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!

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