Why I Don’t Have Reading Goals For 2019
January 16, 2019
Till a few years ago, I read books simply because I enjoyed reading them. I read books that caught my fancy, books that seemed interesting, and I read without keeping count of them.
Then one January, I spotted the HT Brunch Book Challenge. It was simple enough. The Sunday magazine, HT Brunch, asked that you read 24 books that year. If you met the target, you won the challenge. The magazine folks even sent some lucky winners a bundle of books as a reward.
I was intrigued and inspired by the challenge. My personal and professional life was a bit of a mess at that time. I had lost my way, and I hadn’t been reading much either. Maybe having this goal would get me on the reading wagon again and so, I declared my participation in the challenge on Twitter.
By December, I had exceeded the target much to my delight. I continued with reading goals (inspired by the HT Brunch Book Challenge) for the next year, and the next—36 books in 2017 (I read 42) and 50 books in 2018.
But this year, I haven’t taken up their challenge of 60 books (that’s more than a book a week!). Nor am I setting any reading goals for myself.
Reading goals can be fun. After I had set the first goal, I began reading with fervour again. I kept my Kindle with me at all times, from clinics to coffee shops. I happily noticed that I spent more time reading than binge-watching TV shows.
After the first year’s success, I found my rhythm again, and I felt good about myself. As I continued with higher goals over the next couple of years, I sought out book recommendations almost every week. I updated my Goodreads profile regularly. I glowed with pleasure when I said to people, “I read almost 30 books last year,” and they responded with a “Wow!”
But in 2018, something unexpected happened.
My reading became slower. I took breaks between books. I spent many evenings (my preferred reading time) on video calls with my spouse working in a different country. Some nights I didn’t read a book at all, instead finding myself engrossed in fascinating short stories in magazines like The New Yorker, or eye-opening long reads in The Guardian.
But these pieces didn’t count toward my goal of 50 books for the year.
In October I realised I would probably miss my reading target. I scrambled to read more books, skimming through paragraphs, barely registering beautiful phrases and sentences, and sometimes even missing out on an important turning point in the story. I didn’t enjoy the words, nor the plot, nor the characters. By the first week of December, it hit me. I wouldn’t be meeting my reading target.
In the end, I fell seven books short of my goal.
There is nothing wrong with having goals. They keep you motivated and you feel a heady, exhilarating rush when you achieve them, whether it’s a certain score in an exam, or a gold medal or completing a specific number of books.
But sometimes having a serious goal, especially for a hobby, is like crossing an invisible line from pure passion to competitive sport. And when you don’t accomplish that goal, you feel you let yourself down.
Not completing 50 books made me miserable.
Though I told myself this wasn’t a “failure”, a few debilitating thoughts lingered deep down: that I had been lazy, that I wasn’t a serious reader, that I was cheating myself.
In the last week of December, my Twitter timeline was flooded with other people’s reading achievements. Someone had read 35 books, someone else had read 60. Yet another person had read more than a hundred books.
Then a writer tweeted that she didn’t understand the fascination with the number of books one reads. She had read 35 books in her best year and she was happy with them because she had savoured each book.
That idea made me pause. As I pondered over this statement, I questioned myself.
Did I enjoy what I read? Mostly yes. I hadn’t enjoyed the last four or five books of 2018, because I had read them in a hurry to reach my goal. Even now, I can’t recall what I liked about those books. How do you relish the words you’re reading if you’re going too fast?
Then I asked, what was I doing when I was not reading books?
I was reading stories across genres by diverse writers, and I read fascinating and deeply reported features.
And did I enjoy those?
Yes. The pieces I read were enriching and some were mesmerising, and I felt like I had read something worth my time. No doubt, I had read a lot of good writing, even though it wasn’t all in book form.
And then finally, I asked myself, why do I like to read?
I read to find meaning in my life and the external world, to unearth new worlds and discover fresh perspectives.
And, ergo, I asked myself, was it so bad that I hadn’t read 50 books? The reading I had done in 2018, books and otherwise, helped me grow as a person, giving me new insights into people, places and cultures. The reading transported me to different spots around the world, and I learned empathy as I gained greater awareness of the world we inhabit.
It then struck me: I was caught up in the “Reading Race”, a futile, meaningless race against myself, against imaginary competitors.
I made a tough decision. I bowed out of the Reading Race. No reading goals for 2019. No pressure. Just my focus on enjoying reading, in whatever form it may be.
I’ve read a couple of books already in the new year, a few short stories and some personal essays, and without a target looming over my head, I feel relaxed when I read. The words now mean so much more than what I see on the page. I’m soaking in the phrases that I like. I’m living the characters’ lives. I’m able to go back to the stories and think about what haunted me or excited me, or even some minor element that stayed with me.
This year, my goal, if one can call it that, is to read as much as I possibly can, but not to the extent that I become obsessed with the numbers. No matter the pressure from Twitter, magazine challenges, Facebook groups, or Goodreads forums. I’ll stick to reading whatever I want, and how much I want.
A few days into 2019, I open up Goodreads. A message on the left of the home page urges me to challenge myself to read more this year and prompts me to fill in a number. I ignore it.
I don’t need to read more. Instead, I need to enjoy my reading more. I don’t need numbers or goals to show my passion for reading.
I know I’m a reader, and that’s all that matters.
Rohini Kapur is a writer based in Mumbai, working on everything from corporate projects to fashion blogs. She speaks Spanish and is a fan of tennis player Rafael Nadal. As a moody yet avid reader, she devours everything from science fiction to chick lit to history. Her favourite hobby is looking for ways to procrastinate over the arduous task of putting fingers to keyboard. She also likes to cook, practise yoga and watch superhero movies.
Read her articles here.