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Plan Your 2019 Year in Books With These Reading Challenges

What will you read in 2019?

2019 is approaching, children. As we get closer to the new year, take the time to restart your reading lists and get to work on planning how you'll spend your literary year. New Year's Eve is my personal favorite of all the holidays; it's a chance to get a fresh clean slate and set new goals and expectations for a new year. Resolutions can be hard to keep, but die-hard literature buffs always finish a reading list (or at least we try really hard and get very down on ourselves when we have to move something to the backlog). 


For Those Who Were Left With Severe Reader’s Block in 2018:


2018 has been something of a tepid year. Compared to 2016, which set a new low for how horrific a single year can be, and 2017, which was basically the direct-to-VHS sequel to 2016, 2018 is not much worse, but it's certainly isn't any better. 2018 gave us a lot to think about, and with all these things taking up so much space in our brains, there's not much room left for reading. In 2019, reignite your love of literature with a simple reading challenge, like one of these.


The Color Coded Reading Challenge


Color palette

Image via slynyrd


If you often find yourself having trouble choosing a book to read, a challenge like this is an excellent remedy. The rules of this challenge dictate that over the course of the year, you read nine books that have titles or cover art corresponding to a particular cover. This challenge is a great one for those who need rules strict enough to actually make it a fun game, but not so strict as to discourage them from trying it. This challenge can also be combined with others for added fun and difficulty.


Read a Book About/That Takes Place in Each of the Fifty States


A map of books corresponding to each state

Image via Brooklyn Magazine


This particular challenge comes from a list of great reading challenges, this one in particular being a great option for anyone suffering from a lack of motivation to read. The rules are simple, for each state in the United States, select a book set in or about that state and read it. This challenge requires quite a bit of research, as well as an intense commitment. You'll be steadily plowing through each book in order to get through all fifty books before 2020. For those of you outside the U.S., feel free to adapt this challenge to your country!


Picture Book Reading Challenge


Children's books

Image via AmReading


If you're looking for a simple, easy challenge that you're guaranteed to finish, look no further than this. This challenge takes you back to your childhood and the picture books you loved as a kid. There's likely been a tall mountain of excellent picture books released since you were part of their target demographic, so you'll have a wealth of new reading material open to you that's been under your nose for years. This challenge gives you the option to either read at least six picture books of your choice, or to choose at least six books that fulfill categories the challenge writers have created. My personal recommendation is I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen.


Beat the Backlist


Dusty old books

Image via Lady Fancifull


While this is technically a 2018 challenge, the rules are easily reconfigured to apply to 2019. The point of this list is to essentially ignore any new releases that will come in 2019 in order to get to books you've been putting off. Aside from the "no-2019-releases" rule, the rest of the challenge is pretty open-ended; books are defined as "Any novel, novella, graphic novel, manga, or anthology bind-up," in any format, ebook, print, audiobook, etc., and rereads of books also count towards your total, so long as they are of books released prior to 2019. I will be making a concerted effort to get to Otessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.


For the True Crime Lovers:

True crime has always been a reliable source of literature that is thrilling, moving, and educational. There is a long history of excellent true crime writing, from Capote's In Cold Blood to Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark. While these books tell of horrific things that happen to innocent people, they also tell stories of pursuits of justice and the work that gets done to right terrible wrongs. If you haven't given any thought to your 2019 reading list, consider making an effort to take in more true crime this year.


Just the Facts Ma’am


Film noir detective

Image via Giphy


This is possibly the most intricate and immersive challenge on this list, and thus, the most difficult, but if you've ever read or watched an excellent true crime story and fantasized about being the star investigator that cracks the case, this is the one for you.


"As was the case (pun intended) in the 2018 challenge, participants in the 2019 version of the Just the Facts, Ma'am Challenge will be playing detective. The objective is to answer all the important questions of Who, What, When, Where, How and Why to complete cases in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras (or for the more adventurous, both). I have added two more spaces to each category and have changed up some of the items to check off. [Thanks to Kate from Cross Examining Crime for her helpful suggestions!] See the Detective Notebooks below."


This challenge even comes with prizes! As if you needed added incentive to finish this game of detective.


Calendar of Crime


rules for calendar of crime

Image via My Readers Block


This is another intricate challenge, but perfect for lovers of true crime. The rules are straightforward: for each month of the year, you need to choose a book that satisfies one of the month's nine categories. The first eight categories in each month are the same, and the ninth is a unique category corresponding to the month, so the challenge is really only as difficult as you make it. Any mystery is a candidate for this challenge, of any publishing date.



The Ultimate True Crime Reading List from Penguin



Image via


This isn't necessarily a challenge per se, but this list does contain the true crime essentials, like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon. This list contains 17 books, making it a very achievable challenge for the year, and one that can be easily combined with others. This list is a great way to bolster your true crime reading foundation.


The Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge


Sherlock Holmes

Image via Kards Unlimited


This challenge was designed for fans of Sherlock (as in the television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch) suffering in the off-season, but it also works for true crime fans who have either never encountered a Sherlock Holmes story, or Sherlock Holmes fans who could do with a revisitation to the series. True crime lovers ought to read at least one Sherlock Holmes book during their literary adventures. The ultimate goal here is to read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but there are different levels of achievement based on how many you're able to finish.


For the Non-Fiction Lover:


Not all of us are fiction fans; there are plenty of readers who prefer to sit down with a book that chronicles the story of a real event in human history. Non-fiction may have a reputation for being less fantastical than fiction— a polite way to say boring— this is inaccurate. As the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction, so whether you're a longtime non-fiction aficionado, or simply one wishing to bone up on true stories, these reading challenges will boost your appreciation for non-fictional literature.



Memoir Reading Challenge


Nicole Richie: "I'm writing a memoir."

Image via Giphy


Memoirs make-up some of the most interesting volumes of non-fiction in publication. There are an astronomical number of memoirs in the world to choose from, and this challenge makes it a bit easier for you by giving you a checklist. To win this challenge, simply choose five out of the thirty-two categories and read a memoir that meets the category's specifications.  This is a great way for lovers of non-fiction to delve into a world of more personal narratives while still hewing close to the factual.


Mental Health Reading Challenge


You are not alone

Image via ContactMonkey


This is the most open-ended challenge on this list, as you may read as many books as you like, at any level, as long as the book is about something related to mental health. The main point of this challenge is simply to make mental health awareness a focal point of your reading schedule. Books about mental health range from scientific explanations and expositions on psychology, to intimate, personal narratives on individual experiences with illness. Regardless of what kind of book(s) you choose to read, you will certainly come away with a greater understanding of mental illness.


Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


Old map

Image via Connecticut College


Yes, I know, historical fiction is not non-fiction, and I am by no means saying that you must read some fiction, but I am saying that historical fiction books are some of the most realistic books out there. This challenge has a few different levels to choose from, ranging from two books to fifty or more books, so you can make it as easy or as difficult as you wish. This challenge has the added difficulty of requiring that you review every book you read, but for those of you who are not in the business of book-blogging, feel free to sidestep this part of the challenge and make this one more of a personal pursuit.


Epistolary Reading Challenge


Writing a letter

Image via Medium


An epistolary novel is a work of literature that appears as a collection of documents, usually letter or diary entries. These kinds of novels are perfect for fans of nonfiction because their form has a quality of realism unique to the genre. Reading an epistolary novel makes you feel like you've stumbled upon some precious archaeological resource, and usually these kinds of novels are pretty easy to breeze through in just a few sittings. This challenge is fairly open-ended; you may choose however many books you'd like to read to satisfy the challenge, and it can be combined with other challenges you're doing.


For the Reader Looking to Broaden Their Horizons:


If you've been a lifelong literature lover, you've no doubt experienced reading droughts; those times where it seems like every book you pick up is the same, as if you've read it all before. There can be a lot of reasons for this, one of them could be the kinds of authors you're reading. Consider who is writing the books you're reading, and if you find that they all come from similar walks of life, consider broadening the world of literature you expose yourself to, and perhaps you'll be a bit more engaged in what you're reading.


Reading Women Challenge


Covers of books by female authors

Image via Self


Literature by women has historically been subjugated in favor of male authors; think of luminaries like Charlotte Bronte, Mary Anne Evans, and Harper Lee, who published under masculine or androgynous pseudonyms in order to get their work published. This challenge's goal is, of course, to get you to read more work by women, however, the categories outlined by the challenge are very specific, which will make for a much more engaging pursuit than simply choosing any hodgepodge of books with female authors. The main rule of the challenge is that all books read must be by or about women, and you will choose your books based on the categories thought up by the challenge writers. Some categories include "A book about or set in Appalachia," "A book featuring a religion other than your own," and "A book you picked up because of the cover."


Diversity Reading Challenge


Chris Rock: "You want diversity? We got diversity."

Image via Absolute Internship


This is another challenge written fo 2018 but easily adaptable for 2019. It's rules are simple; the challenge has a list of twelve categories, one for each month of the year, and all you have to do is read as many as you can. The goal of the challenge is to expand your book world, not to put pressure on you. Some of the categories include "A book written by or about someone on the Spectrum," "A book with a Muslim main character," and "A book written by or for African American young men (think Walter Dean Myers)."


Postcolonial Reading Challenge



Image via Gfycat


In case you didn't know, modern literature bears the unfortunate problem of having been irreversibly affected by the process of colonization. This link will actually not take you to a reading challenge, but rather an article that offers up a succinct and well-done explanation of the term "postcolonial" and lists some great books for suggestions. This isn't a challenge as per the confines of this particular article, but rather me challenging you to read one of these books. My personal favorites off this list are Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. My personal recommendations that haven't made it to this list are Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, Michelle Cliff's Abeng, and the works of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.


The Ultimate Pride Reading List


Pride flag

Image via HighSpeedInternet


This is another entry here that is not necessarily a challenge, but can be adapted into one. This is a list of forty-seven books that are either by or about LGBTQ people. The books selected for this list encompass a wide variety of queer perspectives, and reading any number of them is sure to show you something new. My personal favorites off this list are The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, and Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein.


Here's to hoping that 2019 brings on good fortune, and happy reading!


new year's toast

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