9 Reading Challenges to Try in 2016

Accept the Challenge: Read Like a Champ

Ahhh, the reading challenge. Who doesn’t love a good reading challenge? The first New Year’s resolution I ever kept was to read 52 books in a year. I felt triumphant when I closed the book on A Visit from the Goon Squad last December having finished the 52nd book. After that, psshh, anything was possible! This upcoming year I’m setting my sights high in a different way. I’m not going to concentrate on just a number of books read but instead a more mindful reading approach. Here are 9 reading dares I challenge you to try out in 2016. By trying out some of these dares you should be able to read more mindfully, more widely, and more diversely.

  • Think Global, Read Local: Read books by local authors

My library will often affix a “Local Author” sticker on new books in the library. We have many awesome authors from my area (Greater Philadelphia region), and I always appreciate that sticker because I think it’s important to read local writers from the area. For local authors, many of whom are published on small presses or even independently, it is important to have the backing of your community. Also, it is surreal—and amazing!—when you read a local author’s work and see that they have included references to your hometown/ or regional cuisine, dialect, and history.

One way to find listings of this kind is to look through the author talks or author readings calendars at bookstores near you. Independent bookstores are a hotbed for readings. Libraries also regularly post announcements of local author signings or lecture series or readings on their websites and social media pages.

Recommended intake: 5 books by local authors

  • “Trust Me on This One”: Follow someone else’s book recommendations

Along the years people have recommended books to me that I was initially hesitant to read. When I was in my freshman year of college I received a recommendation from someone I trusted to read Sophie’s Choice, but I put it off for a year. I devoured it, savored it, consumed it, and it became one of my all-time favorite novels.

I love hearing book recommendations from other people—and I say people rather than the “Readers also liked” or “Readers also viewed” algorithm-based recommendation system on Amazon and Goodreads. Yet sometimes I am still hesitant towards other people’s recommendations. This upcoming year I’m going to take the plunge and follow suggestions from friends, family, coworkers, and of course librarians. If someone took the time to recommend something with such enthusiasm, it’s something they are passionate about. This is especially true if this person isn’t a big reader. What captures their attention? What makes them scream from the rooftops about reading? Listen and trust.

Recommended intake: 5 books recommended by another person

  • Keeping Current: Read the buzzed-about new releases—and the ones no one is talking about

It’s important to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the book world. When a book gets traction, it’s a good idea to read it (or at the very least read a few reviews about it) so you have something nobody else has: your own opinion on the hot book of the moment. Interestingly enough, back in high school and even college, the “canon” of literature—the books teachers and professors put on reading lists to teach and tell us that everyone must know about to be educated—was often heavily skewed towards an out of date or limited look at voices. Often there was a prejudice against bestsellers or genre fiction. But today, when you’re living as an adult, that’s not quite the case. Consider each year as having its own “canon. For instance, 2013 was The Goldfinch and The Interestings; 2015 was The Girl on the Train and City on Fire. These are the books that make up the canon of current literary discourse.

In the new year, aim to read some of the bestsellers. Sometimes people get resistant to that, and I understand the need to be a nonconformist. That’s why it’s important to also read the new release books nobody else is talking about. Choose something that is getting little press and you will be a tastemaker. Sleeper hits like 2015’s A Little Life built a following over the year. Be daring and choose books that catch your eye even if they aren’t the darlings of the moment.

Recommended intake: 5 buzzy books, 5 under-the-radar books

  • Underrepresented Voices: Read diverse authors

It’s important to read diverse writers to understand the experiences of underrepresented minorities—people of diverse ethnicities, races, cultural heritages, disabilities, sexualities, and gender identities. Two middle grade books by diverse writers that I read in 2015 totally blew me away (Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming) and made me feel like I understood the American minority experience better. I’m not perfect, but I’m hoping that 2016 will be the year that reading diverse writers becomes not a challenge but the natural norm of my reading selections.

One of the things that’s so important about reading diverse authors is that it can be infectious. One day you’re reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and on your recommendation your friend starts reading it, and then she recommends it to someone who recommends it to someone else…and so on.

So in 2016, aim to read authors of diverse books. If you’re struggling for a definition of “diverse,” I recommend going with the We Need Diverse Books movement’s definition:

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Recommended intake: 20 books by diverse writers (This number is so much larger because you can often double-count books across these challenges. So a book from the library (Challenge 7) could be a diverse book)

  • Face Your Fears: Read books that “scare” you

Each person’s definition of what personally “scares” them is going to be different. For me, sometimes reading books about mental illness and especially bipolar disorder can scare me because they can be triggering. At the same time, I’m scared of Moby-Dick…scared I’ll never finish it, scared I will and I’ll hate it and be the lone person among my friends who doesn’t love it. And also I’m scared of horror. I feel like I can never get more than 50 pages into Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House without being afraid of the dark, so I never finish it.

What scares you? It’s important to face down your reading fears. It will help you grow, help you process things that unsettle you psychologically, and give you momentum to keep going knowing you’re stronger than you ever thought you were. For this challenge, think about what your fears are with reading—be it a genre, a novel you’re afraid you’re not smart enough to read, something thematic, etc.—and try to read a few books that touch on that fear.

Recommended intake: 5 books that scare you

  • David Rather Than Goliath: Read small press or independently published books

People still have lingering suspicions about independent and self-published books, but never has there been a better time to dust off your doubts and embrace the reality: indie authors and small press published authors are just as legit as bigger “traditional” press authors. Many new adult and romance novels are started out self-published (such as the Fifty Shades series by E.L. James). That’s why I dare you to read more small press and independently published books in the new year.

Looking for ideas? The Small Press Book Review (Facebook page is here and blog is here) is regularly updated with reviews of small press books. There are also interviews on the sites, which is divided into Poetry, Fiction, and Other tabs. This is a good place to start for finding small press books of interest. You can find plenty of indie fiction with IndieBound’s “Next List”. If you also Google “best indie books” or “new indie books” you’ll find plenty of lists from places like Publisher’s Weekly. I also recommend the IndieReader blog.

Recommended intake: 5 books

  • Reject Materialism: Read only books from the library

When I’ve been homebound either by illness or anxiety, I rarely leave my home and instead order books online. Oh the joys of being able to go to the library again! If you are like me and don’t read 90% of the books you buy, sometimes you just want to shut off the consumerism and read a book for free. Well you can do that and support one of the greatest institutions we have by going to the library. Borrowing books no-strings-attached takes away the pressure (and the shame) from purchasing some expensive book that you know you’re never going to read.

Also, I strongly believe there’s a therapeutic value of being in a building housed with books (and CDs and movies and magazines…free for the taking). And it’s also good to get outside your house and see new books. Sometimes you see something you never would have checked out, and sometimes you find that a book you were just about to order last night is sitting there on the shelf free for you to take.

This challenge is spread out over the months, encouraging you to check and read 24 books over 12 months, 2 a month. Also, this is a good place to get reading recommendations and find local authors, so consider it a win-win.

Recommended intake: 24 books or 2 a month

  • Make a Dent in It: Read only books from your shelves (digital or physical)

Okay my counter challenge dare to you from the library challenge is to read off your own shelves this year. This means reading what you already own rather than buying new books. It’s so easy to slot something away as “when I get around to it” or “the timing isn’t right,” you know what kinds of excuses I’m talking about. But some of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had have been from books I chose from my shelves at random because the timing ends up being right. So I encourage you to read 1 book a month from your shelves (either digital or physical) that you bought more than 3 months ago—6 months, or 9 months, or even 12 months would be ideal.  Aim to read 2 books a month from your shelves. You’ll likely found some validation for that invoice buy so long ago.

Recommended intake: 2 books a month

  • Interval Training: For every long book, read a short book, and vice verse

After I read The Goldfinch, Flowers from the Stormand Outlander my view on book length drastically changed. I developed some prejudice that the longer a book is the better it is. Not necessarily true! I have since read some shorter books like A Visit from the Goon Squad and Me Before You that blew me away.

2016 is going to be a year of epic books. Seriously, everything seems to be 450+ pages long, and I still have to read A Little Life and City on Fire from this year. So this challenge should be half easy. Alternate longer books (400+ pages) with shorter books (-350 pages). I have a list of recommended shorter books here on Broke By Books, and there’s something on there for everyone. Doing this will remind you that an amazing novel or book can be long or it can be short. Hopefully it will erase my prejudice that “bigger is better.”

Recommended intake: For every long book, read 1 short book


If you choose to accept these challenges, you might find a more rewarding reading experience rather than aiming to read a certain number of books, any books.

What challenges are appealing to you? How will you aim to read not just a number of books but certain kinds of books or authors in the new year?

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Welcome to Broke By Books, a blog by Sarah S. Davis, where the guiding mission is to spread a contagious love for reading through helpful, thought provoking, and enjoyable writing about books. Please join me in growing an inspired, engaged, and fearless reading life.

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