Our Reading Lives

Reading Challenges Versus Reading Less

Tiffani Willis

Staff Writer

Tiffani C. Willis spends as much as time as she is able to traveling the universe by book and sometimes by, plane, train, boat, or car. When she’s not off on an adventure in a faraway land or trying to solve a mystery like a detective, Tiffani uses her powers as an academic librarian to help students survive school as they learn how to do research and write research papers. She spends her spare time rambling, raving, and ranting about books on her blog Passport Books, camping out in bookstores, and obsessively watching HGTV, usually with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine nearby. Twitter: @PassportBooks

I love a new year. Not the excess drinking and hungover part, but the newness part. A new year means a hard reset and a fresh start. It means new possibilities. It means new books to discover, including ones missed in past years. It means new reading challenges and I love a reading challenge!

The first reading related challenge I did as an adult was the Goodreads challenge in 2012. That challenge ended up being my gateway drug to the wide world of reading challenges. Since then I’ve participated in all sorts of challenges: Book Riot’s Read Harder (a random assortment of reading tasks), Pop Sugar (another random assortment), Literary Exploration (a genre challenge), Cloak and Dagger (a mystery challenge), TBR challenges, various diversity related challenges, and more. The one constant is the Goodreads challenge. I’ve signed up every year since 2012.

Failing to Finish

In 2017 I failed to meet my Goodreads goal for the first time. A year later, and I’m still thinking about it. Falling 14 books short of my goal was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. The year started off well; then I slid into a slog. It was a slog and not a slump because I never stopped reading but every book seemed to take forever to get through—even the short ones. I picked up steam the last couple months of the year but by then it was too late to catch up.

I’m not sure why not making my Goodreads goal bothers me so much. It isn’t the first challenge I failed to complete. I have never finished a Read Harder or Pop Sugar challenge. Random assortment challenges are especially tough. Not finishing them used to not bother me, or at least not for very long. Finish or not, I always ended up trying something new and that used to be enough. Not finishing the Goodreads Challenge, however, did bother me. Given that it is merely a matter of hitting a number rather than finding books that meet specific criteria, it is challenge that I should be able to finish, or at least come close. This isn’t to say it is an easy challenge. I try to choose goals that are realistic but still a reach. But for the whole of 2017 my Goodreads goal seemed way beyond my grasp.

In January 2018 I once again joined the Goodreads challenge. Determined to get back on the reading track, I set the same goal I had chosen in 2017. At the time of writing this, there are about three weeks left in the year and I am four books behind schedule. At one point I was 15 books behind so four doesn’t seem so bad. Will I make it this year? I am honestly not sure and am trying to make peace with the possibility of failing, again.

No Challenges or Keep Trying?

In 1996 someone gave me a book journal. As I soon I got that first journal it was clear that writing about what I read was going to be a permanent part of my reading life from then on. Although I’ve been writing about books I’d read since 1996, until the Goodreads challenge came along I didn’t count the number of books read. Nor did I set out to read a specific number by a specific date. The Goodreads challenge changed that. The jury is still out on whether if it was a good change.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been sifting through possible reading challenges for 2019. There are so many interesting ones I’d like to try. At the same time, a small voice in my brain keeps mumbling that maybe skipping the challenges this year would be a good thing. Challenges help me read more which is nice but it is exhausting. November and December have become all about choosing books with the shortest number of pages in order to meet arbitrary goals. No matter how many good intentions I start with, I keep not finishing challenges so maybe I should stop starting them. Maybe it is time to embrace reading less—to do fewer challenges or perhaps even no challenges at all.

On the other hand, there are so many books and I have so many goals: To read authors from different parts of the world. To try new formats and genres. To better understand game theory, macroeconomics, and philosophy. To learn a little about all that I was never taught in history class. Past reading challenges have identified genres, authors, and books I had never heard of before. Without challenges, I worry I would slide back into my comfort zone and find that I have read only mysteries and romance series at the end of the year. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but getting out of one’s comfort zone can be beneficial.

Reading Less: The Ultimate Reading Challenge?

So what’s the plan for 2019? I’m still not sure. I realize now that I am a reading challenge addict. Going cold turkey isn’t going to work. So instead, maybe I’ll try to resist signing up for so many. What about you? Are you planning to participate in any reading challenges in 2019? If so, which ones, and why? Do you usually finish your challenges?