The Challenge of Challenges

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

sundaysalonThat comment by Douglas Adams (the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) sums up my experience with book reading challenges so far.

I like the idea of many of the challenges dreamed up by various bloggers, get enthusiastic about signing up for them and love the buzz of talking to people about them. But actually doing them; well that’s another story.  Do you ever have that feeling of running in race but each time you can see the finishing line, someone moves it? That’s how I felt so many times in 2013.

Of course, it was my own fault for taking on more projects than I really have the capacity for given that I do work full time. But more of an issue I’ve come to realise, is that having multiple challenges doesn’t actually add to the enjoyment of reading for me —in fact it takes the fun out of reading. I know that’s not the case for many other bloggers, some of them seem to thrive on challenges; the more the merrier. But for me, the more challenges I took on the more I began to feel I was reading to order instead of reading as my mood took me.

Rather than just being able to pick up a book because I thought it suited my mood at the time, I choose my next read based purely on the fact it was on the list for such and such a challenge and I really need to make more progress there. So reading became more and more of a guilt trip than an enjoyable experience.

And now we are at the time of the year where bloggers everywhere are starting up their 2014 challenges and sharing reading goals for the year ahead. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a newsfeed alert a new challenge. And some of them are so tempting especially the ones that focus on reading novels from different parts of the world.

But after much pontification, deliberation and debate I’ve decided that 2014 will be a year free of challenges. Free of goals. Free of reading resolutions.  I know I’ll still be reading classics, I’ll still be reading Booker winners and I’ll still be reading world literature. But I’ll be doing them without the pressure of any deadlines or goals. I’m simply going to read what I want and when I want. And if that involves digressions and diversions, that will be just fine with me.

Anyone else suffering this feeling of challenge fatigue? If so, I’d love to hear how you’re planning to deal with this situation.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 5, 2014, in Sunday Salon and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. I was trying to join just RoofBeam Reader’s annual TBR Pile Challenge this year, and then got hooked on a New Year’s Resolution on with Joy Weese Moll! Usually I’m stronger at resisting the temptation of signing on for challenges, but something about January — the fresh start to the new year — made me overly optimistic!

  2. Yeah I think removing the pressures of challenges and such will allow you to enjoy reading more. I, too, don’t put excess reading expectations or goals on myself; just a few but not a whole list worth. I feel the freedom allows reading to take me wherever my interests go etc.

  3. Just getting to this. I was away and away from the internet for a while. I am just beginning to think about the coming year. Having avoided challenges until last year when I decided to try one, I am taking on very modest challenges again this year.. I think of them more as themes or directions for reading. I think that is what I admire most about your challenges in the past — a bit of classics, a bit of world lit, prize winners etc.

    • Welcome back Barbara. I can see how ‘modest challenges’ as you put it, can be good ways of getting out of a slump by exploring new genres or authors for example. It’s me that’s the problem – I just can’t stop at one. Let us know which one you plump for and how you get on with it.

  4. I think a challenge free year is a great idea, if the challenges are taking away from your enjoyment of reading! For me, they are a good way to help me decide my next read, otherwise I get a little overwhelmed by my list of books. But I try to focus on one or two challenges, or make sure the challenges overlap.

  5. I swore off challenges long ago. The only one I do anymore is the RIP Challenge in the fall because I love reading gothic/creepy/thriller-type books that time of year anyway so I use it as an annual excuse to indulge. That doesn’t mean I am never tempted by other challenges but I have pretty much managed to will myself to look away.

    • I hope I’ll be similarly disciplined Stefanie in the face of so much temptation. The odd indulgence like your RIP one becomes much more fun when it’s short -it’s the year long ones that were my downfall.

  6. I’m with you – a lot of challenge fatigue! I’ve still got ideas of what I want to read, but I always do and I’m just going to go with a whim as I want to read. No expectations, no promises.

  7. Definitely no challenges for me. They are the equivalent of having to read a book either for teaching or learning purposes and that is not fair on the author or the book. I know they work for some people but definitely not for me.

    • That’s exactly the problem isn’t it – ‘having to read a book’ rather than ‘wanting to read a book’ equals work rather than pleasure. Good to know it’s possible to be challenge free.

      • Did we not both learn this lesson with the Historical Fiction course last year? Think what else we could have read without at least four set texts that we wouldn’t normally have given time and energy to?

        • We did but I am a slow learner. Confession time though – I only fully read two of the books. Stopped at page 10 of the very first one and read half of Fever.

  8. I love what you have written here. I’ve decided to give up the Goodreads challenge this year, or, I may just lower my goal by 15 books. Like you I have “in the back of my mind” type of goals like continuing to read world literature and some prize winners. I’ve been tempted to do a short story a week but already I am starting to feel some stress about it, once I realized how quickly a week flies by. I agree that I don’t want the reading to feel like work or a guilt trip.

    • I opted out of challenges based on reading x number of books at the start of last year – it was beginning to feel like I was in a race. I decided to go for quality versus quantity; the odd thing being that I ended up reading more last year than the previous year.

  9. I am not doing any hardcore challenges either. I gave it up two years ago and I’m happier for it. I still try to read as many Man Bookers that appeal to me, and more classics. But, I want to read what I want when I want.

    I have enough work and life challenges without adding reading challenges to the mix 😀

    • I could also have written that last line Nish – I also have plenty of work challenges and other things in my life. So why on earth was I thinking of adding to that by doing book reading challenges. Quite why it took me so long to work this out I don’t know!

  10. The only challenge I’ll be doing this year is the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It’s hard for me to pass on since I’ve been doing it for three years (2014 is the fourth).

    • That makes sense Angus if you’ve been doing it for so long then it’s become part of your way of life, something you’ve found can be accommodated in your life without adding to stress.

  11. I get enthusiastic every time I see a challenge…and then hold off for exactly the reasons you give. The only challenge I’m setting myself this year is to take far fewer books specifically for review, and read some of the stuff piled up on the TBR instead. But I’m not putting any figures on it…

    • I’m with you on the TBR front. I didn’t think I was doing too badly but then last night I actually went through the shelves of unread books and counted. It was an eye opener – I have more than double the number I thought I had. Worse, I have bought double copies of some books because I didn’t know what I had on the shelves.

  12. I just sign up for “challenges” and levels in them I know I’ll already meet. It’s cheating a bit, but it keeps me from getting stressed.

    • Not cheating at all Mark – you are just being realistic. If it works for you then there’s no issue. Plenty of bloggers follow multiple challenges without any problems. I don’t know how they manage it but they do. I just know I can’t

  13. The challenges I’ve signed up for are carefully chosen so as they don’t put too much pressure on me. They compliment goals and lists I already have – like the Classics Club or reading from my own shelves. I struggle if I make too long lists of books I have to read. I had thought about making this my year of reading sci-fi but as soon as I start to think about setting such specific goals for the whole year, I start to feel trapped. So few challenges is my way of doing it and still participating in the blogger community…

    • Being very focused and single minded seems like a good approach Christina. I know I would get tempted to just add another one and then another one. So probably best to go cold turkey for a while. I’ll still be doing the Classics Challenge but trying to see it as more of a direction rather than a goal.

  14. Same as you and Bryan. I gave up all but one year-long challenge last year, and it was so refreshing. I’m not joining that challenge again. It’s not the challenge – it’s me.

    That being said, I’m finding that I enjoy mini-challenges (a month, max) and read-along type of events. I find them to be more accommodating and flexible.

    • Mini challenges could indeed be an answer when I start to feel the withdrawal symptoms. I’ve done a couple of read-alongs. They were not great but I think it was the book that was the issue, not the people doing the activity

  15. I haven’t signed up for any year long challenges as I don’t think I will stick to them and they will feel more of an obligation rather than a pleasure, but if any shorter projects or read alongs come up in the year I might give those a go!

    • Anything that feels like an obligation doesn’t equate to pleasure in my world either Yasmine. Other people who are similarly challenge free seem to like doing read-alongs or one month theme reads so they could be something for me to keep an eye open for.

  16. Exactly as you. No challenges. I have a few things I’d like to get to, but if I don’t, I’ll be okay with that. I’m just going to go wherever the flow takes me. 🙂

  17. I’ve only committed myself to try and read 75 books, with at least half of them to be paperbased, and at least 1 audiobook a month. This is to try and getter balance than I did last year

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