Monday, December 22, 2014

The Joy and Agony of Reading Challenges, or, Why I Keep Doing Reading Challenges Even Though They Drive Me Crazy

Reading challenges always seem like a good idea in January.  So good that in 2014 I signed up for four: (1) the Goodreads reading challenge, (2) a genre challenge that involved reading 36 books from 36 different genres, (3) a title challenge where the goal was to read books that included a reference to time, royalty, weather, name or forename or number written in letters in the title, and (4) a TBR challenge.

With only five categories, the title challenge was short and sweet and the TBR challenge was about reading books I already own so any book counted so long as it was something I owned prior to January 1st.  The Goodreads reading challenge turned out to be less challenging than expected.  In fact I upped my goal twice, settling on 90 books and still surpassed that.  This was in part because I read several graphic novels which being more pictures than word, were easy to get through quickly.  The genre challenge is what nearly drove me to the edge.  

Like the Goodreads reading challenge, the genre challenge had statistics to tell me when I was ahead or behind on my goal. Around October when I still had several genres to go, I started doubting whether I would finish.  I started dreaming about December 31 when all challenges would come to an end.  For a moment I contemplated going into 2015 with no challenges at all.  Two things made me reconsider.  First, I discovered new challenges and as always found several that sounded too fun to pass up.  Second and more importantly, for the first time I attempted to analyze what and who I read over the past year

I have always thought of myself as an eclectic reader.  When anyone asked what type of books I liked my go-to response was everything except horror.  (I am not a fan of gore.)  True enough, I read mysteries, romances, science fiction and fantasy, as well as general and literary fiction.  I read classics and contemporary, and some non-fiction.  I thought my reading was pretty broad.  Then in 2013 I came across my first genre challenge and it turned out my reading wasn’t as broad as I thought.  Thanks to the genre challenges I discovered genres I had heard of but had never read before (steampunk), had barely read before (graphic novels and poetry), and hadn’t even known existed (cyberpunk).  I read my first western and am slowly working my way through Shakespeare.  This isn’t to say every genre was a joy to read.  Horror is still a mixed bag for me and true crime is a struggle (love murder mysteries but less so when the murder is real).  Through participating in the genre challenges (I participated for a second time in 2014), my reading became much more broader than it had been before.   

After broadening my reading in terms of genre, the next step is to broaden my reading in terms of nationality and ethnicity.  In analyzing what I read I found that the overwhelming majority of books I read in 2014 were written by Americans with the occasional Brit or Canadian thrown in.  A few were by African-American and Latino or Hispanic American authors, but not by authors from an African, Central American or South American nation.  I did not read any books by Asian or Asian-American authors this year.  For this reason I created a new challenge for myself that I’m calling Reading the World in 2015.  The goal is to read one author from a nation in each of the following regions: Asia, Africa, Central or South America, North America (not including the United States), Europe (not including the United Kingdom), and Oceania, plus books by Asian-American, African-American, and Latino and/or Hispanic-American authors.  Of course, I could just tell myself to read more diverse books but that seems like making a vague New Year’s resolution.  While by no means a guarantee, I find that specificity tends to work better when it comes to getting things done.  Reading challenges are specific.

At times the challenges can be frustrating.  Truthfully, sometimes challenges make me feel like I have to read a particular book when I would rather read something else.  At some point in 2015 I will inevitably wonder why I signed up for any challenges.  I will also (hopefully) discover something that is interesting and new.  This is why I keep taking on reading challenges.  Strange as it may sound, I am grateful for being forced to read something that normally wouldn’t be on the top of my TBR pile.  Reading challenges are part goal and part aspiration.  I might not reach my goal but I keep trying to get there.  As for those Goodreads statistics that tell me how good or how bad I’m doing, when I see them I think, “Yea me, I’ve totally got this,” or “I fell off the wagon but it’s not too late to get back on,” or “forget it, time to rethink this.”  I use the statistics to motivate me and keep me on track.  More importantly, the challenges help me be the eclectic reader I’ve always claimed to be. They keep me honest.


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