Should You Set a Reading Goal?

“A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.”

Salman Rushdi

Picture this… it’s 2023 and you’re scrolling through the ‘gram and you see hundreds of those wonderful bookstagrammers you follow talking about how many books they want to read this year. Or, if you’re younger than me (or far cooler than me) you may be scrolling through BookTok and the same thing happens. You’re bombarded with figures that seem insurmountable. You ask yourself, how the fuck am I supposed to read a thousand books this year?

This time of year, the first week of January, is a double-edged sword for setting goals and resolutions. It’s natural to want to be better than you were this year, or do better than you did this year, but it’s easy to feel a bit shit about the fact that there’s no way on the planet you could possibly read a thousand books. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I look at these book goals with eyes widened and mouth agape, wondering how it is possible to read so many books in a year. Of course, there are extraneous variables to consider… maybe a person is unable to work and therefore spends their time reading, for example. However, for the majority of us, we cannot spend all day everyday reading, as much as we might like to.

For the most part, numerical goals are perfectly fine. Say you read fifty books this year, and you’d like to try for sixty next year. In and of itself, that’s awesome. However, in my mind, the problems begin to seep in when you find yourself rushing through books and not enjoying them just to tick another number off the list and to reach your goal. I will always be of the opinion that there’s no point reading a book that you don’t enjoy. If you’re skim reading and rushing through a book, instead of enjoying and savouring it, then is there any point wasting your time with it? It’s because of this that I’m not the biggest fan of setting a number as a reading goal. That, and the fact that you can get into disagreements about what length of book counts, what format of book, whether anthologies count as one book or multiple, etc.  What I’d rather do, is say that I’d like to read ‘around X books’, rather than have a specific number that I feel I NEED to hit. I read 57 books last year, and I was happy with that because my target was ‘around 60’. I didn’t feel the need to squeeze in three short books over the last day or so of 2022 or anything like that.

What I’m proposing is a move away from number-based goals towards more habit-based goals. Here are some examples…

  1. Set a portion of time aside each day to read.

If you are short on time, this is a great goal for you. Perhaps set yourself something like, ‘Read for 10 minutes before bed each evening.’ It will soon add up. Anything is better than nothing, especially when it comes to reading.

  • Read across more genres, or more non-fiction books.

If you only read a certain genre or author, you could take a leap of faith and try something different. This is a great opportunity to visit a library or bookshop and see what else takes your fancy.

  • Read more from under-represented authors.

The majority of books I used to read were written by white male authors, they seemed to dominate the horror-thriller genre. However, times have changed and there are so many diverse authors to choose from. You might decide to read more books written by women, or from authors within a certain culture.

  • Join a book club – whether online or in person.

This can be a great way to meet new people and also to try out some new authors/books. A quick Google search should tell you if there are any book clubs local to you. There are LOADS of internet-based ones to choose from too. If there isn’t one that takes your fancy, maybe you could be the one to take the plunge and set it up.

  • Set yourself a book-buying ban.

If you’re anything like me, you accumulate books quicker than you can actually read them. Setting yourself a goal to only read books you already have (or which are free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited or from the library) can stop your house from getting out of control.

  • Organise or declutter your bookshelf.

I did this a couple of months ago and managed to donate about 300 books to my local charity shop. Some of them I’d read, some I hadn’t. The point was that they were in the way. Now I have two bookcases filled with books and I’m operating on a one-in, one-out policy to keep things from spiralling again.

  • Listen to more audiobooks.

Audiobooks are still new to me. I know that loads of people absolutely love them. They’re a great way to read more books, without having to sit down and read. You can listen to them while you drive or clean or workout, time that would otherwise be ‘wasted’.

  • Only read books you want to read.

I LOVE THIS ONE! I used to think that in order to be well-read, I had to read certain kinds of books that I really didn’t want to read. Now, I only read what I want to. Life is too short to read books that you don’t enjoy. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading books because you want to experience them, but know that you don’t have to read certain genres or certain authors just because they might have previously been seen as ‘classics’ or ‘must-reads’.

  • Track your reads.

I have to confess, I started tracking my reads back in 2010. I’ve been using the same notebook ever since then and I write down the dates, the titles and the authors. The notepad is a little bit ratty now, but I can’t bear to not use it to track my books. It’s a little old school, but it works for me. There are plenty of different apps, such as Goodreads, that will help you track your reads too, if you’d prefer this kind of approach.

  • Leave book reviews.

    This is something I’m trying to get better at. If I read a book on Kindle (which I got back in October) it automatically prompts you to leave a review and so it’s easy to remember. When it’s a physical book, I often forget. As a new, self-published author, I know the power that reviews can have. Making a resolution to leave a review, or even just a star-rating, after you’ve finished a book can make all the difference for an author and it only takes the reader a minute or two. This year, I WILL DO THIS FOR EVERY BOOK READ. You can hold me to that!

    • Read more self-published authors.

    Yes, this one is a bit self-indulgent to include, I know. The thing is that self-published authors are often left by the wayside compared to books published under big companies because self-published authors tend not to have the marketing budget to do a huge book launch. There are a lot of misconceptions about self-published books – mainly that they’re poorly written and edited. Of course, some are, but MANY of them are well-written and well-structured and you wouldn’t actually know it was self-published unless you looked. I’d like to think mine falls into this category. Setting a goal such as reading one self-published book per month would open you up to so many wonderful new authors and also, likely, make an author’s day!

    So, there we have it. Essentially, it all boils down to ‘you do you’. You don’t have to make huge numerical goals that you will never achieve just because that’s all you see online. Make reading work for you. Use your goals to further your love for reading, not detract from it. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. If it does, maybe it is time to re-evaluate how you’re approaching books. The new year is the perfect time to take a look at your reading goals and reflect upon whether or not they work for you. I’d love to hear your reading goals for 2023 – numerical or otherwise. You do you, and don’t concern yourself with what others are doing. I think that’s generally a good rule to live by anyway, even if you’re not specifically talking about books. Don’t you?

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