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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- ‘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.
I hope you have a happy challenge! 🙂