Why I Love Reading Challenges

books.lots Back in 2008 several readers on the Romance Potpourri Board discovered they shared a similar problem – they weren’t reading much romance anymore. That problem had led to a secondary dilemma – since they were still buying romance novels they had rapidly growing TBR piles. The solution arrived at was the 9 in 2009 Reading Challenge. Participants were encouraged to read just 9 novels off their TBR that met specific criteria. For most the challenge was an unexpected success and thus the unofficial AAR Romance Potpourri Board Reading Challenge was born.

Over on the boards, we’ve had a challenge every year since. For me the challenge has definitely helped expand my reading experiences. Every year I’ve been asked to read a certain number of books by new to me authors, which has led to my being more open to try new writers. Several years running we were asked to try debut authors. One notable year I tackled new to me subgenres and wound up falling in love with Inspirational romance. My TBR pile would be noticeably smaller if I hadn’t made that unfortunate decision. It surprised me that the challenge has helped me expand since I considered myself a prolific reader. But even prolific readers get stuck in ruts and the challenge has reminded me what a large genre romance is and that there are a lot of sub-genres out there.

Prior to the 9 in 2009 Challenge, I had never considered doing a reading challenge. The fact is, I don’t need to challenge myself to read – I’m pretty voracious in that particular activity without outside motivation. That said, I do need to challenge myself to get rid of my TBR pile, a thing which has grown to such massive proportions it is threatening to take over my home. My TBR also has some kind of weird psychological hold on me. While I have no problem taking an outfit that I bought but didn’t wear to Goodwill, I can’t let go of a book I haven’t read. So what drew me to the Unofficial AAR Challenge was a desire to start making a real dent in that pile. I chose this particular challenge because of size, variety, flexibility and specificity. Most challenges have you read one book a month using fairly open-ended criteria. I’ve never not read one book a month and with the size of my TBR, the criteria often represent no challenge. I know those challenges work very well for many people (for instance, Lynn enjoys joining up with the multi-blog TBR Challenge), but I wanted to do something a little bit different.

With the AAR challenge, I have a wide variety of different types of smaller challenges to do. For example, last year I did a Holiday challenge that had me reading books which centered around specific events in the western calendar as well as a Famous Firsts challenge which had me reading four new to me authors, six books that started a series, two books by authors that debuted this year and one book that had the number one in in it. The specific requirements force me to really search through my TBR and the fantastic part of that is it helps me get reacquainted with what’s in there. It also has me pulling books out of the pile that might have languished there forever. Last year saw me finally reading and removing a 2001 release that I had owned since the day it came out. Fortunately, it met one of the specific criteria in a challenge. It felt great to pack it off to the UBS. The fact that I can do multiple challenges throughout the year is another really big draw. Last year I did nine challenges and removed 117 books from my TBR. I would love to say that all but wiped it out but alas, there’s still a lot there. I like a challenge that also offers flexibility – I can tweak criteria to meet my needs. That helps since it means I can adapt a book for the challenge if I don’t have one that fits perfectly. And we even have challenges for when I don’t want to work too hard at finding books – the Whittler lets me pull any twelve books off my TBR and the Serieous challenge works great for when you have a large series you want to be rid of.

I am very excited about this year’s challenge. Last week I went through my TBR and pulled out the fourteen books I will be reading for the Alphabet Challenge. I can’t wait to start! If you would be interested in joining us for the The 2014 BACK TO SCHOOL Reading Challenge you can find it here and choose which version of the challenge works for you.

Forcing myself to stretch my romance reading boundaries and moving books off my TBR are my rewards for doing the reading challenge. So what about you – do you do reading challenges? If so, which one? What do you find most rewarding about the challenge? What is your favorite part of doing a challenge?

– Maggie Boyd

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22 Responses to “Why I Love Reading Challenges”

  1. LeeB. says:

    I honestly can say that I haven’t tried a reading challenge but some of the ones listed on the boards recently look doable for me.

  2. Maria D. says:

    I have attempted several reading challenges – please note the emphasis on the “attempt part” – lol. I didn’t do well with a super structured one so last year I did a challenge to read and actually write up reviews for the books I read – that sorta worked – except for when I forgot to post my reviews to the site keeping track of what I’d read – I signed up for that again vowing to myself to be more organized. I’ll have to check out the AAR challenges to see if there is one that I can do. I also need to step up my audio books – I’ve let them lapse the last 2 months and I really miss them.

    • maggie b. says:

      I was extremely proud of myself for keeping track of my books via Goodreads last year. I created a shelf called 2013 and just entered books into that. Now I have a nice list to look back on. Good luck keeping a record of your reads this year – it really is nice to have.

  3. Leigh says:

    Like Lee, I haven’t tried a reading challenge either. I don’t really tend to have a large TBR pile. If a book doesn’t catch my interest then I skim and then considered it read.

    I am guilty more of not reading in different genre more than not trying out new authors. If a book interest me than I am more than willing to give a new author a try.

    I do like reading your blogs about the different genres or tropes that you are reading. I bought Haunting Jasmine by Anjali Banerjee after you recommended the book and author, and doing a bit of mid-winter spring cleaning I discovered it in my book bin.

    I do wish for 2014 that authors and or publishers would make more of a effort to re-release book digitally as e-books. I was trying to get rid of some of my paperbacks –I haven’t re-read them in ages, but wouldn’t bring myself to part with my Kathleen Gilles Seidel or Cheryl Reavis books. While I don’t have that many books (maybe 50) I would love to get rid of clutter

    • maggie b. says:

      I had always thought of myself as reading lots of different types of books and genres but I have to admit I did far less of it before doing the challenges. They have really pushed me to expand my reading tastes. I understand why some don’t do it though – if you are a fast reader without a TBR you don’t need to.

      I used to not have a TBR. Then four book stores went out of business in my town and buying up their inventory as they cleared it out really built up my pile! My dream is to someday be out from under it!

  4. library addict says:

    I’ve also been participating in the AAR challenges since 2009. They have been a lot of fun. The thing I like most is that it has gotten me to read books that have languished in Mount TBR for YEARS.

    I love that there are so many challenges to choose from. At the beginning of the year I copy and paste the challenge into a Word document and then list possible books in red next to the various entries. Once I’ve read a book and posted it in the challenge thread I change the color. And once a challenge is completed I add a checkmark. There have been a few times I have to really search for a book to finish off a challenge, but so far those have been few and far between. And I often pick a book and then decide which challenge spot it fits, even if it means bumping a book I had originally selected for that spot. I read by mood and the challenge categories make it very easy to keep doing so.

    The original purpose of the challenge was to read books already in our TBR piles and the challenges have really helped me with that. Admittedly my digital TBR pile is much bigger now that it was in 2009, but with so many great Kobo coupons, etc that was to be expected, right? ;)

    This year I am going to try to get my print TBR pile down by half. That may be too ambitious, but I am going to give it an effort. I have been reading mostly digital the past few years so my print TBR has not changed much.

    • maggie b. says:

      My TBR is what keeps me addicted to the challenges. I know there is no way I can halve mine in the next year but if I can cut a third of it I will be happy. I have several challenges lined up already. I had some books from the library that fit perfectly into the Geography challenge so I started with that just to get rid of them. I have my alphabet challenge books picked out, a Study Hall (seriesous challenge) picked out and I hope to do Game On! So many blasted books, so little reading time!!!

  5. Pamela (aka pwm in mi) says:

    I did my first challenge last year. I stumbled upon the Lean Mean Thirteen thread, and read the list of challenges and thought a) how creative and fun b)how intimidating and c) what a great way to make a dent in my huge print and e-book TBR pile.

    At first I was going to do the Whittler ( and 13 books from your TBR pile) but then noticed the Serious Challenge( any book from a series). This was a jackpot! In my first post, I knock out 6 books, since apparently all I read are books from series!

    By the end of the year I had complete 4 others. Needless to say I am hooked. What I enjoy most, is fitting books into each part of the challenge. I also discovered some new authors by participating, which is a bonus.

    This years set of challenges look great. There are some incredibly creative folks on this thread (shout-outs to Kim76, Karat, Sandylynn, and of course Maggie B) who have come up with some very cool challenges. I will be starting with the Days of the Week, Shakespearean, and Game on.

    If you are intimidated, start of with the Lunch (the Whittler/book in your TBR pile), or Study hall (series books) challenge, or the Freshman (first books/new to you authors). or if you read across genres or want to stretch yourself in this way, try the Library Challenge. These are probably the most straight forward.

    I wish I could say that doing the challenges reduced my TBR pile. I did read quite of few books that have been on my shelf for over a year. However, I am quick to add books, especially when they are on sale for Kindle. But alas, that is a personal issue:)

  6. Sandlynn says:

    I’ve been participating in the AAR Potpourri Message Board book challenges since the first one in 2009. One of the unwritten “rules” of the challenge is that, whoever finishes first, i.e., finishes one of the many challenges offered first, gets to create the challenge for the next year. In 2009, I finished first — mostly because our much faster readers hadn’t discovered the challenges yet ;-) — and so I put together the one for 2010. It was so much. Since then, the person who finishes first and creates the challenge puts out a post asking for contributions to the next year’s challenge so that they don’t have to come up with everything themselves, and we get a greater variety of creative ideas. The only thing the first person who finishes must do is come up with a theme and post the challenges they receive and come up with themselves.

    Anyway, back to why I participate…. After many years of doing so, I stopped reading romances, but then got back into reading them years later. Needless to say, I missed a lot of great romances in the interim and so I began collecting them willy-nilly! Mostly, I would find them at my other great love — the used book sale! Besides this, I was also buying new romances suggested by many of you and, as a result, my TBR pile was getting crazy big. It was so hard to decide what to read next, let alone read fast enough to winnow things down.

    The reading challenges have helped with both of those “problems.” Satisfying the parameters of a challenge helps me to select my next book and my competitive need to get through as many challenges as I can has helped me to read much more than I had been doing previously. A win win!

    Lastly, it’s just fun to help make up challenges and to fit the books I have to each of them. My only self-appointed rule is … never buy a book to fit a challenge. The book must already be in my TBR pile, whether a newer addition or an older one.

  7. Karat says:

    I have been participating in the AAR Message Board Reading challenges for a couple of years. I first joined for the fun of it – I thought I would enjoy matching books from my TBR to the available criteria, and I was right! It got me hooked! After a couple of weeks into the first challenge, I realized an extra benefit: the challenge gave me extra motivation to get back to books that had been in my TBR for many, many years. And in addition to that, last year I had a chance to create my own suggestions for the challenge for the first time, which was also quite fun. I was happy to be able to contribute this year again! Finally, the fourth reason why I participate in the challenge: I enjoy seeing the different books people select for the criteria we have. Some of the choices are quite surprising! And I can pick great recommendations for everyone that participates the challenge. I hope more people join us in 2014!

  8. Karat says:

    I have been participating in the AAR Message Board Reading challenges for a couple of years. I first joined for the fun of it – I thought I would enjoy matching books from my TBR to the available criteria, and I was right! It got me hooked! After a couple of weeks into the first challenge, I realized an extra benefit: the challenge gave me extra motivation to get back to books that had been in my TBR for many, many years. And in addition to that, last year I had a chance to create my own suggestions for the challenge for the first time, which was also quite fun. I was happy to be able to contribute this year again! Finally, the fourth reason why I participate in the challenge: I enjoy seeing the different books people select for the criteria we have. Some of the choices are quite surprising! And I have picked great recommendations from the readers who participate in the challenge. I hope more people join us in 2014!

    • Karat says:

      Oops, I thought my first attempt to submit my comments did not work, so I fixed a sentence in last paragraph and submitted again… Sorry for the duplicate! The second post is the correct one.

  9. Paola says:

    I joined because my TBR pile is enormous and it’s a way to get rid of at least a third of it. I promised myself not to add other books until I had finished at least one challenge.
    It’s also great fun to search in it to match the books with the challenge.

  10. Caz says:

    I did 3 challenges last year – one was just the generic Goodreads one though, so not at all specific. I did another GR one – the Mount TBR which was designed to get you to read books owned prior to 2013 and I did one at Historical Tapestry. I didn’t quite make the Mt TBR (3 books short) but I overdid the other one.

    I’ve signed up to Wendy’s multi-blog challenge, too, and I’m still pondering which one of the AAR ones to do – I’ve narrowed it down to 3 and just have to work out which variation I’m going to use.

    Like you, I don’t really need a challenge to get me reading, I just like that particular way of cataloguing my books!

  11. Pam Shropshire says:

    I’m another voracious reader that doesn’t need a challenge to get me reading, but I looked through your list of challenges just for the heck of it.

    As I read, I amused myself by fitting books I have read in the last few months into the various categories. As Caz said, I found it a really fresh, interesting new way to catalogue my books.

    Thanks!

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