My 2017 was about goals. We make resolutions and those resolutions seem absolute when the New Year fireworks soar and light up the heavens. Then the brand new year unfolds and the resolutions are forgotten. Not for me this time.
What I did was actually write everything down and put measures to gauge my success in the next 365 days. I maintained this expansive Google sheet containing my financial, personal development, and relationship improvement goals. How much should I save, what are my plans for my love ones, how many books to read and films to watch, which places and museums to visit next, and so on. It may seem toxic at the start but believe me it had been a very enlightening experience. It gave perspective on decisions before they were cast in stone.
One of the goals that I set my heart to and fantastically achieved was to read 25 books. As of this writing, I am more than halfway through my 34th book – Jhumpa Lahiri’s luminous short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which I read over a decade ago.
Reading is one of my life’s simple joys. But I came to realize that I hadn’t been reading much. There are monumental works from earlier decades and centuries that I continue to neglect in favor of less demanding contemporary novels. I also promised myself to read management and self-help books which I haven’t really done because it is such a chore. Lastly, I’ve been hoarding books and it seemed such a petty crime not to read the books accumulated and forgotten through the years.
So together with two fellow book-loving friends, Kaye and Nalaine, we embarked on a Read Harder Challenge. The challenge was to read 25 books that fall within any of the categories we longlisted. Categories included read a war novel, read an epistolary, or read a book by a Filipino. The list goes on.
Read Harder Challenge was an adventure. It was all about discovering other genres, other places and experiences, other perspectives. A year after the challenge, we realized though that the challenge was confining in a sense that we deprived ourselves of the freedom to choose books according to our current states of being. But then we may not have expanded our reading had we not embraced the challenge. We’d rather read harder every year.
So here are the books and their categories I read in 2017:
- Classic published before 1900s (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women)
- Banned novel (Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint)
- Book I’ve read before (Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club)
- Essays (David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls)
- Graphic novel (Miss Lasko-Gross’ Escape From Special)
- Latin American novel (Mario Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes)
- Short story collection by a woman (Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher)
- Fantasy (Edgar Calabia Samar’s Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon)
- Book set within 100 miles from my location (Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang)
- Book part of a series (Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpo’t Pitong Pusong)
- Middle-grade novel (Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon)
- Play (Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf)
- Historical fiction set before 1900s (John Shors’ Temple of a Thousand Faces)
- Palanca-winning novel (F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles)
- Book about books (Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club)
- Book less than 100 pages (Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet)
- Book published between 1900 and 1950 (Christopher Isherwood’s The Memorial)
- Debut novel (Chang Rae Lee’s Native Speaker)
- Novel by a Filipino (Ricky Lee’s Para Kay B)
- Novel translated from another language (Koushon Takami’s Battle Royale)
- Novel about mental illness (Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar)
- Book about West Asia (Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz)
- An epistolary (Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
- Comic or novel with superhero character (Ricky Lee’s Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata)
- War novel (Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer)
- Management book (Patrick Lencioni’s Politics, Silos, and Turf Wars)
- Novel set in Africa (Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart)
Other books I read were: 2 Kikomachine Komix by Manix Abrera, Lyndon Gregorio’s Beerlenium, Dan Brown’s Origin, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Clothing of Books, and Joe Hill’s The Heart-Shaped Box.
What are the elements of a successful Read Harder Challenge? Here are my thoughts.
First, read harder with friends or with people with the same passion for reading. You will compare notes and share encouragements along the way. It also unleashes the competitive in you. Consider this as your little book club.
Second, map out the books you’ve always wanted to read or curious about vis-a-vìs the categories you’ve agreed on. You will realize just how wide your reading landscape is. This will excite you to read at least 2 books per month.
Third, keep a journal of the books you’ve read. In my case, I post it on social media. This shall be your little contribution in perpetuating literacy. It becomes interesting when you start interacting with people who are equally passionate about reading.
Lastly, read in moderation. This may seem weird because I know some of us would rather be lost in the stories. But there are other activities too that nourish the spirit. Fractions of our hours in the evenings and weekends must also be beautifully spent with family and friends or for other pursuits like travel and gym workout. Just always bring a book with you anywhere and read during your commute or while in a line waiting for your turn to be served.
This 2018, I plan to read some 30 books. I will still challenge myself to cover diverse territories but perhaps in a less constricting manner. This is the initial reading plan: 5 important works of fiction, 2 management and self-help books, 3 collections of short stories, 5 books by Asians and Filipinos, 5 Pulitzer and Booker prizes winners, and 10 various books including literature for children and young adults.
This 2018, let’s continue reading harder and accomplishing more!