Welcome to the Darkside

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439,761 participants; 25,031,086 total books pledged; 56 average books per challenge; 16,071 challenges completedEarlier this week, I read the Book Blog in The Guardian: The bad side of Goodreads’ Reading Challenge.

Essentially, the author is saying that by turning reading into a to-do list, we take the fun out of it, and while that may be good for publishers and bookshops, it’s terrible for the reader. Why turn reading into a chore?

I first took part in the challenge — and by that I mean I challenged myself and was accountable only to myself — in 2012. I realized that I couldn’t name a single book that I’d read the past year. That thought was awful. Either my mind was really going, or I wasn’t reading. I may not have Holmesian recall ability, but I had a sneaky suspicion that the real culprit was really that I hadn’t read very many books because, despite the fact that, as a writer, I need to read, when things get busy, reading can easily get pushed aside. I saw the challenge as a way to keep tabs on myself, the same way many people in my writer’s group use the group: an empossed due date. That due date doesn’t make them enjoy writing any less, it just makes sure that they carve out time to do what they love but what other people may not value. Society sees the value of showing up to work on time, but it doesn’t necessarily see that same value in making sure you have time to read or write.

I jumped in with both feet: 50 books in a year. I initially thought about doing a book a week, but decided to give myself some breathing room. 0 to 60 isn’t usually the best course of action, but that’s how I tend to do things with writing. Not working on my novel? Let’s jump back into it AND do a blog AND join three writing groups…I’m working on moderation. Oddly, my desire to get physically active and eat healthy never swings to such extremes.

I enjoyed reading in 2012. I was happier overall and I attribute that to exercising my brain, but I did feel the pressure. In the beginning, it was a fun pressure, like a game. But toward the end of the year I realized I had to read more than a book a week in order to complete the challenge. I picked up a few thin YAs I wouldn’t have normally read and flew through them…and made my goal.

I felt a little dirty using that tactic, but I never added a book I didn’t finish or read Clifford the Big Red Dog just to check something off. I had forced myself to read something I normally wouldn’t and that’s a good thing. It opened my eyes to the breadth of YA that’s out there.

2012 was the swift kick in the ass I needed, but the goal of 50 did make reading some things more stressful than it should have been. But that doesn’t mean that I think challenges aren’t good. It means you need to know yourself as a reader. Why are you doing this?

I signed up again in 2013 so that I could continue to keep tabs on the books I read (it’s nice to have a list to look back on…who knew I read so many of X genre), but I lowered my target to 30 and tried to include more books that I wouldn’t normally read in my mix. I ended the year having read 32.

I signed up again this year but kept my target at 30. I can read more, but 30 keeps it fun and is still a big enough number for me to stretch to reach while balancing writing and work and friends and a life.

So, I don’t disagree that unrealistic goals will make the challenge an albatross rather than a benefit. There were some people who challenged themselves to read 100 books but only got through one. However, challenging yourself to stay on track isn’t a bad thing. The important thing is to know yourself. I’m not going to challenge myself to run 30 miles in a year because I have zero interest in that, but challenging myself to do more of what I love and what I believe is important, well, what’s wrong with that?

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