Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 Challenges Wrap Up


5 did I do?

The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read: 2
Goal achieved? Yes?

Previously I had been doing a lot of rereading for comfort or to revisit old favorites. This year I had a mission: read the books on my shelves and remove everything I don't want to carry up and down three flights of stairs when I move. That didn't leave much room for rereading. 

But, I also didn't feel the pull of rereading. If I had, I would have read them regardless of my goal to read books I own. I just didn't feel the pull. And, while I want to reread when I feel the urge, I think it's also equally okay not to force a reread I'm just not feeling at the moment.


Goodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books, then adjusted, and adjusted, up to 85
Books read: 85
Goal achieved? Yes!  

I set a modest goal of 50 books so I didn't feel pressured by quantity and because, I love it when my progress bar says "you're x books ahead!" rather than "you're x books behind" or even the mild "You're on track!" This was also an...anomalous year, to say the least, so I didn't want to feel any kind of pressure to read a certain number of books. Instead, I let myself read when I felt like I wanted to read, and not sweat it when I had months where my brain just could not focus on reading.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 books
Books read:  24 (bio-fic/non-fic)
Goal achieved? Yes! 

I love reading about history and I wanted to make sure I put some focus on the genre again since it's so easy for time to slip away when it comes to reading (i.e. "has it really been four years since I last read a book in that series??" Sound familiar? Sorry Patrick O'Brian...).

While I included historical fantasy and historical lite in the list, what I really wanted to make sure I read was biographical historical fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I wanted to learn about history. This year I also read a lot of disease books and I decided to lump them into this category since I like reading the books that focus on disease through a historical lens. I reveled in gory, horrifying plagues of Ebola, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and smallpox.

Over the last few years I've been steadily and unintentionally shifting from fiction to non-fiction, and this year continued that trend. I read 13 biographical non-fiction books (up from last year's 8) plus another 7 historical non-fiction books (disease, fashion, etc.). That's 20 non-fiction books! Incredible for me. My biographical fiction reading was a lot less than usual, clocking in at only 4 (down from the 6 I read last year, which was lower than the previous year). I'd like to read more biographical fiction next year, especially considering I own so many of them. 

I also read a whole slew of historical fiction that wasn't biographical, but was historical. Toward the middle through end of the year I really got into "westward-ho fiction" with several YA/MG books following fictional characters making their way in the rugged American west. I went to California, Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, and all the states in between.

My biographical reading saw a mix of familiar and new faces. Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, and Eleanor of Aquitaine made several appearances, including the long-hyped but ultimate letdown of Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey. Less common, but increasingly more common ladies such as Catherine of Aragon, Catherine de Medici, and Matilda also showed up, each with a hit that made for standout reading experiences.

I finally knocked off Trevor Royale's The Wars of the Roses, but much like Antonia Fraser's offering, this one was more of a soulless letdown, though still worth reading. G. J. Meyer's Tudors was another historical overview that had been on my list for a while, but sadly it too could not hold a candle to my previously read Tudor by Leanda de Lisle. Other "just okays" but still glad I read them included the book on Caligula, She Wolves, and The Other Tudor Princess. I wanted to spend more time with the three Edwards this year, and I did through Thomas B. Costain's solidly Good The Three Edwards. Most surprising love? That award goes to the shockingly gripping Empire of the Summer Moon.

While much of 2020 saw a lot of familiar Tudors and Plantagenets, it also introduced me to a number of new-to-me or still very toe-dippy historical figures and events. I spent some time with James I's wife in The Danish Queen (didn't like her much), Minette, Charles II's sister (she's okay), and Consuelo Vanderbilt. The latter was a result of an accidental foray into her autobiography via an Edith Wharton-inspired Victorian/Edwardian binge, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also did a few inadvertent toe-dips into WWII and while I enjoy the era it still hasn't gripped me enough to go into a full dive.

Jean Plaidy and Carolyn Meyer were sadly absent this year, along with a second year of no Sharon Kay Penman, Susan Howatch, or Anne O'Brien. This was a surprisingly American-filled year with the cherry on top the long-feared but best loved Gone with the Wind. On the historical-lite front, I finally, finally read some Kate Morton books and I loved every one of them. All in all, I'm quite happy with how this year's historical reading went.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2019
Books read: 29 read, 12 either read in previous years, DNF/On Hold or Currently Reading
Goal achieved? Yes! 

The point of this challenge was so that I wouldn't continually add to my backlog of unread books on my shelves. Yes, it's important to read though the books I already own, but I think it's equally important to read the new books I get so they too don't languish unread for years.

This year I decided  to track my books acquired both as a total and broken out between print and e-books. While I want to make sure to stay on top of both, I have a greater sense of urgency to read the print books so I don't end up carrying them around and cluttering up my home with a bunch of print books I don't actually want. So, to that end, of the 142 books I acquired in 2020, only 14 were print books (down from 33 last year, yay!) and 134 are e-books. I've read 29% of these books total, 21% of the print books, and 31% of the e-books. I read much more of the print books I acquired last year (65%!) so my achievements this year aren't quite as spectacular. I'd like to try to read a lot of them in 2021 so they don't sit unread for a long time. Not unreasonable considering there are only 11 of them (and one of those I'm halfway through). Still, all in all not bad. I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2021.

Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2018
Books read: 53 read
Goal achieved? Yes!

I set a rough target of reading or DNF-ing 12 books this year. Working out to roughly one book a month, I figured that was doable. Really, what I want to achieve with this challenge are two things: First, I want to determine whether or not I should continue lugging these books around with me. Second, I want to not let books sit unread for years on my shelves. 

Last year I read 27 books, but this year I read a whopping 53! Of the 53 books, 21 of them were e-books (40%, down from 63% last year) and 32 were print books (60%! up from 10 books and 37% last year!). In an effort to be proactive and not let books languish unread for years, 19 of them were books I got in 2019. In an effort to read books that have in fact been languishing for years, 34 have been sitting on my shelves unread for 2 or more years, with most of them acquired between 2012 and 2018 (2-8 years!). I didn't keep track of all of the books I gave away this year, but I went through a major purge and removed over 154 books that I did keep track of, and many more that I haven't (and many of those I didn't track on Goodreads, so they're not included in the numbers below).

I'm still playing around with how I want to track progress on this, and I think now I may try tracking both percentage of books read and number of books removed that year. This way if I either increase the percentage or remove books, either way I'm moving toward my goal. 

26% read of books acquired in 2020 (140) (104 to 100%)
41% read and 0 added of books acquired in 2019 (165), up 8% (97 to 100%)
34% read and 10 removed from 2018 (253), up 5% (167 to 100%)
33% read and 41 removed from 2017 (302), up 9% (202 to 100%)
47% read and 40 removed from 2016 (322), up 8% (171 to 100%)
39% read and 12 removed from 2015 (96), up 18% (58 to 100%)
49% read and 5 removed from 2014 (74), up 7% (38 to 100%)
54% read and 5 removed from 2013 (50), down 2% (23 to 100%)
67% read and 9 removed from 2012 (60), up 20% (20 to 100%)
89% read and 17 removed from 2010-2011 (129), up 11% (14 to 100%)
83% read and 1 removed from 2008-2009 (35), up 2% (6 to 100%)
87% read and 2 added from 2003-2007 (103), down 2% (13 to 100%)
100% read and 0 removed from 2002 and earlier (75), 0%

This year I also decided to break this up into print and e-books.


21% read of books acquired in 2020 (14) (11 to 100%)
67% read and 0 added from 2019 (30), up 0% (10 to 100%)
43% read and 0 added from 2018 (28), up 0% (16 to 100%)
44% read and 0 added from 2017 (45), down 0% (25 to 100%)
49% read and 0 removed from 2016 (49), up 0% (25 to 100%)
38% read and 0 removed from 2015 (39), up 0% (24 to 100%)
42% read and 0 removed from 2014 (69), up 0% (40 to 100%)
61% read and 0 added from 2013 (41), up 0% (16 to 100%)
66% read and 0 added from 2012 (44), up 0% (11 to 100%)
80% read and 0 removed from 2010-2011 (111), up 0% (22 to 100%)
91% read and 0 removed from 2008-2009 (33), up 0% (3 to 100%)
87% read and 0 added from 2003-2007 (97), down 0% (13 to 100%)
100% read and 0 removed from 2002 and earlier (65), 0%


27% read of books acquired in 2020 (132), up 0% (96 to 100%)
38% read and 0 added from 2019 (150), up 0% (93 to 100%)
33% read and 0 added from 2018 (239), up 0% (160 to 100%)
34% read and 0 added from 2017 (288), up 0% (190 to 100%)
48% read and 0 removed from 2016 (307), up 0% (160 to 100%)
19% read and 0 removed from 2015 (81), up 0% (66 to 100%)
52% read and 0 removed from 2014 (52), up 0% (25 to 100%)
77% read and 0 added from 2013 (39), up 0% (9 to 100%)
76% read and 0 added from 2012 (45), up 0% (11 to 100%)
93% read and 0 removed from 2010-2011 (108), up 0% (8 to 100%)
95% read and 0 removed from 2008-2009 (21), up 0% (1 to 100%)
93% read and 0 added from 2003-2007 (76), down 0% (5 to 100%)
100% read and 0 removed from 2002 and earlier (44), 0%

I realized last year that I need to track this differently because I have a lot of e-books that I don't feel the need to get rid of, but I also don't think the odds are high that I'll ever read them. These are throwing off my percentages, since the goal of tracking this is to not leave books I really do want to read unread. You know, the ones that when you see them on the shelf they're giving you the stink eye. THOSE are the books I want to track. Not so much the "digital library" of books I have but don't care if I read or not. So I also excluded all of the e-books I technically own but know I'm not going to read (why bother deleting them?). They are included in the totals above though (I'll remove them for next year).

I still have a lot of books I haven't read, but I think this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2021 and I hope to continue making a dent.


Most of my challenges didn't have a hard number goal, which I like. It allows me to provide focus to my reading without strictly holding myself to an actual number.

I continue to want to read historical fiction and non-fiction, and I love how this challenge helps focus my reading on that. I also like being able to see which eras and people I focus on or haven't focused on in a while. This is helping me expand the depth and breadth of my knowledge.  

In 2017 I really started to shift my reading to a more relaxed, read-what-I-want approach, and I've continued that approach in 2018 and 2019 and 2020 to the point where I don't think I'm trying anymore and it's my new way of being. I like that. It's funny how book blogging became an obligation and completely changed my approach to reading. I feel like I've found my way back home to reading as a hobby...and I've learned a lot through that journey about how I want to (and don't want to) approach hobbies.

I really wanted to focus this year on reading the books I own, and I definitely accomplished that. I also changed up the way I count the books I own and track my progress in terms of reading what I own. It's a work in progress, but I think I'm honing in on how I want to track this.

I also purged a ton of books I've been carrying around unread for so long by recognizing that a large part of me didn't actually want to read those books, which is why they were unread for so long. Shedding feelings of obligation, guilt, and "but what if it's The One" (when I know it won't be...and if it is, then I can always re-buy it in the future) was liberating and I feel much better for it. This combined with the books I read that I already owned means I focused a lot this year on going through owned pre-2020 books and that is really what I wanted to achieve this year. Mission accomplished. I have several empty shelves now, and I feel much better for that.

The last few years I've noticed that I can look back over my reading and infer how I was doing emotionally during that time. This year I was able to keep track of this with all of the craziness of the year and this helped me feel more grounded and like I was in fact doing okay. Using my reading as a "symptom" gauge is actually pretty handy and I'll continue to do this. It's also almost like a scrapbook of my life: I can see things like "oh this is when I was moving" or "oh, this is when I was camping" and so on, so it's pretty neat in that way, too.

Other notable things about 2020:
  • Continued my love and exploration of Edith Wharton's books
  • Read and fell in love with Gone with the Wind
  • Finally read some Kate Morton
  • Read a lot of books that were sitting unread for a long time
  • Really read a lot of historical books, especially, and surprisingly, with American settings
  • Delved a lot into those "lady diary" books, which are enjoyable brain candy

Next up

I'm going to sign up for all of the same challenges again. Here are some hopes and goals:

The Re-Read Challenge: I'd like to really go with the flow with this one. If I re-read, then great. If I have another year like this where it doesn't really call to me, then that's fine too.

Goodreads Reading Challenge: I'm going to set the challenge at 50 for the first part of the year and then adjust. This is the best way to ensure I get that nice "You're X books ahead!" encouragement that works so well for me. Ultimately, I'd say I'd like to shoot for 72 books, which works out to an average of 6 books per month and seems to fit the rhythm of my life, but I think next year is going to have an unpredictable rhythm. I'm not going to set any goals of any particular authors read. I'm going to keep next year pretty free flowing. 

Historical Fiction Challenge: I want to read more historical bio fiction than I did this year. I enjoy them and I still have a lot of them that I own but haven't read yet (both print and e-book). I also picked up a bunch of historical fiction e-books, and so it would be nice to read through some of those. And, I picked up a few more print books (mostly non-fiction) and I'd like to make an effort to read them. I love that I'm reading more non-fiction, and I want to continue that. That's it. No other goals.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge: No real goals for this one. Just try to read the books I get, especially the print books.

Read My Own Books Challenge: I'd like to continue focusing on this a lot next year. I made a big dent this year and I'd like to keep it up next year. I didn't end up moving this year, but I may very well move next year and if not then then probably the year after that. So, I need to lighten my load and make sure that what I move is actually worth the effort. This matters to me, and so I want to do it.

General Reading Goals: Read what I want. Enjoy the time I spend with the books I'm reading. Read authors, books, and series I know make me happy.

General Blogging/Reviewing Goals: See if this new way of "reviewing" works for me. This November marks 10 years of blogging. Wow.

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