Our Reading Lives

Why I Keep Failing Reading Challenges, But I Still Try

Rey Rowland


A daydreamer and a bit of a lost cause, Rey loves stories. Whether they're book shaped or you can see them on a screen, a story always hides in the corners of her mind. She's working on a few stories of her own, always accompanied by her trusty cat.

I’m just going to say it. I suck at reading challenges. Well, I suck at most reading challenges. For the past few years, I have only been able to follow through with the Goodreads challenge — because it’s more about quantity than following specific prompts. And even then, I don’t have the best track record with it. There’s been at least two years in which I lowered the challenge mid-year because there was just no way I would make it to my original goal. Don’t even get me started with the more specific ones, like the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, or our very own Read Harder Challenge. There hasn’t been a single year in which I’ve been successful at completing one of those.

At first it made me feel like a failure. Reading challenges are kind of a huge deal in the reading community. Every New Year I see all my friends on Goodreads excitedly pledge huge amounts of books. BookTube channels make whole videos of their new reading resolutions. These reading challenges are a part of the whole “fresh start” vibe of this time of year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m here for it. I like the feeling of opportunity that permeates January, and how we all make goals for ourselves. I just can never seem to actually finish them. Yet here I am, with a pledge to follow not one or two, but three reading challenges this year.

But let me get into why I fail these challenges, before I tell you why I insist on doing them year after year.

Failing Reading Challenges Because of Burnout

This is pretty common, and the reason why I tend to fail the Goodreads challenge in particular. By the end of the year, I’m just too tired to pick up a book. By then, all I want is to curl up with tea and a movie and not do any serious brainwork. This used to make me feel extra guilty, because I just chose not to read and instead I spent my time doing other, less taxing, activities. This doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, it sure as hell derails my January goals. I’m learning to be okay when this happens, because I also need to rest. Plus, reading isn’t an obligation — I do it because I love stories. And I’ve found that forcing myself to read can take away from my enjoyment. Which is a nice segue to my second reason why I tend to fail reading challenges.

Failing Reading Challenges Because I’m a Mood Reader

There’s nothing wrong with being a mood reader. It just means that I don’t read a book if I don’t “vibe” with it at that moment. This is the reason why I never follow a strict TBR pile, why it sometimes takes me entire months to finish a book — and it’s absolutely the reason why I have never been able to actually complete a prompt-specific reading challenge. I just know that if I make myself read that memoir when what I’m really craving is a sweeter sci-fi, I won’t have a good time.

So why do I keep trying to do reading challenges if I will most likely fail them?

Why I Still Try

It would seem like I just set up myself for disappointment. I could simply not pledge any challenges and have a calmer reading life. But I know myself — and there are reasons why I will keep trying to do reading challenges even if I keep failing them. Like before, I have to separate this into two. Because I do have different reasons to pledge different types of challenges.

First, the reason why I keep pledging the Goodreads challenge is because I’m kind of competitive. I want to read more, and the way to do it is to try to beat myself. I see it as a motivation to keep reading. To pick up a book instead of spending hours scrolling through social media or watching TV. It’s like a gentle pressure that reminds me to read.

Then, there’s the reason why I keep trying to do prompt-specific reading challenges. For starters, these prompts tend to be quite varied, so they get me to read new genres that I would never have discovered if not for the challenge. Even though I’m a mood reader, I also like to read new things. The second reason why I will keep trying to do these challenges is because they diversify my reading like nothing else can. Most challenges, or at least the ones I frequently pledge, include many books by marginalized authors. Some of them even prioritize those authors. Which reminds me to do it too when I look for new stories to read.

So even though I will probably keep sucking at reading challenges, I will keep attempting them year after year. They are great incentives to read outside of your comfort zone, and to read diversely.