2 Things I Learned from 3 Years of Reading Challenges

Happy New Year, everyone!

image of white and red fireworks in the sky

I hope you celebrated with the people you care about most on New Year’s Eve, and recuperated enough on New Year’s Day to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again this morning.

What’s on the agenda today?

Reading, of course!

I was going back through my old blog posts, the ones I managed to save when I changed over to my new domain in late 2016, and found I had started a trend of doing To Be Read challenges. Naturally, I’ll be doing that again this year, but I wanted to explore what I went through from 2013 to 2016 in trying these challenges, and what I might could learn about myself through the process.

Reading Through the Years: 2013

The first time I posted about needing to get through my TBR list was way back in 2013, in a post I titled, “Making Up for Lost Time.”

“The man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the man who can’t.” – Mark Twain

During NaNoWriMo this year, I saw a multitude of writerly quotes on Twitter, and this one struck me as particularly apropos for the last few months of my life. For years, books were such a huge part of my life, that I could never imagine not reading for recreation at least one novel per month; typically, I was reading at least two or three, sometimes consuming up to ten or twenty. I could read for hours on end, stopping for very little more than to grab a snack or drink, or go to the bathroom (and I usually brought books with me there, too). [TMI.]

A tally of how many books I had read, purely for pleasure, in the past year is shocking to me. Three. I have only read THREE novels this year; one was during the summer, the other was over a period of four months, and the last I read in a day, as a reward for my first ever NaNoWriMo win. Can this really be? I asked myself, and went back over the year in my head. I searched the reaches of my brain, past the cobwebs and the algebraic formulas, through repetitive structure statements, spreadsheet macros, and the research of Vygotsky. Again, all I could find were three.

So I made a decision. After my last final is taken, and the semester is over, my goal is to read as many novels as I can get my hands on. I will read like it’s my job, and sometimes, I might post a review here. I’ll try to keep a list of those books I’ve read, and will update my faithful readers in the middle of January (ah, spring semester, I’m not looking forward to you!) with how many novels I have managed to devour in that time. My goal is at least 25, allowing for the fact that Christmas is totally going to derail all the best laid plans.

Sounds like I had it under control. I can imagine that when I was writing that post, I really thought that it would be that simple. You want to read? Just do it! Ignore the fact that you’re in college and raising two kids in a small, one-bedroom apartment with your wife-to-be.

Cute, right?

gif of cartoon characters Ren and Stimpy dancing

2014

By mid-January 2014, I had finally decided to post again on my self-imposed reading challenge.

The last time I was here, I made big plans to read like it was my job, because my life had been sorely lacking in quality, non-educational reading time for quite a while. What I have to report is that I did manage to read a few books – six, to be exact, between writing, recovering from the fall semester and surgery, birthdays, exercise, mass consumption of television, and all the holiday festivities one can expect in the months of December and January.

  1. I Kiss Girls by Gina Harris. It was cute. A light, fast read, just what I needed to start off my reading expedition.
  2. Greetings From Jamaica (Wish You Were Queer) by Mari SanGiovanni. Another cute lesbian romance with a little less teenage angst and more adult themes.
  3. ROOM by Emma Donoghue. If you haven’t read it, you should. This book is sensational. Gripping and powerful.
  4. Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters. Another lesbian romance, full of teenage angst, broken promises, parental failures, and real friendship.
  5. Naked by David Sedaris. An amusing read, even if I didn’t think it was as hilarious as everyone says it is. Worth reading.
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this before. This is definitely in my top 10 list.

Not bad for a little over a month, especially with the aforementioned living situation. But could it be sustained?

…If you look at how long it took me to write about reading again, I’d say that’s a hard no.

2015

In January 2015, I finally made another declaration.

Today I read a post by Sara over at Novel Novice on the topic of the Roof Beam Reader 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. The idea for the challenge intrigued me, so I decided to check it out.

The premise is simple: We all have those stacks of books we bought with the intention to read, but never got around to actually opening. The challenge is to read them — 12 of them — which were published before 1/1/2014. You post your list, link it to the official announcement post, and review the books as you read them.

So, here’s my list:

  1. M 1/14/15: I just couldn’t get through this one. Maybe I’ll try again in another ten years.
  2. T 1/30/15: The second book on my list that I couldn’t finish. About halfway through, I just couldn’t stand the racial and other prejudicial slurs.
  3. L 2/20/15: I finally finished one on the list!
  4. T 4/25/15: Finished.
  5. T 6/17/2015: Finished.
  6. D 3/11/15: Finished, loved.
  7. N 5/29/2015: Finished, loved.
  8. M 3/21/15: Finished, loved.
  9. S 3/13/15: Gave up.
  10. B 4/29/15: Finished, loved.
  11. B 5/13/15: Finished, loved.
  12. S 7/12/15: Unable to finish.

For my two alternates, I’ve selected:

  1. D 1/15/15: Finished.

  2. G 2/10/15: Finished.

Took me a while, most likely because I had been reading books that weren’t on my TBR list, too, but I got through most of those books from my list.

In May, I had this update:

Back in January, I signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge despite my already overloaded schedule. Between school, writing, family, and sleep, I haven’t found much time to read, but I’m happy to say that I have read and reviewed eight books so far.

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. 3 of 5 stars.
  2. Gone Girl. 5 of 5 stars.
  3. Land of Terror. 3 of 5 stars.
  4. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. 4 of 5 stars.
  5. Middlesex. 5 of 5 stars.
  6. The Swarm. 3 of 5 stars.
  7. Bossypants. 5 of 5 stars.
  8. Bones of Betrayal. 4 of 5 stars.

In addition to these books, there were a few from my list that I started reading, but had to put down unfinished. From racial slurs to a terrible premise, I’m sorry that I wasted my time and the precious space in my TBR pile with these duds.

The Roof Beam Reader question of the month asked if there are any books we regretted putting on the list, or any changes we wish we could make to our list. At first, I thought I would say that I would not have wasted my time on those three abandoned books. After all, that was time I could have used on other things — like reading books I actually enjoyed enough to finish.

But honestly? I’m glad I tried. Every book not opened is a locked door into a world that could transform the reader in so many ways. Why would I give up the keys, even to books that I found distasteful? I count myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to take a peek into those worlds.

By December 2015, I was done with the Roof Beam Reader challenge and feeling a little like a failure. What better way to assuage the sting of failure than with another challenge, you ask?

gif of Bart Simpson throwing away a cake that says At Least You Tried

This year, I took part in the Roof Beam Reader’s TBR List Challenge, and had a great time doing it. I got through a lot of books I had been meaning to read, but I also learned a lot about myself — and about the kinds of books I just couldn’t get through. So, when I tried to sign up for the 2016 TBR List Challenge, I was disappointed to learn that this year would be the last year for RBR to host it.

Thankfully, in my search, I ran across this post from Andi at Estella’s Revenge. In it, she describes her own reading challenge, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks, which she encourages others to join. There are few rules, and you get to set them yourself. What could be better?

For my own rules, I’ve decided on three:

  1. Fifty books I already own (print or electronic)
  2. Forcing myself to read a book I hate is not acceptable
  3. I can buy only one new book for every five that I finish

Considering the amount of books my wife and I still own but haven’t gotten through, I’m excited to get started on this challenge.

2016

Sounds confident, right? Let’s see how I did…

  1. Til Death Do Us Part by Stephanie Ayers

  2. Pennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay

  3. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

  4. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim

  5. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  6. Dead Wood by Chris Longmuir

  7. Ghost Beach by R. L. Stine

  8. Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns by R. L. Stine

  9. Everything You Have is Mine by Sandra Scoppettone

  10. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas

  11. Bored to Death by Jonathan Ames

  12. Skeletal by Katherine Hayton

  13. Bright Lights of Summer by Lynn Ames

  14. The Best of Cemetery Dance Volume 1

…And, for some reason, I pretty much gave up on updating this list. Thankfully, I didn’t give up reading books I had been wanting to read (nor did I actually stick to the rules of the challenge, because I was reading newer books all over the place.)

So, what did all this teach me about myself and my reading habits?

I’m a Constant Reader

For the most part, I can try to keep up with my TBR list, but I’m never going to get to the end of it. I love reading. I love acquiring, finding, and devouring books, new and used, in nearly all genres. Books are just my thing.

As far as the kind of books I can get through, I can read almost anything that isn’t written by an author who has racism, sexism, or most other -isms in his or her heart.

Also, I just couldn’t get through Mrs. Dalloway. It just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I have learned that while I used to not be able to put down a book I started, I now do it without question. If it doesn’t catch me, I don’t stick with it, and that’s okay.

Life is too short to read books I don’t like.

gif of Patrick Stewart on Star Trek throwing a book

2017

I don’t have all the details ironed out yet, but I’ll post about my 2017 personal reading challenge soon.

You can find reviews for most of the books discussed in this post on my master book review page.

Do you have a reading challenge for 2017? Tell me in the comments; maybe we can get through it together.


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2 thoughts on “2 Things I Learned from 3 Years of Reading Challenges

  1. Ah, I loved reading this. I’m trying to focus in 2017 on reading more for my own pleasure, whatever I want, when I want, and not feeling so obligated to review books and ARCs. For the last few years, I’ve focused on reading ARCs for reviews, and reading them in order of release date, trying to stay at least a month ahead of those releases. It kept me on task, to be sure, but I was forcing myself to put off books I wanted to read immediately, regardless of release date. Or putting off books I wanted to read because they had already been published or were “backlist.”

    I’m still struggling with this; I say yes to too many review requests and accept or request too many ARCs – I’m working on saying “no” more often. And I’m working on remembering that no one pays me to read or review these books; I do it for myself, my own enjoyment, and yeah, sure, for the readers and authors. But mostly for me.

    So my goal for 2017 is to read what I want, whenever I want, as often as possible.

    By the way, I never completed that 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. Not a single book on that list has been read yet. Maybe I’ll change that this year.

    1. I know just what you mean! That TBR Pile Challenge was so difficult, because the rules were kind of restrictive, and made it feel like more of a chore than a pastime, which is what I want reading to be. I also have a habit of requesting and agreeing to read books for review, and find myself often scrambling to get the reviews up in time for the deadline. Here’s hoping we can both meet our goals this year, and stop worrying about the needs of others in our reading habits! Good luck!

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