Literally challenged: cheating

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In the 2015 Reading Challenge — complete at least fifty-two books from 52 categories — I find by the end of April that I’ve fallen a little behind. And it gets worse: I’ve resorted to a bit of cheating.

Yes, I know, “cheat, and you cheat yourself”. When I was a classroom teacher I couldn’t understand the classroom cheater — why would anyone want to pretend to be brainier than they were, especially when they would almost always be caught out? And video game ‘cheats’, which allow you to progress to higher levels without the graft, they’re not only accepted but have for many years been built into games, a kind of institutionalised acceptance that cheating’s OK. What about those ‘Get more followers!’ invitations, encouraging you to pretend that you are really popular on social media by buying up votes, just like corrupt politicians?

So, yes, I’m cheating, and I’m cheating myself. Am I also kidding myself by saying that this is just a fun personal challenge, and that nobody else gets hurt?


Here’s the extent of my wickedness: you be the judge.

One of the edicts is to ‘Read a book based on a true story‘. Now I think I’m right in saying that the intent behind this is for the reader to pick a novelised version of true events. So is it OK to nominate the non-fiction study The Alice Behind Wonderland? I think it may well be bending the rules but, hey, I’m going for it. I hold up my hand — I’m a cheat.

At least the other titles don’t — I think — court controversy. The book I finished in a day? Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, a bedtime read that I completed the next morning. Kiki Hamilton’s The Faerie Ring was a book by an author I’ve never read before. But how to fit Contested Will: who wrote Shakespeare? into one of the categories? Try as I might I couldn’t find a challenge remaining after the ones I’ve already used that I can shoehorn Shapiro’s investigation into. I couldn’t even cheat!

But then I remembered: this is supposed to be a fun personal challenge, not a test or an occupational questionnaire or an interview form, nor even a bucket list. I don’t have to restrict myself to fifty-two books, or to the categories listed, I don’t even have to complete the challenge! So, no need to cheat! All I have to do is remember the words a wise playwright once wrote:

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

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16 thoughts on “Literally challenged: cheating

  1. Absolutely–of course it’s legitimate! Just pushing yourself to read a lot of books in a wide range of categories/genres is impressive. Why waste precious time reading things that aren’t valuable to you just to abide by arbitrary rules? Keep doing it as long as it feels good and stretches you–but not to breaking point, and not on somebody else’s Procrustean bed (had to say that because the idea of being stretched brought it right to mind!)

    1. “Arbitrary” is certainly the key word, Josna: why is “a book by a female author” one of the categories unless unreconstructed males are being targeted? I can’t see too many keen readers of either gender being flummoxed by this criterion!

      Anyway, I’m going to call them guidelines from now on, and some of them will certainly stretch me — but in a nice way, not subject to any follower of Procrustes! (By the way, “Procrustean bed” sounds like a geological epoch to me, perhaps laid down during the Mesozoic era?!)

  2. I wouldn’t call your approach ‘cheating’, Calmgrove. I’ve been interpreting the categories as suggestions, or vaguely defined “limits”. For me, the problem was never reading 52 books (I can do that in a summer), but, as Josna wrote, to stretch my reading experience beyond my list of usual suspects.

    1. I confess to a bit of tongue-in-cheek commentary, Lizzie, but I’m so glad that so many bloggers are interpreting the categories so liberally. I’m not so fast a reader as you, though, and I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by insisting on reviewing on every title I read. But that’s my choice, and one that I’m enjoying so far.

    1. It’s the wording in which the challenge is framed, Lory, that misled me at first: “non-fiction” book is one of the categories, implying that the rest must be fiction; and “a book based on a true story” seems to exclude a non-fiction narrative because — almost by definition — all non-fiction is based on true facts, is it not?

      But to hell with the categories which, as other bloggers have pointed out (Lizzie Ross for one, I think), are rather ill thought out: ambiguous at best, nonsensical at worst. A book “loved by your mother”? A book “that made you cry”? These sound like items drafted from a brainstorming session that didn’t make it past a critical editing process.

      From which you’ll have gathered, I totally agree with you — it’s a conclusion I’d come to as well!

        1. I’m afraid a strict Catholic upbringing has left me with guilt issues. That, and a concern about literal exactness which I blame on autism. But, hey, I’ll take ‘creative’!

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