One month ago, I set myself the 30-day challenge of only reading books written by people I ‘know’ on Goodreads. This was an attempt to actively engage and give meaning to those oh-so-important social media connections we all spend so much time cultivating, but then generally ignore. (Surely, I’m not the only one guilty of this!) It was also a way to give a little back to the less-than-anonymous authors I share digital space with, many of whom I’ve also enjoyed thought-provoking, intelligent discourse with in various forums, tweet exchanges, blog comments, etc.
Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the logistics of this when I started and part of the purpose of this post is to work through those aspects of it that I found, well, challenging. This is so that I don’t compromise myself in the future when I, for example, decide to finally do something about my overflowing physical bookshelf. A paperbacks only challenge would be one way to go about that.
The absolute first hurdle I faced was choosing what to read. This actually posed a different problem at the beginning than the end of the challenge. Before starting, I collected a list of almost 100 books written by people I ‘know.’ But I gave almost no consideration to the standard I would use to choose amongst those books. I opted to begin by flushing the shortest, most easily read ones and spent the first few days reading all of the novellas. After that, however, I was left deciding what struck my fancy.
For me, choosing a book is often a lengthy process. This is largely because, despite having sooooo many books, I regularly look at them and find nothing appeals at just that moment. Having limited myself to 90ish books (after the novellas were read) only exasperated the problem. Toward the end I found myself cheating, reading books not included in my challenge with the intention of extending the deadline to allow myself to make up the time spent on non-challenge books. I never did it. At the end of the month, I was spent. I was done with it. I wanted no more. So, lesson one, 30 days is too long for a challenge that limits me to only reading certain books. In the future I’ll either choose time irrelevant genre, subject, author, etc challenges or only set myself a two week time frames.
The next challenge I faced was the review. My idea of ‘giving a little back’ was to provide a review to those authors I ‘know’. Indie authors are always hustling to find more reviews. Lacking the backing and legitimizing effect of an agent or publishing contract, a slew of positive reviews is the most effective way to show readers their work is worth giving a chance. However, never was it my intention to promise good reviews, just honest reviews (same as always).
Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that any review, even a negative one, is beneficial to authors. I even wrote a whole post about it once. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about having to be the bearer of bad news when writing a bad review. I always cringe a little when I do it. And here I found myself realizing that I was about to crosspost reviews, some of them less than flattering, that would pass the authors feed.
I could vividly imagine someone blithely logging into Goodreads and being smacked in the face with a negative review right in their own activity feed. I was really uncomfortable with this. I did it, but I liked it even less than normal. So, lesson two, just like in real life, there is more of an emotional backlash from giving negative feedback to people you know than people you don’t.
Lastly, just like trying to write a concluding chapter of a book, I needed to decide how to wrap the whole thing up. I knew going in I wasn’t going to get to read 90+ books in a month and, therefore, not all of my ‘friends’ would benefit from this challenge. But on the last day, when I looked at the list of books that hadn’t been chosen, I felt bad. This isn’t gym class dodge ball. I didn’t leave the poor player to be chosen last. If I’d run the challenge in another month I would have chosen different books. But where I’ve been in the past month, with real-world events, discussions, moods, weather, ANYTHING effecting what I felt like reading at any given time I chose the books I chose. This was not a value assessment of any sort. It’s just the confluence of life. So, lesson three, you have to accept your limitations, give what you can give, and let the rest ride. (You have no idea how hard I tried to find a not-Frozen-related “let it go” image.)
Three fairly important (to me) lessons learned. But there was a fourth one too. I really enjoyed a lot of things about doing this. Yes, I got bored with my limited selections. Yes, I hated having to give negative feedback to my ‘friends.’ It made me feel disloyal, even if I know it’s all for the best. But, I also got a small extra thrill out of every review I posted. Since I ‘know’ the authors behind the books and they know me I received a lot more ‘hey, thanks’ emails than normal. I always appreciate that. So, lesson four, despite the occasional difficulties inherent in such a challenge it was 100% worth it.
Although I didn’t like all of them (we all have different tastes, of course), I read a lot of great books in the course of this month long challenge and they were (in no order):
Dancing with Gravity
The Protector’s series
The Celtic Legacy series
The 4 Gs
Shades of Grey
The Guests of Honor
Wheel & Deal, Dead Doughboy Walking, The Rock Star in the Mirror, When You Were Pixels, Kiss & Spell, The Phoenix Cycle