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.'
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
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
The Complete Works of Shakespeare - William Shakespeare
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
The Catcher In The Rye - J D Salinger
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
A Prayer For Owen Meany - John Irving
The Life of Pi - Yann Martell
Dune - Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Count of Monte Christo - Alexandre Dumas
On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Jude The Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
Ulysses - James Joyce
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
Germinal - Emile Zola
Vanity Fair - William Thackeray
The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exuperay
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Watership Down - Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo