The Goodreads Challenge

I have wanted to discuss this for a while now but seeing All Things Wordy‘s post a while back made me finally decide to write out my thoughts.

So this is the third year I’m doing the Goodread’s challenge. The first time I did it I’d set it to 10 because I’d only found out about it around October of 2013 and didn’t want to be overly ambitious. The second time (2014) I set it to 20 thinking that would be a stretch (2013’s ten had been a little difficult to fit in). I surpassed that goal midyear, increased the goal to 35 and finished the year on 64 books – not a bad year for reading at all. This year I set my goal to 40. Why? There are a few reasons.

  1. I was completely freelance for exactly half of last year. I had a lot more time on my hands and more freedom over my schedule.
  2. I don’t want to it to be an albatross around my neck. I want reading to be always interesting and fun. For me, challenging myself is definitely part of that fun, but the challenge must also feel surmountable and realistic.
  3. I don’t want this to be a numbers game. It should be about the books.

One thing I’ve noticed about the challenge is how, while some people cram certain types of literature in their challenge (i.e. graphic novels, picture books, novellas, short stories) just to meet their number nearing the end of the year, sometimes others get defensive stating that they’re not including/recording those very same works. This makes me uncomfortable. Why?

Well, for one, defensively asserting “I am actually reading a lot more than the number says!” seems like an unhealthy fixation on the number and how other people view what you’re reading. It’s not about them, it’s about you. You don’t need to explain anything to anyone. You don’t need to feel embarrassed or insecure about the amount you read. But most importantly, at the heart of this entire discussion, I feel like there is a terrible mismatch in how people see value of certain written works.

You cannot(!!!!) convince me that a traditional novel will always have more value than a short story or a comic or a picture book. I have slogged through enough long-ass literary fiction novels to know that they can sometimes be worth so much less (to me) than, say, a simple 32 page picture book with a maximum of 10 words on each page.

A secondary (but also key) point to all my thinking on the Goodreads challenge is this: please don’t assume people have set their challenge goals for the same reasons as you or infer their reasons for setting them. It makes it all feel very judgemental and competitive in the worst way. I have continually found the Goodreads challenge to be a really great exercise and I don’t ever want it to creep into “what a stressful drag!” territory.

Claire and I set different challenge numbers for different reasons and we focus on different things as ‘successes’ in completing the challenge for ourselves. She never judges me for being a slow reader who flits between a million stories at once and maybe not finishing them…hah And I don’t judge her for any of her reading quirks. It’s pretty chill. And I like that.

When I set my Goodreads challenge I’m thinking of a few realistic parameters. The first thing is trying to gauge how busy I’m likely to be in the year and how it will fit in with all my other yearly goals. How much free time will I have? Will I want to spend all of that free time reading and ignoring all my friends who I don’t get enough time with already? What kinds of literature do I want to consume this year? Is it mostly difficult ancient tomes and classics? Is it more graphic novels and picture books to help me be more aware of my industry for professional development in my job?

At the back of my mind, I also try to think what it breaks down to month by month. My goal of 40 books sees me reading about 3 books per month. If each book is, say, 300 pages long, I need to read an average of 900 pages per month – or about 30 pages per day. I know that’s a joke for some people, but for me that’s a challenge. I just don’t feel like reading every day. I know how I read (slooowly) and my challenge needs to reflect that. I don’t want to have an ever-increasing challenge as the years go on like I’m training for some sort of epic read off that doesn’t exist (and that I would never ever ever enter even if it did). I feel like doing that really does detract from the stories I’m taking in and puts all the emphasis on the page counts while devaluing works in non-traditional novel formats. At the end of the day, for me, it is all about the stories. I want to take in lots of different points of view and hear lots of different tales, enjoy lots of different characters and read lots of different places.

Now, I actually do keep a person record in a Google spreadsheet of all sorts of other factors that Goodreads doesn’t record but that are important for me to note. I don’t really care if a 30 page comic is adding to my GR challenge number. I think other people see this as ‘cheating’ as if I am trying to make up numbers (for their benefit?). For me I like that Goodreads allows me to record the date I’ve read something. I don’t want to leave the date field blank just so my Goodreads number is more reflective of what they see as a qualifying literary piece for my Goodreads challenge.

(That said, I have increased my challenge number in hopes that it looks less misleading if/when I seem to hit it early. I don’t know if that’s hypocritical, but I figured if I increase the number to sort of incorporate my shorter reads, it’s a catch all..? I am still aiming for 40 ‘novel-length’ books as well as all my other reading, which is recorded in my personal spreadsheet.)

Here are some of the things I keep tabs on in my personal record that Goodreads does not allow me to keep tabs on in any way that is clearly visible at a glance:

  • Author’s gender
  • Author’s ethnicity
  • Whether the work was translated
  • Was it from my TBR?
  • Format (print, ebook, audiobook, etc)
  • Genre
  • ‘Type’ (comic, short story, non-fiction, play, etc)

I know some of these things are recorded but nothing is as clear as my spreadsheet. And I know I could make shelves but I find them messy. (I only have about four custom shelves: dnf, favourites, comics & picture books, and non-fiction.)

Another big difference between what’s recorded on Goodreads versus what I record on my spreadsheet: DNFs. I want to know when I attempted a book. When I’ve decided to put it down for good, I’ll record that date on Goodreads* so they end up adding to my challenge. However, I don’t include those in my spreadsheet.

*Usually only if I got a fair way into the book; not if I’ve put it down after a few pages or chapters.


OK. All this talk about my personal Goodreads challenge habits and thinkings is just to illustrate that a lot goes into how I choose to conduct my own challenge. There are other specifics that would probably just be tedious to mention, but the point is that I’m sure some things I do are similar to other people and I’m sure other things are different. I think everyone could have a better go of the challenge if they really took control of what it means to them and not be affected by what it means to other people. It doesn’t mean getting really nerdy/spreadsheety about it. Just being confident and cool with why you’re doing it and not apologising for it. It’s for you.

Don’t feel intimidated by someone whose challenge is 200. They know why they’ve chosen 200. That’s ridiculously unrealistic for me to the point that is means literally nothing! That number could be 2000 for all I care – it is equally as ridiculous…for me. But it has nothing to do with me so why should I feel intimidated by that? And if someone else sets a goal of 12, don’t be judgemental! Maybe they have busy lives or don’t consider reading a serious focussed hobby; just something they dip into. Or maybe they’re reading one particularly difficult text per month. If someone has previously read 100 books and now has a goal to read 20, maybe they had some burn out in the previous year and need to slow-the-f*ck-down rather than continually increasing the number because they started to see reading as a hated task. Maybe they have a lot planned for that year. Maybe they overreached themselves before, but wouldn’t have known had they not stretched their goal previously. All sorts of reasons – none of which are to make other people feel bad or to ‘cheat’ at garnering undue praise.

Let’s keep the Goodreads challenge (and all reading challenges…and all personal development challenges in general!) enjoyable for ourselves and enjoyable for others. Be encouraging and uplifting to other people on their reading journeys regardless of what their goals are just as you would want them to be towards you.

That’s all.

I hope you have a happy challenge! 🙂

What is your experience with the Goodreads challenge? Mostly good? Mostly bad? Undecided?


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17 Responses to The Goodreads Challenge

  1. I definitely only think about the GR challenge as a fun personal thing. I never really push myself to read more just for the number, I just like having a general estimate of how many books I read each year. I definitely did read a very short middle grade on Dec. 31st last year to make my challenge, but it was just one book 😉

    • Nicole says:

      That’s great! It should definitely be fun and a thing for you to run how you so choose. Like I said, though, I don’t really subscribe to the idea that shorter books are worth less than longer ones or that YA or middle grade books are worth less than general fiction books (regardless of who the reader is!). Personally, I wholeheartedly value Wonder by RJ Palacio (middle grade fiction about a kid with a facial abnormality) over, say, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle even though the later is a literary fiction weighing in at 607 pages.
      The merit of the book is not found in the length of its pages or the label of its genre, but in the book itself 🙂

  2. Excellent post. I kind of get obsessed with my numbers too. I set it up higher this year since I reached that goal last year but am staying consistently behind – eek

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks! Haha yeah, well it’s great to get wrapped up in the challenge! As long as it doesn’t start getting stressful, the push can be fun 😀

  3. jessicarainbowinspiration says:

    Hi Nicole! This is such a great post! I totally agree with what you said!
    Why do some people make reading into such a competitive thing? Why can’t we just enjoy it!

    For me, reading is something to be enjoyed. I experienced burnout a couple of years back and I’ve been very careful since then to read what I like and want.

    I also think that Goodreads’ shelves are not very conducive for recording other data about books read. I want to compile the books I read and their various data into an Excel sheet. But I don’t know if that will be like too much of a chore. Would I get tired of recording and reading after a while? This might happen for me because I’m sort of OCD in the sense that I must record EVERY SINGLE THING once I start. I can’t stand having empty fields. How’s your experience been for you?

    • Nicole says:

      Hey Jessica! Thanks very much!

      Reading burnout can happen sooo easily! I just happen to be really in the mood for audiobooks at the moment but, without them, I don’t think I’d be reading very much right now at all. I’m in a “dip in and out” phase that doesn’t see me finishing much of the non-audiobook variety anytime soon. It definitely helps to tailor your reading to how you feel (or even just take a break). Sometimes you’ll be up for a challenging/out-of-your-comfort-zone read, sometimes you won’t. That’s how it works for me anyway.

      I’ve found my spreadsheet really great to be honest! I genuinely look forward to updating it, but that might say more about my nerdliness than anything else… It’s not really possible for me to leave a field blank since all my fields have pretty straightforward answers (…I mean…unless maybe I can’t find out certain stats about an author possibly? But that hasn’t happened for me yet and, in any case, you can just type in “unknown” and include that value in the percentages too if you wanted). For things like “genre” I have just picked whichever strict main one I would categorise it as to have as few as possible. Like, I just pile paranormal into the larger group of fantasy rather than making it it’s own thing. I don’t really care if I read a paranormal fantasy or an elves fantasy or a mermaids fantasy; at the end of it all, I just want to know how many fantasy stories I read altogether. If it’s a book that has no obvious genre, I will probably just categorise it as whatever pseudo-genre group it fits (like classic or YA or kidlit or chicklit or whatever). And you can always have sub-categories or arrange however you want! Book Riot has a good spreadsheet template, but it’s got a lot of categories I don’t care about (like number of pages, for example).
      Anyway, I’d definitely recommend the spreadsheet! 🙂

      • jessicarainbowinspiration says:

        Like you, I’m a mood reader. If I don’t have the mood, I can’t read. Right now, I’m really into podcasts and non-fiction books. So I’ve been listening to podcasts on my commute to work and reading non-fiction books when I’m at home.
        Thanks for the tips! I think I might try recording my reading via Excel too 🙂
        I think it would help me in checking whether I have completed the reading challenges that I signed up for.

  4. I think people often put too much thought and stress into their reading life and therefore their reading challenge. It should be something for YOU. Not a way to prove something to the world or to show off/brag about – or stress over if you can’t meet your goal. I don’t like it when people tell they are failing for their challenge, because since when it reading a competition? Isn’t it supposed to be something you do for YOU and for fun? It’s puzzling..

    • Nicole says:

      That’s it precisely; people seeing it as a competition instead of a personal challenge. It doesn’t happen often, but when you see it, it seems so out of place and odd.

  5. kay says:

    I generally read quiet a bit but this year I am slowing it down a lot just 50 books this year but bear in mind I am reading the door wedge books like over 800 pages books. I read 200 I think it was last year I read so much

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, there’s no point in turning it into a chore; 200 books of around 800 pages each would be pretty extreme…But maybe that’s how some people roll (certainly isn’t how I roll! haha). I bet trying different goals has been good for learning more about your reading pace and habits though!

  6. moosha23 says:

    This was fantastic – definitely been a learning curve for me regarding numbers and how much emphasis we put on them with our Goodreads challenge.
    Also your point on what type of book you’re reading and whether picture books should be compared to classics is so true too! Reading is personal – but it’s definitely more than that. Classics are judged on their timelessness or how cleverly written they are but nearly all books are slaved over and the author does care for the words they write.
    Another thing – what you keep track of on your spreadsheet is gold<! Now it’s time to make another four ‘shelves’ on the goodreads thing! 😀

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post! Yeah, it’s a tricky one to navigate sometimes. I’m still learning things about what my natural reading pace and stuff.
      YES! The terrible ‘hierarchy’ of which formats or genres are books are loftier than others is nonsense. I mean, I do believe that some books are better quality than others…(some are messily/uncaringly put together, some are badly edited, some are awkwardly written, some are badly researched, some have flat characters, some have stupid plots). But it’s not because the whole format or genre the book happens to fall under is bad or somehow lesser than, say, classics or literary fiction. It’ll be because that particular book maybe had some flaws. And, you’re right. The process is pretty involved (I’ve done an online mini-course on designing book interiors and that alone was a huge undertaking!). At the very least, that should be appreciated.
      I’ve found I get really into my spreadsheet. I’m excited to add to it and see how my percentages juggle about hah
      No! Not more shelves! It’s too much pressure! (Well…I’ll probably ease into more shelves eventually…) Hahaha

  7. Heather says:

    I have never viewed the Goodreads Challenge as a way to compare the amount of reading I do to what others do. I have always seen it as a personal goal to set. And if I don’t reach that goal, well, so what? It’s just something to use as motivation and to see if I can meet it. I don’t compare my goal to the goals of others, nor do I put any thought into what others set their goal at. I find it interesting that there are people out there who use it as some sort of competition. I had no idea some people viewed the challenge that way.

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah I never came across it until earlier this year. So, to be fair(!), since really getting back into reading, I went one and a half years before coming across that attitude! It’s not as big a deal as I probably made it seem…But it had surprised me so much I had an outpouring of feelings! :’) haah
      I have the same attitude as you: it is a personal goal and I’m not bothered if I don’t meet it or about whatever other people are doing. I have been figuring out what my natural reading pace is and it’s just happened to be more than I’ve expected of late.

  8. curlygeek04 says:

    Very interesting post! I’ve never done the challenge because I don’t like quantifying what I read. I already feel like I read a lot, so I like challenges that will spur me to read better books. But I understand for people who want to push themselves to read more, this might be useful. One thing I’ve noticed is that my 6 or so books a month seems ridiculously high to most people I know, yet many bloggers read a lot more than I do. But then it all depends on how fast you read and what your other time commitments are. I like that you’re tracking by gender and ethnicity, I’d like to start doing that.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks! I found that having a number helped me last year and the year before (when I first began to take my reading more seriously) to keep me motivated…not so much because I wasn’t motivated to read, but because it was cool to find out how much/often I read. The realisation that I could easily read a 400 page book in a day was bizarre and eyeopening to me. More importantly, it was really fun.
      I haven’t really paid as much significant attention to my challenge this year, if I’m honest. Reading challenging books is an ongoing focus for me too (as well as reading more diversely) and I have two other challenges directed at that. And, actually, the Goodreads/number challenge can be really good in conjunction with other bookish goals. For one of my challenges the minimum number of books is 40 (10 non-fiction, 10 books by women, 10 comics, 10 books from around the world). For the second, the minimum number of books is 12 (5 books from pre-1900, 6 books from 1900-1999, 1 book post-1999; with two alternate options). That’s a total of 52 books. If I notice I’ve only read 5 books by March, I know I’m definitely behind on my other challenges. BUT obviously that’s not a method everyone needs to use! I just mean to say I think it can be more than simply quantifying one’s reading.
      Yeah; keeping an occasional eye on gender and ethnicity of my authors has been good for me so far! I’m actually doing a decent job with my gender/ethnicity goals (could be better on the ethnicity part though I think!) without feeling like it’s a strain or like I’m missing out on anything. It definitely puts to rest the total myth that reading more diversely is restrictive – I’d say it’s the opposite.

      Do you participate in other challenges or do you prefer to just generally keep your ‘challenges’ loose and unspecified?

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