2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

2017: A Year In Review

Reading challenge: 139/75

So back when I first began this blog, one of the challenges I wanted to do was set a goal in Goodreads, and then NOT CHANGE IT! I set my goal of 75 books based on how I did in 2016, and I ended up reading 139.

It felt strange to me after I hit the 75 goal mark to keep adding to my challenge without changing the number, but I did. Maybe it seems strange, but keeping the goal the same was a reminder of how different this year was compared to the last, and continued to remind me that it isn’t about the number, but about focusing on the reading itself.

Favorite reads by month:

There were some amazing books in 2017. And some not so amazing. I also reviewed a majority of the books I read, and that experience was better than I expected. Reviewing books changed the way I read. Rather than simply zoning out into the book, I became a more active reader. I payed attention to the things I was enjoying and the things I wasn’t. It made me notice writing techniques in a different way, and I think it made me not just a better reader, but a better writer as well.

This discovery was surprising, as I didn’t expect writing reviews to change the way or read or the way I write. It was a pleasant discovery. And while reading books I don’t enjoy wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience, I also found value in completing those books. Again, it made me focus more on why I wasn’t enjoying it. Which helped make me aware of things to avoid in my own writing.

So whether I loved a book, or felt blah about a book, each one was an experience worth having. Here’s a breakdown of my favorite read by month, and some notables. I couldn’t just choose one!!! I’ve also linked each title to my review, if you’re interested.

January – 9 books read

How to Build a Girl

Notables: Girl on a Train, Tony & Susan

February – 6 books read

How To Murder Your Life

Notables: Red Queen

March – 6 books

Female Of The Species

Notables: All The Ugly & Wonderful Things, Carve The Mark

April – 11 books

Strange The Dreamer

Notables: Me Before You, Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda

May – 15 books

Six Stories

Notables: Follow Me Back, The Last Neanderthal, 10 Things I can See From Here

June – 15 books

Nyxia

Notables: Block 46, Lost Boy, Women No 17, Crowns of Croswold

July – 14 books

The People We Hate At The Wedding

Notables: Spoonbenders, Arena, The Address

August – 13 books

The Reminders

Notables: Fitness Junkie, Emma in the Night, Afterlife

September – 16 books

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Notables: The Salt Line, Good Me Bad Me, Mask of Shadows, Final Girls

October – 19 books

Hearts Invisible Furies

Notables: The Creswell Plot, Beneath the Trees, Blades Edge, Daughter 4254

November – 12 books read

Nevernight

Notables: Turtles All The Way Down, The Nine, Exquisite

December – 14 books read

Everless

Notables: Godsgrave, The Wife Between Us, Gunslinger Girl, The Wolves of Winter

The other reading challenge I signed up for was the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. This one I didn’t do so well at.

Of the 24 challenges, which range from “read a book about sports” to “read a book published by a micro press”, I completed 10 of those challenges. Which is disappointing, so I will be trying this one again in 2018.

It wasn’t listed in my goals, but I did sign up for a few other challenges throughout the year and several read-a-thons. They were a lot of fun and got me into different reading patterns.

2018 Goals

For 2018 I want to do several things with my reading.

First, I plan on doing another Goodreads challenge, which I will update once I’ve set it in stone.

Second, do another challenge like BookRiot’s, to add more diversity to my reading.

Third, read more of what is on my shelves, and only request what I really want to read. Mediocre books have taught me a lot, but they are also a chore to get through. I need less of that this year.

Fourth, review everything, even if it is a book just for me.

Of course, I will have other goals, namely in writing, and hope to get more writing posts into this space, but that will be another post in the New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!!! Tomorrow the entire year opens up to us, blank with enormous possibility. Let’s cheer each other on and make it the best one yet!!!

A review: Me Before You

Typical romance novels are not my jam. I can do without heaving bosoms and deep, meaningful stares. Bleh. And after falling for the 50 shades hype, I am highly skeptical of all hyped romance novels.

Part of my issue with the genre is all the sex. Not that I care about sex in a book. I don’t. I can get hot and bothered over a well placed sex scene like anyone. But, I don’t need half the book to be sex scenes. They get boring. I mean, let’s get real. There’s only so much heavy breathing and passionate throws a girl can take without massive eye rolling.

Romance also typically means: happily ever after.

I am a sucker for a tragic ending. Throw star-crossed in there, and I’m done for. Blame Shakespeare. I don’t crave happily ever after. Maybe it makes me an evil reader, but I like my fictional characters to earn their happy. Like the rest of us.

So I was wary to read Me Before You. To be fair, I did not learn much about the story. The only two plot points I knew were this: he is in a wheelchair and bumblebee tights.

This book probably would never have even crossed my radar if the movie didn’t come out. Finnick Odair and Daenerys Targaryen?! Falling in love?! Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Ever wondered how TBR piles get out of control? This is how.

Skepticism in hand, I sat down to read. Words of warning trickled through my brain. Words like predictable and typical. But I needed to watch the movie! Finnick and Khaleesi people!!! So, like the dedicated book nerd I am, I opened the book.

Can I just say, wow?!

I mean, yes there certainly is an air of predictability to the book. To a point. If you haven’t read this book – STOP HERE!!! YE BE WARNED!!!

Okay – we are entering the spoiler zone.

First, I really liked Louisa Clark. I will accept and fully admit my bias since I couldn’t get Khaleesi out of my head, but whatever. I still really liked her character. She was funny and adorable and real. I could picture being friends with her. And then there’s Finnick, I mean, Will. *sigh*

I expected to see the relationship between them develop. It’s hard to see the movie poster of them smiling at each other and NOT piece that together. How they ended in that relationship was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a cutesy, easy relationship. She did win him over, but not in the easy predictable way I expected.

This book tore my heart out. Which, as I said before, I love. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed by the ending. I fully expected the author to take the easy road. For him to declare that Clark had, in fact, given him the will to live. I would have rolled my eyes at that ending, and thrown the book down, disappointed at the fluff I had just read.

I know that there is a point of view that this book is terrible because a man who is severely disabled chooses not to live. They are upset at the connotations this brings, and perhaps about the negative message it gives to those who live disabled lives. I disagree.

Full disclaimer: I do not have a debilitating disability. I do get severe migraines along with a myriad of other health issues that often make me feel as if my body has taken me hostage. It does not compare to a spinal cord injury. But I do understand what it might mean to be this man.

My husband is a lot like Will. He loves doing dangerous, exotic things. He has jumped out of a helicopter in Poland (he doesn’t speak Polish), and swam with sharks. He snowboards and hikes and rides a motorcycle. We don’t live quite the adventurous life as Will, but if he could, he would.

He has struggled with his own health issues, that have put a damper on his outdoor life. And the depression that follows is no joke. It is real. Luckily, his issues have an answer. They have treatments that work. But I won’t lie. As I was reading the end, all I could think was what if.

What if he had no hope of recovery? What if he had to accept living a life he didn’t plan, or want? What if things got worse? What if?

I completely understand the argument, that being disabled does not mean a lesser life. I fully agree. But, I also agree that no one has a right to tell you what a lesser life is. One way or the other.

Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve struggled with this dark thing that no one else seems to understand. It isn’t a matter of going outside and realizing life is beautiful. Or appreciating the people who love you. It is bleak and heavy and overwhelming.

So it felt real to me that even this bright, bubbly woman, who he clearly loved, wouldn’t change his mind. I understood when he told her, loving her was a constant reminder of who he couldn’t be, what he couldn’t have. Sometimes accepting a life as is, just isn’t enough. Maybe that doesn’t make people happy. It doesn’t make it less true.

We are constantly told to live up to our potential. To reach for the stars. Yet, when it suits us, the message changes. Accept life as it is. Be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t. For someone who knows themselves, or who has lived to their potential and had it taken away, perhaps they know the path to their own happiness best.

As a society, I think we are afraid to have difficult conversations. The message wasn’t kill yourself if you have a disability. In fact, the author highlighted the chat rooms and people who were able to accept their changed lives and make the best of them. But even they understood when someone couldn’t.

So yes. This book had an air of predictability to it. They fell in love. She won him over. But, as in life, it was a touch more complicated than that.

Sometimes we don’t get the ending we want. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who isn’t meant to stay in our life. But sometimes, we get to open our eyes, push through the pain, and really learn how to live.

#readathon

I realize that I am late to most things Internet. What can I say, I like to discover new things only to find out that they’ve been around forever. It’s my thing.

Anyhoo, I recently stumbled on this thing called a readathon. It’s a 24 hour reading marathon challenge. http://www.24hourreadathon.com And I thought, that sounds interesting! SIGN ME UP! I didn’t really sign up for anything, but I shared and texted and tweeted and followed and updated appropriately. Ironically, it turns out there is an ACTUAL sign up, but more on that later.

Now, one would think that for any good #bookworm or #booknerd, this would be a breeze. I mean, an excuse to the world around me, to Shhhhh I’m Reading? Brilliant!

Turns out, reading for 24 hours is harder than you initially imagine.

Let’s start with the logistics of it. First, this requires planning. I underestimated the amount of planning required. I underwent this challenge with a friend, http://www.thepagesinbetween.com , so our first task was what to read.

We decided to try and read together, so the daunting task of pulling a stack of books out of the TBR pile, became slightly more complicated. But, like any good book nerds, we dove into the task with wild abandon. Once we had our stack, Tracy commented that we should probably remove any firsts in series. Duh. Good idea! The stack shrank.

Since this is a reading challenge, we wanted to show off our literary prowess, in sheer number if not content, so we wanted books we suspected would be fast reads. And the stack shrank, finally, to three shiny beautiful books for us to begin reading bright and early Saturday morn.

We were so optimistic. We had such high hopes. We were clearly delusional.

The challenge was set to start at 8am New York time. I’m in Las Vegas. That meant 5am. Already I was not off to a good start. I can barely get up at 5am to catch required flights or do things for, you know, actual life. Getting up to read was not going to happen. Bad book nerd. I woke up and started at 8am my time. 3 hours behind.

Not only that, but I had not finished the book I was currently reading the day before. I can’t pick up and switch books like some people. I cannot manage multiple reads at a time. I just can’t. I finished the 150 pages or so, which set me back another 2 hours.

I should also comment, that said book, was Me Before You. I don’t know if anyone has read this book. (Probably everyone, but as I stated at the start: LATE TO THE PARTY) Needless to say I spent the next hour curled in a ball sobbing my eyes out.

Oh yeah, this day was progressing excellently.

After food and reassuring hugs from the hubs, I picked up our first book selection: Hunted.

I was very excited to jump into this book. I sat down to read, and remembered I hadn’t updated Twitter. Since I was there, I might as well search #readathon and see what everyone else is up to. Oh, right, reading.

Then the dogs were being so damn cute. So we played. Oh wait, reading. Yes, back to the reading.

Somehow, I ended up on Facebook. What is going on here? READ DAMN YOU!!!

Oh! The mail! With #bookmail! EEK!!!!! Obviously, I also needed to update this major event on Instagram.

WHERE I FOUND OUT I WON A MASSIVE GIVEAWAY!!!!!

I may or may not have run around the house screaming. Once the adrenaline wore off, I decided I needed coffee. It was 5 pm and I was only 100 pages into my second book. Well, secondish book. This was not going well. #booknerdshame

Surprisingly, coffee helped. Also the sun set, which also helped. Weird.

That’s not to say I buckled down and focused. Oh no.

Since we had coffee at 6pm, we had energy, so why not take the dogs on a midnight walk? And then shut the house down. And then clean up the kitchen.

Ok, time for a bath. I can always get some serious reading done in the bath. And I did! HOORAY!

I finished Hunted around 2am and feeling like I had sandpaper lodged behind my eyelids, threw in the towel and conceded defeat.

I technically logged 18 hours of *attempted* reading. The key word there is attempted. I read around 520 pages. One and a halfish books.

Here’s what I learned.

Sitting and reading for 24 straight hours is A LOT harder than you think! Even if you love reading. Even if you are surrounded by books you love. Even with a friend, messaging and encouraging each other. Life does not stop. It’s rude like that.

I also learned, after the fact, that there are actual sign ups and challenges and activities on the readathon website to help focus and encourage readers. Who knew? Oh right, probably everyone.

Other fun facts:

  • reading and walking is difficult. I may have gotten into it with a doorway that moved.
  • reading and cooking is also difficult. We didn’t require a fire extinguisher, but there was a close call.
  • Snack planning is a vastly underestimated skill and I failed miserably.
  • Meal planning is vital.
  • If you’re going to convince your husband to stay up super late with you, make sure you turn off the alarm. Sleep deprived husbands are grumpy.
  • Coffee is life.

The biggest thing I learned? Doing crazy challenges and weird book related activities is FUN! Did I make it the full 24 hours? NO! Did I read even half of what I thought I could? NO! But I still had a freaking blast!

Trying to focus on anything for 24 hours IS challenging! It makes you aware of the little things you find yourself doing throughout your day that you don’t notice. Time spent on social media. Phone calls and texts from people you love. Eating. Needing to move. Bathroom needs. How dust accumulates in weird places.

It’s amazing really. I thought sitting and doing something I absolutely love would be a breeze. A walk in the park. Easy. I suppose it makes more sense that as part of the human condition, or perhaps just my rebellious nature towards authority, we are creatures of resistance. Tell me I have to do something, even something I love, and I will find a million other things to do instead.

The Dewey Readathon happens twice a year, every year. October 21 is the next challenge day.

Am I participating? YES! And I will have better snacks! Hope to see you there.

Crimes Against a Book Club

“But if I’m going to do something stupid, it’s always more fun to do it with a friend.”

Some books are just fun. They grab you from the beginning and take you on an outrageous ride. This book was exactly that. Fun.

I think it’s safe to assume that we all, or at least most of us, have stumbled upon a situation in our lives, where the solution required more money than we had or could get. An accident, or an illness, or an unexpected bill. Somewhere, somehow, we’ve all been blindsided.

For Annie, it’s when her son gets diagnosed with autism. For Sarah, it’s infertility. Two women, friends who were brought together over a love of books years previously in college, now faced two vastly different, yet similarly insurmountable problems.

This premise seems poised for some strong women’s fiction where you need a box of tissues on the ready. Yet, the author takes us instead on a hilarious adventure where they put their entrepreneurial skills to work and cleverly manage to raise the cash.

At least, that’s what Sarah thinks. The truth, well, that’s a little on the shady side.

What I really liked about this book was the clever dialogue on how money is valued in certain spectrums of life. Not just how the wealthy are revered, but how they interact with each other.

The book centers on Annie and Sarah. But there is a rich cast of characters from the bookclub in which the crimes have been perpetrated against.

This bookclub is made up of rich women, and through each chapter we get a glimpse of their own internal struggles. These women are wonderfully complex and I found it interesting to watch their struggles with having money versus the other struggle of needing money. In particular, when one of “their own” faces financial struggles herself.

The most interesting character in this aspect, was Kim, a housewife who used to teach. After her husbands company launched to the stratosphere of uber-successful, she stayed home with their kids. “The changes were gradual but but huge. The balance of power in our marriage shifted… every time Andrew success at work, he gets another piece of armor… every time I give in to him, I take off a piece.” This revelation of how power can work within a marriage was insightful. Women feel pressure all the time to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect everything. Kim was a compelling character because she was not satisfied to simply be arm candy. She wanted a partner. She wanted to be valued in her own right. I really enjoyed following her storyline and watching her develop.

In the end, the shady aspect of their new business turned out to be illegal, which sends the entire charade spiraling out of control.

I really enjoyed this book. It was funny, and fun, and an overall enjoyable read. Within the humor you will find woven in a myriad of thought provoking social issues. The complexity of female relationships, both with each other and their spouses. The struggle women face with infertility. Women’s struggles with identity, motherhood, careers, and aging. Issues of drug abuse and alcoholism.

This book is the exact right blend of real and raw laced with sharp wit. If you want to laugh at life, and be reminded that we all have our struggles to bear, this book is for you.

March Wrap Up

March was a busy month for me. I ended up reading six books. Goodreads suspiciously has my reading challenge as ahead of schedule. I’m beginning to think Goodreads is just trying to keep my self-esteem intact.

I finished the second and third book in the Red Queen series. I have mixed feelings about them. First, I waited over a year to even begin the series because I hate waiting to read sequels. (It’s a problem, I know!) So, when I got half-way through the third book and realized there was no way this was the last book, I may or may not have thrown a tantrum.

Yes, that reaction may have been immature. But, in my defense, if the third book was so chock full of plot that there was no way it could have been wrapped up in three books, fine. That’s one thing. As unhappy as it would have made me, I would have totally understood. That’s not how I felt though. It felt like the book was stretched. Stretched to justify a fourth book. So, I am reserving final judgement until the final book is in my hands. I hope it’s worth the wait.

Carve the Mark was next. Okay, okay, I know! I just said I hate waiting. I get it. I’m a book hypocrite who can’t even get my own rules straight. I KNOW! Some books scream for attention though. I had to.

There has been a lot of criticism over this book, so I admit my curiosity did play a role in voiding my do not wait rule. I also loved the Divergent series, (yes, even how Allegiant ended), so I was really interested to see what direction this new world would take.

Honestly, I loved it. The only thing I will say regarding the controversy is this. Every book can be dissected and torn apart given enough scrutiny. Any book. I do not believe in encouraging ANYONE to not read a book based on what I think of it. That’s encouraging censorship.

I understand that some people feel that some subjects can be harmful. That they can in fact, be more harmful than helpful. But, that’s not anyone’s decision to make but mine. I should be able to read whatever I want and form my own opinion. And I adamantly believe that anyone should have that right.

It’s easy to get caught up in hype. Good hype and bad. We don’t want to support racism, or sexism, or oppression in any way. We shouldn’t want to support those. But sometimes, one person’s opinion of an issue, is just that. Their opinion. Being an engaged reader means we read to form our own opinions. And we should never push those opinions on anyone. Instead, we should open a dialogue and engage in conversation.

Lauren Oliver has been a long time favorite author if mine. I was thrilled when I got to meet her last year at a book conference! Her new book, Rooms, was next on my list.

Normally Oliver writes YA. This was her first foray into adult fiction and she did not hold back. Ghosts and hidden pasts and intertwining story lines wove together to create a beautiful story. I love her writing, always have, and this book was no different. I was enthralled with the story and enjoyed watching how all the characters came together in the end.

Finally, March ended with two emotional whoppers. Female of the Species and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Both books were incredible. I would recommend them to anyone, and wrote separate posts about each one. Be warned, they cover topics that are difficult to read and may not be for sensitive readers.

Books that make me think and feel are some of my favorites. March gave me books that were both. They each made me think and feel for widely different reasons. You can’t ask for a better reading month than that.

Read Or Die: 2017 Reading Challenge

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.

Enter 2017.

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.