You Don’t Need to Treat Reading Like Going to the Gym

Gia R.

Staff Writer

Gia R. is from Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with two business degrees. While studying, her short nonfiction story was published in 2018 in Write On, Downtown, an ASU journal. Since then, she taught preschool students abroad. Now back in AZ, you’ll find her writing, reading, and adoring digital art.

We’re heading into the new year, and what does that mean? New Year’s resolutions, of course! I’m sure you’re familiar with the usual. You may have promised yourself that you’d do a few of these years ago. Many revolve around health. Work out more, eat better, sleep more, and stress less. If you’re not improving your body, you’re focusing on advancing your skills. Learn a new language, start a new hobby, play a sport, or network with a former colleague. If it’s not either of those categories, you’re also considering activities that improve your mind, like spending less time on social media, seeing your loved ones regularly, and, of course, reading more.

Every year, I see a whole host of people online and in real life who summarize the books they’ve read this past year and pledge to read more. Some share their reviews, while others list off their goals. I’ve done this too! When it comes to reading and resolutions, reading can become more than a fun pastime. If you work in the industry, rely on it for your livelihood, or read in some sort of professional capacity, you probably need these goals and seek to optimize your reading time and reviews. To be honest, this is not who I am writing this post for. Whether you read for work or play, I consider the resolution of reading more to be a personal one. I consider it a personal skill to be developed and a pleasure to be enjoyed throughout the year. 

Though it is a common resolution, you don’t need to treat it as a rigid goal. You don’t have to segment your year into monthly goals to reach your optimal reading score. Now, if that’s what you want, then go right ahead. You don’t need to analyze your reading stats and review your top genres and authors unless you want to. You also don’t need to schedule your year of books with a master planner. You really can decide as you go and fly by the seat of your pants. Embrace the structure or lack of it!

In this article, I am not here to give you permission but simply to remind you that you have full control of your reading habits. You don’t need to treat reading like going to the gym. You don’t have to read like the influencers on TikTok or Instagram. You don’t need to quantify your reading journey. Metrics are a great resource, but they are whatever you make of them. You don’t need to meet a goal each year or write reviews of every book. You don’t need to focus on a specific outcome or put pressure on yourself to produce a certain output. If you want to have a goal, put yourself back at the center of it. Your goal is for you. 

So what can we do about this? How can we form a reading resolution that decenters these outward displays of bookish success?

We can start by checking out the most common bookish New Year’s resolutions and their alternatives!

Common New Year’s Resolutions and Alternatives:

a photo of a woman reading on a couch with bookshelves in the background and stacks on books on a table
image via Pexels

1. Read X Amount of Books This Year.

The first one HAS to be reading a certain number of books a year. Some promise to read one book a month, while others hope to read over a hundred and decide how they will reach that throughout the year. My main question regarding this goal is: Who does this goal serve?

If you’re just worried about a number, you could finish this goal within a month if you read short stories or children’s books. If you want to stick with this goal, go for it, but consider your reason for it. Figuring out your why can help you find a more specific resolution. Consider the following questions: Is your goal simply to read more? To make reading more a part of your daily ritual? Or is it to finish a set list of books? Depending on your answer, consider the following alternative.

Alternative resolution: Read for X amount of time each day or week. 

This decenters the completion of a specific number of books and focuses more on how much time you spend reading. Plus, if you don’t like a book, you don’t have to finish it. You can stop it and move on without it affecting your resolution!

light-skinned hand reaching for books
image via Unsplash

2. Catch Up On Books I Own or Only Read Books I’ve Already Purchased.

I am all about spring cleaning after the holidays and in the new year! This can be a great goal if you’re hoping to enjoy all the goodies waiting on your bookcase. I think it can help reduce the physical TBR taking up space in your living area, BUT can we stop reading books we aren’t interested in? Can we DNF books we aren’t enjoying? Can we stop holding onto books that a past version of us wanted? It’s okay to change your mind and act accordingly. It took me a while to finally put down books that didn’t align with my bookish needs and interests. I promise that it’s okay to let it go if it no longer appeals to you. I understand the need to catch up and clean out, but trudging through these books could burn a reader out. At that point, is it really worth it? Instead of committing to reading all of these books and limiting your reading this year, consider a few alternatives.

Alternative resolution: Revisit X amount of current TBR I own and choose at least X amount to read this year.

If you really want to go through them, give yourself a limit. Allow yourself time to check them out and choose from the ones that still spark your interest. Better yet, make sure these will just be a part of the larger list of books you want to read in the new year. 

If you’re really itching to clear your space, you can also commit to reviewing all the physical books on your TBR and decide to read or give them away this year. Depending on the number, you can choose to look over a certain amount each month. If you have a lot of books, it can feel impossible, but if you do some each month, you can make a real dent in that list. 

3. Read More Diversely.

people reading together for book club
image via Pexels

This is a great goal, but it also needs some parameters. This is a perfect opportunity to check out Book Riot’s Reading Challenge. There are so many challenges to read books that vary based on genre, author, etc. You can find some great ideas in Book Riot’s 2024 Read Harder Challenge. If you’re not even sure where to start, begin with a specific area. Want to explore other genres? Pick three to four different genres and read a book of each. Hope to explore other points of view? Seek out books with main characters that are different from you. Try another format like audiobooks or graphic novels. If you’re not sure where to find these more diverse books, then you need to start reading many of the amazing Book Riot articles that highlight diverse topics, authors, and stories, like How to Read More Diversely.

Alternative resolution: Read one book from a different genre each month. Try one book with a character or idea that is not familiar to you each month. 

You can adjust this depending on the number of books you read throughout the month. If you read one book a month, dedicate three or four of those books to this goal. If you read ten a month, aim for four unique books.

These are just a few ways to modify your reading resolutions to suit your needs. Remember, you don’t have to treat reading like going to the gym. You don’t need to build your reading list based on an influencer. You don’t have to read a certain amount of books each year and you certainly don’t need to finish any that aren’t serving you. Many bookish resolutions can be great but also limiting. Consider why you read and what you want to accomplish this year. Some of the alternatives I provided may just be what you need.