The 2022 Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups

Good morning and a happy Sunday to you all! I know, I know, Sundays aren’t known for people being bright eyed and bushy tailed, as we all like a late lie, but if we talk about books, maybe we can shake this up a bit! If nothing else, we can get a little excited about some weekend reading, no? The books I have in mind at the moment are those I read for a recent library book challenge called the Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups – and it was intense! I am also participating in another, year-long challenge that entails one book per month, so this one won’t be complete for quite a while, but I will write about it before too long, especially given the perspective angle involved.

But for now, challenge for grownups.

As some of you know, my son, now 19, has been going to the library since he was two weeks old – it’s practically been his second home. He doesn’t go now as often as he used to, trying as he is to figure out how to juggle his more adult responsibilities (university, work, friends and associated activities, etc.). But I was a little excited to see him get into the choices I’d been working through for this library reading challenge, which is set up in the form of a bingo card.

With five rows of five columns per, each box has a category, and participants choose a book that fits. For example, the first row and my choices:

Poetry or Book in Verse

The Spiritual Poems of Rumi

Book to Movie

 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Alaskana

 

The Year of Miss Agnes

Set/About Somewhere You Want to Visit

The Printer’s Apprentice

Book You Were Assigned for School

The Cricket in Times Square

Each time you finish a row, you mark it complete, write down your titles and submit to the librarian, who gives you a small prize, which for me was a bookmark each time. Naturally, your bingo can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Additionally, each completed bingo row acts as an entry to a prize drawing. If you complete all twenty-five squares, you are also entered into the Blackout Drawing.

Oh, did I mention that this was for books read in between January 24 and March 7? Ha ha! Yeah, I had most of my choices picked out, but this changed a few times as I went along, planning what to read according to day of the week (e.g. evenings only), what was left, how overwhelmed I felt at any given moment, even with some of my selections being young adult (YA) books. For example, I wanted to re-read Emil and the Detectives, a book recommended to me years ago and that I had read a few times before. But I also had a work of Arthurian fiction on deck, and that was nearly 400 pages. Being somewhat organizationally obsessive as I am, I had a tendency to go over my choices nearly every day, which may or may not have been helpful.

I only learned about the contest, by the way, about a week into it, so I had that slight disadvantage, but also had something going for me because, having then recently been sick, I was spending a lot of time at home resting after work, so the reading gave me something to do. “Maybe I can pull this off after all,” I often thought. I did manage to get two books to do double duty, one also read for my year-long challenge and another as part of re-reading the Harry Potter series with my son. We also re-read it in 2020, which was something we turned to when the world was pretty much shut down.

Speaking of the world being shut down: I think most of us would agree it was not fun at all. With rare exception, people really need people, if on varying levels, and the shutdowns have really cast a pall over societies across the globe. They did a lot of damage short- and long-term. Our own library was closed for I think over a year. (I forget exactly how long, but it was a very long time.) So, I was really glad for this particular contest because, as I reasoned, it’s a fun way to get re-involved in a community activity at a pace – reading and meeting up – that works for each person.

To be honest, I really had no business attempting to read 25 books in about 35 days. That’s roughly a book a day and, like my son, I already have too much other stuff to juggle. Why voluntarily add this to my already-full plate? I’m not sure what I was thinking, though it may be that at first I thought I might do only one or two bingo rows. Then it started to seem possible to do it all, which may actually have been me taking leave of my senses!

Looking back, I ponder the idea that I really did need to work my mind a bit, having recently spent so much time sleeping and not much else. I don’t think otherwise I would have been able to participate in such an activity unless I stuck to YA for all 25, which I don’t necessarily wish to do – there are too many other books on my TBR that I want to get to. In the last couple of weeks, it wasn’t so much fun sitting to read for such long periods of time as I did but, having started and made my commitment, I absurdly forced myself to keep to it. So, I guess I’m glad I did it, because I did reach a number – 32 – by March 7 that in other years took me much longer to achieve. For example, in 2019, I read 37 books but only finished my first, with less than 100 pages, on March 6. In all of 2020 I ready only 18 books. That was a new low for me, especially given the expectations everyone seemed to be placing on themselves related to having so much extra time. (I still went to work every day, so never gained any of this spare and wonderful time.)

But these are just numbers, and I’d scolded myself before about this. What do numbers really mean, anyway? Are they meaningful in and of themselves? For me, they aren’t enough, which is why I’d been excited to discover, some years ago, challenges that led to trying out new genres or entire series, tackle some of your TBR, maybe re-read some old favorites. You know, quality over quantity. It’s a cliché, I suppose, but at least some clichés become so because they have value and meaning and are worth repeating. It isn’t accurate to say there was no quality in this reading, but the final determination would be in weighing what I got out of it all and whether it was worth the time spent focused on these particular books and what else was involved in getting them all read.

Box cover showing the 1,000-piece puzzle’s colorful picture. See below for how far I have progressed.
This boy reminds me of my son, with his thick, curly, wild hair – and a book in his hand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In coming weeks, I will be having a look at these titles and engaging in some brief discussion about them or the time surrounding when I read them, one row at a time, where they are in my history and where they might lead me moving forward. For now, a quick mention about the prizes I referenced above. I did end up winning one, a 1,000-piece puzzle that has already been showing me who’s boss. But it’s fun to look at, with its crowd of people (and one cat) reading books such as The Great Catsby, The Cranberry Tales and Moby Richard. Whether it was a prize from a single-row drawing or the Blackout (a term I’d never heard until this), I have absolutely no idea!

Stay tuned for my first row discussion ~

  This puzzle is boss.

Reading Challenge 2021: The Year of My Neglected Bookshelves

It just occurred to me that I’ve lost track of whether my opening entries for each year, these past few years, have been titled with a nod toward the revolution ‘round the sun just completed or the one newly embarked upon. Looking at last year’s entry doesn’t provide much aid, given it was late and that I also began to wonder if I used to do one for each. Well, no matter. Some might say 2020 doesn’t really deserve recall, but that’s not why I’m just going to roll it and looking ahead into 2021 into one entry this time. The year 2020 should be remembered even though by any account it bred the suck. I’ve always been an advocate of remembering the past, because it’s essential for effectively moving forward.

In terms of reading, how do I do in 2020? Well, last year’s reading—there wasn’t much to it.

Continue reading “Reading Challenge 2021: The Year of My Neglected Bookshelves”

17 Books Behind Schedule, But Who’s Counting?

I just got a rather sad look at my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge:

I didn’t do so well in 2019 either, as I mentioned earlier this year.

In the past I’ve said I didn’t care, that a book challenge shouldn’t be about the number of books I read. I should be trying out new genres, have a go at my TBR shelf, re-read old faves – something of more substance and intellectual curiosity than achieving high numbers. And yet here I am getting all mopey because my number is low.

I suppose there is something to be said for a number, perhaps an indicator that things are moving along for you – or not, if the numbers start to fall. For instance, I used to read roughly 60 books a year, which I am quite content to admit isn’t really all that impressive, but it was me. It was me moving into other worlds, learning about history, being told a story the way humans are always wanting to be told a story.

And I will also admit, it was kind of cool to be greeted with phrases such as, “5 books ahead of schedule.”

And now ~

17 books behind schedule.

OK, I’ll be honest. I’m not losing sleep over this. It does give me pause to know I’m not engaging in something I typically adore and have all my life. But I love sleep. I often fall asleep reading. I can’t blame it all on Covid, because this downturn was occurring before Novel Corona was a thing (it didn’t help, though, I agree).

Normally I’m not adversely affected by the cold and dark of our winters, but I will admit I do feel something wonderful with the onset of nicer weather, and my deck is definitely calling my name. Also, I picked up a research book I’d been reading, one I’d finished at least half of before I had to return it to the library, which then closed and stayed that way for months. I did finally find a decently-priced copy online; when I reached for it recently, I realized I should just start over, and that didn’t feel burdensome or unhappy in any way.

That must mean something sunny, mustn’t it?

Just for fun…

I leave you with a cover image of my favorite book in the whole wide world.

 

Reading 2019: Better Late Than Never, Right?

I know, I know – it’s nearly March 2020. Hey, it just about matches last year, since that month was when I started to read again. Though there is a bit of an uptick this year, since I did actually blog on January 1, whereas 2019 didn’t see any of that activity until the third month.

Yes, things are still not quite as fast as they once were, but improvement does come, slow as it may be. Happily, I did finish my first book of 2020 just a few days ago and our approach toward March indeed brings my mind back to this time last year, when illness preoccupied my days and ghosts visited at night. As mentioned here, I slept a lot, but by the month of Mars, I’d sat up a bit more and began to reach for the world again.

As has been customary for me, I write a tad about that world, found in such a large portion in the books I read, and my first from last year, I am super excited to say, is coming up for review here pretty soon:

A true story based on a 1680 ballad, The Ghost Midwife is book two in Annelisa Christensen’s Seventeenth Century Midwives series.

Not long after I began to look at books I’d been wanting to read (catch up on the Alexander McCall Smith series) or re-read (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China), and there was also some familiarity in store with authors established in my repertoire (Joanne Larner, Lars Hedbor). I did some reading about ravens, given a group of them had a longtime habit of hanging out in my back yard, and one used to perch on my window to watch me as I typed. Another curious animal showed up in The Inquisitor’s Tale and I encountered a new portrayal of old favorites (The Retreat to Avalon).

Recommendations seemed to dominate this last batch of reads, which started with Karen Maitland’s The Owl Killers, in follow up to this same author’s Company of Liars, read in 2017. In reading this second novel, I knew I was safe from dangerous events within, but Maitland’s narrative kept me on the edge of my seat and to this day I still use the word scary as one descriptor for this un-put-downable tale. Gone Girl and Little Fires Everywhere have both been made into movies, and The Midwife’s Tale came to me from someone who knew of my attachment to Annelisa Christensen’s midwives and fondness for mystery. I’m looking forward to more from both authors.

It wouldn’t be a real follow-up to my January blog entry if I didn’t mention 1066, gifted to me years ago by the same sweetie who sent this fabulous stash. It’s important because events discussed in this book are a significant reason for my current WIP, a story being partially dictated to me by someone who lived at the time of the last ubiquitous palindrome before 2020-02-02 – over 900 years ago. She’s called Adela and I bet you can easily spot the two books below that more than strongly hint at which former kingdom she called home – and that I’m perfectly smitten with.

So, I’ve only read one book so far this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed it – extra lovely given it was a Christmas present. I’ve got a few more going and, though I know it will stay slower owing to my research reading, I’m getting there, aiming to end up with another one for your shelf. In the meantime, Adela is looking forward to it.

Reading 2017: Rounding Out the Year

See bottom for links to further entries in the “Reading 2017” series.

Well, 2017 has been an absurd year in too many ways, so it was nice to end it with the feeling that at least my reading wasn’t doing too badly. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the series, I wanted to focus more on content and not just books in terms of numbers. After my first year reading challenge (2016), in which I aimed for a certain amount of books to read, I found a way this time to shift away from that numeric goal with some fun and variety. The dirty details:

Three books from each of three new or newish genres:

Graphic novel: These turned out to be The Metamorphosis; The Iliad and the Odyssey and Frankenstein. In passing I also read a couple of Raina Telgemeier’s, who I knew from my son having read her in the lower grades. Two, Smile and Claudia and Mean Janine, I quite liked, though a third not so much as the whole story generally felt unfinished. All three of my central choices I’d read before (in “regular” form) and loved—save The Iliad, which I mildly enjoyed. (Perhaps I ought to give that another shot in ’18.)

Until reading Mary Shelley’s entry in a sort of nineteenth-century Fright Night writing contest, the only thing I really knew about Frankenstein was that everybody mistakenly referred to the monster by the title name. I was surprised at how much I liked the plot way back, though I admit Shelley’s style of writing more than likely had something to do with it. Nevertheless, the graphic novel version held up as well, even though it lost a bit from me knowing how it would end. Still, the tension was apparent and you felt for all parties involved; there just was no winning corner.

In contrast is The Odyssey, which in previous poetic reading I loved on a level so much higher than Frankenstein that I even told stories from it to my boy when he was littler (the island of the cyclops being a favorite). Here, however, we see that color isn’t everything, which is a pity because the shades are rather vibrant and alive. They don’t, however, really do anything for the narrative, though the fault of that may lay within the technique of text on bottom of panel, words within, floating in speech bubbles—too all over the place. The effect is meant to convey casual asides and humorous remarks, but I found it irritatingly distracting. Also, there is so much lost in the story, and while I get there was a lot for the author to choose from, this just isn’t a dynamic intro to Homer’s amazing tale.

For my review of Franz Kafka’a The Metamorphosis (adapted by Peter Kuper), click here.

True Crime: I happened upon it quite by accident, when reading an update on appeal of the amazingly entitled Michael Skakel, convicted of murdering fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley in her own front yard. Apart from the crime’s own shocking nature is the jaw-dropping reality that the Greenwich, Connecticut police were either too incompetent or inexperienced to find the young girl’s killer—or were they cowed by the sleazy Kennedy name and money that tries to lord over everything it touches (and frequently destroys)? Former police detective and author Mark Furhman investigated years later and literally wrote the book on how Skakel’s name became seriously linked to the murder. For my review, click here.

I was so impressed with Fuhrman’s style—as a detective as well as writer—that I sought out another, Murder in Brentwood. Here we are given a glimpse into the cross-aisle backstabbing, soulless ambition and strikingly stupid cult of personality behind the scenes of the infamous O.J. Simpson case that de-armed detective authority and investigation and later destroyed Fuhrman’s career. The author himself is no angel and he comes clean on everything the prosecution accused him of while also rightfully stating something to the effect of the R in racism being today’s scarlet letter—and utilized as recklessly. It’s an amazing story that fills in so many gaps I was shocked to read and even more surprised to learn when I talked to people about it, how widespread is awareness that Fuhrman was totally set up by an ego-enabled prosecution utilizing the wrong tack and a defense that would go to any lengths to win. Most of all, however, it made these two lost souls, people cut down so young, so heartlessly and so devoid of justice, individuals and not just more famous statistics, or distant humans you read of in the papers and then forget about.

Ann Rule is also a gifted writer, and her book, The Stranger Beside Me too was a recommended read. Utilizing her previous experience as a police officer, she at the time events in the book were occurring, had retired and engaged as a true crime writer for magazines and newspapers. She volunteered for the suicide hotline of a crisis center along with Ted Bundy, who I knew very little about except that he had been a serial killer. I don’t tend to think much about this sort of psychopath, but can guarantee that after reading this book they were on my mind for weeks. My usual rejoinder, “I don’t lose sleep over it, but—” lost a lot of airtime because I did stay awake more than I should have. Reading about the victims of Skakel and Simpson didn’t have the same effect—and I knew this straight away—because while they were targeted, in a set of rages, perhaps, they weren’t random. Bundy, on the other hand, could strike anywhere, and that set me on edge for awhile, especially having read Rule’s descriptive passages of sexual and mental abuse of such horrific nature I could barely comprehend how any human could even think this shit up. I won’t go into details here, just suffice to say that ISIS probably borrowed heavily from Bundy’s catalogue of twisted torture techniques. It’s not something I’m really keen on reading more of, to be quite frank.

Science fiction: Sky fi, as my wee one likes to call it. That’s one thing, but the real question, I found, is: What is it? To be honest, Jurassic Park didn’t strike me as sci-fi and when himself suggested it, I was initially taken aback. It contains science and is a work of fiction, yet for some reason I tended to think of outer space, which I typically only like reading about as non-fiction. Then someone suggested 1984, which really threw me for a loop. So I dropped it all and instead of heading for booklists, the first thing I did was look up the definitions because in order to choose some sci-fi, I first had to be clear what it is.

From the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction: “Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change, whether it arrives via scientific discoveries, technological innovations, natural events, or societal shifts.”

(Inserting a small note here: I’ve never heard of Gunn before, so don’t endorse or not endorse them.) At the web page their definition is expanded, but even in keeping with this foundation, it also squares with this one:

Och, who am I kidding? The real reason I’m on so long about this is because I didn’t manage to finish my sci-fi reading challenge. Surprisingly, quite a few titles appealed to me, although in thinking about it, I’d be willing to bet at least a few of them I’d put down after awhile, which is something I haven’t done a lot in recent years. Hyperion caught my eye, but somehow it went back to the library unread, and later I settled on Jurassic Park, 1984 and The Time Machine, though only ever finished the first. (I did read 1984 in elementary school, if that can score me some points). And while they weren’t official choices for the challenge, I can’t say enough about Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series, the first of which shares the series title and the second, Timing, continues the adventures.

Both involve Mitnash Thakur and his AI partner, Slate, battling financial fraud in space colonies near Jupiter, though terminating the criminal activity doesn’t tend to involve standard, earth-like consequences. The colonial culture and detective angles also drew me in, and I’m certain these will both be re-reads.

The other ones, though … I just couldn’t get interested enough to read them. I did have “discipline” in mind as a factor toward the challenge, though when push came to shove, didn’t see much worth in disciplining one’s self to read something, for leisure, that one can’t get into. I did open my mind to the genre, though, which is the real goal, and may return to those titles at a later date.

It might have helped if I didn’t have others that appealed more, but contributing likely was also my own all-around reading slowdown. Once I finished the massive pile of reviews I’d needed to do, I told myself I would read, during Christmas break,  only what I wanted to read—which turned out to be not much. I picked out a few books but simply spent a lot of time doing other things. I’m rarely not in the mood to read, but it does happen, and when it does, it’s a sizeable block. Close to the end I picked up a bunch of children’s books, the easier reading of which has jump-started me in the past. I pretty rapidly went through an old favorite, Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, which was as absolutely fabulous as it ever was. I may even write a tad about it in the new year. A couple of others I began and passed on, and as of this writing I’m still reading Company of Fools (Ellis), whose story has also pulled me in.

And, finally …

Five off my neglected TBR shelves:

I didn’t have particular titles in mind, though at the time I wrote up a blog about the ideas, I was eyeing a certain few. It wasn’t long before I had to remind myself that lots of my leisure reading is determined pretty much by mood and what I feel like reading, so even had I definitively chosen, they stood a chance of being displaced—or not. It just depends.

As it happens, this year, like last, most of my reading was for reviewing, so very few of my own books came off the TBR. I did, however, manage to meet and exceed my five: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger; The Revolving Door of Life, Precious and Grace, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, The Bertie Project and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, all by Alexander McCall Smith; and three Peter St. John Gang books I’ve been after since I reviewed one last year: Gang Loyalty, Gang Petition, Gang Territory and Gang Spies. As you can see, I’m a great fan of both McCall Smith and St. John, the latter of whom has at least two more on backorder that I mean to read—and I say that with great emphasis! Semi-autobiographical stories of an orphan evacuee from the Blitz, these tales are funny, poignant and delightful, with a re-readability factor that’s out of this world.

A lot of books I’ve read this year have really great covers (e.g. Cometh the Hour, The Popish Midwife, Company of Liars), which had been a focus of many discussions I’ve seen across 2017, two of which I was privileged to be a part of. Another, Hand of Glory by Susan Boulton, came at a great moment, set during and after the Great War as it is, given my sort of “re-awakening” to the era. For the past couple of years I’ve been remembering all the Siegfried Sassoon we’d studied in high school and telling myself to dip into the era some more. Boulton’s story contains a mythical twist and the war portions are written with such dexterity: sensitivity but also a knowing of harsh realities, and some resulting passages simply wind into your reading being. And, at the risk of overloading anyone else’s TBR or shopping lists, speaking of getting into you: Jennie Orbell’s Two Chucks and a Tabby Cat had me laughing nearly all the way through, even at passages that weren’t always topics of humor. Orbell has such a feel for the foibles of humanity and a witty way of pointing them out to us, all while knowing when to retreat.

Retreat is what I did once in awhile, as you can see scattered through my 2017 reads here, by backing away from reviews and picking up one of my own, most of which are listed above. I love to write reviews, mind you, and I admit it felt a little odd to be reading a book with no intention (at least at the outset, and some I had to reprimand myself and say no) of writing it up. That happened at the end of the year as well, and taking a couple of weeks off to be reading whatever I pick up off the shelf has been simply grand.

Reads from the last part of 2017, some of which you may see again in these pages. As mentioned elsewhere, numbers weren’t the goal, though you have to plug something in. (Click image for full Goodreads spread.)
2017 saw the conclusion of my 1066 series (see tab in sidebar for links to posts), and the beginning to my Knights Templar (Michael Jecks) following. I’ve got the next two queued up to read as I type.
My reading of Susan Boulton’s Hand of Glory really revved my engines for more about the Great War. A mystery with supernatural and mythological twists, the novel has great staying power.
I’m hoping to dip into more reading about the Barbary Wars, having finally found a great start with Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

New Genre Library (Science Fiction): Jurassic Park

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

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Thanks for reading and may 2018

be your best year yet!