Reading challenges, and setting myself a goal of This many hardbacks will be read this year is something I always do. I did it for 2020 and failed to get anywhere close. 2021, with other goals in mind, I lowered the threshold.
Back in January, I wrote an article about what I was aiming for, both in terms of quantity, and specific titles that I had on my To Be Read pile, with an update halfway through the year to see how I was getting along. This, with less than a month left until the end of the year, is a report on how I did overall.
And the answer? Not as well as I had hoped, but I am still proud of how far I managed to go.
Last year, the goal was 120 books – of which I read 33. This year, the goal was 50. Of which, at the time of submitting this article, I have read 26. Fewer than last year, but there are longer titles in this array, and overall, it’s a greater percentage of my goal completed.
The topics are likewise more varied. Fewer of these titles are re-reads, with my initial goal of reacquainting myself with the Percy Jackson novels vanishing into the Mist, and I haven’t even considered my annual re-read of The Lord of the Rings.
A more significant list of classics was also considered back in January – of which I think I read two, possibly three. All of those being prior to the six-month check-in. I never finished The Prince, nor The Social Contract. I am two chapters into Tess of the D’urbervilles, which unfortunately suffers from a reading block; whenever I open the flyleaf I want to do literally anything other than race to the climax at Stonehenge.
Classics might have been a disappointment this year, but I had success in another genre that I had not envisioned when I set the challenge. Mythology-inspired books, from The Song of Achilles to Ariadne and Antigone Rising were all reads I finished in a weekend or sooner! The genre is over a quarter of the books finished this year, with many notes being taken along the way. The mood whiplash of TSOA being finished directly before delving into Brises’ account in the Silence of the Girls was an experience that left me shell-shocked.
It also presented the idea that, maybe one day, I would like to write my novel in the genre, which meant reading more of it to understand how I could fit in and what works well etc. More novels centred around Ancient Greek Goddesses and women are undoubtedly going to head my way in 2022, and maybe even the first draft of my own to be finished in NaNoWriMo in November.
Fewer academic and factual titles were on the list too, which was surprising. The Five and Death in Ten Minutes were two historical biographies that I finished with astounding speed, but Invisible Women still has its bookmark in the opening chapter. It’s not that I don’t find it interesting – I do, and I have subsequently recommended it to numerous people – but the mental block is there. It is weighty and needs to be considered, not just rushed through.
One major decision this year was to close my Goodreads account. I’ve had one since 2014, although it was only in the past 3 years that I had really taken an interest in using it to track my reading habits, and spend hours searching for recommendations on what to read next. It was fun for a time, but putting my mind to wanting to move forward, I found the competition against my ‘friends’ on the site to be exhausting.
I would never read the same amount as the one training to become a teacher, or the Master’s student just graduating Oxford, or the YouTuber. Each of these people have one thing on their mind, whilst I have my degree and my reading and sewing and everything else in terms of hobbies eating into valuable reading time.
Later in the year I tried TheStoryGraph but didn’t find that useful either. For me, the site was far more useful than Goodreads, but neither were what I was looking for.
Something this year did help me with, in terms of reading, is disconnecting.
I have spent so long trying to keep on-trend, and picking up new titles to read as soon as they were published in any genre that I made myself miserable. Reading is a hobby, and it is meant to be an enjoyable one.
Recommendations came from chats with people in my local indie bookshop or chats with strangers online. No algorithms, just word of mouth and the promise of an enjoyable time. My recommendation of Station Eleven (which I am reading at the moment) was down to Hannah Witton, and Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig was handed to me in a charity shop by one of my housemates, and the joy of having at least five separate friends pick up Silence of the Girls because of my own recommendation – and seeing it emotionally destroy them as it did me – made it worthwhile.
Community, not a competition. Who was I competing against?
Taking a more offline approach has been invigorating, buying my books in person as I have done since returning to University this academic year was something I had sorely missed in lockdown. And next year, I’m intending to use a physical reading log rather than an online spreadsheet.
For the final few weeks, I would like to read 4 more books, to get my final figure up to a round 30. Station Eleven will be one of them, although I don’t want to put a concrete plan in place for the remaining 3. I’ll let my interest take its course. I might get gifted Kith & Kin for Christmas and spend boxing day back in Tal’Dorei or maybe Mary Beard’s SPQR will be the pageturner to get me through New Year’s Eve.
I’ll definitely be doing a reading challenge next year, but it will hold less weight; it has become more of a curiosity for me, to keep an eye on between assignments and whatever plans get thrown about in 2022.
Image courtesy of Susan Q Yin