I Completed My Goodreads Reading Challenge: So What?

For the past several years I’ve been setting myself a goal of reading 50 books per year. Somehow, I always feel certain I’ll easily accomplish it and reliably come out five to ten books short.

Last year was the first time I’ve ever officially succeeded. In the final few days of  December 2020, I forced myself to rush through a forgotten stack of graphic novels I’d already decided I didn’t want to read. I guess this was the way my particular brain compromised between the incessant call to be “productive” above all else and my absolute rejection of that value in general. 

It’s halfway through 2021 now—both months after last year’s “triumph” and months into this year’s challenge. (Again, 50 books. Again, I’m behind and feeling guilty about it.) It’s an odd time to be thinking about this, I guess, but the charge to write about something interesting for this blog post forced me to confront just how depleted my capacity to fully engage with media has been during the pandemic. The bleak truth is that though I might have finally met a goal I’d been striving for, I don’t really remember anything meaningful about any of the books I read last year. In some ways, that claim might be an oversimplification, but it’s also an accurate description of the emotional toll the past year and a half took on me and, consequently, my media habits. So, in other words, when it came down to it, I placed more value on the quantity of books I read than the effect that media had on my life.

A small black and white cat sprawls out on a teal velvet bedspread. In the foreground, there's a copy of Twilight opened to chapter 13, "Another Complication."
My kitten, Frankie, re-reading Twilight with me. [Image Description: A small black and white cat sprawls out on a teal velvet bedspread. In the foreground, there’s a copy of Twilight opened to chapter 13, “Another Complication.”]

For me, reading is important self-care and one of the most purposeful ways I connect with my communities. This has always been true for me, and I expect it to continue to be so for my whole life. But, like a lot of people, I find it difficult to consistently dedicate the amount of time and energy and focus to reading that I think I should. This is the simplest way to describe the motivation behind my setting of the yearly challenge. This is what I should have felt proud of overcoming when I finished that final book. I’m being honest, though, the irony of finally reaching the goal despite not even enjoying the experience in the same year state violence led to the deaths of millions of people has left me wondering what the point was. 

To be clear: I’m not arguing that simply reading a lot of books has any bearing on how seriously someone takes huge issues like COVID-19 or police brutality. What I am thinking about, though, is how white supremacist norms–like valuing measurable goals without any interrogation of their quality in context–infiltrate and corrupt even the purest-seeming parts of our lives. 

I’m not totally sure what this reckoning means for me in practice. Sure, now, writing this, I can see how my approach to reaching this particular goal reveals something dark about the way my theoretical understanding of anti-capitalist, anti-racist values functionally trickles down to my day-to-day. And I can also see how just not setting a goal isn’t an answer in itself. But beyond that?

A huge fluffy black cat is spread out and sleeping on a pink floral blanket. Next to him is a copy of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.
My other cat, Prince Charmont, sleeping so sweetly next to a book I definitely did not set there for this photo. [Image Description: A huge fluffy black cat is spread out and sleeping on a pink floral blanket. Next to him is a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.]

In terms of reading, I think the place I’ve landed is working to orient my goals more around the practice versus the number. The other day I was listening Feminist Frequency Radio (one of my favorite podcasts and long-time friend of GeekGirlCon), and Anita explained that she’s spent years building the habit of reading every night, even just for a little bit. While this ends up meaning that she reads a lot of books, the actual quantity wasn’t treated at all like an important result. I’ve heard people say similar things to this before, but something about hearing it again in a moment when I was already feeling guilty about not having read something more interesting or relevant to write about made it feel particularly insightful.

This is the approach to reading I plan to take for the time being, but I don’t think it’s really the goal. Not to be too unbearably contrived, but I think the real goal—and the whole point of this rambly blog post—is to be careful and consistent in our rejection of white supremacist and capitalist values, even in things as seemingly exempt as how many books we want to read in a year. We’re responsible, particularly myself and other white folks, for making this rejection the one practice we don’t compromise on. Everything else—how much we read, how much we produce, how we show up for our communities—has to be filtered through that larger commitment instead of the other way around. I think that’s how we stay true to our values and make all the little, and big, things in our life meaningful. 

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Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

Teal Christensen

Teal is a recently-graduated English literature student with more unfinalized future plans than favorite songs from Hamilton. Her main hobbies are reading books, thinking about books, and talking about books.

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