Reading challenges that will revolutionise your bookshelf in 2022

Want to switch up your reading but don’t know where to begin? Sarah Shaffi reveals ways you can challenge yourself in 2022.

09/12/2021
9 minutes to read
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There are so many books published each year that it can feel like you haven’t read what everyone else is talking about. But reading isn’t about keeping up with the trends (although that can be nice), it’s about providing you with satisfaction, excitement and escape.

In 2022, to give your reading some structure, why not try one, or more, of the following reading challenges? You can try a different challenge every month, pick one for the whole year, or combine a couple to create a challenge of your own. Whatever you choose, remember that the aim is to have fun and find some books you really love.

Travel the world

Books provide the perfect opportunity for us to visit new places, from the comfort of our own reading spots. Why not grab a map of the world and spend the year working your way around it with books? Not only can you include stories set in other countries, such as Neema Shah’s Kololo Hill or Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty, but you can also use this challenge to dip into the wealth of brilliant translated literature available, from Thora Hjörleifsdóttir’s Magma, translated by Meg Matich, to Sosuke Natsukawa’s The Cat Who Saved Books, translated by Louise Heal Kawai.


Something old, something new

Many readers will be familiar with shelves stacked with unread books, or teetering piles of novels you promised to read but then never got round to. So, to help mix up your reading and tackle those books, why not adopt a something old, something new approach? Alternate your reading in 2022 by reaching for something from your “old” pile in between every newly released book you read. Not only will you get through some of those long-kept books, we promise you’ll find some gems in both your old and the new choices.


Read the winners (and losers)

How many times have you said ‘I’m definitely going to read that’ after a prize longlist, shortlist or winner has been announced? And then, well, you never have. Now you have the chance. For 2022, why not challenge yourself to read all those prize winners, and those who just missed out, that you’ve previously been interested in? You could pick one prize for the entire challenge – opt for the Booker Prize if you love literary fiction, The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction if you want some non-fiction, or the Costa Book Awards if you want to do a challenge with multiple age groups – or mix and match with a different prize each month.


A poem a day (or week, or month)

It’s highly likely that when you left school, one of the things you were happiest to leave behind was analysing poems until the words, ironically, lost all meaning. But thankfully, you don’t have to do any analysing as an adult, you can just feel what the poem is trying to tell you. For this challenge, you can go for a poem a day, using Allie Esiri’s books, including A Poet for Every Day of the Year, which are also perfect for getting children involved. Or you could pick different poets for each month, from Raymond Antrobus to Layli Long Soldier. Or read poems for your mood, with books like Poems to Fall in Love With, chosen by Chris Riddell, or Poems for Stillness. This is the perfect challenge to fit in between your other reading, or to pursue on its own.


Address a literary bias

Think romance novels are icky? Crime novels overdramatic? Historical fiction boring? SFF not out of this world? Address your book biases in 2022 by trying out a genre that you usually don’t read, and we can guarantee by the end of the year you’ll have found a new literary love. If you usually avoid family sagas, we recommend starting with Elizabeth Jane Howard's bestselling The Cazalet Chronicles. If you usually avoid romance, try beginning with Lily King’s Writers & Lovers. For historical fiction, grab Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth trilogy, and for SFF grab T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead.


Learn while reading

If you like picking up new skills or learning new things, a non-fiction reading challenge is perfect for you. Pick a set of books on subjects that you’re interested in (if you love politics, go for Sebastian Payne’s Broken Heartlands for example), or go for something completely different; maybe you’ve never read about dance before, in which case you should grab Georgina Pazcoguin’s Swan Dive. For the technically minded, Mo Gawdat tackles the ever-growing force of AI in Scary Smart. From memoirs to histories to polemics, there’s a book for everything you might want to know about.


Tackle the classics

Sure, the classics include all those authors from long ago you’ve heard of (from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens), but they also include a whole host of older and newer writers you perhaps haven’t come across before, such as Kahlil Gibran, Nella Larsen, Richmal Crompton and Mikhail Bulgakov. You can combine this challenge easily with the travel challenge, finding books that are considered classics in different countries to expand your reading.


Ready to challenge your reading? Discover more about Sarah's recommendations:

Kololo Hill

by Neema Shah

Book cover for Kololo Hill

Neema Shah’s impressive debut novel is set amidst the turmoil of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. When a devastating decree is announced which says all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days, Asha and Pran and Pran’s mother Jaya, must leave everything they’ve ever known for a new life in Britain. But as they try to rebuild their lives, a terrible secret hangs over them.

Amnesty

by Aravind Adiga

Book cover for Amnesty

Full of Aravind Adiga’s signature wit and magic, this novel from the Man Booker Prize-winning author is both a universal story and a timeless moral struggle. When Danny – an illegal immigrant in Sydney who has been denied refugee status – hears about a murder that has been committed which he may have information about, he faces a moral choice. Should he come forward with his knowledge of the crime and risk deportation, or should he stay silent, protecting the life he has built but letting justice go undone?

Magma

by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir

Book cover for Magma

This poetic novel, translated from Icelandic, explores the dark side of desire. Twenty-year old Lilja has fallen for an elegant intellectual older man. But he is also a narcissist and a manipulator. Blinded to his faults, and desperate to explain away his behaviour, she accepts his infidelity and machinations. Lilja is unable to escape this toxicity, until an ultimatum forces the issue, and she can choose whether to be free.

The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

Rintaro Natsuki loved finding refuge in tiny secondhand Natsuki Books as an insular child. His grandfather's bookstore with its teetering volumes was a home from home. When his grandfather dies, Rintaro is in despair, thinking he must close the beloved shop. Then a talking tabby cat appears, and asks Rintaro for help. The two go on a book lovers mission to rescue abandoned books. But there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt on his own.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year

by Allie Esiri

Book cover for A Poet for Every Day of the Year

Allie Esiri brings you 366 of the world's most spellbinding verse writers in this gorgeous anthology. Whether reading aloud or just sharing with loved ones, discover exciting new writers alongside some familiar favourites. Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti and Emily Bronte sit alongside Roger McGough, Wendy Cope, Imtiaz Dharker, Leonard Cohen, Sylvia Plath and Ocean Vuong. Each poem sits alongside a small introduction to the writer, providing biographical details and the odd quirky anecdote. A stunning collection to make poetry part of your daily routine.

Poems to Fall in Love With

by Chris Riddell

Book cover for Poems to Fall in Love With

An anthology to be treasured, this collection of poems about love has been chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell. With works from poets including Kate Tempest, E. E. Cummings, Carol Ann Duffy and more, it's a beautifully romantic book to give to someone special this Valentine’s Day. 

Writers and Lovers

by Lily King

Book cover for Writers and Lovers

Casey has just lost her mother and is still recovering from the end of a devastating love affair. Living in a rented shed and working on the novel she’s been trying to write for the last six years, at thirty-one she feels too old to be so directionless. Then she meets two very different men, who represent very different futures. This funny and moving novel explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.

The Light Years

by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Book cover for The Light Years

The First Book in the Cazalet Chronicles series.

The Light Years is the first book in the bestselling Cazalet Chronicles series, and marks the beginning of an extraordinary family saga. Each summer, the Cazalet family – brothers Hugh, Edward and Rupert, sister Rachel and their parents – spend two wonderful months at their family home in the Sussex countryside. But the siblings are hiding heartaches and secrets that even the idyllic setting won’t let them forget. . . 

 Hugh is haunted by the ravages of the Great War, Edward is torn between his wife and his latest infidelity, and Rupert is in turmoil over his inability to please his demanding wife. Meanwhile, Rachel risks losing her only chance at happiness because of her unflinching loyalty to the family.

The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett

Book cover for The Pillars of the Earth

Welcome to medieval England, where a civil war ravages the country and a monk is on a mission. Ken’s The Pillars of the Earth follows Philip, a devoted monk, who joins forces with Tom, a talented builder, to undertake the most ambitious project either has ever set themselves to. In a world in turmoil, however, their journey will not be a smooth one.

The first book in Ken Follett's series, The Kingsbridge Novels, this historical saga is one to get lost in.

The Library of the Dead

by T. L. Huchu

Book cover for The Library of the Dead

When Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker, earning a living by carrying messages from the dead to the living, it seemed harmless enough. But then the dead begin whispering about someone who is bewitching children and leaving them joyless husks. When Ropa starts investigating she needs to draw on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And what she finds will change her world forever . . . This magical fantasy book is the first in the Edinburgh Nights series. 

Swan Dive

by Georgina Pazcoguin

Book cover for Swan Dive

As a soloist at the New York City Ballet, Georgina Pazcoguin – known as the Rogue Ballerina – has the riveting inside story of the uber-competitive, rowdy, turbulent and addictive life of a ballet company. From life in small-town Pennsylvania to the cutthroat world of dance in the Big Apple, Pazcoguin tells her story with compelling pace, honesty and plenty of humour. But she also tackles the topic of #MeToo, and tells of the racism, sexual harassment and misogyny that has been part of her own painful rise to the top in ballet.

Scary Smart

by Mo Gawdat

Book cover for Scary Smart

In Scary Smart, The former chief business officer of Google outlines how artificial intelligence is way smarter than us, and is predicted to be a billion times more intelligent than humans by 2049. Free from distractions and working at incredible speeds, AI can look into the future and make informed predictions, looking around corners both real and virtual. 

But AI also gets so much wrong. Because humans design the algorithms that form AI, there are imperfect flaws embedded within them that reflect the imperfection of humans. Mo Gawdat, drawing on his unparalleled expertise in the field, outlines how and why we must alter the terrifying trajectory of AI development and teach ourselves and our machines to live better. 

The Prophet

by Kahlil Gibran

Book cover for The Prophet

A 20th century classic, The Prophet is thought-provoking, comforting and wise, and its simple truths remain compelling and rewarding to this day.

Utterly unique and beloved around the world, The Prophet is a collection of twenty-six poetic essays by the Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer Kahlil Gibran. Telling the story of the prophet Al-Mustafa and his conversations with various acquaintances as he returns home after a long absence, the book touches on subjects of universal concern, including love, friendship, passion, pain, religion and freedom.

Passing

by Nella Larsen

Book cover for Passing

Immerse yourself in 1920s New York through Nella Larsen's distinctive and revealing novel. The story centres around identity, belonging and two childhood friends who’ve long grown apart – Clare Kendry who is proud of her Harlem roots, and Irene Redford who has abandoned them altogether, ‘passing’ as white to her racist husband in the upper classes of New York. As their worlds intertwine once again, tensions lead up to a truly shocking conclusion. A classic far ahead of its time, Passing reads like the best of contemporary literary fiction.

Just William

Book cover for Just William

In Richmal Crompton's Just William the Outlaws plan a day of non-stop adventure. The only problem is that William is meant to be babysitting. But William won't let that stop him having fun with his gang - he'll just take the baby along!

There is only one William. This tousle-headed, snub-nosed, hearty, lovable ball of mischief has been harassing his unfortunate family and delighting his hundreds of thousands of admirers since 1922. This wickedly funny children's classic features original inside illustrations by Thomas Henry, a ribbon marker and a specially commissioned foreword by Roddy Doyle. This delightful hardback edition will introduce William Brown and the Outlaws to a new generation of children.

The Master and Margarita

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Book cover for The Master and Margarita

This book has caused waves since it was first published in the 1960s, though it was written earlier in the 20th-century in a Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule. The action sees the Devil, disguised as a magician, arriving in 1930s Moscow on a mission. Surreal, satirical and surprising – the literary equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.