Bad challenge?

You may have seen some of my posts about my reading challenge – something I do every year. Normally it’s simply a number of books I would like to have read by the end of the year, or perhaps a list of top titles I’m keen to read over the following 12 months. This year I have set myself an A-Z Reading Challenge – 21 books plus 5 wildcards whose titles go across the letters of the alphabet (in case you’re wondering, the 5 letters I didn’t set books for were O, V, X, Y, and Z. I thought that instead of seeking out books that began with those letters, which I might never read, it would be better to save those slots for any new books that might appear throughout the year).

It never occurred to me that there was a negative side to a reading challenge. The author of this article from 2014 describes the reading challenge on goodreads.com specifically as “setting my teeth on edge.” Reading is supposed to be fun, not a challenge.

“I don’t think they have schoolchildren in mind when they suggest you should “raise your reading ambitions” and it certainly doesn’t look like a scheme designed to help adult learners “make it to the final chapter”. All this talk of pledging, of targets, of tracking your progress, is just another step in the marketisation of the reading experience, another stage in the commodification of literary culture.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read a less fun paragraph. While I don’t disagree that its quality and not quantity that counts when it comes to reading, it’s the enjoyment that matters most of all. Perhaps it’s simply the word challenge that’s the problem – it implies that if you don’t read the number of books you have set, it means you have failed. If you read one book this year or 100, it’s never a failure. Perhaps reading “goals” would be a better description. What I do consider important, though, is keeping a list of all the books I have read. Goodreads reminds me I have read 434 books in total (the ones I can remember the name of at least. I started reading long before Goodreads was invented), but it’s not the number that’s important to me. It’s the knowing that I can go back and search for a specific title any time I like.

To me a reading challenge really is just a bit of fun. Will I care if I don’t read all 26 books this year? Will I be bothered if I read 26 books that aren’t on my A-Z list? No and no.

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