2016 Reading Challenge

2015 was a good reading year! My book club chose some excellent books, and while I didn’t hit every single one of the books I challenged myself to in this list, I got most of them–including some that I likely wouldn’t have read otherwise. And I did hit my book count–100 on the dot (unless I finish another one today)!

For 2016, I’m creating another list, too, but shorter this time, and I’m setting my reading goal at 60 instead of 100. The purpose of this is to read longer books that I’ve always intended to read but that I’ve passed over in favor of shorter books that I could finish sooner (and also meet my challenge). And some of my favorite books this year–specifically Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and The World According to Garp by John Irving–were long books worth savoring.

Among those 60 books, I want to read the following:

  1. A work by a Russian author
  2. A work by an African author
  3. A work by an Asian author
  4. A work by a Caribbean author
  5. A science fiction novel written by a woman
  6. An Arthur C. Clarke Award winner
  7. A book longer than 600 pages
  8. A book set in South Carolina
  9. A book set in a bookstore or library
  10. A book featuring a road trip
  11. A book about baseball
  12. A book set at a lighthouse
  13. A work of nonfiction about an event that occurred in my lifetime
  14. A work written by a woman under the age of 30
  15. A book set in New England

15 books–a manageable goal! I’m thinking of setting up some mini-challenges, too–like only reading books I own in one month (instead of buying new ones or checking them out at the library) or something like that, but I’ll decide on a case-by-case basis.

And soon, I’ll post an update of my favorites from 2015. On to 2016 and more books!

Book Challenges #9 & #33

More books for the challenge. I’ve completed 6 out of the 35 and read 11 books total this year so far!

stone mattressBook Challenge #9: A Short Story Collection

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, Margaret Atwood

This book was released last year, and I was thrilled to read a short story collection from Margaret Atwood. Until this, I had only read (and loved and respected) The Handmaid’s Tale (although I’m now over halfway through Oryx & Crake).

This collection is, for the most part, thematically addressing aging although in a wonderful variety of ways. The first three stories are interconnected, following a group of writers who lived and wrote together in the 1960s folk-era NYC. At some point, each character has to confront the role that those early years in New York played in who they became later. It felt like I was sort of reading about some of the people who could have been in the lovely, but dark, Coen Brothers’ movie Inside Llewyn Davis.

But other stories also addressed aging in fantastic ways. My favorite, above all, was the very last story, called “Torch the Dusties.” The protagonist is an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home; she has an eye disease called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, in which her blindness causes her to hallucinate tiny people who dance around. That fact alone begins to blur the line between fiction and reality. But then the residents in the home realize that someone is picketing and blocking the entrances into the facility, a group who believe that the elderly are using up all the resources and should be left to die. The situation worsens, and finally, the residents are alone in the home, with no food and no assistance or medication. It’s what I love about Atwood the most: a hauntingly relevant dystopian setting that gave me chills. I love dystopia, and no one does dystopia like Atwood. This collection was marvelous, even for a reader in her 20s who hasn’t yet begun to really consider the aging process.

inhimBook Challenge #33: A book I started but never finished

I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson and Alfred Duckett

This book was on sale on the Nook last summer, and I started it in July after finishing Mariano Rivera’s The Closer, and I was so desperate for more baseball. I made the mistake of starting, however, while teaching summer school, so I stalled out after about 75 pages and finally started reading again in late December. I read the last 160 pages, however, in the last few days. Somehow, I was just as riveted at his life post-baseball as I was about his historic career with the Dodgers.

This book is one of the most authentically straightforward books I’ve ever read. It’s not the easiest book to read in that sense as I sometimes felt like someone was sitting in front of me, staring straight at me, and speaking with an uncomfortable level of candidness. Once I got used to the writing style, however, I found this autobiography to be refreshingly honest with more emotional depth than I imagined.

So many aspects of Jackie Robinson’s career are covered here: his close relationship with Branch Rickey, his tense relationship with some of his teammates, his decision to retire from baseball at the same time as he was traded to the Giants. But there was so much here that was unexpected: I didn’t realize how powerful politically Jackie Robinson became in the years after baseball. I never would have guessed his strong ties to the Republican Party and his role as NY Governor Rockefeller’s assistant. I had no idea about his roles in the various businesses and banks, either.

And I didn’t know the story of his oldest son, Jackie, Jr., who served in Vietnam, where he established a drug addiction that followed him back to the States. He was arrested and spent several years getting cleaned up in rehab and beginning to work with youth and addicts in a beautiful, powerful way before dying in a car accident at the age of 24. The last chapters of the autobiography, in which Jackie Robinson talks about his relationship with his oldest son and his family’s grief are beautifully written and devastating and a powerful testament to the love of family.

And Jackie Robinson’s work in the black community and fighting for the rights of blacks in America is, I think, his most notable legacy. His voice, speaking out against injustice and for his people, is strong and clear and inspiring.

Book Challenge #13 & Movie Challenge #2

Thank God for Christmas break and a new apartment with no internet. No, really. I have done so much reading and movie-watching, and it’s wonderful!

Book Challenge #13: Read a book by an author I love that I haven’t read yet

preludesnocturnesThe Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is, far and away, one of my favorite authors. I had read the first issue of The Sandman years ago, and I’ve owned the trade paperback of volume 1 but had never gotten around to reading it. Before Gaiman became famous for his novels and works of short fiction and episode-writing for Doctor Who and his marriage to Amanda Palmer, he made his name known in the comic book world with this critically-acclaimed series.

In Vol. 1, a man named Roderick Burgess acquires a grimoire that should enable him to capture Death. Instead, he ensnares Death’s little brother Dream (also known as Morpheus), whom he imprisons for about 70 years. When Dream is captured, he is no longer reigning over the dream and nightmare realms, and of course things go horribly awry.

morpheusWhen Roderick’s son Alex finally releases Dream, he immediately punishes Alex and then goes on a quest for his tools. Dream teams up with John Constantine to find a small, but powerful, bag of sand. He ventures to hell to fight a demon in order to get his helmet back. And, with a little help from old members of the Justice League of America, he finds Doctor Destiny, who has used Dream’s ruby amulet to take control of the dreamworld and attempt to bring about the apocalypse. (Also, Morpheus is kind of attractive in that 80s, early-Neil Gaiman, comic-book sort of way.)

The editor, in the introduction to vol. 1, states that this is the weakest of the collected volumes, that Gaiman was still trying to find his voice. But I still found it wonderful. It’s almost like there’s this band that you’ve loved for years, and you discover their unreleased EP that they recorded in someone’s garage, and you still think it’s wonderful. This volume of the comics is really, really good, and I know Gaiman’s voice well enough to hear it in the voices of Morpheus and his sister Death. And I’m eager to get my hands on the rest of the series now.

Movie Challenge #2: Watch a movie made more than 50 years ago

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)

take me outI found this on sale at B&N a year or so ago, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a musical about baseball! Frank Sinatra plays a young second baseman to Gene Kelly’s veteran shortstop on a championship baseball team in the early 1900s. In the off-season, Sinatra & Kelly do vaudeville acts, and the movie begins when they’re late for spring training in Florida. Shortly after they arrive, the teams learns that the old owner has passed away and left the team to a distant relative who wants to see the team. They immediately assume it will be an old, fat man who thinks he knows more about the game of baseball than they do. Instead, the new owner is a beautiful woman, played by Esther Williams. She immediately clashes with Gene Kelly, and young Frank immediately falls in love with her but has no game, so he doesn’t no how to talk to her about anything other than baseball.

There’s baseball and romance and bad guys betting on the game of baseball and a clambake. It’s really delightful. My friends who love musicals would love it. Also, Frank Sinatra is a skinny, young guy who looks absolutely adorable in his team sweater.