Tag Archives: gamification

Magic Portals

The first Harry Potter movie is playing on television this evening, and Harry has just walked through the portal into Diagon Alley for the first time. I can remember where I was when I read the book, a recommendation from my nephew. It was a thick book, but after a few pages of reading, the thickness was comforting, assuring me that I was in for a good read. We were on vacation, and I stole moments when I could, laying across the bed, sprawled in a lounge chair, riding in the back seat of the car, savoring the story of the boy who lived.

I didn’t have to worry about taking a test, or writing in my journal, or participating in book club. I knew I was have a wonderful conversation with my nephew when I saw him next but for now, it was the reading that took center stage. I stepped through the magic portal into Diagon Alley with Harry and never looked back.

As a younger girl, I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, another book with a magic portal. My bedroom in our house had a closet that reached far into the eaves. I was sure if I just crawled a little further, I would find myself in a new world that lay beyond the back of the closet. It was not to be, of course, but perhaps books were my magic portals.

I’m surrounded by books in my farmhouse library, some that have been with me for a lifetime. I can trace the timeline of my life, the arc of my education, as I browse the shelves. Like Harry Potter, I can remember where I was when I read many of them, which class I was taking or where I was living. There’s a trip across the state with The Da Vinci Code, its short choppy chapters marking the miles. It took Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings to get me across the United States.

The former owner of the house was also a book person. He owned a great collection of what I think of as dime novels, the small format paperbacks that were popular when I was young. They line a top shelf and I’m determined to read through some of them. He was evidently fascinated by contemporary science, and there are books that live just on the edge of my memories, books about genetics and computers at a time when they still seemed like magic portals.

I’ve got a running list of books to read for now, but I’m exploring the challenges at LibraryThing. I’ve done two of them already in 2015–books by British and Australian writers–and had enjoyable reads of The Remains of the Day and Gould’s Book of Fish, both of which have been lurking for some time.  I finished some great books the last time I dove into reading gamification.


Gamifying My Reading Practice

I am a book collector and avid reader. I ran a reading workshop for many years in my middle school classroom to both introduce my students to reading and to work my reading time into my day. Since 2005, I have tracked my reading at LibraryThing. I generally don’t have a reading plan past the next one or two books and these are often the ones on the newest pile or that I can get immediately on my ereader. But my shelves are filled with lots of unread books that I’ve collected over the years and one of my goals this year is to read some of them rather than continuing to buy new ones whether analog or digital.

Couple that with a desire to get more involved with online community, and I’ve begun to gamify my reading practice.

I did this by joining the 75 Books a Year Challenge Group. One of the perks is that it includes suggested challenges that help direct you to specific books using a wide range of criteria from book covers to characters to topics. Last month, I read one challenge book. The Red Tent was a book I shared with the LibraryThing user with whom I share the most books. I’ve had Anita Diamant’s retelling of the Old Testament story of Jacob and his family on the shelf for a long time. I’ve always meant to read it but somehow it never called to me. The challenge encouraged me in a way that nothing else has.  I finished on the last day of the month, determined to meet the goal and add “completed” to the challenge page.

This month, I signed up for four challenges and am meeting all of them by reading books that I already own. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin is going to be the biggest challenge as it is a long book: the challenge was to read a chunkster. LibraryThing provides stats about your reading including average pages. The challenge requires that you choose a book that is higher than your average by at least 50 points. At close to 751 pages of text (you can’t count the appendices and bibliography which, in Team of Rivals, get you to almost 1,000 pages!), this book is far above my average of about 300 pages. I’ve already started, and it is wonderfully readable as it describes Lincoln and four of his main rivals who also came to work with him. My plan is a chapter a day, which leaves a few days at the end of the month in case I fall behind the pace.

I’m wondering how I would translate this to the classroom reading workshop. We did a little of it by having them read books with Accelerated Reader…sometimes I’d ask them to read a book at the high end of their score. And some of the students found it fun to take a quiz and earn points but others struggled just to find a book. Giving them some kind of guidelines, even if it that the title has to be red (I’m reading All the King’s Men to meet that challenge this month), can help get them to pull a book off the shelf that they would normally skip. Then, and this is the most essential point, they need time to read and it can’t just be on their own time. If we value it, we need to make time for it.