IMO: Goodreads Challenges: Good or Evil? I’m siding with…GOOD!

Posted on 01/21/2014 in Discussion / 23 Comments

Goodreads Challenge
Clearly, I’m behind. Oh well!

It recently came to my attention through an article that the Goodreads Reading Challenge can be and is sometimes construed as bad. Instead of being seen as a positive in the reading community, and a challenge to true book junkies everywhere, the author of this article infers that it’s  1) demeaning to those who are illiterate, and 2) only serves to market books to readers by challenging them to consume more.

I had to mull over this article for a couple of days and let it stew while I considered the points made by the author, and for me, it comes down to:

  1. Find something to actually be offended about, the annual Goodreads Challenge isn’t it
  2. Duh, but only a little, come on, dude

Crying and op-ed’ing pieces about how a reading challenge is an insult to illiterate people everywhere is, well, an insult to literary junkies everywhere.  Especially the kind who find themselves spending a lot of time on Goodreads ticking the boxes and using the platform the way it was envisioned: a social network for book lovers.  Yes, publishers have nothing to lose and are completely in bed with Goodreads.  The Reading Challenge is a complete win for them, but who cares?  True book lovers want to consume books whether it exists or not.

We know that literacy correlates with better social outcomes, that literary fiction can improve our understanding of others, but despite the best efforts of the boffins, literature is one of the few areas of modern life where it’s not all about the numbers. Of course figures matter to bookshops, publishers, writers and even libraries, but if we enjoy reading – if reading is in some sense good – it doesn’t make any sense for the reader to say that if you double the number of books you manage to get through in a year, it will be worth twice as much.

I am naturally a competitive person, and my competition in reading is – myself.   Each year, I want to read more.  All of my friends who read want to read more.  It’s not necessarily the numbers that matter, but we want to know the stories.  I have often joked that if I could “read” a book via osmosis, I totally would.  If I could get paid to read all day, every day, I would.  The Goodreads Reading Challenge provides the hardcore bibliophiles a way to track our progress throughout the year.  Some stay true to their progress and don’t adjust; others notch the numbers up or down, depending on their reading volume.  And yes, it’s possible that if we doubled the amount of books, it could be worth twice as much – as long as they are good books!  Of course, we are always taking that chance, right?

It starts right there in the name. Since when was reading any kind of challenge? Isn’t it supposed to be fun?

Goodreads and the challenge isn’t meant for people who can’t read or people not interested in consuming mass quantities of books.  Reading can be fun and challenging at the same time, those two are not mutually exclusive.  At the end of the day, reading should always be a challenge, whether you are learning your consonants and vowels or pushing yourself to read more.  And reading more…that will never be a bad thing.


Where are you in this debate?

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Jennifer is both a book nerd and professional photographer. That means she lives in the fantasy world all the time, whether of her making, or someone else's. She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids, and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.


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23 responses to “IMO: Goodreads Challenges: Good or Evil? I’m siding with…GOOD!

  1. Jen

    I totally agree with you. I like to challenge myself but I’m not going to go ballistic if I don’t make my goal. Plus the books are on my shelf if I do the challenge or not. If i chalkenge myself to lose weight am I insulting people that don’t want to do a weight loss challenge or have a harder time.
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  2. Cyn

    I totally agree with you, this is definitely not something to be offended by. Book junkies will definitely read either way. I feel like the challenge is nice for people who don`t read a lot because it gives everyone a chance to try read a little more than they usually do.
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  3. The article read to me like that people that are ‘offended’ by the Goodreads challenge would also be offended by people buying books in the line in front of them at Target. I don’t think the author meant to sound like that but he did. I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous to be offended by someone’s goal of I hope I can read this many books this year. Like Jen above me said, it’s a bit like being offended by someone’s goal for weight loss or similiar.
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  4. Well, of course it’s challenging us to read more, but I don’t see anything bad about that. Loads of people have these challenge for themselves – they just don’t use a widget for it. When I didn’t know about Goodreads I always set a goal for myself too.. I’ve never felt forced to make a higher goal just because other people read more than me. Since when is it wrong to try to make people to read more? And if you can’t read more than 5 books, the Goodreads widget isn’t going to say: “only 5 books for this challenge? Whahaha, loser” It’s just encouraging you 🙂 And if it wasn’t fun, there wouldn’t participate so many people. Why do some people always find the need to take the fun out of things by whining so much? Talk about making a problem out of everything..
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  5. Yea that article didn’t sit right with me. We are all allowed to do whatever we want regarding reading. I like a challenge, and to see how I have been doing with that challenge. Some don’t and that is cool. But a goal is a goal and it is a personal accomplishment. If you don’t want to take part in the GR challenge, then just don’t. If you don’t like reading, then don’t read… honestly.
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  6. I haven’t read the article, and don’t intend to. Reading has been a joy and an escape for me ever since I learned how. This is the first year I entered the Goodreads Challenge, but I am only challenging myself, seeing if I can read as much as last year or not. Circumstances and reading time changes each year after all. I have to admit, that little line that I am behind schedule, is irritating.
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  7. Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun

    I haven’t seen the article and don’t think I’ll be wasting any time on it either. But I have to agree with you completely – goodreads is not a service for the illiterate, so how can a feature like the reading challenge be offensive to them? Perhaps the whole site is, then, since it’s ALL about reading and writing and books. And I agree wholeheartedly that we should always be challenging ourselves, whether it’s to learn how to read or to read more. Great piece!

  8. Lindsey Greer-Smith

    I completely agree with you. The Goodreads challenge is not meant as a challenge against others, it’s meant for us to challenge ourselves. I could honestly care less about this person reading 50 books or this other person reading 200. I mean the 200 is pretty impressive in my eyes…. but its about ourselves. I adjust my challenge by how stressful it was too reach the previous year, my reading volume and well my work schedule. Many do. Goodreads is a site for the book lover to find new books to enjoy, to look at different genres and try new ones, to share opinions about what we read, and meet other people who love to read. It is a social networking site for readers, if your not a book person don’t use it. That would be like being completely anti-social, joining Facebook and friendi g everyone you can’t stand. And if you read and want to meet others who read, but feel that a reading challenge is too much pressure or something you won’t like, don’t join it. No one is forcing anyone’s hand in the matter.

  9. I had no idea this was even a debate. If seems very foolish. Why would anyone else care how many books another person reads? To say that those who are illiterate are insulted, would imply that they concern theirselves with how many books goodreads users actually consume. Is this a thing? Doubtful. Sounds like someone complaining just to complain.
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  10. Totally agree that this is a manufactured controversy. The goodreads challenge is similar to lots of challenges that people take on maybe it’s running 1000 miles in a year or cooking one new recipe every week for a month, to help keep the momentum going. If tracking the books helps motivate people to read a few more books than they would have without it, good. Ultimately, it is an arbitrary goal but I do find it enjoyable to watch the little bar inch towards the goal. TL:DR version, people reading a lot of books is not really an issue.
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  11. Once mandatory education is over, most people only read because they want to, so whatever challenge they decide to set themselves is up to them. The same way as someone challenging themselves to visit five foreign cities or save $5000 dollar or to lose 10 kg is also a challenge – a chance for them to set a goal and work to achieve it (hopefully) and a way to measure what they have achieved within a set time period. We do reading challenges for kids to try and encourage them to read by rewarding them with reading prizes or some other kind of incentive. HOPEFULLY, this is to encourage them to enjoy reading, or atleast improve their reading ability to make school easier and improve some aspects of their lives. We do them to hopefully prevent illiteracy and to teach the benefits of achieving goals etc. I like doing the GoodReads challenges because it’s a helpful reminder for me when the end of another year is drawing to a close and I feel depressed about where I am in life that I can say I’ve read 50+ books in the last year, when the average adult may only read 4 a year. Maybe this year I didn’t have the cash for that expensive holiday, or I didn’t go out drinking because I hate it, but I DID live 50 other people’s lives this year, and wasn’t that awesome. I don’t do it to compete with other readers, because I see people reaching up to 200 a year and I think that’s crazy, but it also serves as a very simple way of recording WHAT I read this year in case people ask me for recommendations too.
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