A Thought on Reading Challenges

Bookish Discussion

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.

The early days on Goodreads

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…

image from goodreads.com

When things got too much

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.

Not reading with my heart

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.

Things had to change

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.

Freedom!

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.

To wrap up

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.

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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

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