Year in and year out I see features about people steering away from the self-imposed reading challenge. I agree with them – there’s nothing worse than sucking the fun out of reading, which can be the most consuming and magical of pastimes. Reading in bulk for the sake of it rather than immersing yourself into each book can mean you miss truly brilliant books for the sake of page flicking, and being able to say ‘I read 72 squillion books this week’.
But, I’ve come to realise I’m a reading challenge loyalist. It took the final squeeze in 2015 for me to realise why. I had faced a reading funk in the middle of the year. Most unexpected, and that had a knock on effect in reaching last year’s more humble 100 (a downgrade on my 200+ in a year of unemployment). I started reading my Little Black Books from Penguin, knowing I could squeeze them in, and would otherwise have probably just left them as decoration. It was a little bit of a cop out for the sake of reaching that number for personal achievement.
And you know what? Because of it I read Viking tales that were hundreds and hundreds of years old. I read sordid little tales that were older than anything I’d ever read. They were fun, quirky and different.
I like reading. I really do. I’ve always been a fast reader, which helps with the reading challenge, but I recently said “I want to read 100 books a year for the rest of my life” and I mean it. A little book is still a book. I’m not much of a TV or film person (seriously, ask me about classics and your face will fall with the sheer amount of times the response is ‘I’ve not seen that’), I’m really fussy on choosing a series to follow and sticking with it. But I’m going to read my way around the world. The challenge makes me read new things and, more often than not, they’re great, and things I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise.
The deal is that enjoyment remains the most important part. If I’m struggling with a book for one reason or another, I’ll shelf it until I want to finish it. Infinite Jest remains the only book I’ve ever shelved for eternity, and knowing when to put one down is why the challenges aren’t a task any more. This tome is tiring? Fine, let’s crack on with a Harley Quinn compendium!
No matter how bad things get, and especially when those reading funks creep up, it’s nice to take time away from the internet and just try a little book to nudge that mood away, bit by bit. I will (hopefully) read 100 books a year for the rest of my life so that I can read wider, read older, read more diverse, just read. I’d love to read Harry Potter over and over for the rest of my life, but avoiding that desire can be my own personal challenge within the reading challenge.