Top Books Discovered Through the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenges

As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Book Riot Read Harder challenges have always been the ones that intimidated me most. These challenges tend to really push outside my comfort zone with topics that I never would touch otherwise, and a lot of prompts that really promote diversity. This year, I decided to add the Book Riot challenges from 2015 and 2016 midway through the year to add a bit more to the challenges I already had. Since these challenges are each about half the size of the Around the Year and PopSugar challenges, I decided to pick my top 3 for each instead of a top 5. Here they are (in no particular order):

Top 3 Books from the Book Riot Read Harder 2015 Challenge

1) Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-here-book-coverI’ll admit that I went into this book with very low expectations. I chose it for the prompt “a book by a person whose gender is different from your own.” The synopsis describes the book as a fairly typical story about a high-achieving but socially awkward girl who sets out to try and have “normal high school experiences,” this time under the guise of to write a YA novel as part of her application for Stanford. In reality, the book has a lot more depth than that, covering a range of topics from academic pressure, mental health, and the flaws in the education system. The book was incredibly well-written, with a protagonist who was unlikeable but still very compelling. I was absolutely blown away by this book, and it quickly became one of my favourites of the year.

2) The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

the-madmans-daughterThis was another book that I was a bit reluctant to try, chosen for the prompt “a book that is a retelling of a classic story.” It was a book that I had in mind early on when I started planning my list for the challenge, but procrastinated on and even considered switching it out for another book. I’m so glad that I didn’t abandon it! This book is a retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which I have never read. While I can’t necessarily comment on how successful this was as a retelling, I can easily say that it was one of the best books of the year. The main character, Juliet, interested me right from the start and I loved the writing style from the first pages.

3) Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

9780552574235I heard a lot of positive hype around this book throughout the year, so I was really looking forward to reading it. I chose it for the prompt “a book published this year,” and I chose 2015 because that was the year the challenge came out. The book is about a teenage girl named Madeline who has a medical condition that causes her to have severe and unpredictable allergic reactions, forcing her to remain at home. Madeline quickly becomes friends with Olly, the boy next door. The interactions between the two of them are so cute and I thought the development of their relationship felt very natural. What really pushed this book over the edge for me was the twist toward the end, which I didn’t predict at all! It came at a time just when I was starting to think the book was becoming generic, so for me the ending brought it to another level.

Top 3 Books from the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge

1) The Crucible by Arthur Miller

17250The Salem Witch Trials have always been a period in history that strongly interested me, and this is a classic that has been on my list for a long time. Arthur Miller’s play brilliantly covers the paranoia of the witch hunts, and how easily the fear spread. I chose it for the prompt “a book of historical fiction set before 1900,” and it was definitely a change from what I would normally pick. I don’t read plays very often because I typically think they are better when they are seen, but this one caught my interest from the start. It helped that I had some familiarity with the historical background, but I also thought it was very well-written.

2) Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

devotedI chose this book for one of the prompts that I was dreading — “a book about religion (fiction or non-fiction).” It is definitely a book that I never would have picked up if it wasn’t part of the challenge since I am not a big fan of religious fiction. To be clear, I enjoy reading and learning about other cultures and religions, but I’ve found that Christian fiction often does not appeal to me. This book is about a girl named Rachel who is part of a very strict religious sect, quite similar to the Duggar family on 19 Kids and Counting. Over time, Rachel starts to question her beliefs and whether she would really be happy following her family’s path. I thought this book was amazing because of how well it portrayed both sides of Rachel’s conflicting emotions, and left the reader to draw their own conclusions about her decisions. I was very impressed by this book.

3) When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude

513vzs0ko4l-_sx258_bo1204203200_To be honest, I seriously debated whether to list this book as one of my top choices but it was genuinely one of the choices that stood out most. I actually read this book before I committed to doing the Book Riot challenge, and fit it in after the fact to “read a book out loud to someone else.” I don’t usually retroactively count books, but I don’t often have the chance to read books out loud to others. I read this book to a young woman with special needs who I work with, and who is obsessed with elephants. The book ended up being one of the strongest picture books I’ve read, with three short stories about the interactions between the outgoing Elephant and her silent new friend, Giraffe. The book was hilarious, and also had some great messages about accepting others as they are. I especially loved the third story where Elephant wanted Giraffe to dress up in the appropriate costume for a game, and Giraffe kept coming back in more and more random costumes each time.This is a great children’s book that I think deserves more attention.

Honourable Mentions:

Top 5 Books Discovered Through the PopSugar 2016 Challenge

Looking back on my lists of what I’ve read throughout the year, I’ve come to the realization that the GoodReads Around the Year challenge was definitely my most successful in terms of finding books that I really loved. This may have been because it was the challenge with the most prompts (52, as opposed to the 40 in PopSugar and 24 in each BookRiot challenge). Now that I’ve reached the end of my PopSugar challenge, here are the books that stood out to me most (in no particular order):

1) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

a_monster_callsThis was one of the books that I was most excited for, and I was blown away by it. I chose this for the prompt “a book becoming a movie in 2016,” although ironically enough the movie didn’t end up coming out this year. The book is about a young boy who sees a monster in his nightmares every night since his mother started going through some medical treatments. This was a powerful, beautifully written book that I devoured in one sitting. It was easily one of the most memorable books that I read from any of my challenges. I would love to see the movie as well, but I’m skeptical that it will have the same impact as the book.

2) Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

me-before-you-jojo-moyes-cover-195x300This was another book that I was highly anticipating after hearing so much hype surrounding it, although it seems to be a controversial choice. I chose this as my “book recommended by someone you just met,” and it was recommended to me by a placement student at my workplace. The book is about a young woman named Lou who becomes a personal caregiver to a man who is paralyzed due to a motorcycle accident. I thought that this book was a fantastic portrayal of some of the day-to-day realities of what it is like to live with a disability, and I especially enjoyed how it dealt with the issue of choice. I can understand all of the controversy surrounding the book’s ending, but I also thought it was very fitting for the character in his specific circumstances. This was another of the rare books that really lived up to all the hype.

3) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

51togkqvjal-_sy344_bo1204203200_I enjoy reading classics, but I had never tried a book by Agatha Christie. I chose this book for the prompt “a murder mystery,” and it quickly became one of my favourite books of the year. This was another book that I devoured in one sitting, and I literally could not put it down until I found out what happened. The book is about a group of people, each with a secret they are hiding from their pasts, who are lured to a mysterious island, where they are slowly killed off one by one. I thought the interactions between all of the different characters were fascinating. I thought the mystery itself was ingenious and I was kept guessing all the way until the end.

4) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 

ofmiceandmenThis was another classic that I somehow never got around to reading, although I had some familiarity with the story. I chose it for the prompt “a book that’s under 150 pages.” The book is about George and Lennie, two friends who travel together to find work to save up money to buy a farm of their own. Lennie is strong but has a cognitive disability, and George looks out for him and tries to keep him out of trouble. I really loved the interactions between George and Lennie, and especially how George continued to protect him even while complaining about how inconvenient and frustrating it can be. Although the book was a little predictable, which may be because I knew part of the ending in advance, it still had quite an impact. I did not really expect much from this book, but I was glad I read it.

5) Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

220px-confessionsuglystepsistertitleThis was one of the first books that I decided I wanted to read, yet ended up being one of the last that I read. I chose it for the prompt “a book based on a fairy tale.” I’ve actually had this book on my shelf for several years but always put off reading it. The book is an alternate version of Cinderella, focusing on the backstory of her stepsisters and stepmother. I really loved the way this book gave more depth and history to characters who, while quite famous, have always seemed one-dimensional to me. I loved how there was more attention given to the motivation behind certain actions, and I really enjoyed the writing style.

Honourable Mentions:

As I was going through my GoodReads page and my notes about each of the books I read, the one trend I noticed overall for this challenge is that the books in general were quite underwhelming. Even of those listed above, the first three were by far the highlights. However, I also wanted to mention a few books that I re-read this year, which I would also recommend:

  • With the Light by Keiko Tobe – an incredible manga series about raising a child with autism in Japan. This was the first manga series that I ever read, and I only recently got myself copies of the full series so I can finally finish it! My library, in a very frustrating move, only had the first 5 out of 8 volumes.
  • Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch – this was one of the most memorable books from my childhood, and I read it for the prompt “A book guaranteed to bring you joy.” I remember visiting my school library and reading this book over and over.
  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson – Technically this wasn’t a re-read, since I had only seen the movie versions. However, since the movie followed so closely to the script, I consider it mostly a re-read. This is the amazing story of Anne Sullivan and her work with Helen Keller.

Top 5 Books Discovered Through The GoodReads Around the Year 2016 Challenge

This year, my main priority was the Around the Year challenge which was created by a GoodReads group who decided to build their own challenge after participating in last year’s PopSugar challenge. This was the first challenge that I really committed to trying this year and I gave myself the strict time limit of one full year to complete all of the topics, plus an extra “wild card” – a topic that I chose from the list of suggested prompts that didn’t make the final cut. As with my 2015 challenge, there were a few books that really stood out to me. It was tough to narrow it down to just 5! Here are the top 5 books I would recommend that I read as part of this challenge (in no particular order):

1) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison

51wxibn2gul-_sx330_bo1204203200_I read this book as “a book set in a different continent,” but it was a book that I already knew I had to squeeze in somewhere during the year. The book is set in Australia, and it follows the story of Don Tillman, a professor who decides he wants to get married and uses a questionnaire to find a “perfect” match. Part of the appeal of this book for me was that Don seems to have (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome, and his character reminded me quite a bit of some of the young adults with ASD that I work with. The book was very funny, and I loved the interactions between Don and Rosie, a woman he meets through his search. I was instantly hooked and even though I read it in January, it is still one of the most memorable books of the year.

2) Room by Emma Donoghue

This was another book that I was looking forward to trying, but I roompicwas a little nervous because of all the hype surround it. I chose it for the prompt “A book with a title beginning with the first letter of your name,” and it was an excellent choice. The book is told from the perspective of a five year old boy named Jack who lives with his mother in “Room,” the only life he has ever known. Jack’s mother was kidnapped and held hostage in the room and Jack was born there. I thought the book told an amazing story about their lives and I was especially interested by how Jack’s mother could take such a horrific experience and make it have some semblance of normalcy for her son. I think the book definitely lived up to the hype!

3) The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle 

17349173I chose this book to fulfill the prompt “A book with a beautiful title (in your own opinion).” I had never heard of this book before exploring GoodReads, but it quickly became one of my favourites. It is about a 17-year-old girl who has an affair with her married teacher. I was very impressed by the level of character development in this book, and I thought it was very well-written and realistic. I found it very interesting how the author mostly focused on the characters and their reactions to the affair. It is a book that I probably never would have picked up without the challenge, but I’m glad I tried it.

4) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 

I read this book as “a book related to a hobby or passion you 220px-thirteenthtalehave,” and it was another book that I probably never would have tried without the challenge. The book is about a young woman named Margaret who is hired by an elderly author, Vida Winter, to write her life story. This author was known for a mysterious book that was missing a chapter, and Margaret hopes to uncover the mystery. This book strongly reminded me of Jane Eyre, one of my all-time favourite books. I really loved how Diane Setterfield captured how it feels to be an avid reader with her main character, and I loved her writing style. This book was easily one of my highlights of the year.

5) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaI chose this book for “a book with a great opening line,” one of the most difficult categories on the list. This was one of several classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. It is about a young woman who marries Maxim de Winter, and moves into his estate. She quickly learns that the spectre of de Winter’s late wife Rebecca still holds enormous influence over the household. I very strongly related to the main character in this book, especially her tendency to overthink. I loved how the author set the eerie atmosphere right from the start, and I thought the book was very suspenseful even though I predicted one of the main twists. I really loved the writing style, and this book quickly became of my favourite classics.

Honourable Mentions

It was very hard to narrow the list down to just five! Here are several of the other books I really enjoyed and would recommend:

Gearing Up For a New Year of Reading Challenges

The closer we get to the end of this year, the more excited I’m getting for a new year of reading challenges. Just yesterday, the latest Book Riot Read Harder challenge (found here) was finally released. This was the last challenge that I was waiting for before I really started to firm up my plans. I’ve already spent a couple of weeks making loose plans for my two other challenges (GoodReads Around the Year and PopSugar 2017). The first of these challenges was created entirely by input from the group members, and even this year’s PopSugar list creators allowed quite a bit of feedback from challenge participants. Of course, both lists have some prompts that I like less than others, but neither of them had anything that really stuck out as something I really want to avoid.

The Read Harder challenge is always the one I find most difficult to manage. I missed it completely in 2015, so this year I decided to go back and do both the 2015 and 2016 challenges. What I really enjoy about the Book Riot lists is that the prompts really push me outside of my comfort zone — for better or for worse. Whereas my other two challenges give me enough room to read almost anything that I want, within some limits based on the prompts, the Read Harder challenge is in the truest sense of the word a challenge.

The Read Harder challenges really push for more diversity in what we read, and it includes diversity in multiple forms. Actually, the 2015 list was a good introduction since it balanced categories that were fairly broad (ie. a graphic novel, a sci-fi book, a YA book) with those that could be quite difficult (ie. a book by an author who was over 65, an author from Africa). There were several categories in there that forced me to try books that I probably would not have picked up otherwise, and I really enjoyed some of them. The 2016 list stepped up the diversity requirements a bit by tackling a range of topics: religion, politics, feminism, mental health, etc. There were a few too many non-fiction categories for my liking, but once again I managed to find books that satisfied the requirements while still interesting me.

This year’s challenge was a bit of a shock to me when I first saw the list. There were quite a few categories that gave me an immediate gut reaction of “No way!” The main one I took issue with is a book published by a micropress, which is a very small publisher that self-distribute or use small, independent distributors. To put this list in context, a few of the prompts this year were chosen by a select six authors, so it was interesting to see what they would pick. My main issue with a prompt like the micropress is about accessibility. Based on my initial research, it’s very difficult to find anything published by a micropress, and many of the books that I did find don’t interest me at all. My dilemma now is whether to stick to the prompt as written (I believe I’ve mentioned before how much of a stickler I usually am for doing this!) or choosing something that would actually interest me. I don’t mind a few categories that push me to try something new, but in this case, there’s the dual issue of finding a book that might interest me, and the bigger issue of being able to actually obtain a copy.

My planning process has been a bit all over the map. Initially, I thought I would make a list of a few options for each prompt and then check where there was overlap. Within a day or two of that, I got completely overwhelmed and decided to revert back to the planning style I’d used last year. I use Word documents for each challenge with a list of all of the prompts. Once I find one book that fits and that I want to read, I write it beside or under (depending how finicky Word is being) the prompt as a loose commitment. I say “loose” because I am constantly finding different ways to rearrange my books to squeeze in more of the books that I want. All the way through, I try to keep a sense of how interested  in the list as a whole. I know there will always be some books that don’t interest me much since there are always a few prompts in each challenge that I don’t really like, but as long as I’m excited for the majority of my books, then I know I have a good list.

As I’ve said, I tend to be quite picky about how strictly I follow the prompts. Although some challenges are open to using the same book for multiple categories, I don’t like to do that. My goal is to try and read more, so I use a “one book per prompt per challenge” approach. Even when the same prompt appears in multiple challenges, I don’t overlap books. If anything, I’d try to find two books that both fulfill the prompt but are different enough from each other that they still feel distinct. I also tend to avoid re-reading books as often as possible unless the prompt specifically calls for it. I stick as close as possible to the prompt as it is written, and if I do end up changing it, I try to switch it to something that is still kind of in the same spirit. For example, for the micropress prompt above, I would change it to a book by an independent publisher.

I also have to have at least some interest in the book I choose, even if it’s for my least favourite prompts. Sometimes that’s a challenge if I don’t want to stretch my interpretation too far, but I also don’t want to read something that has no appeal at all just for the sake of crossing an item off the list. That’s not to say I won’t go outside my comfort zone, but I will look for an option that at least holds a minimal appeal. For me, there’s nothing worse than feeling forced to read a book that I really don’t want to read – it reminds me too much of the books I hated in school!

As it stands now, I have only 6 books remaining to complete all of my challenge this year, so hopefully I will be able to finish on time! A month ago, I was at 19 books so I’d say I’m on track to finish. Now it’s just a matter of filling in the remaining open prompts on my challenges…and trying to avoid the allure of taking on an additional challenge!

Bookish Pet Peeves, Part 2

Ever since making the original post on this topic the other day, I’ve started noticing more and more of the pet peeves that really bother me while reading. Some of these are annoyances that I had in mind for the original post but forgot while writing, and others are things I realized while reading recently. Here’s part 2:

lowest-price-font-b-portable-b-font-font-b-magnifying-b-font-font-b-glass-bTiny font  – I find it really irritating when books try to condense the entire story into fewer pages by using a really small font size. I’ve found that this is often the case with older books, but sometimes the font is so tiny it is really hard to read especially when reading later at night when I’m already tired! I don’t know if it is a budgeting issue or some kind of limit on how many pages a book can have, but I’d much rather have a longer book that is actually easy to read.

Text walls –  I mentioned in Part 1 that I tend to get very easily distracted when there is too much going on while reading. However, on the opposite end of the scale is the text wall — a book that has solid blocks of uninterrupted text, including excessively long paragraphs. In certain cases this style is very fitting for the story, but a book that consists of nothing but text walls is often very dry and slow to read.

People who throw books away– It really bothers me when s-l225people want to throw away perfectly good books. I can understand it when the books are in poor condition and literally falling apart, but I can’t stand when our local library wants to throw out perfectly good books just because they are older or not so popular anymore. At least donate them, or put them up for sale! I also have a really hard time giving away my own books from my childhood. There is a lot of sentimental value (like the Darkwing Duck book here) attached to them, so I don’t quite feel right donating them, especially to my workplace where they are likely to get ripped up. And they are still in great condition, so it pains me to throw them out!

Diversity for the sake of diversity – Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for books having a diverse cast of characters and representing people from a variety of backgrounds. What bothers me is when the diversity element seems to be thrown in for the sake of claiming diversity, such as “token” characters who are presented in a stereotypical way. It’s irritating when the author makes a show of pointing out what makes a character diverse, such as constantly mentioning their disability, race, etc. However, it’s just as annoying when the characteristics that make the person diverse are the only defining trait of the character.

“Between the numbers” books – This has only recently become a pet peeve of mine as I’ve started reading more series. For those who don’t know, a “between the numbers” book is a prequel or sequel that is intended to come between two books that already exist in a series (The Lunar Chronicles, for example, has quite a few of these). Occasionally, the books are published after the fact as a prequel to the entire series. My main issue with these books is that they don’t often contribute much to the story. Some of these books re-tell specific scenes from a different perspective, or add in perspectives from characters who were missed out in the original book. Instead of working to craft one solid story that covers everything they want to say, the book gets very fragmented and not always with good reason.

Bookish Pet Peeves

This is something I’ve seen on so many blogs and Youtube channels that I haven’t been able to find it’s origin. As someone who loves to read and buy books, I have accumulated quite the list of pet peeves over the years. Often, I find what annoys me about books has more to do with the physical look of it rather than the content itself. Here are just a few of my pet peeves when it comes to books/reading:

Writing/highlighting in books – This is a holdover from all my time in post-secondary education, but I can’t stand when people write or highlight in my books. As a rule, and in spite of the higher costs, I always went for  a new copy of a textbook instead of the cheaper used versions. I find writing in the margins and highlighted text extremely distracting. I would naturally be drawn to those sections instead of focusing on the book itself.

Cover chang10429045-horzes mid-series/re-issues – I don’t particularly care much for what book covers look like, but I want them to be consistent. I know many other readers have a strong preference for certain styles of cover or especially attractive/interesting covers. For me, the book is more about the content than the appearance, but it still irritates me when partway through a series, the publishers decide to completely change how the books look.  The Shatter Me series is a major culprit for this, as seen above. The book was originally published with a picture of a girl on the cover, and was later re-issued to match the remaining books in the series. I still don’t think the covers matter as much as the story, but it irritates me when the books don’t look like they go together.

Unusually sized books – This is a pet peeve of mine both for books and for CDs. You’d think CD cases at least would have a standard size, but I’ve found a few over the past few years that are huge. I like having my shelves organized, and I find it really annoying when the book is awkwardly sized and throws off the line-up on the shelves. The same goes for series where books change sizes mid-series, so different books are different sizes. This goes back to what I was saying above about wanting all the books in a series to look like they belong together.


Synopses that are incredibly vague OR spoil the whole story- I can understand when an author or publisher does not want to reveal too much about a story before you read it, but there are some synopses that tell so little! I choose what books I want to read primarily on how much the synopsis interests me, so a vague synopsis is no help to me at all.  I’ve even seen books where there is no synopsis at all! Checking online is always an option, but it’s harder to prevent spoilers that way. And speaking of spoilers, it  can also be really irritating when the entire plot is spelled out for you before you even start reading just by looking at the back of the book. It’s like a movie trailer that tells you all the best parts. I don’t mind reading a book that is predictable as long as it is done well, but it doesn’t make any sense to tell the whole story in a paragraph!

Dog-eared books or cracked spines –  This is a very common one to many readers, but it is something that really bothers me. I actually used to dog-ear my pages instead of using bookmarks and never really thought about how it ruined the book until a classmate in sixth grade pointed it out. When I got older, I started to really hate it when my books looked damaged. I think a part of it was because I got the majority of my books in the past from used book sales at the library, so many of them were in pretty bad condition on the outside. Now that I buy most of my books new or borrow from the library, I expect them to be in decent condition. It bothers me when the spines crack after reading a book only once because I think they look messy, but at least it shows the book was read and hopefully enjoyed!




My Approach to Reading Challenges

As the year draws to a close, more and more new reading challenges are being released for the upcoming year. For me, part of the fun of the challenge is the planning process. Some of the prompts become almost like a scavenger hunt to find a book that fits, while others are pretty easy to fulfill. This year, since I took on multiple challenges, I really learned a lot about how to strategize my challenges to make sure I can finish them, and especially that I’m enjoying what I’m reading! Here are some tips for taking on a challenge. These are what worked for me, but everyone’s approach is a little different.

Tip #1 – Choose your challenge style!

Every year, there are so many challenges available and in a wide variety of styles. Depending on what your reading goals are, there are different kinds of challenges to choose from. Some challenges only call for a specific target number of books to be read. In these challenges, the goal is to read as many books as possible and you can read anything. The advantage of this kind of challenge is that it is very open to reading anything you want, so you don’t feel limited by having to read specific things. The goal is just to motivate you to read more.

Other challenges give a list of more specific prompts which give a bit more direction about what to choose. Prompts can address a variety of aspects of the book, including publishing year, author characteristics (ie. age, country of origin), genre, topic, etc. Even the colour of the cover or the number of words in the title can be part of a prompt. The goal of these challenges is usually to broaden your reading outside of your comfort zone, and encourage choosing books that you might not otherwise try. I personally prefer these kinds of challenges because of the scavenger hunt element of finding books to fit the prompts, and because it really pushes me to try new kinds of books and authors.

Tip #2 – Be realistic!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my first year doing a reading challenge I only took on one. This year (my second year), I took on a total of four challenges, all of which were lists of prompts. In total, they called for 142 books over the course of the year, which is about 2 and 1/2 books per week on average. I have a full-time job where it is not possible to read at all during the work day, so I’m limited to evenings and weekends.

I have a very annoying tendency to overestimate the amount of time I will have to read, or the amount of reading I’ll be able to do in the time I have. I think it’s really important to set yourself up for success with the challenges by not taking on too much. There is nothing more discouraging than struggling to keep up a pace that you can’t reasonably manage. For me, trying to read too much too quickly is a problem  because I end up rushing through the books without really taking the time to enjoy them. I’d much rather read a little slower and (hopefully) enjoy the story.

I’ve seen several others on my GoodReads groups become discouraged because they’ve bitten off more than they can chew with too many challenges and too many books. Set yourself up for success by taking on challenges that encourage you to read at a pace that is suitable for you. It’s also important to be realistic about the type of challenge you choose. If you know that you will feel too restricted by specific prompts, it is probably not the kind of challenge you want.

Tip #3 – Plan ahead, but leave room for flexibility!

If you are participating in a challenge that has specific prompts, look ahead at the list and look at how interesting the overall list seems to you. If the majority is prompts that you are dreading, it is probably not the challenge for you. In any challenge, I expect there to be at least a few prompts that don’t interest me much, but for me it’s part of the goal of reaching a bit outside my comfort zone. When you finish making your plan, take a look at the overall list and see how excited you are to actually start reading. If the majority doesn’t interest you, you’re going to have a big problem finishing your challenge!

I tend to be fairly strict about how I interpret the prompts. I want the book I pick to be a clear example of the prompt, if that makes sense, not something that you’d have to really twist the interpretation to make it fit. For example, if the challenge calls for “a book about a road trip,” I would look for something where the road trip is a major focus of the story, not just a small subplot. Other people of course tackle their challenges differently, but my philosophy toward it is if I’m going to take on the challenge, I may as well take it on as it was intended.

I also depend on the library for the majority of my books. I don’t buy many books anymore unless I’ve already read and enjoyed them, or unless they are a book by a favourite author. Because of the library’s system, I need to order the books well in advance and suspend the request until I am ready for them. Over the past two years, I’ve learned that there is a fine line sometimes between having a plan and leaving yourself room for flexibility.  There is nothing stopping you from changing up your plan as needed. Once you start to lose interest in a book coming up on your list, it is best to switch it out for something else. There is nothing worse than going into a book expecting to hate it or when you’re already bored by the idea of it, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Switch books out when you need to to keep your list fresh and exciting.

Tip #4 – Mix it up!

When you actually start to read books for your challenge, build variety directly into your reading. Try to alternate between books of different lengths, genres, styles, etc. Over the course of the year, it’s pretty likely that you’ll have a few books that are similar in some way. To keep your interest in them, avoid reading very similar books back-to-back. For example, this year I had at least 3 books that were set during WWII. Even though they were from different perspectives, I didn’t want to read all of them close together since it would get boring, and also lead to too many comparisons of those books.

Another thing that really worked for me is to have a good mix of longer and shorter books. Reading multiple long books in a row can feel discouraging because of how long they each take to get through. Reading all your shorter books in a row means that you’ll probably progress pretty quickly at first, but then you’ll be stuck with all the longer books afterwards. I’ve also found it very useful to vary the genre. Even if the content is not similar as in the WWII example above, books of the same genre tend to have a pretty similar style. Reading all your YA books in a row, for example, can make them seem very repetitive. By mixing things up, it should keep your interest in each book fresh.

Tip #5 – Be strategic!

In any challenge, there will be some prompts that you are more excited for than others. Just like it helps to mix things up in terms of length, genre and content, it also helps to avoid reading all your favourite prompts at the beginning of the year. Once you’ve crossed all the best ones off the list, the rest of the challenge becomes a chore. This year, I purposely tried to get rid of some of my least favourite prompts upfront to avoid feeling stuck with them by the end of the year. The longer I put them off, the less motivated I felt to try them. Whenever I ordered a group of books from the library, I’d make sure to have a few books that I really wanted and a few that I was less interested in each batch. Sometimes the prompts you are least looking forward to are the ones that surprise you the most, but if not, it helps to get them out of the way early. The motivation of having another book waiting that you really want to read is sometimes enough to get you through the boring ones more quickly.

I Have Never Related More Strongly to a TV Character (No Spoilers)

I have never been a huge TV watcher. I have a few key shows that I follow, but I spend most of my time reading, playing video/computer games, etc. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just never feel like I have the time to devote to it. Usually when I start watching a show, it’s because something about one of the characters hooks me.

When I started watching House, it was for his sarcasm. When I started watching Bones, it was the banter between the two lead characters. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was the blend of humour and great character development. On The Big Bang Theory, it was Sheldon Cooper.

There are also several shows that I avoided for years because of the hype. I have the same tendency with books — when there is too much hype surrounding it, I automatically assume it can’t possibly live up to it. As a result, I tend to be pretty late to the party when it comes to popular books and shows since I generally wait until most of the hype dies down before even picking up the book for the first time.

For years, I avoided watching Gilmore Girls because every time I saw clips on TV, I only ever saw Lorelai and I found her pretty irritating. After having the show highly recommended to me by several good friends (and getting access to Netflix), I decided to give it a fair shot and I discovered that I have never related more strongly to a TV character than I did to Rory Gilmore, at least in certain scenes.

Case in point:

This is definitely taken to an extreme, but I’ve had this kind of issue when packing a bag for a vacation. I have a tendency to take at least 2 more books than I would actually reasonably be able to finish in time. Whether on vacation or at home, I seem to have consistent problem with overestimating how much I will have time to read. I never seem to have an accurate sense of how much free time I have or how long a book will take me.

Another case in point:

MRS. VERDINAS: We’ve been concerned about your social behavior here at school.

RORY: What about it?

MRS. VERDINAS: You don’t seem to interact much with the other students.

RORY: I do sometimes. In class, all the time.

MRS. VERDINAS: But rarely outside of class. At lunch, you’re always by yourself.

RORY: That’s when I catch up on my reading.

MRS. VERDINAS: And that walkman, it makes you very unapproachable.

I couldn’t find the clip to go with it, but it is another scene from the same episode as the clip above. Mrs. Verdinas, a school counsellor, pulls Rory aside after finding her once again reading alone in the cafeteria, and starts questioning her social skills. Essentially, the argument they try to make is because Rory prefers to read during her lunch hour, there must be something wrong with her. Later on, her mother goes to speak to the headmaster about the accusation:

LORELAI: Well, I wanted to talk to you about Rory and uh, this ridiculous accusation about her being a loner and how that’s somehow something bad.

HEADMASTER: Well, it is bad.

LORELAI: No, it’s not bad, it’s just her. I raised Rory to do what she wants as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. And I don’t see how her reading a book or listening to a walkman is hurting anyone.

HEADMASTER: It’s hurting her.

LORELAI: I respectfully disagree.

As someone who has been told my whole life that I should be “louder” or “talk more” or that I need to “get out more,” it was great to see a character on TV who was in the same boat and who didn’t automatically try to change herself to fit other people’s views. While I can understand the importance of having appropriate social skills and being able to comfortably interact, all Rory was doing was reading during the little free time she had during her day. I see nothing wrong with choosing to spend her limited time in the way that she chooses, and I easily would have made the same choice.

I work in a field where I am constantly around people all day. I’ve always been a very introverted person and there are times where I just need some time away from everyone to recharge. I don’t necessarily have to be totally alone. I don’t mind if others are in the room having a conversation among themselves, but I wouldn’t necessarily want or even feel the need to be included in every conversation. I’ve often found that people find it strange that I don’t want to participate in debates or many of the random discussions that come up. Although I’d say I’m a decent writer, I have a much harder time expressing myself verbally without time to prepare in advance. I am perfectly content to sit back and listen to the discussion, and if I have something that I really want to say, then I’ll say it.

It was an issue for me all through school as well. From elementary school all the way up until university and college, I was constantly told that I was “too quiet” and that I “needed” to participate more in class. I even had a teacher pull me aside once and basically say that I was essentially depriving the class of my knowledge by not speaking up more — a statement that I take serious issue with, and that I will go into in a future post if people are interested. For all the talk in schools about different learning styles, I didn’t necessarily feel very respected. My schools seemed to value one kind of student — the outgoing, highly social type.

As I said above, I understand that good social skills are important in “the real world” but I think we need to broaden the definition of what these kinds of skills entail. We shouldn’t view the Rory Gilmores of the world as a problem just because they choose to read instead of talk during their break, and we shouldn’t necessarily see a person sitting alone as a person who has a problem.