Reading challenge 2013 part one


My goal for reading this year is at least 30 books. I need to beat 2011’s total of 24 but currently I’m two books behind (according to Goodreads).

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Liz has
read 7 books toward her goal of 30 books.

Here’s what I’ve been reading so far this year. Sorry it’s so long-winded.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel 

After finishing Life of Pi, I had an interesting conversation with my sister about it. Which story do you believe? I asked her that. She didn’t understand what I was saying. “What do you mean ‘believe’? Obviously, the second story is what happened. But I like the other story better.”

Maybe I ruined the book by reading the synopsis, which says it’s a “a meditation on religion, faith, art and life.” As I read the first part of the novel about Pi’s life in India and his religious experiences, I kept trying to figure out what was going on and how that would relate in the rest of the book. By the end, I felt like I’d understood (although that doesn’t come until the last chapter of the novel).

It’s a novel about faith. Do you believe in the fantastical story about a boy on a boat with a tiger or do you believe the more realistic story about survival on the high seas? Can you set aside your notions about what’s true and real to just believe a story no matter how unbelievable it is? What does that say about our own faith and spirituality?

One review on Goodreads says:

Read this book. Not because it is an exceptional piece of literary talent. It is, of course. But there are many good authors and many good books. While uncommon, they are not endangered. Read this book because in recent memory – aside from Jose Saramago’s arresting Blindness – there have been no stories which make such grand statements with such few elements. As Pi says in his story “Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.” It is the same with Martel’s undulating fable of a book about a boy in a boat with a tiger. A simple story with potentially life altering consequences for it’s readers.

I believe the story about the tiger.

Room by Emma Donoghue

My go-to book recommender read this last year. Shortly after she read the book by Jaycee Dugard. I didn’t get the connection at first but I was intrigued. She has never let me down on books so I decided to read it.

What I liked most about this book was the very distinctive perspective of its narrator. It’s one thing to write a novel from the point of view of a five-year-old, but a five-year-old with a very limited understanding (and yet very broad grasp) of the world is quite different. As I read it, it made me think about the things we just “know” — how the world sounds, for example, or how the sun feels on your skin, what wind feels like.

It was disjointed and difficult to get used to his way of speaking but that felt more real than just a regular kid’s perspective. I also enjoyed the subtlety of how he personified everything. All the objects in Room had a story, a personality, a character because that’s all he had to interact with. It really makes you realize how important that kind of human interaction is at the heart of being human.

Overall, Room is just a very different book. It was an easy and quick read but had a lot of depth when you dig into it.

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

What can I say about this? I read the first book in a couple of days and devoured book two in a day of continuous reading. I’m anxiously awaiting the next book’s release in October. I love a good teen read and this filled that need. Hunger Games is better. Harry Potter’s still better than that. But I’ll take Tris easily.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman 

For me, a good book is mostly determined by how much it makes you think. I suppose I should consider this a good book. In a lot of ways it was. I’m still contemplating these characters and their stories. It was slow at first, but I think most of that is because of the writing style. By the end, I definitely wanted to read more and I was drawn into the character’s stories.

But… I didn’t like the writing. In fact a good portion of this book could be cut out entirely based simply on repetition. It’s told from four different points of view and yet all the stories repeat themselves in their descriptions and views of certain things or people. For example, all the women describe Wynn, the slave, in the same way. The women’s stories might all be different but there wasn’t anything different about the way the stories were told. You’d think a woman raised in a hallway out of shame would have a very different voice from a woman raised as a strong witch or a woman who was raised as a boy. Not much changed from section to section — Yael’s story was no different from Revka’s despite a major difference in their histories.

That’s my main criticism. After a while, I couldn’t take any more flowy description of hyssop and acacia. The plant description alone makes up one-third of the book. That said, the story — the plot itself — was quite interesting. It’s a period of history I know little about and I enjoyed reading about it.

I can’t help comparing it to A Thousand Splendid Suns because it is a story about women in a culture that marginalizes them, where they find their strength in one another. That may be where the comparison ends. Yet, A Thousand Splendid Suns is much better.

This book lacked the power to really make me connect with these women. The closest I came was to Aziza. Maybe it was the writing that distracted me too much from developing some kind of care for the characters. I didn’t cry at the end and that to me is a sign of a powerful story. Everyone in this book has a tragic story. It just didn’t feel that way.

Overall, it could have been better but it wasn’t bad.

*Thanks to Bliss Project for this recommendation.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman 

I’m a news nerd so this book was a natural fit. I love the writing style — very simple and straightforward. I loved the intricacies of the characters. Mostly I was drawn to that simplicity. It’s a story about people who just happen to all work for a newspaper. The newspaper itself takes on a personality through all the stories. As someone who has worked in newsrooms (and worked in failing newsrooms) this book resonanted. It felt real. Genuine.

I wanted to include one of my many highlighted notes but since it was a library book, those notes were deleted. And there are too many great quotes here to include just one.

“What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past- it doesn’t feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It’s as if the present me is constantly dissolving. There’s that line from Heraclitus: ‘No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.’ That’s quite right. We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn’t the end of life but the end of memories.”

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed 

The same friend recommended this book and it was a possible book club contender so I just read it. I cried within the first 10 pages. I’m not a hiker. I don’t quite understand the desire to go walk for thousands of miles carrying all your belongings on your back. That didn’t make the book any less powerful.

Sometimes Cheryl comes across as whiny. But I get it. I can’t imagine losing my mother. I’d be just as heartbroken. I also can’t imagine what it would be like to not only lose your mother but then lose your entire life — i.e. the other people you care about.

I have two complaints with the book. 1. Cheryl brushes over many details that really lead to her downward spiral. While she’s open about a good part of it, I still don’t quite understand it. Why did her brother and sister become so distant? 2. The end of the book felt a little rushed. Suddenly she just realizes she’s OK? She walked all that way and then closed her journey in a few pages.

Perhaps life really was about the journey.

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

Columbine by Dave Cullen 

Every time I’ve told someone I was reading a book about Columbine I got strange looks and typically — “I would never read something like that.” I get it. I don’t know why exactly I decided to mark this as to-read forever ago, but I did. It’s been on my list for a while and when it became available through the library’s Overdrive I downloaded it.

I would hands down recommend it. I was 13 when Columbine happened. I can’t remember being aware of school shootings before then but I certainly was after the fact. I watched it live on TV like most Americans. My understanding of that event — which really is, sadly, a big part of American history — stops there. And after reading this book, I’m convinced most of us don’t know the real story of what happened at Columbine.

It’s more than what actually happened, but it’s causes, repercussions and the real stories of those involved before and after. This book is a true journalistic tour de force. Dave Cullen, I’m sold, is now one of my favorite reporters. He worked on this book for more than 10 years and you can tell.

I thought at first it would be a book about gun control or mental health care or educational systems. It’s not really. There’s no preaching — well, beyond the Evangelicals that came after. It’s just the facts of what happened and what factors lead to the tragedy. What’s even more telling to me is what happened after and how, although the story of Columbine is known across the country, much we really don’t know. The national media (as it does so often) tuned in to a brief period of this story and then turned away.

So, yes, I probably enjoyed this book much more because of its analysis of the news media and news coverage. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, I’m now wondering the same thing. Will we hear this piece of the story and then forget to follow-up?

I’m a news nerd. I still think everyone should read this book. It gives a real understanding of what happened at Columbine and how all of us played a role — even if it was just tuning in to watch the horrors unfold and then turn the TV off.

We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and not Trench Coat Mafia.


I still have a lot of books to go to get to my goal for the year. I think book club will help with that.

Any other good suggestions for what I should read? 


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