Reading Challenges for 2019

Writers generally like to read, and with the distractions offered by WIPs, alternate media, work, and home life, it’s increasingly important to make time to read. Reading is good for your brain, it’s good for your writing, and reading is an opportunity to engage in something that’s quiet and peaceful to give your hind brain a chance to work on What Happens Next in your WIP.

stack of books on a table Sacred Britannia, Toujours Provence by Mayle, Island at the center of the World, Norton Critical Editon of the Bible,

One way to make time is to schedule your reading, both in terms of your day-to-day planning, whether on a calendar or a bullet journal, and what to read. A reading challenge is a simple way to plan what to read and schedule when to read it. A reading challenge can be as basic as the Goodreads Challenge, where you decide how many books you want to want to read in 2019 (from 1 to ???) and track your progress on the GoodReads site. But there are lots of other reading challenges (far more than I can cover here).

hamster reading a tiny bookFor AWers, there’s The 2019 AW Book Reading Challenge. This challenge is an annual event, created by AW members using a variety of categories. The goal is to pick 12 books, each of which fits one of the 50 categories. You read your books, and track them in the 2019 thread, and discuss them with other readers, if you’d like. There’s also the very active and venerable Absolute Write  YA 100 Books challenge, which challenges you to read and list 100 (or 50 or 25) YA books you read during the year.

For the first time, in 2019 AW also has a Short Story Challenge. The goal is to read a pre-determined number of short stories in 2019, and track them in the thread. You can pick 52, one a week or whatever number works for you. There’s a lot of short fiction out there, a lot of it is free and on the web, so this is a great way to read more and to read differently than you might otherwise. Short stories make it easy to fit reading time into a busy schedule, and to try something by an author new to you.

Consider the 2019 Sirens Reading Challenge, with a goal of encouraging people to read fantasy by women and non-binary authors.  This challenge is presented by the Sirens Conference, and the goal is to read 25 books from a list with several categories and many choices. There’s even a GoodReads Sirens discussion group for support.

BookRiot is again (for the fifth year) running their Read Harder Challenge for 2019; the idea behind it is to read 24 books that you might not ordinarily read; the idea being to push yourself by offering 24 “tasks” or different kinds of books. The goal, as BookRiot notes:

We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is—a perspective shift—but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.

There’s a BookRiot Read Harder discussion group on GoodReads, if you’d like to follow along with others working on reading harder in 2019.

If, like me, you aren’t as familiar with Aussie books and authors as you’d like to be, you might be interested in the Aussie Author Challenge 2019. There are three levels of participation; Wallaby (3 books) Wallaroo (6 books), and Kangaroo (12). The various levels encourage you to read books from very broad categories (Australian women, Australian men, authors new to you, etc.). There are lots of suggested lists for locating books on the Aussie Author Challenge page, which means you could easily add an Aussie author to your own challenge.

Want something a little less theme-and-genre driven? Bookstr has you covered with reading challenges based on cover art color, geography, genre . . . all sorts of different ways to challenge and plan your 2019 reading.

POPSUGAR has a new 2019 50 book challenge, 40 books for their “regular” challenge with an optional additional ten books. There’s even a printed checklist and reading planner. There’s also a very active GoodReads POPSUGAR Reading Challenge discussion group.

And don’t forget there’s a wealth of public domain legal-to-download ebooks out there too, ranging from classic canon novels, to more recent works. This is especially handy for people wanting to participate in the Jane Austen Reading challenge or the Back To the Classics challenge.

You might want to check your local public library not only for book reccs, but because they may have their own book challenge. My local Seattle Library sponsors book bingo every summer. Bookish has regular monthly book bingo challenges; here’s the January Bookish Bingo challenge.  Bookish is also running a year-long 2019 Kill Your TBR (your TBR can be a stack of To Be Read books, an ebook list, or audio books). There’s even a #killyourtbr hashtag.

I want to make a special mention of the LibraryThing 75 book challenge. LibraryThing is my personal favorite, by far, of the various book cataloging and social sites. The 75 Book Challenge description on LibraryThing says:

Anyone can join. Just start a thread and begin listing the books you have read in 2019. You don’t have to begin on January 1! Last year, some members just listed their titles and authors while others posted a mini-review of each book. It’s all up to you. It turns out we care less about the numbers than we do about the exchange of book info and the community of readers.

I’m barely skimmed the surface of all the book challenge opportunities; there are lots more, and there’s one to suit every reader. Why not find yours and start reading?

On the Importance of Community

Writing has a reputation as a solitary profession. We picture authors curled in their hermitages, pouring out words hour after hour and not interacting with another human for days.
I wasn’t immune to this preconception, so it has been one of my greatest surprises that my writing profession has leaned on community in ways I never thought possible. In fact, I would say it has been dependent on the communities I’ve joined and the ties I’ve formed.

After finishing the first draft of my novel Zero Sum Game, I went online to search for writing forums. I joined a whole slew of them, some of which I meshed with and some of which I didn’t. The one with the most staying power for me was far and away Absolute Write, where I found a diverse crowd of smart, informed people all exploring writing the same way I was. On Absolute Write, I found my betas, my writing group, and lifelong friendships.

Later on I joined the Codex Writers’ Group and got active with science fiction and fantasy Twitter, and, as I worked up in my career, I began being invited to private author loops. These days, if I have a question, want to talk shop, or simply want to commiserate about the day to day of writing, I have plenty of people to reach out to, and it’s made the most profound difference for me. Here are just a few of the ways community has been make or break for me:

Betas and Critiquing

One of the most obvious ways a writing community is invaluable is in the process of writing. I’m downright lucky to have found a writing group who will always step in to read for me and who have a wide diversity of experience and perspectives. We also help each other brainstorm and check each others’ expertise. My first readers are incredibly skilled and have leveled me up significantly from where I started.

But I’ve leveled up equally from being the critiquer myself. It’s something I consistently recommend to new writers as being one of the most helpful learning tools possible, as critiquing other people’s work helped me see the transparency of what prose was doing more than anything else. I beta’ed over thirty novels and countless short stories in the first few years I was meeting other writers, and I suspect it helped me just as much as it helped them.

Learning the Business Side

I can’t imagine where I’d be without being able to compare notes on the business with other writers. When you’re just starting out, it’s near impossible to know the norms of the industry, and I had countless gaps in my knowledge about how professional writing works. I learned—and am still learning!—an incredible amount by listening to my peers shop talk or by asking them questions, and I try to pay forward what I get by sharing my own knowledge.

It’s amazingly useful to compare notes to try to figure out if a contract is predatory, if a request is unusual, if a payment seems reasonable, or a whole slew of other things. This is especially true when publishing turns bad—like all industries, it has its bad apples and its ugly side, and writers might have no way to know they’re being taken advantage of if not for community.
Before I joined writing communities, I had no idea just how much I didn’t know.

Referrals, Blurbs, and All That Jazz

This is that nebulous thing people call “networking”—but it’s not so mysterious, and it’s not a dirty thing at all. I never, ever go into a relationship with a writer or publishing professional with an angle or expecting something out of them, and I don’t think most of my peers do either. Instead, we’re all just sort of… mucking through this whole chaotic business together, and when we get a chance we help each other out, and other people do the same for us.

I’m extremely indebted to many, many people for taking the time out of their schedules to do something for me, and with no expectation that I could do anything for them in return. People have given me advice that set me on a solid path, or made introductions for me that changed the course of my career. People went out of their way to refer me, recruit me, signal boost me, or give me publicity blurbs for my book.

And now I try to do the same. I feel absolutely great when I’m able to make a connection between two people I think are cool, or recommend someone for something I think they’d be fantastic at. My friends and colleagues include so many kind, wonderful, talented writers, and I want to see them succeed. I want to go out of my way for them.

I like to think of it all not as a quid pro quo, but as a great web of people cheering each other on, and all mutually boosting each other whenever we have a chance. And the point here is that it starts with community. We start by having a genuine interest in seeing each other succeed—and then it all builds from there.

Surviving the Day to Day

Out of everything, however, the place my writing communities really keep me on an even keel—maybe the least obvious and most important way—is the day to day. I go online with my writer friends and we support each other through the emotional ups and downs of writing, the motivational failures, the bad releases or the internet trolls. And we celebrate with each other, too—if my friends receive good publishing news it makes my month!

I think of trying to do all of this alone, with no one to turn to for a virtual hug or a sympathetic groan, and I shudder.

Writing is Full of People Worth Knowing

But even all of the above doesn’t encompass how vital my writing communities have been for me. The people I’ve met through writing have twined into my life in unexpected and irreversible ways, until I can no longer imagine their absence. They’ve filled gaps for me and become family to me, filling in missing parts of myself that I didn’t even realize I needed.

I have met so many thoughtful, smart, wise, and richly varied people through writing. I learn from them as both writers and people. My life would be poorer without them.

Even if I never wrote another word—if I gave up writing entirely and no longer “needed” any of the benefits of a writing community—I would still stay a part of that community, grown together with the longtime friends I’ve made here.

SL Huang is an Amazon-bestselling author who justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. Her debut novel, Zero Sum Game, is upcoming from Tor in 2018, and her short fiction has sold to AnalogNature, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, appearing on Battlestar Galactica and Raising Hope, among other shows, and worked with actors such as Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Momoa, and Danny Glover. She currently lives in Tokyo. SL Huang has a website and she’s active on on Twitter as @sl_huang. You can see AW’s SL Huang interview here.

Exclusive Book Giveaway for Absolute Write Members: The Fortress At The End Of Time

By Ari Meermans

Cover of Joe M. McDermott's The Fortress at the End of TimeWin one of five (5) copies of The Fortress at The End of Time
by Joe M. McDermott. The giveaway will run from Sunday, July 29, 2018, to Sunday, August 12, 2018, and is open to Absolute Write members worldwide with a physical mailing address.

To learn more about the giveaway and to enter for your chance to win one of five (5) copies of The Fortress at The End of Time see Exclusive Book Giveaway for Absolute Write members.

Long-time Absolute Write member Joe M. McDermott is the author of the novels Last DragonNever Knew Another , and Maze. His shorter works have appeared in Asimov’sAnalog, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program.

About The Fortress At The End Of Time

Captain Ronaldo Aldo has committed an unforgivable crime. He will ask for forgiveness all the same: from you, from God, even from himself.

Connected by ansible, humanity has spread across galaxies and fought a war against an enemy that remains a mystery. At the edge of human space sits the Citadel—a relic of the war and a listening station for the enemy’s return. For a young Ensign Aldo, fresh from the academy and newly cloned across the ansible line, it’s a prison from which he may never escape.

Deplorable work conditions and deafening silence from the blackness of space have left morale on the station low and tensions high. Aldo’s only hope of transcending his station, and cloning a piece of his soul somewhere new is both his triumph and his terrible crime.

Reviews for The Fortress at the End of Time:

“The Fortress at the End of Time is an essential read, and feels like a throwback to the era of classic science fiction from authors such as Frank Herbert or Ursula K. Le Guin.” — Andrew Liptak, The Verge

“McDermott manages to paint a vivid world in a few pages.” — The Washington Post

“The story works on many different levels . . . readers will be sucked in.” — Romantic Times

“I can say this, Joe M. McDermott’s Fortress at the End of Time is an intellectual bombastic space opera.” — Paul Jessup, author of Glass Coffin Girls

“The Fortress at the End of Time is a brilliant novel.” — Geek Ireland

The Fortress at the End of Time will hit all of the right spots with science fiction fans. Fast paced, but incredibly thoughtful, McDermott creates an unforgettable world at the end of the universe.” — Teresa Frohock, author of Los Nefilim

“A highly original, completely affecting work.” — Mysterious Galaxy

While You Wait: A Writing Prompt Contest!

While you wait for AW’s forums to return after their spiffy upgrade, here’s a contest you can participate in right here.

Come up with a writing prompt that your fellow AWers can work on while they wait for the Forums/AW Water Cooler to be back after the upgrade.

Keep in mind that we have all kinds of writers at AW, our members write fiction of every conceivable sort, screen plays, poetry, and non fiction, ranging from how-tos, to biography, history, memoir . . . you name it, we have writers who write it, so keep that in mind when you’re creating your prompts.

We will select the best writing prompt entered as a comment to this post, and judged by the Absolute Write mods.

The winner of the best prompt will receive a hardcover or ebook (winner’s choice) The Library at Mount Char, a novel from Penguin Random’s Crown coming out June 15, 2015 by our very own  Scott Hawkins.

The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ first novel. Kirkus Reviews called it “A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge from debut novelist Hawkins.”

You can read more about The Library At Mount Char here.

Start entering your best writing prompts (no more than 3 entries per person please) in a Comment below. We’ll be moderating comments, but will do that as quickly as possible, so those of you following along can actually start writing in response to any prompt that appeals.

We will close entries on Monday, May 11, 2015 at 9 AM Seattle time.

We’ll have a special thread on AW for prompt-inspired writing.

Interview at Writer Unboxed

Image of several circular slices of an orangeIf you’ve ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes workings at Absolute Write and the Absolute Write forums, Jan O’Hara over at Writer Unboxed has just posted a two-part interview with me about Absolute Write, the community, the mods, and writing. Jan does a heckuva fun interview, and I’m not just saying that because she interviewed me—she’s got some terrific interviews on her own blog, Tartitude. And as a Web destination for writers, Writer Unboxed offers a lot of terrific information, insight, and conversation.

Part I
Part II

You can also find Jan O’Hara on Twitter @Jan_OHara.

I footnotes