I think the title pretty much explains the situation I have here: it is only February and just a few hours ago, I hit the quit button on my 2021 Goodreads reading challenge. I was expecting there would be some sort of confirmation that read: “Congrats! You’re off the hook!” Alright, I’m half kidding. But seriously, I was waiting for a screen pop-up that would at least say that I’ve successfully opt out of the challenge (so that I could post a proof on here, yes), but there was none. I also wanted that pop-up confirmation because that would provide me a physical affirmation that I’m now free to read as many (or as few, in case I ever get into another major reading slump) books as I want without having to burden my conscience with the 50 books I originally signed up to read (I asked for it, I know that, and now I realize I shouldn’t have.)
Now that I think of it, it’s quite funny how the system works, at least on Goodreads. You are asked to participate in the yearly reading challenge, at your own will, of course. You then input your desired number of books and start working towards that goal—and you have the entire year to fulfill it. Don’t get me wrong, the concept is great. It’s always lovely to challenge yourself and set a number of books you need to have attained by the end of the year. It pushes you to read more. Three weeks later into the year, and the Goodreads app reminds you that you are “5 books behind schedule”! Now, you feel bad. Feel the pressure yet? But hey, reading shouldn’t make you feel this way.
Last year, I set myself a reading goal of 40 books and fulfilled it—surpassed it even by reading a total of 53 books in 2020. But did I enjoy all of them? Sadly, no. I probably genuinely liked only less than half of my tally. And I didn’t like that. I can’t remember a time I didn’t read and truth is, I’ve always clung onto books for comfort and relaxation. But when I had that reading challenge lugging on my back the entirety of last year, I felt like I needed to finish every single book I picked up even if I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. All for the sake of ticking a book off my list—at least I’m a step closer to my goal of 40, I’d say.
A little while ago, looking at my 2021 goal of 50 books, I couldn’t help but think about what reading truly means to me. Is it because I want to finish as many as I can so that I can have something to write a review on? Then, that would make the reading experience totally not about reading anymore. It simply becomes a means to an end—so that I could simply write about it. And for someone who reads solely for pleasure, that entirely takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it? Or… do I read books just for the sake of completing my reading goal? I thought about it earlier and realized yes, this might be the problem.
Another thing would be that I’m actually not enjoying my current read. One of them, at least. There I was, a few hours ago, sitting with Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin propped open on my lap, thinking what the heck am I even doing reading a book I’m not enjoying at all (great structure, great writing, but not my type of story). Oh, right, I had a Goodreads reading challenge to fulfill and putting this down would pull me back another step behind! Isn’t that just fun?
There are also several books I’ve been wanting to read for quite a while. Namely, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, The Idiot and The Second Sex—this one I’m currently reading, but decided to put on hold at the beginning of the year because I had 50 other books to read and de Beauvoir would take me too long to finish. And that’s the point. The common dominator these books have: they’re all extremely lengthy and they’re classics. I’ve avoided them for so long because… you know, there’s the goal. 50 books won’t just automatically tally itself out unless I choose to read books that are either quicker to read a.k.a. the shorter ones or pick those that fall under the category of genre fiction, which I don’t really read much of anyway.
Given that my reading preference leans towards literary fiction and classic literature, I can’t possibly expect to finish each one as quick as I really want to, or in the same amount of time as one would take when reading genre fiction. Not that it’s “easier” to read, I don’t think that’s the case. But it isn’t as demanding when it comes to the overall prose and theme as with literary fiction and the classics. Therefore, making it statistically quicker to finish reading.
Until recently, I noticed that I’ve been trying to pick shorter books just so I’d achieve my reading goal quicker, obviously disregarding the longer books I’ve had on my list for so long. How should I know if these books are any good if I don’t actually pick them up? What if I’m holding myself back from reading my next favorite book only because I’m too caught up in completing my goal of 50 books as quick as I can? I just can’t do that anymore.
Although I started the year with the full intention of participating in the Goodreads challenge, I realize maybe this time around, I’d like to slow down and read purely at my leisure. That means only picking out the books I genuinely want to read no matter the length and getting to put down books I’m not enjoying anymore, which I both probably wouldn’t be able to guiltlessly do if I were trying to reach a certain number of books. I’m not completely shutting out the idea of a reading challenge, perhaps one day I might decide to participate again (knowing how indecisive I sometimes get especially when it comes to reading)—but I know that at this very moment, quitting my Goodreads reading challenge could easily be compared to a breath of fresh air. I’m certainly looking forward to the books I’ll be reading in 2021.