My Year in Reading Challenges

At the beginning of 2020 I focused on four challenges: Read Harder, Reading Nonfiction, Reading Around the World, and reading books I already owned.  My goal in January was to keep things a little simpler.  And then 2020 happened. I ended up reading a lot more for comfort this year, but still read a lot of challenging and meaningful books, especially in nonfiction. 

For the Read Harder challenge, there were 24 reading prompts and I met 20 of those.  I didn’t push myself to finish like I did last year. The four prompts I didn’t address were: a play by an author of color or LGBTQ author, a picture book about a marginalized community, a horror book published by an indie press, and a literary magazine. Those are such specific categories, I just didn’t feel the need to commit to them this year.

In many cases I read what I wanted and then slotted the books into the prompts that fit.  Still, the challenge did push me in quite a few areas. I read a memoir about a religion other than mine (Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper), a YA nonfiction book (Popular by Maya van Wagenen), a book about a cuisine I’m not familiar with (Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes from a Young Black Chef), a book about climate change (The Story of More), a book about refugees (Go, Went, Gone), and several books featuring main characters with disabilities (Get a Life, Chloe Brown). 

Last year, the thing I liked most about Read Harder was the community on Goodreads. This year, I got a bit turned off by the vitriol expressed in that community about reading books about romance.  I’m sort of done with people who want to tell you what you should and shouldn’t read, when the whole point of the challenge to “read harder” is to expand your boundaries. There’s an inherent contradiction here, and maybe the whole thing is too judge-y for me right now.

My favorite challenge was the Reading Nonfiction challenge by Book’d Out, which was to read nonfiction books in 12 specific categories. I completed this challenge pretty easily. Some of the more challenging prompts were science (The Story of More), psychology (No Visible Bruises), medical issue (The Brain that Changes Itself) and nature (The Salt Path).  I did find that many nonfiction books were hard to categorize; for example, The Story of More could be categorized as science, nature, or disaster event.  I called The Only Plane in the Sky (about 9/11) a book about true crime although it’s  more fair to call it history.  And The Salt Path is a memoir about travel, illness, and nature. I read a lot of great nonfiction books this year and plan to continue this challenge in 2021. 

I signed up for the Mount TBR challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block, in which I hoped to read at least 12 books I owned.  I fell short, reading only 10.  In 2021 I hope to focus more energy on books I own as well as backlist books.  In 2020 I read a lot more new releases than I normally do, but then I also read more of what caught my eye rather than planning my reading. In 2021 I may try a backlist challenge instead of a “books I own” challenge.

Finally, this year I added 7 books to my Reading All Around the World list of countries, a challenge I began in 2017.  I try to add at least ten a year; plus the countries I added weren’t as diverse as I might like. I read books about Singapore, Afghanistan, the Czech Republic, British Columbia, Germany, Poland, and France. I read other books from around the world in 2020 (read about my favorites here), but the goal of this challenge is to read about new countries.

You can find a complete list of my reading for challenges in 2020 here. I’m still thinking about which challenges to do in 2021. It’s tempting to sign up for a lot of them even if I don’t finish; but in keeping with the idea of minimizing stress, I expect I’ll continue to focus on just a few. For me the key questions when considering these challenges are whether they motivated me to read books I really liked that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. And also, did I feel I really engaged with the host and other bloggers, or was it something I signed up for but didn’t do much follow-up.

What challenges did you take on this year, and how did you do? Please recommend a favorite challenge in the comments. Thanks!

  13 comments for “My Year in Reading Challenges

  1. December 26, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Congratulations on your challenge achievements. Thank you for taking part in the Nonfiction Reader Challenge, I hope you will join again in 2021!

    • December 27, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for hosting the challenge! I look forward to participating again. I really enjoyed the push to read different categories of nonfiction, and your 2021 categories look even more challenging.

      • December 28, 2020 at 9:23 pm

        Thanks for taking part, and I’m thrilled you are taking part again!

  2. December 26, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    I love reading challenges and my favorite has become the Audiobook challenge. I went from reading just a few a year to more than 20 this year. They keep me company!

    Congratulations on coming so close to finishing so many! I did the read harder challenge a few years ago, maybe I will do that one again in 2021! Great job!

    • December 27, 2020 at 6:21 pm

      Congrats on your success with the audiobook challenge! I love audiobooks so much more than I expected to, and I listened to many good ones this year. Good luck with your challenges in 2021!

      • December 27, 2020 at 6:44 pm

        Thank you! Audiobooks have become my friends and I am always so sad when a story ends. Thankfully there are just SO many good ones!

  3. December 27, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    I only do one reading challenge these days – the Back to the Classics challenge — I used to do others but I found them too stressful. As it is, I am in a couple of book clubs and reading the club selections plus the Classics leaves me just enough space to read on a whim.

    Congrats on your challenges – I’m always intrigued by the Reading Harder one, and it does inspire me to try to leave the comfort zone. Sorry to hear about the bad vibe from the GR group–geez, the last thing anyone needs is to be criticized for their book choices. I even hate the snarkiness about people who don’t find pleasure in books–surely we can be accepting, tolerant, loving to those who don’t find joy in the same things we do.

    Reading Around the World inspires me as well, but not up for that level of challenge right now.

    Good luck with your 2021 choices 🙂

    • December 27, 2020 at 6:16 pm

      I love the Back to the Classics challenge, though I’ve focused less on classics in recent years. I’d like to get back to them when things feel less stressful. I completely agree that keeping up with book clubs can be time consuming enough without additional challenges. I’m only in one and probably couldn’t handle more. Thanks for being such a supportive follower of my blog this year, and hope you have a great 2021!

  4. December 27, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    I think we all are feeling that we didn’t accomplish quite what we wanted to…but comfort reads have been very important this year! I know I’ve been feeling that way.

    • December 27, 2020 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks Jean, I suppose we never read all the things we’d like to, even in a normal year! It was kind of nice this year to give myself more permission to read for comfort. It’s something I plan to remember in the future.

  5. December 28, 2020 at 11:52 am

    I make it a rule only to do challenges I can do from my TBR or, at a pinch, my permanent collection. That way, I don’t buy books just for challenges. Having said that, I did buy some more Paul Magrs books for my challenge reading one of his a month last year! But I did 20 Books of Summer, All Virago/All August, Daphne du Maurier Week, DiverseDecember, Aus Lit Month, Novellas in November and Nonfiction November from my TBR and 1956 Club from my shelves!

    Next year I’ll do Daphne (thanks to my friend who runs it giving me one of her books for Christmas!), Nonfiction November and All Virago All August, and I’ll be running my own Year of Anne Tyler, for which I have to buy one book. Do join that one with any books during the year if you fancy it!

    • December 31, 2020 at 3:04 am

      A year of Anne Tyler? That sounds good! I’ve read many of her books, but want to read more.

  6. December 31, 2020 at 3:03 am

    Well done! May 2021 be even better!

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