How do you feel about reading challenges? Have you set yourself any reading challenges this year?
The advent of a new year usually has me thinking about challenges for the year ahead. I like to have goals and targets, often of the physical or adventurous kind. There is nothing like a half marathon or similar to get me motivated and running scared. I’m not terribly good at failing and even less good and refusing a challenge, so I’ll push myself to achieve goals and challenges. In terms of physical challenges, this usually pays off — and I never regret it. Some of my most memorable times have been achieving a physical challenge; Everest Base Camp immediately springs to mind.
Last year, I set myself a couple of reading challenges.
The first challenge was in response to the lack of “classic literature” I had read during the previous year. I decided that during 2016, I would read 5 classic novels. It didn’t sound like many, did it? But I still only managed 3 of my chosen 5.
I ticked off: Jane Austen’s Persuasion;
Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield; and
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
Middlemarch and The Picture of Dorian Gray remain unread. In a complete contrast, the second challenge I set myself was to read 5 stories from Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction long list. Of the 5 that I selected, I managed a paltry 2. Disappointing. Particularly so, as the two I read were excellent and I feel sure I would love the other 3 too.
All of this has made me question how I feel about reading challenges: Does a reading challenge marry with my thoughts and feelings on what reading should be about?
If you care to look, there are numerous reading challenges out there — from the simple to the down right complicated. Each year, Goodreads asks participants to pledge a chosen number of books to read. Other challenges range from reading only female authors for a year to only reading books with a certain color in the title or on the cover …
I read for many reasons. I love words, I love stories. I love being so lost in a story that when I raise my head from the page I’m surprised to find myself in my own room and not inside the world I’ve completely inhabited in my mind. I love the magic weaved with the right combination of words and imagination. I also like to be challenged by what I read. I want my vocabulary stretched and new ideas to be formed. I want to learn new things from the books I read. But do I want to be challenged to read? I’m not sure I need to be. Reading should be a joy, not a chore; a delight, not a burden; an adventure but not unachievable; and it certainly shouldn’t be about deadlines.
So although I still plan to read The Picture of Dorian Gray and Middlemarch, and the other 3 I chose from the 2016 Baileys long list, I’ll still do so because they’re all books that I want to read — and only a little bit because I can’t not complete a challenge!
This year I think the only reading challenge I’m going to set myself is to work my way through all those unread (but definitely not unloved) books already on my shelves. And that’s because I want to — not because I have to. I’m already excited.