Reader Question: How much does quantity matter?

February 4, 2010

I first heard of the notion on LibraryThing: Publicly stating a goal of reading 50 books in a given year (50 Book Challenge) or, even more insane, 75 (75 Book Challenge). In 2007, I joined the 50 Book Challenge group and pulled it off, squeaking by with 52 books. In 2008, I didn’t join any groups, but due to a combination of illness and insomnia read a sort of mind-blowing 75 books. That’s less than five days per book—a remarkable speed for tomes of any size for someone who holds down a full-time job.

In 2009, I said, aw, to heck with this. Arbitrary read-x-per-year goals aren’t where it’s at. It can lead me to pushing more novellas and kids’ books into my reading schedule. It is probably the reason I’ve so effectively avoided War and Peace for so long. In 2009 I established no such quantity-based goal. And then promptly only read 39 books and felt under-accomplished.

There’s a trade-off here, certainly. Blunt reading quotas make me make different reading decisions, but they also help me feel energized and focused. I considered a page-based goal instead of discrete book units. But that is alarmingly difficult to track: Even if I data-mined an API for the page count of books, those totals always include indexes, end notes, appendices: sometimes as much of a third of a non-fiction book. And I don’t want to give myself credit for pages I didn’t actually read.

So this year, I’m too scared to join 75 book challenge (and it’s February and I’m merely just starting my fifth book for the year). But I will probably celebrate quantity again. Maybe I’ll track my reading here, on this site. Maybe I’ll just do it in one of my many reading journals (hand-written).

What do you think? Quantity-based goals good motivator, or pointless?


  1. Alicia says:

    I just started counting the books that I read this year. I have read 12 books since Christmas. The process of counting and writing down my thoughts on each book has really kept me focused and excited about reading. I definitely feel like I am reading more because I am counting.

  2. Chuck says:

    There is incredible value in tracking books your read and taking notes, writing questions to be answered later, thoughts to be considered, etc. However, reading a set number of books in a year just to read a set number of books carries little value.

    Read for interest, read for enjoyment, read for learning . . .

  3. Katherine Gray says:

    I doubt I could read as many books as you did (I have no problem sleeping) but I did start something of a syllabus for myself yesterday in topics I want to learn more about, my craft, IxD, and always more food/cookbooks. But perhaps I should but a number to this, or at least a time limit to my list, to light the fire!

  4. cjm says:

    I still say it would be fun to have a reading endurance event. It’s very easy to find lots of physical endurance events (running 100 miles, 24hr mountain bike events, etc). What about a 24 hour reading event?

    Probably some minor rules like no Dr. Seuss books, nor really is this about number of books you can knock out. Just more an experiment on the mental exercise of reading as much as you can in a dedicated 24 hour period.

  5. Amy says:

    I’m on Library thing too and am doing the 50 book challenge “off the shelves” in order to read books I already have. That with the new books I get for reviews gives me a full plate.

    BUT, I am getting far more out of reading now with the challenges in place. It’s almost like my brain works harder and doesn’t get lazy. In the evenings I’ve found that when I used to watch TV, now I go get a book. Tracking my list is satisfying too.

  6. Jeff H. says:

    How about a goal for watching TV? It seems like having a goal for reading is a good way to be active instead of passive.

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