Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Taking the Challenge

by Jeanette O'Hagan

Reading a favourite book is a great way to escape into another world – whether it be Pemberley, Prince Edward Island, Narnia or the Galactic Empire. Yet reading is not just an idle form of entertainment – the best books teaches us to see the world with different eyes. Novels can expand our knowledge of different countries, cultures, professions, periods of history or innovations or activities.
They can challenge us to think about controversial issue in a more nuanced way or change our understanding of humanity and the cosmos. They can help us understand ourselves, challenge our prejudices and walk with us through difficult periods. A world without stories is a world without a soul.

Of course, there is more to life than books. Books have been a lifeline to me more than once, but deeper, more important, more trustworthy has been God’s love, not just through His story but also by His powerful presence in my life. So while I love memes about books, I tend to shy away from ones that suggest they are our only saviour.

All of which is a long-winded way (sorry) of saying that I love reading books. And one way I’ve discovered of adding an extra spice to reading, is participating in a reading challenge. There are a huge variety of these – some easy, some hard.   Here are four – some of which I’ve participated in, one of which I might do one day.

GoodReads Reading Challenge


Goodreads is a social media site that has a lot to offer to the reader (see here).  One feature is the annual reading challenge (see here). At the beginning of the year you set the number of books you aim to read in that year – it could be 10, 30 or 100. As you enter your books & mark them off as read, Goodreads keeps track of how you are progressing towards your goal.  In 2013 I set 40 books and surpassed my goal, last year was 55 – and I just made it – mainly because I have been involved in the launch of four anthologies over the last six weeks.

Four anthologies


Read the Bible in a Year Challenge


I started this challenge last year as part of a group. I really enjoyed the impetus to sit down and read long sections of the different books in the Bible in a more or less chronological order and then discussing our discoveries with other enthusiastic people. We used Diane Stortz’s A Woman’s Guide to reading the Bible in a year. Each week, the guide gave a set or readings from the Old or New Testaments, a brief introduction of the background of the passages & then asked 3 questions. For one reason and another, the group was unable to complete the whole year, but it is something I will do again in the future.


 The Popsugar 2016 Ultimate Reading Challenge


This year I’ve joined a group doing a 2016 reading challenge – which sets out 40 categories and 42 books for the year (apparently last year it was 50). Categories range from A New York bestseller to a dystopia; a book with a blue cover to a book you can read in a day; a book set on an island to a book of poetry (see the challenge here). So far I’ve read 2 books (which together add up to 1200 pages) and have almost finished the third, as I went for what I considered the most difficult item first – a book over 600 pages. I looked at the library return trolleys and picked up the only book that big (actually over 700 pages) by an author I had never read before in a genre I wasn’t that interested in (women’s fiction set in 1880s New York) – and loved it. The challenge has already stretched my reading and, as we talk about our books in the Facebook group, I’ve learnt about other new, interesting books I plan to follow-up and which I might not have heard about otherwise. It is a great opportunity to reduce books from the to-read list. It’s not yet the end of week three and I’m thoroughly enjoying this challenge.


The Geographical Challenge


One of the members of the above group shared another, even more difficult reading challenge (see here) – to read a book connected in some way to each of the 196 countries of the world. This is a challenge which take most people much longer than a year – but I imagine it would be an intriguing way to do the ‘world trip’. It could be a grand voyage of discovery.



There are many other reading challenges of course – some harder, some easier.

So, why do a reading challenge? I think they can add direction and excitement to our reading, like book clubs (see here) they can push us to read more widely than we normally would and ensure we never run out of something to read.

How about you. What would you set as a reading challenge - perhaps an alphabetical challenge (choosing books with authors starting with each name of the alphabet) or a genre challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts or your experiences with reading challenges.

Image of coffee cup and open book courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Other images from Jeanette O'Hagan


Jeanette O’Hagan enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. She is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. Her short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of LightAnother Time Another Place and Like a Girl.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master’s in writing. She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.


You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her websites  JennysThread.com or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

17 comments:

  1. I also love the reading challenges. I've participated in the Goodreads challenge for the last four or five years, and am signed up again this year. I did the PopSugar challenge last year, but didn't complete it (I left all the categories I wasn't interested in until the end, and then ran out of motivation).

    Instead, this year, I'm also doing a Mt TBR challenge, in an attempt to get through some of the books on my to-read mountain (hence the name of the challenge). I'm going for Everest - 75 unread books that I owned before 1 January 2016. It's embarrassing to think I own that many - in my defence, many of them are ebooks.

    I've done the Bible in a Year challenge for the last two years, once with the New King James version, and once with the New International version. This year I'm using the Holman Christian Standard Bible - I find using a different version of the Bible highlights different things, and keeps the challenge from becoming same-old.

    I'm doing the Chronological plan from http://oneyearbibleonline.com/ - the beauty of this is you can start at any day in the year, as the website will calculate the daily readings based on when you want to start.

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    1. Hi Iola. The Mt TBR challenge sounds like a great idea - I could easily find a year's reading there (especially if I include the free downloads on my Kindle). Are you doing this with anyone else or is this a challenge you have set yourself? Thanks for the link to the Chronological plan - and what a good idea to use different version each year. At one point, several years back, I was reading the New Testament in Greek - to revise my knowledge of Greek and keep the readings fresh.

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    2. Here's the link to the Mt Readmore Challenge on Goodreads:
      https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/17903531

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  2. Well, all I can say is, I am in awe of those challenges you have completed and are currently taking on, Jeanette! Also Iola, judging by your comments above. Well done to you both! These days, I just like to make my own way in my own time through my 'to read' list of books and also the Bible, but I can see how a challenge could be a good motivation to keep going.

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    1. I like working to a plan or deadline, I've found - though the big bonus with the current challenge is interacting with other readers. Iola's Goodreads Challenges are definitely impressive and leave me in total awe. My totals don't even come close. But each to their own. The point is not to compete but to stretch oneself and to enjoy :)

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  3. Jenny, love this post. I like the idea of the reading challenges for the variety they can provide as you've so outlined. However, there are so many books from my fave authors, not to mention my bloated TBR pile, that make me resistant to doing some of the ones you've mentioned.

    So, in the meantime, I now spread my reading wings, with more contemporary and historical (& Biblical) fiction. My eyes have been opened having restricted myself to "read in your (writing) genre" which I did for years. So the thrillers and specfics are filling up my TBR as I discover the joys of reading other genres.

    Bible reading challenges. I tend to do short ones linked to a season. So, e.g., with Lent this year I'll read through Luke and Acts using a version I don't usually use. A few years ago for Lent I read the entire Bible through. Gee, I was exhausted by the end of it.

    Maybe one day we should all do a reading challenge, a Down Under readers one. That might be fun.

    Great post, Jenny.

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    1. You read the whole Bible during Lent? Wow. That's a huge commitment, and a huge achievement.

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    2. Hi Ian - I like the Popsugar challenge because it is flexible, with only a few of the categories very specific. I think it will give the motivation to read quite a few books in my TBR pile this year :)

      I like your Bible reading challenges linked to a season (Lent - or I guess Advent). Like Iola, I'm amazed at your dedication in reading the whole Bible during the 40 days of Lent - though it would be a bit like reading War and Peace in size - it is so packed with insight and life applications. Yet reading in a short period like that would bring our the overarching biblical story - God's plan to rescue a fallen humanity.

      And I agree, a Down Under readers challenge would be awesome.

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  4. I loved reading about your challenges Jeanette. I've challenged myself to read 160 books with Goodreads this year.

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    1. Thanks Dale - Wow, that'a great total. I don't think I could read that many and still write my stories & give feedback on to crit friends on their unpublished WIPs. I look forward to seeing your reviews on the books you read :)

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  5. I've done the Goodreads challenge the last few years and I'm joining the PopSugar challenge this year too. My 12 year old has decided he wants to do the Popsugar challenge too, but we've had to modify it a bit (he is just starting high school this year, so finding a book he hasn't read since high school is a bit hard ;) )

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    1. I've enjoyed your 12 year old's contributions Melissa - an articulate and thoughtful young man though I can see how it's hard to read a book fro High School when you are just starting that level of schooling.

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  6. They sound like some interesting reading challenges. Last year I read my Bible in a year using a chronological plan. It was especially interesting to read the Psalms along with the passages in Exodus and 1 & 2 Samuel that they relate to. I'm also doing the Goodreads challenge (plus a few others).

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    1. Hi Beth - Reading the Pslams in connection with their historical biblical context would be interesting. All the best with your reading challenges this year.

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  7. Hi Jeanette, great post! My current reading challenge invloves judging published books in a writing contest. I'm reading genres I don't usually read and I agree, it's good to stretch ourselves by reading more widely :)

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    1. Thanks Narelle. That does sound like an interesting challenge.

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