As the final pages of 2020 flick away, a lot of us find ourselves cracking open our diaries, or signing into our reading apps to log in the last few books of the year. Reading challenges are great—it was a reading challenge that introduced me to one of my now favourite authors, and another that made me finally finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a whole decade after my dad confiscated it from me for reading too much.
Challenges with set criteria can be a great way to diversify your reading. The Reading Women challenge, for instance, is diverse and intersectional—the categories for the 2021 challenge include trans authors and writers from Muslim, Latinx, Caribbean, Asian, Arab, and indigenous backgrounds, and stories related to incarceration, social justice, rural settings, and queer life. "Our goal is to encourage you to read widely (and fight the patriarchy […]) so just have fun with it!" they told readers on Instagram. With the dearth of diverse voices in the publishing industry—be it the indigenous and minority lives of Bangladesh, or the paltry offerings of ethnic counterparts in the West—the more diverse authors we read, the more they will be published, and the greater the variety of human experience will be out there for us to dive into.
For those who get a serotonin rush from ticking off goals, reading challenges can help track capabilities and prejudices and improve ourselves year on year, like an athlete keeping a log of how fast and long they can go each month.
Personally, I prefer using The StoryGraph, a web platform that functions much like Goodreads to catalogue your reading. It is, however, far more user friendly and community based, and aims to deliver a more nuanced approach to recommending books and categorising likes and dislikes. StoryGraph breaks down the moods, genres, pace, lengths, and ratings of your books, and records how many times you have reread them. From my breakdown, for instance, I learned that I was mostly in the mood for adventure this year, and that I vastly overestimate the average size of the books I read.
As many of our followers have told us on Instagram, books were an escape from the grim reality that has been our everyday this year—"providing a sense of achievement and also something to wake up to every morning," as Sabrina Anjum Poonam, a bookstagrammer, put it. But as adults, we may crave the days when we could finish entire 500-page novels in one sitting, when we never had to worry about meals, or laundry, or bills, or jobs and assignments. All these activities take time and energy, and reading, for many of us, is a hobby that needs to be put to the side for more important tasks.
A truth we do not often acknowledge, too, is that sometimes we need a break from our hobbies. Burnout is very real—as Mutiul Md Muhaimin shared with us on social media, "This year was so horrible that hobbies, like reading, that normally uplift me did not do anything to cheer me up." These anecdotes reveal a common theme: life happens, it is okay to take a break sometimes, and in that break, you can find other ways to grow, to listen to stories, to gain new information, through video games, podcasts, film, TV shows and documentaries. Your books will be there for you when you get back.
Humans are social creatures that enjoy consuming and telling stories. Reading challenges are a wonderful marriage of those traits. As they become more and more popular, it really boils down to setting realistic boundaries and expectations. And being kind to oneself if you fail to meet them. Reading is fun. Whatever challenges you set yourself in the coming year, hold onto that joy.
Yaameen Al-Muttaqi works with robots and writes stories of dragons, magic, friendship, and hope. Send him a raven at firstname.lastname@example.org.