7 Things I’ve Learned in 2017 (My Third Year of Reading Challenges!)

As we approach the end of the year, it seems like the perfect time to reflect back on my reading challenges and the books I’ve read this year overall. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine on Goodreads about how close we are to finishing our challenges, and she asked me whether I was happy with my reading year overall. It really helped to take that step back and look at the year as a whole, since I’ve been feeling pressured by the time crunch to finish everything off by New Year’s Eve. It especially didn’t help that I realized that I’m not really super excited for any of the books I have left, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s challenges more.

When I went back and looked at my year overall though, I realized that it had actually been a great year! I got to read all of the books that I was most excited for, including starting several new series that I finally broke down and bought into the hype about. I had a few books that really surprised me with how much I enjoyed them, and of course there were a few that were disappointing. I accomplished my goal of reading the Season 8 Buffy comics, even though those weren’t counted toward any of my challenges. I knocked off a few more classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and most importantly, I got to try a lot of new authors. Once I started looking back at this year, I decided to take it one step further and think about all of my years of doing reading challenges, and the lessons I’ve learned about myself and my reading process.

I am a terrible judge of how long it will take me to read a book

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how long it takes me to read. I post what I’m reading to my personal Facebook page, and people are often amazed at how many books I read in the year and how fast I seem to be reading them. I’ve always said that I can read an average-sized book (300-400 pages) in about 3 days, but I’m realizing that I’m not a very good judge. At the start of this month, I made a tentative schedule just to see whether it was even feasible to read everything I still had left before the end of the year. As of the first day of the month, I was already behind schedule. I’ve learned that on average, most books will take me at least one day more than I expect because there are just so many unpredictable factors. I might think I’ll be able to come home from work and finish off an entire YA book, but then have a terrible or exhausting day, and not feeling like reading much at all. I might expect to spend an entire day on the weekend reading, only to have last-minute plans come up. It’s so hard to predict how much time it will take!

Literally any book can become a “doorstop.”

Up until this year, I’ve always associated “doorstop” with a book that was either very long, or had very difficult language (ie. old-fashioned language in many classics). I’ve realized this year that just about any book can become a doorstop when it doesn’t catch your attention, and also that longer books don’t necessarily have to be a doorstop. I wouldn’t necessarily call Listen, Slowly a doorstop since it still only took me two days to read, but it felt like one. This is a middle grade book of about 250 or so pages, and I expected to race through it in a day just like Inside Out and Back Again, but I could not get into it at all.  It seems very silly to consider a book that took only 2 days a doorstop, but it definitely felt like one. And don’t even get me started on The Underground Railroad, which took me almost a full week (and the same amount of time as Winter, which is almost three times the length). By now, I’ve come to realize that a “doorstop” is any book that impedes your momentum in any way, either by taking forever or just feeling like it does!

Some books will really surprise you – for better, or for worse!

I had a few books this year that I wasn’t expecting much from, and ended up being some of my favourites. The two best examples of that are The Hating Game and The Status of All Things, which were both books that I expected to be pretty mediocre. Both of these books really surprised me! On the other hand, I had other books that I was very excited for which ended up being a disappointment. The main example of this is Gena/Finn. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it and I rated it 4 stars, but I was expecting this to be an easy 5 star read. I love books that are told through social media messages, and this one seemed right up my alley. The first half of the book was great, but it kind of fell apart and lost direction in the second half, to the point where it seemed like it was a completely different story. Another example is The Slap, which I expected to be along the lines of Liane Moriarty or Jodi Picoult. It was nothing like either of those, and it was another major doorstop this year.

I have a serious addiction to compiling lists of books

I realized this in the past week or so, when the latest Book Riot and Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge lists came out. Neither list really appealed to me much at first, but I still had many books that I wanted to fit in next year. I ended up creating my own challenge list using prompts from the Goodreads Around the Year challenge process that were my top picks but didn’t make the final list. I originally intended to make lists for both that set of prompts and Book Riot, and pick which of the two I wanted to do. Of course, that’s a completely biased process since of course the list of my favourite prompts would naturally seem more exciting. The problem was, once the lists were compiled…I was excited for both of them! I’ve now run into the problem of potentially biting off more than I can chew, so I’m thinking of extending the timeline on some of my challenges. That of course makes it’s own logistical nightmare of how to track progress, but I’m sure I can figure something out.

Choosing books I’m legitimately excited for is more important than anything else when picking which challenges to do

The PopSugar challenge for 2018 has a very interesting prompt that asks us to pick our favourite prompt from any of the previous years’ challenges. I struggle with this one since my enjoyment tends to be more about the books I pick and not necessarily the prompt itself. When I was looking at challenges for next year, the prompt lists might not have been too exciting on their own, but when I started filling them in with the books I’d like to read, I ended up loving them. I’m very much a mood reader, so I reserve pretty much the whole year’s worth of books from the library at once, and pause the holds. It lets me keep my place in line, while still having the freedom to pick and choose which books I feel like reading based on what I’m most excited for. I’ve found that some challenges (Book Riot, especially) seem to really have an agenda, whether that’s to branch out of your comfort zone, encourage diversity, etc. While I think these are all great reasons, at the end of the day, I’m not going to enjoy a challenge much if I feel forced into reading something I don’t really want to read.

It’s inevitable that every year, there will be at least some prompts that I’m really dreading

Along the same lines, I realize that every year, there will be some prompts that just don’t appeal to me at all. There are two main reasons that I dread a prompt. The first is that I have very limited options, sometimes even just one book that interests me that fits. The second it starts to feel like homework, I start to lose interest. I like reading challenges because of the freedom to read what I want and the puzzle aspect of trying to fit those books in to fulfill the prompts on the list. The second main reason I dread a prompt is if it’s something that I already know does not appeal to me. Last year, it was PopSugar’s political memoir, and next year, it’s Book Riot’s Western. I can understand the push to try new things because they may surprise you (as mentioned above), but Westerns really don’t appeal to me at all. I’ve found that there are ways to deal with these kinds of prompts. If a challenge list in general has too many prompts that I’m really dreading, I just won’t take on that challenge, but if there are only a few it’s not too bad. My trick is to try and find a way to work within the prompt with a book that is still somewhat appealing to me, if at all possible. If I’m really stuck, I find the best available option and get rid of it early on in the year so I’m not stuck putting it off all the way until the end, when I definitely won’t want to read it.

It’s not “cheating” to switch out books you were planning on reading for others

This may be the hardest one for me to learn. As I’ve mentioned, I compile my lists of books that I want to read for each prompt before the year starts so I can request whatever I need from the library. Although I always have the idea in mind that these lists are flexible, I still have a hard time switching out more than a couple of books without feeling like I’m cheating. Once I have it down on the list, it feels like a commitment to read it, and for the most part, I’m good at picking books that I really do want to read. Toward the end of the year is usually when the problems happen. I switch books either because I’ve lost interest, or because of the time crunch. It’s this second reason that tends to feel more like a cheat even though rationally I realize that no one is policing my challenges and no one is going to complain that I didn’t stick to my list. Losing interest is another story. Since I have most of my books on hold for most of the year, it’s pretty easy to tell which books I’m not so excited for. If I haven’t released the hold (or at least been tempted to) any of the times I released my next set of books, it probably isn’t one that I want to read very much. Often, these are books that I was on the fence about reading in the first place, so I don’t feel bad about switching, but sometimes the idea that it’s cheating still bugs me.

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Fiction Addiction: The Challenge with Reading Challenges

It’s been quite a while since I made a post specific to my reading challenges, but as the year is wrapping up and I start to look ahead to next year’s potential challenges, I’ve realized something. Reading challenges have become a bit of an addiction for me, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s a bad thing.

I realized it a couple of days ago when I found myself scanning through Pintrest boards (and I don’t even have Pintrest!) and looking at lists of prompts for various challenges. I found myself mentally filling in titles that might work for those prompts. Just yesterday, I went back to this year’s Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge, which I had previously considered for this year and decided against, and found myself very motivated to take it on. I’d originally decided against it because I didn’t find the prompts particularly interesting or different from challenges I was already doing, but the more I looked at the list, the more I realized it fit very well with many of the books I had in mind for next year.

To be fair, I’m not sure if this was really a compulsion to take on yet another challenge, or if it was just my way of problem-solving some of the gaps I had for fitting in some of the books I really want to read. Even this year, I’ve been stressing about finishing all the challenges I had in mind by the end of the year. It will be tight, but I think I’ll be able to do it. I’ve already committed to the Goodreads Around the Year Challenge and the PopSugar challenge, and I’m waiting for BookRiot to put out their list to decide if I want that one too. I was worried about taking on too much, especially since many of the books I have in mind are on the longer side. Next year’s basically become “the year of the series” with many prompts filled in by books from the great series I’m in the middle of.

I originally considered PopSugar’s Fall 2016 challenge, but as of last night, I find my interest in that one waning. There are a few books I had in mind for it that I still really want to read, but it looks like it won’t be a problem to fit those in to Modern Mrs. Darcy or my other challenges instead. As I looked at the list I had put together, I found myself not particularly excited for most of them. I was actually surprised that the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge suddenly became so appealing, but I’ve never participated in any of hers before so it might be nice to try something new.

The main reason I think the challenges have become addictive is because I find something so satisfying about crossing items off the list, but I also get frustrated with myself if I can’t finish the whole challenge in time. The addiction aspect comes in from sometimes tending to take on more than I can reasonably manage. The planning process in itself is so much fun for me that I might get so caught up in it that I don’t think through how I will actually be able to read them all. I struggle with the idea of extending the timeline since it seems to defeat the purpose of having a challenge for the year, and I’ve yet to work out how to manage the logistics of how to keep track of what I’m reading.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. I briefly considered abandoning the challenges and just reading what I want (which would probably be most of the same books I had planned anyway), but I find the challenges are the best way to keep me motivated. I need challenges that have specific prompts because they have a set endpoint. I know a lot people do challenges to just read a certain number of books within the year, but I wouldn’t be motivated by that. If I saw myself struggling to reach the number I picked, I’d be a lot more likely to just lower the target under the guise of being “more realistic,” instead of pushing myself to finish. With a list of prompts, I don’t get the same feeling that it is completed until I’ve managed to cross everything off the list, and I never want to remove prompts (even when they’re really annoying!). I don’t see it as a bad thing though because even though the challenges can be stressful at times, they’re still a lot of fun!

A Quick Reading Challenge Update

I know that the beginning of November is probably a bit of a weird time to post a check-in for this year’s reading challenges, but the PopSugar list for next year has just come out so it somehow also seems like a very fitting time. Back in July, I posted a Mid-Year Challenge Check-In where I was just about on-track with each of my challenges, and the details of what that challenge involved.

October was a particularly productive month in terms of how much I managed to read, partly because I had some time off work, and partly because I started to realize that I was falling behind and wanted to catch up a bit more. As of the end of October, here is where I stood on each challenge:

  • Around the Year – 40/53 (75%)
  • PopSugar – 43/52 (82%)
  • PopSugar Summer 2016 – 23/29 (79%)
  • BookRiot – 20/24 (83%)

By the end of October, we were about 83% of the way through the year, so it seems that I was just about on-track with where I should be for each of the challenges. Ironically enough, I was furthest behind on Around the Year, which I tend to view as my “main” challenge for the year, since I was so far ahead on it initially that it took kind of a backseat. It’s a little ironic that BookRiot is closest to completion since it is one of the challenges I prioritize least, but it also makes sense since it’s about half the size of the others. The Summer challenge is also very, very close to being done even though the percentage is a bit awkward.

In total, according to Goodreads, I am currently finished 81% of my total goal for the year, including the two books I have completed since the start of November. That puts me just a bit behind where I should be for this time of year. I have a total of 30 books left to complete before the end of the year, which is making me a little nervous! I know there’s no set in stone rule that you have to finish the challenge within the year, but I also don’t want a snowball effect of carrying over too much from year to year either. I’m actually doing reasonably well on each challenge individually, but it’s the overall total that’s a bit worrying. I’ve found that on average, I need to read 13 books per month to stay on track, and in the early parts of the year, I was pretty consistently below that. It’s left me in a bit of a tight spot for the last two months!

I’m sure the statistics are hardly the most interesting part of the challenge, but I’m going to wait until closer to the end of the year to post about some of the best books I’ve read for my challenges this year. I’m also in the very, very early stages of planning books and strategizing a bit for next year’s Around the Year and PopSugar challenges. I’m planning on attempting BookRiot again as well, depending on how much the prompts appeal to me whenever that list finally comes out. For now, the goal is to just keep reading and try to complete as many of my challenges as possible this year!

 

Mid-Year Challenge Check-In

I’m still a little in shock that the year is halfway over already, and that I actually have some time off to do some more reading. Ironically, after barely taking any sick days all year, I managed to come down with some kind of cold/possibly allergies on my first day off! How unfair is that?! Although I’ve made two posts recently about my favourite books of the year (here) and the ever-popular Mid-Year Freak Out Tag (here), I wanted to do a quick update on my progress on my reading challenges so far.

This year, I decided to take on four reading challenges:

  • Goodreads Around the Year Challenge – Consists of 52 categories that were voted on by members of the group in a series of polls throughout the year. Categories were suggested by participants and left up to a vote. We are also each allowed one wild card option to replace a prompt we don’t like or want with another book of our choice. I generally choose to use my Wild Card pick to add an extra prompt from the list of those that were rejected during the voting process, since there are always some very interesting ones that don’t make it. So for this challenge, I need to read a total of 53 books.
  • PopSugar Reading Challenge – This year, PopSugar has divided their list into a main challenge of 40 prompts, and an “advanced” challenge of an additional 12. I am taking on both parts of the list, for a total of 52 books. These lists are usually created by PopSugar staff, but for this year they opened it up to a lot of input from challenge participants as well.
  • PopSugar Summer 2016 – PopSugar also hosts seasonal challenges occasionally to add some extra prompts for those who finished early or want an additional level to the challenge. The seasonal challenges also tend to include prompts that are related to the season, so the summer list includes things like beaches, summer romances, and  vacation.  I actually didn’t see this challenge until close to the end of last year when it was too late to take it on, but the prompts interested me so I decided to take it on. I also found a Fall challenge that interested me, but decided it would be too much. The Summer challenge consists of 29 prompts.
  • BookRiot Read Harder – The Read Harder challenge is always the most difficult for me, although it has the fewest prompts. This list consists of 24 prompts, but they often put a huge focus on diversity and pushing people to read outside their comfort zones. This year’s list was especially frustrating because some of the prompts were chosen by authors, and as creative as they were, they were very difficult to fulfill.

My total for the year is 158 books, and as of the end of June, according to Goodreads, I am 5 books behind where I should be (46% of my total). Ideally, my goal is to read all 158 by the end of the year, but I am prioritizing the Around the Year challenge and PopSugar challenge (the main one, not the summer challenge) as the two that must be completed by the end of the year. I’ve managed to reduce my number of books that I’m behind from 8 (as of early May) to 5, which seems a lot more manageable since I have quite a few graphic novels and quicker books still left to read.

As of the end of June, here is where I stand on each of the challenges:

  • Around the Year – 26/53 (50%)
  • PopSugar – 22/52 (42%)
  • PopSugar Summer 2016 – 13/29 (45%)
  • BookRiot Read Harder – 12/24 (50%)

It makes sense that I am behind on the Summer Challenge since that one was the lowest priority for me anyway, but I thought I’d be a tiny bit further ahead on the PopSugar challenge. It probably fell behind a little since I thought I was falling behind on Around the Year, so I focused on that one more instead. The only thing I have to figure out is when to read some of the longer or more potentially difficult books so they don’t slow me down too much. I still have many books that I’m really looking forward to!

 

Why Take On a Reading Challenge?

For several years, I was stuck in a rut when it came to reading books for pleasure rather than for school. I spent 7 years straight in post-secondary education, so when I wasn’t in class or working on assignments, I spent most of my time reading textbooks or studying my notes. By the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do for fun was to read some more!

I still got my fill on reading by taking a couple of classes about children’s literature, and making sure to squeeze in some of the titles I was most excited for. It wasn’t until the very end of 2014, after I graduated from college and was starting my full-time job that I realized how much I wanted to start reading more again.

Around the same time, I started seeing posts on Facebook about PopSugar’s first ever reading challenge, a list of 52 categories. The intent was for challenge participants to read one book per week, each fitting one of the prompts on the list. For close to two months, the idea of the challenge stayed in the back of my mind. I thought it might be fun to try, but I was worried about being able to follow through. As I touched on in my original “Welcome” post (found here), I soon came to love reading challenges, for several reasons:

 1. They can push you to stretch your comfort zone – Although I would like to think that I’m not too picky when it comes to books, the challenges have made me really recognize where my comfort zone lies. There are several books that I’ve read that I probably wouldn’t have touched if it weren’t for the challenge, but I ended up loving! It can really help to refresh your interest in reading when you discover a brand new kind of book you may never have tried before.

2. They give you an excuse to try new books/authors – Even though most challenges don’t prohibit you from re-reading books, it sometimes feels like cheating to count books that you’ve read before. In the course of my challenges, I’ve often found myself exploring GoodReads message boards and recommendations to find new books, and try new authors that I may never have heard of otherwise. I often had books that I’d heard about but wasn’t so motivated to  pick up immediately. A challenge gave me the push I needed to actually take the first steps to start reading it.

3. Challenge categories help narrow things down to make choosing books easier – As a result of all this exploring, my GoodReads list has blown up to over 1100 books that I’d like to read, and I’m sure there will be many more. With a list of that size, choosing what to read next can become daunting. When there were too many choices, it could be easiest to just avoid choosing which led to reading ruts. With a challenge imposing some limits, it was easier to choose books.

4. Challenges encourage you to keep reading – This may especially be the case for people like me, who are a little compulsive about checking things off a list. Once I committed to starting my challenge, I didn’t want to leave it before I’d finished all of the prompts. Having a defined list and number of books to read helped to keep track of progress and keep up the motivation to continue. It was strangely satisfying to check things off the list, and seeing the remaining number of books needed shrinking each time you read something can be very motivating.

5. The planning process can be part of the fun! – Sometimes it’s not just about checking items off the list. Part of the fun for me has been the “scavenger hunt”-like style of finding books that fit each prompt. When I started to take on multiple challenges within the same year, it became even more strategic to shuffle things around to help fulfill some of the more difficult prompts.