Strategies to Tackle Challenging Books: Improve Your Reader Experience

The thought of new year’s resolutions can sometimes have us looking back on previous promises where we fell short—like reading that one life-changing novel everyone recommended but you struggled to start.

This year, if you decide to give that book another try or to tackle a new, intellectually challenging book, there are several steps you can take to set yourself up for success and improve your reader experience.

1. Know Your Why

With so many entertainment options out there, why would you want to read something that is difficult, especially if you find it boring? This is a great question to start with, and until you’ve addressed it, you might find it hard to motivate yourself to read the challenging books you want.

There are many reasons to read books that challenge you. You might have been assigned this book in a class, or it’s an expectation for your job, or it’s a recommendation from a therapist in order to address something urgent in your life.

More often though, especially when it comes to novels, you have to find your own motivation. It might be so that you can join a discussion at a family dinner or because you’ve had that book on your list for years.

Different Types

No matter your genre or whether you would rather meet in person or online, there are many types of writing groups that may appeal to you.

Consider these guiding questions:

  • Will this book stretch my thinking by offering me new ideas and perspectives?
  • Can it help my critical thinking skills by making me puzzle through unknowns?
  • Do I trust the recommendations I’ve heard, and will I be better for having read it?

Only you can decide if your “why” is important enough for you to make reading any book a priority. Once you’ve determined why, you are ready to make a plan.

2. Establish a Schedule, Routine, and Deadline

It is a common practice among many teachers to make goals measurable, achievable, and timely (as part of the S.M.A.R.T. goal model). When reading challenging books, regular, measurable progress is important.

If keeping a reading log or making a physical schedule works for you, great! If you are reading a book for a book club and you know you usually read slower than the group, consider starting early or carving out some extra time before you go to bed.

Keep in mind that your schedule might be an estimate or a best-case scenario, especially if no one else is providing the assumed deadline. You might discover that reading ten pages of your favorite paperback goes much faster than reading ten pages of Moby Dick. There is nothing wrong with moving a personal deadline if you have been making progress.

3. Engage While You Read

Along with reading logs, some of the tools and resources from grade school continue to be helpful practices for adults as well.

  • Keep a Reading Journal: After or during reading sessions, jot down some of your thoughts. You may be amazed how much more meaningful the book becomes when you regularly respond to what you read.
  • Research the Book Online: Things like CliffsNotes or Wikipedia entries can be very helpful supplements for tricky texts, especially really old, classic novels. You might benefit from reading a summary after each chapter to fill in the gaps, or, if the content is really difficult, before the chapter to preview.
  • Discussion Groups: Most texts become easier (and more fun) to digest when you can share ideas with others. A book club or book buddy might give you a reason to retain what you read, even the confusing parts.

If there’s a challenging book you’ve been wanting to read, it’s never too late to dust off that dust jacket and give it another try.