David L. Craddock

Yearly Reading Goals

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Posted by David on December 29, 2016

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Note: Early next month, I'll write my now-annual "Chronicles of Craddock" post in which I recap the projects I worked on for the most recent year and give a preview of what I'll be writing during the next year. Catching a nasty cold and prioritizing book deadlines prompted me to delay this year's edition. It's a big 'un, so look forward to it.

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My memory is terrible. I read a book, or play a game, or watch a show or movie, and within weeks—sometimes days—I've forgotten why a piece of media resonated with me or fell flat.

My work as a games journalist/blogger/whatever (the term is perpetually in contention) gives me more opportunities to document my thoughts on the games I play. Analyzing the books I read is trickier. I write 50-60 hours a week. That schedule often leaves me little time to do extraneous writing.

Over the past two years, I've bucked my limitations to make that time by participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. The idea is simple. At the beginning of the year (or whenever you decide to start), you log into your Goodreads account and decide how many books you want to read before the clock strikes 12 on January 1 of the next year. Every time you mark a book finished, Goodreads counts it toward your total. You can summarize your thoughts by leaving a star rating, and/or writing a review that anyone who views the book on Goodreads can read.

I compounded my yearly reading goals by piggybacking on Goodreads' concept: the number of books I read at the end of one annual challenge would be my minimum goal for the following year. My first year participating was 2015. I set a modest target of 25 books and wound up reading 34. That final tally became my goal for 2016.

I'm proud to say I ended up reading 49 books this year, and will likely polish off one of my two in-progress books by the end of the 31st. I'm sharing these stats not to brag, but because participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge has been one of the highlights of my year for two years running, for several reasons.

First, because I love books. If asked to cite my favorite hobby, I'm willing to bet most of my friends and family would answer "video games" without pausing to draw a breath. They would be wrong. I look at it this way: I remember the day I became a "gamer." I walked down the street to my friend Kim's house, rang the doorbell, and asked her mom if she could come out to play. "No," her mom said, "she's downstairs playing..." Then she paused. "Nin-ten-do." She spoke the word slowly, her tongue clearly unfamiliar with its contours. She invited me in, and as I walked down the basement stairs I heard the now-familiar and iconic beats of Super Mario Bros.' overworld theme song.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. What I don't remember is the first time I read a book. Because books have always been there. They're a part of me, as inextricable as my love for my family. I can't pinpoint when I became a reader because I've always been a reader and always will be. My love of reading, and of books in particular, fueled my passion for writing. I could give up video games if I had to, but you'll take my books from my cold, dead hands.

Second, because I relish any opportunity to think critically about stories. Storytelling is inherent in human beings. It's how we communicate, and how we learn about others and ourselves. Too often I would fall in love with a book and glance at it on my shelf weeks, months, or years later, and have trouble recalling the particulars.

Within 24 hours of finishing a book within the parameters of a Goodreads challenge, I sit down at my computer and write a review—not for anyone else to read, although I certainly don't care who sees it. No, that review is for me. During quiet moments, I'll pull up Goodreads and browse my virtual shelves. When I see a star rating and a review for a book I haven't thought about in a while, I'll open the review and recall the highs and lows of my time with it.

Thirdly, and somewhat related to reason #2, because thinking critically about books helps me augment my craft. I study prose, I study diction, I study character development and plotting. In most books, I learn more effective ways to frame stories, develop characters, and discover new words and different ways of saying things. Worst-case scenario: I learn how not to do those things.

Along with Goodreads, I use Pocket to read Internet articles I find while wasting far too much writing time browsing. If you're unfamiliar with Pocket, it's a button that you install to your web browser of choice, like Chrome or Firefox, and click on to save an article for later reading in the Pocket app. The app does its best to format articles for easy reading, so you can scroll through it or flip virtual pages like you would an eBook.

Spending an hour or two every night catching up on articles is one of my little joys. In fact, every month or two I'll take a brief sabbatical from reading books and spend a week or so blazing through articles in Pocket. Some of them have rotted like fruit that only stays ripe for a week or so. That's okay. Reading them in a timely manner is less important than reading them at all.

2017 is shaping up to be my busiest year yet. I'll talk more about that in next month's perennial breakdown of the writing projects I accomplished this year and what's on deck for next year. No matter how busy things get—and they're going to get crazy—Goodreads and Pocket will be there to sate my craving for my favorite pastime.

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