Our Reading Lives

What’s the Point of a Reading Challenge?

Kathleen Keenan

Staff Writer

Kathleen Keenan is a writer and children's book editor in Toronto. In addition to Book Riot, she has written for Reel Honey, The Billfold, and The Canadian Press. She also edits a monthly newsletter for the indie bookstore A Novel Spot. Kathleen has an MA in English with a focus on nineteenth-century fiction, and there is nothing she loves more than a very long Victorian novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KathleenMKeenan or find her writing even more about books at kathleenmkeenan.com.

According to my Goodreads tracker, I’m seven books ahead in my 2017 Reading Challenge. About this time last year I think I was seven books behind, so that is definite progress. My goal this year is to read 85 books. I will always read a lot of books, regardless of a yearly challenge (because, hello, books are great). But what exactly is the point of having a reading challenge? Is there any benefit to setting a numerical goal for the year?

I set a numerical goal because it helps me remember to read more. I know, reading is supposed to be fun, but I like that little bit of challenge to prompt me to reach for a book over another hour spent browsing through Instagram or rewatching 30 Rock. I like to set my number just a little too high to be comfortably achievable because, well, I like a challenge (clearly). And I also get a thrill from upping the number every year. Maybe someday I’ll make it to 100 books a year. I don’t judge (or care!) how many books anyone else reads in a year, but I like racing against time to see if I can meet my mostly-arbitrary goal.


It me.

But a numerical challenge doesn’t help me read more diverse books, or books in new-to-me genres, or any of the other things I want to do more. And I know the numbers game may not work for everyone—it can lead to anxiety about not finishing or trying to meet a goal that, in the end, is just arbitrary.

I’ll probably keep setting numerical goals because that method works for me, but for the rest of 2017, I’d like to incorporate some goals from challenges I’ve seen online (links below). Many challenges are created specifically to encourage readers to find more diverse authors, which is great. A challenge will also get me out of my reading comfort zone. Try a new genre, like sci-fi. Read more graphic novels. Find an overlooked classic I haven’t read before. Make more space on my shelf for marginalized authors. Encounter a fascinating new topic for the first time.

Left to my own devices, I will just read books about girls living in castles until I run out of said books. And sure, that’s fine, but for most of us, reading is about more than that. It’s about opening up the world and learning to understand perspectives that differ from our own. Not that I have the perspective of someone who lives in a castle. I wish!

Plus, reading sci-fi could be super fun! I don’t know, since I haven’t read in that genre much. Any recommendations?

It’s no secret that Rioters love a reading challenge. We even have our own, the Read Harder Challenge, and there’s this post with links to other reading challenges. I have my eye on the POPSUGAR challenge (I love a checklist) and this diverse reading challenge. Do you follow a reading challenge? What is it?