My 2023 Reading Challenge

Some people go on vacations to have fun. Others might enjoy a night out or a party. I’ve heard about folks who go outside to hike or ski to have fun, though I don’t understand how that’s possible.

For me, fun means alphabetizing my spice drawer, using my label maker, and coming up with reading challenges for myself. The latter is what I’m sharing today. Last year, the books I read were overwhelmingly from the library. I love my local libraries, but my library usage meant I ignored the books I own. So to help me focus on the books already on my shelves, I came up with the following challenge. The only rule is that each title must be from my personal collection.

My 2023 reading challenge

Read a Presidential Biography

I enjoy reading about history, specifically presidential history, but that sort of nonfiction can take a while to get through, so I end up reading less of it than I do lighter work. This prompt will help me cross an unread book off my list and encourage me to pick up the type of longer volume I sometimes avoid.

I’m most excited to read:

  • And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Read an Unread Book I’ve Owned for Years

I’ve realized that reading books and acquiring them are two entirely different hobbies. The acquiring is a lot quicker, so I get books faster than I can read them, something I know any book collector will understand. I hope to read several of these long-ignored books in 2023, but this challenge will help me make sure to read at least one.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Read a Classic that Intimidates Me

I don’t read a lot of what’s considered classic literature, and I don’t think anyone needs to in order to be considered a reader. However, several classics are on my bookshelves already, so I might as well read one.

I’m most excited to read:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Read a Poet’s Complete Collection

I read many short poetry books, but I hesitate to pick up brick-sized complete collections. That didn’t keep me from buying some, though. This year, I want to take my time and sink into one poet’s work. If nothing else, I know this would make my college poetry professor happy, and I still want to impress her.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Emily Dickinson
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Langston Hughes

Reread a Favorite

Because new books are always coming out, I put rereading on the back burner. But every time I do reread a book I love, I’m grateful and vow to do it more often.

I’m most excited to reread:

  • Stoner by John Williams
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Glaciers by Alexis Smith

Read a Book Someone Gifted Me

The last time my friend Katy saw my book collection in person, she said, “You have a crap-ton of books.” Indeed I do, yet my family and friends keep getting them for me. So whose fault is it really that I’ve run out of room on my shelves?

I’m most excited to read:

  • Surrender by Bono
  • The Night Singer by Johanna Mo
  • The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Read a Book I Started but Didn’t Finish

There are two primary reasons why I don’t finish a book: 

  1. It’s not good.
  2. It’s good, but it’s not for me right now. 

While the books in the first category get to go on an adventure to Goodwill or a used bookstore, books in the second category stay with me until I’m ready for them again. 

I’m most excited to finish:

  • This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Read a Book in Translation

An easy way to expand your reading is to pick up titles that have been translated into English from other languages. During college, I discovered my love of Japanese literature. Last year, I decided to read more French lit. This prompt is one I’m eager to fulfill.

I’m most excited to read:

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Read a Children’s Classic

The reason for this category is simple: my friend Candace has been asking me to read The Little Prince for years, and I still haven’t. There are no book options for this prompt, just that little book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Read a Book Recommended by a Friend

Candace isn’t the only friend giving me recommendations. Fellow readers have recommended a lot of exciting books to me over the years, many of which I meant to pick up as soon as possible. “Meant” is the critical word in that sentence.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

After taking a year off from writing, I missed this space. But I’m back with new ideas and posts to share, and I want to start with my favorite books of 2022. I set a goal to read 75 books this year, and I reached that goal with a few days to spare.

Keep reading to see which titles I loved the most.

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

The butterfly house book cover

The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg

The Butterfly House is the second book of a Danish crime series following two detectives, Jeppe Kørner and Annette Werner, as they solve murders in Copenhagen. In this volume, they’re trying to find a serial killer who uses antique medical tools on their victims before leaving them in public fountains. Clues lead the detectives to a hospital and former psychiatric facility where questions arise about how patients were treated. 

The characters here are well-developed, the writing is engaging, and the setting is exactly what you’d want from a dark crime novel. If you’re a fan of the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, don’t miss this book. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs was a wonderful surprise. I had never read Lydia Millet before, and I wasn’t even sure what Dinosaurs was about, but I picked it up anyway. I’m glad I did since it became my favorite book of 2022. 

The story follows a man named Gil who starts a new life by walking from New York to Arizona after a breakup. Independently wealthy, Gil seeks volunteer opportunities to help bring meaning to his life. He becomes close with the family next door and embraces his new role as a friend and mentor to the couple’s young son. 

If you need a lot of plot in your fiction, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want a beautifully told story full of love and hope, don’t miss this gem. 

Happy go lucky book cover

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of my go-to authors, one whose work I know I’ll always enjoy. Happy-Go-Lucky might be my new favorite collection from him. Many essays address his time in New York during the Covid-19 pandemic and his complicated relationship with his dying father. In true Sedaris fashion, he brings humor to bleak situations. We could all use some of that after the last few years. 

If I survive you book cover

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

A debut of interconnected short stories, If I Survive You follows a Jamaican immigrant family after they settle in Miami. The protagonist is Trelawny, the family’s younger son, who can’t quite live up to the eldest. He believes he’s meant to be a scholar, but life unfolds differently than he expects. Though this book addresses topics such as racism, classism, and immigration, there’s plenty of humor and lightness to be found. I love this book and can’t wait to see what’s next for Jonathan Escoffery.

Klara and the sun book cover

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Klara of this book’s title is an AF, an Artificial Friend for a sickly 14-year-old girl named Josie. Josie saw AFs in a store’s window display and immediately felt a bond with Klara, who comes home with Josie and her mother. As Klara grows to know Josie, she comes up with a plan to end her sickness. Klara and the Sun is wise and tender with important things to say about science, friendship, and what happens when those two things are combined. 

Now is not the time to panic book cover

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

In 1996, teenage Frankie met Zeke and finally found a friend, someone who saw her and encouraged her creativity. The two designed a unique poster and hung it all over town. The cryptic, dark artwork took on a life of its own, scaring the townspeople, who were sure something deadly was coming their way. When a reporter calls thirtysomething Frankie and wants to do a story about the Coalfield Panic, Frankie has to face her past and the choices she made with Zeke. Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a perfectly nostalgic novel about two misfits and the power of art. 

This here flesh book cover

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us
by Cole Arthur Riley

I first became aware of Cole Arthur Riley through her excellent Instagram account, @BlackLiturgies. I knew I’d love her book, and I do, but it surprised me how slowly I wanted to read it. I’m usually a fast reader, but the essays in This Here Flesh deserve to be savored. I took my time, underlining sentence after sentence. In prose that often reads like poetry, Arthur Riley explores faith, family, Christianity, and the stories that shaped her. This Here Flesh is a gorgeous book. 

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book cover

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows 30 years in the lives of Sam and Sadie, two childhood friends who decide to create a video game together and ultimately become business partners. I expected this book to be lighter than it is, but its depth was a pleasant surprise. Sam and Sadie are well-developed yet flawed characters I rooted for and got frustrated with in equal measure. They love each other, but this book isn’t a love story. They play and make games together, but this book isn’t about gaming. Instead, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a thoughtful, sprawling story about how friendship can sometimes save us. 

When stars are scattered book cover

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When searching for possible book club selections for the student and staff multicultural book club I co-lead, I picked up When Stars Are Scattered. I started flipping through it and was immediately absorbed by the true story of Omar and Hassan, two brothers growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Somalia. Hassan has special needs, so Omar becomes his caretaker, a situation that becomes more complicated when Omar has the chance to attend school. 

I don’t read graphic novels very often, and I read middle-grade books even less, so I’m thankful to have stumbled upon this wonderful title. Kids and adults will both appreciate this one.

You don't have to be everything book cover

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves
edited by Diana Whitney

Anthologies rarely, if ever, appear on my favorites list, but this poetry collection is special. Editor Diana Whitney chose poems from a diverse array of poets, including Amanda Gorman, Kate Baer, Andrea Gibson, Elizabeth Acevedo, and many more. The poems would be enough, but the book is also full of beautiful, brightly-colored illustrations. I read this book on a day when I felt down and discouraged, and it was just what I needed. Consider reading this next time you need some comfort and inspiration.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a list of other books I enjoy and recommend in the order I read them:

  • And We Rise: The Civil Rights Movement in Poems by Erica Martin
  • Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American by Laura Gao
  • The Angel of Rome and Other Stories by Jess Walter
  • Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman
  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett
  • The West Wing and Beyond: What I Saw Inside the Presidency by Pete Souza

The Stats

Fiction vs. nonfiction (40.8% and 59.2%)
Format (Audio 1.3%, Print 51.3%, and Digital 47.4%)
Where I got my books (Gift 2.6%, Purchased 32.9% and Library 53.2%)

In Conclusion

2022 was a great year for books, and there are already many 2023 titles I’m excited to read. I’d love to hear what books you loved this year. What books were your 2022 favorites?

My Favorite Books of 2021

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Like I imagine it was for most people, 2021 was filled with highs and lows. I ended the year grateful yet eager for the fresh start of a new year. There were some months where I read a lot and others where I finished very little or nothing at all. Despite the stops and starts of my reading life, I finished 55 books in 2021. Keep reading to see my favorites!

2021 Releases

Crossroads book cover

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

I don’t rank my favorite books, but Crossroads is easily number one. I love everything about this book, which tells the story of the Hildebrandt family navigating life during the 1970s. We follow Russ, a pastor who feels adrift and out of touch, as he longs for a woman who isn’t his wife, Marion. She feels invisible to Russ and struggles to understand her children. The oldest is Clem, an idealistic college student who’s trying to sort out his feelings about Vietnam. Becky is the only daughter, a popular teen who has her eye on a boy with a girlfriend. The last character we follow is Perry, a young drug dealer who seeks to be reformed and finally do the right thing.

If you like character-driven novels, don’t miss this book. Jonathan Franzen writes characters so well. By the time I finished Crossroads, I felt I knew these people intimately. This title is the first book in a trilogy; I cannot wait to be reunited with the Hildebrandts. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You was one of my most anticipated 2021 titles. I loved Sally Rooney’s previous book, Normal People, so I had high hopes for Beautiful World. Thankfully, I ended up loving this one too.

The book follows four friends: Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon. Alice is a novelist who barely knows Felix yet invites him with her on a work trip to Rome. Eileen and Simon are longtime friends but maybe more. Sections of the novel are epistolary in form thanks to the letters Alice and Eileen exchange about their romances, work, and hopes for the future.

If you’re looking for an exciting plot, you won’t find it here. What you will find is excellent character-driven fiction that’s perfect for people who can see themselves in the wanderers and wonderers of the world.

Hell of a book book cover

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

If this book looks familiar, it’s because it won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. After I read it, I understood why. This novel is exciting, engaging, and provides excellent commentary on today’s racial and political tensions.

The plot is hard to explain, and I think this book is best read knowing little about it anyway. All you need to know is that the story follows a Black writer who shares his name and book title with Jason Mott. Jason can’t escape the news of the most recent police shooting and keeps encountering a boy who may or may not be real as he tours the US promoting his new book. 

Hell of a Book is just that: an unputdownable, timely novel. 

In book cover

In by Will McPhail

2021 was the year in which I realized I really do like graphic novels. I grabbed In on my library’s new books shelf, knowing nothing about it except that it was pretty. This time, judging by the cover worked out quite well. 

In follows a man named Nick, an adrift illustrator who feels like he’s missing out on something. As Nick interacts with family and begins to fall in love, the real human connections he forms make his world more colorful. This book is a beautiful look at the power of relationships to save and restore us. 

The plot book cover

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

When I think about The Plot, the first word I think of is “fun.” This novel is a book within a book, perfect for suspense and literature lovers. 

The story revolves around Jacob Bonner, a once-popular author who teaches creative writing at a failing college. It’s there where Jacob meets Evan Parker, a student who arrogantly assumes he has the perfect plot to ensure a bestselling book. After hearing it, Jacob agrees. 

Years later, Jacob learns that Evan is dead and had never published his book. What does an author do with a great plot except tell the story? Jacob does, and then things begin to escalate out of his control. 

If you ever find yourself in a reading slump and need a book to get you out of it, choose The Plot

Assembly book cover

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly took me by surprise. I first heard about the book when a Goodreads friend posted his review. He said the book didn’t work for him, but the story sounded interesting, so I grabbed the book from the library, not expecting much. Thankfully, this little book exceeded my expectations. 

Assembly follows an unnamed Black woman living and working in London. The story is nonlinear, which is why I thought I might not like this book, yet it flows beautifully. This book is only 112 pages, yet its explorations of race, womanhood, capitalism, mortality, and belonging have stayed with me since I read it. I plan to revisit this one soon.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is another short but powerful book. It takes place in Ireland during the 1980s and follows a man named Bill Furlong. He sells coal and delivers it to a local convent, where he discovers something disturbing around Christmas time. 

This book tells a lovely story about compassion and love, and it does so without being preachy or too sentimental. This little book is a gem.

Quick Thoughts About Backlist Titles I Loved

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This is the best antiracist book I’ve read so far. If you’re passionate about social justice and reading diversely, don’t miss this.

Jesus and John Wayne book cover

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If you were like me and wondered how the evangelical church ended up where it is today, read this book ASAP.

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I thought this memoir couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but it did. Though hard to read, Know My Name is an essential, beautiful book.

The Stats

I always track my reading in Book Riot’s customizable reading log. (Click here for the 2022 version.) That makes it easy to see my yearly reading statistics, which delights the nerd in me.

  • Fiction vs. nonfiction: 52% of my reading was fiction; 48% was nonfiction.
  • Book format: 60% print, 30% digital, and 10% audio.
  • Diversity: 32% of the books I read were by a BIPOC author. I’d like to increase that percentage to 50% in 2022.
  • Book source: 55% of the books I read in 2021 came from the library. Support your local libraries, kids!

2022 Reading Goals

  • Read 75 books with 50% of those by a BIPOC author.
  • Slow down with book-buying. Read what I have and rely on the library for new releases.
  • Pick up some of the big books that have intimated me.

This post is always a lot of fun for me to write, so I hope you enjoyed it too. What were the best books you read in 2021? What should I add to my list in 2022?

What I Read and Loved in October 2021

Photo by Karolina Badzmierowska on Unsplash

October flew by this year. It was a busy month professionally and personally, which means that I didn’t finish quite as many books as I usually do. I started a lot, though. I had literary commitment issues this month, so I know November’s wrap-up will be a lot longer since I’m in the middle of several books right now. They’ll get their day in the spotlight soon enough, though. For now, here’s what I finished in October. 

What I Read

I was their American dream book cover

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib
Format: eBook

This graphic memoir is a beautifully told and illustrated story about a girl’s coming of age in America. Born to immigrants who would later divorce, Malaka has to navigate life where her parents have different hopes and expectations. Her Filipino and Egyptian heritage makes her stand out in a predominantly white community, challenging for anyone but especially hard for a teen girl. I’d recommend this book to fans of Good Talk by Mira Jacob or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. 

Minor feelings book cover

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Format: eBook

Minor Feelings is a collection of essays about what it’s like to live in modern America as an Asian woman. Cathy Park Hong explores themes of creativity, friendship, racism, and belonging. Some essays had a primarily academic tone and referenced artists and thinkers I was unfamiliar with, but I still enjoyed this book. The pieces “An Education” and “Portrait of an Artist” are especially engaging. 

Leave the world behind book cover

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Format: Print

White New Yorkers Amanda and Clay book a house in a remote part of Long Island, ready for a family vacation with their two teenaged kids. Soon into their trip comes a knock at the door. It’s the owners of the house, who are Black, saying there’s been a blackout in the city. They didn’t know where else to go, so they came to the vacation house. The cable is out, and there’s no wi-fi, so both parties are unsure what’s happening and if they’re safe. 

Leave the World Behind is relatively short, yet Rumaan Alam takes the time to explore class, race, and connection. The story slowly gets eerier and eerier, which I appreciated. The ending was a letdown, however, and tainted how I feel about the overall book. 

What I Loved

Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, and Matt Lucas on the set of The Great British Baking Show

TELEVISION: The Great British Baking Show

I never expected that watching British people bake in a big white tent would bring me so much joy, but here we are. I started watching this show last year when the world went into lockdown, and it became my “blankie” show–something that provides comfort and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. While the current season won’t end up as a favorite, I’m still thrilled the show is back and I look forward to a new episode each week.

Unhide fuzzy blanket

HOME ITEM: Unhide Blanket

Speaking of “blankies,” this is my favorite one. When autumn arrives, and the temperatures dip, I reach for this, the best, softest, most perfect blanket that has ever existed. I got one in a FabFitFun box a while back and have since bought two others as gifts. This blanket is a perfect weight, and nothing could be cozier.

Soup and bread
Photo by Irina on Unsplash

FOOD: Soup

Yes, soup. I’ve always felt pretty neutral about soup. It’s always been fine, but recently, something changed, and I’ve been craving it. I feel like 85% of my thoughts in October were about soup. I made homemade broccoli cheddar soup, cheesy enchilada soup, chili, and chicken noodle (okay, so Safeway made that last one, but I microwaved it at home). Soup is so good, you all! You should have some today.

What I Wrote


What did you read and enjoy in October?

My Favorite Book Settings

Photo by Mikołaj on Unsplash

I’m not a fan of traveling. I’m a homebody who’d rather be in my favorite cozy chair than on an airplane or exotic vacation. Despite my lack of interest in globetrotting, I like visiting different places when I read.

Book settings are something I’ve only started thinking about somewhat recently. I never paid much attention to them a few years ago, but my reading life improved when I realized what books I’m drawn to and why. Knowing what settings you like in your books is a quick and easy way to help you find your next read, so I’m sharing my favorites today.

NYC skyline
Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

New York City

I’ve always been interested in New York City, even though I’ve never been to the East Coast. I have a feeling I’d be overwhelmed in NYC after only 10 minutes of being there, but my fascination persists. I’m intrigued by how people live there: apartments instead of houses, public transportation instead of having your own car, affording rent, and having so many options for what to eat and drink and do. I follow several Instagram and TikTok accounts of New Yorkers who share what it’s like in the city, and they’re a delight. Armchair travel is my favorite.

Here are some of my favorite books set in New York City:

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
London skyline
Photo by Eva Dang on Unsplash

London

One of the reasons I’m intrigued by London is its history. When I drive around my city, I see coffee stands and Old Navy. There are no old, gothic buildings, palaces, or famous museums, which is quite disappointing.

Here are some of my favorite books set in London:

  • The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver
  • About a Boy by Nick Hornby
College campus with a bike rack and ivy
Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

Campuses

I love when books are set in the world of academia. (I just wrote about this.) I don’t care whether it’s a university, boarding school, high school, elementary classroom; I want all of it. I’ve noticed a trend on social media of highlighting dark academia as a genre, and while I do enjoy that, I also appreciate less-dark takes, like satire.

Here are some of my favorite books set on campuses:

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Stoner by John Williams
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden
A beach view through a window
Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash

Vacation Homes

One of my friends and I have a running joke that someday we’ll have a house in the Hamptons. While I definitely will not ever have a home in the Hamptons, I can read about people who do. The home could also be a cabin in the woods, a beach house, a deserted property once in the family; all I want is for a family to go there together and entertain me in the pages of my book.

Some of my favorite vacation home books are:

  • Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Maine by Courtney J. Sullivan
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Inside of a bookstore looking out onto the street
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Bookstores & Libraries

There are few places I’d rather be than a bookstore or library. I went to both places just the other day, and I was in bookish nirvana. Since I love these spots so much in my real life, it’s fitting that I want to experience them in my reading life, too.

Here are some of my favorite books set in bookstores and libraries:

  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

What about you? What are you favorite book settings?