Competitive Reading

All right, I’ll admit it. I am totally guilty of setting myself a reading challenge on Goodreads. This year, I’ve lowered the bar to eighteen. In previous years, I aimed for fifty-two; a book a week.

I achieved it (once, I think). Last year, I didn’t. I noticed my anxiety surge because it was November, and I was way off my reading challenge target. Then I thought, who cares? I realised my focus skewed away from enjoying the book to finishing the book. I’d be halfway through and already composing the review in my head. The number of books I’d read became the focus rather than their contents.

It’s all about the numbers

Last week I read an article in the Guardian about embracing online reading challenges, and I thought, UGH!

I oppose this need to turn everything enjoyable into a competition. We seem desperate for recognition through numbers and data, which I find sad to see. Everyone desires quantitive data, not quality, not the nourishment a story may give us or the information and insight a non-fiction book might offer.

I see the same competitive streak on cheap to make TV programmes. They take a creative career or pastime (singing, dancing, painting, sewing, baking, playing a musical instrument etc.) and shove it into a format where each week they pit the contestants against each other until one remains and is crowned the winner. Why not make a programme where all the contestants stay for the entire duration and we watch them learn, progress and grow together?

My bookcase looks better than yours! 

Another Guardian article accused book hoarders as the smug middle class who own books purely to show off their highbrow reading choices (and ensure they chuck out any books they’re embarrassed about if others see them).

You’re missing the point of owning books if you’re filling your shelves with titles purely to impress people. I believe the bookshelf is a snapshot of ourselves and our memories. They’re like tacky holiday ornaments you buy and keep on display, not so much for aesthetic reasons but for the memories they invoke.

Books are personal. Stories can appear at very profound moments in our lives. Stories and characters can inspire you or be just a bit of light escapism. A physical copy of a book can be almost like a physical person, an old friend you can keep returning to. Equally, stories can bring us closer to other people. Dad and I quote Discworld and Bernard Cornwell novels to each other. It’s like a secret code. Mum and I jointly read Robin Hobb and discuss her stories. I’ve been through some low points in my life, and often a good book has dragged me back out of them.

So wouldn’t you prefer to read for enjoyment rather than turn it into a competition? Wouldn’t you like to show off your bookcase, guilty pleasures and all, because looking at the well-worn spines brings you joy?

What books line your shelves and bring you joy? Which stories do you reread time and time again?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *