2020. What a year it has been so far. I have been finding it very difficult to focus on reading over the past few months. I am usually a voracious reader and I enjoy a diverse range of books. Whilst I have always loved reading (I started out as a massive horror fiction fan back in my teens, would you believe?), I probably haven't read as diversely as I could have. That all changed last year. I discovered reading challenges, and it really helped me to open my eyes to new types of books.
If you have never taken part in a reading challenge, the basic idea is that you have a list of prompts, and you read a book that matches each of the prompts. Some of the prompts push the reader to choose a book in a particular genre (e.g. ‘a mystery’ or ‘a historical fiction’) but others can allow more fluidity of choice (‘a book with a bird on its cover’ or ‘a book published in the month of your birth’). One of the other benefits I have found is that I have been encouraged to read more diverse books (‘a book by an indigenous author’, for example). It’s easy to choose the books that you have always read or the genres that you feel comfortable with; reading challenges have literally challenged me to expand my range.
The reading challenges that I follow are:
If you know of any others, let me know, and let's share ideas!
I've discovered many books that I would never have read if I hadn't searched out titles to fit challenge prompts. My favourites this year have been:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
(All book links in bold are Amazon UK Affiliate links which will earn me a few pence if anyone clicks through and makes a purchase - any money earned will go towards buying books or gifts for giveaways.)
I keep a log on Goodreads, which is a great way of remembering what I have read and what I thought of it. You can add me as a friend there. I'd love to see what you are reading. Goodreads is useful for filing books onto different virtual shelves. You can group books by subject, or create a ‘shelf’ for the books that you will read for your reading challenge. When I am planning what I am going to read, I tend to add the books onto one of these shelves so that I can see all of my choices in one place – and select what I am going to read next.
I've also made a paper reading log for myself, as I am still a pen-and-paper girl at heart. I've put a copy of the .pdf on my website, and you can download a copy for free - just click on the link on the page.
The Rules are There are NO Rules
Of course, one of the best things about plans is that you can cancel them, or remake them as you go along. Whilst a reading list based on prompts can help us to discover new authors and encourage us to step outside our comfort zones and read books that we might not otherwise have chosen, new books are published all the time. Not only that, but if you talk about books with other readers, join a book club or perhaps a Facebook group linked to the reading challenge, there’s a high probability that we will see other books that catch our eye. I’ve read several books that I didn’t have in my original plan for the year, and that is absolutely fine by me!
I have seen some people in the aforementioned discussion groups talking about whether a certain book “counts” for a prompt, or whether the “rules” allow for a book to be chosen to fit different prompts. My book "Ghosted" might fit a prompt for 'a book with a pink cover' as well as 'a book with a medical theme', for example. Purists might argue that each prompt should be filled by its own book, but at the end of the day there are no Reading Challenge Police – do what makes you happy. If you don’t read as many books as other people, don’t see it as a negative. Make the challenge work to suit your habits and your own personal goals.
However you use reading challenges, reading is always a good thing!
About J.E. Rowney
J.E. Rowney spent several years in the cold Yorkshire hills and now lives in Dorset. She started writing novels when she commuted from Leeds to London in her previous life as a change management specialist.
"Charcoal", her debut, was published in 2012 to wide critical acclaim, and was a bestselling novel on Amazon within days of release. Her third novel, "Ghosted", was released in January 2020 and quickly also became a bestseller.
When she’s not writing, Ms. Rowney enjoys reading a wide range of books, and walking by the sea.
"I always dreamed of being a writer, until I realised that I was. Then I started to write."You can find out more about J.E. Rowney on her website at jerowney.com, or follow @jerowleywriter on social media - Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
I'm looking forward to welcoming J.E. Rowley back to the blog in October to talk about her next book I Can't Sleep which is due to be published on 16th October.