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The OcTBR Challenge Experience

Another OcTBR Challenge is over, but we couldn't leave without one more little post, this time finding out what the Challenge experience means to those who take part.

So if you've ever fancied giving it a go, this is what our veteran OcTBRites think of the whole magical month of reading:

“Like many others, I struggled to read during 2020. Reading is normally my escape, but for much of 2020, my concentration was shot (a global pandemic will do that to you). I also have a monstrous (virtual) TBR of around 1000 books. The OcTBR Challenge proved to be a great way to prioritize my favorite hobby and jumpstart my stalled reading. The online community was lovely and supportive — this is a non-competitive, low-pressure reading challenge that celebrates every success, large or small. Apparently I’m easily swayed by extrinsic motivators, because I found that the badges inspired me to push myself a bit. I knocked a dozen books off my TBR over the course of the month — hooray! — but my favorite part of the challenge was interacting with and cheering on other dedicated readers.”

– Amanda L

“I have tried to stop acquiring books, really I have. I've lost count of the number of times I've solemnly vowed not to buy any more volumes until the ones waiting on my bedside table have been read. But then, inevitably, I give in to temptation. I receive presents, people lend me their books, and sometimes I win prizes (one set from the OcTBRChallenge team themselves). And so the tower grows, until I could well start playing jenga with my pile. My books start to weigh on my conscience as well as my shelves.

The OcTBRChallenge works well, I think, because it turns the normally lonely process of ploughing through your unread books into a communal task, with a competitive edge. I've often found writing sprints useful – when you set aside half an hour with writing buddies to get as many words on the pages as possible. That element of group pressure can make all the difference. There are some books, of course, that have you glued to the page from the beginning, and you simply sail through. But there are usually others that are a bit tougher – the prose more dense, the subject matter more demanding. Reads like this often reap rich rewards, but you need a bit of a push to properly immerse yourself.”

– Anna O

“There’s nothing quite like cozying up with a warm drink and a good book as the chilly fall weather creeps in. Adding in fun reading challenges, bookish chats, and prizes just makes it all the more memorable, which is why I’ve been delighted to participate in OcTBR for the past two years! I have an embarrassing number of books on my to-be-read shelf, including ones I’ve been meaning to read for over a decade. This event really inspired me to prioritize my list and, of course, add a few dozen more after seeing everyone’s book stacks on Twitter. Reading is normally a solitary experience, but readathons make it feel like you’re having a fireside chat with fellow bibliophiles.

As a reader, I appreciate that the OcTBR Challenge isn’t about reading the “most” books but about meeting your own goals, whether that be pages read or minutes spent reading. Plus, the adorable specialty badges for different genres and formats—comic books, poetry, audiobooks—keep my reading list varied and interesting. I never read as many books in a month as I want to, but that’s the story of my life. To me, it’s more about striving to experience a million stories while knowing it’s a beautifully impossible dream.”

– Diane C

“’So many books, so little time.’

I have had a TBR pile for more years than I care to remember. However, last year I came to realise that my relationship with my TBR pile was not just unhealthy but actually toxic. Every book that it contained had been bought in the expectation of my being entertained, informed, amused, enlightened, or educated by it. There were lightweight books and heavyweight books, books ancient and modern (and from everywhen in between), books to make me think, and books to enable me to stop thinking for a while. Before very long, though, each one had turned into a book that I had been putting off reading for months, and I had become sick of looking at them. They had ceased to have any attraction, and had become a burden. I found myself thinking that I “must” read this or that book because it had been on the pile for so long, or because I read a novel the night before and now “must” read a work of non-fiction. I love reading; I had come to hate my TBR pile.

In the year since the last OcTBR Challenge, I have taken steps to make my participation this year moot. I reduced the pile to a handful, and have kept my subsequent book-buying under strict control. At no point in the past few months has there been more than a fortnight's reading in the pile. And I have turned the pile (which lives on my bedside table) so that the spines are facing the wall – they seem less disapproving like that. In previous OcTBR Challenges I have read 50 books in the month and still not cleared my backlog. Today, I have barely a dozen books in the pile, and know that I will have read and enjoyed them all without making the slightest effort, long before the 31st.”

– Mike

“I love taking part in OcTBRChallenge. It's to books what Christmas Day is to chocolate: a time to overindulge, free of guilt, and maybe try that weird stuff that came in the hamper. Last year I read a hundred books as part of the challenge, which is an impressive number, but of course I got there by ruthlessly picking out my shortest books. Lots of graphic novels, chapbooks, art books, audiobooks, novellas and so on. It doesn't mean I was reading a load of rubbish, though: the great authors write short books too! Last year I read books by Simone de Beauvoir, Jonathan Lethem, Muriel Spark, Djuna Barnes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Margaret Atwood and Hanif Kureishi. I had a hundred different adventures, and read stories that I will never forget, like Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, The Twilight Man by Koren Shadmi, and The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho. Who knows when I would have got around to reading them if I hadn't taken part?”

– Stephen T

“Last year was my first experience with the OcTBR challenge. It was, hands-down, the most enjoyable reading challenge I’ve ever participated in. The folks running it were friendly and interacted with the participants. There was no pressure, no guilt--everyone was there to have a good time.

And I did. I had a great time.

It pushed me to read further afield than I would have otherwise (non-fiction isn’t as much my thing as maybe it should be, nor are audiobooks--but I completed both challenges). Additionally, my middle son joined me in the challenge. We had a blast scouring our shelves for books that would qualify for each category. In the end, he read way more than he planned--including every single book on his initial list.

The best part, though? The camaraderie. I’m not a social person by nature and am given to being shy and awkward. Everyone--from participants to admin--was warm and friendly. I still talk with a fair few of the folks I met through the OcTBR challenge and value them as dear friends. And honestly? I’ve been looking forward to this challenge since the last one ended. It’s my favorite reading event of the entire year.”

- @wildfaeriecaps

“Personally I dread the end of the summer – once the evenings start getting darker and the mornings start getting frosty, I begin to shrivel. I am not a cold season person At All. There is just one glimmer that twinkles on the horizon and stops depression from setting in as the golden evenings of September start to fade…and that’s the OcTBR Challenge, back again for another year, to save me from facing the fact that it’s cold and grey outside and giving me Every Excellent Reason for staying on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, drinking endless cups of tea, and READING ALL THE BOOKS.

I am a classic TBR Piler: I have an ever changing, but ever-present pile of books by my bed, by my desk, in my Kindle…just waiting for that special moment when the stars align and I pick one up (or download one) and fall into whatever world awaits. OcTBR gives me the perfect excuse I need to abandon that list of things I should be doing, all those irritating little jobs that will still be there next month, and spend my free time reading, reading, reading ‘Because It’s For A Challenge Don’t You Know?’ (and who could refute that?)

I’m not fussy. Hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks, articles – I love them all. Occasionally I challenge myself with something intellectual. I regularly read something for work. Sometimes I’ll read anxiety-inducing articles about economics or current affairs and regret that pretty quickly, but mostly my deepest joy is a gritty crime novel, preferably with a strong female protagonist (although I love Jack Reacher – who doesn’t?) – or at least female characters who aren’t plastic bystanders. My OcTBR Challenge pile this year includes a couple of favourites (a Kate Atkinson, a Lee Child), a friend-lend by Stella Rimington (MI6, exciting!), and a memoir, which is a bit of a departure for me. Whatever I’m reading will be marked by a special hand-sewn bookmark, made by my son, and accompanied ideally by my one-eyed cat, Schrödinger, curled purring on my lap. Autumnal bliss!”

– Rebecca H

Thanks so much to the readers who gave us these wonderful and interesting comments! We love running the challenge, and it means so much to us that so many of you enjoy it too.

- K, A, and D

Are you long-term OcTBRite, or a first-timer? Drop us a comment or a tweet @OcTBRChallenge

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