The Joy (And Stress) Of My Reading Challenge
December 04, 2019
15,823. That is the number of pages my Goodreads account tells me I’ve read so far this year. This, of course, does not include the numerous children’s books I have read with my child or the unfinished books, excerpts, chapters or pages that I’ve read thanks to working at The Curious Reader, but hey, who’s counting?
Currently, I have finished 59 books, with the shortest being Sea Prayer at a paltry (only in length) 48 pages, and the longest being Good Omens: The Nice And Accurate Prophecies Of Agnes Nutter, Witch at a modest 491 pages. The average length of the books I’ve read has been 268 pages, and I even hold the distinct honour of being only one of two people who have read Gandhi @ 150 (at least amongst the subsect of readers who post what they’ve read on Goodreads).
So, why am I droning on about my ‘inspiring’ 2019 reading journey? It’s because I took up a reading challenge at the start of the year – to read 60 books in 2019. Being an avid reader, I agree it doesn’t sound like a lot (I’m imagining my editor’s mocking face), but I had never documented how many books I read in a year before, nor did I have a yardstick for how much I normally read in one. Given that I balance two jobs and have a fairly hectic familial and social life, I was nervous to commit to one and a half books a week. But life is all about the challenges, right?
Part of the unwritten rules for my challenge were –
- I would not count the books that I read for work
- I would read more Indian authors
- I would read more non-fiction
It is safe to say (unwritten) rule number one went out of the window pretty fast, and I included The Accidental Prime Minister in my reading list. I doubt I would have read the book if not for work! Thankfully, I managed to stay true to rules two and three, and happily read more Indian writing and non-fiction.
Why Did I Do It
One would think that I read enough, given my work. While that is true, I found myself not reading a lot of what I wanted to and instead, reading a lot of what I had to. For example, last year, as much as I enjoyed rereading Roald Dahl, I ended up sacrificing some other books that were on my TBR, such as 21 Lessons For The 21st Century (worry not, I read and loved it this year). Though the three Roald Dahls weren’t necessarily that time-consuming, the 864 pages of Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories that I had to read for another piece certainly were.
I needed some motivation to keep on track and ensure that I read only what I wanted to. In fact, that’s what pushed me to make rule number one (the one which I tossed pretty soon, remember?). But, luckily, with a realistic goal of 60 books, and a nifty little reading-challenge tracking mechanism that Goodreads offers, I managed to balance my reading. And, the good thing about reading what you have to? You end up finding some stuff you love (cases-in-point- Sanjeev Sanyal’s Land Of The Seven Rivers and Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, both books that I never thought I’d enjoy quite as much as I did).
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, absolutely. It was exactly what I needed. I read, read and read. Earlier, I’d complain about not reading enough because I didn’t have the time, but this year, since I had a goal to keep, I managed to find the time. I utilised my commute to work, a solitary lunch, etc. to read and realised that reading short snippets of a book was as effective and enjoyable as an extended period of reading time. In fact, some of the books I read were particularly suited for reading in short bursts of time. Take India In The Age Of Ideas – it is a collection of essays published by the author over the last few years. A couple of essays over lunch each day, and tada, you’re done with the book in a week. Short stories work for this purpose also, that’s how I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Adivasi Will Not Dance. And honestly, what’s better than a thought-provoking solitary literary lunch?
Reading can, at times, be hard work, but it is so incredibly rewarding. By knowing I had to finish a certain number of books by the end of each month or face falling too far behind, a lot of my evenings were spent with my book or kindle.
What I Didn’t Love
My biggest issue with this reading challenge was how I felt as though I was cheating on my own love for reading. Was it irrational? Perhaps. What was rational and fairly annoying was how I found myself avoiding thicker books, no matter how much I wanted to read them. As a result, William Dalrymple’s 544-paged The Anarchy and G.R.R. Martin’s 719-paged Fire & Blood (and if you know me, you know how much I love Martin’s work) remain collecting dust in my TBR pile. While it may have been a conscious choice at the end of the year, I do feel I subconsciously avoided a lot of very thick books through the year as well. Not that a good book has anything to do with its length, but never before have I chosen a book based on its thickness!
Another point of annoyance was that I was finishing books I wasn’t enjoying. While earlier in life I had to finish everything I started, I gradually grew out of that habit. But, thanks to my reading challenge, I felt if I’d already invested a significant amount of time in a book, I needed to finish it just to check off another book. As a result, I begrudgingly finished The Twice-Born by Aatish Taseer and Slam by Nick Hornby (both authors I usually love) as well as the inane It Takes A Murder by Anu Kumar.
However, finishing a book you don’t like doesn’t always have to be a bad thing- in January, I began reading The Reading Promise: My Father And The Books We Share by Alice Ozma, a book about a father and daughter’s reading journey (you can imagine why the premise appealed to the dad in me), and hated it. Finally, I decided to just drop it and started reading Shoe Dog (and I cannot recommend it enough) instead. Pressurised by my reading challenge, I went back to my unfinished Ozma book once I was done with Phil Knight’s memoir, and end up loving the second half! And, I will always be happy I read it. So, I guess there is always a silver lining?
All’s Well That End’s Well
Did I enjoy my reading challenge? Yes.
Would I do it again? No.
Seems odd, right? But, at the end of the day, it made reading a chore for me, and I was often reading because I had to, not because I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of positives came out of my reading challenge. I rediscovered the beauty of poetry. I fell in love with Vikram Seth’s Beastly Tales From Here And There and Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal’s Circus Folk & Village Freaks, both poetry collections that I read not only because they were supposed to be excellent, but were also supposed to be quick reads. And thanks to my co-founder Devanshi and her love for cosy mysteries, I discovered the Ginger Gold series, which are thoroughly entertaining and decent-enough reads (I finished the first three books this year).
I am happy I did this reading challenge and it remains the only one of my five new-year resolutions that I have completed. I started off the year with a desire to read more non-fiction and Indian-authored books (at this point, I’ve read 20 and 34.5 respectively) and I feel I managed both goals successfully. The reading challenge made me push myself and the boundaries of what I read. I revelled in the joy of discovery and it has reinforced the kind of writing I dislike. I’ve read literary fiction, commercial books, graphic novels, poetry and even young adult, and, in more cases than not, I enjoyed the books. Thanks to the challenge, I’ve read books I normally wouldn’t veer towards such as an LGBTQIA+ novel and the memoirs of a comedian I don’t even care to watch and of a neurosurgeon dying of cancer. It has been an exciting and exhilarating reading year, largely thanks to this challenge. And, above all, although it isn’t going to be an official challenge, I’m going to try to see if I can push myself to read 65 books in 2020!
As a young boy, Nirbhay had the annoying habit of waking up at 5 a.m. Since television was a big no-no, he had no choice but to read to entertain himself and that is how his love affair with books began. A true-blue Piscean, books paved the path to his fantasy worlds- worlds he’d often rather stay in. Nirbhay is the co-founder and publisher of The Curious Reader.
You can read his articles, here.