9 Things I Learned in 2019 (From Doing My Fifth Year of Reading Challenges)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found it really interesting to look back on my experience of doing the challenges, and especially how that experience change a bit each year. The first time I reflected on my challenges, back in 2017, most of what I had learned was about the process of compiling my lists. That was my third year of challenges, and I think the first time that I really seriously started to take on more. Last year, I started to notice a bit more about my own reading habits and tastes. This year, I think it was a bit of both. I’ve definitely noticed some more of my own reading habits and I think by doing the challenges for so many years now, I’ve learned how to apply this to my challenges and keep them fun for myself.

This is now my fifth year of reading challenges, and in a sense, I consider it a year of failed experiments. For the first time, I made myself a list of priority books and priority series to read with the intent of finishing all of those by the end of the year. As of right now, I’m very close to both goals, but doubt I will be able to fully complete them by the end of the month. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t try these kinds of TBR lists again though, since I’m definitely intending on trying it again (but better) next year. More than anything, looking back on what I’ve learned this year from doing my challenges gave me some ideas of ways to switch things up a bit for next year, and I’m looking forward to trying some of these out!

1) There is no shame in using my library renewals!

Part of the fun of doing challenges for me is getting books from the library! I’ve been buying a lot more books in the past couple of years, and definitely should be reading more of the books that I own, but I love to get books from the library. There’s something really fun about getting the message that my holds have come in (except maybe when they all come in at once!) and bringing home a huge stack of books. In general, I’ve always been good about getting my books back on time. This year, because of a variety of reasons, I found myself feeling constantly behind, especially when it came to my library books. Given the number of books that I took out at a time, it’s no surprise that I had to renew many of them, and in many cases, renew them multiple times. For some reason, it had always bugged me a bit to renew a book more than once, probably because I don’t like putting them off for so long, but I definitely learned to use renewals to my advantage this year to hold onto the books I really wanted to read until I had enough time for them.

2) It is essential for me to take breaks during long series,  but not too long  to risk forgetting details

One of my biggest goals this year was to tackle a couple of the very long series that I had been putting off for a long time. I love reading series, but I also find that I get a bit burnt out reading too many books with the same character or same world in a row, especially when the books themselves are very long or complicated. I initially planned to read all the Throne of Glass books back-to-back this year to make sure I didn’t forget anything, but by the time I finished Empire of Storms, I needed a break! It was getting to a point where even though I was really enjoying the story and especially the characters, I wanted something new. The struggle I tend to have is how long to wait before going back to the series. I don’t want to wait too long and risk forgetting the specifics of plot or characters, but I also need to be in the mood to pick it back up. I think the best decision I could have made this year was to split Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series into the trilogies in publication order to spread them out, and taking a break during Throne of Glass!

3) I have a really hard time deciding how to rate books, especially when Goodreads doesn’t allow half stars

I think this year more than any other, I found myself really struggling to figure out how to manage half-star ratings on a system that didn’t allow them. I’ve always had a few books that were a 3.5 or 4.5 stars, but this year, it felt like a majority of my books fell somewhere in between two star ratings. It left me with the difficult decision of whether to round up or down for Goodreads purposes. It often leaves me feeling like the lower score is much to low to accurately reflect what I thought of the book, but the high score is way too high. In general, I find that I’m always a bit resistant to giving books lower ratings unless I really didn’t like it. Even 3 stars is a struggle for me because for some reason, I feel a bit bad to rate it that “low” even though 3 stars really isn’t that bad at all! It’s actually very rare that I’ll read a book that’s 1 or 2 stars for me, so I suspect that’s why a 3 seems so bad. In the end, I settled for deciding on a rating for Goodreads, and noting my accurate half-star rating in my own notes about the books that I keep anyway in case of writing reviews, recommendations, etc.

4) I struggle with the wording of challenge prompts sometimes, especially when it is a book “related to” something

I tend to be a literalist when it comes to reading challenge prompts, as much as possible. It is very important to me to choose a book that I have at least some interest in reading, but I do tend to stick as closely as possible to the wording of the prompt. If I can’t find something that fits the wording as is, I’ll go for something that I think fits the “spirit” of the prompt. For example, I had a prompt requiring a book published by a micropress a few years ago. When I couldn’t find anything that interested me or accessible to me, I went for a book published by a very small independent publisher, which felt close enough to the same idea. Sometimes, I find it really hard to figure out what the prompt is intending or what could fit. I struggle when it comes to prompts that essentially require you to read the book first to know whether it fits (ie. a book that makes you laugh), and I tend to use books that I expect to fit for those. The biggest struggle that I’ve noticed is when a prompt is worded as “a book related to x” because unless there is a clear and obvious connection, it doesn’t seem related to me. Most people seem to love these prompts because there is a lot of freedom to choose books and make a connection to the topic yourself, but for some reason, I really struggle and usually end up overcompensating by finding a book that makes the most connections possible (ie. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for a “book related to something cold”).

5) The worst part of challenges for me is the logistics

I love doing reading challenges, and I’m often surprised to see people complaining that they have trouble fitting in the books they really want to read. It might be because I usually take on multiple challenges, but I’ve never had much problem fitting in all the books that I wanted to pick up. The problem that I have instead is trying to manage the logistics around accurately keeping track of my reading. I’m sure there are other sites or apps that would work better, but I really like to use Goodreads and it annoys me that I can’t set my own timeline on my reading challenge tracker on the homepage. This year, I ended up setting a yearly goal of the overall total number of books I had planned for all my challenges, knowing full well that it was an unrealistic number to finish by the end of December. I already knew that several of the challenges were likely to carry over into next year, but I didn’t want to skip over recording books I was reading that wasn’t for my “main” challenges (ie. the ones that I want to finish by the end of the year). On the other hand, trying to track everything leaves me with a constant “You are 50+ books behind” throughout the year, which doesn’t feel accurate either. I love doing reading challenges, but the logistics can be a real nightmare sometimes!

6) I am much better in general at choosing books that I’m going to enjoy

I noticed this one yesterday when I was looking at Goodreads yesterday. Not only have I read the most books in total so far this year compared to any other year of reading challenges, but I’ve also had the most 5 star books! I’m pretty good in general at guessing what I’m likely to enjoy, so I haven’t rated anything in the past 5 years less than 3 stars. However, even I was surprised to see that my number of 5 star books far exceeded my number of 4 star books this year! In previous years, 4 stars has always been the majority. This year, I’ve read a total of 101 5-star books, and 67 4-star books, which I think is my biggest gap between those two categories yet, and definitely the first time the 5-stars are the majority. To be fair, this might be skewed a bit because 8 of those books are Harry Potter rereads, and my 5 star books also include several graphic novels and books from series, but it still makes it an excellent year overall. When I first compiled my plans for this year, it was the most exciting list I’ve had in general, and even though I didn’t actually get to all the books I was excited for, I think that was a huge factor in why the majority have been 5 stars! The more I read, the better I seem to get at predicting what I might enjoy and choosing books accordingly.

7) It is essential for me to be in the mood for a book before I pick it up, otherwise I won’t enjoy it (even if I otherwise might)

I am a huge mood reader, which might be a bit surprising since I try to plan the majority of my books before the year starts. In general, aside from becoming good at picking books I think I’ll like, I’ve also become good at figuring out when to pick them up. I really need to be in the mood for a specific book in order to enjoy it. I often find that if I pick up a book because I feel pressured in any way, such as by library due dates, I automatically tend to view it as a chore and it’s much harder for me to get into it. Even if it’s a book that I otherwise would love, picking it up at the wrong time could really put me off. I think this was a huge part of my struggle with library books this year because I kept finding myself constricted by due dates for books that I wasn’t able to renew because other people had holds on them. I’m a pretty fast reader, but I don’t like to feel rushed. I also find there are certain times in the week are better for me for specific kinds of books just based on my schedule. I always find it a bit frustrating to realize that I’m having trouble getting into a book that I expected to love because of the timing!

8) It really bothers me to switch out too many of the books I intended to read, even if it’s for a good reason

Back in 2017, I’d commented that I’d learned it was not “cheating” to switch out books that I’d initially planned to read, but I think it’s something I keep re-learning. This year, I found myself putting aside several of the books that I had intended to pick up for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of timing. There are some books that just didn’t want to rush to finish before the end of the year because I’d been looking forward to them so much, so I proactively decided to push them back and read them next year instead. It’s a bit frustrating not to get to a book that I really wanted to read, but I also didn’t want to set myself up to rush or pick things up when I didn’t feel like it. Although I still struggle a bit with the idea that switching books I’d planned to read out for shorter options for the sake of finishing a challenge on time is “cheating,” I’m learning to accept that sometimes it’s really the better decision and  really to my own advantage.

9) I still have not learned how to prioritize my challenges properly!

This was a surprising realization this year, since it was one of my top goals! After I realized I had way too many books from my main challenges remaining by the beginning of December last year, I’d sworn that I would not let that be the case again since it puts way too much pressure on me to finish things quickly. Somehow, I ended up back in the exact same position again! This year, I blame the problem mostly on my constant struggle to balance library books and books that I own. I had purposely included many of the books that I own as part of my main challenges since I thought it would give me an extra push to read them, but I ended up putting them off to get through my library holds first. I definitely have some ideas of how to tackle this problem for next year, although I don’t necessarily want to go the route of having a specific number of books per challenge to read since I’m such a mood reader. I would love to be able to say by the end of next year that I’ve learned to prioritize properly!


One thought on “9 Things I Learned in 2019 (From Doing My Fifth Year of Reading Challenges)

  1. Pingback: 10 Things I Learned in 2020 (From Doing My Sixth Year of Reading Challenges) | Abyssal Librarian

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