By Charis Harvey
The Goodreads Challenge has been a yearly new year’s ritual for me for the past six years. Every year, I use all my knowledge of SMART targets and predictions for my workload to set a challenging but achievable goal for all my Goodreads friends to follow. However, after a year in which I have turned to books for solace, and had all the more time to consider my reading habits, I’ve decided to keep all numerical reading goals general, and largely to myself.
This mirrors a consistent New Year’s resolution for me: simply to read more. However, like Jane Austen’s Emma who has ‘been meaning to read more since she was twelve years old’, I have rarely been successful. Simply increasing the volume of books is having some negative impacts on my reading habits which I’m seeking to change. This said, a desire to read more is very valuable. While I’m trying to ignore the number of books, I do truly want to establish reading as a daily habit.
For me, this means finally attempting to impose the ‘no phones in bed’ rule and replace my scrolling with the bedtime reading of my childhood. If this isn’t for you, then fair enough: consider reading in the morning, with a steaming cup of tea snuck up into bed, or as a mid-afternoon treat to help with the 3pm slump we all know so well. Essentially, allow your reading to take up space in your day (even if it’s only 15 minutes).
While I hope I do read more in 2021, I am considering not documenting that through my Goodreads goal. Firstly, like all social media, Goodreads carries an inherent aspect of performativity, and this brings some problems. Each year I seek the reassurance that I am ‘reading enough’ in the completion of my challenge. To achieve this, I find myself speeding through books, reaching for thinner volumes while trying to opt for impressive literary choices. I consider the eyes of my Goodreads friends, and want them to see a list of books that not only ‘counts’ but dazzles them with literary prowess.
This year, I’m letting go of these constraints, and I believe you should too. In 2021, allow yourself to read more deeply. Read slowly, savour writing, maybe even note down your favourite passages. I miss the days of A-Level English Literature, sniffing out the meaning from metaphor, and while I might not have the pressure of essay deadlines to motivate me, I would like the space and time to find deeper meaning in the books I read.
In 2021, allow yourself to read longer books. Books over 400 pages have long daunted me. For Christmas, I received The Overstory by Richard Powers and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, both of which are chunky to say the least. My goal for this year is to get to them quickly and read them slowly, rather than have them linger on my to-be-read shelf for many months.
Finally, read books that ‘don’t count’. Of course, all reading counts; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. What I mean by this is allowing myself to read books without predicting the judgement of others. Dig into some of the wonderful middle-grade that’s being produced, read some predictable and funny romances, re-read old favourites as many times as you fancy, and stop being afraid to include a 40-page essay in your list for fear that ‘it’s not enough pages’.
Or perhaps you are stronger than I am. Perhaps the Goodreads challenge is simply something to motivate you, and to allow you to share the often-lonely experience of reading with others. All I can say is whatever reading you’re planning on this year, let it be truly your own. Read whatever takes your fancy. Read eleven books at once. Don’t be afraid to leave some unfinished. Read books that are high-brow, low-brow, or anything in-between. Read about experiences and identities you won’t live for yourself, or re-read your favourite book three times in the same month. Books are your tools for information, empathy, escape, and more. Consider what you need from your reading this year and read accordingly: not defined by anyone else, or by Goodreads.
Image: Verity Laycock