As we approach the end of the year, it seems like the perfect time to reflect back on my reading challenges and the books I’ve read this year overall. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine on Goodreads about how close we are to finishing our challenges, and she asked me whether I was happy with my reading year overall. It really helped to take that step back and look at the year as a whole, since I’ve been feeling pressured by the time crunch to finish everything off by New Year’s Eve. It especially didn’t help that I realized that I’m not really super excited for any of the books I have left, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s challenges more.
When I went back and looked at my year overall though, I realized that it had actually been a great year! I got to read all of the books that I was most excited for, including starting several new series that I finally broke down and bought into the hype about. I had a few books that really surprised me with how much I enjoyed them, and of course there were a few that were disappointing. I accomplished my goal of reading the Season 8 Buffy comics, even though those weren’t counted toward any of my challenges. I knocked off a few more classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and most importantly, I got to try a lot of new authors. Once I started looking back at this year, I decided to take it one step further and think about all of my years of doing reading challenges, and the lessons I’ve learned about myself and my reading process.
I am a terrible judge of how long it will take me to read a book
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how long it takes me to read. I post what I’m reading to my personal Facebook page, and people are often amazed at how many books I read in the year and how fast I seem to be reading them. I’ve always said that I can read an average-sized book (300-400 pages) in about 3 days, but I’m realizing that I’m not a very good judge. At the start of this month, I made a tentative schedule just to see whether it was even feasible to read everything I still had left before the end of the year. As of the first day of the month, I was already behind schedule. I’ve learned that on average, most books will take me at least one day more than I expect because there are just so many unpredictable factors. I might think I’ll be able to come home from work and finish off an entire YA book, but then have a terrible or exhausting day, and not feeling like reading much at all. I might expect to spend an entire day on the weekend reading, only to have last-minute plans come up. It’s so hard to predict how much time it will take!
Literally any book can become a “doorstop.”
Up until this year, I’ve always associated “doorstop” with a book that was either very long, or had very difficult language (ie. old-fashioned language in many classics). I’ve realized this year that just about any book can become a doorstop when it doesn’t catch your attention, and also that longer books don’t necessarily have to be a doorstop. I wouldn’t necessarily call Listen, Slowly a doorstop since it still only took me two days to read, but it felt like one. This is a middle grade book of about 250 or so pages, and I expected to race through it in a day just like Inside Out and Back Again, but I could not get into it at all. It seems very silly to consider a book that took only 2 days a doorstop, but it definitely felt like one. And don’t even get me started on The Underground Railroad, which took me almost a full week (and the same amount of time as Winter, which is almost three times the length). By now, I’ve come to realize that a “doorstop” is any book that impedes your momentum in any way, either by taking forever or just feeling like it does!
Some books will really surprise you – for better, or for worse!
I had a few books this year that I wasn’t expecting much from, and ended up being some of my favourites. The two best examples of that are The Hating Game and The Status of All Things, which were both books that I expected to be pretty mediocre. Both of these books really surprised me! On the other hand, I had other books that I was very excited for which ended up being a disappointment. The main example of this is Gena/Finn. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it and I rated it 4 stars, but I was expecting this to be an easy 5 star read. I love books that are told through social media messages, and this one seemed right up my alley. The first half of the book was great, but it kind of fell apart and lost direction in the second half, to the point where it seemed like it was a completely different story. Another example is The Slap, which I expected to be along the lines of Liane Moriarty or Jodi Picoult. It was nothing like either of those, and it was another major doorstop this year.
I have a serious addiction to compiling lists of books
I realized this in the past week or so, when the latest Book Riot and Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge lists came out. Neither list really appealed to me much at first, but I still had many books that I wanted to fit in next year. I ended up creating my own challenge list using prompts from the Goodreads Around the Year challenge process that were my top picks but didn’t make the final list. I originally intended to make lists for both that set of prompts and Book Riot, and pick which of the two I wanted to do. Of course, that’s a completely biased process since of course the list of my favourite prompts would naturally seem more exciting. The problem was, once the lists were compiled…I was excited for both of them! I’ve now run into the problem of potentially biting off more than I can chew, so I’m thinking of extending the timeline on some of my challenges. That of course makes it’s own logistical nightmare of how to track progress, but I’m sure I can figure something out.
Choosing books I’m legitimately excited for is more important than anything else when picking which challenges to do
The PopSugar challenge for 2018 has a very interesting prompt that asks us to pick our favourite prompt from any of the previous years’ challenges. I struggle with this one since my enjoyment tends to be more about the books I pick and not necessarily the prompt itself. When I was looking at challenges for next year, the prompt lists might not have been too exciting on their own, but when I started filling them in with the books I’d like to read, I ended up loving them. I’m very much a mood reader, so I reserve pretty much the whole year’s worth of books from the library at once, and pause the holds. It lets me keep my place in line, while still having the freedom to pick and choose which books I feel like reading based on what I’m most excited for. I’ve found that some challenges (Book Riot, especially) seem to really have an agenda, whether that’s to branch out of your comfort zone, encourage diversity, etc. While I think these are all great reasons, at the end of the day, I’m not going to enjoy a challenge much if I feel forced into reading something I don’t really want to read.
It’s inevitable that every year, there will be at least some prompts that I’m really dreading
Along the same lines, I realize that every year, there will be some prompts that just don’t appeal to me at all. There are two main reasons that I dread a prompt. The first is that I have very limited options, sometimes even just one book that interests me that fits. The second it starts to feel like homework, I start to lose interest. I like reading challenges because of the freedom to read what I want and the puzzle aspect of trying to fit those books in to fulfill the prompts on the list. The second main reason I dread a prompt is if it’s something that I already know does not appeal to me. Last year, it was PopSugar’s political memoir, and next year, it’s Book Riot’s Western. I can understand the push to try new things because they may surprise you (as mentioned above), but Westerns really don’t appeal to me at all. I’ve found that there are ways to deal with these kinds of prompts. If a challenge list in general has too many prompts that I’m really dreading, I just won’t take on that challenge, but if there are only a few it’s not too bad. My trick is to try and find a way to work within the prompt with a book that is still somewhat appealing to me, if at all possible. If I’m really stuck, I find the best available option and get rid of it early on in the year so I’m not stuck putting it off all the way until the end, when I definitely won’t want to read it.
It’s not “cheating” to switch out books you were planning on reading for others
This may be the hardest one for me to learn. As I’ve mentioned, I compile my lists of books that I want to read for each prompt before the year starts so I can request whatever I need from the library. Although I always have the idea in mind that these lists are flexible, I still have a hard time switching out more than a couple of books without feeling like I’m cheating. Once I have it down on the list, it feels like a commitment to read it, and for the most part, I’m good at picking books that I really do want to read. Toward the end of the year is usually when the problems happen. I switch books either because I’ve lost interest, or because of the time crunch. It’s this second reason that tends to feel more like a cheat even though rationally I realize that no one is policing my challenges and no one is going to complain that I didn’t stick to my list. Losing interest is another story. Since I have most of my books on hold for most of the year, it’s pretty easy to tell which books I’m not so excited for. If I haven’t released the hold (or at least been tempted to) any of the times I released my next set of books, it probably isn’t one that I want to read very much. Often, these are books that I was on the fence about reading in the first place, so I don’t feel bad about switching, but sometimes the idea that it’s cheating still bugs me.