Saturday, December 10, 2016

I read a lot. (2016 Reading Challenge Completed!)

Back on January 1st, I saw this Reading Challenge posted on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (how cool is that title?!). I had a New Year's Resolution (I generally don't do those), and I actually completed it for the first time ever. One of my favorite failed resolutions: Wear makeup (it happened for about 2 weeks, typical!).

I decided it would be fun and started a group on Facebook to share the challenge, talk about books, and to keep me accountable. I knew I'd have no problem reading 12 books in 2016 (I am a librarian, after all), but I loved the idea of reading outside of my comfort zone and reading things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'd love if you let me know about what you've been reading. I love to discuss books!

Here's what I ended up reading:

1. A book published this year: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Back in March I got to see one of my favorite Speaker/Librarians/Bloggers, Mr. Schumacher, at a Scholastic event. He spoke about Raymie, which was released in April of this year. It was about a girl named Raymie and 2 of her unlikely friends. They have adventures and learn lessons. I enjoyed it. Kate DiCamillo is always a delight (Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). When I think of Kate DiCamillo, I think of the following quote by E.B. White (author of Charlottes Web and others): "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding." DiCamillo certainly accomplishes this. Her books are loved by children and adults, just ask Mr. Schu. 

Other books I've read this year that could fit in this category: The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

2. A book you can finish in a day: Shopgirl by Steve Martin

I love this story. I love the movie of the same name that stars Steve Martin, Claire Danes, and Jason Schwartzman. Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) has a May/December relationship with Ray Porter (Steve Martin). They love each other, but not in the same way. Not unexpectedly, Ray ends up breaking Mirabelle's heart. Meanwhile, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a romantic acquaintance of Mirabelle's, engages in a quest for self-improvement, and grows into a person worthy of Mirabelle. My husband once asked why I like this so much, and if I somehow identify with Mirabelle's love for Ray Porter. That's not what most appeals to me about this novella or movie. It's Jeremy. Though I do love the actor, Jason Schwartzman, I love his character and how he grows up and becomes the right match for Mirabelle. Interestingly, I have the same love for Rob Fleming in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and Will Freeman of About A Boy, again by Nick Hornby. So perhaps it can be concluded I enjoy male characters who mature through the course of the work. If you'd like to psychoanalyze this admission, go ahead. But do report back, I'd be curious.

Most of the graphic novels I read could have been read in a day, but I have mentioned them elsewhere.

3. A book you've been meaning to read: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

A children's novel meant for the intermediate grades (3rd through 5th-ish). It was cute, and I'd definitely recommend it to kids, teachers, and parents. It reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl, beloved author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Another book I read this year that fits this category: Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings (blog post here)

4. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This year I switched schools and went from an elementary school to a high school. This was a welcome change, though I certainly miss my old students, colleagues, and even the building itself. I left a piece of my heart there (corny, but metaphorically true). To prepare for my new position, I started reading Young Adult titles voraciously. I asked the librarian whose job I replaced (she retired) for recommendations, and I read several books that she suggested, though for whatever reason this is the one I decided fulfilled the Reading Challenge. High school senior Clay Jensen is "gifted" with 7 cassette tapes he soon discovers is the recorded suicide note of his classmate Hannah Baker. On these 7 tapes (13 "sides") are messages for the 13 people who she feels somehow contributed to her decision to kill herself. It's heartbreaking and a little sickening, but also the sort of book that I couldn't put down. I'm a semester in to my new role at the high school, and the kids really like this one, too.

Other books I've read this year that fits this category: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (my review here), Ghostworld by Clowes

5. A book you should have read in school: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I don't even know where to begin. I loved, loved, LOVED this book. It's a shame I didn't actually read this in high school when I should have, though I do not think I would have appreciated it as much. If you haven't read it, it's about the Joad family trying to survive the Great Depression. They travel west to California hoping to find work, food, etc, only to discover their troubles follow them. What struck me the most about this novel is how kind the Joad family was despite everything terrible that kept happening to them. It didn't matter how hard they worked, they couldn't seem to get ahead. I found this book still relevant 75+ years after it was written.

As far as I can recall, this is the only book I remember actively avoiding in high school (and college!). Were I to have to revisit this category, I would probably pick something that "many people read in school but you somehow missed." And I'd probably go with Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut.

6. A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: Sorcerer to the Crown by
Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown was recommended to me by my BFF. She recommended it because I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It is definitely a good read-alike, though I did not enjoy Sorcerer nearly as much as the Clarke title. Both titles are about the decline of British magic and how it returns to England. I love the fantasy genre so these were both good picks.

Also recommended to me by my BFF in 2016: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

7. A book published before you were born: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye by Salinger a decade or more ago, but I was interested in his short stories. Of the nine stories I enjoyed "For Esme- with Love and Squalor" and "Teddy."I confess, I would read an analysis of the short work immediately after reading the work itself. Salinger's writing isn't always straightforward; some pieces are allegorical and some are more social commentary than an actual stories. I enjoyed this experience, though I'm unlikely to recommend the collection to anyone for pleasure reading, unless they happen to love Catcher.

8. A book that was banned at some point: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book is read by the freshman at my school. They seem to really like it. I LOVED it. It manages to be really funny and really sad. The main character, Junior, attends high school off the reservation, or "rez", and is rejected by his Native American peers. He is largely welcomed by his new high school, but he doesn't quite fit in there, either. So he's caught between home and opportunity. The book also addresses how alcoholism has affected Junior (and thereby describes the role of alcoholism within Native American communities).

9. A book you previously abandoned: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I previously abandoned this book because I started it before Christmas and didn't feel like finishing it after Christmas. So this is the book I just finished today, December 10th. I really enjoyed this one as well. The story is often retold and the moral is an obvious one: be generous/good/kind/etc while you have a chance. Dickens's writing is sometimes a little wordy, but this story was worthwhile. And who doesn't like the opportunity to reflect upon self-improvement?

I didn't read any other books that could satisfy this category, but I tried. I attempted The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for the 3rd (!) time. I know, I know, it's a short book that kids read. I just cannot. Maybe when my own kids beg me to read it to them, sure, but even then I might pass that task along to my husband.

10. A book you own but have never read: Dead in the Family: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (#10 in a series)

I've read other Sookie Stackhouse novels. Though they are sequential it is not supremely necessary you read 1-9 before you read 10. I think I read them mostly in order over the past several years. They are fun, light reads. If you aren't familiar, the HBO series True Blood is based on these books, though after the first book and first season, they stray very far from each other. I enjoy both the TV series and the books, but as separate works. I appreciate each differently.

11. A book that intimidates you: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

There are lots of books out there that intimidate me. Ulysses by James Joyce, for example. Rather than struggle through a book, I decided to interpret this as intimidating content. The Smartest Kids in the World is by journalist Amanda Ripley, who weaves the stories of three American Exchange students with data and analyses of different education systems that are considered more successful than US schools by certain measures. It was fascinating. What I took away: we (Americans) have a different set of values that do not necessarily include success in school. Other successful education systems have become more successful (as measured by test scores) by improving teacher education: making the process more rigorous and prestigious. Imagine that. Countries that revere teachers have more successful educational outcomes. But, alas, correlation is not causation, and I think our school system (where I live, anyways) is pretty darn good.

Other books that I read in 2016 that intimidated me: Enrique's Journey: The story of a boy's dangerous odessy to to reunite with his mother by Sonia Nazario and I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

Reflecting upon these 3 books, one could draw the conclusion that I am largely intimidated by nonfiction (probably not untrue).

12. A book you've already read at least once: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This book just makes me happy. It is an autobiographical work by Raina Telgemeier. She has to have painful dental and orthodontia work as an adolescent, and the story centers around these experiences. Telgemeier is about my age, so it spoke to me (New Kids on the Block Tickets and Caboodles, anyone?). I do have to say kids/preteens/teens LOVE this book, so it's not just people who are 35ish. Telgemeier captures adolescence so perfectly. This is also one of the first graphic novels I read that made me want to read more graphic novels. I highly recommend this book to nearly anyone.

Other books I read this year that fit this category: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (I wrote about it here) and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

So I read at least 12 books that fit these 12 categories and mentioned a few more titles I read in 2016. I actually read more than what I listed here, for work, book clubs, etc. I thought about listing them all, but that intimidated me. Plus, it would take time away from reading more. I do get asked a lot when I find the time to read, and the truth is, I read mostly in the morning while I drink my coffee (between 5 & 6 am). So I read 30 minutes to an hour a day, on average. That amounts to anywhere between 182 and 365 hours a year (I don't keep strict track), so even if it took me 10 hours to read a book (it usually doesn't), I'm on track to read at least 18 books a year. I listed 22 books here and probably read at least a dozen others. Another trick besides early morning reading: I watch less TV than I read. So I watch less than an 30 minutes of TV a day, on average. Not kidding. Sometimes I watch 90 minutes a day (think Gilmore Girls revival), and sometimes I go days without watching any. I do not read books at work, contrary to what many people think about what librarians do all day. I do read for work, but mostly academic articles, excerpts from books, literary analyses, etc. You are very unlikely to find me with a book in hand at my desk.

I don't know if I'll participate in a 2017 Reading Challenge, but I do know I will continue to read for work and for pleasure. I hope you do, too!