I love reading challenges. I’m motivated by lists, I love the satisfaction of tracking and completing a goal, and I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with spreadsheets. Reading challenges combine all of these things into one happy package. I love the focus they bring to my reading life, as well as the way they encourage me to read in new and different ways.
However, reading challenges aren’t for everyone, and even if they are for you, they have their problems. One Rioter recently wrote about how their reading goal was actually making them a worse reader. I can certainly relate to this: it’s easy to get caught up in the satisfaction of seeing that little Goodreads tracker bar tick up, sometimes at the expense of actual enjoyment and satisfaction.
I have also experienced that sense of dread when December rolls around and I realize I’m just reading books to finish a challenge. Overall, I’ve found reading challenges to be a positive influence on my reading life, but they can absolutely get in the way, if you let them.
Enter the no-pressure, no-deadline, no-timeframe reading challenge. I’ve only embraced this idea in the last few months, and so far, I’m loving it. It’s a simple concept: the no-deadline reading challenge is a reading goal I set for myself that I’d like to complete sometime in my life. It’s everything I love about a reading challenge—tracking my progress, geeking out on spreadsheets, pushing myself to read outside my go-to genres, etc.—without any of the oh-shit-I’m-never-going-to-finish-this-by-December stress.
Here are the four no-deadline reading challenges I’m currently tracking. I never feel stressed about finishing them, and I never give up a book I really want to read in order to read something for the sake of a challenge. Maybe some of these challenges will excite you, too—and if not, you can easily make up your own. All you need is a goal and a way to track it. You can even treat yourself to a stack of books from your favorite bookstore if you finish it—but no pressure!
If you’re curious, here’s a link to the spreadsheet I use to track my ongoing challenges. (Because, spreadsheet nerd.)
The 100 Must-Read List
Book Riot has got oodles of awesome 100 must-read lists. From magical realism to the history of medicine to sports romance, there’s something for everyone. Whenever a new one is published, I have to calm myself down and remember that I can’t, actually, read all the books on earth.
I can, however, read all the books on at least one—or maybe a few—of those 100 must-read lists. I picked a fun one to get started: 100 Must-Read LGBTQIA YA Books. I devour queer YA at an alarming rate, so the point of this challenge is not to stretch myself—it’s just to have a whole lot of awesome reading fun.
Having the list not only satisfies my geeky desire to track my reading, but it since it comes from a trusted source, I already know these books are going to be great. It’s also got YA that includes many perspectives and identities, so even though I already read heavily in this genre, I’m less likely to get stuck reading the same kind of story over and over again.
At some point, I’ll finish this particular Must-Read list, and by that time, there will probably be fifty more to pick from. I think I’ll always try to have one going.
The Complete Works of An Author I Love
Last year I went on a mini James Baldwin binge, which gave me the idea to make a goal of actually reading his complete works. There are many authors like Baldwin out there—astoundingly brilliant writers with an impressive collection of works, of which I’ve only read a couple. I like the idea of challenging myself to work through all their books, not just the most famous of them. I also like having the structure, knowing that I’m engaging in a deep exploration of the published works of an incredible writer.
I’ve only read four of Baldwin’s 20+ works. Sometimes I only get to one or two a year, so it might be a while before I finish. I try not to get too carried away with it. My spreadsheet is simple: a list of each of Baldwin’s complete works, and a column where I can enter the date I read it. Eventually I’ll read all of Baldwin, and pick a new author to devour.
An Awards List
Lots of bookish people read their way through various literary prizes, either the winners, or the short or long list for any given year. I don’t put too much stock in literary awards, but in some cases, reading through past winers can be a fun and useful tool. I’m currently working my way through all the Hugo Award winners for best novel.
The Hugo is imperfect, and is not totally representative of the range of science fiction and fantasy out there—it certainly skews toward white men, especially in the early years. But it also includes a lot of classic science fiction I might not read otherwise. I am a hardcore SFF lover, so there is also something satisfying about experiencing the way the genre has grown and changed over the past fifty years.
A Book For Every Country
I got inspired when I came across the blog of Ann Morgan, a UK author who decided to read a book from every country in the world in one year. I have no desire to undertake such a massive project in a year, but as a life goal? Awesome. I’ve been trying to read more works in translation for the last few years anyway, and the idea of eventually reading a book from every country is just so satisfying on so many levels.
So I made a quick spreadsheet and entered in some of the international books I’ve already read. I haven’t yet worked out all the challenges of determining what counts as a country. For now, I’m working off the list that Morgan used, which includes the 193 UN-recongized countries plus Taiwan and Palestine. Depending on how seriously I take this challenge, I might end up tweaking this list.
So far in 2017, I’ve read 19 books from countries other than the US. At this rate, it’ll only take me about nine more years to finish!
What no-pressure, no-deadline reading challenges have you taken on?