My relationship with reading over the last few years has been rocky and I’ve not really wanted to admit it. I’ve been a big reader for my entire life – there weren’t many mornings you couldn’t find me eating my breakfast with my nose in a book or, if there was nothing else to read, the back of the cereal box.
I’m blessed to have so many friends that love to read too so there’s plenty of opportunities to discuss the latest release or (more realistically) those books that we’ve all been recommending to each other for years but have only just managed to make time for. I also have my fair share of friends who don’t love to read but love to ask me for recommendations or talk to me about my opinions on the latest craze sweeping the reading world.
It’s been a long time since I felt like I was qualified to talk about books properly. There was a brief spike in uni when I minored in English Literature and felt like I could have real conversations about books that meant something but for a while now (now having been out of uni for longer than I was in it) I haven’t felt like I read wide enough, frequently enough or fast enough to call myself a ‘big reader’. Of course, some of this is imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head but I do actually think it has some foundations.
Until this year, I did not read remotely widely. There might have been the occasional outlier in my choice of books but for the most part, I was predictable. Historical fiction, a female lead, YA. That’s it.
Some people might even consider my reading patterns now to be very limited – after all, I did mention in my mid-year wrap up that I had read books only written by women…how diverse can that be … right? (Cue an image of me laughing maniacally.)
I guess the big question is how did I make 2018 my best reading year ever without really trying?
The answer? Finally having a healthy perspective on reading challenges, loosely enforcing a book-buying ban and actually having a TBR.
Reading challenges are not a new thing in my reading life (or anyones!) Most of us Australian kids are introduced to them through the MS Readathon or the Premier’s Reading Challenge and while we might not be particularly motivated by them, we still understand the basics. Read a lot, you get rewarded. Whether you set yourself your own personal challenge (like I did in 2012, reading 50 completely new books to me, no re-reads allowed) or whether you use Goodreads’ built in challenges, setting yourself goals is always a good way to get things done.
The problem with reading challenges (the public ones in particular) is that it starts to feel like a competition. Who can set themselves the biggest goal? Who can read the fastest? Who’s reading the most current books? It’s all a big comparison game and I didn’t find it to be very helpful.
So this year, I decided that I would still do a challenge but have a slightly different perspective. I like them because they make sure I actually do read – we all know what it can be like if you get into a reading slump, sometimes you need something to motivate you to actually start reading again.
I set my challenge at 30 books – I’ve tried doing 50/52 before but the thought of 1 book a week is daunting. Sometimes it’s possible (more on this in a bit) but most of the time I’d be lucky if I read one every two weeks. So I went with that in mind. 1 book, every two weeks is very possible FOR ME. Not everyone will have the same abilities – there are people out there who can read three a week, every week and that’s just not me. I rolled with 26 and then rounded it up to make sure I pushed myself a little bit.
A book-buying ban
Last year I stopped myself from buying any books. It was my New Year’s resolution and I sucked at it. So I resolved to be better at it this year. I still suck at it. I will keep going until I buy NO books for one whole year. At this point I’m just trying to get through month by month.
How did this help with my reading life? It simply forced me to read the books I already have on my shelves. There are hundreds of them. Hundreds of unread books, right in front of me. Instead of scrolling through Goodreads for recommendations or even really getting caught up in the pretty covers of Bookstagram, I just read the books I already had. Either that, or I would borrow from the library or from friends. In those cases I had to really consider whether I wanted to pay the holding fees or have the responsibility of someone else’s book in my hands (I spill a lot of food, okay, it’s a huge reason why I buy my own books).
A To-Be-Read list
Right now, as I make my way over to the post I made in January, it’s the first time I’m looking at the books I set out for myself to read before the end of the year. I didn’t write it down anywhere else and I tried to just read what I felt like reading – extra points if I happened to tick them off the list at the end of the year. So far, I’ve only read 2 of my top 10 to read. That’s two books I no longer need to feel guilty about.
I set that list out so I could have some kind of other loose goal and my perspective was that if I even managed to tick one off, it would be a step in the right direction.
Then, and I know this is really crazy but, I just started reading.
In the first month of this year, I read 11 books – well above what I had set out for myself. I found myself with the time and the inclination to read and then, the more I read, the more I wanted to read. It really was as simple as that.
There were weeks – months, even – when I would get nowhere near my goal for the timeframe. Instead of being disheartened, I just waited until I felt like I could dedicate some time to sitting down with a book and then I did it.
In September I went on a reading holiday and polished off 7 books. By that time I had hit my goal for the year and then the pressure was off. Unlike past years, I found that I didn’t stop reading once the goal was filled. I just kept going and I really loved it. I found I was reading more books that I actually liked (most of my reads this year have 4 stars or more) and I was actually reading books out of my comfort zone but still reading widely.
Of course, all except two (so far) of my reads have been written by women, but I actually think that has made me read even wider, in a strange way. I wasn’t just reading that historical fiction, YA stuff anymore – although there is plenty of it – but I was reading anything that sounded interesting. Memoirs, biographies, dystopian, middle grade, graphic novels, crime and mystery. Things I would have been hesitant to pick up before, I’ve picked up with ease this year.
Reading is supposed to be a leisure activity – even if you’re learning, it’s supposed to be relaxed learning, a way for you to go at your own pace. I’m truly sick of being made to feel guilty because I don’t read fast enough, current enough or … enough.
I am a big reader – I push myself to read as much as I can and it might be slower or faster or about the same as your speed and I definitely have reading slumps but who cares? Read as much as YOU can and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it, not even yourself.