Reading Challenge 2016 Roundup, Part II

And yes, today I declare victory over yet a third formal reading challenge for 2016.

I could not have done it without a formidable partnership (replacing the word addiction here) with audiobooks.  I mentioned on an earlier post that I also did my first triathlon this year and I feel as though I have knitted many of the things in the past 12 months. And at least 40 minutes in the car every workday and four hours some weekends traveling to see my snowbird parents in the summer.  I have to listen to books for them to fit into my self imposed chaos.

Unfortunately I just discovered the nature documentaries that Netflix has to offer.

So, it all started with Popsugar, and there it shall end.  Admitted overlaps with some other categories with other lists, but allegedly I work 40 hours a week and parent.

Popsugar’s 2016 Reading Challenge:

A book based on a fairy tale:  Thorn, Intisar Khanani

A National Book Award winner:  Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

A YA Bestseller:  Looking for Alaska, John Green

A book you have not read since high school: Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton

A book set in your home state: Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt

A book translated to English: Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan

A romance set in the future: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

A book set in Europe:  A Sicilian Romance, Ann Radcliffe

A book under 150 pages:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote

A New York Times bestseller: The Girls, Emma Cline

A book that’s becoming a movie this year:  The BFG, Roald Dahl

A book recommended by someone you just met: The Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb

A self improvement book:  Thank and Grow Rich, Pam Grout

A book you can finish in a day:  The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

A book written by a celebrity:  Dropped Names, Frank Langella

A political memoir:  I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai

A book at least a hundred years older than you:  The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis

A book that’s more than 600 pages:  Don Quixote, Cervantes

A book from Oprah’s Book Club: White Oleander, Janet Fitch

A science fiction novel: The Time Machine, HG Wells

A book recommended by a family member:  The Time Seekers, D.A. Squires

A graphic novel:  Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann

A book published in 2016: Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld

A book with a protagonist that has your occupation: The Good Psychologist, Noam Shpancer

A book that takes place over the summer:  Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

A book and its prequel:  Red Queen and Cruel Crown, Victoria Aveyard

A murder mystery:  Murder on Astor Place, Victoria Thompson

A book written by a comedian:  Still Foolin Em, Billy Crystal

A dystopian novel:  The Iron Heel, Jack London

A book with a blue cover:  Challenger Deep, Neil Shusterman

A book of poetry:  Felicity, Mary Oliver

The first book you see in a bookstore:  Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

A classic from the twentieth century:  Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

A book from the library:  Jane Steele, Lindsay Faye

An autobiography:  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin

A book about a road trip: Paper Towns, John Green

A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with:  Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

A satirical book:  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

A book that takes place on an island:  Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

A book that’s guaranteed to give you joy:  The Alchemist, Paul Coelho


I appreciate you taking time out of the crazy holiday prep to check in with how I did.  Christmas celebrations abound.  Bask in the celebration of light and love!

Tune in for the bookish highlights of the year next week!

Comments/likes/shares. It is the season of giving, after all.









Reading Challenge 2016 Roundup, Part I

So, the reading specs are going to be earlier this year on the blog.  Last year I got all the way into the week between Christmas and New Year to report on the Reading Challenges and report on my favorite reads of the year, but with three posts on Christmas reads and Reading Challenges duly completed, I do not see the reason to cram all my wrap up posts in the last week of the year.  Everyone else is coming out with their lists now, why not me?

As a pleasing sidebar I have been decidedly more proactive about all this month brings than I have been in recent years.  I may have finally recovered from the atom bomb life disruption that was the arrival of my son and changing to Christmas as a parent, not Christmas as a kid or Christmas as a reasonably independent non parent adult.  This is the first year that he ‘gets it’ on a real level. I even planned my time off with the other supervisors at work already. I usually plan on manning through all the less desirable work days and then last minute beg for time off because I am tired of working on days that no one wants to come in.  Not this year!

Probably some of my proactivity too is my excitement of the stars aligning for me to spend the holiday with my sister, three hours away, this year.  It feels a million times more like Christmas with her than without.  And it is the first Christmas with her and each of our sons.

Also, I have focused more on gifts this year for my son that are more about experiences:  ice skates, toys for snow play, a nice sleeping bag, board games.  I think I will like parenting an older child more than a baby.

Okay, so this year I took on three reading challenges, and I really worked on a minimal of overlap between the categories.  I did five books over 500 pages and I thought I would get to more, but I am wondering if I don’t pick out longer books once the spring comes around.  The only other long one I can see is The Fountainhead and I did that at the end of the summer. I still have plenty of listening and reading time in the warmer months, but maybe I don’t need something long to get me through the season like I do when it is the dead of winter.  I am already thinking about what serious commitment books I might need when January is here in a month.

So, two of the three lists:

BookRiot Read Harder 2016:

A Horror Book:  The Shining, Stephen King

A Nonfiction Book about Science:  Rabid, Bill Wasik

A Collection of Essays:  Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (almost Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari)

Read a Book Out Loud to Someone Else:  Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

A Middle Grade Novel:  The Forgotten Door, Alexander Key

Biography, not autobiography or memoir:  Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon

Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic Novel: The Selection, Kiera Cass

Originally Published in the Decade You Were Born:  The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

Audiobook that Won an Audie Award:  Still Foolin Em, Billy Crystal

A Book Over 500 Pages (ha! try five):  Don Quixote, Cervantes

A Book Under 100 Pages: The Time Machine, HG Wells

A Book By/About a Transgender Person:  Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

A Book Set in the Middle East:  Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

A Book By An Author in Southeast Asia:  Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan

Historical Fiction Set Before 1900:  Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

The First Book in a Series by a Person of Color: The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh

A Non Superhero Comic that Debuted in the Last Three Years:  Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann

Read a Book that Was Adapted to a Movie and then Watch the Movie: The BFG, Roald Dahl and I have not made it to watching the movie.  Over 90 books read this year and I’m missing a freakin’ movie

A Nonfiction Book About Feminism/Feminist Themes: A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

A Book about Religion:  Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

A Book About Politics in Your Country or Another:  I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai

A Food Memoir:  Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson

A Play:  Dangerous Liasons, Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos

A Character with Mental Illness: One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Ken Kesey

Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge 2016:

A Book Published This Year:  Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld

A Book You Can Finish in a Day: The Ocean At the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

A Book You Have Been Meaning to Read:  Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

A Book Recommended by Your Librarian/Bookseller: Murder on Astor Place, Victoria Thompson

A Book You Should Have Read in School (I read every damn book so I chose one I had not read since school): Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton

Book Chosen by your Spouse, Partner, Sibling, Child, BFF: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Book Published Before You Were Born:  The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis

A Book That Was Banned at Some Point:  Beloved, Toni Morrison

A Book You Previously Abandoned: The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

A Book You Own But Have Never Read:  The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R, Carole DeSantis

A Book That Intimidates You:  Don Quixote, Cervantes

A Book You Have Already Read at Least Once:  The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath


More specs next Sunday!

Two weeks until Santa comes….

What have you read for these challenges?







Joy and Magic: Two Books I Needed a Long Time Ago

This is not the usual magic that of which I blog.

This is spiritualism. As hard and fast as spiritualism gets.

I needed these books circa 1996-2003.

Not that I don’t need them now, but life instead has taught me these lessons instead of my having initially read of them.

Briefly:  I was a writer long before I was anything else of much note.  I wrote my first story about a tadpole who was afraid to become a frog in first grade. It also was my first year on the swim team but I was so much smaller than the other kids I felt like I would die before the end of races I lost (hm, I feel I revisit this as an adult with running.  Once wasn’t enough?).  I had some notable successes as a writer early on, especially after the summer before 8th grade where I wrote compulsively all summer, which I didn’t know then was the key to luring out the fickle muse.  One of the best things I wrote as a kid came to me out of thin freakin air and I wrote it on napkins with a pencil because it was coming so fast.  And then I created a standard of work for myself that I couldn’t readily repeat as I wanted.  I was a kid and I was already well aware of the muse I couldn’t rely on.

So I focused on becoming a Psychologist. Plenty of gray area there to keep me interested but no fickle muse threatening to desert me and remind me I am a merely shell of my former self.  And I largely abandoned writing for a very long time. I did some college writing classes but even then I was afraid of the teasing of the fickle muse.

I needed you, Elizabeth Gilbert:

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Big Magic, The First Book You See in a Bookstore (Popsugar)

Even how this book came to be in my life was magic.  I walked into the money pit that is our local independent bookseller after hanging out to see if they wanted me to testify in family court in the dead of winter for hours.  And there it was.  I didn’t buy it then, but I saw the colorful cover in the foyer, not even the actual shop.  I wasn’t ready.

And I am not completely supportive of Gilbert taking the focus off her dying friend lately to be like oh I am in romantic love with you and I finally decided to tell you.

I needed this book more than The Artist’s Way.  I liked The Artist’s Way, don’t get me wrong, and that was the first book I read about the spiritual aspects of creativity when I first chose to return to writing. Morning pages at the time were instrumental in helping me to process a disastrous relationship without which I would not have been ready to build a relationship with my husband, who I met four months later. But Big Magic had the message I needed of don’t be so rigid and so serious. The most important thing is to show up. And let go and let the powers that be. Enjoy and follow your curious and creative whims. Take it seriously but realize that it is a game.  And absolutely don’t make your creativity responsible for your daily living.

I could be in a different place if I worked on writing when I could in the gaps of my schooling, but then I may have felt that writing was my true calling, not Psychology, which is also a calling for me. I love it.  As with many writing advice books, it is a funny book, like Bird by Bird, although I felt that Bird by Bird more focused on the inevitable neuroticism that is comorbid with creativity.  Even though Gilbert insists, and I agree, that creativity is largely a positive and uplifting force, it makes you crazy too, even after (perhaps especially after) it sprinkles on the largest of gifts, which to me would be a publishable piece.  Like, don’t expect it to save you from yourself all the time.  This was the advice I needed on how to think about and manage the requirements of keeping creativity alive in my life.  As a young adult we want to know we are heading back to stability, as much fun as it was to be without some responsibilities. I saw writing as a way to prolong the instability of life and I did not want that.  It was never meant to be that for me and maybe Gilbert would argue for anyone. I could have been more comfortable with my creativity for longer periods of time if this book had shown up sooner.

A final vignette:  I got high praise from a writing professor in college and I ran home and called my Dad (the writer I got it from, the man who I watch show up to his poetry on a daily basis before he is out of bed in the morning) and my Mom picked up. My mom’s understanding of my creative pursuits has been spotty at times.  And I said “Mom, am I majoring in the wrong thing? Should I do writing over Psychology?” and my mom said “You can’t become a Psychologist without school.  Do Psychology now, become a writer later.” And I was like, ok. I felt that was my message to stay on my path (because at what, 19-20 years old you think you have one path that you are married to and if you wander off it your life will careen toward all sorts of unimaginable/unforeseen destruction where you will ultimately NOT BE OK…I did get some treatment to help with that, and I help kids transitioning to adulthood with that).

A more general thought of spiritualism (A Book Guaranteed to Bring You Joy, Popsugar):

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The Alchemist, Paul Coelho

Choosing a book because you believe it will give you joy is enormous pressure for a book. I am sure Coelho didn’t lose any sleep about it, as this book, as it has nearly ten thousand reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 average rating.  That rating is even after the people who were not destined to find joy in it let the Amazon world know of its “lack of redeeming literary qualities” and “quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo” and I have to stop reading these comments because they are annoying me.  This is a fable, a basic text meant to teach.  It is set in a different time with different values.  You could apply the same criticism to Siddhartha, which is considered a classic.

I thought this book might be good because some high schools around here assign it, and I have had some kids with some real struggles tell me it made them feel good and it was important.  And that is all the endorsement I need. Sharp literary criticism need not apply here.

My favorite message from this is that the universe conspires to give you your hearts desire.  I mean, ‘hearts desire’ needs some real exploration to determine here, as many chemical processes/accidents in the brain can make us think that something is our hearts desire that could destroy us. I guess that would be our brain’s desire. But there are plenty of positive and society contributing hearts desires we can think of.  I needed this as a kid too to know that once I was an adult I wouldn’t be so alone.  I had this misconception that I see in kids now that adulthood will be more responsibility, but only equipped with the skill set, knowledge and perspective that I had as a teenage kid.  A frightening prospect. So, knowing the universe might help me along to becoming a healer may have been comforting at times I was about to NOT BE OK.  And the universe did help me, ‘hokey’ perspectives be damned.  I literally walked into the research apprenticeship I needed to become a viable candidate for graduate school programs.  Walked my butt in. My professors were like, don’t you have questions? Don’t you want to think it over? Nope, when do I show up?

I like feeling like the universe is there for me.

I want to hand these books out to all my creative teens.

Comments/likes/shares are always welcomed.



Reading Challenge: Being Female

I am writing this post a month before it will be published at 730 pm with a beer after my son was sent to bed record early due to his repeatedly poor behavior at daycare.

I have been trying to form my comments on the three books I am talking about in this post for days and maybe beer, defeat and ire will help give a narrative shape to the reading challenge books about being female.

A Book Set in the Middle East (BookRiot):

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Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I don’t know what it is about the explosion of memoirs this year in my reading, especially after barely reading them at all. I have read Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle, both haunting and somewhat traumatizing recollections of unstructured parenting, and if they didn’t turn me off to the genre, maybe I have a future in enjoying memoirs.  This did not even have to be a memoir and it won out over other Middle East books (my third this year but the other two had other categories).

The narrator copes with the oppressive changes to her life as an educated woman through reading.  Through wars and scary new laws, she reads, talks intelligently about books, and gathers women together to talk about books as well as their lives in the ways women all over the world are the same: dealing with identity, self-expression, finding and keeping love, raising kids.  The book discusses the political activities of Iran in a macro as well as a micro view.  As an educated woman myself, I can respect her journey and remember to treasure my own freedoms in this country.  And although one need not have read Lolita to appreciate the discussion of the novel in the book, I want to reread it now.

A Book About or Written By a Transgender Person (BookRiot):


Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

One has to be in the right mood to read Eugenides.  In all the writing advice I troll on the internet (and I am always trolling the internet for writing advice.  Some of it I even invite into my inbox) an oft shared gem is that there need not be too much backstory  revealed in the plot.  One should write out backstories, something I have been doing for the novel I am slowly hobbling into being, but copious backstory slows the action and disconnects the reader.  (Incidentally, that is why I kept the backstory of this post succinct:  all you need to know is the impetus of motherhood and La Cerveza Mas Fina to get me in front of the laptop.)  Eugenides, however, is such a master that he is untouched by this basic tenet of a gripping novel.  This book rides through half the story before the main character, who is intersex (I know, not really transgender, but 500 + pages later I am counting it as a book involving gender identity struggle/confusion) and his carnival ride of identity confusion is really tackled.  What did it mean to be a female in upper middle class mid century America, and then how was it different to be male? And to be an immigrant making ones way?  All the books in this post define female in a certain time and place, and this one looks at what both genders possibly mean.  When in this day and age they mean less and less.

Two other thoughts: one, I am disturbed when I read about incest and this is the second book I have read this year dealing with incest and it’s fabled consequences.  It is not as rampant as it was in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but in this book, the consequences, a person born with male and female genitalia, although he was XY, comes into being.  No iguana tails, just more genitalia and confusion than one usually bargains for. I might read more memoirs but I can’t say the same for stories involving incest.  Has not made me more incest-friendly. And second, I would like to know how Eugenides knows about being female.  In both this and The Virgin Suicides he describes what it is like to live in a woman’s body and experience her pattern of emotions.  He writes about boys, too, but I don’t think I could write about living in a male body so well, despite my education and having treated boys and I think have a passable idea of their frame of mind.

A brief third thought:  Don’t know if I will make it to The Marriage Plot.  If I want more long winded storytelling goodness I am going to wander into some more of John Irving.  The reviewers for The Marriage Plot make it sound dry and pretentious.  I imagine I will like Cider House Rules more.

A New York Times Bestseller (Popsugar):

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The Girls, Emma Cline

This one was all over in front of my face and I was shocked when I snagged it on a limited time price reduction.  All the critics were right when they comment that this book is more about being a teen girl in the late sixties than it is about the ranch and the murder that hangs over your head as the plot unwinds.  You know something terrible was done by common, if unmoored, people, and we all want to know how such things happen, but it is the intense discomfort of being the narrator that stands out.  Not the brief flashes of carnage. That is really what this is about. And, like in Middlesex, there are girls in love with girls.  Romantic love with girls.  In Eugenides the male character falls in love with a girl before he knows he’s actually a man, so it can pass as same sex.  Anywhoodle.  Cline’s prose is riddled with those powerful metaphors than surprise you with their truth. I started to stall out halfway through for reads less depressing and complex.  I wandered into some of the books I posted about last month before I read The Girls through to its conclusion of near misses and vague renown.  I needed some guilty pleasures to break up this book’s intense sadness and loneliness.  The Girls is wildly intense and I predict will win something.  Books I tend to need breaks from tend to be the shining stars, and I get that, but we need the books for breaks, too.  I vacillate between wanting to write a big star or a guilty pleasure, and then I think, I just want to write something that someone in the world wants to read.  I can’t be Cline or Nafisi or Eugenides, because they are already taken.

More women pushing boundaries and defining their worlds, I know.  I can’t help myself.  All these books were just too good.

The blitz to finish my challenges in the next 8 weeks presses on.


Reading Challenge: Recommended

Another way to read more widely is to read what others ask you to read, however begrudgingly.  I rarely, if ever, ask for recommendations, although I am the first one to blow up some poor shmuck’s comment feed on Facebook when they are fool enough to canvas hundreds of people at a time as to what they should read next.  I will keep in mind what someone wants me to read but it has to depend on my mood when it actually gets cracked.

That is likely why MMD and Popsugar this year want you to pick up a book that someone else thinks you should.

A Book Recommended by Someone You Just Met (Popsugar):

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The Assassins Apprentice, Robin Hobb

A coworker that I trained with and become friends with recommended this one.  The pace at which we meet new people, and especially make personal friends, slows considerably in the establishment of adulthood.  So I am counting this because she harassed me until I read it and I have only known her for two years. I also read it because she read The Martian when I was talking about it at work.  Yeah, I am exciting in real life, too.

The cover of this book is atrocious and I cannot discuss it’s merits until that is said. I find I need so much more encouragement (other bloggers praise, Amazon stars, listed for book awards and dangled in front of me by the publishers I follow) to pick something up if the cover is cheesy.  I showed it to my husband and he said, “sweet deer on the front.”

Hobb writes trilogies and I probably will at some point read the other two of the Farseer Trilogy. The story is good but I am glad there is more to it because I feel like the ending is anti-climactic, on top of the fact that the main character continues to be lonely at the end. He has some reprieves from loneliness but nothing permanent due to the belabored point of his bastard birth. Without a specific origin to assign him a place in the world, he ends up being the projects of a few people. He does not even really have a name throughout.  It is an interesting story and you root for the protagonist as he passes through the many sets of hands who are trying to shape him.  He definitely will need more permanent and stable relationships in the other two books to keep me wanting to follow his story, so hopefully his lack of origin is resolved.

A Book Recommended by a Family Member (Popsugar):

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The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I didn’t expand an awful lot with this one, even though my sister, who reads mainly nonfiction books, wanted me to pick this up.  It went on crazy ebook sale last year grouped with a bunch of other popular books I was all too eager to gobble up.  Being such a hit, it had already made it to my TBR.  She just got it moved up due to having joined the ranks of those who just could not put it down.  I think she even said she stayed up to read it, which I don’t think is like her with a book.

This book is a page turner from the perspective of an unreliable narrator and a decent twist to it, which made it a huge bestseller in England. I found Gone Girl harder to put down than this one and I would recommend that first, but I would also recommend this as a thriller.

A Book Recommended by Your Local Librarian/Bookseller (Modern Mrs. Darcy):

Murder on Astor Place: A Gaslight Mystery by [Thompson, Victoria]

Murder on Astor Place, Victoria Thompson

I have the pleasure of knowing the library director in my small town, so naturally I cornered her (at an annual local soup contest, no lie) for this recommendation.  Her blanket recommendation is usually Outlander, and seeing as I read Outlander last December as a vacation read to accompany me through binge exercising/crafting, she switched it up for me.  (sidebar:  I have not continued reading the Outlander series because I heard the later books have less sex and more anxiety provoking situations for the characters and she couldn’t deny this fact and she has read the series through at least twice).  But then she was like, what about historical fiction/cozy mysteries and I was like yes and yes.  And I can’t deny I like that the cozies run a few dollars cheaper.  This one is about a midwife in 1920’s New York City who figures out who murdered a society girl who was living under cover in a boardinghouse. I would read more of these, even though sometimes the history exposition woven into the plot seemed to be a little stilted at times.  I mean, I do like the trend of the setting being an active and relevant part of the story, so if it is a little stiff at times, I suppose I could handle that.  I would recommend Rhys Bowen’s Murphy’s Law possibly first, if you are okay with the fact that Bowen’s heroines always struggle to find a consistent place to live and a steady stream of income.  Both Molly Murphy and Georgianna Rannoch of her Royal Spyness series are always living at the brink of ruin.  At least Sarah Brandt in Murder on Astor Place has a consistent and reliable base for life and independence.  And the distinct advantage of straddling between the world of the poor, in the clients she serves, as well as high society, from which she comes.   I am also eyeballing The Yard by Alex Grecian.  But I have more reading list challenges to scale before that.

I am glad that all three of these books were placed in my path with very little soliciting.




2016: 2/3 reading roundup

Roundup or breakdown?

All right, so it’s Labor Day weekend.  So it is.  Dunkin Donuts has released its pumpkin coffee already and Tuesday 9/6, I have on good authority, Starbucks will follow suit and roll out the pumpkins.  Let the pumpkin spice manifest.  I can no longer stem the tide.

In three days my almost four year old is getting tossed into the UPK class hosted by his daycare.  Four by December 1 seems so momentous:  it has allowed for soccer and tumbling class participation (they also have a dance team for kids his age but he struggles with red light/green light so let’s just tumble, shall we?), the beginning of free school, old enough to start really playing board games (okay so maybe some of you have three year olds who can effectively get a plastic gingerbread man to King Candy but mine isn’t there yet) and access to the indoor racecar place here, which will be another daily request once he finds out it exists.  He’s been asking to go bowling too.  Maybe we will survive the cold season after all.

Time to check in on reading goals:

Goodreads: I have met my Goodreads goal of 55 books, currently at 65.  I read 73 books last year and only 68 in the rival year of 2012.

Pages: I have 3,741 pages of reading to go to rival my recorded 2012 record.  I need to read 935 pages a month to reach this. About 32 pages a day.  This is not counting that at the time of this post I am dutifully charging through The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.  I tell you now this would be unreachable without audio.

The categories still waiting to be filled in the Trifecta of Reading Challenges:

A book set in the middle east (BookRiot):  Thinking about Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Oracle of Stamboul or Guapa

A book guaranteed to bring you joy (Popsugar): probably The Alchemist

A book written by or about a transgender person (BookRiot):  probably Middlesex if I have the inclination to allow myself to be hypnotized by Jeffrey Eudenides

A biography (BookRiot):  Romantic Outlaws or Empire of the Summer Moon

A Food Memoir:  Yes, Chef or Book of Salt or The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink

A graphic novel/non superhero comic debuting in the last three years (Popsugar/BookRiot): Beautiful Darkness.   That took some research

A Book of Essays (BookRiot):  probably Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  I know.  How could I not have read this?

A Book of Poetry (Can’t remember):  possibles are Felicity by Mary Oliver, Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich, Good Poems collected by Garrison Keillor

Maybe a book I previously abandoned.  There is a book I should have read in school, but I nerdily read all my schoolbooks, but The Fountainhead was supposed to be read before I started ninth grade and what ninth grader makes it through The Fountainhead I have yet to meet.  I could revisit some books I read in school.  Trust me, though, I have other half read books swirling in my wake.  Like that time I thought I could get through Les Miserables with volunteer audio (Librivox is a great service, don’t get me wrong, but something like Les Mis needs a narrator who can go the distance with you) when I was on maternity leave and acting as a human feed sack for my son is beyond me.  I made it until a lengthy exposition about the current situation in France and knew I was defeated. I get ambitions and sometimes they so sadly fail.  My son gained four pounds in his second month of life and heavy classic novels are not what sustained me then.  I will post someday on the books that kept me going when I couldn’t read about all the fun things my friends were doing on Facebook anymore.  And when I might have lectured my son at six weeks old on how pooping is for daytime, not nighttime.  That really may have happened.

And if you have made it this far into the post you deserve to know I am reading and writing about Halloween themed books this year for the five Sundays of October.

How are others coming along?  Any other suggestions for my as yet untackled categories?

comments/likes are loved.

Reading Challenge: Classic Shorts

BookRiot, Popsugar and Modern Mrs. Darcy have really helped me shape my summer reading.  And it needs shape, because with all the books that are released in the summer, not to mention a hefty box of books from my birthday, prioritizing and finding ways to shape my reading into compelling blog posts would be more challenging without them.

This blog was scheduled ahead of time as yesterday I competed in my first triathlon.  It is just a sprint and I just want to finish to say that I am a triathlete.  By the time this posts I will be 24 hours into on the other side of the crippling anxiety that has been making its home in my stomach for weeks.

I digress. I could digress so much. Training has been almost as much a focus of my life as parenting, work, and, of course, reading for the past two months.  So shorts to get through my challenges have been ideal.  All three lists this year featured short books (although I am counting the short books toward other categories than merely that they are short), and I agree that they definitely have their place among the more hefty tones considered classics.

A Nonfiction Book about Feminism/Feminist Themes (BookRiot):

A Room of One's Own (Lions Gate Classics Book 1) by [Woolf, Virginia]

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Many sources have recommended this series of lectures that she gave on women and writing in October 1928.  I was slow to pick it up because of it’s most famous quote about a woman needing money and a room of her own to write, which somehow I found annoying at the outset but less so as this statement was more thoroughly justified.

As a modern woman with money of my own and a room to write in, I agree with these on the surface.  But what was more interesting to me as the lectures continued was that she argues in the end for androgyny in writing.  She wants female and male writers to be both and explore all relationships between people, not just the world of straight men and their relationships or even only the heterosexual relationships between women.

This is particularly ahead of its’ time.  I am aware that the 1920’s in the United States were a time when women were able to do things previously only allotted to men, so in that sense the work is timely, but really the push for androgyny in Psychology was not made popular until the 1970’s with Sandra Bem. I read Bem’s works because I explored sex role and its relation to depression in my dissertation. Woolf was ahead of her time in suggesting that writing should come from both gender perspectives and not only that women need more independence, flexibility in sex role and liberation to be able to represent their lives and concerns in literature.  I liked this a lot more than I expected to.  I spent a Sunday afternoon/evening listening and reading it and ate it alive.

 A Science Fiction book (Popsugar):


The Time Machine, HG Wells

I like HG Wells for a short dose of culture founding, oft referenced classic literature. This story hurtled HG Wells into science fiction fame. And for my own writing he might be good for a spinoff. This book also makes commentary on social strata and idyllic societies.  Being only a four hour listen and about 112 pages long, it gives a window into the time and world of HG Wells as well as being typical of the science fiction writing of the day. It’s one of those reads that does not take much of your time but makes many more references make sense.

A Book Under 100 Pages (BookRiot):

the art of war.jpg

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

This was harder to find than one would think.  Every time I thought I had a short lined up, I would find that most editions were really a little over 100 pages (like The Time Machine, or Julie Otsuka’s Buddha in the Attic which was discounted recently and I have been jonesin for an excuse to read) or then I was like, does this really count as more of a short story instead? I love how audible has a channel of short classics now. I feel like they don’t count as books.

But what a good time to get through The Art of War.  At 72 pages, this is all pretty common sense stuff about war, but what we know about common sense stuff is it is not always as common as it may seem.  It’s about how to win war with the least possible strain to the victor, like waging war for short periods of time and understanding your enemy.  I am really excited that I did not marry the guy who told me that it was a helpful guide to successful relationships. I am fine if my husband knows my weaknesses but clearly I don’t need them exploited.  I listened to this during a morning walk.

Next week will be my stats for the first two thirds of my 2016 reading! And then it is time to resist the inevitability of Fall.  More reading challenge progress also on the way.

Comments/questions/shares are always appreciated.


Reading Challenge: Death and Mayhem

August is already slipping away.

I feel like I should explain the featured image in contrast to this entry’s title.  Tomatoes say August to me.  Death and mayhem…not necessarily.  But maybe Death and Mayhem will pull in some people, and then maybe others will be like “oh that’s a seasonally relevant picture, what’s all this about death and mayhem?  Wow!  I just can’t stop reading this blog about books that lured me in with pictures of almost ripe tomatoes!”

Summer has always been a good time for me to make real progress with my reading for the year because I have two hour car rides to spend the weekend with my parents.  A portable DVD player and a nap-timed drive have helped to make these possible.

In both of my list dingers this week people die!  The weather is intense and people go to extremes.  Setting plays an active role and the stakes are high.

Popsugar wanted a book that takes place during the summer. It seems that the summer stories that I was combing were coming of age.  I was not in the mood of coming of age stories.  I chose a “summer that changed everything” story but not as in a child sliding into maturity. I have eyed this book for awhile and then I was thrilled to find I had an excuse to read it this year.  And it was on sale for awhile:

frog music.jpg

Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

I did not know this book was a reconstruction of true historical events until I got to the notes at the end.  (I knew that right at the get go with Burial Rites by Hannah Kent). Through the book I loved the characters, especially the murder victim Jenny Bonnet, and how she went through the world and then her slowly evolving backstory.  I loved how the main character Blanche changes as a result of her relationship with Jenny.  Blanche is already powerful in her way when the story starts and then finds a new kind of power through her first real friendship with Jenny. I did not know these had been real people with real misfortunes, the history that makes Jenny who she is actually was a real person’s history.  Everyone is living on the edge of starvation and disaster, and then there is Jenny, who meets disaster early on.

Donoghue masters setting and context to make this historical reconstruction really something special.  It is a hot summer in the middle of a smallpox outbreak in an 1800s melting pot San Francisco with different ethnicities than New York boasted:  Chinese and Mexicans rather than Italians and Jews and the Irish wrestling one another for a decent footing in the world.  I love stories in early New York City, that fight to survive in this wholly new and dirty city.

And one more bit for this gripping story: Donoghue did her research about the effects of early neglect on a baby. I have worked with children with this early burden of damage and she knew how to write a child raised in absolute neglect and how the child can make a turn around with the appropriate human contact.  I was just as gripped with how the baby would grow as I was about the changes in Blanche, or the story behind Jenny, or the relationship between her lover Arthur and his companion Ernest.  This book was intense, absorbing, and surprising.  I loved it as a reconstructed historical mystery.

Not sure I am going to read Room, her more famous work.  That seems in no way relaxing. Frog Music was not exactly relaxing but I like a story to engage me on a stage that I can’t quite as closely relate to.  I can understand the intensity of living on the brink of destruction in a hot and ill city full of minorities intellectually and it piques my intellectual curiosity.  A child escaping a room that is all he knows…I don’t know.  My smarts can’t necessarily spirit me through the parts that may be too difficult for my heart on that one.

BookRiot wanted a horror book.  It was actually the first thing that they wanted!

I like Ania Ahlborn, a self pub horror artist who makes my breath catch in my throat, but I had this one on audio and that seems to make anything win lately.  I have not read Within These Walls of hers yet. For my horror pick:

the shining.jpg

The Shining, Stephen King

This is my third King novel.  It reminded me a lot of It, which is not a bad thing. It was more interesting to me than scary, however, I am not sure I am going to watch the movie.  Mayhaps I am being too bold here.

King is adept at spinning out the vulnerabilities of his characters to make them susceptible to the events of his horror plots.  A man struggling with a recovery from a disastrous addiction (although what addiction isn’t really disastrous?), a precocious child with a gift that neither he nor his parents understand and that also fuels the supernatural fires, a wife that wants to make things work for her family.  An isolation that was originally intended to be healing after the family’s rending recent history in a place with a checkered history.  Of course those are a lot of brinks to teeter on.  It is not just about the events of the horror, it is how it acts upon who these characters are.  I was interested in the psychology of the father and son more than I was about trying to figure out why the hotel seemed to want them and how it was going to get them.

I think about King writing in his tub and tapping his cigarette ashes in the toilet as he barfed out his prolifically creative guts as I read the people and the scenarios he paints. I am thinking about reading something of his that could feel different from It and The Shining and Carrie.  Maybe The Stand, or The Green Mile.   I am open to suggestions from anyone who knows a bulk of his work.  Also, interested to know how Doctor Sleep might serve as a sequel to The Shining.

So everyone is dying to be in my reading challenge this time.  And I got a great shot of tomatoes that grew unintended from my throwing rotted vegetables outside rather than in the trash.

Recommendations for another King (I have Misery, too, come to think of it).

Comments/questions/likes/shares are always welcome!!!

Reading Challenge: The Famous Weigh In

And a two-fer!

Popsugar’s list this year seemed to be more focused on more popular reading than the classics:  A book written by a celebrity and one written by a comedian, neither of which I would read otherwise.  I seem to be more into reading about new cultures and parts of the world than popular reading.

I really struggle to care about celebrities and I did not want to read memoirs about the privileged. I really had to root through Goodreads to find a book that I might possibly care anything about.  My father and sister love old school Hollywood and I have had some exposure to that, so I listened to

dropped names

Dropped Names, Frank Langella

The pinnacle highs and the rock bottom lows of the Hollywood existence. It is about individual celebrities but there is the same trajectory for all of them: amazing talent and then a devastating drop into loneliness and obscurity.  People being mocked by others in the industry that they themselves used to rule. These huge and glamorous lives share everyone’s loneliness and basic humanity underneath it all.  I have not coveted the life of a celebrity since I left elementary school and I am good with my obscurity.  Awesome with my common life, in fact.

I really had to push to get through this.  I put the Audible book on  a faster speed.  This would be great for someone who really likes the background stories of the famous, and not become depressed or bogged down by the details.  Langella is honest and a good writer.  Just because this was really not my cup of tea does not mean that it was not well done.

A book written by a comedian was a somewhat easier sell.  I can’t tell you that I don’t have Yes,Please and Bossypants in my kindle files, but they come more highly recommended from my friends than most other celebrity works.   But I listened to the one that also won and Audie Award, which was a criteria from the BookRiot list so I killed two birds with one stone.  My two-fer:

still foolin em.jpg

Still Foolin’ Em, Billy Crystal

I did infinitely better with this one, despite the fact that I am pretty neutral about Billy.  I liked this more because to me it was so much more heartfelt and human.  Billy is spending his life pursuing his creativity, of course, but he is a family man at heart.  He has loved the same woman since he was 18 years old and he is closing in on 70.  No stormy and meaningless affairs but a wife and two girls who he was there for and is now there for at least four grandchildren.  He is open about his wounds from his grief over those he loved.  He loves baseball and does not take for granted that he has gotten to know and live some childhood dreams that he had with baseball.  He is humble and clear that he has taken advantage of rare opportunities. He writes about the panic he experienced with family in Manhattan on the day of September 11.  He writes about what giving away treasured daughters in marriage is like. He is open and matter of fact about the discrimination that he has faced as a Jew, but also makes fun of Judaism. I mean, it is interesting to hear about the joy of getting to be on Johnny Carson, but I can relate to the family and the grief and the poking fun at one’s own traditions much more.

This probably won the Audie because of course he performs it himself, and starts every section with a comedy routine that discusses the era of life from which he will spin his next few chapters of life story.  He is funny, poignant, and performing, and then he is just real.

The heartening aspect of this book kept me much more engaged and I should probably watch When Harry Met Sally again, now that I know the story about how it came to be.  I watched it once when I was fifteen and completely disillusioned about love, which really can happen at fifteen.  I think it’s actually more likely at fifteen because I would like to think I understand a smidge more about human relationships now than I did then.  I hope I can enjoy it more this time.

So, I like the hopeful human stories more than the glamour and the height of genius, talent and creativity. I guess I can get through it when a celebrity has human and loving stories, not just the fame.

Am I alone in this?

Comments/shares/likes are always welcome!






Reading Challenge: Dystopias


I have dedicated the month of August to marking progress on any and all relevant reading challenges.  I read Station Eleven for a post apocalyptic book last year and wow. I loved it and I know that I am not alone.  I loved people keeping art alive to enlighten those left, I loved the story of the comic writer who was married to a famous actor for a time.

This year both Popsugar and BookRiot wanted dystopian novels and I want to say I read two different ones to really take these challenges to another ;level, but really, I liked the pretty dresses on the covers of the series I read.  I boasted a few weeks ago on an article I shared regarding the purpose behind Elena Ferrante’s abysmal book covers that I don’t read books with high heels or martini glasses or purses or shopping bags on the cover, but I don’t seem to be so immune to ball gowns.  And I would rather drink martinis and go shopping than be a princess, so this makes even less sense.

For the first dystopian choice:

the iron heel

The Iron Heel, Jack London

I have read 1984 and Brave New World already, and I wanted to read the first modern dystopia.  But you know, it was about a communist revolution if it had happened in America around WWI-1920’s more than I would consider it a dystopia like one of those or like Hunger Games or Red Queen. The dystopia is how I imagine America really was at that point in history, despite the fact that it was not intentionally created to be a few living rich on the backs of many oppressed. Our government was formed originally with the intent of having as little government as possible, and capitalism just is that way, although in theory it offers everyone the same opportunity to ascend whereas the other dystopian novels I have read suggest that people do not have a way to move up in the world.  I mean, I say in theory anyone can ascend in capitalism, as I am aware of all the other forces at play to keep some with particular immutable disadvantages from really rising.  Anyway, I was surprised this was considered that when it seems more of a treatise on communism. I don’t think it is a spoiler to share with you that the actual Iron Heel in the book is capitalism. It was okay, it was a good read to have as the basis for others. If I have to read another non YA dystopia I am thinking of reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin as that is another one that shows up in the little Amazon spend more money cluster that they put on the book webpages.

So, if The Iron Heel was my dose of history, my dystopian guilty pleasure quickly followed on the heels of The Iron Heel (haha):

the selection


The Selection Series, Kiera Cass

This is more what I expected out of a dystopia.  It is like Red Queen and Hunger Games in that people are born into castes where they are supposed to stay and then the girls break out. In the previous two books, the girls find a way up by being awesome, and in this one, they find a way up by being selected as a possible bride for the prince.  Not as kick ass feminism and hard core revolution as the other two.  The plot is slower, the conflicts are less intense, there is theoretically a lot at stake (ruling a country!) but the main character is not sure how much she really wants to be a princess or if she is up to it through most of the first three.  I only read the first three of the five because the other two are about the next princess and I don’t care about her right now.  I was only going to read the first of this trilogy but then I got invested.  Even though I was pretty sure I knew how it would turn out. And it was good for my burnt brain even though even my burnt brain wanted a big chunk of action to be spread out longer than the last twenty percent of the last book. I could have done with a little more girl on girl drama, although I know that the author probably didn’t want a lot of mean girl unhealthy stuff going on in a YA book.  Young girls often don’t want to read about that or they don’t need it as a model, and finding oneself is a healthier theme for girls reading princess books rather than conquering bitches. Probably also because once you find yourself bitches lose their power over you.

This was not a bad book, it just depends on what you want when you are reading.  Do you want the love story and the emotional journeys of the characters as the foreground, or do you want the revolution and bad assery and intense plotting and people dying in the foreground?  If you want the emotional stuff more then this would be fitting.  In all three series I am talking about here young girls are finding themselves, and reconciling how to manage real leadership positions. I am glad these kinds of books are selling to young girls. Lure you in with royalty and ball gowns and then read about girls finding and using their many assets for the good of many.

As a note about dystopias, I read them more than I intend to. I think I don’t want them and then I do because now I am really feeling a hole about not having read Ally Condie’s Matched series.  I think that it is similar to the Selection series.  That I just kind of bashed.  I don’t make any sense.

Like this? Share/comment/like!

More reading challenge posts on their way for the month of August.