Reading Challenges: Set Goals for Yourself

An update at last!

Yes, apologies for being away for so long. I really haven’t felt like I had anything to write about lately, but I’m finding some more inspiration this week.

I never posted anything about my reading challenge last year, so I did want to talk a little bit about that and about reading goals in general.

Last year I decided to do the Bringing Up Burns 26 Books in 2015 as a means of staying motivated to read after graduating from college. And boy did it work.

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

I started halfway through the year, and even then I managed to devour 26 books and a few extra besides. What I liked most about the challenge was that it left me the flexibility to still read things I wanted to read, while offering me opportunities to branch out. For example trying reading some nonfiction, or poetry, or a memoir instead of my typical teen fiction or classics.

But now for this year. This year I thought about doing some kind of a challenge, and I opted out. Because I decided there were too many different directions I wanted to go, and I also just never found another one I liked as much as the one I did last year.

But I do have a few goals I’ve set.

For one, Goodreads always offers a goal set at the beginning of the year. So I’ve set my count to 60 books. I read 52 last year, so this seems like a good step up from what I managed while still in school.

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But alongside just wanting to read 60 books, I have decided to try to motivate myself to read some books I might not just pick up on my own. And that has happened through picking up a few different books lists.

The first one is a little bit silly because the whole thing really started as a sort of internet hoax. Some of you might have seen it but there’s this claim going around that BBC Believes You’ve Only Read 6 of These Books

Honestly from the little I’ve looked into it, seems like someone loosely based it off the BBC 100 best loved books list and then decided to add a tagline to get people to look at it. Though the list is not really true (because BBC has never said such a thing), it does have a variety of books, many of which I haven’t read and would like to at some point. So in order to motivate myself, I’ve started steadily working through the list. As of right now I’ve read 39.

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I’m not setting a time limit on this goal (I know being such a bad Girl Scout), but I want to give myself the freedom to read other things in between and to take my time on some of the heavier works. Nonetheless, I’ve already found that this challenge has exposed me to some pretty amazing works. I just finished The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, a book I would never have picked up on my own, and it is to date the only book that has left me physically shaking at the end.

Alongside that one I’ve also decided to try to read a Buzzfeed list of 29 Books to Get you Through Your Quarter-Life Crisis. As a 23 year old who recently graduated and is still trying to figure out life, I’m feeling more than a little in need of this right now. I don’t know that I will read all of them, but a few of them have definitely intrigued me enough to check them out.

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Finally, I also have wanted to increase my women’s literature background, so I decided to go with an easy one and picked 9 Classic Novellas by Women You Can Read in a Day. So far I’ve enjoyed these works and have found them quite a treat after working through Thomas Hardy and other equally long works.

So those have been keeping me busy for now. Just plugging away and trying to make sure I keep reading even when I’m busy. So far it’s been a great way to destress after a busy day of work.

So there’s a little update on my reading life. What are you reading? How do you stay motivated to read? Do you set goals for yourself? What sources do you use to find books? Always love hearing what readers have to say!

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Reading Challenge 8: A Book at the Bottom of your “To Be Read” Pile

All right, so I’ll admit I went a bit easy on myself for this one. But this is a book I’ve never read that was definitely on my “to be read” list. And I’d just finished reading Gone Girl, which was great but pretty long. And it just fit the time of year so well that it was impossible to resist.

So yes, for my final challenge doing this long 26 book list, I decided to do A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

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I don’t even feel like I need to really put a description up. To be honest, this story is so iconic that I really don’t have any desire to review it. It’s short and sweet and utterly Christmasy. If you haven’t read it you should. Let’s just stick with that.

I had thought about doing a reading challenge wrap up, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. In the meantime, thanks to all my readers who have stuck with me through these long series of posts. Maybe with the new year I can begin some more unique ones to mix it up, and maybe get back to writing.

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My reading list on goodreads and you can see the bottom

In the meantime I’ll ask my readers: Have you read this book? What’s at the bottom of your read list? What are your reading goals for the New Year?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Entire challenge:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

8. A Book at the Bottom of your “To Be Read” Pile

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

13. A Book with a Female Heroine

14. A Book Set in Summer

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

18. A Book with a Blue Cover

19. A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but Didn’t

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

23. A Book From the Library

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

25. A Book that is More than Ten Years Old

26. A Book Based on a True Story

 

 

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Reading Challenge 23: A Book from the Library

I actually laughed at this challenge. My mother scoffed at it too. It wasn’t until I went on instagram and saw people posting about this one and saying this was the first time going to the library, or their first time in a long time that I realized that my experience is not everyone’s.

My library card doesn’t even have my signature on it. It has my mother’s neat print where she signed for me since I was too young to even handle a pen, let alone write my name when she had me signed up for my first library card. I’ve been a devoted library user ever since. I do buy books on occasion, though usually they are favorites I’ve already read, or antique copies of classics that I’d love to have decorate my shelf, but for the most part I select my books at the place I’m already paying taxes too anyways.

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So to mix up this challenge, since it wasn’t that hard for me, I decided to do an ebook from the library, which was something I’d never tried before. It also helped since I was traveling over the holidays and wanted books without a heavy load in my backpack. Voila, books directly on my phone. I went to the popular books section and picked one that had been on my list for a while: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

The story begins with Nick Dunne, a Missouri native who recently moved back from New York to care for his sick mother and aging father, bringing with him an amazing New England wife. It’s the morning of their fifth anniversary, and although Nick reflects on how amazing the relationship once was, it quickly becomes obvious that he and Amy are not what they used to be. With a marriage falling apart, Nick faces even more problems when he comes home to find the house in a state of disarray and his wife clearly missing. A police investigation ensues. The story follows Nick’s story in the progress of searching for his wife, while Amy tells their seven year love story in her diary. But while the marriage certainly has had its problems, the reader is still left to wonder if it was enough to inspire Nick to kill his wife, or if he’ll simply become accused of doing so falsely.

It’s a tough description to give, simply because there is so much to this book that can’t even begin to be summed up in a paragraph. I really did enjoy this book, surprising too since I’d seen the movie and already knew the biggest surprises in the plot. But I really enjoyed this as a novel too, because I felt like the written tale actually doubled the depth that was already there. I loved how this story explored media, and justice, and marriage, and narration. I enjoyed the narrative itself, and I became very interested in the plot.

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My card is so old it has my mother’s worn out handwriting where the signature should go

I think a lot of people might be turned off by the characters because they’re not extremely likable. But I’ve become someone who’s quickly been able to look over the fact that I might not like a character because I can recognize there are more important things sometimes. This book actually reminded me of Tender is the Night in some ways, with a sort of warped marriage and a fascinating character in both Amy Dunne and Nicole Divers.

Some, like my father, might also feel this book is just another anti-marriage message. Honestly, I think I might have felt that myself. had I not read the acknowledgements page at the end where Flynn praises her wonderful spouse for marrying her. And to be honest, a closer look revealed to me a greater theme throughout than just marriage bashing. Characters constantly point out the effect the media has, on justice, on gender roles, and on marriage. More than once someone is told that they’ve watched too many movies, or have seen too many crime shows, or that a children’s series has dictated the entire life of a young woman, or even one character who uses novels for a nefarious real life purpose. So to me, the message of the book isn’t “marriage sucks don’t get hitched you’ll regret it,” it’s a warning against simplifying love. It’s a warning against thinking marriage will be easy like it is in romcoms or in a thousand other silly romantic stories. It’s about remembering that life isn’t as neat as it is on a television screen, and that you cannot go into a marriage or a life expecting perfection. Because perfection just isn’t possible, and dreaming of it will only mess things up.

As to the choice to do ebook, I’ll say this: I really do prefer hard copies. Books I can hold in my hands and thumb through. But, I was glad to have a smaller version of this book to take with me on my trip. I enjoyed being able to pull out my phone and read at the intermission of the ballet I attended. And you just can’t do that with a hardback copy of Gone Girl. So there are a few benefits I suppose.

Anyhow, that’s my two-cents. Anyone else have any thoughts on Gone Girl? What about libraries? Do you use them? How about ebooks? Do you prefer those?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

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Reading Challenge 13: A Book With a Female Heroine

I suppose I find the title to the challenge a little redundant, but  the idea behind it is great.I remember sitting in my women’s lit class and having one of the male students admit that he’d made a list of his top ten favorite books only to have a professor point out he had no female authors on it.I checked my own reads for this year and have read 28 female authors out of 51 books (54%). I suppose some of us are less aware than others about how gender might be represented in our author choices, or our protagonist choices.

Even in the modern world, sometimes there still seem to be a greater number of heroes than heroines out there. Just look at the top box office movies and witness the list of top grossing films this year and you’ll notice Avengers, Jurassic World, American Sniper, or even Minions (since these seem to be an exclusively male species?). The New York Times bestseller list shows a similar trend (currently, at least) with four out of the five top books featuring male protagonists, while only one features solely female (thanks Girl on the Train).

I’m not here to start a debate about the percentage of representation of females. I personally would continue to advocate for strong female leads in books and television and film. I’ll share an infographic below on the statistics, but it’s a bit too big for the main part of the blog.

For this challenge I decided to read a book I’d won in a Goodreads giveaway called The Repercussions by Catherine Hall. I chose it mostly because I was traveling and it was a light paperback that was easy to bring along. But I also chose it because it is about two strong female protagonists and was written by a female author. And that’s just what I needed to feel I’d completed the challenge to the utmost degree possible.

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The story revolves around the accounts of two different women. Jo has just returned from doing photography of the War in Afghanistan. She is suffering from PTSD and struggling to return to normal life. As she does so, she decides to read her great-grandmother’s accounts of living in India as a nurse, while also telling her own story in a written confession to her ex-lover.

I have to be honest in saying I didn’t love this book. There were elements I very much enjoyed, but I felt like the story really dragged and never fully connected with the two somewhat disjointed plots. I really enjoyed Jo as a character, though I found Elizabeth, her grandmother, much less compelling.

I did, however, think there were some elements of this story that were really well done, particularly in meeting this challenge. To me this was a great example of strong female literature. Jo is very self-sufficient, and she also wrestles with the struggles of the women she meets in Afghanistan. I’d recently finished The Kite Runner before reading this book, and it was an interesting comparison. I think I found Jo a little less inspiring simply because she was an outsider trying to tell someone else’s story. But at the same time, the book made the point that women all over the world suffer violence and abuse. It’s a global problem.

I can’t rave about this novel, that’s for sure. The writing felt a little clunky in places, and I think for me Elizabeth’s story just didn’t fit in quite as well as it maybe could have. But nonetheless this was a very interesting exploration of women’s issues, war, love, and different boundaries that keep people apart. If the plot sounds like something you’d be interested in then I’d recommend trying it out and seeing what you think for yourself! In the meantime, just keep supporting female representation in the media and female writers too!

Do you feel like there’s a problem with gender equality in media? I have shown some film stats below but couldn’t find book ones so if you have a great link please share it! Do you tend to read more female or male authors? Do you prefer male or female protagonists? Why do you think this is?

I will quickly admit this is 3 years old so it might be dated, but here are a few facts on film representation from the New York Film Academy. Sorry it’s not books, but I still felt like it was interesting and wanted to share!

 

 

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Reading Challenge 6: A Book by an Author You’ve Never Read Before

Another very open ended challenge. In fact, as I commented on the challenge of reading a book by an author I loved, I tend to not repeat authors very regularly. More often I prefer to try something new, which was why I wasn’t really sure what to pick for this challenge. But I ended up just picking something that had long been on my reading list: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

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The story follows a young boy named Amir living in Afghanistan. He and his servant boy, Hassan, enjoy reading stories, and seeing John Wayne movies, and participating in kite tournaments together, until one act of cowardice by Amir pulls them apart forever. The book follows Amir’s journey, to his new life in America, and then to his journey back to Afghanistan to redeem himself.

I think that’s the best description I can give, but I still feel it in no way begins to cover this amazing book. Even after a few days to reflect, I’m not sure I can even write a decent blog post, because I’m still far too overwhelmed by the mere thought of this story. It’s one of the books that has made me cry the hardest, but also one I was unable to put down. I stayed up well past midnight even with an early morning of work ahead, so eager to know what would happen. I felt really connected to the characters, and thoroughly invested in the story.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what goes into making a great novel. And to me, some of the biggest components are a good story, great themes, and a decent writing style. I think good books can have one or two of these. But to me, a really worthwhile and meaningful novel will have all three. I felt that The Kite Runner had a good writing style over all. First person narrators can be tricky, but it was well done. The story kept me motivated to keep reading. And of course, I thought the themes were very meaningful. About overcoming ones own flaws, about family dynamics, about justice and politics, wealth and poverty. The layers in this book seemed so rich to me, that I think it would require another more thorough reading to really peel them back.

Either way, I loved this book and it’s become a new favorite of mine. I would really encourage others to read it!

Do you often read books by the same author? What do you think makes a great novel?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

14. A Book Set in Summer

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

18. A Book with a Blue Cover

19. A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but Didn’t

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

25. A Book that is More than Ten Years Old

26. A Book Based on a True Story

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Reading Challenge 18: A Book With a Blue Cover

I must admit I don’t usually choose my books based on the color of the cover. I considered just going to the library and picking a random title that fit this requirement, but I eventually just decided to pick something I already had on my reading list and that was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. And since Life of Pi has so much water in it, the cover of my copy happens to be blue.

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The story begins with Piscine Motorel Patel, known as Pi, a young Indian boy who is fascinated by religion and by zoology. He’s spent his life growing up surrounded by a zoo his father runs. But a time eventually comes when his family decides to make a journey to Canada to begin a new life. However, in the middle of his voyage, Pi becomes marooned in a lifeboat with several zoo animals, most frightening of all a ferocious Bengal tiger. The story follows his struggle for survival.

So one of the tough things to do is to honestly evaluate a book when you’ve seen the movie before reading the story. Because having already seen the movie, definitely spoiled some things in the book. For me, I think that’s the reason I usually prefer reading the book first.

Nonetheless, I still thought the story was very interesting. The book seemed to develop some much more existential themes about religion, story, and human vs. beast. I really enjoyed thinking more on those alongside enjoying the great story. This book also did make a good movie with all the visual appeal, and I also enjoyed the movie more in some respects because it was less graphic than the book.

So there were definitely benefits to both formats, but overall I appreciated both. They both tell an incredible story, and I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for that.

Have you ever picked a book for its cover? What would you choose to complete this challenge? Any thoughts on books to movies?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

14. A Book Set in Summer

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

19. A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but Didn’t

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

25. A Book that is More than Ten Years Old

26. A Book Based on a True Story

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Reading Challenge 25: A Book That is More Than Ten Years Old

While I’ve loved doing this reading challenge, I have to admit I dislike some of these really broad challenges. How much older than ten years? Should I aim for exactly ten? Well, considering probably half of what I’ve read has met this qualification, I just picked a random book and went with that. Which is how I ended up going down my reading list and selecting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

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Christopher Boone is an incredibly gifted student. He’s doing his A-levels in maths before any of the other students, and can rattle off incredible facts at the blink of an eye. But the fact remains that Christopher is different. He’s autistic. Unable to eat foods that are yellow or brown, or to discern what emotions his classmates are feeling, or to know what to make of an idiomatic expression. or even to let his own father hug him. But in spite of all of these difficulties, Christopher decides that he wants to write an account of his life in a way that makes sense to him. He begins writing his story after he discovers his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, murdered with a garden fork one night. Unable to give up on finding out what happened, Christopher sets out to find out the truth about the curious incident, resulting in him discovering several secrets he never should have known, all while continuing to explore his own system of understanding a world that doesn’t seem to understand him.

I cannot even begin to describe how much I loved this book. I thought it was incredibly well written. The story was amazing. The characters, especially the protagonist, were inspiring and realistic. The mystery kept me focused on wanting to know what happened in the story, but the details of autistic life allowed me to become better educated on real life matters I’d never explored much before.

I think that’s one of the true beauties of reading, is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. I haven’t really met anyone who’s autistic, though I’ve definitely seen characters portrayed as such in films, or heard of people dealing with these issues, but reading a book through Christopher’s mind allowed me to really start making some connections about a subject I had previously rarely encountered. Needless to say, I’m very glad I picked up this book even if it’s not one of the newest books out there.

Do you prefer reading new or old books? Do you balance it or is it usually one or the other?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

 

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

14. A Book Set in Summer

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

19. A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but Didn’t

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

26. A Book Based on a True Story

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