2020 Reading Challenge: Less is More

In 2017 I discovered Goodreads, that wonderful app made for bibliophiles, and fell in love with it.  I found books to read and saw them on my “bookshelf,” tapped the “I finished it” icon when I completed a book, then rated the book from 1-5.  It was immensely satisfying. When Goodreads asked if I wanted to join the 2018 reading challenge, I was all in, and set a goal to read 50 books.

With a goal of 50 books I had to make sure I read at least one book a week.  I finished a fantastic book and checked it off Goodreads as read, barely digesting what the author had to say, then I started another book.  I never came up for air. I would read in bed, in the bathroom, and during breaks at work. I consumed books, but it was mindless consumption, I wasn’t tasting what I was eating.

I read whatever I could get my hands on, mostly library books that I would request that I found on Goodreads.  Sometimes all the books I requested would come in at once and I’d have a small stack to get through. There was so much to read and so little time.  

I finished 2018 by reading through 68 books.  Satisfied that I had blasted through my reading goal, I decided to lighten up in 2019 and put my new reading challenge at 40 books.  But my 2018 habit snuck into 2019 and I was reading through books furiously. Blasting through the ideas that authors shared like a miner blasting through rock in a mine, getting through the mountain but not pausing to see the gold inside.

All the reading I was doing made me start to think I was taking a college course.  I realized in November of 2019 that reading was becoming more of a checklist that I needed to complete and not a source of pleasure.  I took the whole month of December off from reading and gave Goodreads a rest. It was quiet and peaceful with all the ideas of the authors I’d be reading floating around in my head being gone.  I didn’t realize how consuming reading had become and found the month of December a welcome sabbath.

On January 1, 2020, Goodreads asked if I want help improving my reading by setting a reading goal.  I gave this some serious thought, I learned that reading less is more, and I wanted to slow down my reading to maybe only 2 books a month which would give a total of 24 books for 2020.  That would enable me to digest what the author wanted to say in the book and mull it over but I know that summer is made for mindless novels. I eat those up by the handful like potato chips, I wouldn’t be able to stop at two in the month of July.  I realistically set my 2020 reading challenge to 40 books with the goal of keeping it under 40.

Reading the Bible in a Year

I’ve been an avid Bible reader for a long time and I believe that it is the inspired word of God, useful for teaching and correcting (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  While I’ve read the New Testament many times over I can’t say that I’ve read the Bible in it’s entirety.  I think I’ve missed some Old Testament stuff and I know for sure that I haven’t read any of the “begats” the lineage found in chapters upon chapters of some books of the Bible.  Since I believe that the whole of Scripture is worth while I decided that I should try to read the whole Bible.

My husband for Christmas gave me this beautiful olive green Bible with my name engraved in the bottom right in gold script.  It’s an ESV Study Bible and is about 2-3 inches thick, chock full of notes, commentaries, full-color maps, and in the last few pages, a year-long reading plan.  This reading plan is different than the others I’ve seen because it gives four sections of reading for each day: the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Pentateuch and history of Israel, the Chronicles and Prophets, and the Gospels and Epistles.  The fact that there’s a sampling of four different types of books in the Bible appealed to my dynamic personality.  I like to change things up: my nail polish is changed weekly, I like different hand soaps at my sinks, and I enjoy wearing diverse kinds of earrings.  Plugging through the Bible a book at a time, is dreary to me, and I’ve tried it, never making it past Exodus.  By the time I’ve made it through Genesis I’m exhausted.  I’m hoping this new reading plan will help with that.

I know that I will likely not make it to reading the four sections every day and so I will give myself grace when (not if) I miss a day.  I bought a spiral notebook and wrote down, in advance, the week’s readings in a section, undated.  The reading plan in the Bible broke the readings into days and has everything laid out from January to December.  I’ve taken liberties with the plan as I’ve started it on July 1.  I figure the first of July is a reasonable alternative to the first of the year.  The year begins for me in August since I’m a high school teacher, what’s one more month back for the beginning of the school year?

I’ve made it through the first week and have already got a lot out of it.  The introduction to the Daily Bible Study Reading Plan in my ESV Study Bible says that I ought to “…Pray(ing) to the Father that the Spirit will take what all the Scriptures teach about Christ and apply it to your mind and heart and life.”  I have been doing that and I’ve found throughout this week for it to be the case.  I’ve read scriptures this week that my spirit found comfort in and reassurance.  “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3).

I did make it through the first seven chapter of Chronicles without my eyes glazing over too much.  This is one of the books with all the “begats” and lists all the descendants of many, many, people, most of them men.  I perked up whenever the Chronicler mentioned the sister of so-and-so, and I wonder why she was mentioned.  What special thing did she do?  In exasperation on the first day after reading 1 Chronicles 1, I looked in my ESV’s “Introduction to I Chronicles” to find out what the point was for these lists upon lists of descendants. I counted 23 names in a list of descendants one time and thought how impressive that is.  I don’t know 23 of my ancestors!  Why would this be in the Bible?  According to the ESV’s “Introduction of I Chronicles” the point of all those lists of ancestors is to remind the newly-returned exiled Jews that they are still people of God.  It was to remind them of where they came from as I’m sure they had trouble remembering, being in captivity for all those years.

I’m excited to continue this reading plan and see where the Holy Spirit takes me.  This year-long plan may take me a year and a half but I’ll get through it.  The key is to do my reading the same time everyday: in the morning before I start my day.

Here is a link to the ESV Daily Bible Reading Plan that I’m following.  It is meant to be cut into four bookmarks and each reading checked off of as you go and starts on January 1.  I’ve started only a week ago and chose to write down the day’s listing in an undated notebook so I can read the selection and not get confused about the dates or give myself grace when I miss a day.

Some Time in Sleepy Hollow

The fiery jack-o-lantern hurled toward me through the covered bridge.  It’s light illuminated the interior of the bridge section by section as it came nearer.  It was a thrilling image. The Headless Horseman threw the jack-o-lantern at the unfortunate Ichabod Crane in this Disney version.  That scene stuck with me through childhood and into adulthood. I learned that what I always thought of as “The Headless Horseman” as a kid was actually a short story called “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving who wrote it in 1819.  As a lover of books I thought to give Irving’s short story a try. I now read Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” every year around October and November. It is the best book to read around the autumn season as it has all things that we associate with autumn in it: scary ghost stories, brilliant autumn scenery, and an abundance of good food.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a great ghost story.  Irving sets the story in superstitious Sleepy Hollow whose residents pass the time by telling stories about the ghosts they’ve seen first hand.  The Headless Horseman, or the Hessian of the Hollow, is the favorite among the locals but there are others. A Woman in White shrieks on winter nights before a storm because she perished in the snow and the unfortunate Major Andre who met his demise at the wrong end of a rope in a large gnarled tree.  “Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long settled retreats; but are trampled underfoot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country population” (Irving 1078).

Ichabod Crane, the community’s school master, was very receptive to the Sleepy Hollow ghost stories.  He enjoyed adding to them from his copy of Cotton Mather’s History of Witchcraft in which “He most firmly and potently believed” (Irving 1063).  Ichabod’s willingness to believe in the ghost stories makes him a prime candidate to meet with the Headless Horseman.

It’s thanks to Ichabod that we have such a wonderful description in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” of a farm community in the autumn.  He notices the brilliant autumn leaves and the bountiful harvest. Ichabod takes pleasure in the table and he notes all the farm animals and crops that will make excellent future dining.  It is through his appreciative eyes that we observe the tables laden with pies and cakes. The tables groan with their burdens of ham slices, beef, and broiled chicken. The spread of food would out do any of our Thanksgiving tables.  It is going home from this last gathering that the school master, Ichabod Crane, meets the Headless Horseman.

I won’t go into what happens next as an incentive for you to get the book from the library and read it for yourself.  Don’t cheat and watch a movie or see the Disney cartoon because Washington Irving’s story is much richer. It’s the difference between fast food and a five-star restaurant.  Reading Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” will transport you from your comfortable armchair and into a small farming community with the abundance of the autumn season and ghosts for company.  


Works Cited

Irving, W.  Irving: Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent., Salmagundi, A History of New York, The Sketchbook, New York, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1983.