Category Archives: reading challenges

2020 Women’s Prize Take 2: Blogger Edition

As much as I appreciated the structure that the Women’s Prize longlist brought to my reading and blogging life over the last two months of global chaos, in the aftermath of the shortlist announcement I have been taking a nice break from both that I didn’t realize I needed so desperately. But, I’m back on my game this weekend and getting back into both!

For a bit of further explanation here, I’ve been part of a chat group called Women’s Prize Squad comprised of some great bloggers with similar bookish interests; it’s low-key and no reading is actually required- two members of the group haven’t read any of this year’s longlist at all yet. These lovely people are: Callum, Hannah, Marija, Naty, Rachel, Sarah, and Steph. Though opinions do vary, one thing we could all agree on this year was that the official longlist wasn’t living up to expectations for us, and in a year with so many great eligible books we found that especially disappointing. So, just before the shortlist announcement, we spent an hour or two assembling our own longlist from this year’s eligible books: fiction written by women published in English in the UK between April 2019 and March 2020.

It wasn’t something we planned or prepared for in advance, and our selection method was the highly scientific process of choosing a random draft order and letting each person pick any two eligible books they wanted to nominate. This is in no way affiliated with the official Women’s Prize, if that hasn’t already been clear. I’m posting about our personal longlist now because I’m going to be reading and reviewing these books on my blog in the coming weeks/months, and for those who’ve followed along with our Women’s Prize Squad content for the prize this year and are looking for some more promising recommendations, we’d like to offer up some alternative titles. This is all in fun, and varies from titles that have been recognized by lit prizes to titles that haven’t, from titles many of us have already read, to titles not a single one of us has read. In the end, these are books we’ve been loving and/or are VERY excited about; if you’ve also been underwhelmed by this year’s WP longlist or have finished it and are looking for a new challenge or just like to look at recommendations lists, I hope this collection of some of our top choice new releases by women over the last year will have something that appeals to you as well!

Without further ado, the list:

Bunny  Bunny by Mona Awad – Literary horror featuring a group of women in a selective New England MFA program; they call themselves Bunnies and take part in workshop rituals that blur the line between reality and their own monstrous fictions. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

The Body LiesThe Body Lies by Jo Baker – Thriller/suspense novel about a busy and distracted woman teaching creative writing in the English countryside; after a discussion about violence against women, she realizes one of her students has written her into his novel as a character with a terrifying fate. (My copy has just arrived!)

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Fantasy in which a young woman who is the sole survivor of a multiple homicide is given a free ride to Yale on the condition that she keep track of sinister and occult activities among the school’s secret societies. (I’ll be adding this one to my May BOTM box!)

The Fire StartersThe Fire Starters by Jan Carson – Magical realism set during the Irish Troubles; two fathers begin to have concerns about their children as fires break out across Belfast and the line between right and wrong blurs as the two men must choose who to protect. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

Ducks, NewburyportDucks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – Literary fiction following an Ohio housewife who spends her days baking for a living, mothering her children, and worrying constantly about the state of the modern world. Alongside her narrative is the tale of a female mountain lion searching desperately for her stolen cubs. (My 5-star review here!)

ActressActress by Anne Enright – Literary historical fiction about an infamous British-Irish actress (now dead) and her daughter, set partially against the backdrop of the Troubles. Years after her mother has gone mad and shot a man, Norah writes about what her mother was really like behind the wealth and fame. (My 4-star review here!)

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – Literary fiction told in short story-like vignettes that showcase the lives of twelve British women- mostly queer, mostly black. These highlight the challenges minority women have faced in historic and modern London, converging narratively around a successful theater production. (My 4-star review here!)

My Name is MonsterMy Name is Monster by Katie Hale – Science fiction set in post-apocalyptic Scotland. This story features a woman called Mother and a girl called Monster who find each other after the end of the world and rebuild a life in the now-empty world, only to realize as they learn from each other that they want different things. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

The MerciesThe Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – Historical fiction depicting a devastating storm in an isolated Norwegian coastal town that leaves most of the men there dead. As the women reassemble their lives in the aftermath, they are further challenged by a Scottish witch hunter planted in their midst, who feeds off the divided community. (My 5-star review here!)

The Man Who Saw EverythingThe Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – Literary fiction following a man who’s been hit by a car and leaves the scene with a somewhat hazy recollection of his life. As he shares what he knows, he reveals tragedies left in his wake through the years, but also a greater problem that he fails to grasp. (My 5-star review here!)

Disappearing EarthDisappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – Literary mystery in which two girls vanish in northeastern Russia; in the year following their disappearance, women from the area share their own stories, all relating loosely to the missing girls. (My 5-star review here!)

My Dark VanessaMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Contemporary fiction about a woman reevaluating a relationship she shared with a manipulative teacher during her teen years. It’s a psychological exploration of sexual abuse and its aftermath. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy, #1)Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – Young adult fantasy featuring a character from The Raven Cycle (a YA series by the same author) who can pull things into the real world from his dreams. He is not the only person with this ability. (I’ve read The Raven Cycle but don’t own it- I’ll check this one out from the library when it reopens!)

Supper ClubSupper Club by Lara Williams – Contemporary fiction coming of age story featuring a secret society of women who give in to their hungers and feast, letting go of society-taught repressions and going back into the world with rebellious confidence about the space they fill. (I already have a copy on my shelf!)

Frankissstein: A Love StoryFrankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – Science and historical fiction taking place in a near-future world in which Artificial Intelligence is on the cusp of taking humans’ place in the pecking order; alongside debate on this topic are snippets from Mary Shelley’s history, including her famous character Frankenstein. (My 5-star review here!)

The Bass RockThe Bass Rock by Evie Wyld  – Historical fiction set on the Scottish coast, a place that oversees and absorbs the tales of the people who’ve lived there across centuries. The stories of three women in three timelines loosely intersect in this narrative of violence and resilience through the ages. (I’m having difficulty tracking down a copy, but as the US release date is early September I’m sure it will be easier to get hold of a little later on.)

 

I, for one, am beyond excited about this list. I’ve already read seven of the books, had seven others on my TBR, and was happy enough to add the last two. From the books I’ve read, I’ve had two 4-star ratings and five 5-stars, for an impressive average of 4.71. So while of course I cannot say this is an objectively better set than the Women’s Prize 2020 longlist (that is not quite the point here), it is obviously much more to my taste; if your taste seems to overlap with mine at all maybe there are some gems here for you as well!

We would like to eventually vote amongst ourselves on a shorlist and winner, but no date has been set. This isn’t something we want to feel pressured into reading on a certain timeline, and we won’t necessarily all read all of the books, so clearly this isn’t as rigid as the official judging process- but I will post about further developments and I’d love to chat about these books with anyone who’s read them or is planning to read them or just wants to have some fun watching how this alternate, blogger-built Women’s Prize turns out!

Are there any titles here you’ve read, or want to read? Do you think you’ll pick any more up? Particularly looking forward to any of my reviews? Let me know all of your thoughts in the comments below!

 

The Literary Elephant

Goals: 2019 Reflection and 2020 Plans

When I talked (briefly and vaguely) about my 2019 goals, there were only 2 things I was sure about at the beginning of the year:

  1. that I was setting my Goodreads goal to 100 books. This felt like a comfortable reading goal for 2019, and I think it’ll be a good fit again in 2020. It will be the first year since I started the Goodreads yearly challenge that I won’t be upping my goal, but I’m aiming to have a longer average page count in 2020 so it’ll still be a fun stretch.
  2. that I was not going to participate in any other yearly reading challenges. I kept that conviction all through 2019, and I didn’t miss trying to cram in all the prompts. Once again for 2020, I am not planning to participate in any group/formal challenges.

So what am I planning to read in 2020? I have one main goal: to find 5-star reads.

I had sort of a dismal reading year in 2019; there were some 5-stars, but they felt few and far between. There were a lot more 2-stars (my lowest rating) than I’ve ever used before this year. And on the whole, I just wasn’t enjoying what I was reading as much as I usually do. I can think of two things that probably had a negative effect on my 2019 reading:

  1. Book prizes. I read the longlist for the Women’s Prize in 2019, which included some really great titles, but sadly my favorites were the titles I’d read before the longlist announcement, which made reading the rest of the list feel underwhelming. I also read most of the Booker Prize longlist (2 titles left!), even though I wasn’t enthused about many of the nominees. Unfortunately, I found more disappointments than gems there, so that reading experience was largely a downer as well. Because these didn’t go well, the Women’s Prize is now the ONLY longlist I’m planning to read in 2020; any other longlists I sample will be sampled only. Probably. It’s hard to plan for longlists before actually seeing the lists.
  2. Curiosity. Instead of reaching for books that I expected to love, I did a lot of reaching for topics/authors/titles that I was simply curious about in 2019. This isn’t a bad habit, nor one I intend to drop entirely, but I think that it did lead me to reading quite a few 3-stars that I expected to be 3-stars, which was not helping. Instead of reaching for the books with bits and pieces I know I’ll appreciate even if I don’t love the read as a whole, I want to spend the next year reaching for things that I do think I’ll love wholeheartedly, to put some of the fun back in my reading life.

With this goal in mind, I’ve assembled some lists. My last three posts have been: anticipated 2020 releases, books I’m sad I skipped in 2019, and a 20 in ’20 set of backlist books from my own shelves. All three of these lists are full of books that I think could be 5-star reads for me (or close), so I want to prioritize reading from those three lists in 2020. Since I don’t want reading to feel in any way like a chore in 2020, I’m not setting a hard goal of reading all 60+ books that feature on those lists. I do want to complete as many of the titles as I can though, because I would like to return to all three lists at the end of 2020 and see whether I was right about expecting to enjoy those books!

A few more specific goals:

Early in 2019, I decided that I wanted to read more short stories. I did read a lot more short stories than usual in 2019, but not how I’d expected: with the individually bound Faber Stories rather than with regular collections. Though it worked for 2019 and I appreciated the experience, I do want to focus on switching away from the Faber Stories and reading some proper short story collections in 2020. I’m setting the goal at 8 (or more) collections. I have several great contenders on my shelves, including at least two that are included in my lists of 5-star hopefuls.

I also set an early 2019 goal of reading one thing each month from an “unfinished project,” meaning a long-unfinished book on my currently reading shelf, a series I’d started but never finished, a backlist work by an author I’ve loved, etc. I gave this up entirely by March. Since I don’t want to read things I feel *obligated* toward next year, I’m not ready to pick this goal back up as it was, but I am going to keep working through Stephen King’s backlist in 2020, which is one of my biggest unfinished projects. I don’t really expect most of my King reads to be 5-star experiences, but I’ve been making decent progress through King’s oeuvre in 2019 and I don’t want to lose momentum, so I’m hoping to read at least 8 more of his books in 2020.

Another goal of mine for 2020 is to continue reading past prize winners. Even though the 2019 prizes didn’t go so well for me, I am interested in literary prizes and have found some real gems among the books that have been highlighted by prize committees. In 2019 I participated in some very helpful buddy reads of past Women’s Prize winners, which I hope will continue in 2020. I also would like to catch up with a few of the past Booker prize winners, National Book Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, etc. I don’t think that these are all necessarily going to be 5-stars for me, so I’m going to keep this goal vague and see what happens. (That didn’t work at all with my goal to read more comics and graphic novels in 2019, but hopefully it will go better in this case.)

 

Now for blogging. 2019 went pretty well for me, other than the month between Oct/Nov when I was just too busy to be online and fell behind, which couldn’t be helped. So I’m planning to keep a lot of things the same, with a few exceptions:

  1. I want to work on writing shorter reviews. I’ve always worried that I’m alienating people by writing more than anyone wants to read, but in the end I’m setting this goal because I really need to spend less time reviewing everything I read in excruciating detail and more time working on my novel. There will definitely be circumstances when I’ll need more space to share all of my thoughts, but I really want to work on streamlining for a more manageable length this year.
  2. Top of the TBR is coming back! I really liked this post series I started in 2019, which lets me talk about books beyond what I’m currently reading. I only dropped this toward the end of the year because I was too busy trying to catch up on reviews and wrap-ups, so 2020 is definitely going to see a return of this series, probably every other week.
  3. I want to start a Spotlight series in 2020, where every month I’ll do a focus-post on a different genre. It’ll be a space to give and to find recommendations, to look at where genres overlap and what’s specific to each, to talk about genre staples and  new/upcoming releases. This isn’t to say I’m an expert on any of these genres; I read widely, and will share some of my experiences with each genre, but what I’m really hoping for is to start a conversation that celebrates each genre, and generates plenty of recommendations for readers with any level of familiarity. I’m still sketching out how I want to go about this, but I do have a schedule in mind (and yes, I know that several of these categories are larger genre umbrellas; this is just what fits my reading life, and I intend to unpack them further in each monthly post):
    • Jan – science fiction
    • Feb – romance
    • Mar – historical fiction
    • Apr – fantasy
    • May – literary fiction
    • Jun – mystery
    • Jul – thriller/suspense
    • Aug – translated fiction
    • Sep – YA
    • Oct – horror
    • Nov – nonfiction
    • Dec – classics
  4. I’m changing up my TBR system for 2020. My 2019 TBRs were supposed to encourage me to buy fewer books, and to read what I buy in a timely fashion, but I failed dramatically on both accounts so am moving on to another strategy. For 2020 I will set a 5-book TBR every month, which will include THE 5 books I feel like I *need* to read within the month, for whatever reason (buddy reads, borrowed/library books, needed for a post, etc). This should be a manageable number that’ll help keep me on track with my goals and also give me some room for whims. I think I’ll also be including any new releases on my radar for that month at the bottom of each TBR, in case anyone else is interested even if I’m not going to get to them within the month!
  5. This isn’t going to affect anyone but me, but I need to write it down: I’m setting a 5-book per month goal limit on new book purchases. It’ll help that I’m aiming to spend my book money on more new releases than backlist books this year, which is a more expensive habit and will hopefully give me pause; I want to limit my spending and acquiring, as well as work through that list of 2020 releases I’ve got my eye on!

 

I think that’s all of the changes I’ve been thinking about making, so I’ll wrap it up now. In sum, I’m hoping for a fun reading year full of 4- and 5-star reads, and some Stephen King. I’m hoping my blogging will be a bit more *inspired* and a bit less time-consuming. We’ll see whether any of this happens as planned!

Do you have a reading goal in mind for 2020?

 

The Literary Elephant

20 in ’20 : 5-Star Predictions

Yep, you read that right. TWENTY five-star predictions! I’m sure there will be plenty of readers doing various “20 in ’20” challenges next year, so I doubt I need to explain what I mean there. Since 2019 was a subpar reading year for me in terms of not loving what I was reading, and not feeling like I was making any headway in any of my longer-term reading goals (2019 wrap-up and 2020 goals coming soon), I decided to theme my 20 in ’20 list around books that I think have a good chance of being 5-star reads for me. Since this is going to fit in with some of my other 2020 reading goals as well, it’s doubling as a list of backlist books that I already own, some of which have been sitting on my shelves for YEARS, and quite a variety of genres and topics. Essentially, these are popular books I feel like I’ve been missing out on even though I already own them and expect to love them!

Disclaimer: I have never done a 5-star predictions post before, so I have no idea how I’ll turn out with accuracy, but this seemed like a fun way to try and improve my reading experience for the new year, so here we go!

 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – Literary fiction about a woman who endeavors to escape her life and hibernate for a year with the help of prescription drugs. I think this is the most recent addition to my shelves from this list, and it’s also the book I’m most confident about being a 5-star read for me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

The Idiot by Elif Batuman – Literary fiction about a young woman from a family of Turkish immigrants embarking on the US College Experience at Harvard. This was a 2018 shortlister for the Women’s Prize that has been on my TBR since about that time. It seems like a hit-or-miss book, but I’m guessing it will be a hit for me!

The Idiot

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – Contemporary/literary fiction (with an LGBTQ+ element) about a group of friends through the ages, one of whom is holding on to a tragic past he can’t let go. I wasn’t interested in a long sob-fest when this first came out, but have a better sense of my reading taste now and think I’ll actually really appreciate it, even (especially) if it makes me cry.

A Little Life

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – Short story collection that seems to stray into a wealth of different genres, including fantasy, magical realism, and horror. It’s been nominated (and won!) quite a few prizes and awards, and looks very up-my-alley.

Her Body and Other Parties

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – Horror about a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This one’s also won quite a few awards. I love weird and creepy books, so this seems like it’ll be an obvious win for me.

House of Leaves

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison – Horror about a garden of kidnapped women tattooed with butterflies- one survivor is discovered. I bought this because it seems to be a horror staple, though I’m leaning toward reading it as a standalone because it sounds like the rest of the series is less impressive. Nevertheless, I have a good feeling about this first book!

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector, #1)

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins – Horror and fantasy elements in a novel featuring a secret library and a missing god. This sounds like a wild ride, bookish but not too bookish (exactly my taste), and just my brand of bizarre. I hope!

The Library at Mount Char

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – A YA fantasy about a slave and a soldier, inspired by ancient Rome. I used to love YA fantasy but lately have been reading a lot less of it. However, there are still a few titles firmly on my TBR, and this is one of them. It’s got great ratings, which hopefully bodes well for me.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake – YA contemporary about a set of twins; the boy has been accused of raping a friend of the girl’s, and so the girl must decide whom she believes and where her loyalties lie. When I make the occasional dip into YA contemporary, I want it to be hard-hitting, the only kind that seems to work for me now that I’m beyond the target age for YA lit. This sounds like it’ll fit the bill perfectly.

Girl Made of Stars

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Myth retelling of the Trojan War, featuring a strong m/m relationship between two of the main characters. Though I didn’t love Circe quite as much as expected, I did love Miller’s writing and am fond of The Iliad, so I think this story will ultimately work better for me. It also won the Women’s Prize a few years ago, which seems like a good sign!

The Song of Achilles

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Classic romance about a set of sisters in early 1800s England who must learn to balance societal expectations and love. I’ve been slowly making my way through Austen’s novels and mostly loving them; I only have two novels left to read, and of those I think this is the one I’ll like the most. (The other is Mansfield Park.) I did see the film a while back, but I only remember broad strokes of the plot now and expect I’ll enjoy rediscovering the story.

Sense and Sensibility

East of Eden by John Steinbeck – A classic family saga that’s a sort of reimagining of the Adam and Eve biblical narrative. I liked the only other Steinbeck book I’ve read so far (Of Mice and Men) and feel like my failure to read more of his work is a hole in my reading life. I’ve also been recommended The Grapes of Wrath, but East of Eden is the one that I think I have the best shot at loving.

East of Eden

Dracula by Bram Stoker – Classic supernatural vampire narrative. Vampires are my favorite supernatural creature to read about- there’s usually plenty of plot, and complicated morals! And usually weird romance as well. What’s not to love? I’m already somewhat familiar with the story so I’m fairly confident about this being a 5-star read as well.

Dracula

Vicious by V. E. Schwab – Science fiction about a couple of college roommates who turn a research project into super powers. I think this is supposed to be like a comic in novel form, which sounds excellent, and I already know I like Schwab’s writing- I’ve been meaning to read several of her books, and this is the one that appeals most at the moment.

Vicious (Villains, #1)

The Martian by Andy Weir – Science fiction set on Mars, when one member of an exploratory team is left behind in a storm. I’ve already seen and loved the film and have been waiting to forget enough of it, because I hear the novel is fantastic as well. I think now’s a good time to return to this story!

The Martian

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – Back to Earth with an investigative nonfiction account of one woman’s chase after a California serial killer. I like true crime and this one’s held up as one of the best, so I’m assuming I’ll love it as well!

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

Columbine by Dave Cullen – More nonfiction true crime, this one an exploration of the infamous school shooting in 1999. I was too young them to have much of an idea about what was going on when this actually happened, but as school shootings seems to be tragically rising as an occurrence I think I’ll appreciate this look back at the beginning of the phenomenon.

Columbine

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – Historical fiction about the life of an adopted Irish boy beginning in the 1940’s (with an LGBTQ+ element). I liked but didn’t love Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky last year, though I appreciated his writing enough that I’ve been wanting to give him another try. This was also the BOTM book of the year winner in 2018, so I’m hoping I’ll be among the many who love this one!

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Historical fiction with SFF elements (time travel / reliving a life). This seems so much to my taste: reality with a twist; I bought it back in 2016 when I started blogging (I think), and I don’t think my chances of loving it have decreased even though other aspects of my reading taste have definitely changed in that time.

Life After Life (Todd Family, #1)

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee – Historical mystery revolving around the Paris Opera. This sounds like a longer, updated Phantom of the Opera, which is a story I love. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Chee’s writing, so I don’t know why I wouldn’t love this!

The Queen of the Night

 

And that’s all twenty! All cover images reflect the editions on my shelf that I’ll be reading from. I hope to get to them all, but honestly the main goal is just to find more 5-star reads and make my reading more enjoyable in 2020, so as long as that’s happening I’m not going to be heartbroken if I don’t complete the entire list.

20in20.jpg

Let me know which of these titles you’ve already read and loved!

And of course, merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a great end of the year to all! 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Final Update

The year is over, so it’s time to look at how my reading challenge wrapped up! Spoiler: it was a fail in all but spirit.

Bold means I’ve completed the task. None of this indicates that I’ve particularly liked or disliked these books, just that I read them. Check out my 2018 favorites or disappointments lists if your looking for something more than a checklist.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = did not read. I wanted to, but I hardly ever reread and did not leave myself much time for that in 2018. I’m still planning to read all of the illustrated editions at some point.
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = The Last Letter Home by Vilhelm Moberg
  8. A book recommended by a friend = Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  9. A prize-winning book = Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = did not read. I meant to read the very bottom book, the oldest added to my Goodreads TBR, Sense and Sensibility. I didn’t get around to it, and I’m not counting anything else that came close because I’m stubborn.
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = did not read. Several books that I read this year have turned up on these displays, but I did not discover a new recommended book and read it for that reason the way I meant to for this challenge, so I’m not counting it. Again, I’m stubborn.
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies = The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  16. A Shakespeare play = did not read. I bought two this year to fit this challenge, but did not pick them up. I do still intend to read them.
  17. A book that takes place in space = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  20. A book of short stories = You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = The Long Take by Robin Robertson

Reaction: 21 out of 25 is not bad. I didn’t quite make it, and was hoping I could catch up on those last 4 books in December, but I decided to pursue other goals instead.

Now the second set: the big categories. I’m allowing myself to count books in multiple slots across sets, so you’ll start seeing a few repeats here.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. 6 Penguin Moderns by Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Camus, Shirley Jackson, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, and Betty Friedan (these books are very short so I’ve been buying and reading them in sets of 6 rather than counting them each individually)
    4. 6 Penguin Moderns by Daphne du Maurier, George Orwell, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Wendell Berry
    5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    6. The Iliad by Homer
    7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
    8. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg
    9. Unto a Good Land by Vilhelm Moberg
    10. The Settlers by Vilhelm Moberg
    11. The Last Letter Home by Vilhelm Moberg
    12. Night by Elie Weisel
    13. It by Stephen King
  2. Twelve books within a month of their US publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    12. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    13. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    15. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
    16. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
    17. November Road by Lou Berney
    18. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
    19. Elevation by Stephen King
    20. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
    21. Milkman by Anna Burns
    22. Normal People by Sally Rooney
    23. In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. did not read. I’ve been partway through A Storm of Swords for over a year now (I had to put it down during a month when my life got very busy at the end of 2017), and I massively regret not picking it back up. At this point, I will probably want to start the book over so I don’t miss anything I might have forgotten. I still intend to finish the series.
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    3. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
    4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    5. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    6. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    7. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    8. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    9. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    10. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    11. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    12. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    13. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
    14. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    15. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    16. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    17. The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
    18. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
    19. There are currently twelve unread BOTM books on my shelves that I did not read this year, so even though I read 18 BOTM books in 2018 I have to count this challenge as a fail. I believe I started the year with 11 unread BOTM titles, and I did read 4 from that list, but I’ve picked up a couple of extras throughout 2018 that I haven’t read yet, and I haven’t gotten to my December selections at all yet either. I will eventually.
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. I did not read any. I still plan to, although without this challenge I’ll be more inclined to see how they go and decide which ones most interest me rather than just blindly pushing through all of them. All I know so far is that I like Schwab’s writing; I read one of her short stories in 2017 and need to check out her novels. When the time is right.

Reaction: I’m 2 for 5 from these categories. I honestly did not expect that I would meet the cut-off on classics, but even though I didn’t read the twelve books I had picked out at the beginning of the year, I discovered that some of the books I read throughout 2018 are considered classics that I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t gone looking for them. But I almost doubled the new releases goal without even trying, so that one I’m proud of. I tend to read way more backlisted books than recent releases, so it’s a pleasant surprise to start breaking that habit. I’m very happy with the ratio of new and old releases I read in 2018. But I’m disappointed by my complete failure with both George R. R. Martin and V. E. Schwab. They’re both authors that I expect to love novels from, so I don’t know why I’ve resisted picking them up this year? Fail. Also a fail with BOTM, although I think I could be a lot worse off- even though I didn’t meet the goal of reading all of my unread BOTM books (which admittedly was always going to be difficult as the number grew each month), I did read 19 selections this year, which is more than one book per month, and more than the 12 selections I read in 2017. Other than December, I did read my main selection every month this year, and this challenge helped me stick to fewer add-ons in my monthly boxes. So a fail, but I’m okay with where I’m at. 2 for 5 is… not great, but generally better than I expected.

And now the final set: some specific titles I wanted to read in 2018.

  1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  2. I did not read the other 9 books that were originally on this list. This set was built in a beat-the-backlist way, and actually I did very poorly this year about picking up older titles from my TBR shelves. Which isn’t to say I didn’t read backlist books, just not the ones that I already owned. The one title from this list that I read was the one title that was released in 2018, that I had pre-ordered at the time I compiled this list.

So here’s where I stand:

  • I filled 76 slots throughout this challenge. 20 of those slots are repeated books, two books are used 3 times for different sets. Which means I read 54 different books in 2018 that counted for this challenge.
  • There are 37 slots left open at the end of the year and the end of the challenge. The slots left are so specific that I don’t think I would have been able to repeat any more books– I would have needed to actually read 37 more books, specific books, to complete the entire challenge.

Full reaction: I don’t mind at all that I didn’t complete this challenge from top to bottom. The completionist in me regrets it a little, but the purposes of the sets were mostly met: for the first set, I was meant to pick up books outside of my comfort zone, or books that would just push me a little in some new direction, whether it be a reread (Harry Potter) or something I just hadn’t gotten around to yet (Sense and Sensibility) or a genre I’ve overlooked in the past (In Cold Blood, for true crime). Though I didn’t meet each specific task, I definitely pushed myself outside of my reading comfort zone this year. I tried so many new things, and found some surprising favorites. I read some classics, which I usually love but struggle to reach for, and I almost stayed even with BOTM, which I didn’t even come close to doing in 2017. I read tons of new releases, breaking old habits to do so. So I didn’t read some specific books that I thought I really wanted to read at this time last year, but I definitely challenged myself in 2018, and I’m really happy with the reading year I had. It wasn’t my top reading year ever, but it ranks. 2018 was a solid reading year for me, and in part I can thank this homemade challenge for that. Which is why I started this post by saying that I completely failed it… but not in spirit. And I think spirit is the most important element of any challenge.

Based on these results, I’ve decided not to assign myself a specific reading challenge for 2019. (You can check out my 2019 bookish goals here if you’re curious about what did make the list.) I feel like I’ve learned to read a good variety and take chances, and I want to be able to do that without holding myself to such specifics. I do have some other reading goals that will influence what I read in 2019, but I want to do a lot of impulse reading instead of following a list. If it doesn’t work, maybe I’ll come back to a structured challenge. We’ll see!

And with the reading challenge wrapped up… I think I’m ready to post my year wrap-up for 2018 next!

(Thanks for sticking with me this far, by the way. This has been a long post.)

Do you like following strict challenge lists? Do you prefer to challenge yourself without a list? What works to push you outside of your reading comfort zone? Let me know below!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 3

There are 3 months left of 2018 (how did we get here already?), which means we’re getting down to crunch time for yearly reading challenges. My priorities have definitely changed as the year has progressed, so I’m pretty sure I will not be completing every part of this challenge this year, though I still have high hopes for some aspects of it. But it’s time to take a look at where I stand so I can make some decisions about my reading plans for the end of the year.

Bold means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the slot but haven’t finished reading it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = (Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King – currently buddy reading)
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  9. A prize-winning book = Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies = The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories = You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clematine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (The Long Take by Robin Robertson)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the set above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. 6 Penguin Moderns by Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Camus, Shirley Jackson, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, and Betty Friedan
    4. 6 Penguin Moderns by Daphne du Maurier, George Orwell, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Wendell Berry
    5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    6. The Iliad by Homer
    7. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    8. (6 Penguin Moderns by Patrick Kavanagh, Audre Lorde, Chinua Achebe, Susan Sontag, Jorge Luis Borges, and Truman Capote)
    9. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their US publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    12. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    13. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    15. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
    16. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
    17. November Road by Lou Berney
    18. (Washington Black by Esi Edugyan – currently reading)
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    5. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    17. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
    19. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    20. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    21. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    22. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
    23. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    24. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    25. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    26. (The Lies We Told by Camilla Way)
    27. (The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton)
    28. (November selection)
    29. (December selection)
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I wanted to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. (The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien)
  2. (Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng)
  3. (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah)
  4. (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern)
  5. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
  6. (The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett)
  7. (Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor)
  8. (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. (Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman)

So here’s where I stand:

  • I’ve filled 56 slots in this challenge. Some of those are books that counted in more than one category, and some of those (the books within a month of publication) are superfluous, more than I needed to complete the category.
  • There are 47 slots left to fill to complete the challenge. But some of those can be doubled up by single books that count for multiple slots.
  • I’m predicting I’ll fill 31 of those 47 slots by the end of the year. I can probably finish the first set, the 25 books with specific prompts. I’m really hoping to finish the classics, and it seems possible, but I’m not entirely sure it will happen. I’ll probably only read one George R. R. Martin book before the end of the year rather than 3. I’m still intending to finish my BOTM backlog, but again, I’m not entirely sure it will happen. I’ll probably only read one V. E. Schwab book before the end of the year. And there are only a couple more from the 3rd set of specific titles that I’ll likely read, titles that will double up to fill other slots also.
  • But I’m happy with what I’ve read this year, and whether I finish this entire challenge or not, it has served its purpose– I’ve branched out and tried new things, and I’ve read some unread books from my physical TBR, even if not the exact same titles I thought I would at the beginning of the year. And perhaps not finishing the challenge proves that I’m meeting my overall reading goal for 2018: quality over quantity. I’ve read books I expected to love or learn from instead of reading for numbers.
  • I have no idea what this challenge will look like at the end of the year, but I already have a simpler idea for next year’s challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing where I end up by the end of December!

Are you working through a 2018 reading challenge? Do you expect to complete it or have your goals changed over the course of the year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 2

Halfway through the year means time for another challenge check-in. I don’t think I’ve been paying enough attention to crossing things off this list, so as I’m starting this off I have no idea where I currently stand. Let’s find out.

Strikethrough font means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the slot but haven’t finished reading it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = (The Outsider)
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi- currently reading)
  9. A prize-winning book = Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the set above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    4. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
    5. (The Odyssey by Homer)
    6. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    7. (The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    8. (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)
    9. (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. (The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager)
    12. (Dark Age by Pierce Brown)
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin- currently reading)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    5. (Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King)
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    17. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
    19. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    20. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I definitely want to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  7. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman

Finis. So here’s where I stand:

  • I’ve read 38 books that count for this challenge.
  • I would need to read at least 92 books to fill every slot in this challenge.
  • That’s about 41% completion at this point.
  • I’ve read 61 books so far this year, which means
  • I’ve read 23 books that don’t count for this challenge.
  • I need to read at least 54 more books to fill every slot left.

I can work with that. Looking at these numbers, it would technically be possible to complete this challenge still by the end of the year. But I know I’m going to be reading more books that don’t count here.

And honestly, I’m okay with the fact that I might not read all of these books within the year. I chose the books I did to push myself to pick up unread titles from my shelves, and I have been. But I’ve also been focusing on reading quality over quantity this year, which means reading books that inspire me and teach me about the world instead of just reading a ton of titles that are easy to cross off a list. Overall, I’ve been really happy with the change in my reading this year as far as quality goes. I’ve been taking chances on trying new things, and I’ve been finding some phenomenal titles that I didn’t necessarily know to look for when I first constructed this challenge. I dont want to change the way my reading has been going this year just to finish this challenge, because in the end enjoying what I’m reading and learning from what I’m reading is more important to me than crossing titles off a list.

With that in mind, there are some categories here I’m sure I’ll finish before the end of the year, and some I probably won’t. The first set, with 25 individual books, should be fairly easy. Even if I don’t stick to the titles I’ve been plannnig, I’ve been having fun matching what I’m reading to the categories of that set, and I’m over halfway through that bunch.

The second set, the groups of books, I’m not so sure about. I’m way behind on classics, but I’ve been reading a lot of modern classics from the Penguin Modern collection; at some point I’ll decide how many of those short volumes equal one classic, and I think I’ll end up close to my 12-book goal.

I’ll definitely read more than 12 books within a month of publication; I’m not going to stop reading new publications when I reach that goal.

I don’t mind extending my Song of Ice and Fire read into next year, as long as I make some progress this year.

I would really like to catch up on my BOTM selections; that list is going to keep growing as I acquire more of their books throughout the year, but I think at some point (maybe this fall) I want to do a BOTM marathon to try to finish off that list.

And then we have Victoria Schwab. 9 of her books now seems a bit excessive, when really I just wanted to push myself to get started on reading them. I read one Schwab short story last year and I think I’m really going to like her books, but as long as I try a couple I really don’t mind not reading all of the Schwab books I’m interested in within 2018.

And finally, the last set, the specific books. I really wanted to be able to cross these ten off my TBR this year, but I just keep not reaching for them. My priorities have changed in the last 6 months, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to get to all of these or not. Some of them are more tempting than others at this point.

But whether I can complete the challenge or not, I think it’s accomplishing what it was meant to: I’m reading unread books from my shelves, and I’m reaching for books I think I’ll really enjoy instead of books that I can finish quickly. I’ll update again in three months, and your guess is as good as mine as to where I’ll stand at that point. But so far, I’m having a great reading year, and I’m not going to let any lists bog me down.

Are you working through a reading challenge this year? How’s it going? Have your interests changed throughout the year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 1

A quarter of the year is gone (what?! where?), and it’s time to check in. In case you missed it, I assembled my own personal reading challenge for 2018 full of goals and titles that fit my tastes and my reading aspirations for the year. I haven’t been very systematic about tackling the challenges yet, so I’ll be as surprised as you about where I stand and what my plans will be moving forward. Let’s take a look – – – >

Strikethrough font means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the task but not completed it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi)
  9. A prize-winning book
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = (Vicious by V. E. Schwab)
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
  23. A book with a five-word title = (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the sets above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    4. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
    5. (The Odyssey by Homer)
    6. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    7. (The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    8. (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)
    9. (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. (The Power by Naomi Alderman)
    5. (Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King)
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. (The Oracle Year by Charles Soule)
    17. (Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall)
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I definitely want to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  7. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman

And that’s that. So far I have completed 23 challenge tasks, and I have at least 72 challenge tasks left. When I set this challenge for myself, I made it large because I really wanted to push myself this year, but I had no idea if I would actually be able to complete it within a year. Some of the tasks are designed to make me read more than one book, but being able to count some books more than once across the three sets might help even that out. Right now, it looks like if I keep going at the same rate I should have a chance at finishing. I haven’t been trying very hard yet to meet any of these challenges– I did well when I set these tasks because they are fitting pretty well with what I’m reaching for naturally, and even the bigger tasks (like reading all of my BOTM books) are things I want to work toward just because I feel I should, which means I’m not feeling bogged down by the restrictions of the challenge. At least not yet. I’m happy with where I’m at, I’m hopeful about my chances of completion, and I’m excited to watch my progress as the year progresses.

Are you taking part in any reading challenges this year, and if so how’s it going? Are there any tasks or specific titles on my list that you’ve read lately or are excited for me to get to?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant