Tracking, Goals, and Sprints – When Did Reading Become a Competition?

Ellie Tucker

It has become routine at the end of the year for the online book community to fill the internet discussing whether or not they have reached their yearly book goal. Staggering figures such as 200 or 300 books read are increasingly common. I enjoy this kind of content- I like being nosey and seeing what people are reading, picking up recommendations as I go. I was happy with the number of books I read in 2022. I met my (admittedly more modest) reading goal and I feel like I read a good range of literature. 

However, as we entered February, my feed became abound with reading updates as people recounted how many books they had polished off in January. Jack Edwards, for example, estimated he had read about 22 books so far. Kayla from BooksandLala hit 32. Someone I know advertised on Instagram that they had somehow devoured 40 books this year! Those numbers are astounding and make my seven books seem measly and unimpressive, even though I had only days earlier been quite pleased. 

The online book community’s obsession with rapid consumption is made only clearer with the craze of so-called reading sprints and videos dedicated to showcasing short fiction and ‘quick reads’ to help hit your goal faster. Such things make me wonder: when did reading turn into a race? 

Platforms such as Goodreads and Storygraph have only encouraged this competitive mentality where users can track their reading progress and keep a comprehensive log of the literature they’ve consumed. On the one hand, I find tracking my reading a key motivator in picking up a book rather than my phone on an evening. On the other hand, my reading goal often presses down on me as an exhausting mental weight. Some readers have decided to delete Goodreads entirely, finding that obsessively cataloguing and quantifying reading has sucked the joy out of the hobby. Honestly, I get that. 

Increasingly, it seems like what you read is becoming less important than how much you read. An article published by The New Yorker last year, How to Read More Than Everyone Else, or Seem Like You Do, while in jest, is indicative of the current preoccupation of tearing through literature. Reading books is inherently performative. People want to appear well-read, intellectual and cultured. But as the old maxim goes, quantity does not equal quality.

There’s a fine line between competition and rivalry, and I worry that the online book community is gradually teetering into toxicity. We need to be more intentional about our consumption of literature. Let us take a step back and reassess what we actually value about reading, and remember why we love it in the first place. At the end of the day, it’s not about the number of books or pages or hours of an audiobook. It’s about the stories we hear, the things we learn and the beautiful language we can wallow in for a moment before reluctantly returning to reality. 

Categories: Literature

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