Reading Challenge 2018 – What Books Did You Read This Year?

It is the love of books that made me want to write one of my own.

I am one of those writers who firmly believes that reading is essential to good writing, even if the books you read are purely for research and education. For the past several years (I’ve lost track) I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge and setting a goal for the number of books I’d like to read within the year. This year’s goal was 26 books –one for every two weeks of the year. I surpassed it easily, reading 39 books in 2018. However, that figure represents a decline in the amount of time I’ve spent writing –not exactly the goal I had in mind. Call me easily distracted!

I always vary the types of material I read: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. For  the exhaustive list of all the books I read this year, you can follow the link above to Goodreads if you want to have a look.  Here are some of the highlights of this year’s list:

In my ongoing research into World War One I read:

  • A Short History Of World War One – James L. Stokesbury
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – Erik Larson
  • The Spy – Paulo Coelho (about Mata Hare, alleged spy for the Germans)

In the realm of psychology and philosophy I read:

  • The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror – Thomas Ligotti (a real downer, let me tell you…)
  • The Divided Self: An Existential Study In Sanity and Madness – R.D. Laing (fascinating!)

And the other assorted non-fiction I read included:

  • Fear: Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson (fabulous read; very disappointed to hear the news regarding the author’s behavior)
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote (reads like a novel, but the story is true)
  • The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson (this author makes everything he writes about interesting!)

I indulged in several works of science fiction this year:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (my new hero)
  • Artemis – Andy Weir (big disappointment)
  • Ubik – Philip K. Dick
  • A Pack of Dogs – Andrick Schall (fellow blogger and indie author)
  • The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick (nothing at all like the TV series, but I love both)
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick (my favorite of the three works by this author; a real mind bender)

Finally, I read a few classics that I never got to in required reading for school:

  • The Trial – Frank Kafka (such an excellent but frustrating read)
  • Metamorphosis – Frank Kafka (prompts pity and self examination)
  • Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett (so oddly compelling… nothing really happens)
  • Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (broke my heart)
  • The Golden Ass – Apuleius (translated from Latin, the only work of fiction to survive in entirety from antiquity and totally readable and entertaining!)

I am assembling my list for 2019 and setting my goal at 30 books. So tell me what books you read and enjoyed (or despised) this year.

Happy reading and writing in 2019!

Reading Challenge 2017 – What books did you read this year?

It is the love of books that made me want to write one of my own. While it’s true that I don’t have the time to read as much as I used to –and mostly because of writing and its associated tasks– I still enjoy spending my free time with a good book. Each year for the past several, I’ve participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge in which I set a goal of reading from a list of books within the year. My goal was to read 20 books in 2017 –a modest amount for a woman who used to read a book a week before becoming an author herself!

I am happy to say that I surpassed my goal and read 25 books! Here is my list:

  1. W.B. Yeats and the Muses – Joseph M. Hassett
  2. A Farewell To Arms – Ernest Hemingway
  3. Too Loud a Solitude – Bohumil Hrabal
  4. Loving – Henry Green
  5. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  6. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  7. Heartbreak Hotel – Jonathan Kellerman
  8. Princess Margaret, A Biography – Theo Aronson
  9. The Complete Works of William Blake
  10. Pills – Jack Binding
  11. Camino Island – John Grisham
  12. Storm Of Steel – Ernst Junger
  13. X – Sue Grafton
  14. The Whistler – John Grisham
  15. Regeneration – Pat Barker
  16. Crowned and Dangerous – Rhys Bowen
  17. Speaking In Bones – Kathy Reichs
  18. The Obsession – Nora Roberts
  19. Time To Lie – Phil Taylor
  20. The Human Factor – Graham Greene
  21. Batman and Psychology – A Dark and Stormy Knight
  22. Black Chalk – Christopher J. Yates
  23. Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes
  24. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  25. Bistro – Roger Moore

As you can see from the list, I don’t only read novels. The list includes two collections of short stories, two biographies, two non fiction books and a collection of poetry. Choosing a favorite from this group is difficult. Comparing books of different genres is like comparing apples to oranges, but I’ll share some of the standouts in the list, for better or worse.

I was fascinated to read the perspective of a German officer during World War One in Storm of Steel. My research on the Great War had been, with the exception of All Quiet On the Western Front, written from the standpoints of Belgium, France, Britain and the rest of their allies. Ernst Junger presents an enthusiastic (without being unrealistic) narration of his experiences as a soldier in the German Army. This is a marked contrast to the reluctant soldier (a character with whom we highly sympathize) in Erich Remarque’s All Quiet On the Western Front.

Watching season one of The Crown on Netflix made me curious about the romance between Group Captain Townsend and the Princess Margaret. Her biography was intriguing and sad. The book paints a story of a woman who embraced her royal status as much as she rebelled against conformity –quite the tale of two women. The thwarted love affair with Townsend is especially interesting and ironic considering the latest “Meg” to join the royal family is divorced, American and of mixed race. My, how times have changed! (For the better, at least in these kinds of situations.)

Black Chalk was the standout favorite of all the novels on the list. It is a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator telling the story of a group of friends who begin a game in college which has consequences that grow ever more serious as time goes by –even to the extent of ruining lives. It was awesomely chilling!

And the biggest disappointment of the group was The Bell Jar. This is one of those books that I was ashamed to admit I had never read. Well, I finally crossed it off my to-do list but I can’t say I’m any more enriched for the experience. And I know many of you will say ‘what is wrong with you?’ when I tell you this but I was bored with the story. Bored and worn out with all the similes. The curtains didn’t just flutter in the breeze, they fluttered like the wings of half dead moths (or some such thing). Descriptions like that were stacked one top of another and it got tiresome. I also kept wondering what I was missing. This is supposed to be a life-changing book. I didn’t get it.

The previous year (2016), I failed my reading challenge thanks to an overly aggressive writing and blogging schedule and I realized I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t taking in as many stories as I was putting out. I strongly believe that a good writer must be an avid reader. That means something different to everyone, as we all have busy lives. Most of us are carving out time from our ‘day’ jobs and our family and friends to make time for writing. How does one find the time to read as well?

My reading time is divided two ways: I read a little before bed every night and I listen to an audiobook while I exercise (nearly) every day. I may read research material for a project I’m working on as well. In 2018, I’m setting my goal at 25 books and we shall see if I can manage it with my writing goals for this year. Here’s what I have on my list, what’s on yours?

  1. Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
  2. The Catcher In the Rye – JD Salinger
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  4. The Man In the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
  5. The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
  6. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance Of Horror
  7. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
  8. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  9. Siegfried Sassoon: Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend – Jean Moorecroft Wilson
  10. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
  11. The Obituary Writer – Ann Hood
  12. Madame Bovary – Gustav Flaubert
  13. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
  14. Y – Sue Grafton
  15. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  16. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell – Nadia Hashimi
  17. The Art Forger – B.A. Shapiro
  18. Testimony – Scott Turow
  19. The Complete Works Of Percy Bysshe Shelly
  20. Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
  21. The Breakdown – B.A. Paris
  22. Ghostwriter – Alessandra Torre
  23. Moonglow – Michael Chabon
  24. Party Going – Henry Green
  25. Artemis – Andy Weir

And if you want to read any of my books, The Bucks County Novels, you can find all four (soon to be five) on Amazon. For a preview, visit The Bucks County Novels page on my blog.

Reading For Writing

I’m not one for making resolutions. However, I don’t avoid them if they seem like worthy goals. In that spirit, I have been taking on the Goodreads reading challenge each year. Personally, I think writers ought to be avid readers, as well. Reading is what inspired me to try writing so why on earth would I give it up?

Nevertheless, the more involved I’ve become in writing and blogging, the less time I’ve devoted to my books. Last year, I set the goal of reading 25 books for the Goodreads challenge: 2 per month (plus one). I am sorry to say, I fell short by 5 books. But with researching for my writing, I still did a lot of reading. At any rate, this year, I’ve lowered the bar to 20 books and I thought I’d share the ones I’ve chosen to read:

  1. A Line In the Sand – The Anglo-French Struggle For the Middle East, 1914-1918; James Barr
  2. Living – Henry Green
  3. Loving – Henry Green
  4. Party Going – Henry Green
  5. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  6. Down and Out In Paris and London – George Orwell
  7. Storm Of Steel – Ernst Junger
  8. Devil’s Brood – Sharon Kay Penman
  9. The Man In the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
  10. The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson
  11. The Gods of Guilt – Michael Connelly
  12. Princess Margaret: A Biography – Theo Aronson
  13. The Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney
  14. Blue Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
  15. A Farewell To Arms – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Garden Of Lies – Eileen Goudge
  17. On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
  18. W. B. Yeats and the Muses – Joseph Hassett (started, but not finished)
  19. The Crimes of Love – The Marquis de Sade (started but not finished)
  20. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (started but not finished)

If I manage that, I will clear the precariously stacked pile on my bedside table! Yes, I still read paper books. I consume books in three formats, actually: paper, e-book and audio-book. I also usually have several going at the same time. For example, I listen to an audiobook while exercising, read one non-fiction/biography and one fiction book all at once. As long as I keep the genres distinct, I can keep from getting them confused.

So, my writer friends, what are you reading this year?

Artwork: ‘Serenity’ – Sheree Valentine Daines