2020 Reading Challenges

I’ve made a lot of resolutions — no, let’s call them, “intentions” for 2020 that have to do with taking the next step in my life. I’ve felt my life to be really stagnant and still the past few years, and with the turn of the decade, I was inspired to make some real commitments to myself and my life in the new year. This year is all about taking the first steps to becoming the person that I want to be in the new decade. In building this, I thought about all the sectors of my life and what I needed to commit to in each one this year in order to become that person. As I journaled out my intentions (who else loves a good thought cloud?!), I began to think about what kind of books the person I want to be would read.

In thinking about this, I knew for certain that the woman I want to be wouldn’t passively consume books without critically thinking about them. She wouldn’t pursue quantity over quality, racing to get 100+ books and blithely swimming through books she didn’t really like in order to meet a Goodreads goal. She wouldn’t buy books therapeutically at the expense of financial stress or strain. She wouldn’t read the same old, same old, just because it was easy. She wouldn’t read in a vacuum.

So, thinking about what my ideal reader self wouldn’t do, let me build up some manageable, important goals for me going into the new year. Here’s what they look like:

  • Book buying ban — clear the shelves at home, borrow from the library.
  • Read more diversely — read more Own Voices, read global, keep reading PBS Great American Read, more nonfiction.

Let’s break those down!

Book Buying Ban

My library is overflowing. I have six bookcases from Ikea, all filled, with books stacked on top and double rowed in the shelves. I recently turned around all the books I have read, and I was startled by how many titles still faced out. I also noticed in December how every Wednesday when I got into the car, my phone prompted me with directions to Barnes and Noble. My budget was screaming, especially in the past few months that I’ve been unemployed.

I know that I used bookstores and purchasing books as a way to cope with my feelings. When I was upset, I found the quiet and order and possibility of a bookstore to help me relax and soothe. It’s easy to push my own feelings and thoughts away when I need to focus on reading the backs of books, consider which sections to browse, or contemplate what type of book I was in the mood for. I could build a wall around myself with my books, almost physically, and push away whatever else in my life was causing me hurt or stress or upset. I was killing my savings, avoiding my feelings, and stuffing my spaces with books that I wasn’t reading.

This has to stop! Not only do I not have the funds to continue self-soothing in this way, but I am running out of space, and it’s not healthy to try to hide my feelings under a Barnes and Noble bag. Plus, I have lost my love of bookstores. I genuinely do not feel a little thrill in going to the bookstore, and I’ve often left without buying anything at all because I’m so overloaded. I want to recover my love of books and bookstores. I want to have a collection that I’m proud of, where I can show someone what I’ve read and tell them how good it was. I want to purchase books that I am excited about reading and that don’t sit for months or years on a shelf gathering dust.

I’m doing a lot better with dealing with my feelings and situations now, so I don’t need to participate in negative behaviors like splurging on books. I want to focus on reading off my shelves, clearing out books and donating or gifting books I finish and don’t want to keep (plus, it will make my collection more intentional and manageable!). One of my other goals, which I’ll get to in a second, will require me to read books that I do not own, so I’m going to use the library more. I’m excited about this goal, because I think seeing the physical process of tidying my shelves and flipping those books around will encourage me to read my own books instead of buying new ones.

One small disclaimer — I did not ask for any new books for Christmas, but I did ask for a Book of the Month subscription, so if you see me posting about new books, they are from there! I am going to be more intentional about that as well, making sure each month I select a book I genuinely want to read and saving my credit by skipping a month when I’m not impressed with the selection. I’ve already skipped January! Here’s to intentional collection!

Reading Diversely

This goal is my big one this year. I noticed in November as I was browsing the library, how choosing books about people or by people like me was my default. I naturally chose books by white women, often fiction. I read a lot of similar YA books, by similar YA authors. I read classics that were largely Western and white. I wasn’t doing this intentionally. I was responding to what everyone told me I should read over my life, picking books that mirrored by experiences or feelings, and I was still clinging a lot to the syllabi I had in college when I was studying English literature. I was passively picking books that looked and sounded like me.

When I noticed this, I shrugged and said, “Okay, let’s pick something more diverse.” Easier said than done. As I continued browsing the library, I noticed that authors of color that I could name off the top of my head, I usually couldn’t find. My library had little to no new novels by authors of color. Nonfiction history or social studies about people of color in America or the world at large — if I was lucky, there was one book by a white author. The YA room proved a little more helpful, as I had sent a list of popular Own Voices books to my director a year before when I worked at the library and she had purchased a good number of them. In the year since I left that system, I noticed that the trend of buying diverse YA authors has continued, fortunately, but there still is a lack of diverse adult books. I thought for a moment what it would feel like if I couldn’t pop in the library and find hundreds of books about people like me, or if I had to hunt and dig to find a story that reflected my own. It broke my heart to realize how I had taken for granted what a lot of people dream of.

I talked to my mentor and friend Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty on Instagram!) about this and we ended up drafting a reading challenge to share with our reading friends. I wanted to read more global voices, more diverse voices — essentially, MORE voices. I had gotten so used to the sound of my own voice, that even I stopped listening. Reading became passive, boring, and predictable. In 2020, I want to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart and take in more voices and more stories from all around the globe. This challenge is about breaking off the blinders and learning more about the world and myself. I also plan to commit to sending lists of recommended titles to my library each month based on what I and others read for each category.

Each month, I’ll center my reading on a region in the world and find Own Voices stories to read. I’m really going to stretch myself to read a few titles from each region instead of just one, and hopefully a nonfiction in addition to fiction. I’m going to read books considered “Classics” for the region, and dig up new authors and topics to expose myself to the diversity and beauty of each region.

Own Voices Global Reading Challenge (1).png

I’m really excited about this challenge. I’m excited to stretch my reading mind and my investigative skills (some of these will be tricky to break out of classic canon, specifically Europe, I think!). I’m going to be asking for recommendations each month for the next month (I need plenty of time to get holds on the library), so follow along with me on instagram @abigailsbookself to share your recommendations for me. I’d also love for you join me in this challenge and share this challenge with your reading circles! Tag me in any of your instagram posts. I want to see what you pick!

So there are my reading resolutions for the year! I want to add that I want to commit to writing more here, especially about the books I read to engage my critical thinking skills. I want to be more engaged reader so I hope writing about the books I read will help me do that.

In closing, I want you to think a little about yourself as a reader. Ask yourself some questions: What kind of reader do you want to be this decade? How can I commit to mindful reading? What goals can I set for myself to begin building my reading strengths in the new year? 

Do you set reading resolutions? If so, what are your 2020 goals? Share with me below!


One thought on “2020 Reading Challenges

  1. I do similar things, buying books when I don’t need to and then struggling to get them read. I also had some trouble setting reading goals this year and couldn’t really find a challenge I wanted to commit to, reading diversely is also one of my aims, I will be interested to see what books you come up with. Without meaning to I ended up also holding a challenge this year, (won’t bore you with the story) but it relates to natural history related books which I tend to read a lot of anyway. Anyway happy reading and will look forward to seeing what you read.


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