On 2013 reading (or any) challenges: Give up or make a final push?

Due to a (ahem) mathematical error I committed myself to reading 50 books this year. It’s not a small goal for me, especially since I apparently only read 10 books the year before.

I started 2013 with a bang and at one point was several books ahead of schedule. Then since the summer it’s been all downhill.

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Now, I’ve tried to play with this a little, by taking the total number of pages read (conveniently calculated for you by Goodreads) and dividing it by 300 (pages), my personal definition of what constitutes one book. When I do that I come out slightly ahead at 37 books (thank you, East of Eden and The Book Thief).

Well, a couple of weeks ago I was 15 books behind even with the manipulation of page numbers, and I was pretty much ready to give up even trying. It’s sort of like watching those final few minutes of a basketball game where a team is behind 5 or 6 points and there are 2 minutes left on the clock. Some teams will still scramble for I don’t know what, while other teams will give up and end up further behind in a pathetic display of utter hopelessness. I have to say I can relate to the latter.

Then I posed the question to my 9-year-old, who blazes through several tomes of Rick Riordan a month: “What should I do?”

His response: “Of course you should go for it!”

I was thinking that I am entering the busiest part of my work season and the majority of my books are 300 pages or longer, not to mention that I am only doing this for myself and none of it is even required.

“At least TRY and get as close to 50 as you can. You’ll feel really good satisfaction if you can get near 50.”

Why did it not occur to me that I could at least shoot for 48 or 45 or something? Anything in the forties would signify an achievement. And did I forget how exhilarating it can feel to “win”? Actually, the answer would be yes…I think it’s been several years since I “achieved” anything (my first publication) but that’s another story for another time.

“Pick good, short books. That’s what I would do.”

Seriously, I should consult with my child more often on life matters.

That evening, I went through my shelves and picked out the slimmest books I have. I’d like to think that this is not cheating, because all the books on my shelves are books on my to-read list; I’m just relying on my crunch players right now, and benching Leo Tolstoy and the like until next year. My end-of-the-year contenders include:

Memory: A Novel, by Philippe Grimbert

Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

All My Darling Daughters [manga], by Fumi Yoshinaga

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown

Darkness Visible, by William Styron

Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott

These, added to my current reads, should get me close to 50.

So how do I actually get all of this accomplished? My boy says,

“I think you should only spend 60 minutes on your blog. Whatever time you usually spend over that should go into reading.”

And,

“You spend too much time on Facebook. Cut that time down to 40 minutes a day…no, 30 minutes. Thirty minutes at most, and use the rest of the time to read.”

Indeed, I waste a lot of time on the internet. That is why I often don’t start reading until 11 at night, at which point it takes me two minutes to read the same sentence five times.

When I first poked around at all these various reading challenges I noticed how nice everyone was about it. “50 is simply a goal; of course how much you end up reading is up to you.” It’s nice and understanding and forgiving, but it also lets me off the hook too easily. I’m thinking that if I set a goal, I should do what I can to attain it. I won’t kill myself over it – it’s not like my career or my future is resting on the number of books I complete this year – but by definition a challenge isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s supposed to be more than what I can normally do comfortably. I will push myself, precisely because this is just for me.

How are you doing on your reading or other challenges? How do you motivate yourself to reach your personal goals?

35 thoughts on “On 2013 reading (or any) challenges: Give up or make a final push?

  1. It must be something in the ether… Either that, or the beginning of November has made us all realise that the end of the year is not far away! I’ve been doing a little assessment of my own. I didn’t set a goal for the total number of books I’d like to read, but I did have very ambitious goals within each category. Too ambitious as it turns out! I decided to let go of exact numbers because they were unrealistic for my reading style. I read a lot but I read slowly and deeply. This is more important than reading quickly. When I read slowly and deeply I take the time to jot notes, I do lots of flipping back, I think about the bigger themes and stop to ponder how the book relates to my own life. I record my thought and reactions as I go. I really try to put thought into what I write about the book on my blog. Sometimes I even re-read the book immediately after finishing it. Reading a book slowly and deeply often leads me to do a little research on the author, the topic, the genre, or other reviews. When I read a book quickly I close the book after the last page and pick up another one. Some books are okay to read quickly – I don’t spend a lot of time pondering over a Maeve Binchy or other plot-driven escapist novels, and that’s okay. But I would rather not read more of those books just to have a higher annual tally. This is something I learned about myself this year. Next year my goal will be less about quantity and more about quality. I am proud of myself for spending the first five months reading solely from my own shelves and not acquiring a single new book (THAT was a challenge!) And I’m pleased with all the wonderful books I discovered.

    Your son has a good head! Short novels totally count! And the thrill of accomplishment will be even sweeter because you faltered and doubted and stood firm with what matters to you. Good luck!

    (I just discovered your blog the other day and thoroughly enjoyed my browse through old posts. It’s wonderful!)

    • Lee-Anne, Thanks for visiting and looking through my blog and for leaving this very thoughtful comment! I love what you wrote here and really agree with what you said. If I’ve learned anything from this reading challenge, it’s to change my 2014 goal to a theme-based one. The number is a fun target but, as you said, it does encourage this pressure to rush. I’d love to set up goals to read books from certain countries or states in the US, etc. I think that would be fun.

      I agree that just reading from our own shelves is a major challenge in and of itself! But a worthy one…I am way too addicted to book sales!

  2. I like the new layout for your blog! And this post is funny. I’m dreadfully behind on my reading list, but I chalk it up to some of the big books I’ve read and starting a new job. I’m kind of starting to resent my Goodreads Challenge because I feel like it’s judging me. And then I get stubborn and think, “I’m not going to let a website tell me how to read my books!” *sigh*

    • Thanks, Ariel! I have to say I was a bit encouraged when I saw your widget on Goodreads. It looks like we are in a similar place. I know what you mean about the resentment – it bugs me to see that reminder that I’m behind each and every time I log in!

  3. Oh, dear, I hate to say this, but I have met my challenge of 120 books for this year. However, I don’t think ANY books are cheating! I have counted the little children’s picture books I’ve read. A book is a book! Good luck on your challenge. And as for Lee-Anne’s comment about reading them over again, well, in my opinion that counts as two books! I DO have to admit that I originally set myself a goal of 150 books but revised that down when I realize there was no way I would meet it. And this summer I got 13 books behind. But after that first revision earlier in the year (I had never done a reading challenge so had no idea what number might be possible for me), I have left my number set and figured if I didn’t make it, I didn’t make it. LOVE the new look of your blog. The other look was very nice, but this one is more dramatic!

    • Wow, 120 books! That is impressive! How do you do it? Do you have certain times of the day that you designate for reading? I think my biggest problem is discipline because I don’t think that I am too busy for reading. I also like what you wrote about all books counting as reading.

      And I’m glad you like my new blog look! For years I wanted something super understated, so maybe this reflects the new me, ha ha ha. I like the warm colors and boldness.

      • Well, actually I have to a certain amount a problem with getting anything done besides reading. I love to read, and I have to make myself do other things. Sometimes as soon as I finish a book, I go to my pile to see which one is next. One problem with the blog is now I feel like it’s almost my JOB to get through a number of books a week. Even though I don’t get paid to blog. So, it can be a problem. I’ll find myself telling myself I have to do this or that household chore on the weekend. “You have to stop reading at the end of this chapter!”

  4. Cecilia,

    I love the clean look of your blog. I got wrapped up in my comment on your last post and forgot to mention that l like the colors and minimalist look to your new space.

    Congrats on reading 37 books! That is no easy feat. I failed at my book goal this year, but I still remember some of the powerful reads that enlightened me. Women Of The Silk, Tiny Beautiful Things, and Daring Greatly top my list this year. Keep moving forward and don’t worry about number. You have some great reads on this list. Interpreter of Maladies is brilliant and one of my favorite books by Lahiri. Anne Lamott is a must. Her work will definitely resonate with you.

    Do you have a favorite book from the ones you have read? I look forward to more of your reviews. Good luck! Fred’s advice is wise. I need to employ it in my own life to make room for things that are important to me.

    • Thanks so much, Rudri! I like the new colors too, especially now that the weather is cooler!

      I would also put Tiny Beautiful Things at the top of my list. My other top ones were East of Eden and A Fort of Nine Towers. I’ll likely write a wrap-up post some time in December. I will have to look up the other 2 books that you listed.

      I actually started Magical Journey which you so kindly gave to me. It’s just beautiful, but the beginning got me so emotional – the part where she was reminiscing about her boys and talking about how empty and quiet the house was – that I’ve momentarily put it down. I think I was probably reading it during an extra sensitive time so I will pick this up again.

      I told my son about some of the comments he’s gotten and I think he is happy in an embarrassed kind of way, ha ha!

      Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments, Rudri.

  5. I have no problem setting aside time to read, since I average at least 15 to 20 books a month. I struggle a bit with the writing and being social. I just cannot seem to get into the Holiday spirit either. I continue to look for a new position in these uncertain times too. Good Luck – Wishing You the Best:)

    • 15-20 books a month! That’s fantastic! Hmm…are there friends close by whom you can get together with? I tend to be a homebody and am content with my books and computer. Sometimes if it weren’t for my girlfriend calling me up once in a while to get coffee I wonder if I would just be home all day all the time. The holidays can be a tough time (I might write about this.) I hope all works out with your work situation too…it is a tough time. Isn’t it amazing how books can keep us company no matter what?

      • Books were my friends growing up and still are. I moved Out West in my 30’s and did not realize just how hard it is to make friends at this age – I am working on it though. Please do write about the holiday spirit/funk/whatever! Happy Hump Day:)

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post–your son is brilliant for a 9 year old! I’ve been in a reading funk for the last couple of months and I realized it was due to a combination of not making time to really sit down and be engaged with what I am reading and rushing to finish so I can grab the next bestseller (so I could tick off that number on my Goodreads goal).

    I have imposed “no internet on Sundays, no internet after 9pm” rules so I can make time for reading at a leisurely pace and be thoughtful about my reading. Mostly, I try to just enjoy the book I have in front of me. It’s not how many you read, but what you take away that counts. And every book counts! Some of the short books you listed in your post are really good!

    I read a great deal for work (even at home in the evenings), so I’ve been enjoying more lighthearted novels at the end of the night to give myself a little escape. I will also add these to my Goodreads goals, even though they are shorter and less “literary.”

    • Thanks, Ngan 🙂

      I like your Sunday rule and I’ve been struggling to adhere to something like it. It really is nice when I can start my reading at 9 pm or so, because I can then get in a couple of hours.

      I think any kind of reading is good reading, and especially if your mind is already weighed down from work then the last thing you want is more heavy reading at night. I’m reading a manga right now and it feels good!

    • Hi Ngan and Cecilia.
      I don’t have a number of books goal – I think this would get in the way of really good long books, like A History of Western Philosophy which you can’t skim. However I would love to read more lighthearted books. For example Me To You by Jojo Moyes was a revelation. Not at all literary, but when I talked to people about it, and lent it to people, it was such a connecting force. I think you’ve prompted me to do a recommended reads post.

      • I’ve heard great things about the Jojo Moyes book. I agree that I’m also at the point where I would like to read some lighter books, and perhaps some mysteries. Isn’t that the beauty of reading? There’s something to suit every single mood. I would love to read a post of your book recommendations!

  7. 50 is so many! I set myself a goal of 30 for the year, and I haven’t tallied up yet but I think I’ve hit it.

    On the other hand, I’m about 6,000 words behind in NaNoWriMo . . . and not likely to catch up.

  8. Your son is a genius! (Takes after his mom…)

    I can relate to the feeling of considering giving up because coming close doesn’t feel good enough. There is real wisdom in his advice to rethink how 45 or 48 might feel. Out of the mouths of babes!

    (Oh, and please move Interpreter of Maladies to the top of your pile. One of my favorites of all time!)

    • Ha ha, thanks, Kristen! He was quite happy with your comment 😉

      I do remember reading in your blog about wanting to take big steps and achieve big goals. I definitely have that mindset, and am learning slowly that everything takes an accumulation of steps (I am so close to quoting someone, I know).

      You and Rudri both recommended Interpreter of Maladies so it’s done – I’m moving it up on my list!

  9. I think it’s so hysterical that you mention the Goodreads challenge because two years ago I set myself a goal of 50 books and cheated mercilessly to reach it. Last year, I set myself the goal of 40 and managed to read one over and this year, I chose to stop playing into Goodreads’s hands and ignored the challenge altogether. They can’t control me! My goal this year is somewhere between thirty and forty books. I’m currently far behind at 24. Wish me luck?

    • Ha ha, maybe I’ll be following in your footsteps 😉 I am thinking that for next year I will not set a quantitative goal but focus on different themes instead, especially since many of the books I want to read are on the long side. Good luck with your goal – just 6 more to go! Thanks so much for stopping by and for reading 🙂

  10. Pingback: 2014: Resolutions and Revolutions | One Little Library

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