Shianne Henion | October 22, 2021
The pressure is on! Starting in January of every year, readers all around can participate in Goodreads' yearly reading challenge, where they seek to accomplish their goal of reading a certain number of books.
Although the idea sounds relatively harmless, I find myself flailing at the prospect of keeping up with my reading goal. Why? Because I start to obsess over the numbers. I have found reading to become all about reaching the number of books I read in a year. My desire to beat my goal has started to overwhelm the overall desire to immerse myself in a story.
I interviewed several rather bookish friends of mine to see if they share the same opinion, and find the reading challenge to be too numerical the way I do.
According to Goodreads’ website, there are 5.2 million participants, with about 278 million books pledged. Of all literature platforms, Goodreads stands to be the most popular, though other apps, like Storygraph, offer a similar style and format of connecting with readers.
On Goodreads, you can like and comment on other people’s book reviews and challenges, as well as make friends with other readers. It is a great way to connect with the book community, especially when you don’t have anyone outside of the internet to talk to about books.
But the biggest component of the reading app is its yearly reading challenge. How it works is simple: You input the number of books you wish to read by the end of the year, and then as you finish each book, it is marked as one book closer to your goal. It is a fairly easy system, as long as you remember to mark the books you are reading. All reading formats and genres count as well. Physical, eBook, and audiobook all count (and yes, even graphic novels).
So what is the problem?
Well, according to Jen Smith, who is @swordandbookshelves on Instagram, the Goodreads reading challenge is anxiety-inducing. When we become busy, as humans tend to, we cannot proficiently stay on track with the challenge, and it makes us feel terrible when we fall behind.
“The goal seems unfair because many individuals will have like 500 books read and you sit there thinking, ‘how the hell did they do that?’” Smith ponders. “It gets overwhelming when you fall behind on books and then get into reading slumps, which makes you even further from your goal.”
When you look at your goal of the year (I show mine below), there is a line that shows how many books ahead or behind you are for the year.
That is stressful to look at. 2021 has been a difficult year for me, and the year before, I accomplished a goal of reading 103 books. This is barely half of what I read previously, and when I look at the gray line of how ahead I am, I get hit with an urgency to exceed even that. To read more books that will bring me ahead. For me, my goal is starting to become about numbers and how high I can reach.
And when you fall behind on that goal, the shame that engulfs you makes it difficult to want to continue with it.
Others, like Britt Weed, whom I met through our love of Cassandra Clare books, do not see an issue with the challenge at all. Instead, it feeds into their hobbies. It’s a nonchalant perspective to see how many books they can accomplish in the year. And Britt does not care about the numbers.
“I see my own goal and just go from there,” she explains. “If I can’t reach it? Oh well. It’s for fun and a hobby, ya know?”
Becca MacDonald’s (Bewitched Becs on Youtube) opinion sits in between this discourse. She is a powerhouse when it comes to reading, averaging about two books a week. She offers a different insight on the challenge, which is a fairly open medium on the subject.
“I do think for some people [that] it can become a point of stress,” MacDonald says. “There can be this toxic idea on the ‘bookternet’ that to be a ‘real bookworm,’ you have to read 75 or 100 or 150 books and some people turn it into a race or a reason to brag about how much better they are.”
This opened my mind to a broader issue that the book community participates in: the culture of being on the internet. There are often a swarm of people on book Twitter who brag about their high reading achievements, often ranging up to 300 books a year. It’s insane to see it and has always made me wonder if there is a life they live outside of that. MacDonald is very present within the book community and sees that behavior often.
But there is a positive to Goodreads among social media, which MacDonald explains as the sole reason she knows about other books to read.
“Through all these apps, I have discovered many books I never would have heard about, and the passion that people have for them excites me,” she says.
For MacDonald, the reading challenge does not impact her overall reading, either. In fact, she uses it to keep track of the books she has read and will continue to read.
Overall, Goodreads has its benefits as an app, though the challenge can become obsessive and treacherous to consider. Both Becca and Jen suggested Storygraph as a better alternative due to its different style of book counting.
The most important thing to remember is that numbers are just numbers. They’re objects and not as important as the stories you consume.