Last year (2016), I started getting back into reading. I read more and books for fun rather than just what was new or exciting or would help my teaching career at the time. I found the Modern Mrs. Darcy Blog and her reading challenge inspired me. So I completed it.
This year 2017 she had two challenges; Reading for Growth and Reading for Fun. I decided to do them both and as of midway through last week I accomplished that task. I have found more time this year to read than before. I have cut back on TV, movies and Youtube videos to do so, but I have found it to be a worthwhile investment. I also have been listening to audiobooks which have been engaging and fun, something to do as I clean the house or exercise, things I want my mind to be elsewhere when I am doing. I have recently, in the last few months, been more actively choosing my books, tending towards more self-improvement/memoir. I am not done reading for the year. I still have a stack of 7-8 books from the library calling my name, all of them good. As of this moment, I have read 106 books this year, I will wait to see what the total will look like by the 31st.
I figured in a way of honoring last year I would share with you my choices for the reading challenges and my thoughts on the books. I completed the Reading for Fun Challenge first, the last two categories that were the last ones I read were an essay collection, which upon further looking I realized I read many essay collections so this was actually not as hard to fill and a Newbery Award winner or Honor book, which I would have never read except for the challenge.
Reading for Fun
- A Book I Chose for the Cover
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue- I loved this book and it took me on an unbelievable rabbit trail. This is the story of two families one wealthy New York Family and one Cameroonian family and how their lives intersect. The story describes the stock market crash of 2008 and how it influenced both the families. I loved this book because I found the plot interesting and the characters all felt well developed. I was hooked by what was going on and the story drew me in. Interesting side note- because of this book I became extremely fascinating with the 2008 crash and have done a large amount of research over a short period of time. I stopped reading so I could do the research and then started back up again when I felt I knew enough. I do not think this is what the author intended but I became obsessed.
- A Book with a Reputation for Being Un-put-down-able
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline- I liked this book more than I expected. This is the story of a boy in a future where civilization has dramatically changed. He goes on an adventure to discover the key to an online gaming challenge with the potential to win vast amounts of money. I was surprised at how likable the characters were and how the plot moved at an interesting pace. I listened to this book on audio as well, it was read by Wil Wheaton.
- A Book Set Somewhere I’ve Never Been but Would Like to Visit
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah- This book was set in South Africa. I would love to visit there, I have seen videos/photos and it looks amazingly beautiful. This is a memoir written by comedian Trevor Noah, the new Daily Show host. I found this book to be funny and touching. The book is written in essays that connect with overarching themes. Some of them are funny, some of them are shocking and some are wonderful. I listened to this on audio read by the author, which I think helps quite a bit.
- A Book I’ve Already Read
- I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff- I read this when I was still teaching to my students. This story is a children’s book written in the form of letters to/from a boy and his parents. The child is trying to get an iguana and the parents are asking him to consider all the possibilities. I used it to discuss persuasive writing and how you need to consider your reasons carefully.
- A Juicy Memoir
- The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer- I am not actually that into comedy, most of the time I find it not as funny as most people do, but I really enjoyed this book. I listened to it on audio read by the author. This is a book of autobiographical essays written by comedian Amy Schumer. One thing should be noted, she is kind of crude/explicit in sections so be aware before you read that is her style and will be in the book.
- A Book about Books or Reading
- On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King- I listened to this on audio read by the author. Are we noticing a theme? I read two books by Stephen King this year and they are both on these lists, one each. I am not sure if I will ever read any more Stephen King. I do not like horror or scary anything. I find it too frightening and it sticks in my mind and I cannot sleep. I am afraid and worry enough as it is, probably too much. I do not need to add to my stress level by reading scary books. I found that even though this is a memoir about writing and the writing process and how Stephen King does it, it does have a few gruesome details from stories he has written. Not enough to scare me but just something to note. I found though that this book gave me insight into the profession of writing and I found it extremely useful. I am glad I read this and learned quite a bit from it.
- A Book in a Genre I Usually Avoid-
- Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen- This book is in the Teen Memoir Genre and I do not typically read teen memoirs because I am not really interested in what they have to say. I read this because it was on the recommendation shelf at the library. This book tells the story of a girl who uses a book on popularity from the 1950s to guide her actions in the present. She takes different aspects and applies them to her life for a year. This book is written in the format of those experiment books. I found her to be insightful and funny for a teen author. Side note: They seemed to have changed the subtitle from the book I read to new copies, same book just different subtitle.
- A Book I Don’t Want to Admit I’m Dying to Read
- Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor- I do not love admitting that I like to read the occasional young adult book, but I LOVE THIS AUTHOR. In the past two years, I have read all that she has written. I find her style engaging and her books provide a good escape. She writes pretty lengthy books, this one being 536 pages, but I find myself flying through them. This is a fantasy story based in a completely different world. I find that Laini does a wonderful job of world building without feeling boring. Her plots are also engaging and hook me at the beginning. This story is about a junior librarian who becomes obsessed with a fabled town. He travels to this town and adventures ensue.
- A Book in the Backlist of a New Favorite Author
- Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin- I had not read anything by Gretchen Rubin until this year. I chose to read this when I was on a trip to Germany and I realized I just want to be happy. I am someone who worries and stresses and I felt like I just wanted to read about happiness. I started with her first book, The Happiness Project (See below). In this book, Gretchen attempts another happiness project, but with her focus not just on herself but making her home a happier place. I like how Gretchen describes small changes and theories that can make your life happier. Her writing makes it feel approachable and doable. This book is written in the style of an experiment book where she tackles a different topic every month.
- A Book Recommended by Someone with Great Taste
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom- This book was recommended by a local librarian. This is the book of the author’s reflections on time spent with an old favorite college professor who is dying. I found this book gave me the ability to get out of my head and to consider life in a broader way. I started thinking about what really matters.
- A Book I Was Excited to Buy or Borrow But Haven’t Read Yet
- Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling- I was excited to borrow this book from the library. I grew up with Harry Potter and have fond memories waiting for it to come out at Barnes and Noble or Borders or whatever was the closest bookstore. I really wanted to like this book. I think if I read it closer to the other books I may have liked it more, or not. This tells the story of a grown up Harry Potter and his children in the format of a play. I found that it made Harry appear more human, which I did not want. I want him to be the ideal I have found him to be and this book displayed him as flawed, which was not in line with my thoughts.
- A Book About a Topic or Subject I Already Love
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin- This was the second book I intentionally chose this year that was part of my self-improvement reading spurt that is still currently going on (I am currently reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert in case you were wondering). This book Gretchen decides she wants to be happier in her life. She reads the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (an interesting book, a little hard to get into because of the language but parts of it were fascinating, especially the part that Gretchen then takes and tries to implement). Gretchen is then inspired to track her habits and find ways to be happier in her life. I find her writing similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s and Joan Didion’s in that she gathers research and tries to approach the issue from many angles. Gretchen is also honest and authentic telling about both her successes and failures.
Reading for Growth
- A Newbery Award Winner or Honor Book
- Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan- This book was a Newbery honor book because the Newbery award book was already checked out by someone at my local library. I have always loved Ashley Bryan books. I once saw him speak at a library in Maine. He tells diverse stories with interesting characters and phenomenal pictures. This story is no exception. Ashley wrote this story based on slave documents he bought and he has chosen to write the backstories of these slaves. I found it to be approachable and I thought it would make a good book to introduce kids to the topic of slavery in a way that showcases compassion. Also the story is not too gruesome so it is a good way to start with young kids discussing slavery.
- A Book in Translation
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo- I read this and my husband listened to it on audio. This book is a nonfiction book that addresses the idea of tidying up. Basically Marie discusses how to declutter your home. I then implemented this in my home. I appreciated her step by step methodology and enjoyed the process. I found that I had a ton of things I did not need or want or that sparked joy. I got rid of most of my clothing and a number of other items. The method seems odd at first and it took me time to complete. I would say about a month or two because I was working at the time. My only regret from this project is that I got rid of some books I now wish I had not gotten rid of.
- A Book That is More Than 600 Pages
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King- This book is 867 pages, and I listened to it on audio where it was 30 hours and 44 minutes. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I did not expect to like it and there were gruesome parts, I am sure not gruesome by normal people standards but gruesome to me. I was transported to a world and I loved how Stephen King developed his characters as flawed and likable and interesting. The plot also moved along surprisingly fast and I appreciated the way it was written. I am not sure that this book was meant for me but I am glad I read it.
- A Book of Poetry, a Play or an Essay Collection
- Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist- This book was an essay collection. I read it because I wanted to though not because it was an essay collection. I just realized after I finished that it was. I love Shauna Niequist, I have read almost everything she has written. I am cooking my way through her book Bread and Wine, which is taking some time and I plan to try to read Savor, again because I did not stick with it last year, in the New Year. This book though I had to wait for on hold at our library twice. The first time my life was too overwhelming and hectic and reading had been thrust to the wayside. I finally picked it up and read it in two days. I feel like Shauna is able to encapsulate how I feel and the things I am going through. In this book, she explores how to enjoy the smaller things in life and slowing down to do so. She is focusing on quality time rather than quantity which I think is an oddly counterculture way of thinking in our current society.
- A Book of Any Genre That Addresses Current Events
- How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran- This book is Caitlin’s story of growing up and figuring out how to be a woman in our modern world. She deals with sexism and being a feminist in a way that I found new and interesting. I loved reading this book it was funny and engaging and thought provoking all at the same time. I felt she gave me more confidence to be me and by sharing her vulnerabilities she made me feel more okay with mine. I also found that her honesty about hard situations helped me to really empathize with others in a way I hadn’t before. Please note that she is crude and explicit at times so be warned.
- An Immigrant Story
- Digging to America by Anne Tyler- This story is a sweeping saga of two family’s lives adopting children from Korea. This story follows those two families over the course of many years. I found this novel to be quite slow paced and I felt like it was not written for me, but I could see why other people would like it.
- A Book Published Before I Was Born
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- This book was originally published in 1877. This is a sweeping story of a few Russian families. The story covers an affair in times when that was an inconceivable choice, the idea of love, and comments of the social structures of the time. I listened to this on audio. This book was long and complicated, I am glad I read it, but I will not be rereading it.
- Three Books by The Same Author
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce- This was the first book of the three I read. I really loved this book. This is the story of an older retired man who decides to walk across most of England to visit a former coworker who is dying. This book sounds odd, but I loved it. The characters were likable and sweet and the plot was funny and engaging. The story does delve into more serious topics but by that time I was already hooked.
- The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce- This story is the sequel to Harold Fry but it is done in a way from the other character’s point of view. This tells the story of a woman who is dying in hospice and she retraces her life and waits for Harold Fry to walk to her.
- Perfect by Rachel Joyce- This book is different. It is the tale of two boys who are friends growing up and how their lives intersect and change based on an important event that occurs.
- A Book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks Author
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo- The author is a woman who was born in Jerusulem and then moved to the United States. This story is a fantasy heist novel. The story starts with the assembly of a ragtag group of people who come together to pull off an impossible heist for an amazing reward. Their differing motives make the story fascinating and interesting and the fantasy elements help the story feel like a true escape. I listened to this on audio and loved it.
- A Book With an Unreliable Narrator or Ambiguous Ending
- The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar- This story follows the story of an Indian immigrant who has tried to kill herself and her relationship with her therapist Maggie. This book contains an ambiguous ending, the narrator is reliable. The story winds in an interesting direction, but I found both characters to be unlikable and the unethical relationship of patient and therapist made me uncomfortable. I did not like this book, it was written for someone who was not me.
- A Book Nominated For an Award in 2017
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward– This story follows the life of Jojo and his family as he is trying to grow up. This book was hard for me to connect to because I found myself to have a very different background than the characters. I found it slow going. I could see why other people would like this book but it was not for me. The other problem I had was that this book was narrated in the first person by the characters, switching viewpoints with chapters, but the voice of the characters did not match the voice of the narration and I struggled with that. If it had an omniscient narrator I do not think that would have been as big of an issue for me.
- A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead- This book describes the journey of Cora on the Underground Railroad. This book took me a while to read, I had to return it to the library and check it out multiple times. I am glad I read it, and I found the plot line fascinating. I also found this book tied together slavery and medical practices in an interesting way and gave me more background for when I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks later in the year. I was surprised by the ending which I did not think was possible.
I am looking forward to reading more books in the new year. 2018 reading challenge here I come!