Our Reading Lives

Why My Goodreads Book Challenge Makes Me Sad

I have always been a reader; it is a part of my identity. I take pride in the fact that, as a child, my relatives always asked me what I was reading. It was one of their first questions when they saw me after a long time apart. You could tell they took a kind of pride in it as well. “What a smart child!” And truly, I was always reading something new (or five somethings—I’ve always struggled with limiting myself to just reading one book at a time). But I am not necessarily a very fast reader. I’m a pretty fast reader, but I usually took a week to read each Harry Potter book, rather than 2 days like some of my friends.

I always said it was because I like to really take my time and enjoy the books. Savor the time in the world. Could I read it faster? Maybe, if I did nothing else, or learned to skim better, but I never wanted to do that. I didn’t really want it to be over that quickly, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. But also, the truth is that I am just not a very fast reader. It’s something I’ve had to come to accept about myself as I’ve gotten older.

I feel like I am constantly reading because I am. I always have a huge stack of unread books next to my bed. I find it hard to comprehend when people ask for book suggestions, because my TBR is massive and ever-growing. There has never been a time in my life (at least not one I can remember) when I didn’t know what book I was going to dive into next. I still get so excited by all of the books that I want to read that I sometimes try to read multiple books at the same time, jumping from one to the other as my whims take me.

I never really thought about how many books I read in a year; I knew I read a lot. But since I’ve started actively using Goodreads and taking on the Goodreads Challenge, I’ve had to come face to face with the fact that I don’t actually finish as many books as I thought I did. It was a harsh wake-up call. When I initially started the Goodreads Challenge in 2017, I confidently selected the 50-book suggestion for one year of reading, sure that I’d far surpass that, but curious to see what the number would actually be.

I kept track in a note on my phone because I couldn’t quite figure out how to track them in Goodreads in a non-annoying way, and I think I reached 30 or so? But I was traveling a lot that year and was limited in the books that I could carry with me (I’m still not on the Kindle train). Or at least that was how I justified it to myself. This was just an off year! Also, I probably forgot some of the books I read, right?

The following year, I finally figured out the Goodreads date system and was determined to really track each and every book I read. That year I only reached 34 out of 50. But I was in grad school and reading tons of articles and other things for school that I didn’t track. There were whole months where I didn’t read any books that weren’t for school. That had to be why I only made it to 34!

But here I am, nearing the end of August in 2019, and I have only read 21 of 50 books. I am not even halfway yet! And this year, I haven’t been traveling or in school. I’ve been working mostly just as a freelance writer from home. So, in theory, I’ve got endless time to read. And I have been reading! A lot! I feel this bizarre sense of shame admitting that I’ve only read 21 books this year. It just doesn’t sound right. If I’m really focused I can read a book a week, so I should at the very least be in the 30s.

But the fact of that matter is, I probably won’t reach my Goodreads goal this year either. And I just have to accept that. It doesn’t make me any less of a reader or a person. I haven’t failed at some great task or let anyone down (except maybe myself). I am someone who can easily get caught up in competition, even if I don’t seek it out. I don’t enjoy competition, because it usually ends up with someone feeling bad, which I hate. Every time I check on my Goodreads challenge progress, I am hoping that somehow the number will have shot ahead, even while I know that’s impossible, and it makes me sad that it’s still so low.

Books are something that have always brought me joy and inserting this competitive aspect into reading is simply not suited to my style of reading. I’m not giving up on the Goodreads challenge, because it’s good to have goals, but I think it’s time that I detach my ego from reading. It doesn’t matter how many books I read in a year, just that I keep reading and maintain my love for books.