If you follow me on GoodReads you’ll know that I set up a Reading Challenge every year, and for most of the past few years I’ve actually managed to hit it. That challenge does not, of course, include the many books I work on as part of my job as an editor, just the books I read for my own entertainment, education, inspiration, and the general and pervasive joy of reading.

My challenges have been pretty much set at fifty-two books, so average one a week, which I thought sounded doable and indeed has been.

But I’m currently running six books behind schedule despite trips to the library to gobble up some easy-to-read-in-one-sitting graphic novels. This is mostly due to, let’s call it “schedule restraints,” general business, home repairs, and a little bit of burnout-inspired ennui that I hope will be cured by my upcoming vacation (my first in five years).


I’ve said before that I tend to like shorter books, but then my list of favorite books of all time also includes longer books like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Dune. So I started thinking, a full six months ahead of time, about next year’s reading challenge. Instead of one really short book every week, what if I challenged myself to read one really long book every month? That brings the total number of books down to twelve, but the page count probably more or less the same.

So as I was finally moving fully back into my office after some renovations that took way longer than they possibly should have (see excuses above) I gathered twelve long books that have been sitting on my shelves for some time and will spend the last half of 2022 psyching myself up to read…

War and Peace

Has anyone really ever read this? I mean, I guess people out there somewhere have been reading this, or had read this, or have read this, but I’m not 100% sure I actually know anyone who has. But in any case I bought this super posh four-volume slipcase edition maybe twenty-five years ago and instead of continuing to use it as decoration, I will start my longreads challenge by using it as, y’know, a book. Wish me luck.

The Essential Ellison

I’d actually started reading this years ago then stopped, then would occasionally pull it off the shelf to re-read a favorite story. I adore Harlan Ellison’s writing all out of proportion and it’s high time I read this all the way through, even if I’ve already read many, even most of the stories, and many more than once, going back at least forty-five years or so. He was the master of the short story, full stop.

Don Quixote

I found this super well-preserved Modern Library edition at my local library’s book sale and paid a dollar for it, with the exquisitely-kept dust jacket intact. You almost never find Modern Library books with the dust jacket. Who doesn’t know the story already, but as with War and Peace, I have to ask: who’s actually read it? Well, unless I chicken out on the whole thing by January, I will. Hopefully in March, if all goes as planned.

The Lord of the Rings

Okay, you just have to be okay with the fact that I’ve never made it all the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, despite two valiant attempts at it. The last attempt was forty years ago, so maybe I had to mature into it. In any case, I ran across this nice UK edition in a used bookstore and made it mine. I will finally read what, whether I’ve read it or not, is clearly the most influential fantasy novel of all time.

Infinite Jest

I know.

Still, there’s something about David Foster Wallace that intrigues me.

The Science Fiction Century

As with The Essential Ellison, this anthology contains more than a few stories I’ve read over my life as a science fiction fan, but I’m happy to revisit the ones I have read and discover some new favorites.

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Was it drugs? Mental illness? Some metaphysical link with a higher consciousness? One, two, or all three of those things? I have no idea, but as soon as I heard about this book I knew I had to read it, whatever the hell it is.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft

The third collection on this shelf containing stories I’ve read before, but this time, I’m gonna get me some edgermicashun about the complex, flawed man himself…? Let’s hope I’m sane enough after reading this to tackle…

Crime and Punishment

Because no way can you set yourself a longreads challenge and only include one Russian. I guess we can leave it at that.

The Terror

Before I get spoiled by the TV series. This one just sounds good, comes highly recommended, etc. And boy is it long!

William Shakespeare: The Complete Work

I’ve read a bunch of the plays already, and all of the sonnets (believe it or not) but what kind of lover of the written word can I be if I haven’t read every word Shakespeare ever wrote? To read, or not to read, that is the question.

And then last but not least:

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die

Because this looks fascinating and I love books and lists of books and books about books and so of course I bought this, now it’s time to read it. Or, at least if all goes well, December 2023 is the time to read this.

I’m also keeping my random behavior prompt that will throw and Ace Double or random SF/fantasy novel* into the mix, and probably some graphic novels, too… and literary magazines, and anyway…

Wish me luck with this challenging challenge! I will either have failed on February first, or re-educated my often flighty attention span by the end of December 2023. But in any case I will, as all writers should, read. This year and the next.

And the next.


—Philip Athans

* As it happens, today’s random behavior modification prompt is: start reading a random SF book, so I went to my giant box of books this morning, reached into the slot, and pulled out… drumroll please… Kyrick and the Lost Queen by Gardner F. Fox. The cover says it’s “In The Tradition of Conan,” which probably explains why I bought it in the first place. The cover is super old school cheesecakey fantasy art: an angry-looking swordsman driving a chariot pulled by a rhino with a topless woman holding on for dear life. Not exactly Crime and Punishment, but it looks like fun!

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. mjtedin says:

    I have read War and Peace. It’s an amazing book. It’s about life. I read it during Christmas vacation while in Sitka, AK, which was a Russian colony. I recommend it!

  2. Craig says:

    I’ve also read War and Peace, around 15-20 years ago. It remains to this day the best book I’ve ever read. It’s just fantastic, in a league all of its own.

    Crime & Punishment is also outstanding. Don Quixote is pretty meh… at least you’ll understand what it is to be quixotic after 🙂

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