Before June 2020, I can’t remember the last time I read for fun. Definitely not any time during my four years at university. Reading turned out to be the distraction and the challenge I needed to get through the year. Finishing a book gave me an immediate sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, which I needed when the pandemic started. Finishing 50 books made me feel euphoric.
To start a reading goal, pick how many books you want to read and think about achievability over having a challenge. Remember, it’s a goal. You want to succeed. Then, determine how many books you have to read each week or month to be successful.
This year, I want to read 100 books. For me, two books a week sounds like a lot and is discouraging. Instead, I’m telling myself I have to read 25 books a season, or every four months. It sounds more accomplishable. You want to define your goals in a way that sounds good to you.
Here are the dos and don'ts of achieving your reading goal:
DO Track Your Reading — I use GoodReads, which even has a challenge feature that tallies how many books you’ve read, how close you are to reaching your goal and will tell you if you fall behind schedule. As you can see from the screenshot, I’ve completed two books and am two books ahead of schedule because it hasn’t been a full week yet. You could find a similar app or keep a journal of everything you’ve read.
DO Find An Accountability “Partner” — I say “partner” because I’m using Instagram stories this year. Last year, I’d tell my family how close I was to my goal or what book I was on. This year, whenever I start a book, I take a picture of the cover, number it, and post it to my story. From there, I save it to my books of 2021 highlight.
As an alternative, you could find a family member, friend, or colleague who also has a reading goal and discuss your progress with them. Whether in-person or virtual, book clubs are also a great way to read more and give you an outlet to discuss what you read.
DO Take Advantage of Different Resources — I’m going to read a hundred books this year, but I’m certainly not going to buy a hundred books. My favourite way to get fresh reading material is to use the public library, which has many ebooks and audiobooks available through electronic collections like Overdrive or its mobile app Libby. If you can’t visit your library, call or email them to see what resources they have and to set-up an online account. Or if you can visit your library, borrow books the traditional way. I love getting an email because a new book I had on hold is available.
Another option is exchanging books with a family member, friend, neighbour, or colleague. There are also different book exchange options, in some communities and online, where you get someone’s address and send them a book, and they send you a book in return. Or you put a book in a community box and take a different one home with you.
If you want to buy books, I recommend looking at second-hand book stores or book fairs first. A lot of used books are in excellent shape, and some are relatively new. Since the pandemic started, some second-hand book stores have also begun offering curbside pick-up or mystery boxes delivered to your door for low prices. You may be surprised by what your community has to offer.
DO Read Good Books — I know, I know, how will you know if a book is good or not before you’ve read it? I also know some of you will disagree strongly with this point, but put books you aren’t enjoying down and move on. Do read good books means don’t force yourself to read “bad” books. If I’m not enjoying a book, I know it will take longer for me to read it, or worse, I’ll start skimming it, which I don’t count as completing a book. At that point, I’m just wasting my time.
If you’re on the hundredth page and it’s painful, move on to reading something else. Maybe it’s not the right time to read that book, or perhaps it’s just not for you. Whatever the problem with the book you’re struggling to read, please don’t make yourself read it anyway. There are plenty of books in the sea, er, out there in the world for your enjoyment and discovery.
You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. — Paul Sweeney
That is the feeling you want every time. Not, thank goodness it’s over.
DO Vary the Length of the Books You’re Reading — I’m ambitious, yes, but also realistic. There is no chance I’m reading a hundred 500 page novels this year. I like varying my reading choices between books that take longer to read due to either denser topics or length and lighter books. Some weeks I’ll read classics or non-fiction that take more time to get through or books that are over four-hundred pages. To stay on top of my goal, I’ll read a shorter book or a collection of short fiction or poetry the week after. For example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch at a whopping 771 pages of small font took me three weeks to read, reading for an hour or two every day. On the other hand, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, covering about 150 pages, only took a single afternoon to read.
If you’re starting to panic as your goal’s deadline creeps up on you, there’s no shame in Googling short works of fiction or books under 100 pages.
Put books you aren’t enjoying down and move on
DON’T Feel Bad for Staying in Your Comfort Zone — If you like Agatha Christie or harlequin romances, for example, then don’t feel bad for reading all Agatha Christie books to reach your goal (I mean, there’s at least 70 of them) or sticking to books within the genre you like. All that matters is that you’re reading and having a good time as you reach for your accomplishable goal.
DON’T Be Afraid to Look for Inspiration — I’ve Googled best books of the jazz age, best new fiction, and best memoirs. I love coming across lists of recommended books right here on Medium. I’ve gone as far as talking to a librarian or emailing the library to see what they recommend based on what I’m looking for.
No one should be judging you for not knowing what to read or for only reading the “best of” anything. If you’re more into the obscure and hard to find, then good for you. Don’t be afraid of judgement. Ask for recommendations.
DON’T Feel Bad if you Fail — You gave it your best shot, that’s all that matters, but set yourself up for success nonetheless.
If you feel more comfortable with shorter-term goals, then set shorter-term goals, like “I’ll read one book this month.” If a quarter of the way or halfway through the year, your goal seems insurmountable, then revise it. Again, make it achievable for you and don’t be afraid to change your goal.
“The only real failure is the failure to try, and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.” — Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“In any case you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
A year is a long time. Take it one day, or rather one book at a time.