Tag Archives: literary fiction

Using a Readathon to Kill My TBR

I have been on a book searching tear, readers!  As of late, I have gone out to some of my favorite used bookstores just to poke around and see what they may have in stock.  Meanwhile, my pile of books at home just grows and grows.  Usually, I don’t mind that because I take a perverse pleasure in the torment of having so many books that it will take me a short lifetime to get through them all.  And I am inherently cheap, so I almost never pay full price for them, therefore I don’t feel guilty for spending and not reading immediately.

I don’t understand someone who will just grab whatever’s within arm’s reach to read.  I treat the moment I chose my next read like a ceremonial experience- I pace the apartment, perusing all physical books I have in the various places and bookshelves.  Maybe I will look through my digital collections on my Kindle, Kobo, and Nook.  I may go to the three online library branches I have access to via Overdrive and see what’s available immediately for download.  I have been known to walk over to the local library to see what they have on hand.  I also see what’s available in audio format from the libraries and in my Audible account that I haven’t yet heard.  As you can see- it’s a damn production.

But now my ever expanding TBR is even starting to worry me.  So you can only image how bad it must be!  I need to bust up this trend and start to knock out some books so I can purge and start all over again.  (Especially with Independent Bookstore Day occurring on my birthday this year.  Coincidence? I think not!)

While I was scanning through Twitter, I saw the announcement of the next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon this Saturday, April 23rd and I thought- YES!  Sign me up!  It’s the answer to my prayers.  I remember watching all the hullabaloo that accompanied the last session they held, and it looked like a lot of fun for readers. So I just signed up, and it sparked this post.  Win-win!

Now comes the joy of preparing for the readathon.  I have a lot of recent acquisitions that I am excited to dive into but am not sure if it’s the right material for this type of exercise.  I think that you want some short, fast and engaging reads to kick out and feel like you are making progress.  I recently was awarded a bonus from work which comes in the form of Amazon gift cards.  With that award, I purchased the Penguin Little Black Classics Set.  These are slim enough to feel like you are making traction in your limited time. So those will be peppered through the event.

The set of Penguin publisher's Little Black Classic books.
The set of Penguin publisher’s Little Black Classic books.

In thinking through what else to pick, I have arrived at a decision matrix:

  • preferably under 300 pages
  • fast paced read
  • guaranteed delighter
  • nothing that will require me to stop and contemplate it’s meaning
  • something I have been looking forward to
  • also, something that I will drop in a heartbeat if it isn’t working for me or I can’t glide through it with ease

And without further adieu, here is my list of potential reads for the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon!

The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey's Readathon.
The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey’s Readathon.

I am not going to list them all here, because I certainly won’t get to them all.  But I will post an update when I have completed the event, and we will see how far I got!

Let’s meet back here on Sunday, April 24th, shall we?

January Reading Wrap Up ( a little over a month late…)

The covers of the books I read in January.
The covers of the books I read in January.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to top 2015 for all the quality reading I was able to do in the year, but clearly this year is shaping up nicely.

I had wanted to do a wrap-up but waited until I was sure that I was going to be able to sustain the pace.  Since February was as strong a reading month as January, I feel ok about sharing the progress I have made.

Let’s get to the books!

I started the year off on a beach vacation with my family, with the first day of 2016 spent poolside with nothing to do, and nowhere to go.  It was an ideal way to kick off the new year for a reader.  I wanted to start off with something that I thought I would surely enjoy and something that I could read quickly.  So that book was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.  I already did a book review about that book, so I won’t say more about it here.  Suffice it to say, it is a book lover’s dream read.

In order of completion, here is what I read in January, and the corresponding task it served in the 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

A woman is repeatedly reborn in England during the time of the WW2 to the same family, remembering only allusions to her previous lives, like shadows. With subtle details changing, we see how her life could be very different. The literary fiction book has themes of how much of life is fate and how much is up to chance, what stays permanent and what is fleeting, among other concepts. The construction of the story is so smart without being too smug or self-congratulatory about how she has managed to take this extremely complex concept of reincarnation/rebirth and make it work.  The book is over 500 pages long, so it served the task of ‘read a book over 500 pages long’. The characters are wonderfully drawn.  I actually missed them when it was over.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in WW2, anyone who wants a new take on the trope of repeating lives, someone who wants an engaging long book that has surprisingly twists and turns without being a thriller.

I don’t think I have enjoyed a series as much as I love the Outlander volumes.  I find the characters so interesting and the ways that Diana Gabaldon is able to weave historical fiction, time travel and romantic adventure all into one book (or 8 books, so far) is a feat.  I think Jamie Fraser is one of the best romantic characters in modern literature, and Claire is more than his equal.

Good for readers: who like strong women characters, adventure readers, historical fiction fans, those interested a fictionalized visit to the American Revolution, fans of Scotsmen, and those who want to find a good series that maintains as it progresses

I was drawn to this book because it has appeared on some of the Best of 2015 lists and due to the subject matter- the wife of Frederick Engels, also known as the co-parent of Communism along with Karl Marx.  It fulfilled the Read Harder task of reading a book of “historical fiction before 1900“.

The women in the lives of these infamous men are the focus, and you get a glimpse behind the scenes in a different way.  I really liked Lizzie (aka Mrs. Engels) and her spirit, doubts and struggles. I especially loved her struggle to befriend and stay friends with the Marx family. They were interesting and compelling characters to read about. I especially liked how the author just dropped you in the story and if you wanted the backstory of the people named, you could Google it, but it wasn’t necessary or done in a way that was pedantic. You could read it like any other book, or stop to research and glean insights about Marx and Engels if you wanted.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in fictionalized accounts of the wives of political figures, anyone interested in the imagined inner workings of the Engels and Marx households.

This book has appeared on the NYT best seller list for almost all of 2015 and it fulfilled the category of a ‘book to be made into a movie‘ for the Read Harder challenge.  A bonus is that it has been in my Kindle for a while so that’s also a win for the Read Your Own Damn Books challenge.

It’s a thriller, so I won’t spoil anything but will leave you with this nugget- that shame unconfessed leads to more shameful behavior.

Good for: fans of thrillers, people who like complex women, those who likes mysteries

When one of your favorite and trusted bookstores has a shelf talker, which sings the praises of a book, and there are great quotes from authors on the cover, you just shut up and buy the book.

The narrative follows two kids as they grow up, separated in adulthood only to have the brother turned against his will into a vampire. Then the story introduces and follows the complex structure of vampire gangs in London in the 1800s.

Good for: vampire fans who want a new take on the trope, those who love dark Victorian England settings, gothic and books with steampunk elements

This is an ongoing series of the brilliant but socially introverted archeologist/ mother, Ruth Galloway.  In this installment, Ruth is pulled into a mystery when a body is found in a field, having been apparently buried alive in a plane. The usual cast of characters are included, which makes it a fun read.

Good for: mystery series fans, people who like smart but imperfect women characters, those looking for a good palate cleanser

These were the starting point in a manga series I have wanted to read for a very long time.  I found them in my local library and grabbed them happily.  The series has 8 volumes. It is a deep while fun study of the story of the Buddha.

From the Amazon blurb:

The series which began in September 1972 and ended in December 1983, is one of Tezuka’s last epic and greatest manga works. Buddha received the 2004 and 2005 Eisner Award(referred to as the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards).

I was really impressed with the pacing and depth of the story.  He takes his time to distil the complex story into beautiful, simple yet profound art and storytelling.

Good for: manga fans, Buddhists and those interested in the philosophy, those interested in new interpretations of old Indian mythology

I picked this because it’s a classic that I hated when I first read, but I wanted to revisit it as it was recommended by Patti Smith in M Train.  There was a retelling of this story published last year, The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud that I want to read, also. And, bonus- this fulfilled the task of reading a “book set in the Middle East“.

With the experience that a decade (or two) will give you, I did appreciate this book differently.  But I also spent more time trying to decipher and understand what Camus was trying to impart to the reader.  With the contextual background of the horrors of WW2 in the forefront of Camus’ thinking when he wrote this, I can now see how stark and pointless life could seem and why he would choose to tell this story in the manner with which he did.

Good for: someone who wants to read a classic, those who like close reading, anyone who likes intellectually challenging books

This is also one that stood out so much for me that I did a special review of it, so please see that write up for the details.  (Bottom line- It was simply lovely.)

I heard about this author based on a conversation I had about my love of The Sparrow and Dune. I may have also mentioned that I wanted to read more women science fiction authors, which led her to recommend N.K. Jemisin and Ursula Guin. When I saw a category on the Book Riot Read Harder challenge 2016 to read ‘the first book in a series, written by a person of color‘, I knew that was my impetus to move her work up in my TBR pile.

In this story, there are two cultures that live near each other but are very different. One believes that a society should kill its members who are corrupt (physically and morally), as well as those who are old and infirm. It can be done with magic to allow the victim a lovely and peaceful transition to the dreamland, as it is done in sleep. The people who do this are Gatherers. The other culture is more secular and they believe in rules and order achieved without magic.
The story is of an acolyte who is paired with the most renowned Gatherer and they are assigned to kill an ambassador from the other community. What they don’t know is that she has uncovered corruption in their midst and that their “peaceful” leaders are making plans for war. They join forces when he is compelled by her story and gives her a stay of execution in order to verify it.
The themes in the novel are the corrupting influences on people that come in all forms, the dangers of blind faith, what constitutes a humane death, and the redemptive power of love.
Good for: someone who likes sci-fi with a bit of political intrigue, one who wants a story that feels familiar but is completely new, who want to read women sci-fi authors, someone who likes mysticism and/or ethical quandaries in their stories.

I needed a book for the Read Harder Challenge task of ‘read a horror book‘. I was determined to do the one task that made me most nervous early in the year so I didn’t end up in a panic in December like I did for 2015. I saw this recommended in the Goodreads forum and then on Twitter I saw that Rincey Reads was sharing her progress. She responded to a tweet that I sent asking her if it was terrifying because basically, I’m a big baby. She said this might be perfect for me. She was right.

This is a fantasy story of a group of orphaned kids who are taken in by an old man and the main character we follow is a young woman named Carolyn. The old man (called Father) assigns each child a specialty field of study in “the library” and trains them in brutal and terrible ways. The book begins with Father being lost and the now young people have to discover what happened to him, mostly out of fear.

The style  of the novel is fantasy/horror and while there were plenty of squeamish (fairly gruesome) moments, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat nor was I particularly scared. I think it’s because the fantasy elements provided a nice foil and created some emotional distance for me to be taken along with the plot and not have my psyche scarred.

Good for: someone who is looking for a thriller of a different kind, who want a new type of fantasy book to try, someone who gets scared easily but wants to fulfill the read harder challenge.

Confession time- I picked this audiobook up because I loved the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens so much, that I wanted more time with it.  (And now I am laughing out loud.)

I really was hoping that the book would go much deeper into the backstory of the characters.  But unfortunately, it was almost a screenplay of the movie so I didn’t glean any new insights or tidbits. But it was still fun.

Good for: Star Wars fans

After the last book which was a horror story, I needed a guaranteed cozy feel book. This was recommended by people saying that it was like 84, Charing Cross Road so I knew I was in good hands.

This is a story of a pen pal relationship between an older woman in Iowa and a young Swedish bookseller. Sara, the Swedish girl comes to visit Amy in her small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa only to discover that Amy has died. So Sara proceeds to spend her few months vacation in a depressed town of people whom she only knew about from Amy’s letters.

Sara is a great main character. She is both tentative and assertive in small ways. And you see her coming out of her shell and growing as the story progresses. Amy you see in retrospect, only in her letters, which also details the dramas and stories of the town’s people.  The style is a bit ‘Lifetime movie’ in book form, and would be too sappy without the literary references. Ultimately, it wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes.  I’ll stick with the acerbic New York wit of 84, Charing Cross Road.

So that’s how I spent my January of the year.  Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

Reading Challenges and Why I Love Them

I have just recently gotten excited about reading challenges.  To be perfectly honest with you, I had no idea such a thing even existed until a few years ago.  But now that I know about them, it’s hard for me to stop doing them.

You may ask- why would you do that to yourself?

I have always been someone who likes a challenge and wants to test my abilities.  About 2 + years ago I was doing fine with my reading.  I was keeping my Goodreads list going by documenting when I was done with a book and rating it.  I was reading an ok amount, but all of it was fairly rote and automatic.  There wasn’t a lot of forethought or planning involved in what I was doing.  And I think because of that, I didn’t enjoy my reading to the extent that I do now.

My favorite moment of the reading process is the one after I finished something I enjoyed reading, basking in its afterglow (hopefully) when I realize that there is another book out there that could hold an equal or better treasure.  In cruder terms, you could say that I chase the reading high, like an addict.  Being a mood reader, I want to be really present in that moment and pick something that will appeal to the feeling I am having.  Most often times it is a reaction to what I just finished.  If it was something really heavy, I may want a “palate cleanser” of a read that will help me transition out of that world and into something else. If it was a fluffy or light-hearted book, I may look for something with a bit more substance.  But all this bouncing around was random.  I wanted a bit more form to what I was doing.

Enter the reading challenge

The first one I heard about grabbed me instantaneously.  It was the Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge for 2015.  The way it works is that they have chosen 24 categories or tasks.  That equates to about 2 books a month.  I knew I could do that, without a problem.  They keep the categories (as they call tasks) broad enough for readers to research and interpret the task as they want.  There isn’t really any rules other than that.

Here was their list of tasks for the Read Harder Challenge 2015:

I loved almost every second of this process, even when the books I chose may have missed the mark with my personal tastes.  I loved doing the research to discover what I could like that would fit into these categories.  I enjoyed being pushed to think more diversely and in interesting ways about how I read without any guardrails.  I discovered new areas that I ended up loving.  And some things that I thought would be very easy for me, turned out to be surprisingly hard.

The good-

Through this process, I found that I really like science fiction. !!!  (I know– it was a surprise for me, too!)  My previous experience with sci-fi was Dune by Frank Herbert and not much else.  I often felt unmoored by some of the sci-fi stories I had read and was not comfortable just “going with the flow” in an unfamiliar world.  I was kind of uptight about it, I admit.  I spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect fit for me.  I scoured some of the suggestions people on Goodreads were throwing out there.  I asked friends, and I kept an ear out for new releases that might fit the bill.  I landed on Moxyland by Lauren Beukes.  It featured a female heroine, set in the future in Cape Town, with a technology/pharmaceutical backdrop.  It was edgy and fast paced and very exciting.  I really liked it.

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune by Frank Herbert
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
I will admit to being intrigued by this great cover for Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

For the book published before 1850, I was stumped for something that I wanted to read.  I landed upon Middlemarch by George Elliot.  I was really happy with this pick because a list had just been published about the top English novels ever written and of all the books out there, Middlemarch was considered the number 1 book.  Again- who knew?  I was a little intimidated by it, and afraid that I was going to end up getting bogged down in it, but I found it so readable and I really felt something for these characters.  It was such a nice surprise for me that I went ahead and bought one of the lovely hardcover editions for my personal collection.

Look at this lovely clothboundPenguin Classics hardcover edition of Middlemarch by George Elliot.
Look at this lovely clothboundPenguin Classics hardcover edition of Middlemarch by George Elliot.

 

I also discovered how vast and exciting the Young Adult (YA) side of publishing was.  It has really expanded into a massive genre of potential gems.  I am probably aging myself but the only things I had that could be considered YA when I was growing up was Sweet Valley High and a few other things like that.  Nothing with the breadth and depth of topics and content that exists now.  I enjoyed what I read, but it was in the research that I discovered many books that I ended up reading this year.

The bad-

I was disappointed with the book I picked for the task of a book written by someone under the age of 25 years old.  I chose Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin and it just didn’t work for me.  The voice, tone, and content were not good fits for what I was looking for or what I tend to enjoy.  It could be just a generational thing.  I finished it because of the challenge, otherwise, I would have put it down and moved on.

Shoplifting From American Apparel by Tao Lin
Shoplifting From American Apparel by Tao Lin

The Ugly-

As I entered into December of 2015, I had 2 tasks not yet done and it was stressing me out.  The Poetry and the Short Story tasks were so frustrating me to no end.  I went through SO MANY books, looking for a fit.  To be perfectly candid, I don’t really like poetry.  Now I can appreciate a poem, but an entire book of poetry was really a stretch for me.  I will admit to taking a bit of a short cut on this task and pulling out one collection I have that I know I like- The Portable Dorothy Parker.  She has been a voice that I have turned to through many a broken heart, so I could heal through sarcasm, snark, and witty barbs.

The Portable Dorothy Parker
The inestimable Dorothy Parker, in a collected form.

I was absolutely shocked at how hard it was for me to find a short story collection for my tastes.  I mean, I found a ton of short story collections, but I learned a lot about the genre through this process.  One of the things I learned is that a lot of the stories that win awards and people seem to love are strange, awkward or have a dramatic twist.  The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a perfect example.  As with poetry, I might like a single short story that has those elements, but I don’t particularly care for an entire collection of that type of work.  I tried the Miranda July work, No One Belongs Here More Than You.  I couldn’t finish it.  It was making me feel so bleak and hollow like I was falling into a depression.  I was told that most people will use the collection as I do with palate cleanser novels- to transition from one book to another.  But since I didn’t have enough time to do that, I shelved it and started the search again.  And I am so glad that I did because I found a beautiful gem of a book- The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.  From the first few paragraphs, I knew this was the right book for me.  The writing was lush and evocative.  I was pulled in immediately.  I loved it so much.  I am on the hunt for a first edition hardcover copy of it, so I can keep it near me always.

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
I wasn’t feeling this book- No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July.
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
A lush and lovely book- The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

 

The results-

The year that I spent really thinking about what to read and searching for which books would be in that Venn Diagram of what I love and what the task required was wonderful.  I read so many books that I would never have even thought to look at the covers, let along crack them open and read them.  And it is only because of the challenge.

What’s on deck for 2016?

Well, since the Read Harder Challenge was such much fun for me last year, I jumped on it for this year as well. Here are the tasks for this year, in a handy PDF that you can print and fill out as you go through the year:

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist_web

I have also participated in a Readathon where a person designates a fixed amount of time- 24 hours, 48 hours, a week, etc. to try to read as many books as possible.  It sounds a little insane, but it is very fun to completely devote yourself to only reading.  Many times there are communities on Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram or Youtube that promote a readathon and readers will plan together, share progress, cheer each other on, and generally offer breaks to each other during that time period.  Some tips that I have heard and would like to share for how to survive a readathon would be to pick your books wisely, even if there is a theme to the readathon.  For example, your goal is to read a lot, so you may want to find shorter books that aren’t dense from a subject matter perspective, so you can feel the success of plowing through them and upping your numbers.  Readers are always talking about all the finger food they have available to nosh on so they don’t get distracted by having to stop and make dinner.  (It also seems like a really fun time to break any diets or rules you have and just indulge as you turn the pages as often as you can.)  I enjoyed myself immensely during that time so I will look for more opportunities to do that in the future, and will make a note of them here.  Maybe we can do one together!

There are other types of challenges.  I will investigate and bring some others to the blog.  But I am curious- do any of you participate in reader challenges? Why or why not?   Please leave us the answers in the comments.