January’s Reads #2015ReadingChallenge

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reading ChallengeReading a book per week isn’t really a challenge for me – I learned to read early, and typically read quite a bit for entertainment as well as learning – so I was interested in the Reading Challenge that originated on PopSugar. Note that some of the categories are ridiculous in that they represent a huge portion of books read so are not much of a challenge, such as a book by a female author or a book set in a different country or an author that I’ve never read before, but there are a few categories that I will have to actively search for.

I created a spreadsheet with the categories in the first column of each row, then added each book that I have read to a column header, and ticked off the matching categories. A summation on the left shows me how many matches I have for each category. If I assume, however, that each book can only be used to check off one category, then the matching will get a bit more complex as the year goes on. Haven’t come up with an automated optimizing algorithm yet to decide which category to assign each book to in order to maximize the category coverage, but I have several months to work on that. Smile

January started off with a few of the “best of 2014” reading lists, plus recommendations from friends, plus books that I saw in reviews or even referred to in other books. In all cases, I was able to borrow the books from the wonderful Toronto Public Library, either as an e-book or paper book; so far, I ended up purchasing one e-book since I found it valuable for ongoing reference. I have a long reading list ahead of me, and looking forward to it.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Station Eleven was the first book that I read in 2015, and possibly my favourite so far (or a close tie with The Bone Clocks). It’s post-apocalyptic and futuristic, with lots of good themes. I saw it on some of the best-of lists, and it was recommended by a friend.

Categories checked:

  • Number in the title
  • Female author
  • Set in the future
  • Author I’ve never read before
  • Takes place in my hometown (Toronto)
  • Recommended by a friend
Before I Go To Sleep was recommended by a friend when we were discussing the book (and movie) Gone Girl; there are definitely some similarities in creepiness. It was a good read, and I didn’t twig to the ending until it was upon me. Good escapist reading, although you may find some scenes of domestic violence disturbing.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Mystery or thriller
  • Set in a different country (UK)
  • Recommended by a friend
  • Author I’ve never read before (that is going to come up a lot this year)
I tried to read Hilary Mantel’s  Wolf Hall, but just could not get that into the history of Thomas Cromwell; maybe that will become the book that I started but never finished for the year. I did a bit better with her short stories in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, although I found it a bit of a mixed bag. Some were good, some were not very compelling, and some were downright weird. In all, readable but not my favourite read. I’m also not a big fan of the short story form: I would rather dig into a longer novel than a book of short stories, so probably good to have this category out of the way early.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Short stories
  • Set in a different country (UK)
New Slow City had a ton of great tips on living slow and consuming less even when you live in the middle of a big city (as I do), not out in the wilderness (which is the author’s previous experiment). 

Categories checked:

  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Nonfiction
  • Antonyms in the title (I’m considering “slow” and “city” as antonyms in this context, although will search for another title that matches this category in the remainder of the year, as long as I don’t have to read War and Peace)
  • Author I’ve never read before
How To Deliver A TED Talk is the only book that I’ve purchased so far this year, and I did it after I read the e-book from the library. Although I will likely never give a TED talk, there is a ton of great advice in here on preparing and delivering excellent presentations, and I do many presentations each year at clients and conferences. In particular, chapter 2 “Organizing Your Talk” is completely applicable to any type of business presentation.

Categories checked:

  • Non-fiction
  • Can finish it in a day (although I kept it around for reference)
  • Author I’ve never read before
I decided to read Pomegranate Soup after seeing the terrible story about the author’s tragic death: it appears that she starved herself to death while obsessed with writing her next novel in a remote village in Ireland. A contrast with her novel, which was quite funny – with some very dark bits – and about new beginnings. It was quite reminiscent of Chocolat, with the magic qualities of foods plus cultural melding. Also, recipes. I have her sequel “Rosewater and Soda Bread” on my to-read list.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Author under 30
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (Ireland and Iran)
  • Author’s first book
  • Contains magic
  • Author I’ve never read before.
I really wanted to like Lila, but just couldn’t. I abandoned it about halfway through. Depressing, Dust Bowl-era drifters, and a whole lot of the bible.

Categories checked (although not sure if this counts for a book I didn’t finish):

  • Female author
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Didn’t finish Sad smile 
I really liked The Bone Clocks, and didn’t realize that it was written by the same author as Cloud Atlas until afterwards. This is a long book, but I burned through the first half in 24 hours: I started one evening and finally put the light out at 2:30am, finishing it a couple of days later. The supernatural bits leave just enough mystery to keep you guessing, but not so much that you’re totally lost.

Categories checked:

  • More than 500 pages (in paper form, although I read the e-book)
  • Non-human characters
  • Set in a different country (UK and others)
  • Set in the future (ranges from 1984 to 2043)
  • Contains magic
  • Set during Christmas (not the entire book, but some pivotal scenes)
zombie The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home is a delightful collaboration by Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman, available on Wattpad.  Quick read, fun, and some practical advice on the use of garden implements and rhubarb on repelling zombies.

Categories checked:

  • Non-human characters (if you assume post-human zombies to be non-human)
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in my hometown (Toronto)
I didn’t quite finish The Sixth Extinction by the end of January, the last few chapters are lined up for tonight’s reading. It’s a beautifully-written look at how humans are causing massive species extinction, and have been doing so for 40,000 years. It appears to be well-researched (I’m not an expert in this field) and the writing reminds me of the wonderful descriptive prose of Oliver Sacks talking about cycads in Island of the Colorblind or Diane Ackerman’s The Moon By Whale Light, mixing history, science and culture.

Categories checked:

  • Number in title
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (several of them)
  • Nonfiction
  • Author I’ve never read before

That’s ten in total, although I only got halfway through Lila and haven’t quite finished The Sixth Extinction, so more like nine. February and March I have a lot of work and travel, and the numbers probably won’t be as high, but I will start on the books related to the TIFF Books On Film series that I will be attending over the next few months. Plus, some interesting things on hold at the library.

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy the book (or anything else), I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to give the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

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