I am not usually one to do challenges. I don’t follow rules well. I’ve tried the “bookstagram” photo challenges and just managed to scrape through and complete all of the prompts. But it wasn’t really fun. It was taxing even. And the prompts served no real purpose for me. Ok, so I put up a few extra pictures. For thirty days straight I was actually consistent. And sure, maybe I learned some cool photography techniques in the process, but it didn’t do anything at all for my reading life. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is to take and post pictures of all the lovely books you own. I certainly didn’t need an excuse to buy more books. So I stopped doing those challenges.
But when this year started, I wanted to push myself and attempt to read outside of my comfort zone. So, I turned to challenges. Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge had always been something I’d thought of doing, so I figured it’d be a good place to start. The structure of the challenge does, in part, what I was looking to do. There are 24 prompts, each designed to make you dig into something very different from the last. This challenge would definitely force me to read outside of my comfort zone, but there was still something missing.
I needed to make space for authors of color. I spent most of 2016 and 2017 working as a bookseller. It was a job I loved, but it was through that job that I realized how white my reading had become—and how hard it was to change that. It wasn’t always that way. I grew up with a mother for an English teacher. My mother taught August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson every year and I have read every single thing Maya Angelou has ever written. While I certainly read other things, works by black authors were the core of my reading life growing up, the works I really remember. Book Riot’s challenge allowed for some exploration of works by authors of color and there was certainly nothing stopping me from making all of my choices works by people of color. But I felt like I needed to do more.
So I decided to create my own challenge. Months ago, I happened upon this concept of an A to Z title challenge. The idea is to make a list of titles representing each letter of the alphabet. I decided to do this challenge and make all 26 of my books works by people of color. And this was certainly a challenge. First I had to dig for books by people of color, but then finding those that would fit the letters of the alphabet added to that initial challenge. But I did it, I finished it. I even posted the list. And almost immediately things began to change.
I realized that I had changed. I don’t know if it was working in a bookstore where I constantly failed at finding books by authors of color other than the typical ones every store will carry. I don’t know if it was the current state of our union. I don’t know if it was living in Nashville and realizing just how much this city lacks diversity. It may have been all of these things coalescing. But I realized that I was naturally uninterested in works that weren’t diverse. I didn’t care anymore about the stories white authors had to tell. I found myself just exploring and discovering books on my own that were directly in line with the thoughts I was having about my world. I didn’t seem to need the lists or challenges to get there.
So will this be the year of challenges? I’m not sure. My only challenge to myself is to continue down this road of self discovery and exploration. We’ll see where it leads me.