Tag: reading challenges

2018: An overview of my year in reading

It is almost time to see the back of 2018 and the end cannot come too soon. If only I could have faith that 2019 will be better, but at long as it’s not worse I suppose we’re ahead of the game. Maybe.

The political year may have been full of not-great things, but my reading year was very rewarding. I read more books than I have in a very long time and I enjoyed a lot of them.

Challenges

I completed all my set challenges: PopSugar, Bookriot’s Read Harder, and Mt. TBR at the 24-book level. I enjoyed them for the most part. I was surprised at how few TBR books I read organically, since the only social media I participate in now for book talk is Goodreads, and I’m not nearly as active there as I used to be on blogs and Twitter. But I guess even a little bit of social reading is enough to get me to pick up plenty of shiny new books. On the plus side, that participation made fulfilling the non-TBR challenges easier. I had them both basically done by August.

Awards reading

I did a ton of longlist and shortlist reading this year, more than ever before. I read a number of books off the Tournament of Books longlist and shortlist in the winter. Then, in the summer I tackled the Booker Prize longlist, reading 12 of 13 despite having to order some of them from overseas. I really enjoyed reading them one after the other; unlike previous years I didn’t find it a burden as I went along. By the time the shortlist came out I only had a couple of them to go, which meant that the beginning of the school year didn’t derail me the way it often does.

I also read all the books on the Goldsmiths shortlist. That continues to be my favorite award and the one where I am most likely to find novels that are personally rewarding. There are also always new-to-me authors, and this year I discovered and loved Gabriel Josipovici and Will Eaves.

I read a handful of the Giller Prize longlist, with some of the books making it to the shortlist. As usual, I found a buried treasure: Our Homesick Songs, which didn’t make the shortlist but which was a lovely story about a fading culture in eastern Canada and how its inhabitants cope with the changes. I still have a couple of books in the TBR and look forward to reading them in 2019.

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2018 Reading Challenges

Stack of books and ereader

The year isn’t quite over, but I’m done with all my reading challenges except one, so I might as well report the results. I took on three challenges this year. I did the PopSugar and Mt. TBR challenges for the third year in a row and the Bookriot Read Harder challenge for the first time. In addition, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of all my reading for the year. 

2018 PopSugar Challenge

I did the main and the “advanced” challenges for a total of 50 books. I completed all but one of the categories by August, and I only sort-of cheated on one to get there: “A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place.” Readers, I looked and looked, on planes, trains, buses, park benches, you name it. But either I couldn’t see the book title or it was a book that I would rather stab myself with a fork than read. (No, I am not going to read The Shack.) I turned in despair to the Goodreads group and found that people were fulfilling the prompt via photos of people reading books. Success! 

My only unfinished prompt was “A microhistory.” As a social scientist who does a lot of historical work, I’m familiar with this term. However, the way reading challenges define microhistory is weird and inaccurate. Both Bookriot and PopSugar consider books like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, i.e., books about a single commodity, to be microhistories. They aren’t. A microhistory is a study of a person, event, or locality that is not “important” but which sheds light on larger processes and trends. In other words, it’s anti-famous-person, anti-global, anti-sweeping. But don’t tell the PopSugar and Bookriot people that. As far as they’re concerned, Empire of Cotton fits the category despite having “empire” and “global” in the title. 

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Taming the Harlequin TBR

Harlequin logo

Downloading my purchased Harlequins made me nostalgic for the days when I read a lot of categories and there were multiple online venues to talk about them with like-minded reader friends. Sadly, there aren’t as many anymore (either Harlequins I want to read or venues I want to hang out at). BUT! I have hundreds of them in my TBR, and now they’re reminding me of their presence. So I have hatched a plan to read them. 

My main reading device is a Kobo Aura H2O 2, and I like it very much. I like Kobo’s e-bookstore, I like being able to sync my library books to it, and for the most part I like the larger screen. But I still had my Nook Glowlight Plus in a drawer, and it’s a great travel ereader because it’s smaller and the cover doesn’t bulk it up too much. It occurred to me: why not charge it up and transfer all my Harlequins to it? So I did.

I deleted the books that I could immediately identify as ones I had read, which got me down to about 550.* I’m sure there are at least another 50 that will turn out to be familiar, probably more. Which still leaves me with so many books. And how do I choose the next one? 

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Spring (ha!) update

Spring is supposedly here, but there is snow on the ground and the temperature is below freezing. In April! This is so, so wrong.

It’s been ages since I posted here. Work has been very busy, and whatever writing I’ve accomplished has been in other venues, mostly work-related. I’ve been reading a lot, though, which has been greatly facilitated by staying off the internet in general and social media in particular.

My January plans included multiple reading challenges, Muriel Spark readalongs, autobuy romance authors, and manga. How am I doing?

Reading challenges: These are going well. I followed the Tournament of Books again this year, reading more than half the shortlist. I was happy to see Fever Dream take it all, especially since it beat Lincoln in the Bardo in the finals, but a lot of other books I thought were excellent were taken down, sometimes in early rounds with judgments I totally disagreed with. Which is par for the course, honestly: the TOB longlist is one I always look forward to, but the shortlist and tournament decisions are rarely in sync with my preferences. I did read some very good books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, though, and I think everyone should read White Tears and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

My Muriel Spark readalong started well but then got overtaken by TOB reading and library-hold books. I really enjoyed what I did read, though, so I plan to get back to her novels. Mid-century women authors deserve a lot more attention than they get. The intelligence, insight, and acerbity they provide are hard to find elsewhere in one package.

I haven’t been reading romance much. Mysteries have filled in the comfort-read slot for the moment. I’ve reread a few  early John Le Carré novels, as planned, a Dick Francis, the first Martin Beck mystery, and the first in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. Hard as it is to admit, I think I’m just burned out on the romance genre. The new books and authors aren’t working for me (I’ve DNF’d quite a few highly regarded romances across different subgenres) and even my beloved autobuys aren’t doing the trick. It’s OK, it’s happened before when the zeitgeist and I were on non-overlapping tracks. I’ll come back. In the meantime, though, I don’t have much to say in or about Romanceland.

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More 2017 reading highlights and reading plans for 2018

Happy New Year!

After I posted on my 2017 year in reading and then continued to talk about books on Twitter, I realized that my abundance of good books meant that the 17 I listed needed to be augmented. I thought about it when I was compiling the original list, but as I said to Liz, I’d be up to 30 if I didn’t stop myself. But then I thought, so what? It’s my list, it’s about what I enjoyed and what I wanted to tell people were really good books. So here are a few more:

  • I listened to the audiobook of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I had not read in many years. Anna Massey is the narrator and she is superb. Highly recommended.
  • I continued on my yearly read of Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo series. This year was the 3rd novel, Race of Scorpions.
  • I read the novelette award shortlist nominees (except one) for the 2017 Hugos. Ursula Vernon’s entry was a worthy winner, but they were all very good.
  • I read two books on the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize shortlist and enjoyed them both immensely: The Threat Level is Severe by Rowena Macdonald and Man With A Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige. They are from small presses by authors I’d never heard of before. But I’ll certainly be watching both the authors and their publishers now.
  • Thanks to the PopSugar Challenge’s occasionally quirky categories, I finally read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Uncommon Reader, and Lady Susan. All three were terrific. I also reread, after many years, Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings, which was as good as I remembered it to be.
  • In other rereads, I returned to Dick Francis, Colin Dexter, and John le Carré (the last in preparation for reading his newest) and was reminded again at how good they are, book in and book out. They are absolutely products of their time and their treatments of women and non-white characters occasionally made me wince, but the quality of their plots, characters, and prose overrode the negatives.
  • Two of the Tournament of Books summer challenge selections were books I would never have picked up because they were outside my usual wheelhouse, but they were well worth reading: Dan Chaon’s Ill Will and Samantha Schweblin’s Fever Dream.
  • Janine and Kaetrin’s joint review of Mary Balogh’s Someone to Wed piqued my interest, and my hold finally came in after a few weeks. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it; I had tired of Balogh after reading so many of her books, but it’s been a couple of years and it was great to revisit her style and characters again. There’s a reason there were 90 holds on 30 copies at my library.
  • I had a great time participating in Willaful’s #DecktheHarlequin challenge in December. I read ten books in total, four of them regular ebooks and six Harlequin comics.

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My 2017 Year in Reading: Highs, Lows, and Discoveries

I like to wait until the last possible minute to write a yearly roundup post, mostly as a way of justifying my procrastination, but also because I’m reading up to the last day and who knows what I’ll find? I’ll finish a book today, probably, but we can call the year done for all intents and purposes. So how was it?

Overall, despite the horribleness of the public year, my personal year was pretty good, especially on the reading front. Here, in no particular order, are my highlights, lowlights, and new discoveries.

HIGHS:

  • I found my reading mojo and read a lot of great books across a diverse set of categories. I discovered that the less I was online, the more I was reading and the better my concentration was. This meant I didn’t only seek refuge in comfort reads but also stretched myself with my reading choices. And it never felt like work. Reading for discovery is more important to me than reading for recognition, and when I’m out of balance I don’t get enough of what I want and need out of it.
  •  I completed two reading challenges and read more books than I have in ages. I finished the PopSugar Reading Challenge a month early (as opposed to the previous two years, where I either didn’t finish or had to fudge categories to finish). I completed the second tier of the Mount TBR Challenge (36 books), as opposed to last year where I completed the first tier of 24 books. And I read 103 books across all categories (text v. audio, regular novels v. manga/comics, different lengths of fiction, poetry).
  • I bought a new ereader and made Kobo my main ebook retailer. I linked my account to my favorite St. Louis independent bookstore (a wonderful store that is a terrific community resource) so I give them back a little with each purchase.
  • Reading various book awards longlists led me to vibrant discussions on Goodreads, so I reactivated my dormant account. And as a result I also found category romance readers and old friends. So when Twitter is dominated by talk about books I won’t ever read, I hop on over to Goodreads and get a whole different set of recommendations.

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Bookish check-in

Much has been happening, including reading, but not including blogging. Time to rectify that, so here are some random updates:

E-reading: I broke down and got a new ereader last week, a Kobo Aura H2O Edition 2. That is an even worse name than Nook Glowlight Plus, but I will give it a pass because the reader itself is terrific. I’ve been using Kobo as my ebook store more and more over the past few months and it still offers a Blackberry app, so I’d been syncing across my phone, tablet, and computer. And my Glowlight was starting to get a bit glitchy. The great thing about the Kobo is that it’s a 6.8″ screen in a form factor that is only slightly larger than the Nook. The larger screen size lets me read pdfs! This is very exciting, since I still occasionally get a book in pdf form that doesn’t want to convert nicely to epub. And while the Kobo store is sometimes more expensive than Amazon, they have a price match feature (difference + 10% of the lower price) and I’ve taken advantage of that.

Goodreads & LibraryThing: Readers, I updated my lurker account at Goodreads. I know I said I’d never go back, and I’m staying far, far away from the romance, YA, and m/m communities, but there are a bunch of people reading general and literary fiction who don’t kerfuffle and say interesting things. Not that interesting things aren’t said in the rom community, I still lurk there, but once bitten etc. Anyway, if you have a GR account you can find me under sunita_p and I’m writing brief notes on books as I finish them. I’m not commenting much but I’m there. And I’m still at LibraryThing (also as sunita_p). I like their cataloguing system and interface a lot, they just don’t have much conversation.

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Recent reading: award nominees and challenge choices

September is always a super-busy month for me but I’ve managed to keep reading. In addition to the Booker shortlist in the first half of the month, the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist was announced last week. The Goldsmiths is given to a novel written by a UK or Irish author which is “genuinely novel and which embodies the sprit of invention that characterises the genre at its best.” There is frequently overlap with the Booker but not always, and usually not much. The six nominees are:

  • H(A)ppy by Nicola Barker
  • A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
  • Playing Possum by Kevin Davey
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon MacGregor
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley
  • Phone by Will Self

I’d heard of 4 of the 6 and was thrilled to see the MacGregor on the list. Like many readers, I’d never heard of Playing Possum, which is published by the wonderfully named Aaargh! Press. The Barker and the Baume had been on my radar, and I’ve been meaning to read a Will Self novel. I’ve managed to pick up half the list through the library and will order the Barker for sure.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a bit more of the Booker list and other award-nominee novels, along with some lighter and more comfort-oriented fare.

History of Wolves coverA History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I bounced off the description because it sounded like another MFA-influenced novel about retrospective looks at teenage girls. But after it made the Booker shortlist and I read quite a few positive and convincing reviews and comments, I decided to try it. It didn’t start well; I had to force myself to keep reading through the first third of this novel. The writing felt overly self-conscious and I wasn’t convinced that it was in character. There are two storylines, one involving Maddie/Linda’s schoolmate and a teacher, the other involving a mother and child who come to live near Linda in the woods. The two parts don’t cohere and it’s not clear where anything is going. But then Leo, the father, shows up, and things start to fall into place.

The book is about so many things, too many really, because Fridlund can’t quite bring everything together. But the themes are important and her approach to them is unusual. The teacher-student relationship, the role of religion in Leo and Patra and Paul’s lives, Linda’s relationship with her parents, all of these are written beautifully and the twists and turns in each storyline are unexpected. (more…)

Booker longlist reading: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s novel marks his second recognition by the Man Booker committee; The Reluctant Fundamentalist made it to the shortlist and while it didn’t win, it won a slew of other prizes. I had very conflicted feelings about that book. Stylistically it was impressive, but substantively it fell short in a number of ways for me. I hadn’t planned to read this one (I skipped the book he wrote in between, which was also well-reviewed), but as I said before, it kept staring at me from the New Fiction shelf and I read a couple of interesting exchanges about it on blogs and at Goodreads.

I started out thinking I’d read 40 or 50 pages and see how I felt about it, and I finished it within the day. Teresa’s review does an excellent job of capturing many of the novel’s strengths, so I’ll direct you to her Shelf Love blog for an overview. If you want a formal review, this one in the Sunday NYT Book Review by Viet Thanh Nguyen is absolutely brilliant.

I loved the way Hamid made the settings both specific and general. Knowing he was from Lahore, I assumed from the opening chapters that the novel was set in Pakistan, but then when the civil war intensifies the setting feels more like what we’ve seen happening in Syria over the last few years. The gradual breakdown of civilian life and the need to get out is captured vividly, even though his style in rendering scenes of loss and horror is often matter-of-fact:

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Reading the Man Booker longlist

I know, I’m surprised too. I’ve followed the Booker Prize awards for decades, and I’ve read quite a few of the winners and nominees, but until a couple of years ago it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to read the long and shortlist nominees in real time. But I’ve really enjoyed Liz McC’s and Rosario’s posts on their reading experiences, as well as a few other readers I learned about. Last year I bought a number of the books but of course failed to read most of them before the prize announcement in October (I’d only read the eventual winner, which I loved and admired almost unreservedly).

This year, since I’ve been reading a lot this summer and following various litfic conversations and challenges, a number of the books were familiar to me and/or ones I’d been considering reading. I sincerely doubt I could read all of them by the time the shortlist is announced in early September, but here’s the full list and how they stack up in terms of my interests:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster. This was available at the library so I picked it up, but it’s 800+ pages of bildungsroman and seems to be based on the author’s life. I’m already in the middle of two 700+ page books about Men of Privilege and they are more interesting to me than the premise of Auster’s novel, so I doubt I’ll get to this one.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. I’m a sucker for dark literary westerns, so I almost bought this at the beginning of the summer. And it’s not long! It’s definitely on the must-read list.

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