Something I’ve noticed recently on Instagram or Goodreads are “reading challenges;” that is, a goal set to read 30 books this year, or 50, or 80, or whatever number you want to hold yourself to. Bookstagrammers are keeping track of how many they’re read so far at this point in their bios, and thankfully since it’s only March, everyone still has plenty of time to finish as many books as needed to finish their 2020 challenge. Phew!
At first glance, I can see why this might be a great idea. In the case that you are not a frequent reader, perhaps this is a great way to hold yourself to a consistent reading schedule. But, this is only if you respond well to that kind of challenge — many readers, including friends of mine, struggle with “deadlines” surrounding reading, for it reminds them of stringent and stressful deadlines from school, summer reading, etc.
So if you do think that this is a good choice for you to read more — go for it!! But if not, don’t fret. This is a kind of challenge that I prefer not holding myself to either.
Here are a few issues I do take with it. I will preface this with that I am a pretty frequent reader, keeping track of all the books I read and every year I am pleasantly surprised at the quantity I have ended up finishing, just from a consistent reading habit. But, I’m not holding myself to some arbitrary number that I’m “challenging” myself to meet by the end of the year. That, to me, is just silly.
First: I think it focuses too much on the quantity read rather than the enjoyment of reading and the quality of what you read. Some books are quick reads; you can whip through them in a day or two, they’re fun little fiction stories that feed the soul or are fun moments of joy in your day. I’ve certainly done that before, and have whipped through a book in a day recently.
Other books require a little more rumination, in my opinion, to even count having “read” them in the first place — these books are anything from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens to Jane Austen’s Emma. These kinds of books aren’t your quick reads, and if you do rush through them, you probably missed some important information or motif that is integral to understanding and contemplating the story. There is simply no point to reading them if you skim over the writer’s work just for the sake of “finishing” it and claiming that you read it.
Second: everyone reads at entirely different paces — and that’s okay. This goes back to my point about readers worrying about “deadlines” when reading; not only is it a reminder of, for many, stressful subjects at school.I know slow reading can be a point of insecurity or doubt for some readers as well, and “reading challenges,” in my opinion, only exacerbate those insecurities. The fear of not being able to keep up, or to fall short of one’s goal simply because you happen to be a slower reader than others will likely prevent these readers from participating in reading at all. Challenges are just another point of contention to why, perhaps, slow readers don’t enjoy reading at all.
[And with that, I would like to note that the speed of which one reads does not equate to the speed of comprehension — that is, if you happen to be a speedy reader, that only means you’re getting through the words on the page at a quicker rate, not that you’re understanding the material any faster than others. Fast readers are not inherently smarter readers. In fact, I typically like to slow down my reading pace when reading important or interesting information. I find slow reading an excellent way to savor every word, every phrase, taking the time to fully understand and enjoy the words on the page. So if you happen to be a slow reader — keep reading slow!!!! You’re probably understanding the information better than the rest of us. It’s literally the entire premise of the “tortoise and the hare.” Channel your inner tortoise.]
Third: it takes the intrinsic value of reading away from the book itself. Books become these material items, an object to be conquered, when the focus shifts to the quantity read. What matters is not the “book” itself, but what’s inside — the story, the information, the way it’s weaved together. That’s what we should be focusing on. Not the volume of what we read, but the substance.
So in short: it’s a wonderful thing to read as many books as you can get your hands on — but at your own pace. Truly appreciate the story in front of you, take your time to understand, and I can guarantee you you’ll feel much more informed and fulfilled than had you whipped through a bunch of books for a “reading challenge.”