Reflecting On My Reading Challenge: Why You Should Try It

If you follow me on Instagram, you’re probably aware that I followed along with the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge in 2017. Originally I was set to read 40 books on their normal list but found myself choosing the advanced option halfway through the year: 52 books. Yes, I’m aware that I’m a little crazy.

The thing is, I have a ton of time to read thanks to living in Brooklyn. Instead of driving to work I take the subway up to Midtown five days of the week. That’s two hours of my day spent commuting to and from work. Instead of listening to music or scrolling on my phone, I chose books to be my companions. I schlepped the subway up to Hearst, and then to my current office at Trusted Media Brands, for a good majority of my year—always with a book in hand. Squeezed onto the subway with thousands of other commuters, I always managed to find enough space to hold the railing with one hand, and balance my book in the other. For some, my situation sounds absolutely horrendous. Honestly, in the humid summer months, I dread walking into a subway station. But the actual commute, getting to read my book and be transformed into an entirely new world, easily has become my favorite part of living in New York City.

This city is a city of readers, no question about it. Walk on the subway and you’ll see dozens of people with books, magazines, or e-readers in hands. On weekends you can find The Strand, one of my favorite bookstores I discovered this year, filled to the brim with hungry readers scaling the shelves for new adventures. People are always talking about good books or publications. Maybe it’s because I’m in media and tend to work with people who also love to read stories. Even so, this city loves to read more than any other place I’ve been to in this entire world. Obviously, I have yet to go to Portland, but I have a feeling NYC will be tough to beat.

This year I was able to escape into so many other worlds I could have never dreamed of understanding. Never have I been more thankful for authors or journalists who intently study cultures and communities in order to infuse that research into prose. I feel inspired to be one of those writers, someone who can transport readers into a world so unknown to their own. This year I was able to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, sit on the new set of Gilmore Girls, dive deep into the ancient tea mountains in China, watch the San Fermin festival in Spain, even walk on the streets of Brooklyn in the 1950s and present day. I endured four different wars through multiple eyes: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II. I saw oppression and heartbreak in multiple forms, from immigrants to teenagers, from cultures I can grasp to cultures I never understood. I even experienced angels, talking cats, hobbits, and demi-gods. Although I was living pretty much the same type of day during my week, I was always being transported somewhere new. I am grateful for books and how they can make every moment different for me, helping me see from someone else’s perspective when walking through my usual routine.

Here’s my biggest takeaway from this challenge: I think everyone needs to do it. This year I learned a ton about the outside world and challenged myself to read books I would have never dreamed of reading in my lifetime. Mystery books? Westerns? Steampunk? Espionage novels? No way. I would have avoided these at all costs, but this year I was challenged to try something new. And thanks to the challenge, I now have a long list of favorite new authors and genres of books I like to read. How would I have ever known that Agatha Christie is one of my all-time favorites if I never read her work? How would I have known that I love memoirs if I wasn’t forced to read a few? How would I have ever learned or sympathized with the pains of immigration, adoption, or even racial oppression if I didn’t witness it in the pages of books I read? Books help us to learn, helps us to heal, help us to grow. We need books. I need books. You need books.

On one of my previous blog entries, I gave readers a health goal of reading five books this year. It isn’t much, but for someone who isn’t a reader, I think this is a great place to start. Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and reading is incredibly impactful for your brain and body. If reading five books doesn’t sound like much, I challenge you to join me for the Reader’s Digest book challenge this year. Don’t worry, it’s not 52 books. This challenge is only 25 books – which means you really only need to read 2 or 3 a month. I think that’s very reasonable, especially if you have a commute similar to mine. You can even engage with other readers on Instagram using our hashtag #ReadWithRD when you post the books you are reading.

If you’re looking for some new titles to challenge you, here’s my full reading list from 2017.

  1. Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin**
  2. The Last Summer (of You & Me) – Ann Brashares
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows**
  4. Talking As Fast As I Can – Lauren Graham
  5. Wild – Cheryl Strayed**
  6. Chains – Laurie Halse Anderson
  7. The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
  8. 29 Gifts – Cami Walker
  9. Present Over Perfect – Shauna Niequist
  10. My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante**
  11. All-American Girl – Meg Cabot
  12. Somewhere In France – Jennifer Robson**
  13. Sunday at Tiffany’s – James Patterson
  14. Emma – Jane Austen**
  15. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford**
  16. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie**
  17. Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon
  18. A Secret Kept – Tatiana De Rosnay
  19. Calm My Anxious Heart – Linda Dillow
  20. Cat Under Fire – Shirley Rousseau Murphy
  21. The Street of the City – Grace Livingston Hill
  22. Why We Get Fat – Gary Taubes**
  23. Once And For All – Sarah Dessen
  24. American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld**
  25. Modern Lovers – Emma Straut
  26. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross – James Patterson
  27. Driving With Dead People – Monica Holloway
  28. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell**
  29. The Café by the Sea – Jenny Colgan
  30. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien**
  31. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  32. All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr**
  33. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  34. I’ll See You In Paris – Michelle Gable
  35. The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult**
  36. The Truth About Forever – Sarah Dessen
  37. Moving Pictures – Kathryn & Stuart Immonen
  38. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café – Mary Simses
  39. Westward The Tide – Louis L’Amour
  40. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  41. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak**
  42. Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín**
  43. Tell Everyone – Alfred Hermida
  44. The Meaning of Marriage – Timothy Keller (with Kathy Keller)**
  45. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane –  Lisa See**
  46. The Mothers – Brit Bennett**
  47. The Other Story – Tatiana De Rosnay
  48. A Raisin In The Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
  49. The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  50. The Dream of a Common Language – Adrienne Rich
  51. Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld
  52. Bittersweet – Shauna Niequist

**Books that I highly recommend

Have any book recommendations for me in 2018? Share them in the comments below, I would love to give them a read!

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