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  • J. J. Hanna

2019 Reading Challenge Update and a Note on Book Culture

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Hi everyone of the internet!

I've done what I always do, and I've overcommitted myself. By my own free will. Because of things I created. Or old habits I fell into. Yep.

So. As you can see from the title of this post, this is an update. Mostly, it's an admission of my current position, which is nearing failure. It's not failure, because the challenges haven't ended yet. And even saying "failure" given where the time has gone instead feels like a falsehood. I digress.

Earlier this summer, I continued what I did last summer, and I created a reading challenge. One of these days I will finish my own reading challenge. Someday. Today, however, is definitely not that day, and this year may not be that year.


How hard does something have to be to have the creator fail as well?

And why am I "failing"?

First I'm going to give an update on how many books I've read this summer: 2.

Yep. 2.

However, I am currently in the process of reading three others, and by the time this blog posts it's possible that number will have bumped up to three. (I love poetry books. They up my book count so much in half the time.)

Of those four books, which ones count for the challenge this year?

Well, two of them. How many don't count toward the challenge no matter how I try to squeeze things in? Three. How many books do I need to read to complete my own challenge? Ten.

As you can see, I've gotten a little distracted.

But books that don't fit my challenge aren't the only things distracting me. I've also been writing my fingers off because July is Camp NaNoWriMo, I currently have a lot of free time, and after giving one of my novels to some friends of mine as beta readers, I decided I needed to write the prequels. So the time that any person trying to complete reading challenges should have spent reading went toward writing instead.

Yes, I did just say "challenges," plural. You see, every year since 2015 I have set a Goodreads reading challenge. The last few years I've been upping the number of books I wanted to read in one year from from twenty-five to thirty-five. After I graduated college, I expected to have more time to read. I expected to start devouring books at the rate I read in middle school and high school. Instead I find myself seven books behind schedule in my most ambitious year yet, unable to figure out how to get out of the slump. I had hoped the reading challenges would help. Instead, I find myself in the position most public book lovers find themselves in: feeling guilty for not reading enough.

And yet, if I choose instead to sit and read, I feel guilty for not writing enough.

And the more public these things become in my life (i.e. posting on social media about what books I read, talking about books and writing on my YouTube channel, so on and so forth), the more I feel that guilt.

That is an effect of book culture.

Don't get me wrong. I love books. I love cute totes that say things like "My weekend is booked" with a cute graphic of a stack of books and an outline of some nerd glasses. I find those things adorable and I love them.

But, at the same time, I hate the expectations they bring on. Is it socially acceptable to carry around that bag when you haven't just sat and read a book for fun (let alone finished a book) in over six months? Can I actually call myself a "book blogger" when most of the media I consume are tv shows?

There's a similar stigma around the writing world causes some of the doubts in my mind about my qualifications as a writer, despite having a super expensive piece of paper (read: college diploma) that says I know what I'm talking about. Ideas that "real writers" write every day often do more harm than good. Clearly, I have streaks of time where I can sit down and write 45,000 words in two weeks (see my latest YouTube video, created and posted before I finished the first draft.) But I also have stretches of time where I'm lucky if I can get one page written.

So will I "win" Camp NaNoWriMo this year? I don't have a clue. If I can find a way to write 20,000 more words in my rough draft as I go back through and begin edits, maybe.

Will I finish the reading challenge I created? I'm certainly going to keep trying. But I'm also just trying to enjoy reading again, and if I end up reading ten books but they don't fit the challenge, that'll just have to be okay. At the end of August I will post another update with the books I read and which part of the challenge they correspond with.

Will I read all 35 books on my Goodreads reading challenge? Hopefully. When all else fails I may just read a lot of poetry. Which also isn't a problem. Poetry is great! (I've finally gotten around to reading Wild Embers by Nikita Gill [see the 2018 reading challenge post] and her poems are so insightful and empowering and I want to read the rest of her poems immediately. If you don't know who I'm talking about, go check her out on Instagram or get her books from your library or buy them I don't care. Just read them. She's a fabulous poet.)

Ah. That side note on the library made me think of something else I highly dislike about book culture. Stop hating on libraries. Libraries are amazing. You don't have to spend twenty dollars at a time to have the newest, prettiest, hard cover copy. Sure, library books aren't always gorgeous and most have barcodes on them, and yeah, the spines have a call number on them, but you didn't have to pay for that book and you get to read it and enjoy it just as much as if you had bought it and I don't see what's wrong with that. There's this stigma in Bookstagram and Booktube that almost requires you buy all the books you want to talk about, and I hate that stigma.


The long and short of it is that there is a lot of pressure to read a lot of books, write a lot of books, and buy a lot of books or you're not a "real reader", "real writer", or "true 'grammer."

I'm calling B.S.

Do read. Do write. Do post pretty pictures. But don't let the swirl of everything about what it takes to be engaged in book culture and reading challenges knock you off track, ruin your attitude, or impact your interests.

Remember what got you into it all in the first place.

I created the reading challenge to have fun and to give me guidance as I picked my books. I created a YouTube channel because I wanted to explore another form of storytelling and another type of social media. I got an Instagram because there are people out there who post really pretty pictures of books that I really like to look at.

Get back to the basics. Let go of the pressure. Enjoy yourself.


J. J. Hanna graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Professional Writing. She's currently working with literary agent Cyle Young, learning to be a literary agent, and working as a freelance writer and editor. To hire her for editing, writing, speaking, or consulting, see the services tab. In her free time, she can be found cuddling with a cat, reading the latest suspense novel, or filming YouTube videos about the publishing industry.


This week's YouTube video:

The 2019 Reading Challenge video:

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