Last year during a particularly lovely walk on country roads, a dear writing friend and I were discussing, as we often do, our goals and progress. In the beginning of the year, she had set herself a pretty steep reading goal, but life threw a couple of curve-balls in her direction, her work situation had changed, and now these reading goals pressed heavily upon her. Here’s the thing, though: She is a reader. She reads copious amounts of books in all genres. Reading is not a task for her, but a joy.
Which led me to wonder, out loud, “Why do you have reading goals?” If we are true readers (and she and I both are), do we really need an app to remind us to read? Do we really need to add a number to the amount of books we consume? Wouldn’t we do it anyway?
My son is a ferocious reader. He will plough through books at the sonic speed of the Concord, and our local librarian can attest to that. There was a time when she’d raise an eyebrow at the tower of books he carried to the counter before he sprinted away to fetch a second stack. She has since learned to laugh and offer us an extra bag. For his ELA class he has to set a quarterly reading goal. Because he reads so much, he aims high. And lately, sometimes, too high, because he doesn’t take into account the increasing homework demands and extracurricular activities that come with growing up. This leads to stress and unhappiness and joyless reading at the end of the quarter when he discovers he is 20 books short of his goal.
Which leads me again to ask, “What is the point?”
Now, I understand: Not all people are eager readers. Sometimes, for totally legitimate reasons, some people are very reluctant readers. While others just haven’t found the right books yet. And others choose to spend their free time on different activities.
For reluctant readers who recognize that they are such, and would like remedy that I say, by all means, yes! Set some realistic reading goals.
For students who spend way too much time on screens, who are developing readers and writers, and who still have a lot to learn about interacting with the world and other people, yes, set reasonable goals.
But for those of us who already are readers, who find joy in books, who surround ourselves with books, who carry them with us wherever we go, who feel naked if we don’t have one within arm’s reach, just don’t. Don’t make a want a must. Don’t turn a joy into a task. Don’t suck the life out of something that should be life-giving to you. Reading is freedom. It allows your mind and heart to adventure outside your body. Don’t let your goals hold you hostage.
Now this is a risky opinion for me as someone who wholeheartedly believes in goal-setting and has been blogging about it on 24 Carrot Writing these last seven (!) years. But I also believe in rewards, in those carrots, so to speak, in celebration!
When I was in high school, reading wasn’t taught the way it is now, with reading workshops and book goals. But my teacher had a small classroom library (she was revolutionary!) and she often casually recommended books. One year she had us start a reading log in the back of one of our notebooks. She simply said, “Sometimes it is nice to see what you have read.” She never graded it, or made us fill it out. She did check it on occasion, because I would find encouraging notes from her there. And that fanned the flame of my love for reading.
So rather than setting goals for books to read, celebrate the ones you have read. Log them in Goodreads, or write them in a reading notebook, or color books on a bookshelf coloring page, or make a check mark in your bullet journal. You will still read as much, if not more than you would have with goals. But it will be free, joyful reading.
~ Amanda Smith
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I blog about life, motherhood, and faith. For more about writing, books, and authors, visit 24 Carrot Writing.