5 Themed Reading Challenges: A List to Diversify Your Reading Portfolio

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Casey Stepaniuk

Staff Writer

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature and an MLIS. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ+ Canadian books. She also writes a monthly column on Autostraddle recommending queer books called Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian, Litsy: CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian, Goodreads: CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian, and Facebook: Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed about how many books are on my to-read list and on my own bookshelves, let alone how many books there are in the world in languages that I speak. How on earth are you supposed to decide what to read, especially when you want to make sure you’re reading diversely? Sometimes, you just need a little structure. That’s where reading challenges come in. Often people commit to a reading challenge for a year, although really you could do one for as long as you wanted to or until you’ve met the goals you set out. Some of these challenges are set up to devote yourself to for a specific amount of time, and some are more projects that keep going until they’re complete.

  1. Reading Marginalized Authors: In the last few years there’s been a lot of buzz about reading diversely, and these are probably the reading challenges you’ve heard about: readers deciding to only read books by women, or only by people of colour, or only LGBTQ+ people, or some combination thereof for a whole year. I would suggest starting this project by examining what the demographics of the authors you read in the last year were. You might be surprised! Then, really challenge yourself. For example, I pretty much only read women and/or LGBTQ+ authors just because that’s my jam; reading only those would have been easy. But I realized I wasn’t doing very well incorporating authors of colours. So last year I devoted myself to reading only books by LGBTQ+ people of colour, which was an amazing experience.
  1. Reading Around the World: This is a project originally started by Ann Morgan and it’s, well, a pretty all-round awesome idea. Did you know there are 196 countries in the world and you can find books in English translation from all of them? What a way to travel the world without leaving your house! I have a few friends who’ve tried this challenge and they said they discovered some incredible writers they never would have found otherwise. If you’re thinking about doing this one, you could start with our Global Reading List that has suggestions for 80 countries.
  1. Reading All the Books You Already Own: I guess this challenge is only applicable to compulsive book-buyers like me, but I know there are more of you out there. It’s just so tempting to pick up new books at the bookstore or put a hold at the library on exciting books you hear about, but what about those lonely books that are sitting on your shelves? It’s probably a good idea to pledge not to buy any new books for a year if you decide to do this one. I’m seriously considering it: not only would this project be satisfying, but think of all the money you’d save!
  1. Re-reading Your Favourite Books from Childhood: The nostalgia factor makes this challenge so appealing, doesn’t it? You can go back to all those favourites from your angsty teenagehood, middle school favourites (Harriet the Spy and Anne of Green Gables anyone?), and picture books from your younger years. There are a few cool things about this challenge. It’s a trip down memory lane: I know I have specific memories of reading certain books at certain times in my life and re-reading them brings you right back. Another thing is it’s a good way to bond with your parents, because you’ll probably need to ask them what books you loved when you were a really little one, and they’ll probably love telling you. Lastly, kid’s books are fantastic and surprisingly complex, and you’ll appreciate them in a whole new way as an adult.
  1. Reading the Classics: One thing that I think could be really fun about this project is that you could really expand and play with the idea of what is a “classic.” Maybe you love science fiction and you want to go back and read SF classics like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. You could bring in diverse reads by making sure to include women and/or authors of colour. Also, take advantage of all the awesome classics in translation, which is a fun way to get to know other cultures. Make sure you choose books from different periods too. You could go with a pre-set list of classics and challenge yourself to read them all, or decide to read only classics for a year. Another great thing about classics is that the majority of them are not subject to copyright anymore, which means dirt cheap or free ebooks. There are also usually lots of copies of classics to be found in used book stores.

Let me know what your experiences doing any of these challenges have been like in the comments! Or tell me about any other cool themed challenges you’ve heard of.