The time has come for the final tally. Now that the 2020 prompts are out, we're scrambling to finish the 2019 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.
This summer, we gave you an update on how we have been doing on the 2019 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. Some of us are still in shock and awe that a few people had already finished the ENTIRE CHALLENGE for the year as of August (surely I'm not the only one who feels this way, right??). Others were just happy to be on pace. But it can be said with confidence that many amazing books were read and listened to this year.
The 2019 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge was our favorite one yet - here are the final results!
I feel like I’m in that season where all I do is work, sleep, and read. I read at stop lights; I read in the bathroom; I read while putting my kids to bed. I’m listening to an audiobook in the car, reading my kindle in bed, and a physical book all the other times. I’m in the middle of five books right now, but I will not be defeated.
Squirrel! Where has A Tree Grows in Brooklyn been my entire life? Middle school and high school English teachers, you failed me. Is it now higher on my best list than To Kill a Mockingbird? Probably so.
I also feel the need to clarify that the 2019 POPSUGAR Challenge really has forty basic prompts and ten “advanced” prompts. While the rest of my colleagues are overachievers and trying to read all fifty, I will consider it a success if I can get through the forty basic prompts. AND I WILL.
Currently: 34/40 (or 50 for the other weirdos)
A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
A book set on a college or university campus: Rush by Lisa Patton.
An "own voices" book: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
A theme of my reading challenge this year was getting sucked into a trilogy or a specific author’s books and then forcing those books to fit into the reading challenge. (Which I was completely successful with, I might add.)
Anyway, point is, if I start a series or trilogy, I will finish the series or trilogy.* And if I like an author, I’ll keep reading that author. This was a good thing to learn about myself for next year’s challenge.
The other trend in my reading I need to evaluate for next year’s challenge is diving into long, emotional audiobooks, like The Water Dance by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Which again slowed me down. A lot. Now, I will still listen to long, emotional audiobooks all day everyday, but I need to stay focused on finishing them and maybe not listening to the traffic on Drivetime radio since there’s NOTHING I can do about the traffic. #foodforthought
Main takeaways: Next year I WILL FINISH THE CHALLENGE. As a first-time participant, I vastly underestimated what it would take to complete this challenge. Mark my words, this will NOT happen again. I’ve learned my lesson. POPSUGAR 2020, ready or not, here I come!
*I have garnered a . . . er . . . reputation around the office for my love of dark, primarily Russian or Southern, literature. I just want to say it here first. I read the entire Crazy Rich Asians trilogy and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy this year, so sometimes I have a good time with my books, I promise!
A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. (1) This book is gold if you’ve ever had questions about the Bible, inspiration, or just different takes on Christian faith generally. (2) This cover is AMAZING. Shout-out to the design team!
A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. This book was so much FUN! I don’t read a lot of comedies (per footnote above), but this definitely has inspired me to read more comedies. What a good time!
Me, Jason Blackthorne, being of sound mind and not-so-sound body, am delighted to have made it to 50 with 28 days to spare, many of which will be spent sobbing at Christmas movies in the dark. Despite the dearth of life-scarring romances this year, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. However, I felt a bit underwhelmed with my choices. I think my “meh” vibe was related to my strategy of choosing super-short books whenever possible. I mean, watching a five-minute YouTube clip of a school marm fumbling through The Little Yellow Leaf (a book set in the season in which it’s read) has its merits, but I’m sure I passed over some fantastic reads. Still, I did happen across some gems.
A book told from multiple character POVs: Salt to the Sea (Ruta Sepetys). Such a beautiful book. My title: The Couch: Where Jason’s Tears Go to Form a Bereft Little Puddle on His eBook Reader.
A novel based on a true story: Burial Rites (Hannah Kent). Based on the final days of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman sentenced to death in Iceland. Sounds pretty grim, and it was, but such a worthy read. My title: Do Not Read During the Holidays, After Any Kind of Stress, or During Times of Unguarded Vulnerability.
Two books with the same title: Elsewhere (Richard Russo and Gabrielle Zevin). Russo’s book is a poignant memoir about growing up with a mom suffering from mental illness, while Zevin’s YA novel is a wonderfully inventive take on the afterlife. My titles: Isn’t Everyone’s Mom a Little Whack-a-doodle? and Whaddya Mean, I’m Dead? I Was Only Just Now Distracted by Shiny Things Near the Street.
A book with no chapters, unusual chapter headings, or unconventionally numbered chapters: The Circle (Dave Eggers). This was my last title of the year, and Sweet Mother of Pearl, what a fantastic book about a Google/Facebook-type company that starts to take over the world. Truly some terrifying, disconcerting scenes, all deftly cloaked in mundanity. Superb. My title: It’s Not Paranoia If People Really Are After You.
Can’t wait to get started on next year’s list. I plan to a) not plan ahead, and b) go in order again.
Oh, POPSUGAR. You've both kicked my booty and been a true delight. The beauty of reading challenges is that there are so many books that I would have never read if it hadn't been for POPSUGAR. And honestly? They have been wonderful. Some unexpected treasures that I discovered this year are:
A book that includes a wedding: Howard's End by E.M Forester. Have you ever read a book in high school, labeled it as boring, and then go back and read it later and think, "Um, that was a totally amazing book, what happened earlier in my life that I didn't like it?" That is what happened with Howard's End. I'm so glad I went back and read this for a second time because honestly? It was super great.
A book with a title that contains "salty," "sweet," "bitter," or "spicy": Bitter Orange by Clair Fuller. There's just so much in this book that is my love language. The abandoned-lonely mansion trope, murder mystery, unreliable narrators, spiritual metaphors. I feel like this was a book that was written for me. Thank you, Claire Fuller.
A book becoming a movie in 2019: The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson. As a history nerd, this book satisfied my love of exposing parts of history that were never taught in school. Learning about the race and class dynamics of Durham, NC was super interesting and the struggles from the time in the past are things we are still talking about and struggling with today. But the friendship that grows because C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater is both heart-wrenching and also full of hope. I thought I would learn something from this book, but I definitely got the feels as well, and it was a beautiful mash-up.
Will I sprint and stagger over the finish line for this challenge? Oh, most definitely. This isn't my first procrastination rodeo. Catch me in 2020 to see if I completed this sucker.
I loved doing the challenge this year. I mentioned in our summer update that the past few years I’ve struggled to even hit my (much lower) Goodreads goal, but the great prompts and my ever-so-slightly competitive nature really propelled me to push through/recover from my reading slumps. I read more variety, more quality, and just more books than I ever have.
After finishing POPSUGAR, I turned my attention a) to my woefully neglected Read Harder list, and b) to ALL THE SERIES I started for POPSUGAR but my competitive drive wouldn’t allow me to finish. Cue my devouring of seven previously initiated series…
I FULLY stand by my favorites in the summer update; they’re all still some of my absolute favorites of the year. But with an opportunity to tell you about more books…
Caraval series: This was one of those series I had stayed away from for fear of the hype around it, but let me tell you I loved it. I listened to the whole series in the span of a few days and had a SERIOUS book hangover afterward. It was so engrossing, and there’s shifting perspective between books, which I ended up really enjoying.
My Oxford Year: Written and narrated by the incomparable Julia Whelan. I listened to this one in the first few weeks of the year and I still rave about it 11 months later. In the beginning, you’ll think ‘oh, I know this trope, but at least it’s cute and done well’. And you’ll be right and oh so wrong at the same time. It’s fun, heartwarming, and witty, and Julia Whelan actually shows the intelligence of her characters rather than just saying ‘he is smart…’. I only picked it up for the college-campus prompt, and absolutely loved every minute of it.
Belgravia: As soon as I saw Julian Fellows had a book, I HAD to get my hands on it. (my Downton devotion may be evident by now) I mean, Julian knows how to tell a story, and Belgravia has his delightful mix of history, high society social dynamics, and of course a healthy dose of drama and intrigue. Even better, there’s one character I was convinced Julian had written for a particular actress, and she was of course cast in the role for the upcoming mini-series. If you’re still missing the Downton vibes even after the film, get your hands on this one! (if you haven’t introduced yourself to Downton yet…I can’t help you)
Read Harder: 24/24
Goodreads: 96/52 (currently...I'm holding out hope to hit triple digits!)
Now I’m prepping all my choices for next year’s challenge, and let me tell you I am pumped. I’ve already made title lists for most of the prompts, and I’m really excited for some of them (okay, most of them). Get ready for a whole new slew of awesome reads!
Numbers-wise, I failed this challenge, and failed hard. With fifteen days to go before the end of the year, I’m working on book #30. Realistically, I might finish that one plus another two or three before 2020 rolls around, especially if I receive any challenge-appropriate books as Christmas gifts. (Fingers crossed for Tara Westover’s Educated to show up under the Christmas tree!) That still leaves me well short of the full fifty books though. Cue the sad trombone.
But if I evaluate my success based on quality instead of quantity, I definitely feel like I’m a winner. I intentionally set out to read more literary fiction, and I’m so glad I did; the last time I read this much gorgeous prose, I was in college. I also wanted to choose books by women whenever possible, and I succeeded there too: only four books of the thirty were written by men. My list is still whiter than I would like, but that’s mostly due to just not getting around to some of the titles I’d planned to, and I’ll be looking to remedy that as I make my 2020 challenge selections.
A book inspired by mythology, legend, or folklore: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A book that includes a wedding: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book that’s published in 2019: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Friends. Romans. Everyone who had their reading schedule interrupted by the launch of Disney+ and The Mandalorian. We have come to the end of the year, and the end of a challenge.
With great humility, I admit that I again lost the race to finish the challenge. The “Book By A Musician” was my White Whale, and I too died for really no reason and in a totally avoidable way. Remember me fondly.
I did eventually finish by remembering that Umbrella Academy was written by the front man of My Chemical Romance, and as someone who hasn’t seen the Netflix series, I can only say: ?????????
At first, the arrival of the new POPSUGAR 2020 list bummed me out a little. I love the new list, but I knew it harkened a return to a rigorous reading schedule, and I had enjoyed my few months of reading whatever I fancied. I also imagined that I had been reading my extensive, cultured TBR. Then I looked at my actual before & after list of the books I’ve read.
BEFORE I FINISHED THE CHALLENGE:
AFTER I FINISHED THE CHALLENGE:
Clearly, I need some structure.
While The Illuminae Files remains near the top, there are some other books that stole my heart this year. I have now officially read two Scandinavian authors, both of whom wrote whimsical fictional tales centered around older protagonists, and I’m in love. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared was my “Book Set in Scandinavia,” and it’s perfect for the Fredrik Backman devotee in your life (hopefully you). It’s a ridiculous Forrest Gump-esque romp through time, spanning from the Spanish Civil War to the Soviet Union to the ole United States herself, and I guarantee it will delight you.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely, my “Book with a Plant in the Title or on the Cover,” has won the unique distinction of being the only Beauty and the Beast story I have ever enjoyed (including the original tale.) It was everything I ever wanted in a B&B retelling: actual consequences from being a monster, the female lead immediately stabbing the Beast Prince because that’s what you do if you’re kidnapped, and a truly beautiful scene in which she tells him point-blank that she understands what he needs from her – for her to fall in love and break the curse – because she’s from the 2010s, dummy, and knows this story. And she’s not interested. But she’ll totally help him with the political turmoil ravaging his kingdom. RACHEL SWOON.
Finally, a special shout out to Jurassic Park – “A Book Featuring an Extinct or Imaginary Creature” – for being an enthralling book, despite the fact I have seen the (successful and well-made) movie a thousand times. When it comes down to it, it’s a story about a rich man who no one can stop from doing a ridiculous and dangerous thing, because He Is Rich. And that’s a story we might all be familiar with in the Year of Our Lord 2019.
Books Read: 50/50
Books by Musicians That I Quit Whilst Slouching Towards Completion: 3
Book Not on Part of This Challenge That Are Still Worth Mentioning: Daisy Jones & The Six. Talk about a book made for audio. I have watched blockbuster movies that didn’t have this level of acting.
Okay, so I didn't exactly pick up the pace after our Summer 2019 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge update, but I promise I've been reading this whole time! I think I had subconsciously written off the challenge this year when I started so late, but I did thoroughly enjoy fitting in the books I read to the prompts. (Also, finding obscure ways to make them fit so they would count). It clearly didn't work for all of them, but I'll take the wins where I can get them. Plus, I generally gravitate towards LONG books. A habit I'll need to leave behind if I have any hopes of being competitive in 2020.
A book featuring an amateur detective: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. Because I guess I'm a monster. Haven't watched the movie yet, so I'll let you know how that goes.
A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth. Simply delightful.
A book told from multiple character POVs: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Just...read it. You will feel
Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 2017 - A book about food: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. I read several cookbooks this year and I'm determined to make this one count towards the challenge. Gorgeously photographed and positively mouthwatering, this was not only a collection of recipes I'm DYING to try out, but a fascinating history of one of Nashville's most famous ice cream shops.
*ADDING THIS ONE LAST MINUTE BECAUSE I FINISHED IT* A book that takes place in a single day: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This 700+ page fantasy novel is a modern staple for lovers of the genre, and I finally picked it up. I'll save my complicated feelings about it for my Goodreads profile, but know that if you were charmed by the worlds created by J.K Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, get ready to fall in love with another well-lived-in fictional world.
How'd we stack up against the competition (aka YOU!)? We have some seriously competitive readers here, and some who think one reading challenge a year is not enough (I wish I had this problem).
How have you been doing on the POPSUGAR 2019 Reading Challenge? How did you do?
If you haven't already started planning for 2020, the new POPSUGAR Reading Challenge for next year is already available! Check it out here!
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (HCCP) operates Page Chaser, and is the publisher of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers