Why I Don’t Do Reading Challenges

Reading challenges seem to be all the rage these days. The annual PopSugar Reading Challenge is especially popular, which prompts you to read an impressive 40 books in a year. The list ranges widely, from ‘a book from a nonhuman perspective’ to ‘a book involving travel’.

In theory, I love the idea of a reading challenge; it encourages you to branch out, expanding your literary horizons.

But I’ve never done one. Nor do I ever want to do one. Because the last thing I want to do is turn reading into a chore, yet another task I have to tick off a list.

Truth be told, reading is one of the only good-for-me habit I don’t have to force myself to do. Since childhood, I’ve been a bookworm and still read about 25-30 books a year. Unlike flossing or strength-training, reading is a good habit that I do purely out of enjoyment.

I could be wrong, but I’d like to think I already read a wide variety of books. Here are some of the books I’ve read this year and loved:

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Neopolitan Novels, Book Three by Elena Ferrante (2014) (the third Neopolitan Novel)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance (2016) 

 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adiche (2007) 

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates (2015) 

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino (2016) 

The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead (2016) 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) 

The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine di Giovani (2016) 

East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” by Philippe Sands (2016) 

Without You, There is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim (2014) 

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life by Heather Havrilesky (2016) 

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman (2011) 

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy (2017) 

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (2013) 

I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron (2011) 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them by Meg Jay (2013) 

Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York by Sara Botton (2013) 

Ask Polly’s Guide to Your Next Crisis by Heather Havrilesky (2017) 

I’d love to know your perspective on this – do you enjoy reading challenges? Do you find they don’t turn reading into a chore? Which ones have you done?

Oh and what books have you read recently that you’d recommend? I am going to need a lot of reading material on the camino!

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.)

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

12 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Do Reading Challenges”

  1. I actually really enjoy reading challenges. I’ve always been a bookworm, but I find that setting myself a goal (e.g. 52 books a year, on GoodReads), helps remind me to pick up a book when I’m in a situation where I have free time, but I’m doing something like scrolling through Instagram – and I know I’d be happier with my nose in a book!

    Sometimes I meet the goal, sometimes I surpass it, and sometimes I don’t even reach it at all, but if it’s helped me read more than usual, I call it a success anyway :)

  2. I used to set reading challenges for myself, usually a quantity challenge vs an attempt to read certain books from particular categories, but I had to stop because it was causing me too much stress – ha! I’d set a reasonable goal – maybe 25 books a year – but when Goodreads would tell me I was behind schedule, I’d get stressed out. It totally sucked all the fun out of reading for me! That being said, I did read quite a bit more often back when I was setting challenges for myself, so maybe I was just setting my goals too high. :)

  3. I don’t necessarily follow Popsugar’s reading challenge, but I’ll usually print out the list and then after I read a book see if it checks off any of the categories. But I’m like you — I like the freedom to choose what I want to read when I want to read it. A few years ago I decided to try reading all of the Booker winners of my lifetime, in order, and made it about five books in before realizing that a) I didn’t really like any of them; and b) even reading them in between reading ones I chose for myself felt too restricting. So that one went by the wayside. This is also why I hesitate to join book clubs, even though I know that it’s about more than just the books.

    I also read The Underground Railroad this year and could not put it down, and many of the other you’ve read are on my to-be-read list. I also enjoyed Dept of Speculation [Jenny Offill], Homegoing [Yaa Gyasi], Sister of My Heart [Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni], Exit West [Mohsin Hamid], Beautiful Ruins [Jess Walter], and We Should All Be Feminists [Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie] this year. One of my favorites of the last few years has been Born to Run, which I continually recommend to everyone I meet and which I think will keep you great company on the Camino. Oh, and The Geography of Bliss! And now I’m done :) Happy walking and reading! xx

    • Thanks for the recommendation, downloading Born to Run now! My feet are in shambles so hopefully that will have some tips on how to handle long-distance walking, ha. And I did something similar when I was in college – I tried to read all the classic books you´re usually required to read in high school, and hated about half of them (The Unbearable Lightness of Being is still one of my least favorite books).

  4. I also don’t do reading challenges although about a year ago I did finally sign up for a GoodReads account but only to keep track (and remember!) what I’ve read. I read for me and thanks to my daytime job (a librarian) I feel I have a pretty well-rounded reading palate although history whether nonfiction or fiction will always be my favorite. But I definitely agree that a “challenge” can make what should be a fun and worthwhile pastime into a chore.

    I cannot recommend the nonfiction work “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women” enough. It was heartbreaking to read but fascinating to learn about this unknown period in recent American history. And since you’re in Spain, I think you’d enjoy Adam Hochschild’s “Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War.” I knew the basics of the Spanish Civil War but never had read such an indepth account, especially when seeing it from the American perspective.

    And “The Hundred Year Walk: an Armenian Odyssey” is also excellent. (I gravitate towards the sad stuff it seems :)

  5. I don’t like book challenges either. I can only read what I feel like and not what’s on a list. I’m in a book club where we take turns choosing the book, but if I’m not into it I just don’t read it! I have set a goal of 52 books per year, and I’m a fast reader so it’s not stressful for me. If I’m behind I just read faster :)

  6. Would you believe that I’ve never heard of book challenges!

    I’m a bookworm and an avid fast reader so I usually read a number of books all at the same time!

    Sometimes I even have both the physical book and the kindle version, as I collect books too!

    Most of the books I read either have to do with crime thrillers, history, travel, 17th – 19th century literature, autobiographies or political social anthropology. I usually prefer either British or Irish writers, or locations based in Britain / Ireland, as I don’t like reading about sunny shores!

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