How To Win Those Pesky Book Challenges

Worried about not having enough time to read? Feel that a book challenge is going to get you reading just like an exotic Good Morning America diet will finally make you lose that stubborn belly fat?

Book challenges are everywhere at the end of the year, as threatening as holiday dinner with in-laws you don't even like getting texts from. Pick a random blogger and you can find more than a handful, including the ever-popular Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Melanie Jo Moore wrote a funny blog about failing that one. She only read 13 books of 36. Sad, right? But life, you know, it kind of intervened.

Well, there's a secret to winning the Goodreads Challenge or any of them: Don't waste your time.

The whole idea is flawed. Why should you set yourself up for failure like so many other people do? They think a book challenge will make them better readers, people, dog owners, parents, citizens, whatever -- and they end up feeling miserable. If you need this kind of motivation does that mean you're book-challenged to begin with? Is that really a thing?


Reading books should be pleasurable, not a chore or duty, not a competition with anyone including yourself. The whole notion is kind of infantilizing. The last time I did a book "challenge" was elementary school and some of us got nifty commendation cards. Yay.

But if you feel absolutely compelled to take a book challenge out of envy or morbid curiosity or boredom or whatever, here's how to beat it: Get sick or have surgery.

When I had a nasty root canal and spent 72 hours in bed afterwards dealing with the pain, I read three books that long weekend and loved each one: The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, Under the Channel by Gilles Pétel, and Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. A literary novel, a mystery, and history.

I also started a fourth book, Elmore Leonard's Be Cool. That was way above my weekend average.

So just imagine how much reading you could accomplish stuck in bed for a week with a really bad case of bronchitis, or if you scheduled some plastic surgery that you had to hide from your friends. The possibilities are endless: you could finally conquer Ulysses, Moby Dick, War and Peace, the unedited Clarissa, Infinite Jest, Remembrance of Things Past and still squeeze in all of Georges Simenon (500 books) or Barbara Cartland (700).

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres including a collection for book lovers: Book Lust!