Take Your Reading to the Next Level in 2020 with a Book Challenge

by  | January 1

Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and I’m lounging in a beach chair in San Juan. The sun is warm and bright, temperature just shy of 90 degrees, and the tide is rolling in. A normal person might be sipping a piña colada, enjoying the sand and surf, taking full advantage of this paradise for some rest and relaxation. But instead, I am hunched over my phone, filling out a Google Sheet as carefully as I can with my dark sunglasses on. Why? Because ten minutes before, I got a text from my friend, reading, simply, “It’s out!”

I had been waiting all month for this. The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt list was announced. It was time to plan my list for next year, vacation be damned.

I love reading challenges. I’m not a competitive person, but I like to push myself in ways big and small. Reading challenges are the best way for me to do that with an activity I already do year-round, because they help me expand the list of things I read. I’ve been doing this specific challenge since 2015, along with setting a general book goal for myself every year.  Am I mad? Maybe so. But I am not the only one.

Book challenges come in lots of shapes and sizes, and there are plenty of reasons to do them. So if you’re thinking about getting started with one in 2020, let’s take a look at what’s out there and what you might get out of it.

There are several types of challenges to help fit what you’re looking to get out of your reading journey. If you use Goodreads (and honestly, you should), you can set yourself a challenge for how many books you can get through in a year, shifting the marker as you see fit. (You can also keep a book journal to achieve the same effect off-line.) This type of challenge also offers you a greater degree of flexibility with what you read, since you just have to keep up with your count.

Other challenges use prompts, like the PopSugar Reading Challenge. These give you specific requirements that a book needs to fill, such as a book with a pink cover or a book that takes place in a country starting with the letter C. This means you have to pick 50 picks that fit into 50 different prompts, which in itself can be a challenge. What I personally love most about these kinds of challenges, though, is that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

See, I love very specific genres and authors, and if I let myself, I will read books that fall under those headings only. It’s sort of like when you eat takeout only because cooking means putting in extra effort. Horror novels are my pad thai—comforting and delicious, but they’re not going to help me explore new ideas. With this kind of challenge, I have to read spy thrillers, nonfiction, romance novels, things I would normally overlook. And what a weird blessing it has been, because I have found some of my favorites this way!

There are also challenges that dictate exactly which books to read. A great one, if you’re looking for a varied reading list that spans genres and decades, is the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. Based on the books seen read by Gilmore Girls protagonist Rory Gilmore during the seasons of the show, you’ll read everything from The Art of War by Sun Tzu to Christine by Stephen King to Gidget, the classic novel of summer surfing that inspired the TV series. Perfect for a super eclectic reader (or someone who wants to become one).

There are also plenty of challenges that are more about specific genres of books, such as challenges to read 52 comics in 52 weeks, or that focus solely on spending some time in space. There are others still that emphasize where you get your books, like the Library Love Challenge that encourages people to take out at least 12 books from their local library to read. There’s even one where you read 26 books that each start with a different letter of the alphabet. And there’s a master list so you can keep track!

“But why would I want to take one of the few leisure activities I have and make it into an obnoxious checklist?” you might ask. Well, to the reader who I assume will ask this, I will say: there is no right or wrong way to do a reading challenge. While there are suggestions for how to do them, and checklists and spreadsheets are often involved, you can do as much or as little as you want. I have friends who take lists and choose to read only a half, or a third, of the books on them. I know others who look at prompt lists and use them as a guide to finding cool new books without commitment.

A reading challenge is like any other challenge—you do it for the personal satisfaction. I do it because I like planning and strategizing what I’m going to read while letting myself be open to surprises.

But there’s another reason I take part in these challenges that might not be as obvious: no matter what challenge you pick, there’s always plenty of people in that boat with you. When I first started doing the challenges, I had friends whose interests were piqued and started doing them with me. They don’t all do them every year, or necessarily complete them, but it gives us something to further bond over. If you are on Goodreads (again, you should be), you can join discussion groups to get ideas to fill prompts, trade thoughts, do monthly reading groups together, and just generally geek out about books. It could even be a good starting point to found a local book club! It’s not hard to find people who will want to jump onboard with you.

Whether you’re ready to take the plunge in 2020, or if you’re just perusing to see if this is something that might interest you as you roam the stacks, I hope this short guide has helped. Just remember the central truth to any and all reading challenges: the whole point is to have fun reading!

P.S. Yes, I have already filled out my spreadsheet for 2020 with books from my TBR…even though I wasn’t technically finished with my 2019 challenge at the time. What can I say, I get excited! Want a sneak peek at my list? Here are the first four books I’ll be diving into this new year.



by Shea Ernshaw

Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

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Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
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The Institute

The Institute

by Stephen King

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

by Becky Chambers

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

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Photo Credit // Getty Images

Categories // Bookish Fun

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A reporter by trade, Sara Roncero-Menendez is a lover of horror, sci-fi, and all things pop culture. From indies to classics to even the strangest genre pieces, all movies, TV shows, and books are fair game for a binge-fest. Follow her on Twitter @sararomenen or at her website,