In the last two months of 2019 I came up with some fun hashtags (#nomennovember & #dickindecember), where I essentially challenged myself to read no men, then no women. Whilst it was lots of fun and gave me something to talk about, today I want to reflect on these little challenges, and well, reading challenges in general.
By definition, a challenge is a call to prove or justify something. I think all bookstagrammers know that some self-imposed reading challenges can be a bit harmful to the positive nature of reading. By this, I mean that it can sometimes lead to unhealthy competition. This isn’t just in the realm of reading though, so don’t get me wrong, if you host/participate in reading challenges, I am not calling you out. Stay tuned, I will explain.
As we ticked over into 2020, I found a lot of people posting their Goodreads 2020 reading challenge numbers, but as I sat quietly as I don’t have Goodreads (that’s an entirely different post), I noticed an instagrammer who seriously took the piss out of this.
@jonathangolding_books posted a story that showed his Goodreads 2020 challenge of 2 books for 2020. About a week later, another story post where he congratulated himself for completing his goal. I honestly thought this was hilarious, because my nature of reading, similarly, is not competitive at all. When I asked Jonathan about his 2020 reading goal he had this to say:
“I basically did it because everyone puts so much pressure on reading that they end up not reading quality and the things that they really want to read. I lost sight of that a bit myself and was more concerned with how much I could read than actually taking in and enjoying what I was reading at the time. It was always about what was next or what else I wanted to read, not about the book I had in my hands at the moments, so two books made it easy to say ok, no more goals I can be free of the pressure to out read myself from last year”
With that, I feel strongly synonymous. Sometimes I fight with myself that I should be reading more. I feel that I need to beat my number of completed books from the year before but I quickly change my thinking because I personally think that kind of pressure on myself is unhealthy. For me, reading is FUN; reading is relaxing and not something I should be monitoring as a basis for my worth as a reader. If I were to read 60 books in one year, but the year before I read 70 that doesn’t make me a BAD reader. So this is where my “qualms” with reading challenges come in.
For both #nomennovember and #dicksindecember, I was purposeful in setting a challenge easily adhered to, and non-constricting. Numbers were not relevant, and participation could be random or in spurts. Mostly though, I created the challenges for myself, as something different and fun. I decided on my TBR at the start of the month and went from there. For the most part this worked well, until it got to the point in the month where I had six days to go and I simply couldn’t just not read for those six days. In November, I continued the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo, easy choice; I wish I could say the same for the end of December. After I finished The Hearts Invisible Furies I was catastrophically book hungover, I’m talking didn’t want to read anything hungover. Actually, that’s a lie, I did want to read certain things, but I found my picks were more flouncy and lighthearted stories written that were written by women. So this is where my pickle lies, not so much with the actual challenge, but with my undying commitment to the challenge. I just COULD NOT pick up a book written by a woman unless I knew it would be substantial enough to finish after December 31st. How freaking DRAMATIC am I? I ended up picking up Franny & Zooey by J.D Salinger which I read in two larger sittings with a period of no interest in reading between them.
It got to December 30th, and I decided to pick up Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I knew I wouldn’t finish it until the new year so it was a justified decision beyond the parameters of my challenge.
Picking my January TBR comes around and I am OVERCOME with a sense of freedom. I can read anything I want, by man, woman, non-binary WHOEVER, it didn’t matter to me. Funnily though, my TBR was a lineup of women, but the point IS, I have the freedom to pick up or decide to read something different if I want to.
Ultimately, in reflection, I think reading challenges are great. But, I think we need to keep our relationships to reading challenges positive, they are fun and encouraging ways to spice up our reading, not a competition and not something that determines our worth as a “good reader.”
As for my 2020 reading goal, perhaps freedom?
To finish all the books I have on my physical shelves? (I’m sure we all share this goal)
To be unashamed of my choices and not experience feelings of reader guilt? (Continuation from 2019) I truly can’t say. But in 2020 I am excited to keep sharing what we all love or don’t love. Because the best part of reading a great book (whether you love or hate it), is being able to share those feelings with readers alike.