland Street on audiobook. The narration is great and the accents are wonderful.

Scottish Afternoon tea has hints of Darjeeling, making it slightly more refined than its sister tea, Scottish Morn. Darjeeling is known as the champagne of teas, so you’ll feel fancy as you sip this tea while reading about life in Edinburgh—filled with more than one note of refinement!

Great audiobook narrators, Part 1

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

— Lemony Snicket

Picking a good audiobook isn’t just about picking the right book.

It’s about picking a voice you can listen to for the next 12 hours. I’ve written about it before, but a narrator can make or break an audiobook.

Struggling to find something you’ll enjoy? I’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are some of my favorite audiobooks by narrator:

 

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Rosamund Pike, Pride and Prejudice

Not only is Rosamund Pike my favorite Jane Bennet of all the Pride and Prejudice film adaptations, she is a marvelous narrator. Her voice is melodious and her voices for different characters are marvelous. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can count, but listening to Pike’s narration was like hearing it for the first time. Her voices are excellent, and her delivery impeccable.

Use your free 1-month trial from Audible and fall in love with this classic again!

 

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Carey Elwes, As You Wish

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride (especially the movie), you’ll absolutely love this audiobook. Carey Elwes (aka Wesley) narrates the story of The Princess Bride‘s journey from book to movie production. His humorous stories, wonderful voice (who could resist Wesley??), and storytelling ability is a wonderful tribute to the movie and its fans.

What I especially love about this particular audiobook is that many of the original actors narrate sections of the book from their perspective. The story of making the film is almost as hilarious as the film itself.

 

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Rob Inglis, Lord of the Rings

I love Rob Inglis’ narration. Every time I press play, I feel like I’m being wrapped up cozy blanket by the fire with a mug of tea, listening as Gandalf reads me a story. While I absolutely love Lord of the Rings, there are definitely some thick/slow parts that audiobook helps you power through.

Also if you, like me, love Lord of the Rings but hate reading the songs and poems, you’re in luck. Rob Inglis actually sings every song, so you can finally appreciate Tolkien’s poetry instead of just skipping over it.

 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

If you love listening to writers read their own books, listen to a copy of Between the World and Me next. I honestly don’t know if I would have recognized all the emotion, heartache, and passion Coates writes with if I hadn’t heard him read his own words aloud.

Beyond the fact that Coates is an excellent narrator, Between the World and Me is an excellent book, and it’s one you need to read. I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what it was like to be black in America before reading this book. I probably never will, fully. But this book was a good place to start. Listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and let Between the World in Me draw you one step closer to understanding, compassion, and hope.

 

Who are your favorite audiobook narrators?

 

*No affiliate links used in this post

4 books to inspire your next big change

Reconsidering your career? Stuck in a funk? Ready to kickstart your daily routine?

Step into my office.

This year has been full of HUGE transitions for me. Maybe it is for you too.

Whether you’ve decided to beat that bad habit or you’re heading back to grad school (or moving across the country), these books will help streamline your focus. They’re inspiring and thought provoking, and I hope you’ll benefit from them as much as I have.

Confession: I listened to most of these on audiobook (Read earlier confession).

Enjoy!

1. Grit, by Angela Duckworth

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I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it hadn’t been available for free at my workplace (what kind of person says no to a free book??). But I’m so glad I did!

This book was both convicting and encouraging. 

In Grit, Angela Duckworth debunks the myth that talent is a better predictor of success than effort. She argues that determination, purpose, and endurance are key to achieving long-term success.

In high school, I was successful because I worked hard, not because I was naturally talented in math or chemistry. I was determined to succeed and I was comfortable with failure. But something changed in college. I started thinking that because other students were “naturally smarter” than me, I couldn’t measure up. This book was a much-needed wakeup call. It helped me regain some confidence and perspective I lost in college.

Recommended if you feel a bit lost in your career and you wonder if you have what it takes to achieve your goals. Be warned, there are long passages describing her scientific methods, and some parts are repetitive. Be strong and stick around for the good stuff!

 

2. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

the power of habit charles duhigg nonfiction picks

The Power of Habit is a seriously fascinating book.

I’m a how-to junkie and I’m also fascinated by the way things (and people) work. I love tips for becoming more efficient and productive. I also love the How Stuff Works podcast and the TV show How It’s Made.

If that sounds like you, this is your book.

The Power of Habit explains the brain forms habits and how you can retake control of your own habits. Duhigg also talks about the history of habit science and how habits impact the way we live, work, and make decisions.

I especially enjoyed the sections on habit formation in the workplace and how marketers use the basic principles of habits to influence consumers. I swear I’m not a science junkie (AT ALL), but I still enjoyed this book all the same. (However, I do have a sneaky suspicion I would have had a harder time finishing it if I hadn’t listened on audiobook.)

The only part I didn’t like was the last section covering Angie Bachmann — I thought it was a bit weak, didn’t give any satisfactory conclusions, and wasn’t as interesting as the rest of the book.

Recommended if you want to adjust bad habits, cultivate good habits, and want to be more aware of how your subconscious impacts your decision making.

 

3. The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

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I used to love the Myers-Briggs personality test, but I always felt like the half of my results described me, and the other half didn’t. (I’m an ESFJ, in case you were wondering.)

Then I discovered the Enneagram, and my whole personality-test loving world was shattered … in the best possible way.

The Enneagram described me so perfectly, it was a little creepy. I learned about my basic fears, my unique contribution to the world, and why I react to certain situations the way I do.

If you’re curious about learning more about yourself to improve your relationships, self-doubt, and workplace habits, The Road Back to You is a great place to start. As a primer for the Enneagram, it takes you through all nine personality types and explains how the enneagram works. It also offers plenty of helpful tips for overcoming your core “deadly sin,” learning to interact more productively with others, and using your unique strengths to contribute to the flourishing of others.

Knowing that I’m an Enneagram 6 helped me recognize how fear is always holding me back. For the first time in my life, I realized that most of my unhealthy beliefs, habits, and attitudes are based in fear. This is game-changing stuff.

Recommended if you want to understand yourself better so you can start relating to others better. (Aka: why certain things make you mad, how you can get along with that annoying coworker, and why your parents are so weird.)

 

4. Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warrenliturgy of the ordinary tish harrison warren nonfiction picks

Confession: I find the pressure to “live every day like your last” exhausting and overwhelming.

But in this cultural moment, there’s a pervading idea that your life — filled with the unglamorous tasks of laundry, 9-to-5 jobs, and doctor’s appointments — is being wasted unless you’re doing big, exciting, and audacious things.

If we’re not carpe diem-ing every moment, we must be doing something wrong.

Liturgy of the Ordinary offers a different vision: Although many years of our lives will be spent doing everyday, ordinary tasks, that’s ok.

In fact, it’s during these seemingly unimportant moments that we are forming spiritual (and unspiritual) habits that shape who we are. We are being sanctified through ordinariness.

Warren also points out that Jesus Christ was a humble carpenter for 30 years before He changed the world. If ordinary life was embraced by God Himself, then there must be deep spiritual value in the formative work He is doing in our rhythms and routines.

Recommended if you’re ready to start paying attention to how your habits and routines are molding and shaping you spiritually. Maybe you’re at a place in life where you need to stay planted, grow roots, and purposefully commit to endurance and ordinariness. This book will help you not let that time go to waste.

 

What books inspire you? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

My favorite audiobook genre

Once upon a time, I dropped $60 on a stack of nonfiction books at Books-A-Million, and I didn’t. finish. a. single. one.

I’m ashamed.

Really, it’s a complete scandal.

Not the $60 part, but the fact that I couldn’t finish any of them. I just got bored. I don’t know why exactly, but for the longest time, I have struggled to finish (or even enjoy) nonfiction.

AND

In some ways, it’s a classic case of analysis paralysis: I would spend so much time pouring over every single meaningful sentence that it was impossible for me to actually finish. And because of my over-analyzing, reading nonfiction required so much brainpower that I’d rather just pick up a fiction book or magazine — anything that didn’t require deep personal contemplation.

Until recently, when I discovered something beautiful.

Like a glorious, glittering unicorn riding out of the clouds and trailed by a stream of rainbow-colored butterflies, I discovered the magic grail.

The nonfiction audiobook.

Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me: It was possible for me to love nonfiction!

It was just like the moment I discovered I could like guacamole. I’d wanted to like it for so long, recognized the benefits of liking it (it’s totally hipster to be into guac, obvs), and I’d even tried a few bites at restaurants … but I just hadn’t discovered the perfect method of enjoying it (homemade, extra chunky, light on the onion).

And from that moment forward my whole life has changed. (Ok not really, but this is BOOKS and GUAC we’re talking here people)

I know this is all difficult for my fellow visual learners out there to swallow, but hear me out:

Isn’t finishing a book is better than it laying around, untouched and lonely, for months?

If you’re worried you won’t retain as much knowledge listening to audiobooks as you would reading them, just remember this simple math: you’ll probably remember about 60% of what you listen to via audiobook, as opposed to 85% if you read it with your eyeballs. Contrast that with about 20% remembered if you never finish the book.

I’m 100% making this math up. I actually have no idea and these results have no basis in scientific fact (please don’t sue me).

My math teacher father would be so proud.

 

What genres do you like listening to on audiobook?

Have you noticed? WWII books all seem to have blue covers

I recently looked over my list of books that I read in 2016 (as book lovers do) and discovered that, unintentionally, I read several WWII-era books last year.

I also happened to notice one overarching detail: Each book strongly featured the color blue in its cover artwork.

Coincidence? Maybe.

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Or the smart marketing people at publishing houses have discovered we are attracted to blue or associate WWII fiction with blue.

Who can say for sure? In the wise words of the Tootsie Pop owl, “The World May Never Know.”

But for all you fellow conspiracy theorists out there, the evidence is uncanny:

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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The most compelling part of The Nightingale, in my opinion, was the perspective — women left behind during war. How they cope, how they fought back, what their lives might have been like. It was fascinating.

However, it did take me a while to get into The Nightingale (the first several chapters seemed to just be Isabel and Vianne bickering constantly), and a few times it seemed to stray into modern chick-lit style writing.

I also found that the same arguments and scenarios kept happening over and over. Cliche phrases and stock filler text were used throughout. I think the book could have been much shorter — and more powerful — if Hannah had cut some of the fat that didn’t contribute to the story.

But overall, The Nightingale was a satisfying, fresh read. I definitely recommend it!

One note on the audiobook version: it’s lengthy. I might have skimmed through a few parts (and enjoyed the book a bit more) if I’d been reading rather than listening.

 

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the light we cannot see anthony doerr blue cover wwii booksAll the Light We Cannot See brims with beautiful imagery and symbolism … the town of Saint-Malo, the streets of Paris, and the Museum of Natural History pulse with life as we learn about each place through Marie-Laure’s senses.

I loved experiencing the world through Marie-Laure’s blindness. The imagery alone makes this book a worthwhile read.

When I was reading All the Light We Cannot See, I felt like I was in the story. It was like I was living life right beside Marie-Laure. On the other hand, when I read The Nightingale, I felt like someone was telling me a story.

But I struggled with Werner’s later chapters. I thought his early life was interesting, but by the time he began traveling across Europe, I found myself struggling to continue.

Overall, All the Light We Cannot See started off strong, but I eventually got lost in the middle. The ending was (mostly) satisfying, but it just didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Maybe I should have listened to this one on audiobook.

 

3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

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I won’t talk about every detail I went over in my full review of Everyone Brave is Forgiven. But here it is in a nutshell: Skip this one.

There are soooooooo many better WWII novels out there. I was seduced by the lovely cover artwork and the dust jacket filled with promises of racial themes and love triangles … but alas, I was sorely disappointed.

WWII is such a tragic, formative, and fascinating time in history. That’s why I was so surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven lacked any of the drama, suspend, or emotion that usually surrounds art set during this time.

Thankfully, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a fast read, despite its hefty 418 page count.

Overall, I was disappointed at how flat the characters were, how lifeless London felt, and how the most intense, emotional moments left me feeling numb and apathetic. At one point, when the war seemed most dire and a key character was practically dying, I was bored.  I just didn’t care.

4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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Ok, so this book is technically not set during WWII.

But I’m still going to include it in the list because helps prove my point. Is that technically cheating? Maybe a little. But this is something I can live with.

I won’t rehash my entire review of this book (you can read it here if you want), but needless to say it probably has the strongest plot tension of any of the other books listed here.

The story picks up after WWI, when Tom is still trying to recover from the horrors of war. He soon finds a new life with Isabel … a life that helps him begin to forget.

And then they make terrible, life-altering choice.

The Light Between Oceans made me stressed, angry, and emotional all at once. And it’s a fast read. The story has a strong hook and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end — and the payoff is surprisingly satisfying.

 

<< BONUS ROUND >>

1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

47281I’m including Number the Stars in the bonus section because it’s not part of any current book trend if it was published in 1989.

But it’s blue!

Number the Stars was one of my first introductions to World War II when I was assigned to read it for a class project.

Before reading this book, I thought that history was boring because it was mostly about remembering facts, dates, and numbers. But Number the Stars showed me that history is the story of real people with real stories, doing real things that have the power to change the world.

Since then, whenever I learn about a new period in history (in school and out of school), I like to read literature that was written during that time period or about that time period.

There is so much to be learned about human nature when read from the perspective of someone experiencing history in the moment. Number the Stars is a children’s book, but it’s definitely worth the read!

 

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

It’s got a little bit of blue on the cover … sort of. Ok, ok, I know this one completely messes up my “blue cover” motif.

But no WW II book list would be complete without my all-time favorite WWII (or rather, post-WWII) novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

In a word, this book is delightful.

Written in letters, it tells the story of Juliet Ashton as she searches for the subject of her next book and healing from the war. What she discovers is a quirky, lovable village on the English channel island of Guernsey with a unique story of their experiences during the war.

It perfectly balances love, humor, hope, and the pain of war without being heavy-handed or flippant. I highly, highly recommend it for your next historical fiction read!

Whether it’s a new book trend or not, blue is definitely having a moment with WWII fiction.

What’s your favorite WWII novel?

More important question: Does it have blue on the cover?

 

5 reasons I’ll stop listening to an audiobook

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I love audiobooks—or “books on tape” as we ’90s kids are still prone to call them.

There’s nothing better then finding a great story you can listen to over and over again (Lord of the Rings narrated by Rob Inglis, anyone?). They’re also a great way to make a dent in your reading goals.

But sometimes finding a great audiobook can feel like a Goldilocks pursuit.

They can’t be too this or too that. They need to be just right.

I’ll be the first to admit—I’m a little picky when it comes to choosing audiobooks.

My top audiobook pet peeves are things that distract me from focusing in on the story. Just like bumpy sentences and dry dialogue in print, certain narrator quirks often distract me to the point that I have to press “stop” and move on.

Here are a few things that make me DNF an audiobook:

Long pauses between words or sentences

I ran into this problem when I tried to listen to Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Between every sentence, I could literally hear the narrator take a breath.

No surprise—the book moved along at the speed of mud and I hit stop before I’d even gotten to chapter two.

The opposite is also true.

This may be my Alabama roots showing, but if a narrator is talking so fast I have to tilt my head toward the speaker to keep up, I’m out.

The narrator sounds like Siri

This should be a given, but pretty regularly I come across audiobooks where is seems like the narrator is actually trying to sound a robot-like as possible. What?!

Give me some Jim Dale narrating Harry Potter any day of the week over that.

Audiobook magic happens when the narrator starts to fade away and the story is front and center. It takes an enormous amount of talent for a narrator to give each character their own distinct voice and personality. I love it when narrators craft an immersive world with their voice.

The voice doesn’t match the book’s vibe

There’s something really disjointed about listening to an audiobook narrated by a voice that so clearly does not match the vibe of the book.

Sometimes I can get used to it (like in The Circle), but other times it just doesn’t work. One of weirdest book/narrator mashups I’ve heard was Francine River’s Bridge To Haven. This is a story about a young, impressionable actress in 1950’s Hollywood … narrated in an elderly, mature-sounding voice. I don’t think the narrator is actually old, but the style just didn’t work for me.

The accent is all wrong

Ok, I know this is really a minor pet peeve.

But come on, if I’m going to listen to a British novel, I want to hear a rich British voice dripping with tea and scones and crumpets telling me the story. Not an American.

When the volume ranges from yelling to a whisper … the entire book

This is probably my number one pet peeve.

I listen to audiobooks most frequently in the car, and there’s nothing more obnoxious than constantly having to adjust the volume because one minute the narrator’s practically yelling, and the next they’re whispering.

I ran into this problem with The Light Between Oceans. I loved the narrators voice, but every time I pulled into a parking lot I felt like people were staring at me because I had a loud Australian voice blasting from my car stereo.

BONUS: The editing is bizarre

So this just happened to me recently while I was listening to Scary Close by Donald Miller. Instead of normal pauses between sentences or chapters, every space seems to have been edited out.

This is how it would go: … you knowChapter5When you think about …

I’m wondering if they edited it down to fit within a certain time frame? Either way, I had to stop and borrow the book from a friend because the reading was so fast, my brain didn’t have time to stop and absorb what was just said. Super frustrating!

 

We all have our pet peeves, but the good new is, most audiobooks are great.

What are some of your audiobook pet peeves? Who are your favorite narrators?

4 tips for reaching your 2017 reading goals

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I am a firm believer in New Year’s Resolutions.

Sure, we could technically make new resolutions any time, but let’s be honest: who really does?

The turning of the new year signals the turning over of a new leaf. There’s something good and fresh about taking stock of the previous year and making the conscious decision to start something new.

Maybe you have a goal to read more this year, but do you have a plan of action?

Here are a few tips to make your 2017 reading goals a reality:

Make it official with a Goodreads Reading Challenge

A little friendly accountability never hurt anyone, and this one is a lot less painful than blasting your weight loss goals all over Facebook.

On your Goodreads.com account, you can create reading challenge goal and track your progress. Plus when you sync to your social media, you can see your friend’s reading goals and cheer them on. Goodreads also does a cool end-of-year recap that shows your book stats for the year.

Here’s mine from 2016:

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Note: Goodreads did not pay for/endorse this shoutout. I’m just legitimately obsessed.

Hit up your local library

Don’t be like me and buy tons books off the Internet that won’t fit in your tiny apartment.

Throw on your adulting pants and make a trip to your local library instead!

If you haven’t visited the library since you were in elementary school, you’ll probably be surprised at the amazing resources your library has available (like eBooks you can borrow for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad).

My library is pretty small in size, but is connected to a huge network that gives me access to almost any book I want. My online library account even allows me to place a book on hold and sends me an email when it’s arrived and ready for pickup (talk about enabling my laziness). Many libraries will also email you when your book is almost overdue.

If you’re not a book hoarder and don’t have tons of book options lying around (kudos to yo minimalist self), using your library is a budget-friendly way to add variety to your 2017 book list.

Two words: Audio. Books.

Ok, technically audiobook is one word.

But let’s not be held back by minor technicalities.

Audiobooks are, in a word, wondrous. Every time I’m in my car, I’m listening to an audiobook. When I’m cleaning my house, I’m listening to an audiobook. Basically, audiobooks make mundane tasks less mundane, and you’re chipping away at your reading list while you work. Or drive. Or just lay around.

Another library plug: Some offer subscriptions to online streaming services like Hoopla that allow you to borrow audiobooks and play them through an app on your phone.

Borrowing regular old books on CD from your library is another option, and it’s cheaper than Audible. But hey, if you have $14.95 to throw around every month, more power to ya.

Listening to audiobooks is a great way to power through your reading challenge and mark more books off your list. Besides, if you have to be in the car, why not make that time productive?

Don’t set yourself up to fail

Do you have a full time job? Are you a full time student?

Do you have a social life?

Does your body require petty things like food and sleep?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re probably not going to read 150 books in 2017. If you read at the pace of drying paint, you’re probably not going to read 70 books.

Whatever your goal, don’t plan to read the entire Game of Thrones series, five Stephen King books, and the entire Charles Dickens canon. Mix things up. Read a short novel and then tackle the 1,000-page monster. Give yourself mental breaks and avoid being too rigid.

In a nutshell: Be realistic with yourself about your free time. If accomplishing your reading goal makes your friends wonder if you got abducted, your resolution has stopped being positive.

 

I believe the reason many people scoff at resolutions is this: At some point, they committed to a resolution that failed miserably.

And failing is a sucky feeling.

You can avoid feeling sucky by doing yourself a solid and making a realistic goal. You can even undershoot a little and feel amazing when you surpass your goal.

Whatever your reading resolution is for 2017, you can achieve it if you plan well. Reading is one of the most productive and enriching experiences you can give yourself.

So get out there and conquer the world! (Or at least that book you’ve been putting off reading)

 

What are your reading goals for 2017? Leave a comment below!