Looking for some rad reading challenges for this year? Whether you’re a seasoned reading challenge pro or a total newbie, I’ve got you covered with 50 ideas for DIY reading challenges. All you need is a library! Friends, the bookish internet, a notebook and/or spreadsheet, and your favorite bookstores are also helpful, but not required.
First, a few tips for how to rock a reading challenge:
Pick a Goal
It can be anything! Maybe you want to read 50 books this year. Maybe you want to make sure at least 30% of the books you read are written by authors of color. A reading challenge can be simple, silly, serious, genre-based, or any combination of these and many other attributes.
Pick a Way to Track Your Goal
If you want to just track how many books you read, the Goodreads tracker is a simple and fun way to do so. If you’re doing your own challenge, or one of the ones below, just come up with a way to record your reading. You can use a spreadsheet, a blank notebook, a word document, or specific shelves on Goodreads. Your tracking mechanism can be as simple or as complicated as you like (my reading spreadsheet has 24 fields) as long as it works for you.
Geek Out on Research
One of my favorite parts of doing a reading challenge is the research. There are so many incredible books out there, and doing a challenge gets me reading reviews, pouring over blogs, and generally enjoying the inevitable exponential growth of my TBR.
Be Kind and Don’t Fret
This isn’t the SATs. You’re not trying to pass the bar. You know what happens if you don’t finish a reading challenge? Absolutely nothing! You’re doing a reading challenge because you love reading. Make it work for you; don’t work for it. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read challenging or complicated books—reading challenges are a great tool for deepening your reading. But doing a reading challenge should not be stressful or diminish the joy you get from reading.
50 DIY READING CHALLENGES
The challenges here range from the serious to the ridiculous. The numbers are mostly arbitrary—for instance, I’ve used a lot of pick ten books. You could just as easily pick five or thirty. These ideas are jumping off points. My hope is that you find something here that excites you, and run with it.
1. Make a list of ten identities that are important to you and/or influence the way you experience the world. Now read ten books by ten different authors who share one of those identities, and/or ten different books that center and explore those identities.
2. Make a list of ten identities (race, religion, sexuality, gender, nationality, etc.) that are not yours. Now read ten books, each written by an author who holds one of those identities.
3. Pick ten countries you have always wanted to visit. Read one book that takes place in each of those countries.
4. Is there a genre you’ve always wanted to try but just haven’t gotten around to? Maybe your best friend has been telling you to try fantasy since forever but you’ve always shrugged her off. Pick the genre that’s always scared/baffled/bored you and challenge yourself to find one book in that genre that you absolutely love.
5. Read a book published each year between your birth and now. Goodreads by decade shelves can help.
6. Read a book about/that takes place in each of the fifty states.
7. Pick 10 classics you’ve always wanted to read. Now read a retelling/reinvention of each of those classics instead. Not sure where to start? Try these YA Jane Austen retellings, Alice in Wonderland retellings, and retellings of myths and folklore.
8. Read 52 comics—one comic per week!
9. Go to the library once a month, browse the stacks, and pick a book that looks interesting to you, but that you have never heard of and that no one has recommended to you. Make sure you’ve never heard of the author, either.
10. Think of one or two authors who have written at least one book that you’ve loved. Now read everything else those authors have published. (Madeline L’engle was my first, and I gotta tell you, it’s a super satisfying feeling.)
11. Pick a subject you’re interested in—it could be anything. Knitting. The history of French macarons. Space exploration. Sex toys. Seriously: anything! Now make a reading list that throughly explores that subject. Make sure to include books of different genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) Think about the authors you’re including on your list—try to include authors from diverse backgrounds. Your reading list could be three or ten or twenty books.
12. Pick a literary award and read all the books on the shortlist or the longest for the year. Here are some handy guides to major awards in: literary fiction, science fiction/fantasy, romance, mystery, indie press books, comics, and books with queer content. The National Book Award gives out prizes in fiction, nonfiction, YA, and poetry
13. Do your own version of my sibling birthday book club. Each year, my brothers and I buy each other books that we don’t think the others would ever pick up themselves, but would still really enjoy. It’s a great way to read outside of your go-to genres. You can do it for yourself or with a friend—just once, or every month!
14. Read a book for every letter of the alphabet. You can use the author’s first name, last name, or the title.
15. Read a book by an author from each of the world’s major geographical regions. There are a lot of ways to define a geographical region—you could go with the seven continents, or with a slightly more subdivided list, something like: North America, South America, Central America, West Africa, East Africa, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Western Asia/Middle East, and Oceania.
16. Make a list of ten places you’ve been. Countries, states, national parks, neighborhoods—literally, anywhere you’ve been. Now read a book (fiction or nonfiction) about each of those places.
17. Pick a historical figure you’ve always admired, or have always been fascinated by, and who has written a memoir or autobiography. In addition to reading their memoir, see if you can find a biography and a novel based on their life.
18. For each book you read written by a man, follow it with a book written by a woman. This works for other identities, too—follow books by cis authors with books by trans authors, books by white authors with books by authors of color, etc. It’s basically just a way to get yourself to pay attention to who is telling the stories you’re reading.
19. Browse the many incredible Book Riot 100 Must-Read Lists. Pick one that excites you. Read all 100 books on the list.
20. Think of five classes from high school or college that you loved. Now read a book you might have read in each of those classes, but didn’t.
21. Read a book about and/or written by a follower of each of the world’s four largest religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
22. Each month and/or season, read a book that takes place then.
23. Every time you travel this year, read a book that takes place there, or was written by someone from there. You don’t have to take any big trips to do this—see if you can find books that take place in your home state, or in the next city over if you spend a weekend visiting friends.
24. See if you can find the summer reading lists for the public schools in your town. Do the lists include books written by women and people of color? If so, pick one of those books to read. If not, read a book you think should have been on the list. (And maybe write a letter to your school district!)
25. Pick five authors who are now dead, and read both the first and last book they wrote.
26. Talk to your local librarians! Your library might host its own reading challenge, have a summer reading list for adults, or host one or more book groups. My library sponsors One Book One Island, a community initiative that encourages everyone on the island to read and discuss the same book.
27. Write down every movie you watch this year that you love. Find out if any of those movies were based on books. If so, read the books.
28. Can you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up when you were a kid? Read a book (fiction or nonfiction) about that career. Or, make a list of your top five dream careers and read a book that features each of them.
29. Find a class syllabus for a class you’d wish you’d taken in college, or a class that’s locally offered at a community college or continuing education center, but that you don’t have the time to actually take. Read all the books on the syllabus. Syllabi are actually quite easy to find—a quick google search of “Afro-American history” yielded dozens. Try a more detailed search to find a syllabus to match your particular interests!
30. Read a book in translation every month.
31. Challenge yourself to read more diversely. There are dozens of ways to do this. The simplest is to start tracking your reading—pay attention to how many books you’re reading by authors of color. If you notice your reading list is mostly white, start picking up books by authors of color. You can aim for a percentage if you’re spreadsheet/stat obsessed. There are also some great challenges to get you reading diversely, hosted by book bloggers. Here are some examples from 2017 to get you motivated.
32. Read a novel written/recorded/published in every century starting with 1000.
33. Participate in one of the many reading challenges hosted by book bloggers! Here’s a comprehensive list of 2018 challenges on book blogs, updated each week as new 2018 challenges are announced.
34. Use the Goodreads tracker.
35. What format do you usually read in? Audio, paper, ebook? Challenge yourself to read a least one book in two formats you don’t usually read in.
36. Think of an issue you feel strongly about and read a book by someone who disagrees with you on that issue.
37. Make a list of ten classics (defined however you want) you’ve always wanted to read. Now, read one of them. (And give yourself a ton of credit!)
38. If you had been in charge of your high school english class, or a freshman survey course in a subject you care about, what books would you have assigned? Make your dream reading list and then read those books.
39. Get a group of friends or family together. Have everyone write down a book they love on a piece of paper and put it in a hat. Pass the hat around and have everyone draw a paper. Read the book you draw. When you’re done, have tea and discuss it with the person who chose it, or get together and have a big potluck.
40. Pick a word and read 5 books with that word somewhere in the title. Totally random words (bird, grass, kitchen, mug, wood) work best.
41. Sometimes famous people talk about what books they’re reading. See if you can find a list of book recommendations from a celebrity you admire, and then read all (or some) of those books. Here’s are recommendations from President Obama, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Roxane Gay to get you started.
42. Without looking at the internet or doing any research, make a list of all the book genres you can think of. Just brainstorm without thinking, even if you’re just heard of a genre but have no idea what it is. Now pick the ten genres from that list you’d be least likely to explore in your usual reading, and read a book from each of those genres.
43. Assemble your own challenge from a combination of past and current challenges. This year I did three Read Harder challenges (since I missed the first two when they came out), and while it was a bit much, it introduced me to a ton of new books and authors. Read Harder, Popsugar, and Around the Year in 52 Books are great challenges to drawn on for this. Pick your favorite tasks (could be 10 or 100) and complete those. You can make up your own hashtag and twitter the hell out of it.
44. Read a book published in every decade of the 20th century, but don’t read any books written by white men.
45. Make a list of five historical events that have had a significant impact on the current politics and/or culture of your country, but that you don’t know that much about. Read a book (fiction or nonfiction) to help you understand each of those events.
46. Pick five kinds of books that you don’t normally read cover to cover (i.e. cookbooks, coffee table books, guidebooks, etc.) For each category, read a book all the way through.
47. Join a book subscription box and read the book you get each month that month!
48. Read a book written by an author in every decade of life—teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, etc., all the way up to an author in their nineties. (You can probably find books written by people younger than ten, too—especially if you’re a parent or have friends with kids!)
49. Read a book from every country in the world. Author Ann Morgan did this, and made a list of all the books she read if you need somewhere to start.
50. Ask ten friends/colleagues/strangers sitting next to you on the subway/baristas you see every day what the last amazing book they read was. Read those books (or at least give them all a chance!)
Got your own challenge ideas? Drop them in the comments.