How to maybe not use

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On self-imposed peer pressure and gamification

A place just for Readers
Whereas most people are content with Facebook, Instagram and whatever kids are into these days, there’s a special social media platform for readers and books:

I like Goodreads. I even use the little widget thing on this blog, to the right there. Thought it’d be fun for readers to see what I’m reading, though it’s probably not always accurate. It’s fun! However, I’ve also very not liked it in the past. I’ll tell you why.

Websites like Goodreads sound ideal for people who enjoy reading. You can add all the books you’ve read and still want to read to all kinds of lists, keep track and share your reading experiences with friends and fellow readers; you can even get in contact with your favourite authors and ask them questions about their work!

What’s not to love about that?

Well, it depends on how you use it. I’ve always used Goodreads as a kind of reminder regarding which books I’d still like to read, adding them to lists to make sure I don’t forget about them completely. It’s a much cheaper way of keeping track than my previous tactic, which was buying most books I’d like to read once upon a time…

However, I’ve had a period of time in which I suddenly didn’t even enjoy looking on Goodreads anymore. The reason for this can be divided up into two equal parts:

  1. The Facebook-effect. Social-network-anxiety. It’s a well known thing that swoops along every social medium, though Facebook had it worst in my experience. While at first a website like this makes you feel nice because you can follow other peoples’ experiences, one quickly starts to compare what they see to their own lives, and in the case of Goodreads, their own ‘accomplishments’. Especially signing up to reading groups (I thought it’d be a fun, sporadic addition to my reading; it was not) to whom reading seems to be a fulltime job, it really influences the reading experience. Not only did my mailbox overflow with updates on forums I couldn’t even keep up with, I started to feel bad for not reading enough compared to the others, let alone posting about it.
  2. The bookstore-effect. The phrase I’ve coined myself, but the feeling, you’ll recognize. As I saw others read books which sparked my interest and kept adding them to my ‘to-read’-list, suddenly I felt a heavy feeling of dread. At the rate I was reading (which, previously to this Goodreads adventure thought was quite an adequate pace) I’d never ever be able to read everything I wanted to read. At 25 books per year, I was fighting a losing battle.

Essentially, what Goodreads does is enable you to compile and compare lists, goals and overviews in order to elicit a larger sense of accomplishment when making progress. This process, in which you’re rewarded with essentially superficial rewards for completing real-life tasks, is called gamification. A great way to increase motivation and productivity, for example when doing schoolwork!

In this case, however, gamification had turned on me. By gamifying my reading, I wasn’t reading for myself anymore; I was reading to increase my page count. To complete my Reading Challenge. Sometimes I’d even have trouble remembering what I’d read: the gamification of reading had compromised its goal for me. Instead of motivating me to read more and thus positively influencing my goal, it changed my goal entirely. The ‘game’ threatened to overthrow its goal, since I was more focussed on how many pages I had read this day instead of enjoying what was on them.

Whenever I opened Goodreads, I started to feel guilty for not reading more. I looked at how much others were reading, were updating their progress. It felt like gym-shame, but in an online library! Reading became a chore, something I had to do to keep up, something I was anxious about. While it used to be something I loved doing.

That’s no way of living. So I broke free.

Did I bring this upon myself? Maybe.
Can I decide I don’t wanna live like this? Yes!

Reading is its own reward
I left the reading groups, challenges and read-alongs (or however they call them) and started reading for myself again. I don’t review on Goodreads, I hardly remember to rate the books from 1 to 5 stars. I approach my friends’ progress as reading recommendations, only use the progress thingy to keep track in case my bookmark falls out again. And use the to-read-list as a reminder, nothing more.

No pressure in reading, you guys. Never. If you ever think you’re reading for somebody else, you’re wrong. You always read for yourself. Even when you ‘have’ to do it, for school or something. You read for you. So do it by your own rules and comforts.

Even now, I sit staring at the Reading Challenge I set for myself this year as it tells me I’m 10 books behind schedule. Goodreads tells me, Annew, read 1 book per week for the rest of the year to complete your challenge. It definitely was a wake up call to realize that I really only have finished 7 books this year. It made me realize that I’m not reading much at the moment; something I’d like to change. But I’m not going to drill-read just to get the numbers in for Goodreads. So I’ve come up with a compromise.

My Resolution. What could go wrong?
So I am going to keep track of what I read. I think it’s good to reflect on what you’ve read, to take a moment to allow it all to sink in. I’m going to post here about the books on my Goodreads, so that I don’t have to do it there. If I haven’t finished a book that week, I will just discuss one I’m still reading, or consider a broader topic perhaps. This is the first of my bookblogs, so let’s tally with me, shall we?

I set my goal at the beginning of the year at 25 books.
Halfway through September, I’m sitting on a solid 7. Let’s see what I can make of it, without binge-reading “for the ‘chieves”.

I’m currently halfway through the following books, some of which I’m planning to finish first:

How to talk about books you haven’t readby Pièrre Bayard (very fitting considering this article, btw)

Steeds Leuker by Jelle Hermes

The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Wish me luck.
Happy reading!