I’m usually not a huge book challenge person. It’s surprising, since I’m obsessive and book nerdy in all other ways, but I don’t typically set challenges for the year and expect myself to finish them. I will pick an arbitrary number to set as a challenge on Shelfari and Goodreads, but I also cheat by continuously adjusting the numbers throughout the year depending on whether I’m feeling stressed about being behind on my reading or complete it early and feel like I should’ve set a higher goal for myself. But this year I discovered the Book Riot blog, which posts book reviews, lists, and bookish news, and their insightful and intriguing challenge to “read harder” in 2015–to challenge ourselves by reading more widely and pushing our typical genre boundaries. I was hooked. I even bought a “Read Harder” mug. And last week, I finally finished the 24-book challenge.
And I’m so glad I did! I loved finding books to fit the categories–most came directly from my own TBR shelf, and a lot of them I most likely would have read anyways, but some were books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile and now had a deadline-induced reason to pick up sooner.
Favorite reads of the challenge? So many of them! The best for me were probably Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang. But there were so many other great ones–a lot of my favorite books of the year came from this challenge.
I was probably most surprised by the audiobook category–I’ve always been best at absorbing information through reading, not listening, and tend to zone out a lot. But the audiobook of Ready Player One was fantastic, and the story transcended the medium in which it was told. I went from being an audiobook snob who thought that listening to books would never work for me to a frequent audiobook listener who uses the books to liven up my commute.
The biggest stretches for me were poetry (because I like reading and thinking deeply about the occasional poem but am not a big fan of reading a lot of poems one after the other) and, surprisingly, a book written before 1850. I used to read a lot of classics (although, in retrospect, this may have been because when I was younger there wasn’t Shelfari or Goodreads and most of my book recommendations came from written lists in my school library) and this challenge really showed me how behind I am on my classics reading. I ended up choosing Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s first novel, which is sort of a satire on Gothic romance novels as well as a typical Jane Austen romances, and really enjoyed it. One of my bookish goals for 2016 (blog post for that is upcoming) will definitely be to read a few more classics than in the past years.
Least favorite book of the challenge? Weirdly, this was for the award-winning book category: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I bought this at a library used book sale and thought it sounded like an interesting, intelligent read; what it actually was was pretentious. I hated it. I got it, but I felt like the entire book was just about the author celebrating how smart and tricky he was. I also was not a huge fan of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which was my pick for the “retelling of a classic story” category. This was the only book that was a real disappointment for me–the idea of feminist fairy tale retellings sounds right up my alley, but other than the title story, I didn’t really enjoy any of them. They weren’t as creative as I expected, and tended to be very repetitive read one after the other.
Here’s my challenge in its entirety:
✓ 1. A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
✓ 2. A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
✓ 3. A collection of short stories
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
✓ 4. A book published by an indie press
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang
✓ 5. A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
✓ 6. A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
✓ 7. A book that takes place in Asia
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
✓ 8. A book by an author from Africa
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
✓ 9. A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
Euphoria by Lily King
✓ 10. A microhistory
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
✓ 11. A YA novel
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
✓ 12. A sci-fi novel
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
✓ 13. A romance novel
Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews
✓ 14. A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
✓ 15. A book that is a retelling of a classic story
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
✓ 16. An audiobook
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
✓ 17. A collection of poetry
Ani DiFranco: Verses by Ani DiFranco
✓ 18. A book that someone else has recommended to you
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
✓ 19. A book that was originally published in another language
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
✓ 20. A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
✓ 21. A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure
I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson
✓ 22. A book published before 1850
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
✓ 23. A book published this year
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
✓ 24. A self-improvement book
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Now that it’s over, I’m a little sad–and extremely pumped for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge. Bring on the categories, Book Riot! I’m ready to go!