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What Happens When Your Reading Goals Conflict?

I set two primary reading goals this year: read more diversely (which, for me, means prioritizing books by authors of color), and read the books on my shelves. The problem, I’ve discovered, is that my shelves don’t reflect the kind of diversity I’m hoping to consume now. 

A good chunk of the books sitting on the unread shelves in my office were purchased at least a year or two ago, before reading diversely was something I thought consciously about or put an effort towards. I got a lot of them at used bookstores and used book sales, where I’d think more about the topic than the author. When I scan the authors on my bookshelves now they’re overwhelmingly white.

So what’s a goal-oriented reader to do? Is there a way to reconcile these two reading goals? I’ve been thinking about it off and on for the last couple of weeks, and I think I have a few strategies that may also apply more generally if you have a similar clash between your different reading goals:

  1. Acquire books that meet my goals. Let’s be real – I’m definitely not going to stop buying books this year. I’m too much of an addict to quit. What I can do is prioritize acquiring books by authors of color. If there are two books I’m curious about, my buying power should go to books that can help me further my diversity goals in some way.
  2. Use the library more. My library has a great collection and good connections to other libraries through interlibrary loan. I can get a lot of diverse books that way, as long as I plan ahead a little bit and do a decent job managing my hold list.
  3. Sort out my bookshelves better. At this point, my shelves are double stacked with books, meaning a lot of them are hidden from view. I need to take some time to get the books by diverse authors front and center so they’re top of mind when I’m selecting my next read.
  4. Lists, lists, lists. I love a good list. I’ve been working to put together lists of books I want to read and books I own by diverse authors so, like the bookshelf sorting, they stay top of mind.
  5. Set specific goals. The goals to “read more diversely” and “read my own books” are pretty general, which is a bad strategy, if you listen to goal-setting experts. I need to think of a way to make my goals more specific – maybe a percentage or number of each type of book – so that it’s easy to see how I’m doing and make adjustments on the fly.

While I’m writing specifically about my own reading goals, these strategies might also be applicable if you have other goals that seem to conflict. Acquire new books that meet your goals, and use free sources like the library (or cheap sources like a used bookstore) to make sure you have the books you need to meet other goals. Make your goals specific, and find ways to keep them in front of you as the year progresses. And make sure to track carefully so you can make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

What strategies do you have to help you meet your reading goals?

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • AnneL January 21, 2016, 7:53 am

    I am all about the lists. For the last three years I have done little specific challenges – my current ones for this year are 1) Read 12 out of 16 books from my current shelves (I list the 16) 2) Read 12 out of 16 diverse books (again I list) and the Book Riot Challenge. I cheat a bit – sometimes I add more books to the list after the fact and some books show up on multiple lists -I just finished Loving Day by Mat Johnson which was on all three lists! I love checking them off and I try to include a pretty good range of genres/books to suit a variety of moods on all three lists (especially including books that I have been “saving” for no good reason). The last two years, I’ve actually created a second 12 book TBR list midway through the year after completing the first.

    • Kim January 21, 2016, 7:10 pm

      I’m terrible at following through on list like the kind you make — as soon as a book goes on any kind of “required reading” list I lose all interest in it! So I’m super impressed with people who can follow through like that 🙂

      In this case, I’m thinking of lists more as reminders than requirements — here’s what I have, think about reading it 🙂

  • BermudaOnion (Kathy) January 21, 2016, 8:33 am

    My shelves are double stacked too and, to be honest, I forget about the books in the back. Hopefully, you have some hidden gems tucked away on yours.

    • Kim January 21, 2016, 7:11 pm

      I HATE having double stacked shelves. I feel sad for the books stuck in the back!

  • Michelle January 21, 2016, 11:13 am

    I am a HUGE list person, but when it comes to reading, I totally shy away from them. Lists, to me, are mandates that I have to do what is on there. If I were to make lists of books I want to read, then suddenly the fun factor disappears and those become requirements rather than suggestions. (I know; my brain is weird.) I do like your suggestions about hitting the library and making more thoughtful purchasing selections. That way, you still get to maintain the freedom of reading whatever you want while staying true to your goal of reading more diversely without any of the obligation list-making may make you feel.

    • Kim January 21, 2016, 7:11 pm

      I’m the same way with list of “required reads” — I just can’t do it. In this case, I’m making the lists more as reminders — these are the books you own, think about reading them, ok? — than as specifics. So, if your brain is weird I am right there with you!

  • Christina January 21, 2016, 3:41 pm

    I set the exact same goals for myself at the beginning of this year — read from more diverse authors and read more of the books I own. Like you, Kim, I took a look at my shelves and realized that the overwhelming majority of the authors on my bookshelves are white. So my two goals are, seemingly, incompatible.

    And then I took a step back and decided to think about which goal needs to be the priority for me. I know I’ll be moving at mid-year so clearing off my shelves will reduce the amount of money I will have to spend on moving costs. Post-move, I’ll be able to fill up those shelves with books by more diverse authors and spend the second half of the year focusing on my other goal. And I can always use an excuse to buy more books!

    • Kim January 21, 2016, 7:13 pm

      I think maybe it was one of your blog posts where you mentioned this and it got me thinking about my own reading and trying to figure out how I was going to approach this problem. I think your strategy makes a lot of sense — prioritize one for part of the year, then focus on the other when it makes more sense. Good luck!

  • Lisa January 23, 2016, 11:32 pm

    I’m in charge of picking books for my book club and I’ve elected to make all of us read more diversely this year. I will mean buying some books but I think we can all make exceptions when it comes to making ourselves better rounded people.

    • Kim January 25, 2016, 5:26 pm

      That’s a good idea! I’m curious to hear what your book club picks for the year.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End January 24, 2016, 7:46 am

    SPREADSHEETS is how I keep track of everything. I have a reading stats spreadsheet that monitors how many books I’m reading by gender, ethnicity, nationality, etc., and that makes it easy to see at a glance what I’ve been reading and if I need to make adjustments. Luckily, yeah, my library is superb, so I’m never wanting for new books by authors from all sorts of backgrounds. Good luck with yours! I strongly recommend making your goals measurable — that way you always know what’s what, and it is also extremely satisfying when you succeed.

    • Kim January 25, 2016, 5:27 pm

      I love spreadsheets too! I finally got mine set up to do some basic calculations and I feel like a wizard.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey January 26, 2016, 5:12 pm

    I’ve noticed the same conflict in my own reading goals and I think the library is going to be the answer for me 🙂

  • Unruly Reader January 28, 2016, 9:49 pm

    Oh, I’m right there with you! My first reading goal of the year is to “read more at whim.” But then I also have goals to complete Book Bingo Blackout (a reading challenge we designed) and to read books by the most popular authors at my library. So… reading at whim — it just doesn’t happen.

    I’m telling myself that once I get a good start at the more defined goals, I’ll ease up and do the whim thing.

    But I’m a firstborn, so it’ll be a challenge to enforce whimsy!

    • Kim February 7, 2016, 2:28 pm

      Haha, enforced whimsy! That can be hard to make happen 🙂

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