This started as a WAY too long comment on Vasilly’s post about reading challenges. So I decided to save it and let it percolate for a few days, then expand on my thoughts to post here. It’s a lengthy post, but it turns out that I had a lot to say on the subject.

Challenges: love ‘em, can’t let ‘em go once I join.

For about 2 1/2 years I joined and completed lots of challenges. Although I enjoyed the way the challenges stretched my limits in terms of the books I chose, I found a downside too. I’m pretty much incapable of giving up on a challenge I join, so I found myself putting aside books I really wanted to read for books I felt I had to read for a challenge. I also found myself finishing books I might otherwise have set aside because it was a book for a challenge. I usually have no trouble giving up on a book I’m not enjoying, but if I’d listed it for a challenge I felt like I couldn’t. Looking back at my lowest rated books on Goodreads over the past couple of years clearly shows that the lowest rated books are books I’d listed for challenges. Apparently my compulsion to complete the challenge was too strong to overcome my desire to only read books I’m enjoying.

Along the way I started to think about what it was about the challenges that I liked. Was it the joining, the making of the lists, the checking off and completing? Frankly I enjoy all of them. I have to say that my very favorite part is the list making and planning of what to read next. I’m usually reading one book and listening to a second, but I’m also thinking and planning what I want to read next. The challenges are great for that. They give me a reason to make lists. I enjoy making lists almost as much as I enjoy reading. My TBR list is an example of list making gone mad. It’s actually a multi sheet excel spreadsheet that I’ll have to talk about in its own blog post someday soon. The trouble I ran into with too many challenges on my plate was that my reading was becoming overplanned. I’d see or hear about a book that sounded good, but knew it would be ages before I could read it due to having to finish challenge books in time.

Balance is the key for me.

Beginning in January 2009 I made a conscious decision to severely limit the challenges I joined. I had a select few favorites that I wanted to do again (What’s in a Name and Southern Reading to name a couple). I also geared my TBR challenge choices for this year to listing only “the next book” in 24 different series I’ve started but not finished. Yes I have a serious series addiction (again probably worthy of its own blog post). The only unplanned challenge I’ve joined this year is the Sookie Stackhouse Challenge.

I have to say that this choice to de-challenge my reading has been completely refreshing and freeing for me. I even changed the name of my blog to “Whimpulsive” to celebrate making this choice. I didn’t want to ban challenges from my life completely because I really do enjoy some of them. I’ve channeled my list making pastime into the ongoing adding to and rearranging of my TBR list based on the latest book to catch my attention or be waiting on the library hold shelf with my name in it.

What I’ve discovered is that something I enjoy even more than completing a lot of challenges is the return of spontaneity to my reading choices. If I see a review on a blog that looks interesting – I’m right on the library website requesting it. If I don’t feel like reading what I did have as ‘next’ on my list – fine! I can pick up something else instead.

I’m definitely not anti-challenge, but I am very pro-BALANCE!! For me, being selective and joining just a few challenges but leaving room for spontaneity has been a great choice. My recommendation is to join as many challenges as you want to, but don’t let the challenges crowd out those “Whimpulsive” reads.

(The photos are the windows in the building across the street from my office. I love the distorted reflections of both old and modern buildings blended into interesting shapes and textures.)