5 Reasons Not to Do the Goodreads Reading Challenge

This year was a very strange reading year for me. I read more than I ever have before—I’ll finish out the year with 60ish books marked as “read.” My professional world started to center on books, too—writing for Book Riot, Kirkus Reviews, NoveList, Psych Central, etc…my writing career was (is) headed towards “books” as my niche specialty. I also bought a ton of books, invested in bookshelves (which I promptly filled), and even got some awesome review copies.

But something felt off. Starting in August I felt this kind of choking anxiety as I realized I was sick of books. I didn’t want to think about books at all, didn’t want to describe books, write about them, write descriptions of them, or even look at them or read them. Yeah, I was having an off year of reading. And now, as I wrote on Book Riot, I’m trying to bounce back.

One of the ways I will try to “bounce back” is by not doing a Goodreads Reading Challenge like I’ve done in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. My colleague at Book Riot, Jess Pryde, wrote a really insightful article reflecting on her time this year when she did not set a reading challenge on Goodreads. And I’m totally sold. So I’m not doing it. Shocking, I know.

Are you also considering not doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge? Are you feeling pressure, from others or yourself? Here are my 5 best reasons for not doing the Goodreads reading challenge. See if you identify with any of them.

  • Reading longer books—and savoring them

There are so many long books released in 2015 (A Little Life, City on Fire, Purity) and to be released in 2016 (A Doubter’s AlmanacThe Queen of the NightThe Girl from Everywhere, etc…) that one could savor over a week or more rather than fly through because, god forbid you’ve gotten behind and have to read two short books to make up for it or find a graphic novel that you can finish in an hour…

Do you ever feel crushed by the length of the modern book?
Do you ever feel crushed by the length of the modern book?

I have read so many books over the last two years and remember so little about them because it’s like an assembly line sweatshop just pushing to reach the magic Goodreads number that I have come to let it define me. I think the ultimate example is this summer I read a novel quickly while I was feeling the pressure to stay “on track,” gave it a two star rating and…two weeks later couldn’t tell you why.

I have so many long books on my pre-order list—not to mention the 3.5 A Song of Ice and Fire books I have yet to finish. But instead I’m going to take time to savor the longer books, really get lost in them. There’s something so magical about having a long novel to spread thickly over a few weeks. I find that it helps me anchor my life around that reading experience. And I truly want to remember how reading can shape my life.

  • Dedicating time to keeping a thoughtful reading diary

Last year I had a goal to read a certain number of books. I think it started out at 75 for 2015. My other major goal was to write a review of everything that I read. At the beginning it was easy—but then again I was “behind,” and as my reading life became more chaotic I just stopped reviewing, stopped even leaving any kind of notes, and that’s how I ended up reading that novel over the summer that I gave two stars to and now have no idea why.

A good reading diary is important when your life is based around reading
A good reading diary is important when your life is based around reading

It’s important for me to keep a record of everything I will read. Not only professionally but also personally. Books are my life. I work exclusively from home. I don’t talk to people too much each day. I don’t a lot of variation in my day. Reading distinguishes the mundane everyday, making living and breathing and consuming stories a way to remember my life. I remember March 2014 because I was reading The Goldfinch and March 2015 because I was reading I’ll Meet You There.

That’s why in 2016 I’ll be keeping a detailed reading record both here on the blog, on Goodreads, and in my own individual records. It’s only possible for me to truly reflect and gather my thoughts on a book if I’m not feeling pressure to move onto the next one. I owe it to the book, and I owe it to myself.

  • Exploring other ways to read

I have pushed audiobooks aside for far too long because I keep thinking, well, if this is 13 hours long I could read that book probably in 8 hours and that’s a pretty quick read! But my colleagues on Book Riot are obsessed with audiobooks, and I have, like, 8 credits in Audible I need to use up. Lingering over an audiobook in the bath, while knitting, while working on an adult coloring book, while cooking, or even while I sit and unwind is one reason while I won’t be doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

To that end, there are other kinds of reading that I want to try out. I have subscriptions to a few magazines, and a few magazines that come weekly or bi-weekly, like the New Yorker, the Nation, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times Book Review. I also subscribe to Poets and Writers, the Atlantic, and a few more. But since for the sake of Goodreads, they “don’t count” towards the Goodreads Reading Challenge, I have neglected them until now. In 2016, I’ll use the words I would be reading and counting in a Goodreads challenge towards reading longform articles, essays, book reviews, editorials, and other ways to read.

Magazines count as reading, too
Magazines count as reading, too

Cookbooks are my last way I’ll be reading without reading. This year I cooked the hell out of two great cookbooks, Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food and the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. I must have “read” those recipes, some of them over and over again, so much, but I didn’t feel like I could legitimately say I “read” a cookbook. No longer. In 2016 cookbooks will count as reading for my own personal reading goals.

  • Re-engaging with the world

I feel so ignorant of most foreign and domestic affairs, crises, issues, and problems. It’s embarrassing. But I have spent most of the last two years completely submerged in fiction. I love fiction, but I do miss learning about the world I live in, the facts at hand, feeling like an engaged and informed member of the planet. By not focusing so much on an arbitrary number of books I’ve read, I’ll make more of an effort to stay up-to-date with the world, important now more than ever considering 2016 is an election year. Reading magazines and newspapers as mentioned above will definitely help, same with watching the news and listening to podcasts.

It's hard to be informed in current events if you are reading YA fantasy fiction
It’s hard to be informed in current events if you are reading YA fantasy fiction

Along the same line, stories take many shapes and forms, including visual storytelling. I’m pretty big on TV but have felt such guilt when I’ve watched it the past few years because it doesn’t feel like I’m “doing” something when I could/”should” be reading. I used to love movies, and I still do, but I don’t give them enough time. In 2016 I’m going to get more in touch with culture and rediscover the joy I have with soaking up compelling visual narratives.

  • Leaving time for productivity to focus on other projects (like writing books of my own!)

I don’t think I have ever once regretted reading or choosing a book over other things. But I do need to reclaim that time I spent reading books I felt compelled to read just to meet a challenge. For instance, I have novels I’ve abandoned writing, trips I haven’t taken, and socializing I have pushed aside for the sake of reading. 2016 is going to be big. I’m going to finish those novels. I’m going to finish these workbooks/ebooks/web courses I’m in the process of making to help other book bloggers and readers. I’m going to get into a walking routine and learn how to bake bread. But to do it I need to stop feeling guilty about reading and pressurizing myself. I will make that happen by not doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Closing the book
Closing the book

I love reading, but lately I haven’t loved reading. The Goodreads Reading Challenge pushed me to read more than ever—but at what cost? This year I couldn’t decide on a number, so I changed my challenge goal at least five or six times. I read a whole bunch of books just to see my percentage read go up. Why? To what end? I got burned out, and that was a crushing defeat for me personally and professionally. No longer. I’m not going to let some number dictate my life. I’m never going to not be head over heels in love with books. Not doing the challenge won’t change that. I am secure in my reading identity, and in 2016 I intend to live fully and read mindfully and with intention, whether I read one book a week or one book a month.

(Bonus: I did a follow up to this article in which I give you seven non-Goodreads Reading Challenge ways to challenge yourself to grow as a reader, from readathons to book buying bans. Check out the article “7 Bookish Alternatives to the Goodreads Reading Challenge” ). 

Will you be doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge? Why or why not? Leave a comment below. 

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  1. Anna W.

    I do my own Goodreads challenge each year, but it’s not based on different types of books; I solely post a number I’d like to reach. This year is the first year I’ve accomplished that goal, which ended up being just over forty books. I agree with all of the issues you’ve presented–such as reading a quick book just to qualify as a number–but I’ve also found that some of the books I read to put my number higher were also some that I really enjoyed. I read three books of poetry this year, and I haven’t ever done that in the past. Even though they were short, they were akin to distillations of a great theme in fiction. The non-fiction/memoir books I read were wonderfully insightful and hilarious, mostly, so I wouldn’t trade those either. I will likely set another number goal, but if I don’t make it I don’t feel too pressured. I agree with you in that we all need to make our goals for us, by us, and with our own growth in mind. Happy reading in 2016, Sarah. 🙂 Best wishes.

    • Sarah

      Hi Anna, thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with you that reading shorter books to reach a goal doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t lend themselves to as powerful a reading experience. This summer when I kept setting my goal higher I read a ton of graphic novels, many of which I loved and wouldn’t have read otherwise had I not pushed myself to reach my Goodreads goal. There are very few books I have read that I regret reading, and I think every book has a part in shaping one’s reading life and history. Thanks again for your insightful comment and best wishes for a great reading year ahead. 🙂

  2. Hi Sarah, I’ve just discovered your blog and I absolutely love it 🙂 I’m currently in school for Library Science so i’m really looking forward to reading more of what you write. I found this post incredibly enlightening. I have been doing the Goodreads challenge for the past 3 years and while I do plan on doing it this year your blog brought up a lot of concerns that a few of my other friends have had about reading challenges. You inspired me to write about it in the blog I’ve just started! I think your goals for this year are excellent ones. Sometimes you should definitely step away and just not worry about things like challenges. I hope you love reading twice as much this year!

    • Sarah

      Thank you so much, India! It’s great to meet a fellow Library Science student. I checked out your blog, and I enjoyed reading your insightful and fun posts. I bookmarked it for future reading. Your response to this reading challenge post was interesting and reassuring for readers who might feel daunted by the challenge. You made a lot of great points, and I especially liked the idea of reading fewer books to pursue other hobbies and interests. Thanks again for stopping by the blog. I hope you have a great year of reading in 2016! 🙂

  3. Ana

    Hello Sarah!

    I love your article. I actually agree with you about the goodreads challenge. After my father died I fell in this kind of “Reading Depression”, I stopped reading. I know it sounds weird, but the activity (hobbie) that I loved to do just stopped and I started to leave my books behind. I was obviously doing the 2015 goodreads challenge, and every time I logged into the webside I fell more depressed becuase I wasn’t doing the challenge, and like you I changed my reading goal like 4 or 5 times, but I was so sad and depressed that I actually left it behind.
    Now I am better, I am actually reading again (after a year trying to figure out how to do it again), but I decided not to the the goodreads 2016 challenge because I felt that I wasn’t reading, all I wanted was to read books as fast as I can & raise my reading fee. Now I am reading more than ever, but only for me, just for me.
    I love your blog, i will follow it!!!
    Greetings from Mexico.

    • Sarah

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ana! I lost my cat and my grandfather within months in 2014, and it really threw off my reading year, too. Loss can do that. Books can help heal, I think, but as you noted it helps not to have the reading challenge judging you for how far behind you are. You’re exactly right, reading should be only for you, just for you. You’re always welcome here! 🙂 -Sarah

  4. Dear Sarah,

    You write a lovely post. I have been doing Goodreads challenge since 2013. Except for 2013, I keep adjusting my reading challenge goal. I mean if I cannot complete it, I will adjust it to become less. If I can surpassed it, I will adjust it to more. So, I complete it with the exact same goal. Maybe I am strange one, but I don’t feel restricted by reading challenge goal. For me it was just statistic that show how many books that I read. And seeing someone (in this case program) congratulate me for completing my goal is just bonus. I never take it seriously that I have to complete my goal no matter what without the ability to adjust it based on my constant changing life. Just sharing my2 cents though 🙂

    • Sarah

      Thank you so much for your comment, Angela! Adjusting your goal throughout the year definitely helps. I also like your idea to keep it all in perspective and not stress too much. 🙂

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Welcome to Broke By Books, a blog by Sarah S. Davis, where the guiding mission is to spread a contagious love for reading through helpful, thought provoking, and enjoyable writing about books. Please join me in growing an inspired, engaged, and fearless reading life.

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