This year, I bought a planner to try and keep my life scheduled. Normally, I pick up one of those that has pretty pictures or inspiring quotes or donates money to a great cause, but this year, as I searched online for ways to spend the great gift card my parents gave me, I came across A Working Writer’s Daily Planner. Thus far, I have used it like most planners – diligently writing in activities at interspersed time periods that keep me from really tracking things at all – but the other day I noticed two things – it lists this great artists-in-residence program in Sitka, Alaska and a “late spring” reading list.

I may apply for the residency if I get my act together, but the reading list was what stuck with me. It included titles like Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, two books I have wanted to read for a long time but never have. In fact, there are a lot of books I’d like to read that I never have. If you take a look at my Goodreads “to read list, you only get a sampling of what I’d like to pick up. If you came by my house in Baltimore, you may look at my shelves, as many people do, and ask, “So have you read all of these?” and I would be obliged to say, “Not even close.” I have a lot of catching up to do.

When I was little, I used to get kind of panicky when I thought about all the books that were out there and how I would run out of time to read them. I have since stopped panicking about that, but only because I don’t let myself think about it. When I consider all the books I want to read and know about, all the books that I would want to read but don’t know about yet, and all the books that have yet to be written that I will want to read, well, I need a brown bag to slow down the hyperventilating. There is nothing I love more than reading (okay, a great conversation and excellent live music may rank up there), but nothing in my life has given me so much pleasure, thought, and insight as books.

Thus, I am starting the “Read the Books You’ve Always Wanted To” Challenge. This challenge involves reading any 25 books that you have on some list – mental or paper – of those things you really want to read. The challenge will run until Labor Day because, if you’re like me, summer is the time I associate with plowing through piles of books with gusto – a habit inspired by summer reading lists from school. You can create a “to read” list of your own on Goodreads if that tool will be helpful to you, or you can just keep your own list of books to check off with pen and ink. All you need is 25 books that have lingered around “to be read,” and you’re all set.

Every Saturday, I’ll check in to keep folks posted on what I’m reading, to make suggestions, and to get your updates on your progress. At the end of the summer, I’ll choose a winner from those of you who tell me you’ve met (or exceeded) your goal; that person will get a $25 Barnes and Nobel gift card.

If you’d like to participate, post a comment listing your books (if you don’t have 25 picked yet, that’s okay. Start with what you have.). Please also spread the word and let me know if you do. I’d like to get 100 participants if we can, so I will make a $10 donation to Kiva, a great micro-lending organization, in honor of the person who spreads the word most in the next two weeks ( Facebook, Twitter, their own blog, and other links). Just let me know where you “pass it on” in a comment. Also, if you can design buttons, I would love to have one for the challenge. The winning button designer will also have a $10 donation to Kiva made in their honor.

Now, for my books:
1. Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
2. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
3. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men – James Agee
4. Austerlitz – W. G. Sebald
5. The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
6. Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It – Geoff Dyer
7. I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron
8. The Gathering – Anne Enright
9. About a Boy – Nick Hornby
10. White Teeth – Zadie Smith
11. Wicked – Gregory Maguire
12. Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet
13. Musicophilia – Oliver Sacks
14. A Hell of Mercy – Tim Farrington
15. The Blood of Flowers – Anita Amirrezvani
16. Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
17. The Art of the Commonplace – Wendell Berry
18. Slow Food – Slow Food Movement
19. A Private History of Awe – Scott Russell Sanders
20. Look Homeward, Angel – Thomas Wolfe
21. Memoir: A History – Ben Yagoda
22. The Craftsman – Richard Sennett
23. The Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt
24. The Bean Trees – Barbara Kingsolver
25. The Diaries of Virginia Woolf

Let me know what you think of my list, make your own, ask others for theirs. Let’s make the most of our time and read some of these great ones. Yeah!

Book Stack