Last year my New Year’s resolution was to expand my reading experience. To do this, I created a reading challenge. It was less than successful. This year I’m at it again because the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result, right?

(Note: That is not the actual definition of crazy. It’s just one of those statements people keep repeating and gets lodged in our shared consciousness and attributed to Einstein, who never actually said this. For a real definition of crazy please see the DSM-IV book on psychiatric disorders and, one last note, don’t call people “crazy,” even if you think they are. It’s not nice.)

Looking back to December 2016…Challenge Accepted

It was a noble goal. Read more challenging books. But it’s not an easy goal to measure.

Enter the reading challenge.

You might be familiar with these. They’re all over the internet. All of my favorite bookish sites and bloggers propose reading challenge lists. There is no shortage. (Click here for a well researched, alphabetized list that I’m super jealous I didn’t make.)

While these lists are full of great reading challenge ideas and categories, way back at the end of 2016 I was feeling rebellious. I didn’t want someone else’s reading challenge, I had to create my own. (OK, that’s my normal personality. It had nothing to do with the tumultuous time or circumstances. I just always have to be different and usually make things more difficult than they need to be. I’m working on it.)

It was my first reading challenge. I thought it would help me reach my New Year’s resolution. In reality, I’d created a Frankenstein monster of the best parts of other people’s reading challenges and it rebelled against me as all good monsters should.

This was my 2017 reading challenge list and, well, I’d call it a failure.

New Years Reading Challenge EOY Update.jpg

Fast Foward December 2017….Challenge failed

Yes, I checked many of the boxes (some with caveats) and, no, this is not one of my over-achieving obsessions in which I wanted to not just meet the challenge but blow it out of its bookish water. (OK,  maybe it was a little.)

If I were grading myself, I’d get a B- on the completion of this list. As a mostly A student my whole life, that smarts. But even my B- is a false positive. It’s like getting a B- on a take-home test where you’re allowed to look up all the answers. If you don’t get an A+ on a test like that, it’s kind of pathetic.

The truth was, I’d created a pretty crappy test. (I mean challenge). In a way, I didn’t fail at the challenge. I failed at something worse. I failed at creating the test itself. (I mean challenge). These kinds of things are supposed to just fun, right? I shouldn’t take them so seriously. (This is the point you realize I’m a complete lunatic.)

So what was the problem with my 2017 reading challenge? Instead of seeking out books to meet the random categories I’d put on the list, I read what I wanted and retrofit the books into the categories.

There were few instances in which I chose a book because it would meet one of my reading challenge categories. But mostly, the list was either too vague or too specific or just too damn random. I’d wanted to expand my reading horizons. Instead, I just fit the horizon around my reading.

I realize now I was a book Scrooge. I didn’t embrace the real meaning of the book challenge. Rather I used it to help myself feel better about my reading accomplishments. (I feel dirty and gross just admitting that. It’s like book sacrilege. It’s not quite as bad as turning down the corner of a page in a rare print of a Henry James book, but it’s close.)

New Year, New Plan, New Challenge to Tackle

Having disgraced the art of the book challenge, this year I wanted to do it differently. Therefore I created some requirements for my reading challenge to help ensure it actually was a challenge.

  1. It had to include categories that were not too broad or too specific
  2. Each category had to be able to expand my reading genre or worldview
  3. It had to include an element of spontaneity
  4. It had to drive my book choice rather than me driving it

At first, I thought about creating a category-specific reading list. These are quite popular and I found many examples of fantasy reading lists or TV with book binge reading list (a very clever idea). I considered creating a YA only reading list or an “inspired by Jane Austen” reading list. (I totally want to make a list of all of these things.) But my goal last year was to expand my reading world. And I didn’t fully succeed, so I need to try again.

It is called a reading challenge for a reason. I want a challenge.

I want a list that will throw me out of my comfort zone and into the sidelines or the bleachers or the penalty box. I’m not good with sports metaphors. (Mental note: Need to work a sports-related book into my list.) Regardless, this time I created a list I hope I will expose me to new and wonderful reading adventures. I want to be the friggin’ Robinson Crusoe or the Odysseus of reading. Just toss me into the waves and see what strange, crazy islands I find. Those are such archaic adventure references. (Mental note: I need to add a modern adventure to my next list.)

With the basic tenants I determined, drumroll please, here is my reading challenge list for 2018.

2018 Reading Challenge 2.1

This may not be the perfect list and may not address all the shortcomings in my 2017 list. But I think it will get me even closer to my goal, bettering myself through reading.

Happy New Year! (And I’m happy to take suggestions for how to improve my list for 2019!)