A few years ago, when I was busy with college and work and quite frankly keeping my mental health together, I realised that I’d significantly decreased the amount I was reading for pleasure. Trust me, I was busting my way through textbooks and case studies and study guides and all the rest of the academic reading that was coming my way, but I’d stopped finding time to read for me.
I was one of those children who constantly had a book in their hands. And in their face. I used to walk along corridors reading and dodging people like some kind of literary ninja. My mother has a picture of me somewhere as a 6 year old, on the tube, sandwiched between 6 other people in rush hour, and you bet I have a book 10cm from my face. Realising that passion had gone away really upset me.
So I made an effort to get back into reading. I joined Goodreads, I started collating lists of books I wanted to read and I set to it. And Goodreads has a great ‘set yourself a challenge’ feature, so I decided to read 13 books in 2013. I did it. Ok, great, let’s up the ante a little, 14 books in 2014. I smashed it. 15 in 2015. Nearly doubled it. 16 books in 2016. Did it, by the skin of my teeth. 17 books in 2017?
Some of you might be thinking that’s only 1 and a half books a month, come on Locket, you do that. Some of you might be thinking I can’t believe you get through double digits of books in a year. And there’s where we begin.
Reason #1: It became about the numbers
I have seen people on Goodreads chastising themselves for only reading 200 books a year. I can only assume these people are bionic professional reading machines, and yet everytime I saw their updates and then looked over to my sidebar I thought, yeesh, maybe I need to step up my game.
Then I’d feel bad about myself for not pushing hard enough and so I’d force myself to read an extra amount that day and it became a chore. I realised I was slogging my way through reading for the point of being to update my counter a little more and I wasn’t enjoying it.
But it’s not about what anyone else is reading – the whole point is that it’s a personal challenge. So what if someone else reads a book everyday? There are people who haven’t read a book in a decade. It’s not about them. If their situation isn’t real to me, then why was I racing to keep up with them?
Reason #2: I spent more time creating a strategy of reading than actually enjoying it.
I always started the year with the best intention, picking up something i’d been meaning to read for ages but never got around to. 6 months in and I was side-eyeing that progress bar like a countdown clock.
I’ve honestly had strategy meetings in my head like some kind of military leader planning an attack. “If I read three short stories now, I can get started on that 700 pager and finish sometime around November, but if I don’t I can sneak in that book of poetry and hopefully slip in clear sometime around Christmas”.
I’d hesitate to start a book I really wanted to read because what if it takes longer to read than I think and I don’t meet my target? That self imposed quota turned into a looming cloud. So I sacrificed longer books I wanted to read in order to slip in shorter, quicker books that would help me reach my target. And I hated a lot of them.
Reason #3: I read what I was supposed to, not what I enjoyed.
If it wasn’t on the database, I wouldn’t read it. Because what’s the point in reading it if I can’t add it to my challenge tally? So I put down books I might have loved for the sake of keeping it all going.
“Wow this has a lot of reviews/high ratings maybe I should read it”. Listen, there are some books, classics are especially prone to this, that I adore. But I know i’m not alone in thinking lauded works are sometimes a bit…hit and miss. Some of them have truly earned their title as a fantastic piece of writing but others are just classics because “they are, you know, they’re just like one of those books you have to read“.
The amount of terrible books I’ve read and made myself finish because everyone else thought they were great could fill their own library. “All the books Locket hates”. And it’d do good traffic too because apparently I don’t have the accepted taste in literature.
I love a post I saw a few weeks ago to the tune of “To the woman openly reading a trashy romance novel in full view of the packed train car and obviously enjoying it greatly, well done. You made my day”. Read what you want. Read dusty works everyone thinks are too dry. Read 4 page short stories that every one thinks there’s no point in bothering with. Read comics. Read kids books if you want, they always have amazing pictures. But do it because you want to.
Reason #4: My victories made me a defeatist.
I was so proud to finish my first reading challenge. And then when I read more than I meant to the next year I was so happy. But then the next year it became about not just beating the challenge I’d set myself that year, but beating last years. And so while I said I was reading 15 books for 2015, I would have been disappointed in myself if I’d only read as many as I meant to.
And so it became a game of beating my tally and keeping up the race. I became scared to fail a challenge so badly. I became scared to have a year missing in the line of ‘challenge completed’ badges that they put on your page.
And I don’t know why exactly. Nothing would have changed if I hadn’t beat my target. Nothing would have changed if I hadn’t done a challenge that year. But somehow it felt like letting myself down. This ridiculous, arbitrary achievement that no one but me was paying attention to became so important to me.
So what am I doing this year?
I’m challenging myself to read better, not more, in 2017.
It’s not about giving up, it’s about going back to what started it all. I’m going to keep track of my achievements sure, but it’s going to be about what I did rather than what I should be doing.
I’m not going to set myself a number goal at all, i’m going to read what I read, and do my best to be proud of that. I’m going to read books I want to, for the fun of it, no matter how long or short.
My reading habits have changed. For one, I like reading poetry now in a way that I never did before. I like reading short stories and unpublished works. I like reading fanfiction regardless of people telling me ‘it’s not real literature’. I read a ton more magazines now that I have a digital subscription. I read long form articles like nobodies business.None of these would have counted towards my total in previous years. They wouldn’t have mattered in that way.
So I might read less. But i’m also going to read better, and i’m really excited to get started.
-What are your reading goals for 2017? Leave a comment and let me know!-