Reading As Competitive Sport

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When I was a child, I had something of a natural zest for reading. Strong though that natural urge was, I attribute my real life-long zest for the practice to a reading competition held in my elementary school in fourth or fifth grade.

Essentially, you could select any number of books on a pre-approved list from the library and then, once you had completed it, take a test in a computer program. If you scored above a certain threshold, you would be awarded a number of points that scaled based on how difficult the book was. They had a book chart outside of the library with everybody’s name on it, with the biggest readers at the top of the chart.

While my predilection towards reading was strong, my competitive edge was even stronger, and I was determined to win the contest at any cost. I don’t even remember if there was a prize, but I just knew that I had to win, and I would do anything (including reading Little House on the Prairie and Little Women) to make that happen.

I think it’s that same urge, facilitated by the use of my Kindle, that prompted me to jump so ardently into GoodReads’ 2011 Reading Challenge. I set a personal goal to read 30 books in the span of the year, and some combination of my long metro-bound commute and my drive to win, prompted me to smash my expectations and wrap up my 30 books by August.

While it felt really satisfying to meet my goal so soon, I’ve resisted the urge to set my goal post even higher. At the pace I’m going, I could probably finish 45 books by the end of the year, I think changing the goalpost renders the goal itself somewhat arbitrary. I’m also curious about the ways that this kind of challenge affects my reading habits. I’m happy to say that I didn’t shy away from including longer, more challenging reads like Suttree, I do think it precluded me from reading short story collections.

So while my current “serious” reading project is The Brothers Karamov, which I have very much enjoyed so far, I think I will finally allow myself to indulge in The Complete Tales of Conan the Cimmerian and The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Perhaps next year I should make my goals more specific? Instead of adding 45 books to my bookshelf, I should specify that at least five should be short story collections, and another five poetry anthologies? If it’s in the name of competition, almost anything goes…

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