books.lots Back in 2008 several readers on the Romance Potpourri Board discovered they shared a similar problem – they weren’t reading much romance anymore. That problem had led to a secondary dilemma – since they were still buying romance novels they had rapidly growing TBR piles. The solution arrived at was the 9 in 2009 Reading Challenge. Participants were encouraged to read just 9 novels off their TBR that met specific criteria. For most the challenge was an unexpected success and thus the unofficial AAR Romance Potpourri Board Reading Challenge was born.

Over on the boards, we’ve had a challenge every year since. For me the challenge has definitely helped expand my reading experiences. Every year I’ve been asked to read a certain number of books by new to me authors, which has led to my being more open to try new writers. Several years running we were asked to try debut authors. One notable year I tackled new to me subgenres and wound up falling in love with Inspirational romance. My TBR pile would be noticeably smaller if I hadn’t made that unfortunate decision. It surprised me that the challenge has helped me expand since I considered myself a prolific reader. But even prolific readers get stuck in ruts and the challenge has reminded me what a large genre romance is and that there are a lot of sub-genres out there.

Prior to the 9 in 2009 Challenge, I had never considered doing a reading challenge. The fact is, I don’t need to challenge myself to read – I’m pretty voracious in that particular activity without outside motivation. That said, I do need to challenge myself to get rid of my TBR pile, a thing which has grown to such massive proportions it is threatening to take over my home. My TBR also has some kind of weird psychological hold on me. While I have no problem taking an outfit that I bought but didn’t wear to Goodwill, I can’t let go of a book I haven’t read. So what drew me to the Unofficial AAR Challenge was a desire to start making a real dent in that pile. I chose this particular challenge because of size, variety, flexibility and specificity. Most challenges have you read one book a month using fairly open-ended criteria. I’ve never not read one book a month and with the size of my TBR, the criteria often represent no challenge. I know those challenges work very well for many people (for instance, Lynn enjoys joining up with the multi-blog TBR Challenge), but I wanted to do something a little bit different.

With the AAR challenge, I have a wide variety of different types of smaller challenges to do. For example, last year I did a Holiday challenge that had me reading books which centered around specific events in the western calendar as well as a Famous Firsts challenge which had me reading four new to me authors, six books that started a series, two books by authors that debuted this year and one book that had the number one in in it. The specific requirements force me to really search through my TBR and the fantastic part of that is it helps me get reacquainted with what’s in there. It also has me pulling books out of the pile that might have languished there forever. Last year saw me finally reading and removing a 2001 release that I had owned since the day it came out. Fortunately, it met one of the specific criteria in a challenge. It felt great to pack it off to the UBS. The fact that I can do multiple challenges throughout the year is another really big draw. Last year I did nine challenges and removed 117 books from my TBR. I would love to say that all but wiped it out but alas, there’s still a lot there. I like a challenge that also offers flexibility – I can tweak criteria to meet my needs. That helps since it means I can adapt a book for the challenge if I don’t have one that fits perfectly. And we even have challenges for when I don’t want to work too hard at finding books – the Whittler lets me pull any twelve books off my TBR and the Serieous challenge works great for when you have a large series you want to be rid of.

I am very excited about this year’s challenge. Last week I went through my TBR and pulled out the fourteen books I will be reading for the Alphabet Challenge. I can’t wait to start! If you would be interested in joining us for the The 2014 BACK TO SCHOOL Reading Challenge you can find it here and choose which version of the challenge works for you.

Forcing myself to stretch my romance reading boundaries and moving books off my TBR are my rewards for doing the reading challenge. So what about you – do you do reading challenges? If so, which one? What do you find most rewarding about the challenge? What is your favorite part of doing a challenge?

– Maggie Boyd