Why I Don’t Believe in Reading Targets

I’ve always used Goodreads in an introspective way. When I’m short of a bookmark, I log my page number on my ‘Currently Reading’ list. I like scrolling through the list of the books I read and reminiscing on what I thought about them at the time. As I’ve started following more people that I know, I love looking at what other people are reading and pinching from their lists whatever appeals to me. However, the New Year is here, and so are the reading targets. Read 50 books this year! Read 100 books this year! Read 15 Russian novels before giving up on literacy and life!

Believe me, I’ve tried with reading targets. As an English student, nothing excites me more than the idea of being a worldly, well-read intellectual. To be exposed to new stories, characters, ideas, and ways of storytelling endlessly intrigues me. Therefore, surely, I should also endeavour to read as many books as possible, right?

Well, the pursuit of reading targets was never particularly fruitful for me. Naively ambitious, I pledged to read 50 books in 2020, not too many, but not hopeless either. Turns out 16 books in a year was pretty good for me, a chronically slow reader. Why did I set myself up for this failure that just didn’t need to happen? Staring disappointedly at my phone screen, Goodreads said I wasn’t good enough, and now that I’ve followed a couple more people, everyone else seemed able to reach their targets, so why couldn’t I?

Don’t get me wrong; if reading targets are your thing, you go for it! Reading targets are just like any new year’s resolution: they can be a source of motivation and a means to better your life, but they must be done with caution. I know many people whose eyes glow with satisfaction as they read more books than they ever hoped they could, but it just doesn’t work for me. Why?

I am very easily distracted and frustrated. I get restless when I spend too long in the same book and I want to move on to different stories regularly. This is why I will eternally recommend short stories. When I read Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen, I felt like simply cataloguing the one book didn’t capture my seven different experiences of the collection.

The same goes for longer books; the longest books I read in 2020 were Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, and the 5-star rating system is a hard one to navigate when there’s so much to sift through and nuances that cannot be expressed through 3 yellow stars.

However, there are two major problems that I see with reading targets. Firstly, reading more books isn’t necessarily what makes you well-read. As a student, I know very well the feeling of skimming through an 80-page article for a seminar the next morning without being able to recall a single argument that was outlined. Yes, I read it. No, I understood absolutely nothing about it. The annual race to the top of the bookshelf doesn’t equate to an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, good reading beats lots of reading every time.

Secondly, reading targets is like one glimpse into our ever-growingly toxic backdrop of hyper-productivity and burnout. The constant need to be ‘doing’ something, and the abandonment of genuine rest and relaxation in the name of side hustles and personal projects is leading us into an abyss of guilt and imposter syndrome. We will never feel like we’re doing enough when we set ourselves arbitrary targets and compare ourselves to the neighbour who went even higher. You do not have to constantly be reading to be a reader. Your love for literature does not need your constant devotion and renewal.

Again, no judgement if reading targets are your thing. ‘Booktube’ and ‘Booktok’ can be surprisingly brutal when it comes to what is expected of a reader and the way they should go about their hobby. But that is exactly what reading is, a hobby! It is a pastime for your enjoyment and yours alone. If setting a target is all part of the fun, then good luck and happy reading! But for those literary fidgeters like me who cannot seem to stick to one thing, don’t feel guilty. Don’t lament all the books you haven’t read this year. Just keep going the way you see fit; Goodreads doesn’t really mind!

Image courtesy of Siora Photography.

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