12 Books Whose Authors Took on Year-Long, Life-Changing Challenges That Will Inspire You to Have a Huger-Than-Ever Year

If your New Year’s resolutions are anything like mine, they'll include things like doing the plank-a-day challenge, or saving incremental amounts of loose change so that by December, you'll have enough money in a mason jar for a week in Paris. And, honestly, if that sounds on target, then I'll bet that your vows probably get abandoned pretty quickly, too. In 2014, I think I planked a total of six times, and the loose change in my mason jar barely paid for a Starbucks latte.

This year, however, is going to be different. I am determined to have a spectacular 2015.

And these 12 books — one for each month of the year — are going to help. They provide just the inspiration to keep me thinking big. Here's why: From prepping their way through a canonical cookbook to holding impromptu book club meetings with strangers, these authors embraced year-long challenges that pushed them to unconventional limits well outside of their comfort zones. Their results illustrate that success isn't always obvious or quantifiable. And, besides that, to put it simply: Go big on your goals or go home, right?

Their stories have convinced me that I want my year to be about more than just achieving a flat stomach or running an 8-minute mile. Because if these authors can commit to completing such impressive projects (and then writing a book about it), surely I can aim a little higher. Though, being a little speedier would be nice, too.


Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Forget the movie — Julie Powell's book is a classic of the 365-day challenge project for a reason. Looking to infuse her staid life with meaning, Powell decided to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. The results were surprising. This is the book that ignited a genre and inspired legions of bloggers to wonder, Why didn’t I think of that?

Our Black Year by Maggie Anderson

Disturbed by the disparity of socioeconomic prosperity between their black and white neighbors, one black family commits to buying from only black business owners whenever possible. Maggie Anderson writes of her family’s efforts, frustrations, and culpability with honesty as she tries to put her money where her mouth is. It's a totally jaw-dropping book that'll make you want to take action to impact the country's racial divide.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin says she embarked on her project of spending a year looking for more happiness after having an epiphany on the bus. My bus-ride epiphanies usually run more towards deciding on barbecue chicken for dinner, but hey. This is definitely an inspiring book, and it is nice to be reminded that happiness manifests in many different ways, whether it be in a deliberate year-long search, or a leg of barbecue chicken.

A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to finally start/finish/dust off that manuscript you’ve been thinking about forever, this might be the book that helps you get there. Filled with prompts, inspiration, and encouragement, this book is like having a kindly old professor monitoring your daily progress, with no fear of getting an F and losing your scholarship.

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

I might have actually titled this one Looking for Mr. Darcy. This half-Jane Austen literary discussion, half-lush South American travelogue is charming and irresistible. Smith’s memoir of setting up a year-long traveling Jane Austen book club makes me want to pack a suitcase full of books and head out to parts unknown to find my people.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Television writer Kristin Newman was tired of watching all of her friends get married, settle down, and have babies, and decided that the best revenge would be travel around the world having fun and lots of sex. This book will probably leave you with unrelenting wanderlust. Um, just don't let the title become something you say to your friends who are having families, okay?

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Secular Jew A.J. Jacobs decides to stop being a heathen and find out what life would be like as a fundamentalist, following the rules of the Bible as closely as possible. From taking a slave (intern) to stoning an adulterer, Jacobs manages to get us to laugh out loud at him without laughing at those who hold religion dear. A true gift (God-given or otherwise).

The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway

Cathy Erway knew she was spending too much money on eating out, but instead of shrugging and reaching for the phone to call for pizza, she made the very deliberate choice to spend the next two years eschewing restaurants for meals at home. Although her original motivation was fiscal, Erway discovered a love for cooking, sharing meals, and learning about food politics that she could never have discovered at even the most locally conscious NYC restaurant.

My Year With Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

As in a modern day version of It’s a Wonderful Life, Noelle Hancock is out of work, out of options, and full of anxiety about the future. Then one day, sitting in a coffee shop, she reads a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that changes her life: "Do one thing every day that scares you." It sets off a year-long chain of events that proves to Hancock that there is much in this crazy life to embrace, and that the things that are most fulfilling are often the things that are the scariest.

MFW Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

Anybody who has ever moved to a new city knows how hard it can be to make friends. Rachel Bertsche discovers this after moving to Chicago to be with her boyfriend and decides to take matters into her own hands, hosting one friend “date” per week for a year. Sometimes sad, sometimes brutally awkward, and oftentimes hilarious, Bertsche’s experiment proves that you have to meet a lot of people before you actually find your people.

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me by Rachel Bertsche

The follow-up from Rachel Bertsche, and more obviously a device for a book than MFW, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me this time follows Bertsche’s quest to achieve the kind of flawlessness we see in Hollywood. Unabashed in her desire to seem more put together, the author delves into the “secrets” of the stars, our obsession with celebrity, and the high cost — figuratively and literally — of perfection.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Can a book change your life? Probably. How about 50 of them that you’ve been meaning to read for years? Most definitely. And that’s exactly what Andy Miller found out when he stopped making excuses — for his stagnating life, for his neglected bookshelf — and spent a year on an “expedition through literature.” Now this is a challenge I can get behind.

Image: Sony Pictures

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