Reading challenges to help you break out of your literary comfort zone

If your New Year's resolution for 2020 is to read more classics, read more non-fiction or just read more full-stop, these tips will help you expand your reading horizons.

It's all too easy to fall into a reading slump or stick to our literary comfort zones when time is precious and work, family, social lives and social media compete for our attention. It's comforting to just pick up another book by our favourite author or from our favourite genre, or simply turn to Instagram or Netflix for entertainment instead. Whether you'd like to read more, read differently, or just start reading again, there are various ways to change up your reading and discover a whole new way of enjoying books. Here's how!

For more inspiration, read psychologist Wendy Wood on the benefits of reading and how to make reading a habit and Ali Roff Farrar on how you can use the Japanese method of kaizen to increase your reading. ​

Short story and essay collections

Short story or essay collections are a brilliant way to change up your reading. First off, they're already divided up into nice bite-size pieces for you. You could promise yourself you'll read one story during your commute each day. Leave a collection at work and read one essay every lunch break. Or simply make it the last thing you read before bed. Whichever way you chose to consume your collection it encourages you to consistently engage with something new. Like I said, brilliant.

P.S. Anthologies that collect together essays or short stories by a variety of writers are also an excellent way to discover new authors.


Do you find yourself unable to carve out time to simply sit down with a physical book? Audiobooks are an excellent way to fit reading into those times when you'd otherwise be twiddling your thumbs or listening to the same musical soundtrack for the 100th time (not me at all, nope . . . ). Is it time to clean the house? It's time for an audiobook. Time to start the daily commute? Time for an audiobook. Time to tackle that jigsaw puzzle your aunt bought you for Christmas? Time for an audiobook.

P.S. Even if you're dubious about fiction on audiobook, non-fiction audiobooks are particularly fun if you're a podcast or documentary enthusiast.

Read in tandem

Have you ever found yourself reading a novel set during WWII or the Russian Revolution (specific, I know) and wishing you knew more about the political backdrop or historical context for the events taking place? Change the way you read by reading two books in tandem: one non-fiction and one fiction. Fill in those gaps, expand your knowledge, and find yourself considering the world the fiction author has created from a new vantage point.

P.S. This doesn't just apply to historical fiction. Non-fiction covering politics and social issues can pair perfectly with your contemporary reads as well.

Join a book club

Does your office or friend group have a book group? If not, why not? Start one! Alternatively, there are numerous websites like Goodreads where you can join virtual book groups online. A book club is a great way to think about your reading differently. You have an opportunity to discuss what you've read with the other members and consider their perspective as well as your own. Plus, they offer the chance to widen your tastes if a different member picks the book each time.

P.S. Try reading one book every month or two months. That usually gives everyone time to read the book ahead of your discussion but also keeps the group regular.

Set a page or chapter goal

It's all very well to set big goals at the beginning of every year, like reading one hundred books, and good luck to those of you that do. Sometimes, however, smaller goals are less intimidating and easier to achieve. Why not try, for example, setting a page goal for every day or week. Depending on what you're comfortable with this could be twenty pages a day or twenty chapters a week, it's all OK. Aim for something manageable as opposed to difficult and see how good you feel when you meet your goal.

P.S. Remember to always have fun, life is life and there's no point beating yourself up.

Read differently every month

Do you find yourself reading the same old thing every month? There's nothing wrong with falling in love with an author or genre and remaining loyal but that doesn't mean we couldn't all do with pushing ourselves out of our reading comfort zone now and then. To shake things up try theming your reading according to the months and see if you discover any new favourite books or writers. Why not read exclusively women in March in honour of International Women's Day? LGBTQ+ literature in July for Pride? Or simply go for fantasy in February, science fiction in September, and murder mysteries in May.

P.S. Some of these themes might also work well with your future book group.

Annotate your books

Whether you're still in school or those days are long behind you, consider repurposing a bit of that ‘study' mentality for your recreational reading; start taking notes about whatever you're reading. That could include anything from interesting facts you've learned or simply beautiful sentences you'd like to remember. Record the impacts a piece of writing has had on you by annotating whatever thoughts it inspires in you. (Plus no one is going to give you a grade on these notes.)

P.S. If you don't want to scribble on your physical book start carrying a small notebook or using the notes section on your phone when you're reading.

In this video, Book Break give even more ideas for bookish reading resolutions