I set a reading goal every year. Mostly I do this because Goodreads prompts me to do it. For the past few years, I’ve set that goal at a just-out-of-reach-enough-to-feel-uncomfortable number, around 90 or 100. I’ve never made it to 100. I seem to naturally end up at around 85. Does it matter if I make it to 100? No. I am rejecting the tyranny of the reading goal this year.
85 books read is, really, enough books. 50 would be enough. So would 20, if you enjoyed them all. I’m lucky to have the time to read all those books. I don’t have kids, I’m a fast reader, and most importantly I don’t really have other hobbies (something to work on), so there you go. I start every year with noble plans to read big classics and buzzy new literary fiction and all kinds of things. Then in, say, November, when I realize I’m about 20 books behind, I start to cram in “quick reads” in an effort to get to 100. This is a stupid way to read and I am going to stop doing it. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a “quick read” (for me this is, let’s say, a thriller about a woman who has a secret she’s been keeping since high school or women’s fiction/romantic comedy/chick-lit/whatever we’re calling this category right now about a woman whose dead distant relative left her property in Scotland). These books are fun. I like many of them. What I don’t like is rushing to finish a book that I’m not even really enjoying just to make it to an arbitrary number of books read in one year. Meanwhile books I want to read but know will take me a while to finish — non-fiction about the 1918 flu pandemic, historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell, War and Peace — pile up on my shelves and threaten to collapse them.
Setting a reading goal used to motivate me to read more, but something flipped in the past few years and now I just find it stressful. Books are my job. They are also my main (only) hobby. And when your job and your fun hobby are the same, things get confusing. Reading 100 books in a year for fun also starts to feel like a job. Why? No one is paying me for that. (I wish.) And I need the fun part of this to be fun again, because we are in a pandemic and there isn’t a lot of fun to be had. One thing that’s surprised me about reading War and Peace is how good it feels to spend a lot of time with characters and just enjoy them. They’ve become so familiar to me that I think, okay what’s Andrei going to be morose about in today’s section? What social faux pas will Pierre commit? Is Marya going to think about God again today? But fondly. Like tuning in to a soap opera, or Love Island. (See above comment about needing more hobbies.)
I will do two things while I read this year: 1) I will quit books when I’m not enjoying them (already doing this! It feels great!); and 2) I will read books without worrying about how long it might take me to finish. I’ll be slow and I’ll be okay with being slow. (Sorry in advance to the library for never returning anything on time.)
Here’s an example: this weekend a friend and I had a Lord of the Rings marathon, and we were talking about wanting to read more fantasy and, especially, stories about feasts and treasure. I thought, oh I have that feminist translation of Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley, that’d be perfect. I own it. I bought it over a year ago and thought it would take me a while to read and I was behind on my goal for the year so it wasn’t a good time. But now it doesn’t matter when I finish a book because goals are meaningless. There you have it: my rallying cry for 2022. Bring on Grendel and the dragon.