Why I won’t be doing a reading challenge in 2016

The last several years, I have been doing the Reading Challenge from http://goodreads.com, where you select the number of books that you aim to read in a year, and keep track of progress there. Previous to using Goodreads, I used to keep track of the books that I read in a small diary for each year. The number of books that I read each year varies from 50 to 100 – this year, assuming I finish (the most excellent) Saga Volume Five in the next six hours, I will have read 65 books, last year was only 57, three years ago was just over 100.

Do these numbers mean anything? They mean that I like reading, and I do. I almost certainly read more books than the ‘average person’, and I do read quite quickly. But apart from that, they are pretty meaningless.

If I add in other numbers, like for instance the number of non-fiction books I read this year (3), or the number of crime novels I read this year (15), you can start to get more meaning from them. And that meaning could be that I don’t read particularly deeply, particularly intellectually.

I read books the way that ‘average person’ watches television – as something to do, as something to entertain me when I’m tired after work

And with a reading challenge, I’ve found that it gets even worse. There are times when I pick which books to read based on how far behind or ahead I am on the challenge, where I have streaks of reading slim volumes or graphic novels just so that I can add numbers to my meaningless number, where I decide to read a crime novel because I know I will burn through it in a couple of days (often without it having any impact on my mind). Sometimes I’ll look at my meaningless number and say to myself, cool, I have a head start here, I can launch into the long, difficult, dense novel – and then put it aside, because my mind is spoilt on all the sugary light reading I’ve been doing.

So, next year, I’m going to throw out the quantitative measure, and go with the qualitative. I’m going to read short fiction, I’m going to read essays, biographies, articles, I’m going to read for content. I am sure I will still read a similar number of crime novels (should I add that not all crime novels are easy brain candy?), but I hope that I will also read more philosophy, science, psychology, political theory, just plain improving books.

2016 will be my numberless year.