When Stevie Peters was a kid, she used to read books for pizza. She remembers participating in Pizza Hut’s reading program, which still exists today, as her first experience with reading challenges. “When I was a kid, I read all the time, even if it wasn’t for school, so the idea of reading 200 books just so you could get a pizza was the best thing ever,” she told me. Peters, now 31 and living in Swansea, Wales (though she grew up in the United States), started participating in reading challenges again in 2016, though no one is giving her free pizza for doing so now that she’s an adult. Every January, she logs into her Goodreads account and sets a goal to read 50 books that year. She hasn’t hit that number yet—she said she usually makes it to 45 or so. Still, “I can definitely do 50,” she said. “I just want to keep challenging myself to read as much as I can.”
Though surely people have had personal reading goals for as long as there have been books, the book-tracking social-media site Goodreads seems to have institutionalized and popularized the practice of setting yearly reading targets. The Goodreads Reading Challenge started in 2011 and had 149,716 participants that year, according to the website. This year, more than 3 million people have pledged to read an average of 59 books before the end of 2019. (This number is skewed by some particularly ambitious folks—the majority of people pledged to read 1 to 24 books.) Other sites, such as Book Riot and PopSugar, have their own yearly reading challenges, and on Reddit, users strive for 52 books a year, one a week.