My Year in Books: 2017

2017 has been an exceptional reading year for me, given the circumstances.  Through childbirth and breastfeeding, continuing work on the earthbag home, and all the usual joys of family life, I was still able to prioritize reading.

2017 reading challenge

This was my first year attempting a reading challenge.  I got the idea from my Facebook book club.  One of the gals posted a reading challenge put together by Popsugar.  A few days later, I heard about Modern Mrs. Darcy’s two different challenges, one for readers who simply want to pile on the narratives, and one for readers seeking growth through books.  I liked the idea of choosing books not just because they were recommended by friends, but because they fit into certain categories.  As a person who likes organization, I appreciate fitting things into categories.  So, I decided to make my own personal reading challenge, not too modest; I figured I could probably handle a book a month, but enough to push me to sit down and commit.  And for external motivation, I posted the challenge to Instagram, #Alireads2017.

My category choices were fairly simple and straightforward.  You may notice that I took some ideas from MMD, such as a book in translation and a Pulitzer prize winner.  I wanted to expand my repertoire for genre, so that’s why I chose a young adult novel, a graphic novel, and a hip and modern romance.  I’m so pleased with myself for setting and achieving my reading goals and for finding these great titles, in no particular order:

A Graphic Novel:

March book

I don’t believe I’ve ever even picked up a graphic novel, let alone attempted to read one.  I saw a post from NPR on the exceptional literary value of modern comic books, so I chose one they recommended.  I tried.  I really did.  I tried March because it was supposed to be historically accurate.  Maybe I can learn something from this, I thought.  The images were distracting.  The font was irritating.  The binding held the paperback pages too tightly so it was a struggle to read it while nursing the baby one-handed.  Everything about this novel just didn’t work for me.  I tried.

 

A Hip and Modern Romance:

Eleanor and Park reading challenge 2017

A hip and modern romance was fairly easy to find.  I was skimming the R’s in the young adult section alongside my son who was looking for more Rick Riordan, when I saw Eleanor and Park.  I was immediately drawn to the cover with the headphones.  I love books that reference music I know.  Rainbow Rowell has a real knack for well-developed characters, especially through their vulnerable teen years.  So much of this book reminded me of my first love, my high school, and the overpowering emotion evoked from particular music.  After reading that one, I had to get Fangirl, which I loved a teeny bit more than Eleanor and Park.

 

A Classic:

to kill a mockingbird reading challenge 2017

To Kill a Mockingbird has been on my TBR for a long time.  In fact I began it last summer but couldn’t finish because I got distracted with life.  This time I stuck with it and really enjoyed little Scout Finch’s perspective on the unjust world she lived in.  I also really liked Atticus’ personality and his demeanor with his children.  A book club friend told me that if I liked his character, I should not read Harper Lee’s second novel, which I had just gotten from the library.  I promptly returned it.

 

A Book About Homeschooling:

This one fits into the continuing education category, About Homeschooling, because I am always open to new ideas about teaching my kiddos.  This wasn’t my favorite homeschooling book; a lot of things I new already.  It did open my eyes to the concept of making the kids’ projects visible at all times so that they can easily be reminded of and continue working on them.  I will keep this one around and look at it again for inspiration from time to time.

 

A Book by an African American Author:

underground railroad reading challenge 2017

I chose more than one book by an African American Author, and this one could have fit into two categories because shortly after reading it, it won the Pulitzer.  Anne Bogel raved about this one but I did not love it.  I was often confused by the jumps back and forth through time, and irritated by the constant sentence fragments.  There were some beautiful sentences though, and excellent imagery.  I wrote this quote in my reading journal: “Here was the Great Spirit, the divine thread connecting all human endeavor – if you can keep it, it is yours.  Your property, slave or continent.  The American Imperative.”

 

A Book with a Setting in Another Country:

cutting for stone reading challenge 2017

I could fill pages with quotes from this book with a Setting in another Country.  And I did, in my reading journal.  Verghese is a superior storyteller that taught me much about the recent history of Ethiopia, coffee, fistula surgeries, and a slew of new vocabulary.  I recommended this one to many people because it is such a good story with just the right amount of history, humor, sadness, and triumph.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “Malgudi was populated by characters that resembled people we knew, imprisoned by habit, by profession, and by a most foolish and unreasonable belief that enslaved them; only they couldn’t see it.”  Such powerful prose!  I could reread this one for sure.

 

A Book About Oklahoma:

dreamland burning reading challenge 2017

I loved this novel About Oklahoma, set in Tulsa in the early 20’s because of its historical accuracy and well-developed characters.  Race riots in Tulsa?  Who ever heard of such a thing?  Not many people because they were swept under the rug and excluded from history textbooks.  The whole skeleton in the back house and just enough, but not too much CSI surrounding it was a pleasant refresher from my Anthropology 101 days in college.  I found it enthralling how the author overlapped the race issues of the 20’s and the unfortunate race issues still happening today.  Note to self: assign this as school work for the boys when we get to Oklahoma study (and re-read it also).

 

Something Mom Loved:

a week in winter reading challenge 2017It is bittersweet that I fell in love with reading again in 2017.  Sweet because books can catalyze relationships between people and bitter because my mother (a voracious reader) died just 2 years before my reading spark occurred.  How I would have loved to make her a reading journal so that we could share our feelings about great books!  As far as I remember, she didn’t have a Goodreads account or any paper journal to track her reading.  I do recall seeing several books by this author on her bookshelves.  In reading one of her favorite authors, I get a sense of connection with her in the smallest way.  I can see why she liked Maeve Binchy, and maybe this cozy novel set in Ireland, and I’ll be reading more of her books.

 

A Pulitzer Prize Winner:

the known world reading challenge 2017

“Isn’t this a pretty cover?  Oh, it’s a Pulitzer Prize Winner too.  I’ll take it!”  I said to myself at the library.  Reminder to self: Don’t judge a book by its cover, Alison.  I really slogged through this one with its never-ending introduction to characters, jumps through time and place, and occasional references to licking sweat?!  I can’t see why it won the Pulitzer, other than its exploration of a seriously disturbing and rare occurrence: black people owning slaves.  This quote sums it up, “Of all the human beins on God’s earth I never once thought the first slaveowner I would tell to leave my place would be my own child.”  I was glad to finally finish it.

 

A Book About a Famous Person:

bossypants reading challenge 2017

For a Book About a Famous Person, I thought I’d choose something a little on the lighter side after all the disturbing historical novels.  This was exactly what I needed.  Many of the pop culture references were over my head because I don’t have cable television, live in a city, or dress to the cultural norm.  However, I did get her feminist theories, advice on parenting, and liberal jokes.  Actually, I really enjoyed the last 2/3 of this book.  I guess I wasn’t invested for the first few chapters because of all the references to acting and pop culture.  But the Rules of Improvisation and tips on motherhood were hilarious!

 

A Young Adult Novel:

book thief

This Young Adult Novel recommended by my book club was dark, really dark, told by death himself.  And set in Nazi Germany, and long.  Maybe the longest and darkest book of my 2017 reading life.  But it was so good.  I could relate to little Liesel Meminger and her love for words and books and her loveable foster father.  Two metaphors in one sentence on several pages was a bit much.  Overall, I really enjoyed this read.

 

A Book in Translation:

backman 2017

I had a hard time finding a novel In Translation that appealed to me.  I tried The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, but I couldn’t stick with it.  This novella, also with a lengthy title, and translated from Swedish, was much shorter and definitely sweeter.  It paints a picture with vivid imagery of the effects of Alzheimer’s and of the strong bonds of family that often skip generations.   It tugged on my heart strings enough for several reading challenges, thank you very much.

Other books I enjoyed this year that weren’t included in my reading challenge:

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Raising Freethinkers by Dale McGowan

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

In all, it has been an excellent reading year for personal growth, historical education, and general word-nourishment.  If you haven’t tried a reading challenge yourself, I recommend you start with a manageable amount of imaginative categories and go for it!  It also helps to keep your list visible as a reminder.  Head to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge for inspiration and fun printables.

 

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” -Haruki Murakami

 

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