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I know I’m rather late – both to this challenge, and with this post. And for once that is not due to my less-than-optimal ability to focus, but rather to extensive awareness of my own weaknesses. Because I know that my track record with readathons isn’t great, and I also know that whenever I publicly commit to something, I end up getting stressed out and pushing myself way too hard. (Mara from bookslikewhoa actually made a video about this issue recently). So you can imagine that I’ve spent quite a while contemplating whether I really, really want to do this. And apparently the answer is yes.

So, why on earth – do you ask – would I commit to 20 Books of Summer if I know that reading challenges usually bring out my unhealthy tendencies? There are two answers to that question:

One, because one of the reasons why I haven’t been doing too well mentally recently (besides, you know, the general state of the world) is that I actually need a sense of direction in my life, even if it is just a very broad and fuzzy outline. Since most of my plans for this year – including, for example, an academic scholarship in another city, any and all travel plans, and a lot of the free time activities I usually lean towards as ways of taking a mental break – are currently on hold, I thought giving myself a little more direction in another way would be a good idea. (I’ve been trying to follow a similar approach in my work and it seems to be working ok.)

And two, because reading more purposefully and reviewing what I’ve read are actually two of the things I want to get back into. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been so low on energy and my ability to focus has been so terrible that these things – which I normally enjoy – have completely fallen to the wayside. It feels as if all my energy went into my research and life maintenance, and while both of these things are very important, they’re also not the only thing I want my life to be about. And, ironically? unsurprisingly? I also tend to do much better with my work if I allow myself to spend time on my hobbies on the side. (I’m a PhD candidate in the humanities, and while I’m not a literary scholar, these things still tend to feed into each other a lot.)

20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy over on 746ooks, offers exactly the things I need: A relatively low-stakes challenge – a fixed number of books to read between June 1st and September 1st, but no need to make a TBR in advance or match any prompts – and the requirement to review the books read, with no preference for a specific online platform. It is perfect for someone like me, a mood reader who wants to reduce the number of unread books they own, and who wants to get back into reviewing in the hopes that more regular for-fun-writing will also feed into more regular and more productive for-work-writing. (That has worked for me with NaNoWriMo before, even though I yet have to win the actual thing; I’ve never managed the 50000 words, but I have managed 30 days of writing).

Now, careful observers will have noticed that the above picture does not actually contain 20 books – there are only nineteen. That’s because I don’t consider those books my TBR; it’s more a list of books I’d like to read sooner rather than later (much like my yearly list that I wrote about in my goals post). I know I probably won’t stick to this pile, at least not very strictly, and I really don’t mind. All I want to do is focus a little more on reading from my own shelves (and not buying so much), and getting back into reviewing books regularly.

On the pile, and in no particular order:

  • Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other,
  • Robin Robertson – The Long Take
  • Amitav Ghosh – The Hungry Tide
  • James Joyce – Dubliners
  • James Hogg – The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
  • Toni Morrison – The Bluest Eye
  • Deborah Levy – The Man Who Saw Everything
  • Ali Smith – Winter
  • Joseph O’Connor – Star of the Sea*
  • Sarah Perry – Melmoth
  • Halldór Laxness – Am Gletscher (Under the Glacier)
  • Saša Stanišić – Vor dem Fest (Before the Feast)
  • Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad
  • Jeanette Winterson – The Passion
  • Sten Nadolny – Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit (The Discovery of Slowness)
  • Mary Oliver – Upstream**
  • W.G. Sebald – Die Ringe des Saturn (The Rings of Saturn)
  • James Baldwin – Got Tell it on the Mountain
  • Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds

* I technically already started this, but I only got as far as page 37 of a 400+ page book before 1 June, so I’ll still count it.

** I’ve already finished this one; expect a review sometime next week (I hope).