2018 Reading Challenges

by Sunita

Stack of books and ereader

The year isn’t quite over, but I’m done with all my reading challenges except one, so I might as well report the results. I took on three challenges this year. I did the PopSugar and Mt. TBR challenges for the third year in a row and the Bookriot Read Harder challenge for the first time. In addition, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of all my reading for the year. 

2018 PopSugar Challenge

I did the main and the “advanced” challenges for a total of 50 books. I completed all but one of the categories by August, and I only sort-of cheated on one to get there: “A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place.” Readers, I looked and looked, on planes, trains, buses, park benches, you name it. But either I couldn’t see the book title or it was a book that I would rather stab myself with a fork than read. (No, I am not going to read The Shack.) I turned in despair to the Goodreads group and found that people were fulfilling the prompt via photos of people reading books. Success! 

My only unfinished prompt was “A microhistory.” As a social scientist who does a lot of historical work, I’m familiar with this term. However, the way reading challenges define microhistory is weird and inaccurate. Both Bookriot and PopSugar consider books like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, i.e., books about a single commodity, to be microhistories. They aren’t. A microhistory is a study of a person, event, or locality that is not “important” but which sheds light on larger processes and trends. In other words, it’s anti-famous-person, anti-global, anti-sweeping. But don’t tell the PopSugar and Bookriot people that. As far as they’re concerned, Empire of Cotton fits the category despite having “empire” and “global” in the title. 

Obviously I could have read an actual microhistory, and in my search I found the perfect one for me, the history of an English village I’m quite familiar with. But it’s December and I still haven’t read it. I want to, but I read 200-500 pages a week of nonfiction when I’m teaching and more than that if I’m doing research. I don’t need a challenge to help me read nonfiction, that’s my day job. So I cheated. I stuck Robert Harris’s Munich in the spreadsheet and I’m calling the challenge done. I’ll definitely read the Foxton history, but on my own schedule. 

2018 Read Harder challenge

I’ve looked at Bookriot’s annual challenge in the past, but it often overlaps a lot with PopSugar or skews too much toward YA and didactic reading for me. But this year’s categories looked enjoyable, so I made up an Excel sheet for it. It turned out to be pretty easy to complete, even with three comics categories and more than one children’s/YA category, and I was done by July. I finally read A Bear Called Paddington and I returned to Dickens’ Hard Times to fulfill the “assigned book you hated or never finished” prompt. And I loved it this time, so thank you Bookriot! I fudged a little bit on the social science prompt for the above reasons (I rarely read an entire book cover to cover for work), but I figured anything that passes for pop social science counts in this so I used How to Break Up With Your Phone. It was surprisingly good. 

2018 Mt. TBR Challenge

This turned out to be a harder challenge to fulfill than I’d expected. I have a huge TBR, but as it turns out, the rules stipulate rereads don’t count if you owned the book when you previously read it and neither do library books. I hadn’t paid attention to this in previous years, so I’ve never actually completed my goals. This year, armed with a more accurate understanding, I set my goal at 24 books (the increments are 12, 24, 36, 48, and never-gonna-happen-for-me). With four weeks left in the year I’m at 20/24. 

I’m pretty confident I’ll make it to 24, since I’m trying to read a minimum of 3-4 Harlequin TBR books a month. But I won’t get much past that. Next year, however, will be different because I plan to read a lot more of my own books. But that’s a topic for the end-of-year post. Stay tuned!