2021: My Year in Reading Challenges

On the last day of the year, I’m thinking about reading challenges and my reading this year. I haven’t decided what challenges I’ll do in 2022, whether I’ll continue the ones below or start something new. 2020 and 2021 have given me reason to pause and think about why I participate in reading challenges. As a recent post by Modern Mrs. Darcy suggests, maybe we don’t need any more challenges in 2022. Maybe we need to slow down, read for pleasure and not make reading something stressful.

So in January I want to think a little about what in my reading life gives me pleasure, and which things are stressful. In 2020 I gave up on TBR lists and tried to just read what I wanted to read.  This year, I got back to making lists and being more intentional.  I’m still trying to read more books I actually own rather than just what comes in at the library. But in general, my reading and blogging life are a stress release for me, not a stressor.

I’d say there are at least three reasons I choose reading challenges. The first is to motivate myself to read better or differently. The second is to connect with other bloggers. And the third is just for new ways to track and quantify what we’re already going to read anyway.

This year, I participated in four challenges, although I’ll use the term “participated” pretty loosely (and maybe in 2022 I need to participate more in fewer challenges). Some of the goals I set out for my reading this year were to read more challenging books, more nonfiction, longer books, and more books from and about other countries. I also wanted to read a bit more deliberately, meaning not just choosing the latest new releases, and emphasizing quality over quantity. I read fewer books than in previous years, which is maybe because I took more time with some of them, or because I had a more demanding work schedule. 

I returned to Book’d Out’s Reading Nonfiction challenge, which asks you to complete specific categories of nonfiction. I didn’t complete anything related to Oceanography, but I’m wiling to stretch and call one book I read about hobbies — Jessica Pan’s Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, which is about trying to be more extroverted, but in the book she joins a stand-up comedy workshop and discovers she really enjoys it.  A better fit for the Hobbies category is James Campbell’s Braving It, which is about wilderness adventure in Alaska, including kayaking. But I’ve got that book also listed as Travel. Here’s my list for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge:

  1. BiographyDevil in the Grove by Gilbert King (Thurgood Marshall)
  2. Travel: Braving It by James Campbell
  3. Self-helpUnwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
  4. Essay Collection: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  5. DiseaseGet Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
  6. Oceanography
  7. Hobbies: Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan
  8. Indigenous Cultures: Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
  9. Food: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  10. Wartime Experiences: A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  11. Inventions: How We Got to Now by Steve Johnson
  12. Published in 2021: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My second challenge was Modern Mrs. Darcy’s build-your-own challenge.  She gave us a long list of prompts and we could choose the 12 we wanted to complete. Here are my prompts and what I read:

  • Read a book in translation: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (trans. Ginny Tapley Takamori)
  • Read a book set somewhere I’ve never been but would like to visit: The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen (Vietnam)
  • Read a book of poetry, a play, or collection of essays: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  • Read a book of any genre that addresses current events: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
  • Read a book that’s over 600 pages: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  • Read a classic I’ve been meaning to read: Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • Read a book that intimidates me: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Read a book I had previously abandoned: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Read a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner: Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
  • Read three books by the same author: T. Kingfisher (The Hollow Places, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, The Wonder Engine)
  • Read a book in the backlist of a new favorite author: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
  • Read a book I own but have never read: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

My third challenge, a new one to me this year, was to read more backlist books. I signed up for NovelKnight’s challenge, but I just kept track of this one internally since I didn’t follow their prompts or definitions. They define a backlist book as any book not published in the current year, but I decided to add two requirements: 1) the backlist book had to be an author I’ve read already; and 2) the backlist book couldn’t be from the previous year (in other words, published in 2019 or earlier).  I read 24 books that met this challenge. This is my first year tracking this data, but I can also say that I read 35 new releases (published this year), compared to 45 the previous year.  

  1. Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri (2019)
  2. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (2014)
  3. The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher (2018)
  4. In the Dream House by Carmen Machado (2019)
  5. Blind Justice by Anne Perry (2013)
  6. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
  7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (1996)
  8. The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi (2014)
  9. The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey (2019)
  10. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018)
  11. Wolfsong by T.J. Klune (2016)
  12. Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls (2019)
  13. Venetia by Georgette Heyer (1958)
  14. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (2017)
  15. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886)
  16. The Moor by Laurie R. King (1998)
  17. All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015)
  18. Death in Focus by Anne Perry (2019)
  19. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
  20. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey (2016)
  21. Blackout by Connie Willis (2010)
  22. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (2005)
  23. The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (2018)
  24. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860)

The Reading Around the World Challenge, hosted by Howling Frog, was a five year challenge to read books set in 50 countries.  I didn’t add as many new countries to this list as I’d like. I read 19 books set outside the U.S. or the U.K., but most of those were countries already on my list (such as Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, India). I was hoping to hit 50 countries in 2021 but only got to 41. The new countries I did add:

  • Armenia: Three Apples Fell From the Sky by Narine Abgaryan
  • Barbados: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
  • Cuba: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton and Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
  • Palestine: Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa

Additionally, I read five books for my “Women of the World” book club, and DNF’d three (it wasn’t a great year for book club reading). And I participated in Feed Your Fiction Addiction’s Book Blog Discussion Challenge.

That wraps up my challenges for the year, and now I’ll be thinking about what to sign up for in 2022. What will you be doing? If you had a favorite challenge this year, or will be hosting one in 2022, please share in the comments.

  12 comments for “2021: My Year in Reading Challenges

  1. December 31, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    I’m been having a similar internal discussion about challenges for the last few years, gradually reducing the number each year. This year I just did one which was my own challenge to read books by 50 authors from different countries in the world. Like you, I enjoy the feeling of involvement and connection with other bloggers but also feel the pressure sometimes to read things just to tick a box in a challenge

    • January 2, 2022 at 2:10 pm

      I struggle with the need to follow my own personal goals but forgo the interaction with other blogs… in the past I’ve tried to find blogger challenges that align with my goals, but now many of them are feeling too arbitrary. Wishing you very happy reading in 2022!

  2. WendyW
    December 31, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    I like that challenges will force me to read more books out of my comfort zone and maybe books I wouldn’t otherwise consider.

    • January 2, 2022 at 2:06 pm

      I agree, I enjoy being pushed to read more challenging books, and those are the books I tend to remember long after I put them down. Have a very happy 2022!

  3. December 31, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    I’m always having a similar conversation with myself: do challenges motivate or limit me? How many is a good number in a given year? So far, the answer seems to be that it’s better to have them than not. Without challenges, I will simply read one fluffy novel after another — and while fluffy novels are an important part of this nutritious reading diet, they aren’t everything. I am happier when I’m stretching my reading and putting in some accountability. Just…not too much! Rigidity is no good either.

    Good luck to both of us on reading more global books in 2022!

    • January 2, 2022 at 2:05 pm

      I agree with you – free reading seems nice at the time but those aren’t the books that stick with me because I really learned something. As an example, I just finished Mill on the Floss, which blew me away. Have a very happy 2022!

  4. January 1, 2022 at 4:38 am

    Congratulations on your challenge accomplishments! Thank you for your participation in the Nonfiction Reader Challenge

    • January 2, 2022 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks and happy new year! I always enjoy your challenge. I got a lot out of my nonfiction reading this year.

  5. January 1, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    I totally agree about how reading is something that eases stress and I have found too many challenges increase stress. I am still waiting to hear if the Back to the Classics will be back in 2022, but apart from that I am mostly going to stick to the books I received as gifts in 2020 and my TBR shelf, which does get neglected with other bright, shiny objects catch my attention.

    I’m looking forward to Three Apples Fell from the Sky–an Xmas gift, so it makes my plan.

    I tend to read backlist books more than new books, so my other challenge is to pick a few new books to read while they are fresh and all abuzz.

    I may take a look at the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge as it could help me organize my reading life.

    Happy New Year and happy reading!

    • January 2, 2022 at 2:03 pm

      Back to the Classics is a fun challenge and I would like to read more classics next year. I hope it comes back! Good luck with your reading this year, and have a very happy new year. The MMD challenge was a nice way to customize for the goals you want.

  6. January 2, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    I only do challenges if I can do them from my TBR (mainly – I did buy Roots so I could do Kaggsy and Stuck in a Book’s 1976 week, but it was an excuse to buy it!). So I’m doing Annabookbel’s Nordic FINDS as I have a lot of, well, Icelandic books I can get off the TBR, I will be doing 20 Books of Summer from the TBR as always, Dewithon, Reading Ireland and AusLit Month if I have anything for them, Novellas in November (have some) and Nonfiction November (many). I like the connections forged during those.

    My own 2022 reading challenge is re-reading Larry McMurtry – I have a page up on the blog https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/about/larry-mcmurtry-2022/ but it’s very relaxed as usual – I’ll read my 13 and other people can join in as they wish!

    Happy reading in 2022, however you choose to arrange it!

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