I’m not good at math–equations and statistics often bewilder me and make me seek solace in the world of words–but in recent days, I’ve been pretty worked up about numbers.
That’s because of my reading goal for this year that I set all the way back on January 1 on Goodreads. I decided I was going to read in 2019 the most books I’d ever read in a single year. More novels, in fact, than all of 2016 and 2017 combined.
I based this goal on that of Stephen King, who wrote in his amazing On Writing that he typically reads seventy to eighty books per year. When I read On Writing back in the summer of 2017, this number astounded me and made me feel embarrassed about my own paltry reading numbers. As a creative writer, I knew I’d need to up my game if I wanted to improve my skills.
Two years later, I’m a much more serious reader than I was then. But I’m still on-guard about how many books I’m reading, to the point where, on July 1, I despaired that it would be near-impossible for me to reach my reading goal, even if I two books a week.
My goal for 2019?
None other than that lofty eighty. If I could read as many books as Stephen King, I reasoned on New Year’s Day, I could feel better about myself as a writer.
This has me thinking about how much–or how little–you should be concerned about how many books you read. Of course, you, like many people, might not even read one book this year. But for those of you who are into reading or are just getting started as serious readers, the numbers game may seem intimidating, even if you’re not a creative writer as well.
In answering this dilemma, I have good news and “bad” news that isn’t really bad, depending on how you look at it.
The good news: if you’re already a reading fan, you shouldn’t sweat the stats. Otherwise, you might be like me last year, when I was so concerned about getting to my reading goal that I preferred shorter, 200-page novels to behemoths, even if the huge ones sounded better.
Also, you risk falling into the mentality of reading a book for the sake of finishing it, not enjoying. (What I think of as a “quota mentality.”) I’ve struggled with that so much! Even if you’re so far behind your reading goal that it’s unlikely you’ll reach it, you should always see the words in front of you as something to enjoy and lose yourself in, rather than sentences to slog through just to add a title to your list of read books.
Finally, beating yourself up about not reaching isn’t going to accomplish a lot, much less getting through your to-be-read pile!
The not-so-good news: You probably still should keep a reading goal for the year. Heck, maybe for the month or week, too. A healthy amount of stress does wonders for motivation, after all, and taking away a reading goal also eliminates that beneficial stress. I doubt I’d be anywhere as devoted to reading these past two-and-a-half years if it wasn’t for the targets I’d set for myself.
Like I said, though, you don’t have to take this as bad news. After all, we set deadlines for ourselves (or have deadlines set for us) in so many other areas–work, school, chores–that it just makes sense, in my view, to use them when it comes to reading. Having a reading goal is especially helpful if you’re just getting into books, since it will keep you committed to hitting the pages.
So, please don’t be like me and obsess daily over your reading stats. But do try to strike a medium between my approach now and my old one, which was to read a book here and there, but never really keeping track or caring about any progress I was making as a reader.