On Not Finishing Books

As part of keeping track of books I read, I’ve also started keeping track of books I don’t finish. When I was younger, I used to try to slog through any book I started, but nowadays, I occasionally give up on a book. According to my list, which I’m pretty sure is an underestimate, I started six books that I didn’t finish in 2016. I’ve already given up on one book in 2017.

Sometimes, I just don’t like a book and I give up, guilt-free, after a few chapters. But more often than not, I just don’t click with a book. Objectively, I know a book is pretty good, but for whatever reason, I’m just not feeling it at that moment, so I stop reading. It’s along the lines of “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Occasionally, it’s the timing that isn’t right. I decide I want to read a book, so I put it on hold at the library. Sometimes, the book is available within a week or two, but sometimes, it’s a couple of months, and my interest in the book has waned. Sometimes, you’re just really feel like reading a YA fantasy dystopian zombie novel, and then two months later, not so much.

The majority of the books I abandoned last year were ebooks. I think I find it easier to abandon an ebook since I don’t have to actually look at it again. An abandoned physical book will sit on my shelves, and occasionally I’ll see it and think that I need to get back to it. I do think the physicality of reading an actual paper book is a very different experience than reading an ebook, and although I read a lot of ebooks and I enjoy the convenience, physical books are still my favorite.

 

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2017 Reading Goals

Having looked back at 2016 in my last post, now it’s time to set some reading goals for 2017.

I want to go for quality over quantity. There are so many books I want to read that I often feel like I’m in a race to finish them all. I’m probably never going to finish all the books I want to read (and that list is ever expanding), so I need to accept that and just enjoy what I have time to read.

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A small fraction of my to-read list.

I would like to work on my current to-read list without adding anything new to it. I honestly don’t know if this is possible for me, because I’m always coming across more books I want to read, but I’m going to try.

I want to read more diversely. Something like the Book Riot Read Harder challenge is a great idea, although I know that I would get frustrated trying to check off that many boxes. Still, I think even trying to hit a few of these goals would encourage me to try different things than I would normally read. (I just don’t see myself reading a book about sports, but I think I may have a nonfiction book about figure skating on my shelves. It’s a sport.)

My husband and I have come up with a reading project that we can do together. He’s been reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and he mentioned that he’s never read any of the books the characters (Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Allan Quartermain) are taken from. I’ve only read one, so we decided we would try to tackle all five books this year: Dracula, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and King Solomon’s Mines. It should be an interesting challenge (I don’t read much nineteenth century literature these days, unless it’s Jane Austen, this so will definitely be a challenge for me). I think doing this with someone else makes it more likely that I will actually make the effort to complete this.

I want to continue my 2016 nonfiction streak. I already have several nonfiction books in my to read pile. I’m already well into one nonfiction book, Ten Years in the Tub, which is Nick Hornby’s columns about reading from the Believer. It’s fantastic and hilarious, and I’m ripping through it in no time. It also made me realize that Hornby has several book sI haven’t read yet, so they promptly went on the to-read list. Sigh.

2016: My Reading Year in Review

At the end of the year, I like to look back at what I’ve read. I use both Goodreads and a Google doc to track my reading, and I have different totals: 83 on Goodreads and 111 by my own accounting. The discrepancy is because I re-read a lot of books this year that were already counted on Goodreads. You can change the date read, but if I had already read and rated a book on Goodreads, I didn’t bother with updating the entry.

Why so much re-reading? In a few cases, I read a book, intending to write about it on the blog, but by the time I got around to writing a post, enough months had passed that I felt I needed to read the book again. I also just enjoying re-reading old favorites, and it somehow feels like less of a commitment than starting a new book.

I tend to set yearly reading goals for myself. Sometimes it’s a formal goal, like in 2010, when I decided I would read a poem every day for the whole year. (I achieved that goal, enjoyed it very much, and haven’t read a single poem since. Sigh. Perhaps it was too much of a good thing.) Sometimes, it’s a less formal goal. In 2015, I sort of vaguely decided I should read less YA and make more of an effort to read some adult, literary fiction. I did pretty well with that goal, so I decided to carry it over into 2016 but aim for nonfiction. (I used to read a fair amount of nonfiction, but I hadn’t read any in recent years.)

I read 22 nonfiction books in 2016. Seven of the 22 were science, and seven were about Antarctica. I’m glad I set this goal, because it helped me rekindle my dormant interest in Antarctica (and in particular, Antarctic exploration). My re-fascination with Antarctica was triggered when an acquaintance mentioned doing scientific research in Antarctica, which got me thinking about icebergs. A few weeks of considering white polar wastelands made me delve into my polar exploration shelf. The other nonfiction books were a mixed bag: self-help, history, current affairs, literary criticism, and memoirs.

The rest of the 83 books I read (I won’t count the re-reads here) break down as follows:

Children’s books: 27
Young adult: 23
Adult fiction: 10

If you combine adult fiction and nonfiction, that’s 32 books, so I suppose I did ok at reading books for grown-ups.

The most important book I read this year is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s not exactly a feel-good read, but it’s important and should be required reading for all Americans. I’m very glad I read it and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen.

I’m delighted that my nonfiction goal led me back to Antarctica, and I enjoyed all of the books I read on the subject, which includes one novel, The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge. I have more Antarctica on my 2017 to read list. There are so many books on Antarctic exploration that I’m not going to run out of reading material anytime soon.

The books I enjoyed the most this year were:

Radiance by Catherynne Valente
Your Inner Fish by Neil ShubinThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfield
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge
The Lake House by Kate Morton
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Alone on the Ice by David Roberts
Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Mandy by Julie Edwards
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Quality-wise, it was a pretty good year, and I can’t recall any major duds.

Next up: 2017 reading goals.

 

80s Flashback: An Introduction

When I first envisioned this project and blog, I pictured myself reading the classics of children’s literature: Anne of Green Gables, Harriet the Spy, and so forth. But when I started making a list of books I enjoyed as a child, I quickly realized that not all of them were what you’d call classics. For every Little House on the Prairie or Are Your There God? It’s Me Margaret, there wimg_2821as a Sweet Dreams romance or a Dark Forces book.

These books may not have had the most literary merit, but they were still a part of my life during a very formative period, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of them. I also enjoy these books for the aesthetic value of their covers–I can’t get enough of cheesy 80s young adult covers (check out the matching turtlenecks on the couple on the top left, neither of whom look like they’re in high school).

Although I’m calling this series 80s Flashback, some of the books were written in the 70s. But if I first read a book in 1980 or later, I figure it makes the cut. I’m going to concentrate on books I read as a kid, but I may branch out into books that are new to me, so if you have any favorites, please recommend them. (I’ll give priority to anything with a cheesy cover.)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A new one for me

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
First published in 1900
Still in print

My history with this book
I loved the movie and I started reading the other Oz books around age 9 or 10, but I had actually never read the book that started it all until now.

My thoughts:
I’m not sure why I didn’t read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a child. I owned most of the other volumes in mass market paperback editions, but I didn’t have the first book and I never sought it out. I think I figured that since I already knew the plot from the movie, there wasn’t much point in reading it.

When I started this project, I decided it was time to read it. After all, I loved the other books, and I’ve re-read a few of them as an adult and found they still held up. With this in mind, it’s not a huge surprise that I loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

If you’ve seen the movie (and who hasn’t seen the movie?), you’ll be familiar with the basic plot: Dorothy gets swept up in a cyclone and transported to the magical land of Oz, where she accidentally kills one wicked witch and then goes to meet the Wizard, who sends her on a quest to kill another witch. Along the way, she befriends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.

Although the plot is familiar, I found it interesting to see which elements made it into the movie and which were dropped. I was surprised that the beginning of the book, where Dorothy is still in Kansas, is very short. Within 4 pages, she’s up in the air. The descriptions of her home are pretty grim.

“Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.”

Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are just as gray:

“The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled, now… Uncle Henry never laughed. he worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.”

I felt this was a slight weakness in the book. Of course, Dorothy wants to get back home to Kansas, because it’s the only home she’s ever known, but since we see so little of her life there–and what we do see is so grim–it’s hard to get a feel for how much Dorothy wants to get home again. I did love the descriptions of her home and aunt and uncle. You really get a feel for the dry, dustiness, barren sort of life it is. The movie handles this section well, with the black and white scenes giving you the same gray sense of place. Lengthening this section also gives the viewer a better sense of Dorothy’s connection to home.

One of the biggest differences is that Dorothy is much younger in the book. Her age isn’t specified, but I would guess she’s around 10. I knew that Dorothy was young from reading the later books in the series since Dorothy makes appearances in several of them, but I tend to picture Judy Garland as Dorothy, which doesn’t really make sense in the context of the books, where Dorothy is clearly not a teenager.

In the book, there are a lot more obstacles along both the Yellow Brick Road and the journey to kill the witch. The movie streamlines both journeys, leaving out a lot of the obstacles. Some of the parts that are left out are episodes I really liked in the book, but I can see why they were cut, in particular, one that includes thousands of mice, which I imagine would have been awfully difficult to film in the 1930s.

One thing that surprised me about the book is that the Wicked Witch isn’t that scary. You read a lot about her and how awful she is (and she is really awful, enslaving multiple populations), but on the page, she only appears quite briefly, and she’s definitely not the terrifying witch of the movie. I assume it was a deliberate choice to make the witch more kid friendly. In his introduction, L.Frank Baum writes, “for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale.” Perhaps the not too scary witch is an attempt to move away from the wicked witches of traditional fairy tales. It also makes the book appropriate for very young readers.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, although the third book in the series, Ozma of Oz, remains my favorite.

Does it hold up?
Yes. This is a fantasy classic, and the only thing that feels dated is Dorothy’s life in Kansas.

Is there any objectionable content?
No, not really. There are various references to the Wicked Witch enslaving the Winkies and her sister using the Munchkins as forced labor, so that might prompt a discussion about slavery.

Can you read it aloud?
Definitely. Most of the chapters are pretty short, and the book is very episodic, so it lends itself to being read in brief spurts.

Do I want my kid to read it?
Yes! I can’t wait to share the Oz books with him, and although The Wizard of Oz isn’t my favorite of the series, it sets the groundwork for so much.

Availability
This book is still widely available, in lots of different editions. You can also read it free online through Project Gutenberg or buy it for .99 for the Kindle.

 

 

 

An introduction

I was an avid reader as a child, and I have many happy memories associated with books. When my son was born 3 years ago, I began to think about sharing my childhood favorites with him as he got older. Although I had revisited some of these favorites over the years, most of them I hadn’t read in many years. I wondered if the books I had loved so much as a child would something I could share with my son as he grows up. Are they timeless classics, or will they seem hopelessly dated?

So, about 18 months ago, I started reading a lot of children’s books. I’m reading my old favorites, some classics and popular books that I missed as a child, and occasionally, some newer books. I’ve been taking notes as I read, but I decided to start writing up blog posts on the books, so I’ll have some coherent thoughts to share with my son. I’ll be writing up my thoughts about these books, focusing on the following things: my history with the book, does it hold up/would kids still enjoy it, is there any objectionable content (let’s face it, older books may have some racial stuff that’s very hard to read), and can you read it aloud.