How the Goodreads Reading Challenge Ruined Me as a Reader

by Isla McKetta on December 27, 2012

Tower of Books

Way back in January of 2012, I took advantage of a snowed-in week to finally finish tomes like The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Throw in a little Italo Calvino and some poetry (which I never give the attention it deserves) and I was powering through books like a reading superstar. I did a little math and realized I might be able to read 120 books in 2012. I declared my goal publicly via the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Reading like a champion

It started out well and good. Between January 20 and 21, I finished 5 books. Two were novellas, but Goodreads does not discriminate. I was consistently seven, eight, and nine books ahead until June. I had so much reading knowledge to share that I started a book review blog. I was on fire.

My reading slowed a bit in the summer as I started a new job and picked up more challenging books like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. But I wasn’t worried. I was the queen of Goodreads. No one could equal my reading prowess.

The uphill slope

I don’t know what happened, but sometime in September I was no longer five or six books ahead. By October I was six or seven books behind. I wasn’t worried. I knew I could catch up. Sure National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) loomed (I was really planning on writing the full 50,000 words this year) and I knew I’d have Christmas cards to write too. But I was a reading superstar. A reading superstar.

The crash at the end

On December 1, I realized I still had 20 books to read. Failure was not an option. It was time to triage.

I started stacking my to-read shelf by size. Instead of picking out what I was in the mood for or what might help my writing, I looked for the quickest way to make my numbers. Steve Almond came out on top with the teeny-tiny This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. Next on the list was Orhan Pamuk’s The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist. I couldn’t let the book review blog slip, so I combined these two books into one review.

I stopped writing fiction entirely.

I took advantage of a Saturday alone to finally finish Being and Nothingness. I don’t remember it, but Goodreads says I did. Virginia Woolf? Too slow—I kept falling asleep (I actually really love the dreams I have while reading Woolf, but there was no time for sleeping during the Reading Challenge). Amy Hempel’s Tumble Home? Consider those loosely spaced 156 pages done.

Young adult was a fast fix and I mainlined Phil Duncan’s Wax. Also easy were books where I had already seen the movie, so I finally read Tom Perrota’s Election.

I have five books left to read and I’m running out of chapbooks and easy reads.

There is one line I haven’t crossed—the three Calvinos in an emergency safe by my bed. He’s dead and I dread the day when I will have no more new books of his to read. Let’s see how panicked I am on December 29.

Learning my lesson

The Goodreads Reading Challenge lived up to its name. I read more books this year than any before. But it changed me. Before I assigned a goal, reading was where I found relaxation and inspiration. By following my whims, I serendipitously discovered the right books at the right time to write my books. But that goal turned me into a page turning machine instead of a reader.

I want my life back. I’m off to read a stack of books (I won’t commit to a number). Please don’t interrupt me.

Do leave a comment, though, about your reading habits and if you plan to participate in the 2013 Reading Challenge. I’m on the fence… no matter how miserable this month has been, I feel the pressure to read at least as many books in 2013.

Isla McKetta, MFA is a novelist and book reviewer. Share reading lists with her on Goodreads or connect with her on Google+.