I have been wanting to do a reading challenge for some time now, and each year I think I’m going to do the Good Reads one (with a 50 book pledge, for instance). But I feel the approach of just counting books is “off” somehow, like a raw number isn’t really what I’m talking about. Would I feel twice as good if I read 50 books instead of 25? What about classics, should I only be counting classics? Is there a way to somehow add gamification to the mix?

Or when it comes right down to it, is all I’m hoping to do is keep track of the books I do read and actually get around to reviewing them? My “to be reviewed” pile is more virtual than real, but is still quite large.

What am I trying to do by participating in a Reading Challenge? I thought I would look at a bunch, see which ones appealed to me, and work backwards to figure out why. Somebody over at GirlXoXo (yes, that’s actually the name, and they ranked high in the Google search results so might as well start with them!) has compiled a list of 2019 reading challenges, so I thought I would wander through the list.

What’s out there?

The big list as of the time of review has some 88 different types of challenges in it, and dozens more in the comments, so let’s see what I find…

  1. Pre-curated lists — Some of the lists pull from various Book of the Week/Month/Year lists, bestsellers or award winners that were generated by someone else (i.e. someone else made all the lists, the Reading Challenge is to pull some books off those various lists and read them);
  2. Location — Either written in or taking place in a specific city, country, continent, planet, or in space;
  3. Genre lists — Young adult, mystery, romance, fantasy, adventure, treasure, time travel, science fiction, coming of age, mythology, banned books, biography, historical fiction, alt-fiction, cozy,music, nonfiction, classics, “harder books”, art and creativity, dystopian, humour, multiple themes over the year, etc;
  4. Origin — Books that were given to you, already in your library, borrowed from someone, borrowed from a library, found on Project Gutenberg, self-published, etc;
  5. Series-based — All of a series, first in a series, next in a series, complete a trilogy, only backlists, etc.;
  6. Time-based — By seasons, decades, birthdays, centuries;
  7. The Title — First letter, or includes a word from a list (like a colour or a season), alliterative, three words long, etc;
  8. Adaptation — Something that was turned into a TV show or movie, or vica versa;
  9. Occupations — Police, detective, librarian, etc., etc., etc.;
  10. Length — Really short or really long, or everywhere in between;
  11. Formats — Paper, audio, or digital? Finals or ARCs?;
  12. The Author — Alphabetical, gender, diversity, everything by one author, only dead authors, only new authors, etc.;
  13. Named lists — Specific set of authors and/or books.

Some of the Challenges aimed for a specific schedule i.e. Month 1 was Book X, while others were more “a bunch of categories / checkboxes to complete over the course of the year”. Some of them add in gamification elements for sub-challenges (mini, weekly, monthly, quarterly). And others created little “bingo” cards to help encourage progress.

What appeals to me?

It sounds strange, but I really like the idea of gamification. Something like the bingo card approach that lets you have built-in mini-successes like a full-line, four corners, two lines, a row or a column, etc. And in the end, you get your full card. And, not for nothing, the Card approach works out to about 25 books for the year, i.e. one every two weeks with two weeks “off”. I’ll hit 25 books by the end of the first quarter, probably, but will they fit the card? That’s the REAL question. So I’m going to go with a bingo-style card.

From the broader list, I do like the idea of pulling from some pre-curated lists. I tried to create a master list for myself a few years ago using a number of “award” lists that were done — The Guardian, NYTimes, a bunch of others of the “Top 100” books of all time sort of thing. Plus I used some mystery award winners (Shamus, Anthony, Macavity, etc.). I almost caved when I found a fantastic website called The Greatest Books, which basically is a compilation of 119 OTHER lists of great books, and was just going to use their combined list, but since their combined list has 2073 titles in it, I thought I might stick to subsets.

I wasn’t that thrilled at first with the idea of an “origin” list (i.e. where did you get the book?) but as I thought about it, it grew on me. I do have a couple of books given to me that I haven’t gotten to yet, so an extra nudge would be good. Plus ones that are in my library in the “to be read” pile, some from the library, and I love the idea of something from Project Gutenberg.

In terms of genres, I’ll pretty much read anything but I do want to boost a couple of non-fiction titles, and I’ll cover mystery out the wazoo without even trying, but I might as well have a couple “better” ones on there. Series are too easy, I eat those for breakfast, lunch, dinner and several snacks in between.

I also like the ones that are alphabet-based…pretty easy to address, I think, so title and author are easy to add. Not sure the diversity ones work, as the “classifications” are a bit nebulous at times and I worry about the real metrics behind the approach. Almost like a social conscience quota — oh, good, you’re not a racist, you read an “author of colour”…I mean, wtf? This is 2019, not 1919, right?

My bingo card

As you’ll see, BINGO doesn’t quite work for me, even though I know it’s traditional, so I changed it to READS. And while I was originally thinking some books could show up in more than one place, I think they should be unique cells that get us to 25 in total for the year. Here are the explanations of the 25 cells:

  • Under the R:
    1. A book whose title starts with A, E, I, M, Q, U or Y (“a” or “an” doesn’t count!);
    2. A novel with an amateur detective (where “detection” isn’t their official job…even Stephanie Plum would qualify as she is a bounty hunter first, not a detective);
    3. A past or present book that has won a Governor General’s award, a National Book Award, a Pulitzer prize (at time of writing, the site isn’t loading properly, you might have to use the Wikipedia lists), or a Man Booker prize/award;
    4. A book from Abe Books’ list of Top 100 Fiction Books to Read in a Lifetime OR Radcliffe Publishing’s 100 Greatest Novels; and,
    5. A book whose title starts with C, G, K, O, S, or W;
  • Under the E:
    1. A book that was given to you;
    2. A book whose author’s name (first or last) starts with A, B, C, D, E, F, or G;
    3. A mystery novel that won one of the many mystery awards, such as an Agatha, a Shamus, a Macavity, an Edgar, or an Hammett;
    4. A book whose author’s name (first or last) starts with O, P, Q, R, S, or T; and,
    5. A book that was bought in a real bricks and mortar bookstore;
  • Under the A:
    1. A non-fiction book, something more general in nature (not a business or self-help book), perhaps biographical, learning, or simply factual;
    2. A book recommended by a friend;
    3. Any book of your choosing — this is a reader’s choice / free square;
    4. A book from either the Modern Library’s Fiction or Non-fiction lists; and,
    5. A non-fiction self-help (or business) book.
  • Under the D:
    1. A book borrowed from the library;
    2. A book whose author’s name (first or last) starts with H, I, J, K, L, M, or N;
    3. A book that is humourous, perhaps satirical, comedy, or biographical;
    4. A book whose author’s name (first or last) starts with U, V, W, X, Y or Z; and,
    5. A book from somewhere online, like Project Gutenberg (United States, Canada, or elsewhere), the library, or even Amazon / Google / etc;
  • Under the S:
    1. A book whose title starts with B, F, J, N, R, V, Z;
    2. A novel with a formal detective (either professional detective or a police detective);
    3. A book from the BBC’s 100 Greatest British Novels, Guardian’s 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All-time or 100 Best Novels Written in English, or Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels;
    4. A book currently on the NY Times Best-Seller list (or, if desperate, from at least one week in 2018); and,
    5. A book whose title starts with D, H, L, P, T, or X;

If you don’t particularly like mysteries, feel free to replace the AMATEUR DETECTIVE (under the R), MYSTERY AWARD WINNER (under the E), and FORMAL DETECTIVE (under the S) with suitable protagonists and awards for the genre of your choosing.

Let me know in the comments if you’re participating, and how you’re doing! I’ll post updates back to this page for my own reading through-out the year.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I’m in. My first book is Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga.

Count me in, though I’m not sure i’ll be able to complete the challenge, I think I do read 20 to 25 books a year.