Announcing the Backlist Timey Wimey Reading Challenge

Lately, I’ve been morose, realizing that I’m going to finish this year having read approx. 60 books, the same as the last two years, give or take. This year I focused mainly on new releases, attempting to answer my eternally plaguing angst question of: What does it mean to be “well read”? This year, my answer was, read enough new releases to be up to speed, to be able to have read enough books published this year to legitimately craft a year end “best of” list. Cocktail party chatter for cocktail parties I never went to.

And yes, I’ve accomplished that, and yes, I know it’s still the end of September, but I feel like I’ve cheated myself, and I’ve cheated my ambitions to be “well read,” and wasted time on some admittedly mediocre 2016 books—that I knew going into it were not going to rock my world and were probably 3-4 star reads at best—while overlooking some books that are older and that could indeed be life changing reads. After all, I read The Secret History, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Flowers from the Storm, and A Song of Ice and Fire backlist.
So here I am, readers, hoping to fill in the huge gaps with a reading challenge. In the next year, October to October, I’m going to try to read at least 20 books written before the current year.

Here’s how.

Shoot for one (or two or however many you want) or more books that were published in a year ending in 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9.

For example, right now I am reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. That book was published in 2010. So reading that would take care of the 0 year. But so would House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, published in 2000, and V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, published in 1990.

So you see, there’s a fair bit of freedom here.

I’m aiming to read through those numbers twice over the next year, checking in with an update during the final week of the month.

What do you think? Join me? What do you have on your reading bucket list–wouldn’t it feel great to cross some of those off the list? Who can resist a time travel challenge?

Maybe we’ll even spot the Doctor…

With this reading challenge, you, too, can be a time traveler.
With this reading challenge, you, too, can be a time traveler.

You can find an easy list by going to Goodreads’ Most Popular Books by Year feature.

Some of the books I intend to read are:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (pub. 2001). This has been on my list for a while. One time I asked people on my library Facebook group Think Tank what book do they wish they could reread for the first time. Many, many people said American Gods. I loaned my copy to my nephew. Goodreads link. Amazon link.

The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sandersen (pub. 2006). Another one of those “must read” fantasy epics, I am all here for the Mistborn series. That shiny purple paperback won’t last long with this challenge. Goodreads link. Amazon link.

Sabriel (Abhorsen #1) by Garth Nix (pub. 1995). Ever since one of my friends was hooked on this novel in high school, I have long wanted to read this young adult fantasy classic. I’ve never been more ready to tackle the challenge. Goodreads link. Amazon link.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (pub. 2000). This multigenerational family saga is legendary. I intend to read it this year. Goodreads link. Amazon link.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (pub. 2014). How have I not read this? It’s a stain on my name that I haven’t finished this moving memoir about loss, healing, and falconry. Goodreads link. Amazon link.

What’s at the top of your list? What year in publishing do you want to explore? Leave a comment below and find us on Facebook.


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  1. This is a great idea! I try to read 5 backlist titles for every 3 recent releases ones I read, and that’s worked out well enough that I have a good idea of what’s out there lately but still get in lots of great older books that I haven’t read yet. Especially after starting a book blog, the temptation to just read the same new books everyone else is reading is REALLY strong though!

    • Sarah

      Thanks, Gabby! I completely agree—the temptation to read new releases is strong. I love your method, though! Creative and effective. 🙂

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