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As the new year approaches, bookworms are already thinking about their reading goals for 2024. Most readers use the Amazon-owned book tracking website Goodreads to set their yearly reading challenge, where they can choose a number of books they plan to read over the course of one year.
On average, Goodreads’ millions of users pledge to read more than 40 books in a year. Much of this statistic can be attributed to online communities such as BookTok, BookTube, and Bookstagram, with people who aim to read 50-100 books annually.
My personal Goodreads reading challenges have ranged from 30 books a year. However, in 2024, I plan on setting my reading goal to just one book.
Reading myself to filth
If I told my 2021 self about this, she’d probably judge me unfavorably. For a time, I also wanted to read a hundred books in a year, and I’m not going to lie and say I no longer do. But this new goal doesn’t mean I’ll only be reading one book for the entire 2024. Truthfully speaking, I’m not sure how much and how often I’ll be reading for the year ahead. However, when I felt disappointed in myself for “just” reading 21 books this year instead of my usual 30, I knew there was something off about how I treated reading as a hobby.
I’m the kind of reader who tries their best not to drop a book they’ve significantly progressed on so it counts for their reading goal, even if I’ve already lost interest in what I’ve been reading. And while finishing what you start is always a good idea, this completionist mindset for the sake of reaching a goal has taken away from my enjoyment and comprehension of the books I pick up.
Setting a goal of just one book will take away a significant amount of pressure to start or finish books I don’t like or understand. No matter how busy or picky I get, it’s guaranteed that I’ll find and finish at least one book that is completely worth my while. After all, the goal isn’t to read less or give up on reading in 2024 — it’s to prioritize quality over quantity and be more intentional about what I read.
Not only did I feel bad about breaking my two-year streak by changing my 2023 goal to 20 books, I also felt like I was unable to fully enjoy the books I read this year. Out of the 21 (and counting) books I’ve read this year, I could probably only hold a proper conversation about five of them. This is a red flag for me personally because I can’t help but feel like I’ve wasted my time on the less than memorable books I’ve read for the sake of bringing myself closer to an arbitrary number.
Judging a book by its cover
While my goals and attitudes towards reading are largely personal and rooted in my unrealistic expectations for myself in general, the desire to read as much as we can and consequent insecurity that comes when we’re not able to are not isolated ones.
Over the past few years, there has been a meteoric rise in reading as a hobby, as documented on social media. Put simply, reading is cool again — something worth romanticizing and documenting. YouTubers create videos giving tips to help people read faster in hopes of reaching the ambitious 100-book goal. TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds are filled with aesthetically pleasing book piles, as well as large and enviable physical collections.
Being an avid reader has also become associated with intelligence and even attractiveness. Popular “old money” and “dark academia” aesthetics are completed with the right reading stack. While the newfound positive and romanticized reputation of reading is good on paper, there are less than ideal side effects.
Firstly, there’s a sense of elitism that gets subconsciously cultivated, where people see themselves as superior to others for reading more. This manifests in how some readers feel better about themselves after reading classic novels instead of popular rom-coms and physical copies of books instead of digital ones. Mindsets like these hinder reading from being more accessible and enjoyable, tying the pastime down to external pressure and competition.
Speaking of physical copies, another problem faced is the overconsumption that’s being encouraged. Book influencers follow a similar content cycle to lifestyle ones. That is to say, there’s an incentive in creating “book haul” and “book collection” content reminiscent of the type of videos you’d see promoting fast fashion brands. Thus, there is more focus placed on the book as a physical product to consume and parade around rather than the actual activity of reading.
Turning the page
Much has been said about the downsides of social media allegedly commodifying reading, but that doesn’t mean online book communities have done more harm than good. Reading becoming social media’s newest favorite hobby allows it to be more accessible to people, especially the youth, which is always a good thing.
But when you put an activity that’s meant to adapt to other people’s own pace and preference in competitive arenas such as social media platforms, it comes as no surprise that more people are invested in the idea of looking well-read rather than actually being well-read.
When everyone around you seems to be buying and reading all the latest books at lightning speed, you feel the need to catch up or even surpass them. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably asked yourself if you’re really a reader if you’re not trying to read as many books as you can. This is a cycle I hope to break once 2023 reaches its end.
As I quite literally prepare for a new chapter with 2024, I’ll be aiming for a more personally meaningful, enjoyable, and fulfilling reading journey — starting with a goal of reading just one book at the very least. – Rappler.com
Ally de Leon is a Rappler intern.