Reading Challenge: Are You Up For One?

ChallengeSome words are just loaded with meaning, aren’t they? I’m thinking of the word “challenge.” “Challenge,” only second to “resolution,” appears frequently in print and in conversations in January. We’re challenged to exercise more, eat less, drop all our bad habits like a fledgling backpacker, tossing canned goods and bottles of water behind him, ten miles down the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve issued some personal challenges to myself already. I really am exercising more. I’m trying to increase last year’s 5,000 steps a day to 10,000.  I made great progress just hours ago when I got lost in the next neighborhood over and wandered for 8,539 steps until I finally gave up and used Google Maps to get myself back home.

Another challenge, too, intrigued me. The idea began when another author and friend, Curtiss Ann Matlock, announced on her blog that she intended to read fifty books in 2017. This clearly struck a note with many of us. I’d just returned from a cruise where I’d read three–close enough to 2017 to count them–and I decided I was going to do the same thing. Fifty books sounded easy enough. Why not? And it would be fun to check back in with Curtiss Ann and see how she and her followers were doing.

Then I heard about another reading challenge from a reader on the Women Reading Great Books Facebook group. She mentioned a reading challenge at Better World Books, so I popped over there to see what it was. This challenge was very different, not a number of books but a list of particular kinds of books. I learned that Better World Books sells both new and used books and is giving a 10% off coupon between now and the end of the month to help readers get started. But, of course, you don’t have to shop there to take part in their challenge.

Here’s the fun part. Someone at the store came up with a great list of particulars for the books they suggest we read. You see the list on the infographic above. And isn’t it a great list? Because we aren’t being asked to simply read our usual genres, but to stretch ourselves to read genres and subjects we might not ordinarily tackle. They’ve even give some great suggestions to get us started, as well as a Goodreads group to help us stay motivated. (But the infographic left off “food memoir” so add that if you want to be part of this.)

By the way, why does reading out of our comfort zone matter? Scientific American reports that researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that reading literary fiction improves our capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. And I don’t know about you, but I think we could use an abundance of understanding of each other about now. We really might help build that “Better World.”

So here’s my plan. I’m going to try to integrate these two challenges. I want to read 50 books in 2017, some of them just plain fun, some of them necessary to my writing career, and some of them that will fit the descriptions on the Better World list. I’d like to complete both challenges by the end of December.

Do you want to join me? If you’d like to–no pressure–comment below. Tell us which challenge you plan to attempt or both, if that applies. And then, as you move toward your goal, feel free to list the books you’ve read in subsequent comments on any of my other blogs and if you feel like it, what you thought of your choice. I’ll try to keep a list so by year’s end we can recount our successes together .

And as a reward for at least giving this a try? I’ll keep a list of everybody who comments with a book they’ve read for one challenge or the other, and in January of next year I’ll choose at random five commenters to receive an autographed copy of one of my recent novels.

So now I need to go back and count all the books I’ve finished myself this month. At the moment I’m reading Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon, set in Venice. I’ll add it to make my fifty, but I’m not going to use it as my “book set in a place I want to visit.” I’ve been to Venice, where it takes place, and while I want to go back, I think I’ll look for a book set somewhere I haven’t yet been. The world is open to me between the covers of a book. I hope it will be the same for you.


  1. Annette on January 18, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Last year I read 108 books so, this year I’m sticking to 100.

  2. jean Skarda on January 18, 2017 at 8:38 am

    I would like to read to both challenges and my goal will be 50 books. Last year got to 82 and last week in St.Louis an ice storm and this old lady stayed in and read 4 books so am on my way!!

    • Emilie Richards on January 22, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I’m delighted with everybody’s enthusiasm! I’m now reading Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey–who apparently did not like Mormons–as my book over 100 years old. But if I find another I want to read, I can use this one as my book with a color in the title. It’s fun to find acceptable choices. BTW, I’m surprised at how “romancey” and lyrical ZG could be. I think we’ll all have our ideas and preconceived notions challenged this year as we read. A great side effect.

    • Jalia on March 10, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      It’s good to get a fresh way of loonkig at it.

  3. Marjorie Roberts on January 18, 2017 at 8:55 am

    I usually aim for 50 books, so I am in! I am on my fourth book this month, as I try and read one per week, but am actually ahead of schedule and am proud of it. I will keep the Better World list handy in case the ones I read overlap with them. My list so far is as follows: The Life She Wants – a stand alone fiction book by Robyn Carr; Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson – Book three of her Mystic Creek series (contemporary romance); Sweet Tomorrows by Debbie Macomber – Book 5 and the ending to her Rose Harbor series (contemporary romance); and I am about 25 pages from the end of Whispers of Goodbye by Karen White – Spinning the Moon contains her first two books and I read the first of them in October – In the Shadow of the Moon – Spinning the Moon was reprinted (with some author changes) due to popular requests from readers and they take place in Louisiana during and after the Civil War. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

  4. Kathy Dean on January 18, 2017 at 10:12 am


    Historical fiction is my favorite genre. I just got my tour guide license in New Orleans and have been reading lots of nonfiction books (that read like fiction). Karen White’s book set during the Civil War will be a great addition to my list. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. Kathy Dean on January 18, 2017 at 10:21 am


    I will take the challenge to read 50 books this year. I usually don’t keep track of the books I read, but always wish I had after the fact.
    Your books, Rising Tides and Iron Lace reactivated my love of the history of New Orleans. I recently took a class and became a licensed New Orleans tour guide. So I am vigorously eating up as many nonfiction and historical fiction books about the history of the city as possible. I’m in! If anyone is coming to New Orleans, I will be glad to take you around! It’s one of America’s great cities!

  6. Terri Abraham on January 18, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I’m in! I’ll definitely do the 50 books and I’m going to attempt to do the Better World book list to stretch my wings a bit. So far this year I’ve read A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year which was a collection of short stories so I can cross the two easy ones off the list.

  7. Pam Reed on January 18, 2017 at 10:31 am

    I always have two books I’m reading at the same time. One hard cover book for during the day and one on my Kindle – to read in bed! Right now I am re-reading Anne George’s Southern Sisters Mystery series. They are a hoot and remind me of Emilie’s Ministry is Murder series – only with two sisters.

  8. Nancy Lepri on January 18, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Like you said, reading fifty books seems like nothing, especially because I usually read at least three books a week, but I’m always up for a challenge, and reading books is not a challenge at all, but a way of life for me. Now, to get my steps up to 10,000…that’s a challenge!

  9. Meyrill on January 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

    I think I can manage this. Now I am reading What Alice Forgot. For a book club. This is a different genres for me

  10. Randi Shelton on January 18, 2017 at 11:41 am

    I always have at least two books going at once. I agree that reading is a way of life for me so 50 books doesn’t seem like a lot. I exercise several times/week, but that’s a challenge. So far this month I’ve read. When We Were Sisters, Firefly Lane (a re-read) does that count? Small Great Things (finished at end of December so counting it)

  11. Cathy Norton on January 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I am sure I can do 50 books. I just retired on the first of the month so I really don’t have my daily rhythm set yet. I will incorporate some of the books from the Better World challenge as well. I have read Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson and listened to Best Kept Secrets by Sandra Brown on audio recently

  12. Nita Voleski on January 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    I think I will try the Better World book challenge. It sounds interesting and sometimes it seems I read the same kinds of books. I’m reading Anna Quindlen’s “Miller’s Valley”. I love all her books. I’m listening to Ann Patchett’s “Commonwealth”. I’ve never read any of her books before.

  13. Merlene on January 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    I usually join the Goodreads challenge, and I will probably do so again. Last year my goal was 75, but I read over a hundred. This year my goal will be 80, but I want to read more than that. I shall take your list into consideration as I read.

  14. Susan Roberts on January 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    I already set up a personal plan and am doing the goodreads challenge. I read 170 books last year and my goal is to read 140 this year but included in that number I want to read 12 non fiction books, 6 classics and 3 poetry collections. I am going to keep the Better World list and add some of those in. Thanks for the suggestion.

  15. Kathryn Trask on January 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    I aim to read about 130 this year ( but then I am not writing a book as well!) I am trying to slow my reading down so want to read less books than my near 200 from last year. So the 50 challenge is good.I also do a number of reading challenges. If I was doing the Better World challenge I have already read (reread) Anne of Green Gables which is now over 100 years old and loved it all over again. I think the immigrants book would be covered by Bridge of Scarlet Leaves which was my first book of the year. Written by Kristina McMorris and covers what happened to the Japanese immigrants in the USA during WW11. Powerful book.

  16. Dare on January 18, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    I am in for both!

  17. Yvonne on January 19, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Last year I read 60 books. I keep a list and rate them out of 10, this way to can recommend books to family and friends. Best I have done in one year is 226, so 2016 was very low down on reading, probably because I did a lot more sewing.

    My late mother and I had a competition to see who read the most books and even though she isn’t with me anymore, I have kept up the practice.

    I am in a Book Club and get to read one a month for 9 months and last years selection was pretty miserable reading, think i only enjoyed 2, but it is interesting to expand on your reading.

    Will accept both challenges for 2017 ?

  18. Patti on January 25, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    This is my third year to try to read 50 books in a year. I can’t make any promises about the books though. Reading is self-care for me. When I finish a book, I go through this process of what book feels most comforting to read next.

  19. Anne on February 15, 2017 at 11:02 am

    I would read over a 100 books and historicals are my interest.

  20. Michelle Walker-Fullerton on February 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I love to READ (thanks Momma) and I am up for the Challenges. I will read 50 books including the Better World Books List. Thanks for the invitation to READ!!!!

    • Emilie Richards on February 17, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Good for you. Keep us up to date. I like sharing titles so we’ll have new ones we can try, as well.

  21. Nancy Seitz on February 17, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I was challenged to read a book a week in 2014 and have continued. I keep a list read and a list want to read on Excel. Most of the book I read are autobooks. I am going to print the list of special types and see how I do. I have also been reading books that my ten year old granddaughter reads.

    • Emilie Richards on February 17, 2017 at 9:31 am

      I hope you’re enjoying your personal challenge. It sounds like you are if you’ve been doing it since 2014. I like the Better World list because it reminds me to search for new authors and ideas. I’m well on my way. Let me know how you do.

  22. Jane Dougherty on February 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Just finished reading ” My grandmother asked me to tell you she is sorry” by Frederick Backman for the challenge. It is written in the voice of a 7 year old. There are many messages to be found in these pages.

  23. Melissa Jimenez on February 19, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    I aim to try both!

  24. Kay Myhrman-Toso on February 27, 2017 at 10:07 am

    In ways known only to the Facebook algorithm’s folks, i saw the post about a new reading challenge group, but had not seen any of the posts that preceded it. Hence I sleuthed out past posts and blogs, finding this one. A-ha! Now it makes more sense! I love the mission of Better World Books, and thus will give their challenge a try. I have read close to 30 books about immigrants & refugees in the last several weeks, all for an intergenerational faith event I planned. I’d say I covered that category! I will combine the BWB challenge with my own: to read the tomes I have committed to wading through this year, starting with Bonhoeffer’s, “Letters and Papers from prison” and Brueggemann’s two-volume commentary on Isaiah. See why I cheer when you publish a new book, Emilie?1 .

    • Emilie Richards on March 1, 2017 at 9:46 am

      Wow, that’s a lot of books, Kay. I wish you look with your faith event. It sounds like you’ll be well prepared.

  25. Jane Dougherty on March 3, 2017 at 9:53 am

    On the Better World challenge, I just finished a book by a female author—you. Somehow I had missed The Color of Light in the Goddess series, I loved it !!Through the years and our many moves back and forth across the U.S. we have become close personal friends with some of our clergy. We know first hand that their life is a hard one, yet they have to keep up the smiling face and the positive attitude. This was a great book to help us look deeper inside ourselves as we face the challenges of life.

Leave a Comment