I’m a challenge girl. And by challenge girl, I mean that I always keep my challenges to an extent in which I know I can achieve them, so that I can feel the comfort of achieving something without the stress of doing it.
Some might say that’s not how a challenge works, and maybe you’re right, but it’s what works for me and I’m not sorry or willing to change it. Fight me (but, like, don’t bother, ’cause I really don’t care).
I’ve been doing a book challenge since 2016, and I kept upping it by a couple of books every year, just enough to know that I am very likely to reach it, usually even with enough time to go over that number.
In the last two years I’ve gotten to the perfect personal number of books for a challenge, and I’ve been going with it since: 50 books. I know this is a lot for some, but with audiobooks in the mix and an hour commute to work at least three days a week (sometimes more), I know I am very likely to reach that number without struggle.
2021 was no exception: after reading 67 books in 2020, and thoroughly enjoying the experience (it was a very good reading year, with stories like The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett among the mix), I set my challenge to 50 books again, happy to reach that number but knowing I’d probably surpass it once more.
I was right, I did surpass it. What I did not expect was to finish November with 90 books read. Because, you see, when you still have a whole month of reading ahead of you, and you have managed to read 90 books so far, there’s no other option: you’ll want to reach the magic 100.
I tried telling myself, no, you don’t need to do that, but my challenge-girl ass went, what if you do it though, wouldn’t it be amazing to actually get to 100 books? I mean, you’re so close, you have a whole month ahead of you, it’s literally – ah see what I did there – your hobby, so how hard can it be?
It turns out that it can be very, very hard. And cost you more than what you are willing to pay for it (yes, of course I am being dramatic. Maybe.)
After making a poll on Instagram asking friends if they thought I could make it to 100, and getting only resonant yeses, I started December with a goal in mind, and nothing would stop me from trying to reach it. Or so I thought.
It took me almost two whole weeks to read my first book of December, a small novella I figured I’d finish in a couple of days. But either because of, you know, it would be nice to get to 100 but it’s not important to reach 100 (of course it is important to reach 100 now, you’re so close, who are you trying to fool), or because the novella was just a tough read, it did take me longer than I had expected to finish it, and it ended up setting the pace for the rest of the month. Plus, the idea that I may actually not be able to read 10 books in a month and having to accept defeat started to bug me. I was so close! I WANTED IT!
Spoiler alert, which will not surprise anyone at this point: I did manage to get to 100 books. Mostly because of my very best friends in times of reading trouble, audiobooks, I ended up reaching this imaginary finish line with over a week to spare. But as I updated my StoryGraph and stared at my screen, looking at that round beautiful number, I realised I don’t want to do this ever again in my life.
It is fun reading so much in a year, and passing this awesome milestone, but it is not without a cost. And when I look back at my year in books, I realise reading 100 books in such a short amount of time may not be the best way to personally consume literature.
Heck, I know people who read 200, 300, or even 600 books a year, and the last thing I want is to control my reading pace; I want it to be fluid, and to happen organically, and that is why I usually set my challenge to something I’m most likely to reach, with or without a challenge to keep track of. So there is always a chance I may reach 100 books, or 90 in a year again, but I am certainly never aiming to attain that particular number in the future.
When Did I Read This Book Again?
When I went back to check my reading list of the year in order to choose my five favourites of 2021, I realised there were books I’ve read that year that I thought I had read in 2020.
Of course, the pandemic makes time seem to – at the same time – expand and contract in weird ways, but that kinda bugged me. Because my idea of those books is so far behind me that I don’t have a good recollection of reading them anymore. Moreover, I’ve been lying to people telling them, oh yeah I’ve read that book last year, when I did not. I did not.
What Is That Book About Again?
Okay, fair enough, I’m not very good at remembering entire plots and scenes from books under usual circumstances, but this time it was a lot worse.
I can remember a fair share of the books I loved (please don’t ask me the names of the main characters, I can never memorise that), but I don’t think I’ve read them in a way to appreciate them enough, or to always understand them thoroughly.
The fact that I don’t read in my native language makes me a slower reader, because I need to better consider the words in front of me, which I didn’t always do great last year. On top of this, I aimed to jump from book to book, instead of allowing myself the space and time it takes to get to know new characters and stories, so now many of those books are just a fuzzy memory in my brain.
I can absolutely tell you if I liked them or not, or what they made me feel, but I honestly think I could have appreciated them more, rather than focusing on what to read next.
Dread & Anxiety
Did I appreciate any of the books I’ve read in December? Yes, but not as much as I would have if they hadn’t been tools to reach a certain goal.
And it wasn’t just December; this happened often during the year, especially when a narrative didn’t make a book a page-turner, and I immediately started wondering if I should just skip to another book, since the one I was busying myself with was taking so long to finish.
Where is the girl that in 2016 took three whole months to read Isabel Allende, and absolutely loved that book, not in the least bothered by the time it took to finish it? If you find her, let me know. I need to do whatever she’s doing.
I enjoy being what I call an “aware reader”, people who know how many books they read each year, and why they picked them. It is fun taking part in challenges, and talking to like-minded people about books, but last year was definitely not the most fun I had as a reader. A big part of it was this pressure I put on myself to read as much and as fast as I possibly could, with my mind set on something I’m really not sure what it was yet.
It was a lesson, and an eye opener for how I want to consume books in the future.
On the other hand, reading 100 books this year offered me the ability to know that, if I really want it, I can. I have done it once, and now I have nothing else to prove to anyone, including myself.
Now that I’ve reached the three digits, I can sit back on my goal and enjoy reading the way I believe I should: without pressure, but as the hobby that it is.
If you’re going to that goal this year for the first time: tread it carefully. The best of luck!
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