I saw a blog post a few days ago about the author’s list of things to do before they turned 30, and it set me thinking: I have a big birthday coming up in January 2023, and I’m not really the sort of person who sets ‘things to do before…’

But as I’ve written before, since completing a Literature degree a few years ago, I have wanted to get back to the level of reading I used to do. With the distractions of work, home, and the everyday stuff of life, I never seem to get around to it.

This gave me an idea: what about setting a challenge to myself to aim to read 50 books before I turn 50? As my birthday is in January, this gives me an exact year to complete the challenge. It won’t be easy, after all, there are only 52 weeks between one birthday and the next, which equates to around one book per week. So how to fit them all in?

I have written before about what a fan I am of Cal Newport’s work, and he is another big advocate of setting reading challenges. He recently spoke on his blog and podcast of setting himself a goal of reading 5 books per month. When asked how he manages to fit this much reading into his already busy work and home life, he reports that he reads at every opportunity where other people would probably do other things: check their phones, check social media, binge watch Netflix or YouTube, and so on.

So, in an effort to increase my reading, and to hold myself accountable, I am going to set myself the challenge of reading 50 books by the middle of next January and to review how this is going on the blog.

As I am currently studying for a Masters in English part-time, (and researching for a 12,000 word dissertation this summer), I plan to include any books/plays read on that course, as well as fiction I read for pleasure (usually before bed), non-fiction books such as self-help titles, and books of short stories. I also plan to write micro-reviews of the books read on this blog, where possible.

To kick things off, I thought I’d give a run-down of the books I have read so far in January:

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

This is a slight cheat, because I started reading it over Christmas, but I didn’t finish it until the beginning of January. Strout is one of my favourite contemporary authors, and I couldn’t wait to dive into her latest novel. The story features one of her previous characters (as Strout’s work often does), Lucy Barton, who has featured in two of her earlier novels. The story here is Lucy’s narrative of her ex-husband, William, as he navigates older age. Lucy and William are still good friends, and what I loved about the book was the relationship they still have of mutual respect for one another as friends, and the love they share for their two grown up daughters. I didn’t however enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped, and not nearly as much as her other novels such as Olive Kitteridge.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

This was a Christmas gift, and a book I have read before but never owned. I pored through it this time, really delving into Newport’s ideas around social media and the way many of us have lost our ability to concentrate. This seemed like a good book to start January off with, especially given my idea for this challenge! I would highly recommend this book to anybody who would like to get a better handle on their digital life.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

A new author to me, Hoover’s book features a young woman who meets a male doctor on a rooftop in Boston one warm night after she has fled her father’s funeral. The couple share secrets and as the story unravels, we find out that the woman’s mother suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, leading her to find solace in a relationship with a local homeless teenager. As the story progresses, the woman finds herself in a similar relationship to her mother, one which she swore she would never allow. I found this book well written and interesting, though difficult to read at some points. The afterword of the novel also helps to put the novel in context, giving a rare example of the author telling readers of her reasons for writing it.

Spoonfed by Tim Spector

This was a non-fiction book about the myths surrounding the foods we eat. I found this book really informative, and at times surprising, in that it put to bed some commonly held ideas around food and nutrition. The good thing about it was that it was informative without being too science-heavy, and also didn’t come across as preachy. I would definitely recommend this book if you want to really understand where ideas around everyday foods come from, and know when to question assumptions.

So that’s the list so far, I am currently half way through my next fiction novel, but will report back on that once I finish reading!

I’d love to hear if you’ve set any reading or writing challenges for this coming year, as well as any good book recommendations.

I’m off to finish my book!