Women who write, Heaven and Hell, and more 2021 reading challenges

Happy Friday, and hello 2021!

As the first day of a brand new year, it’s time to decide on a few more ostentatious goals, and since today marks the first day of the 2021 Chapter-A-Day Read-Along, I’ve decided to talk about all of the reading challenges I’ll be participating in this year, as well as how I plan to keep track of my reading progress.

2021 Chapter-A-Day Read-Along

I’m jumping back in with the Chapter-A-Day crew this year (for those who don’t already know, I read Les Misérables with Nick and the gang back in 2018), and the first book on this year’s list is actually an epic poem: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Since there are quite a few translations of this book (which was written 700 years ago, back in 1321), I’ve chosen to read a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translation published by Barnes & Noble as one of their collectible leatherbound editions, with supplementary reading from Digital Dante material published by Columbia University. Digital Dante allows readers to compare and contrast between the original Italian of Dante’s poems and translations by either Longfellow or Allen Mandelbaum.

I will also be reading various commentaries on the book and its translations (such as “How to Read Dante in the 21st Century” by Joseph Luzzi in The American Scholar, “Dante and The Divine Comedy: He took us on a tour of Hell” by Christian Blauvelt at the BBC, and “What’s the best way to read The Divine Comedy if you don’t know Italian?” by Steve Moyer at Humanities) to get a better feel for the time in which the poems were written, Dante’s personal backstory, the poem’s language, and other historical or literary insights.

With 33 cantos plus one introductory canto per section (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), this reading challenge will take me from January 1 to April 10. I will then skip Quo Vadis (the second book in the challenge) and meet back up with the group for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, another Victor Hugo title, which we’ll read from June 24 to August 21. I haven’t yet decided whether I want to read David Copperfield and The Three Musketeers with the group to close out the year, but I will definitely be along for the ride for at least two of their selections.

If you’d like to join this group on this year’s journey through classic literature, be sure to check out Nick Senger’s page about the 2021 challenge and download the reading schedule!

Goodreads Reading Challenge

If you’re on Goodreads, you’ve probably noticed that they encourage folks using the site to participate in a yearly reading challenge by setting a goal for the number of books you want to read each year. Each year, I typically set my goal at 52 books – one book a week – which is pretty easily achieved, and I’ve managed to keep up a streak of “winning” this challenge for six years now (since 2015).

In case you’re curious to know which 53 books I read this year, click the image above to see the full list at Goodreads.
My 2015-2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge badges

Of course, reading books in 2020 was more of a challenge than ever, so despite all that time spent at home, I really had to work hard to hit my 52-book goal this year. Many of the books I read this year were graphic novels, because I couldn’t concentrate on dense texts for obvious reasons. So this year I am planning to set my goal at 52 books once more, but I also want to purposely set aside time for reading more graphic novels as part of my yearly reading goals. They’re fun and different than most of the other things I typically read, since admiring the artwork is also a big part of what makes them enjoyable, and they remind me of time spent on the living room floor as a kid reading comics in the Sunday paper. I’ve also found a few series that I need to finish reading, like Paper Girls and Deadpool (2019), so I’ve signed up for a free trial of comiXology through Amazon and will likely keep that membership up so I can access more comics, graphic novels and manga. (P.S. ComiXology has a small selection of free comics available here, too, and if your library is part of Hoopla, you can borrow graphic novels and comics as part of your monthly quota on that platform as well.)

Reading Women Challenge

Taking a look through some of the reading challenges on the Master List of Reading Challenges (thank you, GirlXOXO, for putting this together and organizing it alphabetically!), I’ve decided to join the Reading Women Challenge to help organize my reading a bit more and push my boundaries as well.

More than simply reading books written by (or about) women, this year’s challenge includes lots of unique and specific prompts, such as reading books by neurodivergent authors, books with protagonists older than 50, and a short story collection by a Caribbean author. It also includes four bonus challenges to read books by Alexis Wright, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Leila Aboulela, and Yoko Ogawa – all of whom are currently working award-winning writers who deserve a wider audience.

What I like about this challenge is that it’s a companion to the Reading Women Podcast – which discusses books that meet the challenge criteria – so while the challenge itself allows individual readers the freedom to choose their own books, if you find yourself stuck on a certain topic you can tune into the podcasts to get some guidance and recommendations. I love this approach, since I find a lot of challenges leave you to your own devices when it comes to choosing books. That can be nice, but especially since I want to push my own boundaries with my reading this year, I find it much more helpful to get recommendations from folks who have already read books that fit the criteria and then choose from a short, curated list (rather than the infinite multitudes of books published daily).

Keeping track

Since the Chapter-A-Day challenge requires a little reading each day, I’ll simply be checking off my reading progress on the provided reading schedule. Simple!

For the Reading Women Challenge, I’ll be using the group’s downloadable PDF to keep track of which books I’ve read in each category. I also intend to create a spread in my bullet journal at the end of the year to collect these books together in a more orderly fashion.

And for the Goodreads Challenge, I’ll be adding books to my account throughout the year as I go.

In addition to these specific challenges, I’ve also decided to return to writing reviews on my blog, so I’ll be writing about the books I’ve been reading at least once a month to help keep my reading schedule on track.

What about you?

Are you joining any reading challenges this year? Which ones most excite you, and why?