I always work best when I’ve arranged an award for myself at the end of a task. It can be big or small, but that reward will keep me on target. This is especially true when it comes to adult summer reading programs. For the last several years, my local library has included a program for adults. Once a patron has reached eight books read from June to August, they’re eligible to be entered to win a prize. I’ve never had trouble hitting that eight books…but this year might be a little different.
This year, with one international and national emergency after another, I’ve had just a little trouble focusing on the pages in front of me. This year, maybe more than any other, I’m going to need the encouragement of a summer reading program to keep my nose in a book.
Just in case you’re finding yourself in the same boat, I thought I’d put together a list of adult summer reading programs that might provide a little encouragement, a little structure, a little community to keep you going.
Check Your Local Library
I’ll be entering my local library’s program this year, as always. This year, it looks like I can enter to win a gift card to spend at a local shop or restaurant. I found some adult summer reading programs from major cities for some examples of what your library might offer.
The Los Angeles Public Library is awarding badges to patrons for every six days of reading for 20 minutes or completing a book-related activity.
The Austin Public Library has a special online program that involves various Austin-themed “quests” for adults, like “explore Austin parks” or “read/watch/listen something created in Austin.”
The St. Louis County Library system’s program runs on a point system. 500 points will get you a free book, 1000 points will get you a lunch bag, and 1500 points enters you into a raffle for prizes like a membership at the St. Louis Zoo!
Bookstores With Summer Reading Contests
Check your local bookstore to see if they have a summer reading program for adults. Some bookstores running national programs are included below.
Half-Price Books is running a contest for the first two weeks in June. Review a book on their site (no purchase necessary!) to be entered into their daily drawing for a $50 gift card! See the official rules here.
Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has put together a list of ways to read outside of your normal comfort zone, and for each book/category you read, you get one entry to win a book bundle! (They have an online store, as well, so while this feels “local” it doesn’t have to be.) Get an entry form here.
Libro.fm, the audiobook company that allows you to send a portion of your membership to the local bookstore of your choice, has a summer reading bingo card for kids and adults. (It could be really fun to try competing against some of the kids in your life!) Their bingo card has categories like “#OwnVoices” and “new release” and activities like “thank a bookseller” and “listen outside.” I love that they give “listened to a looooonnng book” two squares. Get a “bingo” and be entered to win a year’s supply of books! Grab your entry form here.
Join An Online Book Club
These book clubs run year-round, but if you’re looking for a book discussion community and you can’t get to an in-person book club this summer, these book clubs are a great alternative.
The Vox Book Club has picked The Princess Bride for their June read. As editor Constance Grady said, “The Princess Bride is also, I think, a perfect summer read. It is frothy and witty, and it’s both a biting satire of classic adventure novels and a pretty great classic adventure novel itself.” Read the book and join her for a virtual discussion at the end of the month! Get info on the June club here and sign up here.
Oprah’s Book Club is the OG celebrity book club, and her latest pick is Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. Join what is probably the biggest book club in the world, and participate in discussions on Facebook and Instagram.
Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club takes place across social media with the hashtag #ReadWithReese. Witherspoon has chosen two books to read over June and July: The Guest List by Lisa Foley and I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown.* Watch videos from Reese to get her thoughts, and let her know what you think by posting with #ReadWithReese.
Adapt An Existing Challenge
Another way to up your summer reading game is to find an existing challenge and adapt it for a summer. Pick three to six tasks or categories and give yourself a deadline for each. Or team up with a group of friends and have everyone pick a category out of a hat (or use random.org if you’re looking for a virtual, socially distanced hat).
Book Riot’s own 2020 Read Harder Challenge has 24 categories. Choose six and try to complete them from June to August.
In Kelsey Kelley’s newsletter Written Out, she recommended that her readers try to read an author’s entire oeuvre in one year. She says, “After you’ve read four or five books by the same writer, you start to see not only where their natural talent is (which you can usually tell by book one) but what they had to learn to do, where they improved.” Find an author with a small catalog, or commit to their first three books for the summer. (Or start an extended challenge with an author with a large library of books!)
We’re months away from an election, so Matt Grant’s idea for a presidential biography challenge seems especially pertinent. Since biographies tend to be longer, you could pick a theme and work from there. Maybe it’s “wartime presidents” or “presidents who were related to other presidents” or “Industrial Revolution–era presidents.”
Create Your Own Challenge
If none of the above work for you, you could create your own adult summer reading challenges! Laura Sackton put together a list of 50 different do-it-yourself reading challenges that you could consider, and then you can create your own rules and decide on your own rewards.
It wouldn’t be a reading challenge without a chart to keep track! I love this simple reading tracker from Etsy, but the idea of this giant printable thermometer might be the perfect amount of over-the-top. Or, you can hand-draw or make yourself a chart in a word processor, and give yourself a bookish sticker whenever you finish a book. Once you’ve reached your goal, you can treat yourself to a prize of your own choosing. Maybe it’s Libro.fm subscription, or a shopping spree at your favorite bookstore, or a custom “ex-librīs” stamp.
Whatever reading challenge you choose, I hope it helps you find joy in reading this summer!
*Editor’s Note: This post was updated to include Witherspoon’s June and July book club picks.