Why I’m not doing the 2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge

Yeah, you read that right. I know – it’s a total shocker. Some might call it a tragedy. I’ve been doing the Goodreads challenge since 2012, and every year I’ve somehow managed to achieve whatever goals I set. On top of that, 2015 was my best year for reading ever: I finished over 60 books, achieving my goal of 55 by the end of November. And this was during my last year of high school – a time wherein I should arguably have been reading far less and dedicating all my free time to studying. So why would I decide to abandon the challenge if it really has helped me to improve my reading, and if I’m achieving my goals so easily?

Well, that’s the thing. It hasn’t, and I’m not.

Each year, I set myself a new goal that’s five books higher than the last. I’m naturally a fairly fast reader (scratch that, I practically devour books if I can find the time to read them) but the challenges I set push my limits. There’s never enough time to complete them, especially with the demands and commitments of school and life in general. As the year progresses, the pressure mounts: What if I don’t reach my goal? Should I have set a lower target? Should I alter it before I get disappointed? How embarrassing…

In 2014 I decided on a challenge of 50 books. By December, I’d only read 35. That last month was the darkest period in my reading history. I shut out my family and friends during a season when I should have been focusing on enjoying their company. I would race through a book every day, feeling sick to my stomach if it took me longer than two days to read 600 pages. There were times when I would sit with my family and read furiously, just because they complained that they were missing me. I avoided books I was desperate to read because they were too long, and flicked through lower-grade books because I knew I could get through them at twice the speed. My anti-social tendencies reached an all time low, and my anxiety levels were through the roof.

I reached my goal, but at what cost? If you had to ask me now which books I read, or what they were about, I wouldn’t be able to answer. Usually, plots and characters stay in my mind as clearly as my own experiences do, but when I force myself to rush through a book, they fade away as soon as I close the cover. The realization of how little I’d taken in hit me hard. It felt like I’d sprinted through an adventure, not caring about the wondrous views on the way, my attention solely on the destination.

And you know what? I hated reading when I pushed myself. I was miserable. Even last year, reaching my goal way before the end of the year, I felt somewhat unfulfilled. It was only once I’d surpassed 55 books that I felt like I could enjoy reading again.

I don’t want to read just for the sake of reaching a goal any more – I want to read because I love it. I love becoming so immersed in a storyline that I forget about real life. I love being drawn into worlds beyond the one I’m stuck in. I love getting to know characters as well as I know my own friends, if not better. I love the excitement of starting a new book, and I love letting the author decide on the pace instead of constantly skimming and rushing my way through.

For me, reading isn’t about the number of books I catalog per month. Reading is an escape. And when I have a goal looming over my head, I tend to forget that.

So this year, I’m freewheeling through books. I’m not setting a challenge, but I will keep recording my books on Goodreads. And I will still do my best to review all the books I read. The point is, I’m taking the pressure off so that I can fall in love with reading again. There will be no more worrying about how many pages I have left, or how much I’ve already read. There will be no more hesitation to reread old favourites out of fear that I’m “wasting time”. There will be no more stress when it comes to reading. Full stop.

I’m also giving myself time to do other things I love and not feel guilty because I’m three books behind (that little message always freaked me out, anyway. Talk about pressure to catch up). Even if I only read Johnlock fanfiction for a month. Even if I only read once a week. I want to be able to do whatever – catch up on Netflix, or dedicate more time to blogging, or reread Twilight just because I can – without having to worry about the fact that I’m running out of time.

If my previous years have been a hike to reach the flag at the top of the mountain, this year is more like dancing in the moonlit forests and running through meadows and swimming in sparkling oceans. Weird analogy, but basically I’m going to indulge in the magic of reading, not just words and pages.

I applaud all the people who are partaking in the challenge this year. You guys are awesome, whether your goals are two books or two hundred. I’m just one of those people who get a little too obsessive, so I think it’s best that I take a break from the pressure.

Are you partaking in the challenge? Share your thoughts!

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