Reading Goals: Is Tracking Key to Achieving Them?
The end of the year brings about people online sharing their reading statistics for the past 12 months – what they’ve read, how many books they’ve read, and a whole bulk of other information. Of course, for every reader who thinks like this, there’s another who couldn’t imagine anything worse. It begs the question – should we track our reading? Is it an exercise that helps improve the experience of enjoying books, or simply a means of one-upmanship with other readers?
The first question, even before you think about tracking, is how you’re actually going to do it. There are a few good methods, and I imagine you’ll gravitate towards one of them. Most famous is Goodreads, but it’s not the only online platform of use – LibraryThing operates on much the same framework, but it also comes with a bunch of interesting stats, like the height of your books compared to other objects. Or you may prefer a more personalised approach, either through creating a spreadsheet or keeping a journal. I think the right approach depends on what you want to get out of it – if you’re just interested in reflection, whereas the other techniques are handy for more precise documentation.
I do admit that tracking it in this way resulting in a little upset as the counter failed to hit 100%.
There’s a question of motivation, and one of the reasons for the tracking is simply knowing how many books you’ve read – this is, I think, the appeal of the Goodreads reading challenge. It’s nice and simple – pick a number for the year, and then read that many books. My partner encouraged me to do it in 2022, in part because she thought it would be a cute couples thing, as we’re both readers. She hit her target handily – I opted for 100 books, because I’m a fast reader, and then fell disappointingly short as life and my thesis got in the way of reading time.
Last year, Gaby wrote about the competitiveness underpinning the Goodreads challenge, and the potentially arbitrary nature of reading it might inspire as a result. I was guilty of much the same thing – sure, I read some classic books and some newer releases in the genres I like, but I also found myself heading to the Book Farm and picking up a Perry Mason I could get through in a couple of hours if my numbers felt too low. I’m not complaining, because I still got to do a lot of reading, but I do admit that tracking it in this way resulting in a little upset as the counter failed to hit 100%.
The process helped him identify hidden biases in his habits, and thus encouraged him to widen his reading selections in response.
But tracking your reading can be about so much more than simply keeping count, and there can be lots of benefits to keeping track. Have you ever had that situation where you wanted to reread a book but could not for the life of you remember what it was called? If you’ve got a book tracker, it would essentially resolve that issue (because, in the past, I’ve had to essentially rely on fortune and accidentally finding them again, or the good people of a relevant Reddit channel).
Tracking your reading also helps you identify trends in the kind of books you read, the genres and time periods you like, and so you can consolidate your interests or work to fill in the gaps. On a book-tracking website, if you constantly update your records with ‘rom-coms’, say, it’s likely to recommend more books that will appeal to you. Similarly, when Medium’s Benya Clark started cataloguing his reading, he found that the process helped him identify hidden biases in his habits, and thus encouraged him to widen his reading selections in response. It might help you reflect on your reading suggestions, and thus open you up to a world of amazing books you may never have looked at before.
Of course, for some people, the idea of tracking your reading and crunching data in this way is horrific – making it so analytical might sap the very magic of reading. But there’s nothing wrong with that – we can all enjoy reading in different ways, and for some, the joy of organisation is akin to the wonder of finding a book spontaneously and opting to read it. Should you track you reading? Yes, but only if you think it’s right for you and your reading habits.