A Thought on Reading Challenges

Ever since I joined Goodreads in December 2010 the topic of reading challenges has always been brought to the fore. Particularly with Goodreads’ own yearly reading challenge that asks its members to set a target for the number of books they would like to read in a given year.

image from goodreads.com

During my first few years as a Goodreads member I didn’t use the site for anything other than aimless browsing every few months or so.

But by 2014 I was tempted into setting myself a goal for that year. I aimed to read 52 books; one for each week of the year. And I did pretty well! I read 62 books and felt quite pleased with myself.

Therefore, in 2015 I set myself another goal; I again chose 52 books and completely smashed that target and read 100 books. (I must add that by 2015 my life circumstances had changed due to my deteriorating health and I had more available time for reading than I had in previous years.)

So in 2016 I decided to challenge myself even further and set myself a task of 150 books to read in the year…

And by October of that year I found myself miles behind on my challenge.

And I felt worthless.

I know it is quite silly but I really felt like I must not be a true book lover if I could not read that amount of books!! I kept seeing everyone else on my Goodreads feed smashing their targets and some of these people had targets of 200 books or more.

So I couldn’t be thought of as a true book worm then could I? I mean I wasn’t gainfully employed due to my ill health and therefore had a lot of time to read… So there must be something wrong with me right? I just must not love books as much as these other people.

And I remember that every single time I logged onto Goodreads when I would see that widget that shows my yearly challenge, my heart would sink at how many books behind schedule I was.

So instead of reading books that I really wanted to read, I instead started reading short stories, novellas… basically anything that could count towards this arbitrary number I had chosen for the year.

And yes, with smart reading choices I ultimately smashed my target by the end of the year… But I really did not feel good about myself.

Reading for me had become a chore and I felt like I had lost the one thing in my life that really gave me joy. I now resented my books.

So I made a decision.

The decision to never challenge myself to read a given number of books in a year.

I was never going to read a book based on its page count rather than my interest in it ever again.

Prior to joining Goodreads I never thought about the numbers of books I had read in any given year so why should I now?

And therefore I set my yearly challenge to one single book.

I cannot even begin to tell you all how freeing that felt. I found my joy again. I read big books, little books, middling books… it simply did not matter what length they were any more. It was all about quality and not quantity.

And strangely enough by the end of the year (2017) it turned out that I read 201 books in total! I actually read more when I was unconcerned by reaching an arbitrary goal.

In 2018, I also set my challenge to 1 and by the end of that year I had read 137 books. And I was unconcerned by this decreasing number because I felt free to read longer books that always take me quite a while to read as I naturally am quite a slow reader.

And at the beginning of this year, 2019, I again set my challenge to one.

And it meant that when a tome like ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’ came out earlier this year I was unconcerned by how long it would take me to read.

And I was equally unperturbed when I decided to read ‘Dune’ last Spring; that also has A LOT of pages… because it did not matter if I read it in three days or three weeks because I was reading simply for the joy of reading.

So in my opinion reading challenges that are based purely on quantity of books read in a given time are a really bad idea. Because all that we are concerned with becomes the end result rather than the journey. And reading a book should always be about the journey.

What are your thoughts on the Goodreads yearly reading challenge? Has anyone had a similar reaction to me and discovered that the challenge idea is just not for them?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject so please let’s chat in the comments below.

48 thoughts on “A Thought on Reading Challenges

  1. I felt exactly what you said in your post. I joined a reading challenge to spur me on to read but the pressure to follow the rule became intense. The joy of reading what I wanted to, had to be postponed in its favour. I love your idea of reading that one book and see where where it goes from there. Happy reading in 2020.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. Funny thing is, I read over 400 books a year. About half of them are children’s picture books. I set my goal and then I get people making comments like: There’s no way you could read that many books, or Nobody can really read that many books in a year. I also get a lot of encouragement. I read all the comments and the negative ones make me sad. I do it for me, nobody else. We all just want to enjoy our books and reading in general and everyone needs to do what makes them happy.

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    1. I agree with you, No one should ever cast judgement on the number of books another person either reads or doesn’t read. As long as the challenge works for the individual person then that is all that matters. Thank you so much for your thoughts :)))))))))

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  3. Thank you for this post Emer – you’ve put it into words so well! I think everyone has different lifestyles and reading habits – it’s ridiculous to try and compare ourselves. Our society can be obsessed with stats and tracking, whether it’s calories, fitness, blog views or grades, so for me reading is a chance to step away from all this. I use Goodreads to remember my TBR but never set a challenge. So glad to hear you’re enjoying reading again after deciding not to push yourself to complete challenges!
    📕MP📚 X

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words MP! And you are so right. Reading should be time away from all these current day stresses! I’m so glad that I let reading challenges go and realised they were only dragging me down instead of inspiring me :)))))) The way you use GR is wonderful <3333

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  4. I have issues with reading challenges so for the last few years I’ve had my goal set at the same manageable 50 books a year. However, my reading has been rather up and down this year and it was bugging me a couple of months ago that I might not reach it. It’s stupid I know, but it was getting to me, especially if I’d only read one book in a month. It’s madness. Some people love the challenge, but for me it is normally a guide of how much I am reading and the total number of books I’ve read in a year. I know that next year, I will put the goal at a lower number than 50 (maybe 25-30) and just enjoy the process of reading because that’s all that matters in the end.

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    1. Yes Emma!!!! You are somewhat like me it seems… I know it’s daft to let an arbitrary reading challenge upset and stress me… but it did!! I am so glad that I finally let it go and realised it was not for me. And I agree wholeheartedly with you, it is all about enjoying the process of reading and nothing else. Thanks so much for your comment <333

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  5. Great post Emer! I started using Goodreads to track what I read and decided to put a number in the reading challenge just as an estimate – I was curious to see how many books I read in a year. So I haven’t exactly changed the number each year…well maybe I went from 60-70 this year because I read about 70 last year. Haha, so I don’t pay attention to the “challenge” part of it all. I just like to see my number at the end of the year. I’m glad you don’t stress about it now, reading shouldn’t be stressful. 🙂

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  6. I rarely participate in the reading challenges. Its hard not to want to though when you see SO many people doing them. Its almost like I’m missing out on something. However, when I set those goals and find I don’t achieve them, it makes reading not fun. Also, sometimes its just hard to find time to read. I don’t want to put my life on hold just to finish a reading challenge. I like the idea of them, I really really do. And obviously they work for some people! I just know myself enough to realize it will actually cause me to enjoy reading less, which is not the goal!

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts and insights!! I feel we share a lot of feelings about reading challenges. They just stress me too much I think. I mean it’s great if they work for other people but I just fixate so much on them that I’m much better not taking part.
      :)))))

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  7. I totally feel you on that. I almost never participate in those 24-hour readathons because they just stress me out, and it’s rare that I actually participate in monthly ones, either. (Except for OWLs & NEWTs because they were just so fun and silly and such a blast.) I do set a Goodreads goal, but only something I’ve done before and know is low-stress. At the beginning of this year, I thought I’d go for 200, and about halfway through the year, I realized I was really keeping track of how many books I was reading and bingeing them big time, and quickly dropped my goal a bunch because that’s just not fun. I want to be able to take time with them and just hang out in worlds!

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  8. This was such a lovely post ❤️. I started out doing the Goodreads reading challenge just like you, to see if I could achieve a goal, and I did (70+/50 books)! It was so awesome because that was the first year in forever that I actually put aside time to read. But more than that, I realized how much I missed reading recreationally and consistently. Now that I’ve rediscovered my love for reading and established the habit, there’s really no point of the Goodreads reading challenge. Yet, there’s still the part of me that gets satisfaction from seeing myself reach my goal (which is set at 50 every year), even though I know I’ll reach it haha. I also love seeing the “year in review” thingy Goodreads makes 😁.

    That’s awesome that you found out works best for you! In the end, reading is a hobby and we should make sure we’re actually enjoying it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts Belle!!! And I wholeheartedly agree with you. Reading as a hobby has to always remain pleasurable for us and whatever works for each person is perfect for them. I do love looking at the number of books I’ve read and average yearly rating at the end of the year too. But for me no longer obsessing about a target to read each year has been the best decision I’ve made with regards to my reading in recent times.
      Thanks so much for your comment <3333

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  9. This is a freakin fantastic post! I love your thoughts on this and its so true. We get caught up over quantity than quality. I set a number but i don’t try to worry about it. I know some of mine are shorter books and thats fine. I read what I want and thats what matters!

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  10. I definitely agree with you that reading challenges can be very taxing and draining. I honestly never understood why people marked their challenges as 1 book but thank you for shedding some light on the topic! Excellent post!! 🙂

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  11. I agree with most of your thoughts about setting up a reading challenge, Ate Emer. I only do it because it’s easier to keep track of the books I’ve read by year. I don’t really care if I finish the challenge on time or not. I don’t even pressure myself on setting too many books to read. Now I usually base my choice of read on my mood. I read what I feel like reading and I’m always usually pleased. hehe.

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  12. Although I’ve never set a Goodreads challenge that high I can still relate to your comments about how dispiriting it can feel when you see other readers notch up huge numbers of books. I used to be in a group on LibraryThing where some participants were reading ridiculously high numbers of books – I mean three times the number I can read in a year, they were getting through in a month. although I wasn’t trying to compete it did make me question whether I could count myself as a reader if I was reading such a small percentage of what other ‘real readers’ were getting through. Fortunately common sense came to my rescue and I got out of that group. I do have a goodreads challenge but I think this is going to be the last year

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    1. Yes!! It’s very much about common sense. I know that I naturally stress and overthink tasks so ridding myself of the reading challenge was definitely the right choice for me. I just kept thinking back to when I was younger and the Internet didn’t exist. I never questioned how much I read then! I just read as and when the mood took me and I am very much back in that mode of reading now.

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        1. Oh sometimes I do lament not having goodreads in my younger years as it would be lovely to know the exact amount of books I have read throughout my lifetime… but then it was sort of nice not growing up with the internet too! Meant I got distracted less than I do now!!!!!

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  13. That is such a thoughtful way to look at reading challenges. I know in the past I have fallen behind on my reading goals when I have had particularly difficult emotional years and it makes me feel twice as worse to know that I am upset about a life circumstance and that is in turn making me upset about my reading life. I try to set a smaller goal that I can smash, but higher than your one book, and then I am free to read to my hearts content.

    Thank you for such a nice post.

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  14. Great post. Nice to see someone else’s point of view about the reading challenge. I personally like the challenge but you are right. Falling behind does feel bad. So I just try and take what’s good for me from it.

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    1. Exactly Leelynn!!!! It’s just crazy trying to compare our selves to one another. Everyone is different. And I’m so glad I finally let go of the stress of reading challenges. It’s been so good for me since I have :)))))

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  15. I definitely think that reading challenges can be fun but I’ve come to realize that they’re just not for me. I challenged myself to 150 books the first time I ever did the Goodreads challenge and I just remember rushing to read stuff over winter break to get my count finished. When I logged back onto Goodreads this year I went with their suggestion to put 12 books, one a month, and I think that’s what I’d like to do from here on out. It’s fun to watch myself surpass it by crazy amounts (I think I’m up to almost 70 books now and I didn’t even actually read much of anything until May) but I know that I’m not pushing myself to do anything I can’t handle. But there’s also the deep down super duper overly competitive side of me that can’t do something like put 1 book because apparently that’s just *too* easy for my brain to handle. So 12 it is lol

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    1. Yes!!! You get me!!!! I just think some of us are not designed for reading challenges lol!!! And it’s great to see others enjoying them but for me they are such a source of stress and worry that I know I’m much better off without them. I’m so glad you found the perfect number for you too <3333

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  16. I’m new to reading challenges and put my goal at 200 including graphic novels, probably around 100 total for books. I try to just consider it a fun side thing and no biggie if not hitting the goal, but feeling that pressure to meet self-set deadlines for hobbies can be de-motivating. Too relatable to work or school when hobbies are supposed to be relaxing. 🙂 Fantastic post!

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    1. Thanks so much Kitty!!! I hope you’re enjoying your challenge. I know lots of people that love them and feel inspired to read because of the challenge. But I guess I’m just wired differently lol! Reading challenges make me hate reading and want to stop OOOPS!! So I’m so glad that I now know that they just aren’t for me :))))

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  17. Fab post lovely. I joined goodreads in 2011 and never read any more than 20 books in year – still a good number. This is the first year that I’ve read over 70. I agree that it can make you feel shitty, that’s why I don’t join readathons. Great post.

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    1. Thank you so much Yvonne!!! I think as long as we get happiness from reading then the number of books we read is irrelevant. I think that’s the main thing I learned from my stint at reading challenges. I just feel better when there are no restrictions or targets :))))

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