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Every summer, ever since I was in college, I’ve created a summer reading challenge for myself. It started as a way to catch up on a genre of books that I had been wanting to read, but was too busy to focus on during school, and soon became a way of expanding my reading interests and trying something new. The method is incredibly simple: you choose a theme, whether that’s an author, genre, topic, writing style, etc., and read as much as you can to fit it. For example, a few years ago, I posted about my 2021 summer reading list, books set at sea. If you’re looking to try something similar this year, here are a few pointers from someone who has done this for 10+ years…

Choosing a Time

A reading challenge like this technically doesn’t have to be done during the summer. But, I like to use summer since that’s when I get most of my reading done. Plus, summer as a time period gives me a nice window with a definite start and end. I use Memorial Day to Labor Day. You could also do June 1st to August 1st, or even the actual dates of Summer: June 21st-Sept. 23rd.

Choosing a Topic

When choosing a challenge, I find it’s best to strike a balance between making your topic too broad or too narrow. To use my previous theme (mentioned above), books set at sea can incorporate a wide array of genres. There are romances featuring sailors or pirates, adventure stories, travel, nonfiction accounts, and more. Plus, the topic provides a ton of geographic diversity, from the frozen north to the tropical south Pacific.

If your topic is too narrow, you might struggle to find books. Or, if you’re like me, you might find yourself bored, since the stories might start to feel too similar. On the flipside, too broad means you’re swimming in options, which can be overwhelming or even make your challenge feel less like a cohesive theme, so be careful!

Know Yourself

I know what I like and what I don’t like. For example, I don’t read a lot of romance novels. But, I love a good swashbuckling adventure where the guy gets the girl in the end. So, I might not choose Fake Dating Romance as my theme, but Swashbuckling Adventures are a sure win! Likewise, if you tend to get bored reading too much of the same thing (even if it’s a topic you enjoy), then it might be good to go broad. For example, vampire horror might be too narrow of a topic for me to focus on for three months, but vampires in general would work, as I could sample romance, history, and even science fiction in addition to horror. The big thing is to choose something you’d be comfortable with/interested in for an extended period of time.

Sticking with the Theme

What if you find a book that doesn’t fit the theme, that you’re dying to read? Read it! Having a theme doesn’t mean that’s what I exclusively read for the summer, but it does mean that’s what I gravitate towards. Sometimes, it’s nice to take a little break and read something completely different. Put down your pirate novels and pick up a deep space adventure for a few days, and then return to the open seas. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a purist and sticking to the list. Just do what works for you.

Expand Your Horizons

The best part of creating your own summer reading challenge is to encourage you to try something new. Of course, I always enjoy dipping into old favorites, but there’s something very exciting about challenging yourself and expanding your horizons. Have you always wanted to read the works of Hemingway? Make him your theme! Are there a lot of cozy mysteries on your TBR list? Another great one! Or, check out some of our library blog posts and try a topic you’d never thought of before!

Some Ideas for Themes

I’ve put together some theme ideas that you can use for your summer reading challenges this year or going forward. Feel free to use these, ignore these, or even tweak these to fit something a little more to your liking:

Happy Reading!


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.