Of Reading Goals, Challenges, and Other Nonsense
First and foremost reading goals and challenges aren’t nonsense. They have their place in helping people read more or read more diversly. I just wanted to use the word nonsense because people put way too much emphasis on these things. I’ve mentioned before how these things have turned into a weird competition in the book community.
They make people feel like “bad readers” if they don’t read as much as everyone else. Some will also claim that someone is not a ‘real reader’ (whatever that is) if they don’t read more than X books a year. No one wins any kind of prize for reading the most books except, maybe, the realization they don’t have a spot for all their books. Society has trained us to compare ourselves to others. It’s big business. We by cosmetics and clothes to look better, we buy cars based in what the neighborhoods have where we fit in. Now we buy more books because having a library (1,000 books) is the cool thing to do.
Reading is not a competition. If anything it’s a journey. There is someone (probably a number of some ones) somewhere who has recently gotten into reading and stumbled across the book community on either TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram. Until they seen how people were reading 100+ books a year they thought they were doing good with their 1 to 3 books a month. Now, because they aren’t reading en mass like others, they have decided they are failing at reading and have decided reading is not for them. It’s like the kid in elementary school with undiagnosed dyslexia who reading is hard for and so they hate it.
I remember in elementary school we had something called The Reading Olympics. It was a fund raiser, I forget for what. We had to keep a book log. We would get people to pledge money for books read. Like ten cents a book or something. At the end of the thing the participants would get these cheap Olympic medal replicas based on how much was read. Students would compete to see who could read more books. There was a lot of “I bet I can read more than you” going on. Obviously, reading competitions and the push for quantity of reading over quality of reading are nothing new. It makes me and Pikachu sad.
A quick google search tells me this is still a thing but the program has been revamped. I am not sure how I feel about this. Encouraging kids to read and helping them find joy in it is a far cry from teaching kids to be competitive, and here these things are brought together for better or worse. I would really be interested in the outcome statistics of things like the Reading Olympics. Do they really create readers? How much do they help reading comprehension?
My friend Tyler and I discussed this. Tyler fell into the trap of doing what everyone else on social media was doing. Making TBR lists and planning out what they were going to read over the month. Read as much as everyone else. Do challenges. You get the idea. All this interfered with the joy of reading.
Me, my TBR list is everything I own that I’ve not read yet. I am curious about how many books I read a year. On January 1 I want to be able to look back and see how much I read. I never set out to read X number of books a year. My reading goal says 52. That’s one book a week. Totally doable as a university student. Between assigned readings and what gets read in the course of research, 52 books is nothing. Then there are all the scholarly papers I have to read. Last semester I printed out nearly every essay we read. It was nearly two reems of paper, front and back. That’s like reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
I do have some reading challenges that I do. The first is the A to Z Reading Challenge. I find this fun just because. 15 books in you realize that you have read 7 books that start with M and wonder about how people choose book titles and why so few books start with Q, U, V, X and Z. I might have to seek out a book that starts with Z just to see if it is about something other than zebras or zoos. I wonder if I would have more luck if I did an A to Z challenge with author names….
I have a genre bingo card I attempt to fill just through normal reading. At the end of the year I can look at it and see what I am not reading. Does it mean I will make an effort to read that thing. Probably not. I’ve long given up on reading things because I feel like I should. That takes the joy out of reading. I also have a couple reading challenges printed out that focus on diverse reading.
I have a bad habit of picking up books and just reading them paying no mind to who wrote them. I did a blog post on this, actually. I would pick up a book, read it, move on to the next. I never thought about who was writing the book. I rarely looked at the authors name unless I wanted to find more stuff by them. Even if I wasn’t make a conscious effort to know who I was reading, and reading diversly, authors work hard on their craft and deserve to have their names recognized. There are also problematic authors out there who write problematic books. I’m just trying to keep myself in check here. If, at the end of the year, I have nothing filled in, I need to have a talk with myself.
I would like to say that my reading habits will probably never change, but they have changed before. Being an English major has changed how I look at books and how I approach them. The reading challenges I have picked can help me track that as well.
However you choose to approach reading goals and challenges just remember it’s not a competition. Read because you enjoy it.