A reflection on annual reading challenges
Last December, book-bloggers everywhere set their annual challenges. The GoodReads counter felt obligatory. Beyond that, there were challenges based on Diversity, challenges for fantasy book lovers and challenges for people who wanted to broaden their literary horizons., challenges everywhere. Like every other book blogger, I set my targets and made a page, copying out my bingo-list of books to read in 2018.
Six weeks into the New Year and that page was forgotten.
If you like and enjoy challenges, please understand I think there is space for them. This is not a page to knock book challenges. It is a personal reflection and a post to explore the reason I won’t be signing up for reading challenges in 2019.
What are reading challenges anyway?
I set three challenges last year – to read 100 books, to read eight or more books by an Australian YA author and the Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge. I gave some more consideration than others – the Australian YA came from my enjoyment of Begin, End, Begin, an anthology which showcased the brilliant work of Australian YA authors. One hundred books, now that was arbitrary. It was the figure-I-would-reach-but-not-too-quickly. The Modern Mrs Darcy just ticked a broad range of literary styles. I certainly wanted to include poetry, essays, work in translation etc in my reading diet, although on reflection they were also targets I was going to hit without serious consideration.
This isn’t a space to reflect on my success or failure – this is a space to question whether we should hold ourselves accountable to goals we set at the start of the year.
Every bookworm knows that feeling. The one we get when we walk into a bookshop or a library. I know it – I see a room full of bookshelves and change from woman to book-sniffer. My hunting instincts kick in. With no conscious decision, my walk slows, my eyes become alert and I prowl the shelves. Titles are sized-up and discarded. Covers are scanned, pages read until … something clicks. Certainly, there are times when I go in search of a specific book but on those occasions when I am browsing, I know the right book by instinct.
Subconscious plays an important role in reading. When I say I’ve found the right book, when I say it feels right, I mean I subconsciously know the sort of book I’m looking to read next. This is one of the most magical parts of being a bookworm and I don’t want to ignore it for the sake of a list.
Notice how many ghost stories are published in the autumn? How many light YA romances in the summer? Our reading tastes are shaped by our day-to-day experience and publishers know it. Come the autumn, come the need to cuddle up under a blanket and read by torchlight into the small hours. That’s not to say everyone reads seasonally or we only read ghost stories in the autumn, but seasonal conditions are one of the things which affect our choices without us giving the matter any thought. Likewise a popular documentary or film could put us in the mood for a certain type of story. Hands-up who read lots of fairytale spin-offs when Beauty and The Beast was released?
We absorb the world around us and go in search of more. This is magical and special, like a current flowing through our minds, and I want to ride it.
That’s not to say I won’t be reflective or go in search of particular things. I would certainly like to read more books which represent minorities – books which represent BAME characters, LGBTQA characters, characters from different socio-economic backgrounds and characters with a long-term health condition or disability. Less than one percent of all books published in 2017 featured a BAME main-character, but those which are out there? They are windows into life-experiences and I will pick those books up. I will pick them up because I want every story told and every life represented on the bookshelves, not to tick off a box on an annual challenge.
What about the social side of challenges? There’s nothing better than talking to other bookish people about specific bookish topics. Maybe I picked the wrong selection of challenges, or maybe I should have kept track of my challenges on social media. Certainly, I didn’t have any additional interaction beyond the comments when I initially wrote the page. I would love more interaction in 2019 and want to talk to all kinds of people – book bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, people who have never written in their lives. I want to take part in chats and receive recommendations. I’m just not certain annual challenges bring that.
With events, readathons and tags throughout the year, there will be opportunities to engage with the blogging community and try out something new. As the New Year approaches I may write a post looking to the year ahead and my commitment to read a wide range of voices. After that I’ll see where 2019 takes me and I will be here to blog about it.
Are you setting challenges this year? How did you find the experience in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.