I’ve never been the competitive type – not in the traditional sense of the term. As a lifelong introvert, I’ve preferred to stay out of the spotlight and work quietly on things that give me joy. One of those earliest joys was the idea of reading. 

Growing up, I used to read every single day and at every chance I got. I don’t recall spending this kind of time before the TV, but give me a book and you wouldn’t hear a peep out of me for a good 4 to 5 hours.

Then, many years later, life, the internet, social media and comparisonitis (more on that in a bit) happened – not necessarily in that order. The truth is reading took a back seat and I’ve regretted it so many times since that occurred. It was unconscionable to me that picking up a book and reading it could seem like a chore, but that was how deeply the internet had seeped into my system. 

After this, I quietly started following the herd when it came to social media, checking the news and email and staying on top of things. This was kind of ridiculous, to be honest, because I was never the kind to ‘stay in touch with everything’ in my whole life. Nope, not even when I was studying Journalism.

And then, along came Goodreads – a wonderful space where book lovers gathered to talk about the books they were reading, the books they were looking forward to read or explaining why you shouldn’t read that particular book. I loved it! Or to be honest, I loved the idea of it but I still hadn’t come around to actually doing that kind of reading again. The internet still had me in its vice and my daily pilgrimages to the websites/apps of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp seemed to always hold more allure over the joys of reading a book.

Which is kind of pathetic, when you think about it, but that’s exactly what the internet does to your brain! It doesn’t let it sit still. We’re never allowed to just immerse ourselves in a book or lose hours together between the gripping pages of a novel because that isn’t as interesting as knowing how many people actually clicked ‘like’ on your last Instagram post.

Reading is not a Means to an End

I love this line that I read in an article:

Reading shouldn’t be a means to an end; enjoy the journey.

Too much of what we do these days is on display for the world to see. Invariably, that brings in a sense of comparison and makes people wonder if they’re good enough or if they’re doing enough to live up to a certain standard imposed by society.

Let’s say you set your Goodreads reading challenge for the year at a modest number of 12 books – that works out to a book a month. Maybe you’re a beginner reader or perhaps you have a full schedule and just about manage to read a page a day before hitting the sack every night. 

And then you casually stroll over to a friend’s page on Goodreads and notice their jaw-dropping number of books set as their goal – 300 books! What!? That’s close to a book a day, give or take. There’s no way you could compete with that, can you? You look over at that tiny pile of 12 books on your list and begin to feel miserable. For what? It doesn’t make any sense.

Reading isn’t a competition. It never was and it shouldn’t be. I’m not saying that the Goodreads Challenge Creators or participants set this up as a competition either. It was probably done with the intention to encourage people to read more books, which is a noble and worthy cause by and of itself.

But somewhere along the way, it can become a playground for competition. All that said, if you don’t feel pressured to read books as per a Reading challenge or if you do like the veritable thrill that comes with reading as many books as you can, by all means, go for it. I would be the last person to stand in your way and there are worse things to do challenges in, especially on social media. Reading is the most wonderful of the lot.

A Challenge Makes Things Performative

After months and months of telling people in my circle not to focus on numbers when it came to social media followers or newsletter subscribers, I invariably fell victim to another numbers game. Enter the Goodreads challenge. 

To be honest, I don’t think it started out that way. I love reading, of course, but there was a part of me that was gleeful about checking off the number of books I could read in a week or a year. Setting a goal and exceeding it? That was its own kind of thrill. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a wee bit triumphant.

In 2021, I set myself what I considered to be a modest target of 35 books. I ended up reading 46 books and there was this part of me that felt ridiculously pleased with myself. Why? Maybe it was my own sense of validation that I’d managed to read close to a book a week in a pandemic-filled year. But to tell you the truth, it was also because I fell back in love with reading itself. It was as if the clock had turned back and I was a young kid again, deaf to the world and its calls of duty. I let reading take over every inch of spare time. Seeing that number at the end of the year made me proud of myself. 

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s good to set targets and watch yourself break them. But the problem happens when that validation extends beyond oneself. It’s almost as if you feel compelled to tell everyone you meet that you’ve managed to read 46 books in a year. 

And that’s when you hear the silent query from the other person:

Sure, good for you! What does that do for me? What am I supposed to do with this information?

It Takes Away from the Essence of Reading itself

That’s when I took a deep breath and stepped back. Why was I sharing a Goodreads challenge with the world? What was I hoping to gain from it? A pat on the back, perhaps, for reading so many books. A well-intentioned ‘Good for you, Shailaja!’ conveyed either with a genuine sense of awe or a grudging sense of admiration, all the while stirring up feelings of envy in the person saying it.

But the actual reason I stopped doing the Goodreads Challenge was something else, entirely.

It became a goal by itself. I was looking at the number of books I was reading instead of enjoying the books themselves.

Instead of sinking my teeth into a book and enjoy the pure pleasure that came from losing myself in a good mystery or reflecting deeply on a powerful memoir, I was busy ensuring that I was hitting my goal of reading a book a week. As you can tell, I had originally set myself a target of 50 books for 2022. By early January, I’d already finished 4 books and the thrill of having read 4 books superseded the joy of reading the books themselves.

As soon as I realized this, I knew it was time to let go of my Goodreads reading challenge. The funny thing is you can’t cancel a challenge once you set it. You can only edit your goal to change the number of books you set out to read. So that’s what I did. Instead of 50 books for 2022, I changed my goal to 5 books, effectively having ‘achieved’ my reading goal for the year.

I will still be updating my Goodreads page with the books I finish reading through the year. You’d still see star rating and reviews, including the books that I end up not finishing. None of that will effectively change. But now every book that I read is both a bonus and something that I will enjoy without the pressure of a reading goal. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But what if you enjoy doing the Goodreads Challenge?

See, that’s the beauty of choice. You can continue doing something if it gives you undiluted and unparalleled joy. I personally know of book bloggers like Soumya and bookstagrammers like Nabanita who do the Goodreads Challenge every year for the sheer joy of reading itself. For them it’s not the question of how many books they can read; it’s the pleasure of reading and sharing that with the world at large.

So the question you need to ask yourself is rather a simple one:

Why are you doing the Goodreads Challenge? Does it give you joy? Does it keep you both motivated and accountable? Does it help you explore genres outside your comfort zone and find more pleasure in the idea of reading for its own sake? Do you find like-minded readers and share deliriously in the happiness that comes from a shared reading goal?

Then, by all means, stick with the challenge. You are doing what makes you happy and that’s what matters at the end of the day.

Shailaja V

Hi, I’m Shailaja, a blogger who’s been writing since 2007. My interests include books of all kinds, digital minimalism, veganism, health, nutrition, fitness and staying open to learning all the time. Welcome! Click here if you’d like an email when I publish new posts