Reading Challenges, and the end-of-year rush to complete them

I love books.

Which is just as well, since I work in a library, and am surrounded by them everyday. Paperbacks, hardbacks, audiobooks, eBooks, and magazines – a library is an endless supply of stories to read, listen to, and learn from. Unfortunately, though, you need time to read and listen to books, and one thing I haven’t yet learnt is how to increase the number of free hours in the day, meaning that the more books I see, the more books end up on my ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) list.

Don’t get me wrong – that can be a good thing, as it means I can always find a book to read when I’m short of ideas. But it can also mean that books make it onto my TBR list, and then just languish there forever more.

Which is where the five book challenge comes in.

Midway through this year, I was given a book challenge – to read five books from my TBR list. To actually go back and read five of those books I’d been putting off reading, and finish them before the end of 2017.

And I did it. It may have been a close call, with the final two books being finished with only a few days’ grace before the year’s end, but I got there. And I am pleased I did. This challenge has been a good excuse to branch out and read something new, and means that I can actually discuss these stories with the people who recommended them to me.

So, what did I read, why were they on my TBR list, and what did I think of them?

CoverDear Fatty by Dawn French

I love Dawn French. Whether as a lady vicar, as one half of the inimitable French and Saunders, or in the many other comedic roles she’s played over the years, she has a way of telling stories that hooks me in, and I was very disappointed when I wasn’t able to get tickets to her ’30 Million Minutes’ show in 2016. One of my book club friends saw the show, and thought the book’s format of anecdotes and letters might be a suitable substitute for not seeing her. I enjoyed reading this book, and could definitely ‘hear’ Dawn’s voice in my head. Although she touches on some more serious topics – depression, suicide, relationship difficulties – Dawn is, at heart, a comedienne, and most of the anecdotes are amusing insights into different periods of her life.

CoverThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

“Does it spark joy?” At the start of the year, as New Year Resolutions are made … and followed up until January 5th … this question has become a cultural phenomenon.

Marie Kondo’s book was recommended to me by two different people in the space of a couple of weeks. One was a woman from my book club who found it absolutely life-changing, and gave it positive reviews at TWO book club meetings (once while she was in the middle of tidying her stuff, and the second time when she was in the post-tidy stage of the process), and one was a colleague, who had read it but found a few of the ideas a tad far-fetched. I have to say – I agree with my colleague. I just can’t bring myself to empty my bag at the end of each day, thank it for doing its job, and then put it away hanging up, not squashed, so that it feels happy until the next time I use it. Having said that, I was definitely able to take away some good ideas from this book, and have certainly become more conscious of my belongings, and which of them I actually use and appreciate.

CoverRaising My Rainbow by Lori Duron

Having done volunteer work with gender-diverse* young people, I am always on the look-out for books that I can recommend to them, or to their parents, whānau, and community. Published in 2013, this book had been on my radar for a while, but I just hadn’t had the time to read it. Until now.

Neil Patrick Harris wrote the foreword for this book, and congratulates Lori Duron on being so aware and accepting of her young son’s gender non-conformity. And I agree. It is great that this young child has a family that accepts him for who he is, and that doesn’t feel the need to make him only play and wear ‘boy’ things. However… there has been a huge increase in the awareness of gender-diversity since 2013, and more is being written now about supporting these young people from a very young age. I feel like this is a good book to read about some of the challenges of raising children in a society that is so very gendered, but there are more relevant, and more up-to-date books available if you are specifically wanting to support a young gender-diverse child.

* I have chosen to use ‘gender-diverse’ as an umbrella term here for people who do not identify as the gender they were born. Some people might call themselves trans* agender, non-binary, or one of many other words, and each of those terms are valid.

CoverThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick has a wonderful talent for telling stories through both pictures and words. I absolutely loved his book Wonderstruck, and added this title onto my TBR list as soon as it came out. I am so pleased that I finally got around to reading it! The first half of the story details the stories of the theatrical Marvel family from 1766 to 1900, and is told entirely through illustrations. The second half of the story is set at the end of the 20th century, and is written in text. It recounts the tale of a young boy, his uncle, and his search for more information about the Marvels, and about his own family. This book was an absolute delight to read, and had unexpected twists that kept me engrossed right until the end. Selznick’s illustrations, as always, were stunning.

CoverTracks by Robyn Davidson

A few years ago I was at the movies, and saw the preview for a movie that looked really cool – a young woman decides to travel solo across the Australian outback, with only her camels and dog for company. A wee while later, this book was part of a Christmas book swap, and as soon as I realised it was the story that the movie was based on, I wanted to read it.

The first part of the book deals with her preparation for the trip, and the latter part details her actual trip. Parts of this are not an easy read. Outback Australia in the late 20th century was quite sexist and racist, and as well as the difficulties faced by the rugged landscape, Robyn also faced lots of difficulties from local residents. She finds herself having to make difficult decisions, and the reader really does feel for her at several points along the journey.

I would not normally read this type of book – I worry that sometimes there can be long passages where not much happens, but now I’ve read this one, I think I might try a few more armchair travel books in 2018.

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