The Joy of a Reading Challenge (or two or three!)


At the end of last year Goodreads reported that I had read 104 books in 2020. The fact that I was in lockdown for much of the year contributed to that high number but it wasn’t the only reason.

I love lists and at some time, early in 2020, someone posted the BBC Big Read list on Facebook. It was a thrill to tick all the books I had read. Then to help their readers cope in the early, anxious days of the first lockdown, my local library in Stirling began online book quizzes. They were great fun; I did OK but found that I had huge gaps in my book knowledge. The quizzes made me want to read some of the books they had featured. One of those books was I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith and thankfully my library had an ebook version I could borrow. It’s a fantastic book and after I’d finished reading, I went back to my Big Read list and found it there at number 82.

So what is Big Read?  In 2003 the BBC began a search to find the nations favourite books and asked the public for nominations. They then compiled the results, ranking them 1 to 200.

Big Read Book List

I decided that I would spend 2020 trying to complete all the books I hadn’t read in the 1 to 50 section. At first I didn’t think it was too big an ask, I only had about eighteen left to read. On closer inspection I realised that my ‘to read list’ included some biggies. Lord of the Rings, David Copperfield, two by Jane Austen and two by Thomas Hardy. Luckily included in my eighteen were some children’s books I could easily get through.

Next was the problem of accessing the books. My library was closed and they only had a few that I needed in their ebook catalogue. I had a couple already in the house waiting on the shelf.  

Oh dear, there was no other option left to me, I would need to buy more books!

Filling my reading gap

On examination of the whole list I decided to invest (99p each) in ebooks of The Complete Works of Thomas Hardy and The Complete Works of Charles Dickens. The rest I ordered from a local book seller, Portobello Book Shop, who were maintaining an online service during lockdown.  

That was my classics list sorted or so I thought. Halfway through the year a TV series Novels That Shaped Ours World was aired, and with it came another list, this time from 2019. The list of books were decided on by a selected panel of writers and was divided into categories like Identity, Adventure, Class and Society, Rule Breakers etc. I went through the same process, ticking the ones I had read. Thankfully, there is some cross over with the Big Read list but many on this new list are in series form; Disc World, Sandman, Harry Potter and The Twilight Series to name a few. I knew I wouldn’t be able to (or want to) read them all, but I keep the list by the other one and dip into it now and again. I also have a list of Muriel Spark’s books and The List of Best Scottish Books from 2005, but that needs updated.

Reading back this post it sounds as though I am obsessed with lists and I am up to a point.  I see this as a way of targeting my reading, but it is not the only reading I do. These lists contain fiction only.

I enjoy reading non-fiction, and poetry and, being a writer, I read for research.  I also have lots of writer friends whose books I love reading on release.  I am also a member of an online global reading group. It is curated by poet, Alice Jennings who resides in Santa Fe. This group is perfect for introducing me to unexpected novels, often from the US. And of course there’s the odd recommendation that comes out of nowhere.

So how did I do last year with my personal reading challenge?  I read all my gaps in the 1-50 Big Read list except for Lord of the Rings, although I did read Fellowship of the Rings; I just couldn’t face reading the whole thing, but I will finish it over the next few years. I even read some of the Novels That Shaped Our World.

This year I plan to fill my reading gaps in the Big Read 51-100 list. Twenty three books this time and although there are again lots of kids books to whizz through there are some heavies, including James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is a book I should have read years ago and have resisted but I can’t put if off any longer. Hopefully the library will be open in the near future -until then, I’ll just need to buy more books!

To hear more about my writing process and my reading journey why not sign up to Blog Extra, my newsletter here?

I’m going in!


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