One month down, eleven months to go. How many books have you read?
I’ve been thinking a lot about reading resolutions lately. Setting an annual reading goal is nothing new, yet somehow everyone seems fanatical about it this year. Likely because reading for pleasure is in-vogue again and everyone is racing to be the first of their friends to read the new bestseller. Much like charcuterie boards and craft cocktails, your latest read is now very Insta-worthy: #currentlyreading, #bookstagram, #booksbooksbooks. The go-to topic of conversation is “What are you reading?” Authors are nouveau celebrities, and books are being turned into TV series and movies as soon as they’re published. It’s great! We should be reading more! But has reading become the new competition sport among friends?
I’ve officially knocked out four books in January 2020. Depending on who you’re friends with, this is either a lot or a little. (I’m in the “a little” bucket.) For me personally though, four books is a lot! Now granted, one book I began in the end of December, one I listened to on audio, and the other two I read over one very lazy weekend. There was also a span of about two weeks where I didn’t partake in any book reading. I feel slightly guilty about not reading more, knowing that I wasted two weeks of prime reading time. I mean – I was reading, just not a book. I read things like the news (both NYT and WSJ thank you very much), magazine articles, and blog posts. Except none of those “count” towards my annual reading goal, and all were consumed via the endless scroll on my iPhone. Now everyone else has read slightly more books than me.
In 2019, I made my public Goodreads Reading Challenge goal 15 books. I also made it my personal New Year’s resolution to read for at least 20 minutes a day, consistently. I wanted to re-establish a reading habit. (Mostly I wanted to stop wasting time scrolling Instagram and Facebook. Not surprisingly the places where I got my resolution idea!) It was slow going. I started several books, but only managed to fully finish five by the beginning of June. Frustrated, I made a bigger effort. I began reading books together with to my boyfriend, I got serious about hosting my book club, I started crawling into bed earlier to read for 45 minutes before my absolute bedtime, and I listened to audiobooks during my commute. By the second half of 2019, I was on a reading roll.
Still, many of my friends read more than me in 2019. Some even adjusted their goals higher once they hit them mid-year. There were spans when I didn’t pick up a book and didn’t feel like listening to an audiobook, and looking back I feel bad about not trying harder. There are also lots of books I didn’t read in 2019 that I wanted to (the new releases or Goodreads’ most popular that all my friends were talking about). I feel like the ones I did end up reading weren’t even that “cool” – aka not many of my friends read them. Still, I surpassed my goal of 15 books by reading 26 books. That’s an average of about two books a month! Inspired, I upped my 2020 Reading Challenge goal to 20 books. Not to be too overzealous, but if I stick with my end of 2019 pace I can definitely hit my goal of 20 books and possibly more!
And possibly more… That’s the thought that trips me up and makes me question myself. Reading is not a competition. There’s no magic number of books you need to read to achieve greatness. You don’t have to like that bestseller everyone else is giving rave reviews about. No one expects you to read every single book club pick and yes, you can still show up for socializing! You are also allowed to enjoy that one book that everyone else has decided is so-bad-I-simply-don’t-understand-how-it-was-published #offensive. You can take more than one, two, or three weeks to finish a book. You don’t have to finish every book you start. You don’t even have to set a 2020 Reading Challenge goal at all.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype about setting your reading resolution and focus on just the number. I’m guilty. Just two weeks ago I made my book club go around and tell everyone their 2020 book goal. Earlier this week I caught myself making mental calculations about my to-read pile. I put a whole bunch of the new bestsellers on hold, and now I’m stressing about due dates. Despite actively avoiding reading any articles with headlines like, “How I’m Actually Setting a Reading Resolution and Achieving it in 2020” or “How to Make a Yearly Reading Plan,” I still am inadvertently focused on that number goal, when I should really just focus on reading for reading’s sake. Go ahead, read more books than me.