Spilling the Tea: in defense of the Goodreads Challenge

These days, I’ve been seeing a lot of people talking about the Goodreads challenge and why it’s bad. The most common arguments are about the idea of imposing stress and competition onto reading, which is supposed to be a fun activity, and how trying to get your numbers up just makes the task into a chore. There is, of course, something to be said for this; the process of turning “games” into work has been well-documented. (For a cool take on this, check out this piece from The Atlantic about the problems with the Untitled Goose Game!) Far be it from me to condemn those who seek to remove the numerical insanity from their reading habits; as I like to say, read what and how you want to, because life is too short to do otherwise.

But, with that in mind, there is no need to vilify those (myself included) who do enjoy counting the books they read. We have perfectly valid reasons to want to keep track of those numbers. Here are a few of mine:

1. It ensures that I carve out time for reading.

This is important. Without a goal, I am prone to push things to the back burner, opting for easier tasks like scrolling through Facebook. Having a pace set for myself–not a fast one, mind you, just around one book per week–ensures that I set aside time in my schedule to read on a regular basis. In other words, it’s a form of self-accountability, so that instead of just finding time, I will actually be making time.

2. It lets me see my progress year-to-year.

Like (I would assume) everyone in the book blogosphere, I love reading. It’s something that makes me happy, even when the books make me want to scream or cry or throw something across the room. Having an annual book total lets me see how much more I read each year, relative to the year before. For example, in 2018 I read 81 books, while in 2019 I read 105. The average number of pages remained similar, so the total number of pages I read was also higher. These numbers remind me that I am doing more of what I love and that I am prioritizing something that gives me joy, which in turn is a good reminder that there’s something positive in my life, no matter what else is falling apart.

3. It keeps my mental health in check.

This one is tied into both the first and second reasons. As I said before, I read for enjoyment, which includes reading for relaxation and stress relief. If I’m not keeping pace with my reading goal, that probably means I’m simply not taking the time to read, which in turn is likely an indication that I’m too busy/stressed/anxious and/or that I am overworking myself. In that regard, it acts as a concrete factor I can use to monitor my well-being, beyond just a subjective feeling of being stressed-out.

4. It allows a sense of accomplishment.

This is related to #2. Much as I am impressed by those who read over 200 books in a year, I’m perfectly content with the amount I’m reading. This isn’t about competing with others; it’s about competing with myself. There’s a really nice feeling of success when you can say, “I met my goal!” Or, better yet, when you can say, “I beat my goal by 3 books!” or “I read more than double the amount I planned to!” The satisfaction of being able to check a box and say you did it feels nice, whether you’ve read 10 books or 100. (Note: for this one to work, you need to set a reasonable goal. Pushing yourself is all well and good, but make sure you allow yourself some buffer room. When in doubt, set the goal lower; you can always increase it if you reach it with time to spare.)

One alternative

If the idea of a number of books stresses you out–especially if you’re the person who, at the end of the year, starts setting aside your TBR and hunting for novellas and poetry collections to boost your numbers–a different type of numerical goal might be helpful for you, such as the number of pages read (or even the number of words). The “number of pages” goal is especially good for those of you who are fans of heftier tomes, like epic fantasy or the longer classics, as it prevents the subjective devaluation that occurs when you get the same reward (“1 book read”) for disproportionate amounts of work. Just some food for thought.

Final note…

If you still don’t like setting Goodreads goals, or any type of numerical reading goals, that’s totally fine. You don’t have to. But those of us who do are not by definition shallow, pretentious, or “not properly enjoying” the books we read. Some people have lots of time to read; others don’t. Some people read quickly; others are slower. Some literally read for their jobs (e.g. students, librarians, booksellers); others do it as a hobby. There are infinitely many ways to read and experience books, and what works for one person may not work for another. And that’s okay. You just keep doing you, and I’ll keep using my Goodreads challenge because it helps me read in the way I want to–and need to.

Anyone else have strong thoughts or feelings on this? Please, let me know–I’m always up for an interesting discussion!

Yours truly,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)

8 thoughts on “Spilling the Tea: in defense of the Goodreads Challenge

  1. Bree January 5, 2020 / 10:44 am

    THANK YOU! It’s not the Goodreads Challenge that is the problem, it’s people worrying too much about what others will think of their numbers. Yes, if you use it as a competition against other readers, I can see how that is stressful and creates anxiety. However, if you use it as it is intended” for YOURSELF and to reach you own personal goals – and for motivation – it’s such a fantastic, easy tool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels January 5, 2020 / 5:31 pm

      Exactly! The competition should be internal, not external–or at least that’s theoretically what it was designed to do. Not everything has to be about doing “better” than your peers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mir January 6, 2020 / 9:22 am

    Great post. I do get the two sides. I think what I hate most about it is as specified the competition aspect of it. In the reading community and specifically the YA reading community I feel like we are pushed to read at least 100 books. I used to feel that pressure but in the last years I’ve decided that it didn’t matter and that I’d much rather put a goal that I know I will achieve. Goodreads now is just a way to track the books I read during a year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels January 6, 2020 / 12:36 pm

      Oh gosh, yeah the pressure to read more in the YA community is particularly bad. If you read a lot of non-YA as well (like I do–maybe a third of what I read is YA, but the rest is all over the place), it’s harder to sort out, because YA books tend to be faster/easier reads than some other genres, especially as far as length and complexity of language. (Not always, but often.) I’m with you on setting a goal you know you can reach–that’s why this year I’m doing 50, same as last year. Last year I managed to double that number, but it wasn’t a big deal or a pressure thing–just icing on the cake, so to speak!


  3. The Cozy Pages January 30, 2020 / 8:38 am

    So agree! It’s not a competition with others. I’m thrilled for those who make 200 and over, but that doesn’t make the 20 books someone else got through less exciting. I love seeing the stats that Goodreads tallies for my personal reading habits. And, the key really is in setting a realistic number as the goal. Also, even more important, it’s totally voluntary!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Birdie January 30, 2020 / 1:10 pm

    Excellent post! I love keeping track of the books I’ve read each year. Innitially the Goodreads challenge didn’t account for rereads in the same year, so to get around that (and to have a true tally) I started making my own yearly shelf and keeping track that way. Of course for those that don’t reread, this wouldn’t have mattered to them.

    I like the Goodreads challenge. My only complaint is that there’s a shame factor Goodreads has built into it. For example, there’s no way to say you don’t want to join this year, and remove the “join” button from your home screen so it’s not always there demanding you join, lmao. The years i didn’t want to play it was the most frustrating thing that I couldn’t actively decline and make the request disappear. Another example is the “You are 5 books behind” alert at the bottom. Is it really necessary? How about just a “Good job, you finished another book in 2020!” It’s almost like the point is to drag you if life means you get behind.

    Those are my two critiques. The ability to decline, and the message that says you’re failing. If you’re reading at all, you’re not failing. It’s unnecessary. If it’s November, and you’re still 40 books away from your goal, it’s obvious enough.

    Liked by 2 people

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