Why I Do an Annual Reading Challenge (and you should too!)

by | Jan 2, 2020 | Bookstacks | 6 comments

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Apparently, I am a girl who loves a challenge.

Maybe it is because I played soccer on boys teams, or because I grew up with brothers, or because I read a lot as a child and have an adventurous heart. Whatever  the reason, I have always found it difficult to turn down a challenge!

All these years later, I am finding that to work in my favor…

I know a lot of people make resolutions this time of year, but they don’t work out very well for me. I am kind of an all or nothing person, so when life gets in the way, as it inevitably does, I end up throwing my hands in the air and bumping my resolutions to the curb like last week’s trash. 

However, I do much better with a challenge! There is something inherent in a challenge that brings out my competitive nature and renders me much more likely to succeed. 

So, over the past few years I have found myself participating in a variety of challenges: I have participated in 30 days of praying, de-cluttering, detoxing, and more. This year, around Thanksgiving, the Lord put it on my heart to start writing more intentionally, so I began a 30 day challenge to write at least 500 words a day. You can read about that HERE and HERE (and you have that to thank for this blog post!). 

Annual Reading Challenge

My favorite challenge, though, is my annual Reading Challenge. I used to love to read, but somewhere along the way, between work and children and adulting, life got busy and it slipped through the cracks. One of the things I appreciate most about homeschooling our children is that it reminded me of my love of reading. Having a daughter who loved to read helped, too, because I previewed a lot of books for her, which gave us a special way to connect.

At first I mostly read things my friends (and my daughter) recommended, but then one year I stumbled across the idea of a reading challenge. I quickly found out there are at least a bazillion different ways to do it! So I ended up creating my own. I decided to use it as a way to keep from getting stuck in my usual genres and stretch myself into intentionally reading other things.

I still take recommendations, but I make sure to include biographies, classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as a couple written from a different viewpoint than mine (politically, spiritually, etc).  I like to add some fun categories, like a book with the setting as your hometown, a book written by someone you know, or a book centered around somewhere you plan to travel. This year I am also adding several books on writing, and then I will fill in the rest of my list with my go-to genres: Christian non-fiction and my favorite, YA fantasy/dystopian fiction (don’t judge me, it’s my guilty pleasure!). My list is fluid; I add to it throughout the year as I get new suggestions or pick up a new book, and I rarely read everything on it. That’s okay, though- those books become the base for next year’s list!


I check out the majority of my books from the library (I am still a sucker for paper books; can’t quite transition to the kindle yet), and I use Goodreads to create my lists and track my progress. It is also a great resource for reading reviews to determine if I want to read something, as well as for finding similar books when I really like a subject or an author. I haven’t quite made it to reading a book a week yet, but I am still amazed to finish the year and find I checked off 45+ books! I think my goal the first year was 20 books, so that’s quite an improvement!

And there was a year or two early on when I didn’t meet my goal, so if that is you, don’t be discouraged. Just remind yourself that whatever you accomplish is better than not accomplishing anything- this is a challenge after all, not a resolution!

In my next post, I will share my 2019 reading list and some of my thoughts about the books, including which ones I recommend and which ones I didn’t like at all (there was only one). But I couldn’t end this post without sharing a few of the gems that I found through some of my previous Reading Challenges! These are books I highly recommend that I would probably never have read without the incentive and intentionality of a reading challenge:

My Top Picks from Previous Reading Challenges


The Nightingale (Kristen Hannah)

Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)

The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)

The Swan House (Elizabeth Musser)

Non-fiction/ Biographies:

Fearless (Eric Blehm)

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Under our Skin (Benjamin Watson)

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

Choosing to See (Mary Beth Chapman)

Missing Kylie (Mark Myers)

And there are a few more on my 2019 list, so be sure to check out my 2019 Reading Challenge Year End Review, coming soon!

What about you? If resolutions are not really your thing but you have a competitive streak, perhaps you may be up for a Challenge. I’d love to hear about it!


  1. Jeff Allinder

    I have only read Under our Skin from that list, but I found it to be an extremely impactful book. Ben is an impressive young man and articulates his perspective really well. I found myself particularly challenged by his bias against law enforcement. But even that gives me insight into how his worldview developed. I love his assertion that both/and can be valid perspectives and that none of us is a single story.

    I hate racism, and I wish everyone would challenge themselves to think about the perspectives of others the way that Ben did in this book. His transparency and candor should be applauded by all, and I really wish all of us would take it to heart.

    • jarfullofmanna

      Yes! “Under Our Skin” was both challenging and insightful for me as well, especially since Jeff and I have a dear friend in law enforcement who was killed in the line of duty. Still, an opposite perspective was good for me to ponder. I wonder how much better all of us would get along if everyone took the time to view life through other people’s lenses. You should read (or listen to) “Fearless” and you would probably also like “Same Kind of Different as Me” (feedback on that one in my next post). Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Christa

    Loved The Swan House and always recommend that book to others to read.

  3. Sharon

    I started out as a book blogger years ago and that led to a lot of reading challenges and I do miss the challenges and the way they lead you to knew discoveries, also loved the sense of community and sharing of ideas that the reading challenges encouraged. I did blog a little bit about goals and reading challenges this year and after a fellow blogger suggested it I ended up creating a challenge for this year, around the theme of nature/environment, not something I had intended to do. I always use the goodreads challenge to set at least a numerical goal but I always make that conservative so I don’t feel like it is overwhelming.
    I Wish you a wonderful year of rewarding reading.📚

    • jarfullofmanna

      Thank you so much for commenting! Yes, there is so much to be gained from a reading challenge. I am glad you decided to do it again this year. I firmly believe the goal is less important than the journey in things like this. Happy reading and many blessings!



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