11 Things I Learned in 2021 (From Doing My Seventh Year of Reading Challenges)

When I originally designed this “end of year” wrap-up post for my reading challenges, the titles tended to fit a lot better since it took the last digit of the year, but the new decade kind of threw everything off. Just another reason not to like the year 2020, I guess! Even though I’ve been doing challenges for 7 years now, I’ve only been reflecting on what I’ve learned about my own reading habits since 2017. Part of the fun of reading challenges for me has been learning more about my reading tastes and habits. The past two years have been particularly challenging because of the pandemic, which actually had a lot more of an impact than I thought on my reading. Also, after seven years of doing reading challenges, I think I’ve become pretty good at picking books that I’m expecting to enjoy and experimenting a bit more with some of my reading goals.

1) Trying to read seasonally is often more of a hindrance than a help

Last year, I’d commented that I liked making seasonal TBR lists but they had to be viewed as options instead of a set list. While I still theoretically love the idea of seasonal or even themed TBRs, I tend to find that it hinders me a lot more than I expected. The only notable exception is trying to read thrillers/spooky books around Halloween, which I tend to do well but I definitely save way too many options for that month. There are certain books that just make sense to me to keep for specific seasons (ie. Christmas/snowstorms in the winter, tropical settings for summer, etc.) but I also tend to find that my brain gets hung up on the fact that it’s the “wrong” season or I “missed” my opportunity to read something if I don’t end up getting to it when I thought I would, and then I end up not wanting to read it until the next time that seems appropriate comes around. It’s definitely something that’s become more of an obvious pattern to me the more years of reading challenges I do. I don’t necessarily want to avoid all seasonal reading, but I do want to get past that mindset of it being “too late” to read something just because the arbitrary timeline I picked has passed.

2) I need to have a pretty strong memory for which books/authors are on my priority lists in order to actually prioritize them

This was definitely something I noticed a lot more, compared to last year. This was my second year of setting myself a list of priority authors to try, and my third year of setting myself priority books and series to try. I did very well with my priority series since I was very well aware of what was on that list, but I struggled a lot more with my priority authors and especially my priority series. I don’t want to go into too much detail since I also have a goals wrap-up post coming up, but I often found myself mixing up authors that I’d actually chosen with authors that I’d only considered putting on my priority list. There were a couple of times where I’d go to Goodreads to make a monthly wrap-up post about my progress toward goals, only to find that books that I expected to count actually didn’t since that author hadn’t been on my list. I think this was especially the case with my priority books to read. The ones that I actively remembered were on my list were the ones I ended up reading, but I kept forgetting which other books that I had included. I think I kept mixing up this list with my 5-Star Predictions. To be fair, both of those are lists of books that I’d want to prioritize, but it definitely would have helped to have memorized the list a bit better so I wouldn’t have to keep checking.

3) Giving myself a structure helps, but only if I actually stick to it!

It’s a very fine line sometimes between setting some structure that would be helpful, and setting too much to the point where it feels like a chore. Last year, I’d commented that I had a bad habit of pushing off some of the books that I’m most anticipating because I don’t want to rush through all the books I’m expecting to love in a row. That was definitely the case this year, but it put me in a bad position where I actually hadn’t read many of the books that I was really excited to try. I set myself a loose structure of aiming to read one series per month this year, which for the most part worked out well. I still fell behind a tiny bit, but I read the vast majority of series that I wanted to get to. However, when it came to having a loose guideline of aiming to read 3-4 books for each of my top priority challenges this year, things kind of fell apart. I think this was another case of just not being conscious enough of which challenges each book was from when I chose what to read next. I’d pick based on what book I felt like reading, without worrying about which challenge it applied to. I did a great job sticking to that structure right at the start of the year and again in July, likely because I’d just done a progress check for the midpoint of the year, but most months I was lucky if I read 2 or 3 books from each of those two challenges. I don’t necessarily want to make it any stricter since I don’t want to feel too locked in to reading something I don’t feel like at the time just to make sure I hit a certain number, but I’d really love to actually finish my top priority challenges for once!

4) I love reading series, but sometimes they feel like they take up too much time

I went through quite a long phase of time where I strongly preferred standalones over series because I didn’t want to get bogged down with too much time spent in one setting or with one group of characters. Over the years since I started doing my challenges, there’s definitely been a shift toward reading a lot more series. I find that I tend to prefer to pick up a series after all of the books have been published so I can read them all in a row, but even that’s changing a bit since I’m picking up more newer releases as they come out. This year, I’d set myself a massive list with about 19 series that I was hoping to read, although I knew that realistically 13-15 would be where I’d land. Having the loose structure of reading one per month definitely helped, but toward the end of the year I started to feel a little burnt out on series. It might be because I read several longer series this year (two of them had 6 books each, and two had 4 books each) so I really felt like I was spending a lot of time on one story, or just because I knew I was a bit behind on other books that I’d been hoping to read. Especially toward the end of the year, I started to feel like reading series was getting in the way of finishing other books. For next year, I think I’ve set a pretty good compromise since I have a bunch of duologies that I want to read, so that might help to balance things out a bit more.

5) Audiobooks are the way to go for non-fiction, at least for me

This one kind of surprised me, since I don’t really enjoy non-fiction in general and I also don’t love audiobooks since I tend to tune out after a while. However, somehow pairing the two of these together seems to work! My biggest issue with non-fiction is that a lot of the books tend to be on the drier side, even when it’s a topic that interests me, so I’m not that motivated to continue reading. If I use the audiobook version, I can listen while I’m still doing other things (ie. playing a game, writing, etc. ) so I don’t feel quite so stuck slogging through it if I’m not that interested. I still don’t think that I process audiobooks quite the same way as I do with a book that I’ve read physically, but for non-fiction that tends to be less of a concern for me. If I miss part of a story in a fiction book, it bothers me a lot more than if I miss a few details in non-fiction, unless it’s something that the rest of the section really builds on. I have a work project that takes up one day of my weekend every other week, and involves a lot of sitting at my computer typing and formatting things, so listening to audiobooks has been a huge help! It used to bug me to lose that entire day of reading, but being able to listen to something while I work makes it feel doubly productive.

6) It is technically possible, although logistically complicated, to organize my challenges as a two-year process

As we got closer to the end of the year, I started to get a little frustrated that I wasn’t further along in some of my goals, however I realized that this also meant I had successfully made my challenges for this year into a two-year process like I had planned! It’s probably a little silly to keep taking on so many reading challenges each year when I can’t finish them, but I have such a hard time choosing and so many of the prompts fit books that I really want to read. Organizing the challenges as a two-year process means that I do as much as I can in the first year, and then carry over a bunch of the books that I didn’t get to yet in the second year. At this point, I could also decide to scrap some of the books or prompts that don’t interest me anymore, or that I don’t have access to. The logistics are still a bit of a mess, but I noticed that I had read very close to half of the books for each of my individual challenges, which seems about right for a 2-year process. I’m currently working on my plans for next year, and deciding which ones I still want to keep!

7) I need to actively prioritize some of the books that I keep adding to my challenge lists and then not reading

Along those same lines, I learned that I really need to make an effort to pick up some of the books that have been on my challenge plans for a while if I’m actually going to get to them. I set myself a very vague goal this year to prioritize reading some of the books that had been on my challenge lists at least twice already, and when I make a conscious effort to do so, I can actually knock quite a few of them off my list! It’s another goal that takes a lot of awareness on my part to make sure that I’m actually following through. Often, these are books that I really do want to read, but I keep putting them off because there’s always something that’s a bit higher priority. However, given that these books have often been on my list at least twice already, it’s about time I finally pick them up. It gets to a point where it’s just ridiculous that I haven’t read them yet. I’m actually thinking of making it a goal of some kind to spend the first month of next year prioritizing some of these books so I can finally read them! January is a good time to focus on leftovers from the previous year.

8) It’s better for me to add a book to my priority list if I already own it (unless I have easy library access again), instead of adding it and hoping to buy it later

I’ve learned this one the hard way in the past two years, where I haven’t been utilizing my library at all except for their online audiobooks and occasionally ebooks. I used to get the vast majority of the books for my reading challenges from the library, but due to the pandemic, I haven’t been doing that. Instead, I’ve been buying a ton of books, especially newer releases. The downside to that is sometimes I can’t get the new release in a timely manner since they can be ridiculously expensive! I create my priority books list before the start of the new year based on the books that I’m most excited to read whether I own them or not. These are the books that I’m meant to be prioritizing, but it can be really hard to do that if I don’t get a copy until much later in the year. I tend to find that anything I buy from November on tends to automatically get saved for the following year, even if it was a book I was excited to try. It’s actually a really good thing for me to keep in mind as I start to set up my lists for next year. I’m curious to see if purposely picking books that I’m likely to have access to earlier in the year will make a difference in how many I actually prioritize picking up!

9) Additional time in the day or even in the week does not always translate to more reading, even though I often expect it will

Technically, this is something I learned over the past two years. I briefly mentioned it last year as well in the context of not being a great judge of how long a book will take me to read, but I think it goes a bit beyond that. I often find that when I have more time in a day (due to lockdowns, days off work, etc.), I expect I’m going to be able to read a ton, but somehow I end up not even starting to read until very late in the evening. I guess it’s something to do with having the whole day ahead of me, so I figure I have time to do a few other things first. Then those things often take longer than I thought, or I get hung up watching a bunch of Youtube videos, and suddenly it’s evening and I haven’t even picked up a book. Even during my two weeks off from work, where I literally didn’t do anything since we were too nervous about COVID to travel or do much, I ended up reading the exact same number of books that month as I did any of the months where I was working! I’m not even sure what could be done to actually motivate me to start reading earlier if I can, so it might just be a matter of accepting that extra time does not necessarily equal extra reading.

10) It’s still hard for me to pick what to read next without the added pressure of library deadlines

One of the downsides of reading only books that I own for my challenges is that it loses that sense of urgency to try to read something before my library loan expires. While I don’t like to be rushed into reading a book, especially if I’m not in the mood for it, having all of the books I want to read already at home actually makes it harder to choose what to read next! When I would take books for my challenges from the library, I’d usually check out about 10 books at a time from a variety of genres, formats, etc. so I could still mood read, but from a more limited list of options. I’d also have to try to prioritize those books so I could get them back in time (or renew, if needed) before I take out the next set. Now, although I definitely can’t complain about having so many books of my own to choose from, it’s almost given me too much choice. If I don’t have a clear idea in mind of what I feel like reading next, I’ll end up sitting there just staring at my bookshelves for a while trying to figure out what to pick up. I guess this would be the ideal time to choose a book that I’d been meaning to prioritize, so really it all ties together.

11) I’ve become very good at choosing books I’ll enjoy!

I think this is another side effect of not using the library, but I’ve only read two books out of the 160 or so this year that were less than 4 stars! To be fair, there were a couple of books that were 3.5 stars that I ended up rounding up to a 4 on Goodreads, but even then it was very few. I’ve also read more 5-star books overall than 4-star books. I think this has to do with the fact that the vast majority of the books are books that I bought. When I’m checking books out from the library, I’m a lot more likely to take a chance on a book I’m not sure whether I’ll enjoy than I would be if I was spending my own money on it. A few of the books that I read this year were from my library’s online system, but most of those were non-fiction audiobooks or a few graphic novels. I’m actually curious to see if the proportions change again once I can use the library more, but it’s also possible that it’s just because doing challenges for so many years has generally improved my sense of the kinds of books I like, so I’m more likely to pick things that fit. Even though I didn’t quite read as many books as I had hoped this year, I definitely can’t complain about the quality!


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