Our Reading Lives

Why I Just Can’t Quit Doing the Yearly Goodreads Challenge

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

Yet another post about the Goodreads yearly challenge? I know, I know. But another year is here, and I signed up again. It taunts me throughout the year, and I admit there’s some anxiety that creeps in if I’m behind on my goal. But I just can’t seem to quit it.

On the one hand, I’d love to not be obligated to an arbitrary number that I’ve picked, or a number that I’ve picked because I met the goal last year and I need to at least meet that goal again this year. But on the other hand, I’ve found that setting a goal pushes me. I can be a competitive person. I try not to be, and for the most part, in most situations, I’m not. But for anything reading or writing-related, I’m all in. If we want to get analytical about it, there’s probably ample fodder to explore, with the SRA reading program in elementary school and how everyone knew what color level everyone else was at, or how my friends and I would compare standardized test scores and percentiles. Pair that with a mostly Type-A personality and, well…here we are.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve “failed” my Goodreads challenge before. In 2016 I completed not even 60% of my challenge. In my defense, I also had a baby and was trying to keep said tiny human alive and well, and doing it on my own. Paired with severe sleep deprivation and the whiplash of emotions of new parenthood, is it any wonder I didn’t (couldn’t) read?

By that same token, though, I think motherhood has also spurred me into action with reading and the Goodreads challenge. When I was pregnant, it seemed like suddenly being mother was all anyone could see; it became the most important thing. The pregnancy announcement on Facebook gathered more “likes” and comments than any other post about writing or my career or life in general. Once I had my child, I was only called “mom” at doctor’s offices or on the phone when discussing anything related to my child (I still am; depending on my mood, I will reply to “is this mom?” with “Yes, this is Jaime”). It was very easy to feel like my identity was now consumed by motherhood.

As someone who prizes my work and my job and has a plethora of interests that do not have anything to do with motherhood or child-rearing, I often chafed at the frequent and oh-so-unavoidable conversations about teething, sleep, diapering, etc. I still do. There’s only so much talk about kids I can handle, even among other parents. We had lives before our kids! We still have lives and interests, and that is more than okay. For me, the Goodreads challenge helps me hold onto that.

Reading is central to my identity. I’ve always been a reader, since I was two years old. In those early months of parenthood, I didn’t have much time or energy to read, but when I did, I finally felt like myself again. Now, as a single mom of a very active and curious toddler, I don’t always get to do everything I’d like to, like travel or hike or go to protests or lectures—but books I can do. I can pick up a book that challenges my thinking about a social issue. I can read a travel guide to some far-flung place I’d love to visit. I can read the latest book about a social justice topic or current event. Books connect me to the world outside of parenting, and when I feel like I’m drowning because there aren’t enough hours in the day with my child’s preschool and appointments and my work and errands, books are something I can do.

Motherhood can also be lonely. Reading connects me, to both those on the page and others in “real life.” I connect with others who have read the same book or a similar book, we discuss ideas and craft, we share and exchange books—reading and books serve as lifelines to other people.

The Goodreads goal pushes me to keep reading, to stay afloat in an accessible way for me. If I feel like I need to read a few more books quickly to boost my number, I might check out graphic novels or trade issues of comics—and more often than not, it’s something I need at just that time. If my reading has stagnated, that number reminds me to take a look at exploring why. Being aware of my “book number” also reminds me about all of the different reading challenges, and subsequently pushes me to read more diversely, or find a new book I maybe wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The important thing for me is not feeling bad if I don’t meet the Goodreads challenge number. Life happens, things come up. But for me, that number is a persistent nudge to keep going, keep reading, choose something new. That’s a good motivator when I have a million and one other things on my plate also vying for my attention. I am reminded that this is no less important, that my reading is vital to my well-being.

So yes, I have my Goodreads challenge goal yet again, and am ahead of schedule…for now. I just can’t quit the challenge, but that’s okay.