Three of the books I completed in my 2018 Reading Challenge
So this is the first of my year-in-review posts as I reflect on 2018. As you may have noticed, this blog tends to go on hiatus in December and January as holiday activities take up all available time in the former and I spend the latter catching up on all the things the fell by the wayside in the holiday hustle. But some semblance of order has been restored and I am eager to resume writing (even if the Christmas tree is still up)!
As a list maker, I’ve always been intrigued with reading challenges and have collected several reading lists on Pinterest. Many of these require a daily reading discipline or a reading speed that I do not currently possess. Some lists include categories that seem silly to me or books that I have no desire to crack the spines of. But Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge for 2018 had categories that were compelling and a quantity that seemed achievable, so I decided to give it a go. Here is what I read (or attempted to read as the case may be):
A book you can read in a day
The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
I listened to this one-hour audio book on the drive to my parent’s house early last January. I thought it an appropriate choice since we were on our way to celebrate “Second Christmas” with my family after spending Christmas proper with my husband’s parents. It’s a charming story about a Magi who wanted to make the pilgrimage to honor Jesus’ birth, but missed the rendezvous with the rest of the wise men because he stopped to help someone in need. Arriving in Bethlehem after Mary and Joseph have fled to Egypt, this other wise man spends the rest of his life trying to find Jesus.
A book that’s more than 500 pages
The Little Country by Charles de Lint
It was a dark and stormy night in January–perfect for curling up with a new book. I chose this one and loved it! I was so impressed with the dialog. It’s tricky to distinctive voices for individual characters and use dialect in a way that doesn’t distract, but Charles de Lint does it masterfully. It wasn’t just the dialog, though–I loved the characters, the ideas, and the magic. I highly recommend this contemporary fantasy set in Cornwall, England, about Janey Little, folk musician and book lover, who finds a lost manuscript by her favorite author and discovers not just a new story, but an old form of magic. While Janey is captivated by the story, someone else is desperate to possess the magic. But can this long-bound magic even be controlled–let alone possessed–once it begins seeping out of the books pages?
A book by a favorite author
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
This is one of the few instances where I can compare the experience of reading a book in print and listening to it as an audiobook. When I read The Body in the Library a few years ago, I thought it was fine, but not one of my favorite Christie novels. Stephanie Cole’s performance of the book gave me a new appreciation for the story and I enjoyed this audiobook more than reading the novel myself. Stephanie Cole has become my favorite actress to portray Miss Marple and I wish she would record all the novels featuring Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth!
A memoir, biography, or creative non-fiction
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
I picked this up at my local book exchange. It’s an inspiring memoir that a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon wrote as a legacy to his children after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Randy Pausch reinforced to me that even if life is hard, different than you expected, or shorter than you wanted, it can still be good, you can still enjoy it, and you can still accomplish your dreams.
A classic you’ve been meaning to read
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I posted a longer review of this book last year (but it does have spoilers). Fitzgerald’s execution of the story and the way he set up the themes it contained are what I admire most about this novel. If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth your time to read this story about a poor nobody who makes a fortune and builds a house in an ostentatious neighborhood to impress the love of his youth who is currently married to someone else. Even if it doesn’t end up being one of your personal favorites, part of Fitzgerald’s genius is his brevity, so it’s not a long slog.
A book nominated for an award in 2018
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novella last year. (Yay! This is the second year in a row that the novella I was rooting for won!) This is a fun story about a security robot who hacks his governing system so he can gain autonomy but continues to follow (most) protocols in order to avoid being tagged as “Rogue” and disassembled. I enjoyed the humor in this book, but the line that really resonated with me was more contemplative: “I don’t know what I want yet, but I know that I don’t want other people telling me what I should want.”
A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than you
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book evoked several contradictory responses from me. I found it fascinating throughout, yet by the time I was halfway through the book, I was ready to be done and move on to something else. It was very grounded in the nitty-gritty details, human tragedy, and personal triumphs of everyday life, yet it ended up feeling like a fairy tale to me (though to be fair, the happy ending worked–from a writing stand point–better than some romance novels I’ve read). I really enjoyed reading the book, and I didn’t like the story. (I wish I’d read this as a part of a reading group–the potential for discussion here is fabulous!) Still, I’m truly glad to have read this book and thus experienced, in a small way, the life of someone very different from me–a Nigerian girl who comes to the United States for college, ends up living and working here for 15 years, and becomes an American citizen before returning to Nigeria.
A banned book
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
It was worth doing this reading challenge for this book alone. I would not have gone looking for it otherwise and it would be such a shame not have this gem in my literary collection. I was enthralled by Janie’s journey through life in Florida a decade or so after the Civil War, not just because it’s a time and place I’m less familiar with, but also to see how Janie came into her own as a woman. Hurston’s writing is impressive and poetic. I took a little break from reading novels after finishing this one; I just wanted to sit with Hurston’s story for a while and think about lines like this: “Love is like de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”
A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection
Poems 1965 – 1975 by Seamus Heaney
So technically I finished this book. But I was listening to it at night to keep my mind off the torture device–I mean, contour device the physical therapist prescribed me to spend 15-20 minutes a day on to restore a healthy curve to my cervical spine. On the one hand this strategy was effective in helping me be compliant with the recommended time, but Heaney’s Irish lilt sometimes put me to sleep. I’d wake up when the timer went off and discover that I’d missed several poems. Sometimes I’d rewind for the next night; sometimes I didn’t. Nevertheless, I like the sound of Heaney’s poetry and found his imagery compelling. I’ve bought a print copy of this collection and hope to do a more thorough reading of it this year.
A book in translation
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is definitely a book lover’s story–it makes me want to rescue forgotten books! A coming-of-age novel set in Barcelona as the city deals with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, this novel is thick with portent and consequences, rye humor, colorful characters, and wonderful quotes. It makes you consider how the stories we love shape us. Maybe that effect is the unrecognized magic in our mundane world. Although, this story also makes a case for love being the true magic in our world, and like all magic, it comes with a price.
A book recommended by someone with great taste
Dune by Frank Herbert
A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Perhaps if I hadn’t taken that break from fiction after finishing Their Eyes Were Watching God, I might have gotten through these last two books. Then again, Dune is not a quick read. Maybe I’ll get around to these stories in 2019.
So those are my thoughts on the books from my 2018 Reading Challenge. Did you do a reading challenge last year? If so, what was the best book you discovered from that list?