Friday, January 1, 2016

It Was an Interesting Year in Books (Reading Challenge 2105)

What was I doing at midnight, you ask? Popping a bottle of bubbly? Celebrating the end of the old year and welcoming the new with friends? Why, no...I was snuggled in bed, finishing the last few pages of The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt to cap off my 2015 reading challenge!

I read a whopping 16 books this year, which I suppose I should be ashamed to admit, since it's such a low number. But it was a really interesting set of books, thanks to a couple of reading challenges I decided to take on this year. The first was a Monthly Motif challenge, which I sort of ending up dropping after a couple of months because I had become more interested in Book Riot's "Read Harder" challenge. The idea of the challenge was to
inspire you to pick up books that represent experiences and places and cultures that might be different from your own. We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try.
I don't know if I was as aggressive in pushing myself as I ought to have been, but I did read some books I definitely would not have read if not for the reading challenge. It was an experience I enjoyed, so much so that I plan to search out the 2016 "Read Harder" challenge and see about incorporating it into my reading plans for this coming year.

In the spirit of that challenge, I'm going to add a new category to my normal list: The Book That Pushed Me. For this category, the book needs to be one that is either not of a genre I normally read, one that is about a culture significantly different from my own, or one that challenges my perspective on things in a significant way. There could be several that meet this criterion for this year, including Looking for Alaska by John Green, which I took as a rather eye-opening look into popular teen culture (if not a realistic portrait of teen culture, at least a portrait of teen culture that is really  popular with teens). Beloved by Toni Morrison challenged me to acknowledge the complete disruption of "normal" life that slavery forced on African-Americans, and Anpao by Jamake Highwater was an interesting compilation of Native American worldview myths. But the winner in this category for 2014 was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, not just because it was an introduction to African culture, language, and mindset, but also because it made me consider the interaction between "foreign" cultures and colonial/"missionary" cultures. (That's a blog post that never got written... :/ It wasn't a very good year for blogging.)

Best Discovery - Strangely enough, the book I most enjoyed this year was Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. That may be in part because it had information about keelboats and steamboats that related directly to the time period in my own novels (another blog post that didn't get written), but I also had forgotten how funny Mark Twain can be. (He also made some racial remarks that would have been fodder for internet censure in today's environment...) I enjoyed the mix between his journalistic descriptions, his social commentary, and his personal stories. The story about the death of his brother in a steamboat explosion was understated but still packed some hefty emotional punch.

Saddest Disappointment - The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. One of my friends absolutely loves this book and has read it multiple times. This is a good example of how individual taste in books is. I couldn't see the appeal. I personally didn't like any of the four sisters enough to get emotionally invested in their story, and I thought Kingsolver dragged the story on way past where it needed to go. (I'm sorry I didn't like your favorite, Pat!)

Biggest Accomplishment - Although I didn't care for it (or maybe because of that...), I thought reading The Poisonwood Bible was my biggest reading accomplishment for the year. It was the longest book I read all year. I did have another big accomplishment during the year--I finished the first draft of my third novel - the whole manuscript was written in one year! If you knew the crazy number of things crammed in to my life, you would understand why I consider that my biggest accomplishment for 2015, ha ha ha!

Books I Thought Wouldn’t Be Much But Were Actually Good -  Honestly,I expected Life on the Mississippi to be dry, nineteenth-century writing that I needed to plow through to get background information for my novels. But I was wrong, really wrong. I actually laughed out loud several times. 

Favorite Historical Fiction - Because I was challenging myself to read outside my normal genre, I didn't read as much historical fiction as I normally do. This year, the only books I read that were strictly historical fiction were Nancy Dane's A Reasonable Doubt (about the Reconstruction period in the South) and The Poisonwood Bible, which comes out on top of another category, mainly because I didn't know anything at all about the history of Congo.

Biggest Reading Failure - One of the categories on the Read Harder challenge was to read a romance novel, so I thought I would make it interesting and read an Amish romance, since they are very popular and would be about another culture I'm not all that familiar with. I chose The Covenant by Beverly Lewis. Normally, I have a three-chapter rule; I make myself read three chapters before I decide not to read a book. Sad to say, I didn't make it that far in this book. During the prologue--the prologue--I decided I can't stand this book. Too much "telling," too many stereotypes. I put it away and moved on to something else, but then I decided maybe I wasn't being fair, so I tried again. This time I got through the first chapter and a half, but my reaction was the same. I can't stand this book. I may force myself to try one more time in the coming year, but ugh.

Favorite Classic - One thing I'm kind of proud of this year is that I read several books that could be considered "classics," such as Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's hard to say, but I guess The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein was my favorite read this year from the books that could be considered "classic." (And now my husband can be happy because I've finally read one of his favorite books!)

Favorite Love Story - I did go on a self-serving detour this summer in which I read both of my own novels, and of course, they were my favorite love stories, but to avoid being self-serving now, I'll say The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt was my favorite. I'll admit there were plenty of flaws in the story and that the love story wasn't really the main focus of the novel, but it was one of those love stories in which the couple is faced with all sorts of obstacles that you just know they will eventually overcome. I actually thought there was kind of an interesting layer to this novel that I might blog about sometime--I've seen several reviews that talk about Napier as being an "abusive" husband. I wonder, though, if the abuse is in the perspective we as the reader are given on his behavior. But those are musings for another time.

I'm happy to say I don't really have any nominees for the category of Books I Thought Would Be Amazing But Were Only So-So. Although everything on my list probably will be on the Once is Enough (Books I will probably never read again) list, I was well-satisfied with everything I read this year. I do want to acknowledge the books I read that didn't fit any of the categories above, because they are all worthy of reading:

  • Mama's Song by Gayle Jennings
  • Elements of Deception by Mary Schaffer
  • Joyland by Stephen King (I can't believe I actually read a Stephen King book, albeit a very mild one!)
  • 100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

Now I'm off to research the 2016 "Read Harder" challenge. I think I know what the first book on this year's list will be, though--I need to do my first complete read-through of that first draft of my WIP. And my daughter has suggested a book to me, so I might try to read it this weekend before she has to take it back to the school library. Oh, so many books, so little time......

1 comment:

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I used to read all of Victoria Holt's book and I had a lot of them on my shelves, I don't remember the one you mention off hand but it sounds familiar. I still have never read the Hobbit and it has been on our shelves since before Jeff lived with us a short time in college.