2017 Reading Goals

I always like to write up my reading goals in my first blog post of the year.

2017 Reading Challenge

Dana has
read 0 books toward
her goal of
46 books.
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I have decided to try to read 46 books this year, since I’ll be turning 46 in September. My sister also set the same goal, but she had the idea first. She is NOT turning 46, however.

I have created my 2017 Reading Challenges page. I will not be joining any more challenges until the R. I. P. Challenge this fall. All of the reading challenges I have chosen have some freedom and flexibility, so I’m not too worried about getting bogged down trying to meet challenge goals.

One general reading goal I have is to read more books written by African and Asian authors and/or set in African or Asian countries. In particular, I want to read books by Salman Rushdie and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. I also want to read more classics of African-American literature, including Jean Toomer’s Cane, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. I also want to try to get to some classics I haven’t read, namely Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t know if this is my year to try the Russians again or not. I have been told by a wise authority that the best translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I know a good translator is very important, and it could be why I have not had luck before.

Another reading goal I have is to try to be more active in the reading challenges in which I participate. Typically, all I do is keep track of the books that meet the challenges, but often challenge hosts have special linkup posts and other activities on their own blogs, and I rarely participate. I want to do better this year. I am terrible in general at keeping up with other blogs. I would like to do better.

Another related goal: I need to cull books I don’t want to keep from my stacks and do something with them. I have a lot of books. I am never going to say too many (no such thing). There are a lot of books I don’t think I will ever re-read and don’t need to consult again, either. I just need to get rid of them. I suppose I could be more active on PaperBackSwap, but I’m disappointed they are charging money for the service now—beyond the price of postage. I suppose they have to sustain themselves, but it soured me on them a bit.

A final goal: stop messing around with books that are not grabbing me. I bought some books this year, and they didn’t grab me, so I felt like I should read them since I bought them. That’s silly. I should just get rid of them if they aren’t grabbing me, and I shouldn’t be giving them more than 50 pages. I need to remember there are a lot of books out there I want to read—good ones—and I need to be better about wasting time on books that are not working for me, even if I spent money on them. I know I should go to the library, but I always think I might need the books longer than they allow, and what if I want to keep them (yes, I know I could always buy them after the fact if that’s the case). I should probably make it a goal to use my library more, actually. They do have Overdrive, and I enjoyed reading books that way in the past.

What are your reading goals for the year?

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2016: Reading Year in Review

As I do each year, I like to reflect on my reading year in a blog post on December 31. For the second year in a row, Goodreads has compiled a handy infographic with reading statistics, but they haven’t yet created a way to embed the infographic on a blog. It’s not exactly a true image file, so it’s not as simple as saving a picture. It’s a whole webpage. While it is possible to embed HTML on a blog, in order to make it look good, it’s a bit of work. Here is a rundown of some of the interesting facts (if you don’t feel like clicking over to Goodreads):

  • I read 11,997 pages, according to Goodreads.
  • I read 38 books. One book is not counted in this total, so I suppose my actual page count is about 200 pages more than the figure above.
  • If I count just the Goodreads total, that’s an average of 324 pages per book.
  • It works out to about 33 pages per day. Not too bad.
  • My shortest book was The Importance of Being Earnest at 54 pages, and the longest was an audio book re-read of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at 734 pages.

Of the 38 books I read, the stats further break down like so:

  • 28 works of fiction
  • 10 works of nonfiction
  • 3 dramas
  • 1 collection of poetry
  • 5 audio books
  • 6 re-reads
  • 1 graphic novel/memoir
  • 11 YA/children’s books

My favorites from some of these categories with linked reviews (re-reads not counted):

YA/Children’s

Fiction

Nonfiction

I’m not going to pick audio book favorites this year because all but one of them were re-reads, and the one that wasn’t was not one of my favorite books. I had a better nonfiction year this year than I typically do, and my fiction year was not as good as usual, though I did read some outstanding fiction.

My least favorite reads of the year:

Reading Challenges

I did not meet my Goodreads goal of reading 55 books. I had every reason to think I could do it, having read 62 books last year, but this year was much more trying. My grandmother passed away, and it made it very hard for me to read. I was already behind at that point. I stopped worrying about trying to make the goal really early on, so I’m not upset about it or anything. It is what it is. I didn’t have the worst reading year, but it wasn’t the best either. I stuck with some books I wasn’t liking for too long.

I didn’t complete any of my other reading challenges either, sadly. I enjoy reading challenges tremendously, but I don’t have the best track record in the world when it comes to completing them, let alone participating any more than simply reading certain books.

Here is my reading map for the year. I did manage to read some more far-flung locales than I typically do. I am hoping to do even better next year.

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R. I. P. Challenge XI

RIP Eleven

Yay! The R. I. P. Challenge is back for an 11th year! And it’s back at Carl’s blog after a year at the Estella Society. This is my favorite challenge every single year.

I’m not sure what I am going to read, but I’m considering the following books:

I’m not sure what I will ultimately decide to read, and it may not be any of these, but I am so looking forward to curling up this fall with some great spooky(ish) books. In any case, I am opting to participate in Peril the First, four books.

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Review: Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

This book has been on my radar since a colleague donated a copy to my classroom library. However, in the last few weeks, it was also chosen as the upper school summer reading selection at my school, so I would have had to read it this summer in any case. I bumped it up in my to-read queue.

Do you ever think that books come into our lives when we really need them? Sometimes I read the perfect book at the time when I absolutely need it, and this book was one of those books for me.

Everything I Never Told You is set in late 1970’s Ohio. The Lee family is a Chinese-American family. Their middle child Lydia, the one upon whom the family pins most of their hopes and dreams, is missing. In fact, the family does not know and will not learn for a while that she is actually dead. The novel is the story of what happens to the family in the wake of Lydia’s death as well as the story of all the events leading up to it. Each family member, including Lydia, suffers under the weight of the conversations they never had. At its heart, this book’s strongest message is about the emotional damage caused when people don’t communicate. However, for those who might be reluctant to pick up a book that might seem to be a downer, I’ll share that there is a note of redemption for the family.

I connected strongly with this book because one of the biggest problems I have is that there are a lot of important conversations I have needed to have with people in my life, especially family, that I have not had. I haven’t had these conversations for the same reasons as Lydia and all of the Lee family—fear. I carry the heavy weight of these conversations around inside me just like the Lee family did. I am learning that I need to change this behavior. This book is more than just a cautionary tale about the dangers of not having important conversations, but it was important for me to read at this time in my life for that reason.

We have recently suffered a tragic, sudden, and unexpected loss in our family as well. I don’t feel right laying out in a book review. I don’t know if that diminishes the loss or not. But having recently finished this book, this loss reminds me too that life is precious and fragile, and we are not promised time. We have to live the lives we want to live now and set aside the fears we have about others and what they will think. That includes family. Perhaps especially family. It’s hard, but our lives are worth it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Set in the late 1970’s, nearly 40 years ago now, this book counts toward the Historical Fiction Challenge.

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#ShelfLove Challenge: Love Letter to My Library

Shelf Love Challenge 2016Each month, the #ShelfLove Challenge has a different topic. This month’s topic:

The 2nd Week of April is Library Week. Tell us about your local library and what makes is special to you.

I have to admit that I haven’t been able to visit the Worcester Public Library in a while. It is a beautiful library, but for a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with transportation, which is a problem I resolved when I bought a new car last month), I haven’t been to the library in a while, and indeed, my library card has expired, so I need to renew it.

However, because I am a teacher, I have access to a school library. When I first started working at Worcester Academy, I was a technology integration specialist, and I worked in the library. I tried to increase the size our young adult collection, and I worked to encourage young readers by recommending books and visiting classes to do book talks.

We have a new library director this year, and she has transformed parts of the upper floor into a maker space, including a LEGO wall and 3-D printers. One wall has been painted with whiteboard paint, as have several tables. The fiction collection has been “genrefied” so that students can more easily find books they like. I took my students to the library, and our new library director conducted a “book speed dating” experience for the students, who read a book for a few minutes and either decided to pass or to keep the book. It was fun for the students and a great way to have a taste of a new book. I wrote about it on my education blog in more detail. In addition to a large collection of books, my school library has many DVD’s I can use with my students to enhance their learning. Some are movie versions of texts we study, while others are documentaries or educational films.

The library is a gathering place for students, who are encouraged to collaborate. It’s warm, inviting atmosphere has turned it into a real hub on campus. I don’t actually work out of the library anymore now that I’m the English department chair, but I go there when I can to work because it’s one of the best places on campus to be. There is a special spot looking out over the small quad in front of the building that has a great view in the fall as the leaves are changing.

I definitely need to make better use of our public library now that I don’t have any constraints that make it a challenge, but I must admit my affection for the Mildred H. McEvoy Library at my school. Our librarians make it a great space for our students to learn and help our teachers as well.

A quick check-in on how I’m doing with the #ShelfLove Challenge—not much progress this month. April is indeed the cruelest month at school, at least for a person in my role as a department chair, because it involves selecting department awards, placement of students, course ballots, and scheduling (as well as the spring fever slump and senioritis). I elected to try to read between 11-20 books that were already on my shelves (either my physical shelves or my Kindle or Audible library) before January 1, 2016, and so far, of the twelve books I’ve read up to this point, five of them have been #ShelfLove books, which is one more since last month.

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#ShelfLove Challenge: Fictional Friends

Shelf Love Challenge 2016Each month, the #ShelfLove Challenge has a different topic. It’s a fun idea. Most challenges involve keeping track of your books. I didn’t do the link up for last month, but I did set some reading goals for this year’s challenge.

This month’s topic:

Who is your book boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend? What qualities does this character have that makes him/her the best?

This is an interesting question. After I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I’ll cop to a crush on Jamie Fraser (I think just about every woman I know—and probably most men, too—has a crush on Jamie). Fun fact: I met my husband online through one of those dating websites, and the reason I contacted him was he has red hair. It was absolutely a bonus that I fell in love with him for himself later and not for any resemblance he may have to Jamie.

I wrote some time back that after I finished reading Jude Morgan’s book Passion and watched the movie Bright Star, I developed a girl crush on Fanny Brawne. She is not, strictly speaking, a fictional character, but she is a character in two fictionalized stories about the life of John Keats. I also wrote about some other historical crushes I developed after reading about historical figures.

Of course, I’d love to say that I would be BFF’s with Elizabeth Bennet. I think a lot of people feel that way about her. I would also love to say that Anne Elliot and I would be fast friends. Same with Elinor Dashwood, though I’m probably a little more like Marianne. Still I think Marianne goes a bit off her rocker over an undeserving swine, particularly if Alan Rickman is playing Colonel Brandon.

Some time back, I wrote a post about my Top Ten Fictional Best Friends, and I think what I said in that post still holds true, especially Una Spenser from Ahab’s Wife, Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) of The Mists of Avalon, and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser of the Outlander. I have to say that reading Ahab’s Wife made me really actually want to know Una Spenser. She is more than a match for old Captain Ahab, and I just loved the way the book wove her story together with that of her more famous husband. And the opening line of that book is memorable: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” Actually, same with Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon. Talk about turning conventional wisdom about a legendary character on its head. She’s heartbreaking in her love for Lancelot, and Arthur is a bit heartbreaking, to be honest, in his love for Morgaine. If you have watched the Outlander series on Starz, you totally get why Claire gets a spot on this list. She’s amazing. We all need a friend like her. She knows simply everything about healing and herbalism. She’s the kind of lady I’d like to invite over to make soap with me.

A short check-in on how I’m doing with the #ShelfLove Challenge—so far, so good. I elected to try to read between 11-20 books that were already on my shelves (either my physical shelves or my Kindle or Audible library) before January 1, 2016, and so far, of the six books I’ve read up to this point, four of them have been #ShelfLove books. I’m finding that the challenge is motivating me to clear out my TBR backlist and get some books I’ve purchased read (finally).

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Review: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 novel The Historian was my first read of 2016. I actually started it some time in November, but I set it aside and just dipped in and out until this last week, when I read the bulk of the novel.

The Historian is the story of Vlad the Impaler, sometimes known as Dracula, and the historians interested in tracing his existence and locating his final “resting” place. The unnamed narrator of the story becomes embroiled in the search for Dracula through her father, Paul, who disappears mysteriously. She embarks on a quest to find him, and through some epistolary and framing elements, she gradually learns the story of her own parents’ quest for Dracula, taken up when her father tried to find his missing mentor and dissertation advisor, Bartholomew Rossi.

The novel has been compared somewhat unfairly to The Da Vinci Code because it has elements of scholarship and elements of a literary thriller, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. It is better written, and the characters are somewhat more developed than Dan Brown’s characters; however, there is still the sense that most of the characters are almost sort of like action figures the author is moving around instead of really well-drawn characters. Intriguingly, it is the minor characters, such as Rossi, Helen’s mother and aunt, and the Professor in Instanbul, Turgut Bora, who emerge as more interesting and fully formed than any of the protagonists. I question whether the framing device was really necessary. I don’t think the structure of the plot needed to be quite so complicated because it didn’t really do a whole lot to further the plot. All of the stories within stories were not confusing or hard to follow so much as they seemed unnecessary. Still, even with these criticisms, I would say I enjoyed the book and found it to be a sufficiently creepy vampire story, and not just a vampire story, but also a story of the Cold War and the complicated issues scholars might have dealt with in trying to conduct research behind the Iron Curtain. I have read criticism that the climax in this book is not really a good payoff, and I would agree with that criticism. On top of that, I think the reader leaves the book a bit confused (or perhaps that’s just me), especially as to why the author chose to end the book in the way she did.

I’m a little confused about how to rate this book because while I enjoyed it, it’s not without some serious flaws, and some people might not enjoy the book at all because of those flaws, but ultimately, for what it is and what it does do, I went with four stars. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set mostly during the 1950’s and 1970’s in many locations in Europe. Some exploration of medieval Romania and Turkey in the characters’ research.

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2015: Reading Year in Review

New Year Magic

New Year Magic, Zlatko Vickovic

On the last day of the year, I always like to reflect on my reading year. This year, Goodreads has created a really handy infographic with some interesting statistics from the reading year. I wish they allowed for downloading and embedding. I was fascinated to learn that I had read 20,722 pages this year. That particular statistic is not one I’d ever thought about before. I read 62 books, which is more than I’ve ever read in a single year before. That works out to an average book length of 332 pages. It’s also an average of almost 57 pages each day. I suppose Goodreads calculates the number of pages in each book I marked “read” to determine the total for the year, but I should mention that some of the books are audio books. Still, those should count as pages read, I suppose, because it works out to be the same thing. Sometimes when you are listening, it’s not so obvious how long books are. I mean, yes, it took me forever to listen to The Fiery Cross, but I didn’t realize it was over 1,400 pages long. No wonder! It took me so long to finish listening to that book that I have been somewhat reluctant to commit to the next book in the series! The Fiery Cross book is over 55 hours long to listen to, but the next one is 57 hours long!

Some reading statistics:

  • Total books: 62
  • Total fiction books: 44
  • Total nonfiction books: 10
  • Total drama books: 4
  • Total poetry books: 4
  • Total audio books: 16
  • Total re-reads: 15
  • Graphic novels/memoirs: 5

My favorite books of the year broken down into some random categories (re-reads not considered—I already knew I loved them or I wouldn’t have read them again):

Children’s

 

Reviews:

Young Adult (YA)

   

Reviews:

Adult Fiction

         

Nonfiction

   

Reviews:

Audio Books (re-reads considered if I have never listened to them before)

 

Reviews:

My least favorite reads of the year:

I know it’s bad form to lump a couple of classics in with that group, but aside from a few nuggets of wisdom, I didn’t enjoy reading either Candide or Walden. I usually like Neil Gaiman quite a lot, but Trigger Warning didn’t do it for me. I should mention that I didn’t rate any of the books I finished this year less than three stars, which for me means it was okay—not bad, just okay. I am no longer patient with books that I don’t like. I am much more likely to stop reading books that are sitting on two stars at about 50 pages in. My point is even my least favorite reads of the year weren’t bad.

Reading Challenges

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Dana has
completed her goal of reading 52 books in 2015!
hide

I was able to meet the challenge of reading a book a week for the first time ever this year. I’m really excited about that because it’s been an unreachable goal of mine for some time. In fact, as you can see, I surpassed this goal by reading 62 books! Last year, I read about half that number.

I completed the R. I. P. Challenge by reading four R. I. P. books from September 1 to October 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I completed the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge by reading 20 books from January 1 to December 31. I determined a book was historical fiction if it was set in a time that was reasonably outside the time in which it was written, either partially or totally. Thus, books like Song of Solomon and Revolution count because a substantial portion of both books is set in a time before the book was written. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I did not complete the Reading England Challenge, having read 10 out of 12 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I did not complete the Literary Movement Reading Challenge, having read 5 out of 12 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

Medieval—The Lais of Marie de France
Renaissance—As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Enlightenment—Candide, Voltaire
Romanticism—The Annotated Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Transcendentalism—Walden, Henry David Thoreau

I stalled out after Walden took me too long to finish, and I couldn’t keep up after that.

I completed the Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge, having read 62 books from January 1 to December 31, thus outdoing my previous number of books read in a year.

I did not complete the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge, having read 7 out of 9 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

In the coming year, I plan to have a Reading Challenges page so I can more easily keep track of what I’ve read. This post was very hard to write because I had to look all of this up. 😥

Finally, here is my map for the Where Are You Reading Challenge:

I wouldn’t have guessed this from the first six months, which was slow-going until I stopped worrying about a couple of challenges, but 2015 turned out to be my best reading year yet. I read some truly great books and returned to some favorites, too.

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Sunday Post #38: December

Sunday PostDecember is here! I guess because of the warm feelings in the lead-up to Christmas, I’ve always liked December. New Year’s Eve has always seemed inexplicably sad to me, and I wonder if it’s because it feels like the end of such a, for lack of a better word, merry season. I remember when I was in Girl Scouts we would go caroling, and I have very fond memories of Christmas as a child.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions (and I don’t care if people think this is cheesy or hate this movie) is watching Love Actually with my sister. She has lived overseas and currently lives in Texas, but we synchronize our DVD players and chat online through the movie. We haven’t settled on a date for this year.

I’m also a big fan of making Christmas cookies. Today I’m making a batch of the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that were such a hit last year. Also, as a bonus, this is the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.

This week I finished up Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, easily one of the best books of the year. I started reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. So far, I’m really enjoying it. My most recent tally for books completed this year is 55. I set the goal of reading 52. I should probably set a higher goal for next year. I thought 52 would be ambitious because the most books I’d read in a year previously was 50.

I’ve added the following books to my TBR pile in the last week or so:

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Some of the recommendations came from other teachers at the National Council of Teachers of English conference I attended recently. Others came from poking around and seeing what folks have enjoyed.

I was able to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. I think it’s only the second time I have been able to do it. Because one of my most valuable professional conferences takes place in November, it can be a rough month for me to complete NaNoWriMo if I fall behind while I’m at the conference. Next year, I will probably have next to no time during the conference to write because it will be in Atlanta, and I will have family and friends to visit when I’m not at the conference itself. Still, I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because of the constant encouragement and feeling of community.

I’m looking for some fun challenges for 2016. Do any of you have suggestions? I always like to do a historical fiction challenge and map the locations of my books. Every year I also like to do R. I. P. Any of you doing a fun challenge (or hosting one)? I haven’t really started looking around yet for reading challenges, but let me know if you hear of a really good one.

I have a winter playlist that’s maybe a bit dated, but I still like it.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: Things Half in Shadow, Alan Finn

Alan Finn’s novel Things Half in Shadow starts with a fun premise: the protagonist, Edward Clark, is a Civil War veteran and reporter who is assigned the task of exposing Philadelphia mediums as frauds. He has a background that no one, least of all his ingenue fiancée, Violet Willoughby, knows about—his true identity is Columbus Holmes, son of the great magician Magellan Holmes, who killed his wife (Columbus’s mother) and is now rotting away in Eastern State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, Edward makes a nemesis out of a fraudulent medium named Lucy Collins, who threatens to expose Edward’s secrets unless he agrees to help her put her biggest competitor out of business. But Edward and Lucy get a little more than they bargained for when they discover Lenora Grimes Pastor is a real medium—and they become implicated in her murder when she dies mysteriously in the middle of a séance.

This book is fun, and it moves at a brisk pace. The characters, particularly Edward Clark and Lucy Collins, are engaging. The historical details ring true (mostly). However, I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It’s probably the case that the author intends to write a sequel, but few of the loose ends are tied up, and the ending felt rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the book. The clues were not carefully laid for the reader to notice. The reader doesn’t want to feel completely blindsided by the events in the last 100 pages of a mystery. I think it’s fine to surprise the reader, but the dots need to connect, and the clues need to be laid. Otherwise, it feels like a cheat. I would have said it was sitting on four stars until the ending. However, most of the reviews I’ve seen rate it higher than I have, so your mileage may vary, and it’s definitely worth checking out. In fact, most of the reviews I saw gave it 4 or 5 stars. In the right hands, I think it would a fun movie. It sure has enough action scenes for a novel set in a time that couldn’t include a car chase (it did include a carriage chase, if you can believe it). I can’t say that it didn’t hold my interest. I was just looking for more out of the ending.

Rating: ★★★½☆


 

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