Posted on October 9, 2017

2017 – A Year of Rediscovering My Love of Reading

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I am a reader. I love books — their feel, their smell, the way they’re able to take you somewhere completely different in a matter of moments. I am also typically quite content to be on a constant re-read of the Harry Potter series with a few other books tossed in occasionally. This year, however, I decided that I wanted to read more widely, get out of my Potter-lovin’ comfort zone, and jump into other worlds for a while.

Towards the end of last year, I started to see 2017 reading challenges floating around on various websites. I looked at many of them but I wasn’t immediately drawn to all of the categories in one singular challenge or all of the specific slants the creators took. Instead, my partner and I compiled our own mish-mash of categories to create our own challenges for the year.

My list of 30 categories plus my selections this year are as follows:

  • Read a script
    • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling
      • Brief Review: If you’ve seen the movie, there isn’t much difference between this and what is in the filmed version. Prior to reading, I was hopeful that there were some “deleted scenes” in the printed format that didn’t make it to the film. Alas… no. Regardless, it was a fun way to revisit the film since I could picture what was happening pretty clearly in my mind.
  • Read a book with nonhuman characters
    • The Bees: A Novel by Laline Paull
      • Brief Review: I enjoyed this book overall, though there were moments when it felt a bit long. I would describe this book as somewhat a cross between Watership Down and The Handmaid’s Tale … but with bees. If you’re looking for something out of the norm, this is a good option.
  • Read a biography/memoir
    • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
      • Brief Review: This one was recommended to me by a friend. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book but found it feeling a bit too long after a while. Admittedly, I have not read many memoirs, so I’m not sure if this is because of the writing itself or that I sometimes lose patience with this genre.
  • Read a book by a woman under twenty-five years old
    • P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
      • Brief Review: I was initially concerned about reading this because I sobbed through almost every scene of the movie the first time I saw it. I love Ahern’s style of writing, however. It’s accessible, vivid, and tugs at your heartstrings at all the right times. I’m looking forward to reading some of her other novels.
  • Read a book of essays
    • The Meaning of Michelle edited by Veronica Chambers
      • Brief Review: I am a huge Michelle fan, so I was excited about this collection. The book, however, left some to be desired. I’m not entirely sure what I expected but it wasn’t as I had hoped it would be. Some of the pieces were fantastically written homages to our former First Lady, while others fell a bit flat.
  • Read a book about an indigenous culture
    • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
      • Brief Review: This was another one that leaves you feeling mostly sad by the end of it. I wasn’t expecting the story to be as heavy as it was based on the cover art, title, etc but it’s an incredibly worthwhile read.
  • Read a book before you see the movie
    • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (though I still haven’t seen the movie!)
      • Brief Review: I think I missed something when it comes to this book. This was (and possibly still is) a pretty popular book, touted as being very suspenseful. I’m not entirely sure I felt the suspense. It was hard for me to get into initially and even more challenging to connect with the constant binge drinking of the main character. I also wonder if my vague memories of the movie trailer are clouding my interpretation of the book. I still haven’t watched it yet but I’m looking forward to comparing the two.
  • Read a YA book by an author of color
    • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
      • Brief Review: I can’t love this book more than I do. Seriously. Go get a copy right now. And then get a copy for every other human you know. It’s fantastic. I laughed (hello Harry Potter references!), I got angry, and I sobbed. This book is relevant, eye-opening, and so well done. If you haven’t read it yet, you are definitely missing out!
  • Read a book set in the Middle East
    • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
      • Brief Review: This was the first of two Hosseini books I read for this challenge. His writing is incredible. He has a way of crafting a story that is beautiful and enjoyable while also educational. I learned so much about this period of history.
  • Read a graphic novel written by a woman
    • Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
      • Brief Review: As a graphic novel, this is a pretty quick read, but it’s a beautiful one. I didn’t expect to cry, but I certainly did. The art and story are both lovely. I haven’t yet seen the film, but I’m looking forward to it.
  • Read a book about an immigrant or refugee to the US
    • The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez
      • Brief Review: If you’re looking for a book to leave you feeling overwhelmingly sad at the end, then this is the novel for you. A look into the experiences of immigrants in the United States, their hopes, struggles, etc etc., it is incredibly well written but also incredibly heart-wrenching. Highly recommended.
  • Re-read a book from your childhood
    • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Loius Sachar
      • Brief Review: As a child, I remember pouring through this book over and over and over. I loved it. The stories are cute, imaginative, and bound to delight young readers. Definitely one to pick up and read with your favorite youngster!
  • Read a memoir by someone who identifies as LGBTQIA
    • Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
      • Brief Review: As someone who identifies somewhere on this spectrum, I wanted to select something that would be completely new for me. I have such a profound respect for Janet Mock after reading this book. Go into it with an open mind and you are bound to learn a thing or two.
  • Read a work of post-apocalyptic fiction written by a woman
    • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
      • Brief Review: Atwood is one of my favorite authors, but I had a hard time getting into this one. In large part, I think I just had a difficult time figuring out the changes in timeline, characters with shifting names, etc. However, the last 1/4 of the book was SO good it made me want to continue with the next book in the MaddAddam series (after my challenge is complete!).
  • Read the first book in a new (to you) series
    • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
      • Brief Review: This was the first book I read this year. I liked the story overall but not enough to be interested in the remaining books in the series. I connected most with the protagonist but (from what I can tell) the remaining books focus on other characters.
  • Read a translated book
    • The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser
      • Brief Review: This was a fun read. I love when authors incorporate bits of well-known stories in inventive and imaginative ways. It kept me guessing until the end. I am also glad that (at least at the time of this writing) this YA book is a standalone story and not part of a series!
  • Read a book about non-western history
    • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
      • Brief Review: The second Hosseini book I read (and last book for my challenge!). I thoroughly enjoyed both books but this one is my favorite of the two. That feels like such an odd thing to say given the amount of violence in this book. This one focuses primarily on the lives of women in Afghanistan from the 80s-2000s. Definitely a worthwhile read.
  • Read a book set in Africa by an African author
    • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
      • Brief Review: I stretched my interpretation of this category since the author (who is African) lives in the US. But… it was a great read! The next book, Akata Warrior, is on my “to read” list for the upcoming year.
  • Read a best-seller from a genre you’ve never read
    • Timeline by Michael Crichton
      • Brief Review: I saw the movie version of this several years ago and remember thoroughly enjoy it. I did not, however, have the same feelings towards the book. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book (jumping between two time periods seems to be a favorite literary strategy of mine) but I can’t place my finger exactly on what it was that made this story in particular seem to drag a bit. Regardless, I’m interested in reading some of Crichton’s other works to see if I feel similarly.
  • Read a book that’s at least 75 years old
    • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
      • Brief Review: This book happened to be gifted to me by my brother and happily fit into a category for this year! As someone who knows ASL and interacts with the Deaf community, it was interesting to read a deaf character from an author who had no connection to deaf people. Though there were some definite inaccuracies, the novel was overall well done.
  • Read a book by someone who uses a pseudonym
    • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
      • Brief Review: I love JK Rowling’s books as Robert Galbraith. The books seem to escalate in gruesomeness as the series progresses. This one definitely had me squirming in my seat at certain points. I’m not sure if there are plans for a fourth book, but I’m hopeful that there will be! (The Cuckoo’s Calling is my favorite of the series so far.)
  • Read a book with a one-word title
    • Room by Emma Donoghue
      • Brief Review: This book was amazing. The book is told entirely from the perspective of a young child — something the author pulls off flawlessly. The story is sad, anxiety-provoking, and beautifully done. Read this. You won’t be sorry.
  • Read a book that came out the year you were born
    • Beloved by Toni Morrison
      • Brief Review: I really don’t know where to start with this one. Any Ravenclaw would be embarrassed to admit this but… I had to read the Spark Notes chapter synopses as I read along. Something about the writing was just not accessible to the way my brain happens to work.
  • Read a book about food or with food in the title
  • Read a book about women in war
  • Read a book from a Book Riot list
  • Read a feminist sci-fi novel
  • Read a book of letters
    • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
      • Brief Review: This book is so much fun! I can’t recommend it more. If you love words, language, books told through letters, etc etc, this is definitely for you. This is one of those books that left me in awe of people’s creativity and the care/craftsmanship required in pulling off a story of this sort.
  • Read a book set in two different time periods
    • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
      • Brief Review: When I first mentioned that I was reading this book to friends of mine, many swooned about how romantic it was. The book certainly has its moments but there were many, many times during which I wondered about the sanity of my friends. I’ll keep specific moments to myself so as not to ruin the story. Regardless, I loved reading the book (and being able to watch the Starz show shortly after!). Gabaldon’s writing is thorough, vivid, and exactly what an epic adventure like this needs.
  • Read a book by a person who has a mental illness
    • Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas
      • Brief Review: I was definitely riding the struggle bus when it came to reading this book. While Thomas’ information was interesting, and many of the anecdotes were as well, I had a hard time getting through the book itself. I personally have a hard time relating to egotistical/self-centered/etc people, and the author is very honest in describing herself as exactly that. I’m glad to have gained this insight into her life and condition but I’m unsure if it is something I would investigate further.

Thinking about the books I have read this year, I’ve come to a few conclusions about this challenge.

1. I love reading. Pure and simple. As I mentioned above, I love the physical act of reading. Turning the pages, inhaling the smells of old library books, cozying up in a nice spot with some tea. There’s just something about the act of taking time out of a busy day to commune with a book. I imagine that reading has a similar effect on me as meditation or prayer might for others. It’s relaxing, it’s emotional, it’s engaging.

2. I’ve learned more about the genre of books I enjoy. I was fairly confident in my love of young/new adult literature, fantasy, and suspense prior to this challenge but I’ve been able to add to this list by branching out into others. I don’t think ‘time travel’ counts as its own genre, but I definitely am fond of books that include some element of it. Reading Outlander also sparked more of an interest in historical fiction. I’ve always enjoyed stories that take place in centuries past, but have typically consumed those stories through film. I’m looking to add more books of this type to next year’s challenge! Speaking of that…

3. I’m looking forward to a less structured 2018 reading challenge. As much as I have loved this one, I’m considering a different approach for next year. Several times throughout the year I saw/purchased/added to my Goodreads ‘to read’ list/etc books that I thought looked interesting. However, since they didn’t fit into a specific category on my reading challenge, I had to put them on hold. For next year, I am thinking of creating a challenge that involves reading a certain number of books of similar type. For instance, 5 young adult novels, 5 historical fiction novels, 5 novels about cats, etc. (Maybe not the cat one…)

4. I’m motivated by checking off boxes/filling in the blanks. This doesn’t work for some, but I am highly motivated by the rewarding feeling of checking off a box on my to-do list. In this case, that meant filling in a category on my ‘to-read’ list. If I write something down, I am more likely to do it. So often I want to do something or accomplish something, but if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen. By creating this challenge, not only was I able to enjoy the book, I watched as I checked categories off of the list, which was pretty satisfying. (This is also why I am a fan of monthly habit trackers in my bullet journal!)

Update (12/8/17): I officially finished my reading challenge on November 26th. Admittedly, there were times this year that I didn’t think I would make it through all of my categories! Some of the books were harder to get through, though I suppose that is part of the fun of reading outside of my comfort zone! For the remainder of the year, I have decided that I will read nothing except YA fiction and/or the books that I’ve been “shelving for later” this year that didn’t fit into a category. So far, I’ve been enjoying the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer. I wouldn’t say that I have fallen in love with it as much as I did, for example, The Hate U Give, but it’s fun to see the creativity the author has in coming up with new twists on common fairy tales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, etc).

XO, Grace

 

Beginning early 2018!

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