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Beyond The Reading Challenge - What Happens Next?

I began this reading challenge because at the end of last year when I added up the books I'd read, I was disappointed to find I'd read far less than I thought. In a fit of pique I set myself the challenge of reading 150 books in 2021. I thought it would probably be a push to do it, but I hadn't factored in a two month lockdown when I couldn't write. I also hadn't realised quite how much of my time had been taken up with trying to fit my own writing in around the requirements of the MA. Consequently, at almost the halfway point of the challenge I find that I have already completed it. Yesterday, I finished reading Purple Hibiscus, book no.150 of the year.

When I started the challenge, the only criteria for the books I chose was that they had to be from a variety of genres. I had no desire to get stuck in a reading rut again! However, very quickly, I added the stipulation that there needed to be a number of non-white authors included as well. The ethnicity of the authors I read wasn't something I'd ever considered before, but reading Half of a Yellow Sun made me realise that it was something I needed to be more aware of. It certainly wasn't a conscious thing on my part, but there was definitely a white-centric bias to my choice of books. So I added BAME authors into the mix as well.

The next thing I realised was that my choice of reading material was having a huge impact on my mental health, so I had to become more careful about ensuring that I was reading something light each month as well as the more 'worthy' books that tackled deeper and more controversial issues. I also had to revise my 'I don't like rom-coms' stance as I realised that there's a huge number of books in this genre that are wonderful reads and tackle deeper issues than many of the popular books of this ilk. Another bias at least partially overcome.

So, the question now is....what next?

I fully intend to continue reading as wide a range of books as possible and blogging about them at the end of each month. The other thing this challenge has taught me is how much I love recommending books to people. I get such a thrill from people telling me they've read books they've seen me recommend and thoroughly enjoyed them - the latest being my mother who usually has very different tastes to me! As a result of that I'm in the process of creating a 'library' of some of my favourite books where I can put 'the best of the best' and people can select a genre to choose from.

However, I do like a challenge, so want something to keep me motivated. I wanted something tangible - a challenge where I could tick off books as I read them. For this, I resorted to those lists that everyone on Facebook loves - How many of these classic books have you read? The 100 books everyone should read. 30 Books To Read Before You Die.

You get the idea.

My initial thought was to choose a list and complete it, but it wasn't as simple as that. There are so many of these lists that it got me thinking about what the criteria is to be classed as a 'must read' book. Was there a correlation between the lists? As it turned out, not so much. I did a comparison of the BBC, Amazon Editors and Goodreads readers and the three lists were very very different. Some focused on the classics (and have dubious definitions of 'book' - The Complete Works of Shakespeare might technically be one book in the sense that it comes between two covers, but there's a lot of 'books' contained within those covers!)

So... my next challenge was to choose one of these lists and compile a list of the books on it that I hadn't read. In the end, after much deliberation, I went with the BBC list. This was primarily because it had a handy online checklist to tick off each book as I read it. I was quite pleased to discover I'd read 63 already but then I realised that although I'd listened to an audiobook of Birdsong and therefore had originally ticked it off my list, it was an abridged version, so it had to go back on the 'to read' pile. I worked out that not including the Shakespeare plays and poems, I had to read between 6 and 7 books each month to complete the list by the end of the year. 'No problem,' I thought. 'I usually read between 20 and 30 each month. Should be a doddle.'

The first 5 books from the list & Mr Shakespeare!

Then I looked at some of the other unread books on the list - Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, A Suitable Boy to name just a few. Not only are there some very weighty books in terms of content, but some of them are also enormous in size as well. It took me three days to get through One Hundred Years of Solitude and that wasn't even very long! At this stage, I must confess I am wondering if perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew, particularly as I'm still getting books I'd ordered months ago from the library and I now have four separate piles of books people have lent/given me as well. Nevertheless, I'm going to give it a go and see if I can read the remaining 38 books by 31st December 2021.

Who knows? Even if I don't quite complete the list by the end of the year, maybe by the time I do, I'll have the answer to what makes a book a 'must read'.

Books Left To Read

  1. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

  2. The Complete Works of Shakespeare - William Shakespeare

  3. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

  4. The Catcher In The Rye - J D Salinger

  5. Bleak House - Charles Dickens

  6. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  7. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

  8. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

  9. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

  10. A Prayer For Owen Meany - John Irving

  11. The Life of Pi - Yann Martell

  12. Dune - Frank Herbert

  13. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

  14. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

  15. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

  16. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  17. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

  18. The Secret History - Donna Tartt

  19. The Count of Monte Christo - Alexandre Dumas

  20. On The Road - Jack Kerouac

  21. Jude The Obscure - Thomas Hardy

  22. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

  23. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

  24. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

  25. Ulysses - James Joyce

  26. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

  27. Germinal - Emile Zola

  28. Vanity Fair - William Thackeray

  29. The Colour Purple - Alice Walker

  30. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

  31. Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

  32. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exuperay

  33. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

  34. Watership Down - Richard Adams

  35. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

  36. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

  37. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

  38. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

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