Goodreads Challenges

Writer Darrell Delamaide takes the GoodReads challenge to read a book a week in the New Year set in a different country.

By Darrell Delamaide

Goodreads is a social networking site about books. Members list the books they’ve read and liked, review books, exchange suggestions, and join groups according to themes. These groups become virtual book clubs, with members reading books in common or exchanging views on works in the genre.

One standard activity in several groups is the reading “challenge,” which sets a reading goal for participants. I’ve joined a couple of these challenges. One is a group formed explicitly for the purpose of the challenge – A 2012 Challenge: Around the World (in 52 Books) – which is to read a book a week in the New Year set in a different country. There are no fixed rules, though the initiator recommends it be an author you haven’t read before and a different author for each entry. The really strict participants are reading books from writers actually in each country. I’ve taken the broader interpretation of a book set in each country.

Now this sounds daunting and I doubt that I can read all 52 books for the challenge, since I have other things I want to read. But I compiled my initial list of 42 books simply by identifying unread books on my shelf and those in my wife’s own voluminous collection (her book club over the years has made a point of reading foreign writers). I also got a head start on 2012 by reading some books this fall – In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard (England), Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom (Spain) and Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (Azerbaijan). I’m currently reading Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel, set in Saudi Arabia.

I joined a second challenge in the Mysteries & Thrillers group – the 50-State Mystery Challenge. The objective here is to read a mystery set in each of the 50 states (obviously I added the District of Columbia to make 51). I love mysteries and one of the joys of reading them is the sense of place, whether it’s Jo Nesbo’s Norway or Elmore Leonard’s Florida. There’s no time limit on this challenge and you can knock off a mystery in a couple of days. It’s kind of like the icing in between the layers of more serious reading.

So far I’ve checked off four states – Sound of Blood by Lawrence DeMaria (Florida); Tularosa by Michael McGarrity (New Mexico); Castle Cape by C.L. Withers (Alaska); and Eleven Days by Donald Harstad (Iowa). I’m currently reading Punctured by Rex Kusler, set in Nevada.

DeMaria does a great job of showing the juxtaposition of sleaze and glitz in Florida. McGarrity paints a vivid picture of the fabulous New Mexico landscape. Withers has fashioned a real thriller set in Alaska’s icy scenery. The protagonist of the Nevada book quit his job as homicide detective to earn his living playing limit poker – how Las Vegas is that. The only one without a real sense of place was the Iowa book – a good, well-written police procedural that could have just as well taken place in Connecticut. Only 46 more to go!

Yes, I found some of these on my shelves, too. For mysteries, I’m making a special effort to identify good indie authors (newspeak for self-published writers) – such as DeMaria, Withers and Kusler above – who may be published only in e-books. Other members have tips for various states, and one pointed out that a site listing mysteries,, has a location index categorizing each writer by state or country.

I like geography so I gravitate toward challenges involving place. Other challenges on Goodreads pick different parameters. For instance, one current challenge in the Historical Fictionistas group awards points for fulfilling various “tasks,” such as a title with a “type of metal” or a cover portraying a bridge. A bit artificial, perhaps, but all in good fun.

So why take part in a challenge? For me, it sets an incentive to finally get to books I want to read anyway, and helps discipline me to do so. It may strike some readers as too regimented, but I find the added incentive makes it easier to resist the siren call of the television in the evening and to spend more time reading instead. And I enjoy blogging/reviewing books once I’m done – not a requirement for the Goodreads groups but something many of the participants do. Exchanging tips about books is also very helpful.

Again speaking for myself, these Goodreads challenges are a welcome alternative to a book club. My beef about book clubs is that too often the selection is a book I’m not really interested in (the very thing, I know, that many people like about book clubs so that they can discover new horizons in their reading). Here I have complete control over what I choose to read, as long as it corresponds to the broad parameters of the challenge.

So who said the Internet is killing books?

Darrell Delamaide is a writer and journalist living in Washington, D.C. His latest book, The Grand Mirage, is a historical thriller set in what is today Turkey and Iraq.

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