One (book) challenge ends, another begins

The last book on my 2016 reading list was Purity, which I started but really strongly disliked. I’m not going to finish it. My book list this year included a lot of literary fiction, which has always been a category which I’m hesitant about. Not because of the length or the language, but because of the common themes. It seems to be a genre where everyone is miserable and tortured, in a very upper-middle-class sort of way, and I don’t generally find that kind of novel either illuminating or rewarding as a reader. There are always exceptions, and I’ll keep reading books I’ve heard good things about, but I don’t plan to focus on the category in the future.

I considered doing a few different things next year; the Guardian has a list of the 100 most important novels written in English, about a third of which I’ve read already at some point, so I thought of doing a multi-year challenge with that. I may revisit that idea in the future, but for 2017 I want to stick with current writing. Amazon just released a list of the 100 best books of 2016 (their editorial list, not the best-seller list based on customer purchases), and there’s about 20-something of them that particularly interest me. I figure if I can narrow it down to 24 books, that’s two books a month and entirely doable in a year. And since they’re new but not brand-new, I’ll be able to get most of them from the library without much waiting.

Oh yeah, I still haven’t finished War and Peace either. Total bucket list stuff. I really wish the new, highly-recommended translation I have in print was available in audiobook, because I think I could crank through the whole thing a few minutes at a time much easier in audio.


Reading Report, October 2016

This month I finished All the Light We Cannot See. I enjoyed it and understand why it has been so popular. I do think it wasn’t particularly challenging or surprising – a bit sappy.

Completed: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole; The Nightingale*; A Little Life*; The Girl on the Train; All the Light We Cannot See

Still to read: Purity

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 11

Percentage of year complete: 83%

Percentage of books complete: 92%

Reading progress report, September

This month I finished The Girl on the Train. I listened to most of it as an audiobook, but finished the last 10% on Kindle. I’m not usually one for thrillers so maybe that’s why this didn’t really grab me. It was well-constructed, but it was just a long game of “is this character violently psychopathic, or just a horrible person?” bingo. Not my favorite thing.

Completed: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole; The Nightingale*; A Little Life*; The Girl on the Train

Still to read: Purity; All the Light We Cannot See

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 10

Percentage of year complete: 75%

Percentage of books complete: 83%

Reading progress report, July & August

I took a four-week intensive course during most of July and the first week of August, so unsurprisingly I didn’t get any non-coursework-related reading done. After that I started A Little Life, got a couple hundred pages in, and realized that it was turning into a very different book than I thought, and not in a good way. I won’t bother to write a review, since I didn’t finish it, but the one from the New York Review of Books sums with my opinion.

This left me in a bit of a quandary, since A Little Life was a replacement book for one that I’d already not finished (Fates & Furies). Ultimately I decided that I’m still going to count it, since I did engage with it meaningfully. And further, under those rules I’m also calling (quasi-)done The Nightingale, since I also read a significant portion of it before stopping. My goal for the year was to expose myself to the kind of books I rarely read, and I’m succeeding in that even if I don’t finish and adore everything on the list.

Read: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole; The Nightingale*; A Little Life*

Still to read: Purity; The Girl on the Train; All the Light We Cannot See

Probably will never happen (unless I get stranded on a desert island with only it): War & Peace

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 9

Percentage of year complete: 66%

Percentage of books complete: 75%

Reading progress report, June

I didn’t complete any books on my list in May. In June I finished Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. This is a nonfiction book, about a transgender teenager in Maine and her family. It had some interesting insights, but it almost felt too personal and invasive. Obviously the family had agreed to share a lot with the writer and knew that the book would be published, and wanted to share their experiences. It’s just my own penchant for privacy, I guess, especially for those under 18. The one aspect of transgender life that I hadn’t thought much about was that given increasing knowledge and hormone therapy, children who feel decidedly transgender before puberty can now receive medication that delays/changes puberty and then have surgery at 17 or 18, as long as parents/doctors agree. That’s a very different experience than having to wait until you’re older, or realizing your transgender-ness when you’re older and have been an adult for a while.

The year’s half over and thanks to my early binge reading, I’m still ahead of schedule despite my recent slowness. Then again, I’m less than 50 pages into War & Peace and it’s probably as long as the rest of the books put together!

I’ve eliminated a couple books as I’ve gone so it seems like a good idea to repost the entire list with my changes and what I’ve completed so far.

Read: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole

Still to read (original list): Purity; The Girl on the Train; War & Peace

Eliminated: Fates & Furies; The Nightingale

Added: All the Light We Cannot See; A Little Life

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 7

Percentage of year complete: 50%

Percentage of books complete: 58%

Reading progress report, March (& April)

Argh! I wrote this up for March, but apparently I never scheduled it to actually post. Just came to do an April post and found that March wasn’t up either. As it turns out, I didn’t finish any books on the list in April, so a two-month post is just fine. March below:

I’ve decided to replace last month’s hated DNF, Fates and Furies, with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s another one that has come up on a lot of the ‘best books of 2015’ lists. My mom read it and quite enjoyed it. So, replacing the Groff with the Doerr, that keeps my list at 12 books for 12 months.

I completed two books this month, Hold Still by Sally Mann, and Americanah, by¬†Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Hold Still is an odd beast of a memoir, written by a controversial photographer.¬† Her approach to the world certainly differs from mine, but she’s a thoughtful, almost brutally honest memorist, which made the book very powerful if not always enjoyable to read. Americanah was great, and deserves all the praise it’s gotten, although I was a little disappointed in the resolution of the romantic plot.

I have also started reading War and Peace. When I was doing research about the various translations last year, I saw the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation of 2007 recommended, so that’s the version that I bought. More recently I see that some translators disagree with their interpretation and there’s quite the division in the field about it. Who knew there was so much literary translator drama in the world?

Books read this month: 2

Books read total: 6

Percentage of year complete: 25%

Percentage of books complete: 50%

Reading progress report, February

I had two audiobook failures this month. The first was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. I just could not stand this book. I hated the characters, I hated the style, and I was completely uninterested in the plot. I gave up after one CD (1/11th of the book). Maybe I’ll go back to it later in the year; I’m not taking it off my list yet, anyway.

The second was Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, and it wasn’t quite as catastrophic. I liked the premise and the beginning of the story, but one of the two narrators just annoyed the crap out of me with the way she over-emoted. No, you don’t want your audiobook narrator to sound like a robot, but neither do you want them to sound like they are going to start screaming or sobbing at any moment. At least I don’t. So I returned the audiobook to the library and read the print version instead.

Given the change of format, it took me a while to warm up to An Ember in the Ashes. It’s a another in the long line of recent dystopian YA novels, and although it’s a well-developed universe and the characters were interesting, it’s also the first of an intended series, so not much gets wrapped up by the end of the book. Thus it wasn’t that satisfying to read. I doubt that I’ll clamor for the next novel, as much as Tahir’s writing is well-done. I did see that she’s sold the movie rights, so maybe it’ll be the next Hunger Games.

I also finished David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers this month. McCullough always tells a great story, and in this book he marries his usual detail-oriented style with a bit of brevity (the focus of old age?). I had no particular interest in the Wrights, yet I really enjoyed learning about them and their process of invention and discovery.

Books read this month: 2

Books read total: 4

Percentage of year complete: 16.6%

Percentage of books complete: 33%