A Reading Challenge for 2019: Books I’ve Always Wanted to Read


I don’t know why I’ve always been interested in what it means to be well read, but this year’s reading challenge has me tackling some books that will hopefully make me feel more so.

I have always been a reader, and I love a good reading challenge. Years ago I decided to read all the books that have won Pulitzer Prizes for fiction (and I’ve read all of them but last year’s, finally). I have an ongoing, not very formal challenge to read more women authors and a dream challenge in which I read biographies of every president (haven’t started that one yet).

I turned 40 last year, and in confronting my mortality one of the things I thought about is all the books I haven’t read that I would like to.

So I decided to turn that worry into a reading challenge.

designing a reading challenge
Photo by Janko Ferlic.

In 2019, in honor of my 40th birthday, I am attempting to read 40 books that I “always wanted to read.”

The list ended up mostly being classics that I felt it would be valuable to have read. So many cultural references come from books that I haven’t read — and probably that lots of people who use such references haven’t read.

We all know about tilting at windmills, but few of us have probably read Don Quixote. We know what a Catch-22 is even if we haven’t read the book that made the reference famous.

Then there are the books I feel like I should have read in school, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Brave New World

And a few that maybe aren’t actually fun, but that have been on my list for a long time just because I want to read them. Like The Bell Jar and Deliverance (see what I mean about not “fun”?).

ulysses james joyce

I started the year with Ulysses, because why not go big? There are lots of big books on my list (Les Miserables, East of Eden, Remembrance of Things Past to name a few) so I might as well get cracking.

And I am starting this challenge knowing it may well take more than a year. The point is to get started, and to do it, even if it takes a lot longer than I wish I could do it in. It also takes a major commitment to reading over other activities, which I am all in for.

Making Your Own Reading Challenge

reading challenge

I know a reading challenge can sound like homework, and not everyone is into that (though I certainly don’t mind, I always loved research and diving deep into things).

But it doesn’t have to be a challenge to read books you know you should have already read by now.

I have one friend who is just trying to read 19 books for ’19. Another is reading a stack of books she’s purchased but not yet managed to read. You could read the bestsellers from every year you’ve been alive, a book from every Nobel Prize winner in literature (I want to do that one, too), a book from every state or every country.

Because this comes up a lot for me, I’ve actually written about how to design a reading challenge before (and so has my friend Julie), so check that out if you need more ideas.

What are you reading this year? Do you have a reading challenge in mind? I’d love to hear about it!

how to design a reading challenge and read books you've always wanted to
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