Milestones or millstones?

Milestone opposite Myrtle Villa, Llanteg, Pembrokeshire © Copyright welshbabe and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

Two-thirds of the way through the year and it’s a good moment to take stock. Which authors read, what books completed, what goals reached, what satisfaction achieved. That’ll be the who, what, when, where dealt with, and maybe the how, but as to why — that’ll require some introspection and I’m always a bit wary of that.

The 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge required me to set a number representing the total titles I hoped to read this year. Rather timidly I plumped for forty, but pleasingly I’d nearly reached this figure by the end of August: thirty-seven books read, or 93% in total. As Week 36 of this year begins on September 3rd, it’s clear that I’m reading at the average rate of one book a week — bully for me! — but rather pitiful if I were actually into competitive reading. Which I’m not!

Books read as of the start of September 2018

Another way to approach my reading was the 2018 Ultimate Reading Challenge, which required a total of fifty-two books in fifty-two categories read before the year’s end. (How many a week? You do the maths!) Following current form I theoretically can achieve this, but there are snags.

First of all, one of the categories — a book read in school — is mysteriously duplicated, meaning I can either read two different school books or else substitute a new category of my own choosing. However, a check on Hannah Braime’s original website page which detailed the challenge shows this as more nuanced: A book you were supposed to read in school but haven’t yet. As I was a day dreamer in school there’s bound to be a whole stack to choose from . . . if only I could remember the titles.

Secondly, not all the books I’m reading comfortably fit every category listed: I seem to have only fulfilled twenty-nine of these categories. However the odd other title has occasionally fitted in with my local bookshop’s monthly challenge, such as reading a book in translation or a book made into a film.

Finally, a goal I mentally set myself for this year: to read more books by female authors, so as to achieve something at least resembling parity. That seems to be going well as most of the first half year was spent alternating female and male; and in fact the ratio appears to be now weighted on the side of women. I’ll see how long that lasts…

It’s good to note such milestones as I progress through the year but, as always, I am careful not to let these goals or challenges become millstones round my neck. I’m just pleased if I manage to read a wide range of books rather than the usual options that simple laziness would plump for, and so far that has featured classics, graphic novels, contemporary fiction, short stories, fantasy, children’s fiction, crime, non-fiction, science fiction, fictionalised memoir . . .


How are you progressing with any goals or challenges you’ve set yourself? Or do you forego such artificial incentives? Do you earnestly tot up where you’ve got to, or just make a retrospective reckoning sometime in December? Are you a serial reader or, like me, play the field like some polyamorous lover? Tell me all!

21 thoughts on “Milestones or millstones?

  1. I am a monogamous book lover. When I come across a novel I do like I want to explore all of that author’s production, but soon after I have read the last page of his last book this relationship comes to an end and I desperately start to seek that pleasure again. My greatest lovers have been Marquez, Fante, Calvino, Austen, Hesse and recently I’ve met Mr Murakami. He writes a lot. Good, I’ll be quiet for a while. 😉

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    1. That’s a praiseworthy approach, Stefy, even though it’s not one I take any more. I did however follow this when I was a kid, haunting libraries and secondhand bookshops to read as many works as possible of an author I’d discovered; thus I binge-read Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville, Rosemary Sutcliff and the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs before I left school. More recently I discovered Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken and Ursula Le Guin, though I now tend to spread out the joy of reading or rereading them, filling the interim spaces with other authors’ works.

      I’ve read some of your authors, but have yet to make the acquaintance of Fante and Murakami—sometime in the future, perhaps! 🙂

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    1. Weird indeed, Alastair. Google “competitive reading” and you’ll find it’s a thing—in fact, several things, including apparently encouraging reluctant male readers by appealing to their competitive instincts. This is an approach I’m almost sure I disapprove of, agreeing with you that this goes against the grain.

      But I suspect many book bloggers are competitive readers, if only competing against themselves, judging by the odd post I come across recommended by WordPress.

      That’s why I prefer ‘goals’ to ‘challenges’: notionally they’re idealised hopes, but not completing them doesn’t imply failure. After all they’re only a means to an end, which is to read more widely because I like to increase the pleasure of reading.

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  2. I’m on my 99th book of the year – I can read a lot more during the school holidays – not getting up except to get a cuppa, and reading for a couple of hours in the morning is a lovely treat. I never complete any challenges – but anything that gets me to take a book off the shelves, rather than something new, is a good prod to reduce the TBR (like that’s gonna happen in truth!)

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    1. That’s impressive, Annabel, but then I wouldn’t expect anything less from you! 😁 I tend to confine my reading to last thing at night and first thing in the morning, but social media distracts me far too much during the day — I should really timetable it in so as to reduce constant and obsessive browsing. Hmm.

      Still, nothing like going away on holiday to provide an excuse to read, away from non-sightseeing distractions and, frequently, a poor signal! Maybe an upcoming break in East Sussex will provide that opportunity…

      As with you, reducing the TBR pile is my fondest wish too, but this year (after a couple of very modest acquisitive years) has seen my tsundoku habit spiral out of control again. Not so good.

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    1. As always I’m impressed with the range and depth of your summer reading, in amongst all the other commitments in your busy life! I too should read more books in translation, having only managed the Gilgamesh epic and a Georges Simenon so far, though I’ve now virtually finished a collection of Chekhov stories.

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  3. I usually set no goals or challenges, except for the broadest ones, such as “read more non-fiction” or “finally finish that book” 😉 I tend to oscillate around that 50-60 books-a-year number, around 20-25% of which are currently non-fiction. I have a spreadsheet where I note the fiction books I’ve read, author, title, score and number of pages, but that’s the extent of my organization in reading-related matters 😉 Oh, and I do make extensive notes of the non-fiction I read 🙂

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    1. How organised, Ola, a spreadsheet! That’s more than I get round to. But I do usually take notes on non-fiction too, only I’ve not done many of those this year (though I did recently finish an academic study on the Holy Grail linking the earliest grail romance Perceval with the Cathar heresy).

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      1. I’m afraid I need this spreadsheet to know which books to review… External memory sort of thing 🙂 The Holy Grail/Cathar heresy book sounds quite interesting, Chris!

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  4. My goals and challenges at the moment are focussed on getting some of my health back so I can work more hours at school.

    I’ve reduced the fat and refined sugar in my diet, I’m regularly eating more vegetables and fruit which is all OK. I’m now at an active dose of a new drug for pain management which I swapped onto so that should be good. The pain is no worse on this drug and it’s less of a problem for my body.

    I also tried the canoeing which my physio said might help. Unfortunately, despite having done a lot of this when I was young, it was a windy day and my canoe was really for three people not one, so I really struggled. I ended up having to phone the hospital for advice. They said I would recover with rest but I need to be much much fitter before I try anything like that again.

    So now I’m trying another physio suggestion and working on slowly doing revolutions on a sitting-down-on-a-chair type cycle machine which won’t hurt my pelvis and make my pain worse but should improve leg strength and cardiovascular fittness (which at the moment is basically level 0.) I’m just doing 100 revolutions each day which only takes a minute or two. Once this becomes easy I’ll add more.

    With these goals it’s not really about finishing things as getting to a point where I can maintain a minimally healthy lifestyle. All I can say is that I’m working on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just regaining and maintaining health is a challenge, and that must always be a priority, Jo, I agree. And it’s a bit of a bugger when things go backwards. Nutrition is one part of it, and what we’re learning more and more is how important the gut microbiome is for overall health. And of course gentle but regular exercise is another piece of the jigsaw on the way to a kind of ‘normality’ appropriate for each individual.

      I wish you every success in getting where you want to be, Jo, sounds as if you’re getting much of the help and advice you need. Take care and look after yourself.

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    1. Foolhardy, more like, Laurie! Perhaps the best challenge is retrospective, where one looks back and devises a challenge based on what’s already read! Anyway, I agree with your approach, rather that than the contrary slogan “So few books, so much time”… 😁

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  5. I haven’t quite reached Annabel’s number of books read, but I not far behind. However, my challenge this year has been only tangentially connected to reading: to blog more often, which I’m not managing to do. Ah well, a new month, a new opportunity to do what’s needed.

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  6. I always tell myself I’ll set a more manageable goal this time and never end up doing this. Next time I definitely will. What are your plans for the non-fiction essays? I have Virginia Woolf’s Second Common Reader that would fit that category.

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