In 2011, I discovered Goodreads. My mom had always encouraged me to keep track of the books I read, but each attempt at writing them down failed due to my own laziness. Goodreads was the perfect solution!
On the off chance you haven’t heard of Goodreads, it’s a website that allows you to organize the books you’ve read, the books you’re reading, and the books you’d like to read. You can rate each book you’ve read with 1-5 stars and write book reviews to help other Goodreads users find new books to read. Plus Goodreads can recommend new books for you to try according to what you’ve read and rated.
Goodreads Reading Challenges
In 2012, I started my first Goodreads challenge. At the time, I was working in Mamaroneck, NY as a live-in au pair for a French family, with plans to move to Toronto with them at the end of February. I spent a lot of time waiting in the car to pick up my kids from school. I also regularly watched the kids on Friday and Saturday nights, often after their bedtime. This job gave me plenty of time to read.
For the Goodreads challenge, I set the goal of reading 52 new books that year. I wanted to push myself to discover new authors and new genres, to go beyond my reading comfort zone. For too long, my book pile consisted of beloved rereads and new books by favorite authors. A new book every week encouraged me to try some nonfiction and to explore debut novels, while still giving me the flexibility to read the latest books by my favorite writers.
In 2012, I ended up reading 51 books. While I didn’t quite meet my stated challenge, I succeeded at my underlying intentions. I discovered indie author Jessica Park. I finally read Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil and The Five Love Languages, two completely different books that I had intended to read for years. I read (and disliked) the classic dystopian book Fahrenheit 451. Plus I still had time to read two Philippa Gregory novels (my favorite author).
2013 was quite different, since I spent most of the year working two jobs, and the rest of the year planning a wedding. I did my best to read 52 new books again, but fell short with 39 books. Regardless, I managed to grow as a reader.
The book club I’d started back in New York with my friends began again as an online book club. My friends challenged me to read books I never would have picked out for myself.
- The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Shining by Stephen King
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I also discovered indie authors Kelly Oram and Mette Ivie Harrison, both of whom I absolutely adore.
2013 turned out to be another great year in which I grew as a reader. While the Goodreads reading challenge contributed to my success, I credit my friends, the book blogging community, and premarital counseling for the diverse selection of books I read that year.
Seasonal Reading Challenges
Last year, I took part in two different reading challenges outside of Goodreads. Megan at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life hosts a summer and winter challenge each year. Both reading challenges last 4 months and include 13 books total, in different categories.
With categories like…
- Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe (I read Lucky Us).
- Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014 (I read Divergent).
- Read a biography, autobiography or memoir (I read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?).
- Read a book from a genre you don’t usually read (I read Scarlet).
- Read two books with a different meal in each title (I read The Dinner and A Moveable Feast).
…Megan’s reading challenges require creativity and a readiness to try completely new literary things. I was very pleased that I successfully finished 13 books for 2014’s summer challenge. Alas, with my Crohn’s issues and our move from Ohio to Georgia, I didn’t complete this past winter challenge. Still, I once again pushed myself to try new things.
How I’ve Grown as a Reader
While I still read a large number of young adult books and books published in the last 15 years, I no longer depend so heavily on comfortable reading. My attempts both to read a large number of new-to-me books and books that meet certain criteria have expanded my literary interests.
Ten years out of high school, it’s easy for me to forget how much classic literature I genuinely enjoyed as a teenager. When I push myself to read older books, books in new genres, books by unknown authors, and nonfiction books, my world expands. Even when I don’t like the book, I can appreciate the author’s craft.
The last few years have helped me become a more discerning reader. Yes, I won’t say no to some fun fluff, but I make more of an effort to balance the fluff with substance.
As I grow as a reader, I also grow as a writer. I’m more aware of literary devices I enjoy (like flashbacks and foreshadowing), as well as understanding when literary devices fail.
While I’ve taken this summer off from reading challenges, I plan on starting a new one in November. Even without an official reading challenge to meet, the habits I’ve created the last few years continue to influence my book selections.
Have you ever competed in a reading challenge? Was it beneficial, or did it not positively affect you? Leave me a comment!