A ‘Neglected Book Challenge’ For Wannabe Readers

I’m writing this post primarily as a form of public accountability, but also to come clean about something. You see, Jonathan recently told me he’d committed to a personal challenge and asked if I’d like to take part…

His proposal: Read one book per month for at least one year.

Yes, yes, I know. For most of you this could hardly be considered a “challenge.” To some of you, I’m sure, one book per month is actually too easy.

But… the truth is… neither Jonathan or I have actually read and finished a real book for… we have no idea how long. At least since before Fay was born, which means over two years ago. And if we’re being honest, it’s probably been much longer than two years.

It’s bad. We’ve been so bad and it’s embarrassing.

This isn’t to say we haven’t read anything; we are both voracious consumers of online news and periodicals: current events, op-eds, investigative journalism, media news, blogs. But that has meant an increased dedication to our phones and computers, and it’s something we absolutely want to curb — particularly now that Fay pays such close attention to what we do and works hard to emulate it.

All this to say, I accepted this challenge with open arms.

Jonathan proceeded to tell me that, for his first book, he wanted to start with DuneHe’d always planned to read it, he said, and was committed to it now. He then listed several other titles he’d long wanted to get lost in — some we own, some he’d have to buy.

I sat and considered a few of the new and popular books I’d recently seen dedicated reader friends and bloggers rave about — this one, this one, and this one, for example — but then I stopped myself. What was I thinking? I have a veritable library of books I have packed up and lugged around from apartment to apartment, house to house — some for upwards of 10 years. Under no circumstances, I chided myself, will you buy another book. A minute later I was at my bookcase pulling out novels and memoirs, one by one into a pile on the floor — every single book one which had survived multiple, intense purges.

Suddenly this reading proposal of Jonathan’s had morphed into a 2-year challenge to tackle the long-neglected books on my shelf.


  • No purchasing anything new
  • If it hasn’t been on my shelf since at least 2013 (or 5 moves ago, when I lived in Orange County), it doesn’t make the cut
  • Complete each book before the next designated month, but can read ahead, if desired

Are you curious which books I’ll be tackling over the next 24 months? Here they are, to be read in alphabetical order by author:

January 2019SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM – Uwem Akpan
February 2019FLIGHT – Sherman Alexie
March 2019I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS – Maya Angelou
April 2019NAKED LUNCH – William S. Burroughs
May 2019SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD – Orson Scott Card
June 2019ENDER’S SHADOW – Orson Scott Card
July 2019MY ANTONIA – Willa Cather
August 2019FRED & EDIE – Jill Dawson
September 2019AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED – Khaled Hosseini
October 2019ASA, AS I KNEW HIM – Susanna Kaysen
November 2019UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN – Jon Krakauer
December 2019THE INLAND WHALE – Theodora Kroeber
January 2020YOU DON’T LOVE ME YET – Jonathan Letham
February 2020AKHENATEN: DWELLER IN TRUTH – Naguib Mahfouz
March 2020BLACK SWAN GREEN – David Mitchell
April 2020LAMB – Christopher Moore
June 2020THE NIGHT IN LISBON – Erich Maria Remarque
July 2020TEN DAYS IN THE HILLS – Jane Smiley
August 2020A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN – Betty Smith
September 2020JUST KIDS – Patti Smith
October 2020ON BEAUTY – Zadie Smith
November 2020WALDEN – Henry David Thoreau
December 2020THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE – David Wroblewski

So, any interest in joining me?

Not to read these specific books, of course. Sure, perhaps it’s not a full 24 books needing attention on your shelf, but I bet there are at least a few you keep putting off reading and yet still refuse to get rid of time and time again…

Or perhaps you’re realizing you, too, are one of those people who just doesn’t read books like you used to, or never did read them — and you want to change that.

If either of those statements are true, perhaps now’s the time for a challenge of your own.

What are some books you’ve had sitting on your shelf for a really. long. time. that you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t committed to? I’d love to know!

As for me? My personal challenge starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

3 thoughts on “A ‘Neglected Book Challenge’ For Wannabe Readers

  1. Oh man…. This is a serious challenge, one SO BADLY I want to join. I commit to *trying*, simply because I, too, have a many a neglected book on my shelf (including one of the “hot new releases” you mentioned that I bought promptly then ignored completely!)

    I’ll take a look at what’s on my shelf and try to create a list, and will, with that in mind, see if I can find a break in this new motherhood fog, and actually pick up a real book for once.

    Good luck! I know you can do it! Less confident about myself, but hey! that’s the challenge, I guess.


  2. Love this! I have a similar goal for the year, to get through my to-read shelf before bringing any new books into the home (including library books!). I have maybe 60 on the shelf, including Mrs. Dalloway, A Brief History of Seven Killings, The Brothers Karamazov, Hillbilly Elegy, Salvage the Bones, O Pioneers, The Sellout, Of Human Bondage… and many more. Those listed are some of the ones I definitely plan to read, but some others have been languishing on the shelf for years because they don’t actually interest me and I don’t really want to read them. So “getting through” my shelf means either reading them, or deciding once and for all that I never will, and sending them back out into the world.
    Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh and by the way I read Educated and There There and they are as good and as important as everyone’s been saying. Highly recommend. I’ve had a goal of reading 50 books per year for the past couple years (easier for me at this stage in life, sans baby), though I haven’t gotten there yet (read 42 last year), but I have found that sometimes you just need a really good page-turner to keep your reading momentum going. If you find yourself getting stuck don’t be too restrictive; the most important thing is that you’re reading books! Also if you have access to a library you can put those best-sellers on hold.


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