Read widely in 2023 with Briefly Write

Our Reading Challenge 2023 goes back and forth, back and forth…

Books on a swing
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Every year, readers are inundated with new books. Every year, readers are inundated with new “must-read” lists. And, every year, trillions of words go unread.

Accepting that you cannot read every page under the sun is the half the battle… not constructing a TBR pile that stretches to the moon is the other half.

Find your reading rhythm

The Briefly Write Reading Challenge 2023 is a guide to help you make the most of your encounters with books.

We encourage you to make the challenge your own. Chop and change – and choose which categories to ignore. Read as many books by as many different authors from as many different publishing houses… or read just one book or one author or one publisher.

The choice is yours! Whatever you decide, the fourth annual Briefly Write Reading Challenge is here to help you along the way.

Back and forth

Reading is both linear and cyclical. Linear because most readers of English read from left to right from top to bottom from beginning to end.

And cyclical because many will re-read at least one book in their life; or read a book they feel like they’ve read before; or read a different version of a story they have read before; or a translation of a book they’ve read in the original language; or a book that is stylistically resonant of another book; or a book that is thematically similar to another book; or a book that was first a play; or a book that recounts a historical moment; or a book that captures the essence of something they’ve seen or said or done; or a second-hand book someone else read before them…

This challenge aims to help you think about reading and re-reading in new (and old) ways in 2023.


Briefly Write Reading Challenge 2023

So here it is. Twelve categories to help structure your reading in 2023. Choose one category per month or read at random; the challenge (and the choice) is yours.

BACK

1. Read a book in one sitting

2. Re-read a book you read long ago

3. Read a retelling of a classic story

& FORTH

4. Read two books at once

5. Read a genre you normally avoid

6. Read a book from an independent press

& BACK

7. Read a book in translation

8. Read a book recommended by a friend

9. Read a prize-winning book you missed

& FORTH

10. Read a book about activism

11. Read a second-hand book

12. Read a poetry book


Briefly Read

Throughout the year, we’ll publish features on all twelve categories to guide and inspire your selections. Please do get in touch below or on Twitter (@BrieflyWrite) to let us know what you think.

Briefly Read is also home to Briefly Reviews. We write thoughtful reviews of the books we are reading, mostly poetry collections and short fiction anthologies from small presses.

We hope you have a wonderful book-filled 2023!

‘A Theme Song for Our Lives’: 98 Ways to Hope

in a world of disorder and chaos,
and rage,
we plant poems
on pages. Seeds of hope
as a way to cope.

Claire Thom

‘Hope is a Group Project’ is the debut anthology of The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press, featuring 98 international writers alongside original illustrations by Colin Thom. It is an inspiring and revealing compilation

Ebony Gilbert, writing in the ‘Foreword’, states that she has always loved it when a ‘heat wave brings people together’, noting that ‘shared difficulties almost force connection’. Although a grimly prescient message in a world of climate catastrophe, the statement reveals something fundamental about the anthology’s purpose and power. Hope is both personal and collective, and a poetry anthology that collates almost one hundred unique perspectives is a wonderful site for its many contradictions to play out.

Hope is often linked to faith. It exists as a substitute for certainty: ‘When we do not know | we must lean into hope’ suggests Kate Phipps in her contribution to the anthology. Serendipity brings together the tiniest of protagonists in Robert Edwards’ poem, ‘Two Grains of Sand’, with the poet describing the journeys of ‘Two fated to live a lifetime together’ out of ‘Countless gold grains, washing ashore’. These two grains will ‘go with the flow’; hope, perhaps, resides in relinquishing control.

But hope can be a decision too, as Emily Tee writes: ‘now I’ve reached a point of crossing’ from which she can choose to be led by the ‘embers of hope’. As well as divine, hope can be banal: it is ‘something stuck in between your teeth’, writes Jerome Coetzee.

Light is a recurring theme. ‘Hope is magic, | a light shining through the darkness’ writes Arjumand Rasiwala. ‘It’s a light so bright | Etched in eyes | Sparking the dull and lost’ adds Madeleine S Cargile. Or, for Satya Bosman, it is ‘the sun peeking over the | clouds’. In Agrene Bouwman’s ‘Icarus’, hope is strikingly described as ‘Elysian light through medieval glass’. With light comes lightness: Lisa O’Hare in ‘M. I. A.’ expresses hope as arriving ‘Out of nowhere | Radiating a lightness’.

Nature – and the promise of a better future more in tune with natural systems – is a common theme. Sarah Jeannine Booth vividly conjures ‘a forest wreathed in green’. Unsurprisingly, seeds recur too. ‘I keep planting hope’ says Emma Conally-Barklem. Emily Mew, meanwhile, portrays hope as ‘a hardy plant | flourishing in harsh terrain’ but also a bird with ‘gilded wings’ that carries her heart through the night.

Some expressions of hope, however, tip into lazy stereotype. Tim J Brennan contemplates geese, musing that they ‘think not of previous loved ones. | they don’t seem sad, | seem not to think about dying’. In fact, geese are sentient, emotional beings who mate for life and go through a prolonged mourning process, which includes withdrawing from their flock, when their partner dies. Elsewhere, Justin Farley vividly describes the suffering of salmon at the hands of humans (‘fiercely fighting, | desperately trying to snap your line | and swim downstream’) yet bizarrely tries to use this disturbing image as a reason for hope: ‘In the depths of suffering, | joy can still be tasted | by eating the fruits of hope’. Finding joy in the suffering of others seems a difficult message to swallow.

More engaging are the anthology’s more equivocal poems. Hope ‘lingers secretly’, writes Sarah Fawcett. It’s not an in-your-face emotion; it ‘dies so easily | But can never be killed’. Fittingly, the anthology’s subtler poems, those in which hope remains half-hidden, convey more powerfully its true essence. In ‘Capnomancy’, Danielle Gilmour connects burnt toast, a burning planet and President Bush’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. In this blistering poem, hope is ambiguous and moveable.

Dynamism is also present in the soundscapes of many poems, which build musicality into their body. Hope is a ‘theme song for | Our lives’ writes Jane Hanson. One of the anthology’s best poems is ‘On a January Morning’ by John Birtwhistle. Sight and sound contrast and compel; ‘a leafless oak’ is the unimposing setting for the sonic spectacle: ‘A song thrush breaks into song […] And “I can see its little mouth.”’

The anthology reminds us that hope is powerful. It also reveals its danger. Indeed, hope can be a political tool – for good or evil. In the ‘Foreword’, Ebony Gilbert draws on the pandemic-era ‘clanging saucepans and banging bin lids on Thursday nights’, a symbol of the fleeting togetherness of communities but, more acutely, of the manipulative power of hope. Sadly, goodwill towards ‘key workers’ has not since been converted into a more equitable society.

The major achievement of this collection, then, is its meaningful thematic engagement with an emotion that is rarely treated with much depth. Hope – an overused word and under-developed concept – is central to all our lives. Its absence can be devastating; its presence can be euphoric. It is an ever-changing feeling – a feeling that is both cause and effect. Importantly, it is a deeply personal response to our collective existence, which makes this poetic jamboree all the more worthwhile.


Hope is a Group Project, ed. Claire Thom (The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press, 2022). Available here (all royalties donated to the NGO Project Hope).

Reading Challenge 2022

This year’s Reading Challenge is our biggest and best yet!

Photo by Kaboompics.com

We have two challenges this year; a total of 24 categories.

The first challenge is for BACK BURNERS, books you’ve had on your TBR pile (or a physical pile on your bookshelf / desk / wardrobe / garden shed) for years and never got round to starting (or finishing).

The second list is for FRONT RUNNERS, new discoveries to extend and expand your reading in directions you wouldn’t normally go.

Complete the challenges as you wish: read one book from each category, in order, reverse order, or no order at all; or try to read as many books as possible from a category that really takes your fancy.

If you follow both challenges, this could help you structure a routine of two books per month.

However you use the lists, good luck and happy reading in 2022!


BACK BURNERS

  1. A book you’ve started but not finished for whatever reason, it didn’t float your boat the first time… but this is the year of second chances!
  2. A lesser-known book by a well-known author
  3. A poetry collection – modern or traditional… or somewhere in between
  4. A story about reflection interpret in whatever way you want
  5. A book set in a country you want to learn more about
  6. A book about finding something or someone
  7. A book that looks good on your bedside table a cover so beautiful it looks better closed!
  8. A first-person narrator of a different gender to you read a different experience to your own
  9. A lit mag (or many!) so many online and print mags to choose from!
  10. A book about technology – fiction or non-fiction, this might make you think differently about the future (and present)
  11. An “underdog” story – on the side of the little guy
  12. A book about an alternative reality – a parallel universe or a different experience to your own

FRONT RUNNERS

  1. A book with a yellow spine – start 2022 with a splash of colour
  2. A book with an emotion in the title – are you feeling angry, happy, scared or bemused?
  3. Whichever you see first: WIN or LOSE – search a second-hand bookshop or library for a book with WIN or LOSE in the title; buy the first you find (within your budget)
  4. The smallest book you can find – track down the tiniest book
  5. A genre you don’t normally read – push outside your comfort zone
  6. Whichever you see first: STAY or GO – same as above… should you stay or should you go?
  7. An “ugly duckling” – the sort of book design that doesn’t normally entice you; the cover might be unappealing, but it’s what inside that counts!
  8. A book with a cardinal point in the title – will you choose to head north, east, south or west?
  9. A “random pick” – enter a second-hand bookshop, take three steps forward and pick the first book you see (try not to walk into any shelves or shoppers if you can help it!)
  10. A book with a river on the cover – where will it take you?
  11. An author with the same initials as you – the same… but different
  12. A book with an alliterative title – and an alliterative author for bonus points!

We hope you enjoy and benefit from this year’s challenges. Get in touch via contact@brieflywrite.com or on Twitter (@BrieflyWrite) to let us know what you think!

Reading Challenge 2021

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

A new year beckons and bookworms around the world will be eagerly planning their 2021 reading, scribbling new additions to sprawling lists, and stacking piles onto piles onto piles…

We’ve got an additional offering to help structure your New Year reading: the annual Briefly Reading Challenge. There are 12 categories which we hope will extend and enrich your 2021 page-turning. The aim is to open you up to new opportunities, genres, styles and themes; these aren’t the sorts of prompts that will restrict and limit you to specific or arbitrary selections.

Use this list as you wish: read one book from each category, in order, reverse order, or no order at all; read two, three, four or more books from one category that really takes your fancy; or skip straight to the bonus prompts if you’re feeling rebellious!

Whatever you choose to do, good luck and happy reading in 2021!


The Briefly Reading Challenge 2021

  1. A book made into a film (if you’ve seen the film and not read the book!)
  2. A book to heal the generational divide
  3. An epistolary novel
  4. A book about mental health
  5. A book you can read in one day
  6. A book about cooperation
  7. A book you’ve owned a long time and (still) never read
  8. A book written in or about prison
  9. A book that was banned
  10. A book that teaches lessons from history
  11. An author from your hometown
  12. A book set somewhere you want to travel

BONUS:

  1. A book about a dystopian future
  2. A book that offers hope

Don’t forget, you can follow @BrieflyWrite on Twitter to stay up to date with all things Briefly!

Kickstart Your Reading with this Four-Week Challenge

With so many “must-reads” out there, which should you pick first?

Most of us have more time on our hands at the moment. And reading is one of the best ways to make the most of it.

If you’ve fallen out of love with books, it’s time to get the reading bug back!

Get the stats working for you

Like many bookworms, my reading has often been sporadic. I will read any book in any form: fiction or non-fiction, horror or romance, paperback or e-book, classic or contemporary. It’s rare I don’t have at least four on the go at any one time.

I would guess that I finished more than 50 books in 2019. But since I didn’t record them, I have no idea what percentage were written by women, or how many different cultures I explored.

Similarly, I would struggle to say whether I read more first- or third-person narrators, and whether I spent more time in the past or future.

Of course, you may wonder why you should be interested in this data. After all, you read in order to enjoy a good book not so that you can create pie charts.

This is the argument I repeated to myself for years to justify not tracking my stats.

To be clear, I firmly believe reading is about feelings not maths. It boils my blood when I see an article like “Ten tricks to hack any book”, invariably written by some “self-made entrepreneur” who would sell his grandmother’s kidneys if the price was right.

Reading is a pleasure not a commodity. But having a greater awareness of your preferences allows you to enjoy reading more.

Keeping track of your books isn’t just statistical. Here are four major benefits of recording your reading:

  • It helps you read more widely and therefore experience more cultures, genres and styles
  • It opens your eyes to subconscious prejudices that may be creeping into your choices
  • It makes it easier to remember everything you’ve read
  • It motivates you to keep reading!

Picking the right books

Reading opens the door to new cultures, new experiences and new ways of thinking. And the best way to do this is by making an effort to include writers, themes and viewpoints you might (unintentionally) be neglecting.

There are an overwhelming number of challenges available online though, bizarrely, many seem to restrict rather than extend your reading.

This should not be the case. Categories like ‘A book with the letter X in the title’ or ‘A book about the medical profession’ are far too arbitrary and won’t help you become a better reader.

These sorts of challenges dictate to you, rather than help you make more informed choices.

The following four-week challenge was born out of this frustration. Its six categories are open ended enough not to constrain you, whilst still offering a framework to guide your selections.

The Challenge

How many categories can you tick off in four weeks?

  • A “classic” you’ve not read before
  • A book with a child narrator
  • A book recommended by a friend or relative
  • A book that’s been sitting on your shelf unread for a long time
  • A book set in a location significant to you
  • A prize-winning book

Here’s what I’ll be reading:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (recommended by my sister)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years)
  • Yuki chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson (set in Haworth, West Yorkshire)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017)

What books have you picked? Leave a comment below!

Briefly Write Reading Challenge 2020

First published 27/12/19

For better or worse, releasing my first blog post at the end of the year obliges me to talk about New Year’s resolutions. After last year’s disappointment – with hindsight, it was optimistic to think I could set the world record for most fajitas eaten in one minute whilst dressed as a kidney bean – I have decided to go back to basics in 2020 and try to read more. In this post, I will offer a few thoughts on structured reading, then share my 2020 Reading Challenge. Every year, I conclude that my reading is too sporadic.

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction, in various styles, genres and languages. I like the freedom of choosing whatever takes my fancy and more often than not I have multiple books on the go at any one time. I would guess that I finished close to 50 books in 2019, but would struggle to say what percentage were written by women, how many different cultures I explored, and whether I was exposed to more first- or third-person narrators.

Of course, it is not essential to know these stats. But having a greater awareness of our reading preferences is a useful way to understand and tackle our subconscious prejudices. The benefits of reading widely and diversely are well known and the best way to do this is to make a concerted effort to approach styles, cultures or themes that we might (unintentionally) be neglecting.

So my plan for 2020 is to be more structured in my reading, keeping track of every book and making sure to include works that I would ordinarily avoid. There are an overwhelming number of Reading Challenges available online, many of which I liked the look of and considered signing up to. Looking through the different lists, however, I found a lot of them too arbitrary (e.g. ‘a book with the letter W in its title’) or too rigid and specific (e.g. ‘a book about the medical profession’).

I have therefore chosen twelve categories myself, which will provide a rough framework for my reading in 2020. In an increasingly divided world, we should all make an effort to see things through other people’s eyes, hence why there is an emphasis on books that force the reader to acknowledge different perspectives.

Without further ado, here is my 2020 Reading Challenge:

1. A book by an independent author
2. A biography of someone you dislike
3. A “classic” you’ve not read before
4. A book with a second-person narrator
5. A book arguing for something you disagree with
6. A book with a child narrator
7. A book by an indigenous author
8. A book recommended by a friend
9. A book released in 2020
10. A book you’ve owned a long time and never read
11. A book set in a location significant to you
12. A prize-winning book

The only requirement is to complete at least one book from each category. Needless to say, the purpose of the list is to encourage more diverse reading and can be followed as strictly or loosely as desired.

In 2020, I have the following additional aims across all the books I read:

1. More than 50% by female authors
2. At least one book from each continent
3. More than 50% by newly-discovered writers

I can’t wait to get started and would love for you to join me. Get in touch and let me know what your reading plans are for 2020!