For the last two years, I have participated in the Goodreads reading challenge. My first year, I kicked serious literary ass. I read! I conquered!
Truthfully, I have no idea whether I read more that year than in year’s past, because I had never really tracked my reading. Bookworm confession: I am terrible at managing books. I don’t have my bookshelves organized beyond a very vague attempt at genre sorting. Virtual shelves?! Ha!
2016, in comparison, was a slower year. I changed my reading goal three times, twice down, once up, for those keeping score. With a successful 2015 and a not so successful 2016 under my belt, I am now sitting here contemplating what to do for 2017.
If you were to ask me on a normal day if I was a competitive person, my answer would be no. I don’t feel the need to always win, and have never been one to turn everything into an Olympic showdown.
Enter reading challenge #1.
With my first reading challenge, not only did I set what I considered to be, a reachable but would still take effort and remain impressive once accomplished, reading goal, but then printed out a 365 days of YA book challenge. I was ready to kick some literary ass! I was delusional.
In 2015 my goal was 104 books, of which, I beat by reading 108. Before launching the celebration parade, I feel it’s important to note that I set the goal AFTER I had a substantial amount of reading already done. As with Bookstagram, I didn’t even know Goodreads had a reading challenge until sometime in late Spring. Is that cheating?
Anyway, fast forward a year. I had the taste of victory in my mouth and felt like an invincible literary goddess who could read books as mere mortals breathe air. A measly 125 books looked like a laughable goal. And it was. Just, not quite in the way I envisioned when I set it.
At this point, I still wouldn’t have considered myself competitive. Oh, how did I miss the signs?
The first sign was that I couldn’t stop checking on my progress. It. Was. Constant. Perhaps even compulsive. Or obsessive. In my rational mind, I knew how many books I read. I mean, I’m the one physically reading them. So, if I check my goal, say on a Monday, and I know I haven’t read more than one book by Friday, why would I check my progress on Thursday? I’m the one reading the books! Apparently I am also a crazy person who thinks I may or may not have been reading while sleeping.
Sign number two: reading only e-books because it was easier to track them. This one was harder for me to decipher, because I seriously love my kindle. Love. My. Kindle. Maybe later I can argue the merits of kindle versus real books. For today, I love them equally, but maybe my Kindle just a teensy weensy bit more. (Don’t tell my real books) I found myself contemplating buying the Kindle version of books I already owned, just so I wouldn’t have to physically add them to my Goodreads shelf.
Finally, I was reading with the goal of finishing the book. That was it. Finish the book, move on to the next. I would literally start a new book minutes after finishing one.
Going into my 2016 challenge, I didn’t stop and contemplate my year of reading. I didn’t ask myself to recollect, or to do any sort of assessment. No likes/dislikes, no did/didn’t do’s, nothing. I simply set my challenge and was off to the races!
The first part of the year, I manically read in the same way that brought me my reading crown of 2015. Why change the formula for success? It took me until almost the end of the year before I realized the answer.
Basically, life intervened, so I (was forced) stopped checking my progress, and for an entire month, I actually forgot about the entire challenge. This is probably normal behavior, so it’s hard to imagine that this was a strange occurrence. But it was. It was like a veil had been lifted from me, and I began to ease back into life as a normal reader.
Once I slowed down, I relearned some things. Namely, reading is about the journey. As with life, it’s not the end that should be the goal.
Reading has always been my escape. It’s my safe haven. No matter what book I pick up, I can ease into the assurance that I will quickly be taken into another reality. I become new people, live new lives. Isn’t it strange and wonderful that I can feel grief in a book, or joy, or terror? That these words can make my life change? Reading is an alternate reality.
By forcing myself to read more, read harder, read faster, I was losing my presence in the story. Instead of becoming the characters, I was instead merely a bystander. A ghost on the edge of a story.
Slowing down allowed me to merge myself back into these worlds. No longer a visitor, I was allowed to become a piece of the characters. I realized I had missed that.
So I reduced my goal from 125 down to 100. I was way behind my goal, but 100 still seemed reasonable. Life, it seemed, thought otherwise, and I reduced it again.
As I was changing it the second time, I felt a little like I was cheating. The goal is adjustable, and it’s not like a test or certification was on the line, but I still felt weird. It wasn’t until I went back for the 3rd time, yes the 3rd time, that I forced myself to analyze my behavior.
Why did I feel it necessary to change the goal? I can argue both sides. On the positive side, the reason the goals are allowed to be changed is to leave the focus on the joy of reading rather than failure. Life changes, so should your goal. On the other side, it’s supposed to be a challenge. Challenges have goals, which you either meet or don’t. Do, or do not, there is no try, as Yoda would say. Failure is valuable in the lessons and reflections it provides.
Yet, here I was lowering my goal. I’ve said, I wouldn’t have called myself competitive.
The truth is, I don’t like to lose, so I tend not to engage in things that I could lose at. The things I do participate in, I can be reasonably assured to succeed at, or brush it off as not caring. In fact, most life decisions have been made weighing the odds of success or failure. That, is competitive behavior lurking beneath the skin. My behavior has always been a touch more cowardly though. Which is why I shy away from things I could fail at, preferring the easier road.
To fail at something I would call myself good at? That stung. So I changed the goal.
I ended 2016 having read 78 books, 3 books over my final goal of 75, but falling woefully short of my original 125 delusional goal. According to Goodreads, I reached my goal. I’m not so sure.
Two years in, I like the challenge. I like having something tell me how I’m doing. I don’t want to get caught up in insanity again. So, here’s my plan:
Set a goal, leave it.
Participate in a different challenge, one that is about more than just the number.
Give each book, the time it deserves. Savor the story. Write more reviews.
That’s it. Simple, yet challenging. If I meet these goals, I will end the year a different person. I will have grown, and changed. This year, the focus is on the journey.
Reading is an escape, and does allow you to live a thousand lives. In living those lives, readers have the unique opportunity to change themselves as well. A book can change our opinions, or help us grow empathy, or force us to use our imaginations. A book will give us exactly what we give it, no more, no less.
Reading challenges can be a fantastic way to grow as a reader. I learned a lot about myself. I identified things I liked, and things I didn’t. I go into 2017 with a different outlook, and a different approach. I like to think I’ll be a better person for it.
Read or die. But don’t get lost along the way.