Emily Reads All the Books, Beats WWEnd Challenges

Remember last year’s Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge?  Well, this year Worlds Without End upped the ante with the Roll-Your-Own reading challenges, with 28 different user-created challenges to pick from.  I’m always a bit ridiculous when it comes to reading, so I picked fifteen(!), with the caveat that I wasn’t going to do any reviews this year.  I felt that was reasonable, considering I gave birth this summer.  (Strangely, the baby helped me read more, since I spent so many hours feeding him with nothing to do but read/listen.)  Honestly, the real challenge I set myself was to see how many challenges I could beat this year.

So, the challenges.  Seven were sort of no-brainers, books I would have read anyway.  First up:

Fantasia: Read 12 fantasy books

FantasiaEasy-peasy.  I finished this one within a couple months, and spent the rest of the year swapping out books so fewer were duplicated in the other challenges.  My favorite here is Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb.  (Though really, everything on this list was great.)

Read the Sequel: Read 12 sequels

SequelStand-alone books are so rare in this genre, it would have been a struggle not to meet this challenge.  Favorites were Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, and Skin Game by Jim Butcher.  Also note several sequels to books I read for last year’s Women of Genre Fiction challenge (and one sequel from this year’s!).

Pick and Mix: Read 12 books from any of WWEnd’s lists

PickThe creator of the challenge planned to read 50 books, and I can safely say I’ve matched that, though there’s only space for 12 on the site.  Almost all of these are duplicates from other challenges, because, hey – all the harder challenges are books from lists.  My favorite here is Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

New Books of 2014: Read 8 books published this year

New 2014I read dozens of new books this year, so I picked my 8 favorite for this list.  My most highly-anticipated were Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson and The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks, and they both delivered.

The Book of Ones: Read 12 books that begin a seriesOnesA little more difficult than sequels, but I still finished plenty early.  Standouts that I haven’t already mentioned include Hild by Nicola Griffith and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

2014 LGBT Challenge: Read 12 books by LGBT authors or exploring LGBT themes

LGBTI added this challenge in November when I realized I had already read at least 12 fitting the criteria.  Since I don’t actually know how a lot of authors identify, most of these are books with LGBT characters and themes.  China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh was a favorite.

Sub-Genre Focus: Read 10 books in one sub-genre (I chose historical fantasy)

sub-genreThis one technically runs from September 2014-August 2015, but I treated it as an all-2014 challenge (though I’ll probably continue it through the end and swap out all the books I read before September).  I had already read all the books by the time I discovered the challenge.

After these gimmes, the challenges got a little more, well, challenging.

12 Awards in 12 Months: Read the winners of 12 different awards

12 AwardsThis one took some doing, but I finished this one just before Halloween: Philip K Dick Award, British Science Fiction Award, Hugo, Nebula, Locus YA, Campbell, Mythopoeic, Locus Fantasy, British Fantasy Society, Clarke, Locus SF, & World Fantasy.  I already mentioned my two favorites, so I’ll give you the one I liked so much more than I expected: The City and the City by China Miéville.

The Second Best: Read nominees of 12 different awards

2nd BestSimilar effort to the last one involved here, and I finished on Halloween: Campbell Award, Locus SF, Hugo, Locus YA, British Science Fiction Award, British Fantasy Society, Nebula, Mythopoeic, Locus Fantasy, Clarke, Shirley Jackson, & World Fantasy.  Quite a few here that had been on my to-read list for a while (or already hanging out on my kindle).

Women of Genre Fiction: Read 12 books by 12 different new-to-you women

WoGFLet’s be honest, there’s no way I could do this many challenges without repeating the WoGF challenge.  Only one book here I really didn’t like (The Female Man), but it probably wasn’t the best timing to read that sort of thing with a one month old baby.

Masterworks: read 12 books from the Masterworks lists

MasterworksThe number of books I wouldn’t have read (or finished) starts going up here, but I stuck it out and finished mid-November.  I cheated a little with The Riddle-Master, since I read it before in around sixth grade, but I didn’t remember a thing except that I loved it.  On re-reading, I still didn’t remember anything, but I still loved it (and it prompted me to choose the other McKillip book for my final pick).

One World to Rule Them All: Read 12 books in the same fictional world

DiscworldI added this challenge in November when I was closing in on the end of all the others, and spent the month listening to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.  Monstrous Regiment was my favorite.

The Guardian List Challenge: Read 7 books from the Guardian list of Best SF&F

GuardianAfter the Masterworks challenge I only had two more to go, so why not?  I actually finished this one last (on Christmas!), as I waited to make sure I had time to listen to The Time Traveler’s Wife rather than reading Fahrenheit 451.  Also, Fight Club isn’t science fiction, so I’m confused as to how it made the list.

The Number of the Counting Shall Be Three: Read 3 trilogies

3 TrilogiesI finished this one in early December, by the skin of my teeth, but I couldn’t just stop doing challenges before the year was over, now could I?

Mythopoeic Award: Read 12 winners/runners-up for the Mythopoeic Award

mythopoeicThis was always a long shot, particularly with the holidays.  I started it at the end of November with five more books to read (and three other challenges yet to finish), and finished mid-December, just before leaving for my two weeks of holiday travel.

So there you have it, my year in books.  I read 131 books, 102 of which were in the WWEnd database.  95 of those went toward filling the 166 slots in the challenges.  Whew!  Given that I’m returning to work tomorrow, I think I can safely say I won’t be doing that again–at least, not to such a ridiculous extent.

Finding Your Next Good Read

Guess how long it’s been since I read a physical book…

There are more books out there than ever—1.5 million published in 2011 alone, according to Bowker.  Picking the gold from the dross can be tough.  So what’s a reader to do?

The first and easiest option is to search for other books by authors you like, next in series, that sort of thing.  In genre fiction, it’s easier to find a ten-book series than a standalone, so a handful of favorite authors can keep you going for quite a while.  I tend to devour series in a single gulp, then add any forthcoming titles to my “Upcoming Books” list (currently 22 strong, and that’s just the books with titles and release dates).

But what about finding something totally new?

For me, it’s an almost alchemical melding of social media, bookseller promotion, and happenstance.  A title gets bandied about on Twitter, mentioned in blog posts.  Then maybe it’ll get discussed on one of my genre podcasts, and I’ll add it to my list.  Then Amazon will promote it as the ebook of the day, $1.99!  I’ll grab the preview, read it, buy it.

Or maybe I’ve never heard of it before the promotion, but it ends up being the best thing I’ve read all year, and then I’ll go look up everything the author’s ever written.

Or maybe I came across a book review, or it won the Hugo, or the author did a guest blog post, or any of a dozen other things.  Totally unscientific, but it works for me.

What it really comes down to is finding a few sources you trust—book review sites, Goodreads¹ friends, actual friends—and keep your eyes open. There are free previews available online for just about any book, and it usually doesn’t take long to tell if it’s something I’ll like.  Pretty soon, your only trouble will be deciding which super-amazing book to read first.

So how about you?  What are your favorite places to find books?

1. If you love fantasy, YA, or science fiction, check out my Goodreads shelf.  I could use some more friends of similar taste…