Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Beyond the Challenge: 3 Ways to Measure Bookish "Success" in 2017

At 11:30pm on New Year's Eve, only a half an hour before countdowns and fireworks and kicking 2016's butt out the door, I was huddled up in my bed. Not because I was sick, or didn't want to take part in the festivities... but because I only had a couple more pages to go before I finished up Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I wanted to hit the magic number I'd been striving for the whole year: 77 titles on my Goodreads goal.

I love the Goodreads Challenge as much as the next person... it's something I put a lot of thought into every year, and an effort I applaud myself for once I've finished! However, after so many years of taking part, and giving myself bigger and better goals to meet every year, I can't help but think it might not be the best thing for my actual reading habits.

My concerns?

  • I compare my reading to other people, and feel like I come out short. (How on earth do people manage to read over 100 books a year?) 
  • I feel like the books I'm reading aren't good enough, or that I should be reading books of a higher caliber, like other people might manage to do. 
  • I don't have time to commit to things I really want to read, because I'm so crunched for time when trying to keep up with Goodreads, that bigger or more intense books get swept aside in favor of shorter books. 
  • I feel like my love of comic books and graphic novels just pads the number, and that it's not an accurate reflection of the things I could be reading from a more traditional standpoint.
  • It doesn't include other reading material, like magazines, online articles, and more, that I also spend time on, and which give me just as much - if not more! - pertinent reading information. 

It's probably that last factor that causes me the greatest amount of irritation. For instance, I did an entire Capstone project earlier this year as a senior year requirement for the University of Washington, which involved weeks of intense database research, where I read over a decade's worth of magazines from the 1920's... but that didn't factor into my reading total for Goodreads at all! Same with any of the substantial amount of  articles I was reading from the New York Times or Washington Post during Election season, which are fairly lengthy in their own right. How many "book" spots would those have taken up in my Challenge?

So, I've started brainstorming a list of ways I'm going to be altering my reading habits in the coming year, in an effort to strive for bookish achievement that isn't just a number logged into my Goodreads account.

(Don't get me wrong, I'll still be taking part! I'm just adjusting my number to account for other aspects of my habits than necessarily just judging quantity, over quality.)

size  and intensity of books you're reading

The last true monster I've read was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina back in 2012, before I started my 2-year stint as a fashion blogger for College Fashion. Because of things like Goodreads Challenges, I feel like I read more short, condensed books, because I need the numbers. I haven't read any true behemoths in a long time, despite the fact that I've been piling up plenty on my bookshelves in the interim. I've lately been having a craving to reread Homer's Odyssey and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and I've attempted to stick Flaubert's Madame Bovary into my TBR several times, but they've never really stood the test. I want to bring more classics into my life, but I don't know how.

Instead of tackling titles in one brave moment, try setting smaller, individual goals to read a certain number of classics, or books over a certain size, over the course of the year. For instance, the idea of picking up a 600 page book, or a book written before the 1800s, might seem a little daunting, especially if you're out of practice taking your time with that kind of material. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed: break your goals down into more manageable chunks, like "read 6 classics in 2017" or "read 10 books over 500 pages." Then, take it day by day, with even smaller goals, like reading 50 pages at a time, or reading for a half an hour straight. Chisel those boulders into smaller rocks, 'til all you've got is a pile of totally manageable bookish pebbles!

diversity of books and authors you're reading

Last year, Tacoma superstar Erik Hanberg spent his year focusing on female authors, after discovering - through Goodreads - that they made up only about 25% of his reading habits. It's a distinction you don't necessarily think about, until you try reading exclusively from that author set, and one he was intrigued enough by to see through for a whole year!

Let's be real: we all have the tendency to stick to familiar authors and genres, which, for me, are a whole lot of fantasy. If I branched out the subjects of books I read - especially within the realm of nonfiction, instead of regular fiction - I'd probably be prompted to put a lot more mindfulness behind my book selections. This heightened appreciation for your reading material, plus the new kinds of information you'd be gaining through reading them, would definitely have an impact on your personal reading growth over the course 2017.

So, try setting a challenge to read outside of your comfort zone. Pledge to read a book a month from a certain genre or author set - for instance, books with LGBT characters, or nonfiction involving areas of scientific study that interest you - that you wouldn't normally experience. Explore new mindsets and learn new things, by reading 12 new books a year!

the fact that you're reading a little bit every day

While I'm always able to meet my Goodreads goals, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the result of a great habit: I tend to go through periods of binges and slumps that leave me feeling a little, well, unhappy with my reading practices. While there's nothing better than curling up in bed and powering through a couple of shorter reads in one sitting, it doesn't exactly make me feel like I'm consuming important material... nor does it tend to stick with me.

I'd much rather set up a system with myself where I read as much as I can every single day, in a more dedicated time period, maybe even in a dedicated place (there's this great reading chair next to my bed that I almost never use!). Whether it was for half an hour, or two hours straight, I'd no doubt end up reading more intentionally, and probably preserve the ideas and story of what I'm actually taking in even more.

Like I said, I love Goodreads Challenges, but there are other ways to grade your own reading accomplishments than by striving to reach a high number every year. I'm combining my Challenge for 2017 with a set of more personal challenges for myself, in an effort to make reading a more conscious and enjoyable practice, rather than something that makes me overthink what has always been my favorite way to relax.

Therefore, my total number of books I'd like to read this year is totally doable - only 50 books, instead of the 75+ of the past couple of years - with the direct intention of intensifying my reading habits in other notable ways, as well.

And, let's face it, I think Cait over at Paper Fury said it best on Twitter:

I can't be the only person who thinks this way, right? Do you take part in the Goodreads Challenges? Let me know, in the comments below!


  1. I so feel that I go for shorter, quicker books to bump up my numbers which is just silly. I lowered my goal the year and may even lower it more to take the stress off. I totally agree with Cait! Good luck getting to whatever kind of books you want to this year :)

  2. I did the Goodreads Challenge last year, my original goal was 100 books, but I "only" made it to 70. I read a variety of big and small books, but towards the beginning of the school year, I didn't have as much time to read. This year I'm going to try to read more diverse books and branch out a little bit, since I've been reading generally the same kind of books. Great post, I enjoyed reading it!