Books are an amazing source of life lessons and love advice, so why don’t we learn from them? Esmée will recount to you what she has learned and what you should keep in mind while finding your way through the obstacle course that is life.

I’m starting off the year with something different. Instead of advice to and from book characters, I want to talk about the Goodreads Reading Challenge. This way we can start 2015 without any misconceptions about reading and hopefully prevent some book-burnouts.

Now what is this Goodreads Reading Challenge you ask? If you’re not familiar with Goodreads at all, just go have a look on their website and set yourself an amount of books you’d like to read this year. This amount of books that you’re striving towards is your Goodreads Reading Challenge. This challenge can vary in difficulty. Some people set the bar very low and want to read maybe five books this year, while others will try to read hundreds of them in just 365 days. The average goal is set at 51 books this year – I love Goodreads for giving me these stats – and over 569.000 people have already joined in.

Now let’s look back at the Goodreads challenge of 2014. Then, 679.636 participants joined the challenge, but only 16.733 people actually made it. That’s not even 3% of the participants! This means that 662.903 people set a goal for themselves at the start of last year and did not make it. I don’t know about you, but that type of success-rate really gets me down.

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In December other reading challenges besides the Goodreads Challenge popped up, maybe to counteract the disappointment and stress of not succeeding. Book Riot especially had a strong voice in this. First they published an article by Jessica Pryde who wrote about not wanting to participate anymore because reading had become a chore to her. After that Book Riot launched their own reading challenge called Read Harder. This challenge foregoes this number altogether and instead asks you to push yourself, to explore your reading limits and to read things you otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s much more concerned with what you read instead of how much you read. Pryde and Read Harder both turn away from the idea that reading more is necessarily a good thing and that having read a large amount of books says something positive about you.

I’m a big fan of challenging yourself and of setting goals that you want to complete, no matter how you give shape to these ideas. If you want to read a hundred books or only novels written by women of color, more power to you. At the same time I’m wary about these type of reading goals, because they can easily lead to a lot of frustration. Maybe you’re 87% behind on the amount of books you need to read, or maybe you want to read a book written by an old white dude instead of something more diverse, but you can’t because of your challenge. To me, that feeling of being frustrated with reading is distressing, because it can discourage you from reading altogether.

I feel that with reading goals it’s easy to forget another very important aspect of reading, namely that we read because we enjoy it. Reading is relaxing and enjoyable and, most importantly, fun. We read crime novels and thrillers not because we want to learn about a crazy fictional form of communist Russia during the cold war, but because we enjoy the excitement and the mystery. And you know what, that’s completely fine. Reading shouldn’t be an obligation or something you feel guilty over for not doing. Therefore, this year, I challenge you to make reading something to look forward to when you come home after a particularly bad day. Make it the thing you’d rather do above all other things. You can make your reading as difficult or as easy as you want to. As long as – and here comes the advice – you do this so it enriches your life in one way or another. This means that you can read to challenge your worldviews, but also that you can devour dirty romance novels all year simply because you love them. Not everything in life needs to be a competition, so let’s not ruin our reading by making it one. This year, read because it makes your life better. Reading should never be a chore, no matter what you do. It’s a waste of the best relaxation we’ve got.


Esmée de Heer is head honcho over at the Bored to Death book club website, writing the daily content and making sure the site stays up and running. She's one of the founding sisters of the book club and enjoys reading and giving unsolicited love advice.

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