I started 2016 with a big, but doable reading goal: 100 books by December 31. I set the goal on Goodreads and watched as the little message on the challenge box said I was “on track,” “x books ahead,” or (shudder) “x books behind.” As the year went on, I stopped seeing the “ahead” message, and it became clear that I wouldn’t get there. For the third year in a row, I would fall short.
And I am totally OK with that. And I may indeed do it again.
One of the things about yearlong goals is that it’s not always possible to know where the year will lead. In 2015, I was on track almost all year until I started interviewing for a new job in December and couldn’t concentrate on reading. In 2016, the election and its aftermath likewise made it hard for me to concentrate.
Despite these distractions, I could have gamed the system and made my goal. When I saw myself falling behind, it would be easy enough to grab a novella (or 12) and get that number back up. But I don’t. In fact, every year, I’ve ended up reading a massive book right at the end of the year. In 2016, it was The Fireman; in 2015, it was The Man Who Loved Children. I may not have met my goal, but I have no regrets about reading those books. Nor do I have regrets about the multiple Anthony Trollope novels I’ve read in the last two years. I’m as guilty as anyone of picking a short book to read once in a while because I feel a need to finish something, but if I want to read a long book, that’s what I want to read, and I’m not letting some arbitrary goal stop me!
So what does all this mean for 2017? Am I going to set myself up for failure again? I could set a more easily achievable goal. I’ve read more than 90 books for the last two years, so that’s certainly doable. But I like setting an ambitious reading goal every year, and I like watching the little ticker go up and seeing the little messages telling me where I am in relation to my goal. I want a goal that makes me work a little. If the little ticker tells me I’m off track, I’m more likely to pick up a book on a free evening than to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole. If I knew I could reach the goal, I’d take it for granted and tell myself I’ll catch up later. And that means that once again, I’m trying for 100 books. But getting there is totally optional.