Reflections on Reading Challenges

>> Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This started as a WAY too long comment on Vasilly’s post about reading challenges. So I decided to save it and let it percolate for a few days, then expand on my thoughts to post here. It’s a lengthy post, but it turns out that I had a lot to say on the subject.

Challenges: love ‘em, can’t let ‘em go once I join.

For about 2 1/2 years I joined and completed lots of challenges. Although I enjoyed the way the challenges stretched my limits in terms of the books I chose, I found a downside too. I'm pretty much incapable of giving up on a challenge I join, so I found myself putting aside books I really wanted to read for books I felt I had to read for a challenge. I also found myself finishing books I might otherwise have set aside because it was a book for a challenge. I usually have no trouble giving up on a book I’m not enjoying, but if I’d listed it for a challenge I felt like I couldn’t. Looking back at my lowest rated books on Goodreads over the past couple of years clearly shows that the lowest rated books are books I’d listed for challenges. Apparently my compulsion to complete the challenge was too strong to overcome my desire to only read books I’m enjoying.

Along the way I started to think about what it was about the challenges that I liked. Was it the joining, the making of the lists, the checking off and completing? Frankly I enjoy all of them. I have to say that my very favorite part is the list making and planning of what to read next. I’m usually reading one book and listening to a second, but I’m also thinking and planning what I want to read next. The challenges are great for that. They give me a reason to make lists. I enjoy making lists almost as much as I enjoy reading. My TBR list is an example of list making gone mad. It’s actually a multi sheet excel spreadsheet that I’ll have to talk about in its own blog post someday soon. The trouble I ran into with too many challenges on my plate was that my reading was becoming overplanned. I’d see or hear about a book that sounded good, but knew it would be ages before I could read it due to having to finish challenge books in time.

Balance is the key for me.

Beginning in January 2009 I made a conscious decision to severely limit the challenges I joined. I had a select few favorites that I wanted to do again (What's in a Name and Southern Reading to name a couple). I also geared my TBR challenge choices for this year to listing only "the next book" in 24 different series I've started but not finished. Yes I have a serious series addiction (again probably worthy of its own blog post). The only unplanned challenge I've joined this year is the Sookie Stackhouse Challenge.

I have to say that this choice to de-challenge my reading has been completely refreshing and freeing for me. I even changed the name of my blog to "Whimpulsive" to celebrate making this choice. I didn't want to ban challenges from my life completely because I really do enjoy some of them. I’ve channeled my list making pastime into the ongoing adding to and rearranging of my TBR list based on the latest book to catch my attention or be waiting on the library hold shelf with my name in it.

What I’ve discovered is that something I enjoy even more than completing a lot of challenges is the return of spontaneity to my reading choices. If I see a review on a blog that looks interesting - I'm right on the library website requesting it. If I don't feel like reading what I did have as 'next' on my list - fine! I can pick up something else instead.

I'm definitely not anti-challenge, but I am very pro-BALANCE!! For me, being selective and joining just a few challenges but leaving room for spontaneity has been a great choice. My recommendation is to join as many challenges as you want to, but don't let the challenges crowd out those "Whimpulsive" reads.

(The photos are the windows in the building across the street from my office. I love the distorted reflections of both old and modern buildings blended into interesting shapes and textures.)


Lynne 6/30/2009 12:27 PM  

I really like doing challenges because it makes me look for different types of books. But I haven't joined as many this year either.

I keep a spreadsheet of the challenge books and when I plan to read them. I try to spread them out over the entire year if possible. But I always give myself time to read "other" books too. If I read about a book that sounds interesting, I'll put it on hold at the library or buy a copy. If I've bought it, I put it on a special shelf in my bookcase - one devoted to books that will fill up a month after I finish the challenge books. That way, I don't have to wait too long to read one.

There are a couple of challenges that are specific to each month, so I can't move those books around. But others, if I don't feel like reading a scheduled book, I'll switch with one from another month and this usually works out well.

raidergirl3 6/30/2009 1:08 PM  

Well written post, SuziQ. I am a less extreme version of you. I've read a few that I might not have finished for challenges, and the list making is the most fun. Channelling that list making enjoyment into the TBR and spreadsheets seems like a great compromise. I've been more selective about challenges as well, and severely multi-book if I can. I have also not completed several challenges, and it was all ok.

I'm glad you've found the perfect balance for yourself and your reading. And I'm looking forward to the spreadsheet post.

Framed 6/30/2009 7:05 PM  

I loved doing challenges for a couple of years but this year decided to just read based on whims. I still have one self-imposed challenge I'm working on but it has no deadline. I agree with you that making the lists is a huge part of the fun, but so is reading other bloggers'reviews. That is probably when my TBR list went into overdrive. My biggest challenge was seeing how many challenges I could make one book fit. Hopefully, I'll be ready to join some challenges this fall but maybe on a more limited basis.

SuziQoregon 7/02/2009 10:57 AM  

Lynne: I'm hearing "I haven't joined as many this year" from lots of folks. I think everyone needs to find the balance that works for them. Like I said, I'm not anti-challenge. I'll continue to join the ones I really want to.

Raidergirl: Oh I'm a total geek about the spreadsheet. It's handy to track so much. I wish I could give up on challenges more easily. Once I'm in, I finish.

Framed: Oh I love my lists and rearranging them. One thing I love about the challenges is that they've led me to so many new blogs that I've added to my google reader. Now the blog reading is cutting into my book reading, and at the same time making my TBR list at an even faster pace than ever.

Booklogged 7/03/2009 8:26 PM  

I decided not to join any challenges this year. I love doing them but I felt like I couldn't just pick up any ole book that appealed to me if it wasn't a challenge book. I missed that and wanted to indulge for awhile. I have the same problem with ARCs. By the end of last year I had decided I was going to seriously limit the number of ARCs I accepted. I'm doing that and still have too much on my plate.

I read reviews of books I want to read and quite often order them from the used books featured on I have so many unread books on my shelves that have come into my home this way. I've started referring to them as my "THEN" books as opposed to the ARCs which are the "NOW" books.

Like most everyone else, I love the list making and the spreadsheets to organize the challenges. I've thought about privately joining challenges just so I could make the lists. Do I have a problem or what?!

I do think your wisdom is sound - all things in moderation. Thanks for the reminder.

SuziQoregon 7/05/2009 8:16 AM  

Bookloged: "I felt like I couldn't just pick up any ole book that appealed to me if it wasn't a challenge book." is exactly why I severely limited my challenges this year. I only rarely get ARCs so they're not much of an issue for me.

Rebecca :) 7/05/2009 1:02 PM  

Great post! This is my first year blogging and also doing reading challenges. I love challenges because of the checking off of the books on the list, the feeling of accomplishment when one is completed, and the planning of book reading.

But, like you, I miss a lot of the spontaneous book selecting I have always done. I am random to the extreme (just ask my sisters, haha) and so I need to bring back more of this to my reading next year.

One thing I did do was get way too ambitious on the # of challenges. I thought they were overlapping more than they were and now I am looking at reading twice as many books from now until December than I read from January to now. Um, not going to happen. I hate that, but live and learn, right? I will finish as many as I possibly can. A good thing that has happened is that the challenges have made me read more of the books I have been meaning to read for forever, so that has been another good point.

I have honestly taken this approach to the challenge reading lists: If I can't get through it, I can't get through it. I will read a different book that fits into the challenge. I don't have the attention span to keep reading a book that I am not into and if I start avoiding picking up the book, I know I need to choose something else. Life's too short. So I decided I am not going to get tied down to the
"absolutely must read the book I originally selected" mentality. If people don't like that, they don't have to do that, but that is how I have to work it for myself.

I have learned a lot from this first year at this and next year I will make it more balanced, like you have done.

Thanks for bringing up this topic!

Vasilly 7/05/2009 2:47 PM  

I love this post!I love reading challenges but I want balance and the only way I'll probably get it if I go cold turkey on them for awhile. If everything works out, maybe I'll join challenges again later on this year.

SuziQoregon 7/06/2009 6:42 PM  

Rebecca: thanks! I think it's very common to initially get over enthusiastic with challenges. Eventually every blogger I know has come to find the balance that works for them. I'm trying to learn to let a challenge go if I decide I don't really want to finish or to read different books, but it's a learning curve for me.

Vasilly: Oh thank you, but this post is really all your fault (snork). When I got so verbose on the comment to your post it became clear that I needed to expand on it. Thanks for being the catalyst for this one. It's really been a fun discussion.

Heather 7/08/2009 11:45 AM  

Excellent post. I think challenges are exciting but I am not successful in completing them. My reading of late has really been all over the place and I'm loving that! Now I need to get up to date on posting about them!

SuziQoregon 7/09/2009 9:58 AM  

Heather: Exactly my point - reading challenges are fun, but so is reading all over the place. Enjoy!

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