Discussion | The Pressure of Reading Challenges

It’s that time of year, folks, when we look back at our very optimistic reading goals for the year and cry a bit about how little of the year is left and how many reading challenges we still have yet to complete.

This year, I decided to ditch the overly ambitious goals and just participate in one big yearly reading challenge – Around the Year in 52 Books. Set up as it is, participants need to have a reading pace of roughly a book a week and since I tend to average higher than that, I always think Around the Year is a pretty manageable reading project that still has some challenging prompts. However, I also always find myself in this same position every year I take part: it gets to the final month and the year and my monthly TBR just becomes a set of “required reading” simply in order to finish a reading project. That makes December’s reading often a very odd set of books and doesn’t leave much room for deviation or mood reading or even taking part in a lot of the fun readathons that are going on. That’s no way to see out the end of a year, is it?

Reading shouldn’t be about pressure. Regardless of our own personal reasons for reading – whether it’s purely entertainment or an exercise in empathy or educational as we learn about subjects or viewpoints that aren’t our own – reading ought to be a hobby that is an escape from any other pressures in life. It shouldn’t dominate your free time if you don’t want it to and, for my money at least, it shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve been transported back to school and you’ve just been handed a list of set texts for that term. But that’s what December always feels like for me because of the pressure of finishing reading challenges.

At heart, I’m a completionist, and I can’t deny that part of this is related to anxiety. I like having things finished and completed; the prospect of having almost completed something actually makes me feel worse about myself. In what might be quite a twisted logic, I’d actually prefer to have definitely failed spectacularly to complete something rather than almost got there. So I’d rather have only completed half the challenges of a reading project than be two off having done so. Like I said, the logic is flawed, but it’s kind of how my brain operates.

(This is also why NaNoWriMo this year kind of gutted me… but I’m sure there will be more on that in a later post.)

So reading challenges, even when they’re meant to be fun and when I pick a relatively low-key one, cause a strange sense of pressure for me around this time of year. As the dark nights have well and truly settled in and there’s a mad scramble to buy gifts for one’s nearest and dearest, December is definitely the last time of year when you need added pressure in your life. And yet, with a culture of goal setting and reflection, it comes as little surprise that December actually ends up being pretty pressured and stressful for some people, even if “all” they’re focusing on is finishing up their reading goals for the year.

This year, I’m trying not to be quite so put out when I don’t reach my reading challenge goals. It’s pretty unlikely I will complete Around the Year in 52 Books because of the number of slightly tricky challenges I have left and the fact I’m not really feeling like reading every book I’d need to read in order to finish the project. But do you know what? I’m trying to work on that being ok, I really am. Because the world’s not going to stop spinning just because I missed a couple of reading challenges from my yearly goals and I’m still pretty damn pleased with the amazing books I did read this year.

Have you taken part in any reading challenges this year? How are you doing? Like me, do you feel the pressure (self-inflicted though it might be) to complete something once you’ve pledged to do it and then find yourself deflated when you don’t? Chat to me in the comments!

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10 responses to “Discussion | The Pressure of Reading Challenges”

  1. Great post, Emma! I set myself a Goodreads goal of 52 books which I should be able to complete this month, but I didn’t set myself as many strict reading goals this year as I have in previous years. The only things I’ve wanted to do are to read at least 100 authors of colour by my 30th birthday in 2021, and to not be intimidated by the bigger books on my shelves. I still need to read some bigger books, but to be honest my reading year has been a strange one this year! I seem to go through phases where I read loads and then phases where I read nothing, there hasn’t been much of an in-between this year so I feel like I haven’t read as many of the books as I’ve wanted to get to this year.

    But like you said, reading is all about having fun and sometimes there are so many books I wish I could read all at once that I end up stressing myself out and reading nothing – and why am I stressing myself out over a hobby? So I’m really excited for my Christmas break this year. :) In two weeks I’ll be back at my parents’ house and I can laze about in my pyjamas and read and I am very excited for it.

    I know what you mean about almost achieving a goal feeling even worse than failing completely, but you should 100% be proud of your NaNoWriMo progress – you’ve done so well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good luck with your Goodreads goal! Even though you say your year has been up and down in terms of reading, it’s good that you’re able to look back and reflect. I think, in some ways, yearly reading challenges or goals are good for that – they help focus your reading and give you something to work towards, if that makes sense?

      I completely agree that reading should be 100% stress-free, not stress-inducing! I always feel like my reading over Christmastime becomes the fun stuff, the purely enjoyable, and I hope yours can be that too this year.


  2. The only fixed challenge I did this year is the Goodreads Reading Challenge (which I set to a personal manageable goal of 50) because I’ve come to realise that I don’t like reading challenges. For me, they create pressure and like you said, it takes me back to that school set-text mentality where it’s a list of books I have to read instead of a list I want and am in the mood to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree. It’s a shame when reading tips over and starts to become a chore rather than a fun hobby, which sometimes happens with assigned texts at school. I like yearly challenges on the whole if I think of them as guidelines or prompts to help me shape my TBR, but if I take on too many they become restrictive and I end up really feeling the pressure to read something just because it fits the challenge, not because I actually want to!


      • Yes I’ve found that. For the last couple of years I’ve tried setting personal yearly challenges to guide my reading but I come to dislike them when plans change and I’m not in the right kind of mood.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve done a few challenges this year and have finished all but one (which I won’t finish) – it doesn’t bother me that I won’t finish one challenge as I use challenges for different things – to help organise my reading, to help me find new genres/ read different stuff to what I always go for, to have something to participate in, to have something to make lists about… In fact, making lists is a big part of it! The thing I really like when challenges are set, is revisiting my TBR stack and working out what fits – I often rediscover books that I have waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your mindset is the best one to have – using challenges to help shape reading and find new things rather than it dictating your reading is a great way to think about it!

      I love challenges for that reason too, they help me get excited about making TBRs and lists – I do so love a good list and then checking off my progress as I go!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I only take part in the Goodreads Challenge which is yearly, and then just pick up monthly readathons here and there. I don’t feel particularly pressured to finish the Goodreads Challenge, although i have always wanted to try Around the World in 52 Books, but I know I would forget about it by February!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I go through weeks at a time when I partially forget about the reading challenge I’m doing! I have a doc saved on my Google Drive with the prompts and what I plan to read for them, so I can always access it on my laptop or phone or at work, and I usually refer to that when I remember the reading challenge actually exists! I also have a bit in my bullet journal where I write down the books I’ve read so, as long as I use my bullet journal, I *should* remember about my reading goals, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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