James Avison is a Senior Library Assistant at Manchester Met All Saints Library.
He is part of the Love To Read team which encourages reading for pleasure.
Over to you James…
In late 2016, I discovered a 52 book Reading Challenge somewhere online. It was presented, more or less, as a possible New Year’s Resolution. While I never explicitly approached it as such, it quickly became my goal for the year, even resulting in me delaying my New Year’s Eve plans to finish the final book. I wanted to use this challenge as an opportunity to broaden my reading habits and discover if there was anything that could enlighten me to the wider literary world.
An example of the books read during the 52 book challenge. Here is the full spreadsheet
My original aim was to not re-read anything and to use solely Manchester Met University Library stock. The first part of this was easy but the second part proved impossible. Despite there being ample books in the library’s collection to complete the task, very few caught my attention and other books I wanted to read were just too appealing, so forgive me for slipping into old habits every now and then. Nevertheless, overall, I am pleased with the variety of books I read and the scope of subject matter they covered.
Of the 52 challenges, there were a number that I was particularly excited about getting my teeth into, as well as some that I looked at with trepidation. I have never had a particular interest in biographies (#27: Read a Biography, whether normal, Auto, or Memoir) or romance (#4: Read a Romance and/or Erotica book) so these were two genres I either struggled with or came up with slightly creative choices for.
Thankfully, after some lateral thinking, Orlando by Virginia Woolf and Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera respectively filled those dreaded voids and provided two excellent reading experiences along the way. I also decided upon a trilogy (Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy) to make it easier to complete challenges #18 (Finish a series) and #48 (Read the first book in a series), as I did not want to be struggling to find categories to fit a longer series, or be stuck with a long series I did not enjoy.
One thing I did not anticipate was the additional challenge of just finding the titles that were suitable to each task and that I wanted to read. As I was still keen to include as many MMU library items as possible, I found myself constantly browsing the 800’s with a task or two in mind just in case something sprang out at me. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to know whether a book fits into a category or not without knowing at least something about it beforehand. To this end, I sought recommendations from colleagues and family. Some of these were excellent (#7: Read a book written by a woman) but others put me back a couple of weeks (#11: Read a nonfiction book).
Challenge #52 (Combining all the letters of all the titles of all the books you’ve read this year, complete the alphabet) provided its own set of problems. I may have left the completion of this a bit late in the year or not planned ahead enough but I ended up scanning the spines of books on the shelves for the ever-elusive Q and J in the titles of books. The impact of challenge #52 on what I could read, particularly when my options were getting thin, was probably greater than the other 51 combined. Trying to find a book with an Indie Publisher (#25) that had a J in the title or a story of less than 5,000 words (#20) with a Q was rather tiresome.
Books that instantly sprang to mind that I wanted to read, I decided, would be interspersed throughout the year as a means to reward myself after reading a particularly difficult or intense book. The easiest parts and those I was most looking forward to were challenges #8 (Read a book in the Science Fiction genre) and #9 (Read a book in the Fantasy genre) as sci-fi and fantasy are the genres I tend to read the most. I had already decided I would like to read more Isaac Asimov, so Caves of Steel fit in nicely and my brother had been waxing lyrical about Branden Sanderson’s The Way of Kings so I did not have to worry about filling those gaps. You may also note that there are a number of Discworld titles in there. This is because prior to starting this challenge, I was making my way through them from start to finish, so where I could find room, I snuck one in. On a similar note, I have a penchant for serial killers and as a result, a number of titles related to the subject may have crept in.
I believe going in cold to these titles with little expectation really help increase my enjoyment of them and is definitely one of many benefits to reading widely and without discrimination.
This discrimination was one of my reading hurdles prior to taking on the challenge and one of the most noticeable changes I have made after completing it.
With regards to reading for pleasure and its benefits, I’d probably steer clear from challenges this extensive and restrictive in the future. While it proved to be a great exercise in broadening my reading range and demonstrating the pleasures of other genres it was also a chore at times and, in the case of some of the books, sucked the fun out of reading. For this upcoming year I am going to stick to reading when and what I want, with no goals or time restrictions in mind in order to find the relaxation and escapism that made me such an avid reader in the first place.
My Top 10 from the titles I read in 2017 are noted on the spreadsheet and others worth mentioning are highlighted with * along with my comments.