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Why I’m Obsessed With My Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker

Jessica Woodbury

Staff Writer

Jessica Woodbury's professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. After years as a Public Defender in the South, she now lives in Boston with her two small children. Cursed with a practical streak, she always wanted to pursue music or writing but instead majored in Biochemistry because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. These days she does absolutely nothing with science or law and instead spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. And the strip club gig was totally as a lawyer, she swears.  Blog: Don't Mind the Mess Twitter: jessicaesquire

I read a lot, and I’m on Goodreads nearly every day. I add a new book I’ve started, I shelve a book I’m curious about on my To-Read list, I see what everyone else is reading and what they have to say. My favorite thing is to write a review of a book I’ve just finished. I often treat my Goodreads reviews as if they are for a large publication with millions of readers waiting to hear what I have to say. I enjoy getting friend invites and seeing nice comments on my reviews.

But there is one thing on Goodreads that is a real and true obsession: my Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker.

According to Goodreads, I am not alone. Over 2,000,000 users set up a reading challenge for 2017. Each year, you can set yourself a goal for the number of books you want to read that year. And because Goodreads never wants you to forget about that goal for a single second, it puts it on your home screen right below the books you’re currently reading.

Not only does it remind you with a little challenge tracker, it also judges you for how well (or how poorly) you are executing your reading goal.

goodreads tracker

Luckily when I went to pull this screenshot I had just completed a book this morning and another one the day before. Now I can feel like I am a solid, fulfilled human who has read the correct number of books.

When I am behind it seems like everything is a little off-kilter, that I am forever trying to catch up.

This is my 5th year of the Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker and it’s the first time that I’ve barely been able to keep pace. Before I’ve always guessed too low and it was clear just a few months into the year that I would easily complete the challenge with months to spare. This year I decided to be reasonable and set myself the same goal as last year, but I forgot that last year I had a long commute to work and would pound back an audiobook nearly every week. Now I work from home and my audiobook consumption is depleted and now I am almost always 1 or 2 books behind.

I care about books. I read a lot of them. I like looking back at my completed Goodreads Challenges with their pretty “Completed” banners all lined up in a column and feeling good about myself. But now that I’m chasing the 2017 challenge, I’m starting to feel a little nervous and obsessed.

How can I possibly know how many books I will read in a year? Why must I read them at a consistent pace? Does the Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker not understand that some books are short and some are very long? Doesn’t it know that last month I read an audiobook that lasted more than 24 hours long? That is an entire day of this year that I spent on just one book! Why does it seem to judge me whenever I am behind? Why does it seem happy to see me when I am ahead of schedule? Why am I anthropomorphizing an algorithm?

As a person who doesn’t really do sports but reads as if my life depends on it, perhaps my obsession is best expressed via sports metaphors. The Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker is my Olympics. Being on track means I’m on pace, being behind means my medal might be out of reach, it’s do or die, it’s make or break, it’s time to go for it.

This is me when I finish a book and my Tracker says I am ahead of schedule:


And this is me when I finish a book and my tracker says I am still 2 books behind:


If I have to, I will read a whole bunch of really short books at the end of the year, I will read children’s books and graphic novels and novellas. Because I am going to get that gold medal if it’s the last thing I do.