Why I’m Not Setting Reading Goals in 2021

Is this post title a little clickbaity? Maaaaaybeeee…

Because while I’m not setting a goal for how many books I want to read in 2021, and I’m not going to be a stickler about tracking my reading or making monthly TBRs or anything, I do have some more general or thematic intentions for my reading that have been the same for the past several years now. I’ll get into what those are in a little bit.

But first, let’s talk about the Goodreads Challenge!

Now, if you take part in and love the Goodreads Challenge and feel that it’s helpful or meaningful for you, I am not trying to say that that’s wrong. But it is very much wrong FOR ME. I did the Challenge for several years, usually setting my goal at 75 or 100 books. I met these goals fairly easily most years, and did find it somewhat satisfying when I could mark another book as “read.”

But I always reached a point in every year, usually sometime in November, when I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to read enough books to win my challenge. I would start calculating how many days I had left against how many approximate pages I would need to read per day to meet my goal.

And then I would begin questioning whether I really cared about meeting that goal.

And then I would push through and read a couple shorter books so I could check off those boxes.

But I rarely enjoyed very much of what I read in the final six weeks of those years, and that was really the crux of the problem for me.

I love reading. I mean, I have a blog and podcast and several social media accounts dedicated mostly to discussing books and reading. But for me, reading (most reading, at least) is about escapism, or freedom, or curiosity. I read to excite my imagination, to scratch that mythic itch for story, for narrative meaning and purpose that we all have deep down.

And even when I read books that stretch my mind or take me out of my comfort zone with their important messages, turning reading into a competition, even if just a competition with myself, or a to-do list with check boxes, sapped all of the wonder and joy and meaning out of what I read.

Last year I set a Goodreads Challenge goal of 12 books as a way to mitigate this dissatisfaction with my experiences. I figured one book a month would be a goal I would meet inadvertently. I also decided to focus more on time spent reading than books read, with a goal of averaging 30 minutes a day. I thought these new goals would let me focus more on enriching the reading experience that I loved without getting caught up in the structure of the goals.

And I did meet my book goal, I think officially sometime in July, but in reality it was probably much earlier, as I didn’t log every book I read. But I also very quickly stopped tracking the time I spent reading each day. I still immensely enjoyed the time I spent reading in 2020, even without intentionally tracking it, which made me wonder: why would I bother?

So I’m not going to bother in 2021.

I’m not setting a goal for the number of books I want to read, and I’m not even setting a goal for how much time I want to spend reading. I’m definitely not doing the Goodreads Challenge, and in fact my plan is to eventually completely disengage from Goodreads in favor of Storygraph. (Let’s be friends!)

But I do still have reading intentions.

I like saying “intentions” instead of “goals.” The word goal to me implies a task-oriented mindset, which isn’t inherently bad, but is not suited to my personal reading philosophy. But intentions can be more fluid, more flexible, more focused on abstract ideas or broad themes than on concrete, quantifiable outcomes. To be very cliche, it’s about quality, not quantity.

So what are my intentions for my reading in 2021? They can all be summed up in one very broad intention:

I intend to seek out and read as many books about experiences and worldviews that are different from my own as I can.

This means books by and about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, LGBTQ+ folk, differently abled and neuro-divergent people, people of non-Christian religions (or no religion), people from other countries, cultures, and even time periods, and anyone else whose experience of the world is different from mine. I will inevitably read and enjoy books by and about people who are very similar to me, but this happens organically. The intention is in seeking out and listening to different voices.

This intention has informed my reading habits for several years now, and in previous years I’ve even tried to quantify the goal, like one out of every two or three books that I read. But I’ve recently started questioning whether placing a number value on the “diVeRsE” books that I read is a dubious form of tokenization? I’m still not really sure about that. So I think making it my intention simply to seek out those aforementioned viewpoints as much as possible will go a long way.

I am constantly looking for books to read–it’s as distinct a hobby as actually reading the books–but I already have an ever-growing list of books I hope to read in 2021. A few I’m most excited about are:

  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
  • These Rebel Waves by Sarah Raasch
  • Queenie by Candice Carty Williams
  • Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
  • The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi
  • The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
  • Windwitch by Susan Dennard
  • Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty

Are you setting reading goals or intentions for 2021? What are they?

Are you on Storygraph? What do you think of it?

Let me know in the comments!

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