Does anyone else do the Goodreads Reading Challenge? I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, and really enjoy it. Enjoy it, and hadn’t thought too much about it, until just recently when I read an article on, I believe it was Book Riot, where one of its submitters said she was taking a break from the Challenge, or at least dialing it way back, because of the hold it had taken on her life. Granted, she had some ridiculous goal of reading something like 300+ books a year, and so found herself reading while eating, reading in the shower, reading instead of ever going out with friends, not sleeping so she could read, and reading junk just to fill a quota. This is taking it to the extreme. But I have experienced a micro version of some of these.
The thing is, I really don’t like goals, and so on some emotional level, my knee jerk response to putting goals on my reading I find perverse and repulsive. Of necessity, there are goals on exercise, there were in school, and I guess work, too, depending on how and where you work. But reading, in my mind, should be free and fun and uncontrolled/-forced.
I don’t do the reading challenge really as a challenge. I do it because, in some dorky way, it’s fun keeping track. I feel like I read “a ton,” like I would still yet also like to read “more,” but what does that mean exactly? How does my quantity of reading compare to others? Exactly how much am I reading?
I can’t remember what my goal was the first year, or even if I met it. My goal last year was 75 books, and I fell about 10 short. So this year I dialed it back to 65, and we’ll see how it goes.
What the Book Riot writer mentioned not liking about the goal was that, if you didn’t meet it, you felt like you had failed, or you felt always like you were behind. I do already this year feel a little bit behind, probably because the Goodreads Reading Challenge tracker is already telling me I am one book behind schedule. But I’m used to that. I was on schedule for a while, but that was in large part due to the fact that I had some carryover reading from last year, i.e. books I had started in 2014, but not finished, and so when I did finish a week or so later, they “counted” in 2015. I always enjoy a similar surge at the beginning of the year, but then I find myself playing catch up.
And there are similar surges throughout the year. For example, right now, I am actively reading about 5 books, and I will finish most of them around the same time. Assuming that happens in the next week or so, I will presumably then be a book or two ahead of schedule. Whereupon I will pick up 4 or 5 new books from scratch and then, almost immediately, be “behind” schedule again. But at my current rate, I will very likely meet my 65 book goal.
But what if I don’t? Well, that’s another thing the Book Riot author and I don’t agree on. Last year I wanted to read 75 books, but then I took on some dense ones, including but not limited to: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Goldfinch, The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon, and White Noise by Don DeLillo. Either by sheer length or depth of content or both, these are hardly light reading that you can just pick up and knock out in a weekend. The first two particularly took me weeks, even months, and I think both were actually carryovers from 2013 (at least).
But others were much shorter and easier to get through. For example, I went pretty heavy on the short story collections last year, loving One More Thing by B.J. Novak, No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro, and others. There was at least one George Saunders. And an essay collection too by Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (so good; still kind of crushing on Ms. Patchett as a result [sigh]).
And there was a very short poetry collection, No, Not Today by Jordan Stempleman. Transformative. Revelatory. Inspiring. I read it straight through three times, loving it more each time. Easily the shortest book I read, it moved me maybe more than any of the others, and there were several weeks where I found it hard to read anything else.
Others were just middle of the road time-investment-wise; had I stuck exclusively to books like these, I probably could have done 75 last year (The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (which was exceptional) comes to mind; also Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, which was very good and very thought-provoking, but fully readable in about a week (if you were willing to stay up late enough reading, which for that one in particular, I was)) (oh, I guess I would also put Andy Weir’s The Martian in this group. Fresh and funny, but not overwhelming).
I actually, too, spent a good deal of time re-reading and carefully reviewing Blood Meridian with and online reading group. So that doesn’t “count,” but ate up a lot of my already limited would-be free reading time. And also there is the situation where, sometimes, you pick up a book, invest time in reading some of it, but decide in the end that it’s boring or not worth it, and then abandon it. Does that count? I guess it’s up to you. But if not, that is also throwing off your goal.
But who cares? It feels like, big picture, the purpose of The Challenge is to get people to read more. And for me, I need no challenge. Even if Goodreads didn’t exist, even if the Internet didn’t exist, I would always, always, always be reading as much as I could, and wishing I could read more. The one other aspect of the Book Riot article was, I believe, that sometimes you finish a book you otherwise wouldn’t because you just want another number to keep you on track. I don’t know if I did that or not. I only remember finishing one or two books I wasn’t just loving, but I did that more because they came to me so highly recommended that I thought I must be missing something. I wasn’t. Lesson learned, though. I will be reading no YA in 2015 unless someone is holding a gun to my head.
This year, I do want more balance, which I hope includes more reading. Reading never feels like a sacrifice, because there is rarely anything I would rather be doing. I’d usually just rather be reading. I would welcome any thoughts along these lines. Or other lines. Barring that, I hope at least that you are reading.