It is snowing again. A new layer of white is covering the snow we already have. This is perfect weather for reading. And since the new year is almost here, I think it is time to announce the 2018 Reading Challenge that I have set for myself.
As in past years, I’ve added a new category of book to the challenge. So without further ado, the categories are:
A book by an author I have never read
A biography oranautobiography
A book recommended by a friend
A romance novel or a western
A book on a historic subject
A science fiction or fantasy book
A book previously started but given up on
A graphic novel
One book originally published in each decade I’ve been alive, so
the 2000’s, and
A book of short stories or essays
A book that is part of series
A book that is the basis of movie or television series (from page to screen)
A book of any kind
A book by a favorite author…or is it a favored author? Is it possible to have more than one favorite? I should know, but I keep confusing myself when I try to think it through. Help would be appreciated.
As always, I can’t use one book to fill more than one category. Each category gets a separate book. In my case that means 22 books this year. If you decide to take the challenge, it will depend on your age. If you are doing a different reading challenge in the coming year, please let me know about it.
It seems that I always hit a reading dry spell during the summer months. I read no books during July and August this year. Well, I read one book before that dry spell, Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz. This book was my choice for science fiction/fantasy selection. I’m sure that I have mentioned in other posts that when Cindy plays an audio book in the car, I fall asleep. Fear Nothing was the exception to that rule when Cindy played it many years ago. This year I bought a physical copy of the book to hold in my hands and read to see if it was a fluke. It wasn’t. I’ve read other books by Mr. Koontz, and none of them are as satisfying to me as his two Christopher Snow novels. I only hope that he eventually gets around to writing the third.
I broke loose from my reading dry spell in September when I took my next selection, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, with me while we were on vacation. It was published in the 1950’s. Steinbeck is another one of those handful of authors who have always made me feel like a hack writer when I read their prose. Perhaps that is the reason that I don’t read them as often as i should. This is a sprawling family story that stretches over generations with echoes from biblical stories, both old and new testament. Once again I find myself swearing to go back and read more Steinbeck. He is worth it.
Next I went to a book published in the 1980’s, The Night of Morningstar by Peter O’Donnell. It is a Modesty Blaise novel. I believe it is the only Modesty Blaise novel that I hadn’t read. Over the years I’ve read all of the novels, many of the comic strips in reprint books, and I’ve seen the atrocious movie which starred Monica Vitti, Terrance Stamp, and Dick Bogarde. I haven’t seen the made-for-tv movie(s?), and don’t plan to see them. The books, however, are worth reading and re-reading.
The plot lines are familiar. Wealthy men want more wealth and power. Their plot is stumbled upon by Modesty and Willie. Innocent people are in danger. Modesty and Willie insert themselves into action. Modesty and Willie prevail. All is well. No matter how many times I read one of these thrillers, I love it.
From the 2000’s I chose to read Body of Lies by David Ignatius. He has been writing espionage books for decades, but this was the first of his that I’ve read. I see Mr. Ignatius on television often as a political commentator. He also writes a syndicated column for The Washington Post. Body of Lies was made into a movie in 2008, but I have to admit that I never saw it. I enjoyed the book, It was well written and had an interesting premise. Plus it drew upon the book The Man Who Never Was, which I read when I was in high school. That book was was fact. I shall be reading more novels by Mr. Ignatius.
As the book on a historical subject, I chose Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to The Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. As you might have guessed, the book is about her coverage of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign for President of the United States. She is a reporter for NBC News, and was assigned to the campaign for what was supposed to be a short time. However, she stayed with the campaign through the election. The book gives can account of life on the road as she followed the campaign. She also writes about her youth, her parents, and how she got into TV journalism. It is an interesting and quick read. I’m sure that if I re-read the book in a few years,it will bring back memories.
Finally, as the book I read from the 1940’s, I went back to an author, Donald Hamilton, whom I had read for the 1970’s. This is the first time I have read the same author in two categories. I had not planned on doing so. I had started reading 1984, but found that I wasn’t able to really enjoy it. It was too serious at a time when I didn’t want serious. I wanted an easy read. So I dug out my copy of The Steel Mirror. I read the book so long ago, and it had made so little impression on me, it was like reading it for the first time. It is something of a pot-boiler that is hard to take truly seriously. Or perhaps it is that I’ve become more cynical as I age. Still, you can see the germ of Hamilton’s more famous creation, Matt Helm, in the actions of the male protagonist of this story. I may dig out some other older Hamilton books and give them another read.
I successfully finished my challenge for the year! And I still have enough time to read a couple of books that I don’t have to try to fit into a specific category. I am pleased.
I chose A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle as my book to read from the 1960’s. Like some of the other books that I’ve read this year, it was aimed at the youth market. I didn’t know that when I bought it, but it became obvious early in my reading. I don’t have a problem with that since I had never read it before. Some day I’m going to figure out how I missed reading all of these good books for so many years. As I was reading this book I kept being reminded of the fictional books by C.S. Lewis. L’Engle wrote two or three subsequent books in this series, and I plan on reading them someday. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have a bookcase full of books to be read, so it may take me some time to get back to this series. I am glad that I picked this one up.
Next I finished reading a book of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri titled Interpreter of Dreams. As I was reading I kept asking myself two questions. 1) Why don’t I read more short stories; and 2) why hadn’t I heard of Lahiri before? I love this book. Each of the stories deals with people of Indian heritage, and most of them have migrated to the U.S. But that is just what is on the surface. These stories are pictures of the lives of ordinary people who are reacting to the world and the people around them. No one is extraordinary, and yet I was so taken with each character that I was drawn into their world. The cultural differences between me and the characters didn’t really matter. I could understand why they reacted the way the did. I shall be buying more books by Jhumpa Lahiri. Perhaps the next one will be a novel, but I do need to read more short stories.
The autobiography that I chose for this year was My Song by Harry Belafonte and Michael Shnayerson. It is the lucky thirteenth book of the challenge. I have been a fan of Mr. Belafonte since I first heard his music in fourth grade. My teacher brought in his Calypso album and would play it when we couldn’t have recess outdoors due to rain. The first album of his that I bought was his first Carnegie Hall double album.
In later years I became aware of his work in the Civil Rights movement, though he wasn’t as high-profile as Dr. King, James Farmer Jr, Roy Wilkins, Medgar Evers and others. According to this autobiography, Mr. Belafonte was a major behind-the-scenes mover.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Mr. Belafonte spends so much time writing about himself since it is an autobiography, but I was disappointed that he didn’t spend more time talking about his family. But it was a god read, and I enjoyed the book.
When I finished Mr. Belafonte’s book I decided to take off a few days from reading. Those few days turned into three weeks. But I snapped out of it and picked up On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. This book was not on my radar until Cindy and I saw the author on Morning Joe talking about his book in connection with the recent presidential election and subsequent events.
I’ll state here that if you are a fan of President Trump, you will not enjoy this book. If you do not like the president you will enjoy the book. If you are still not sure, this book can give you a historical perspective to work from.
It is a short book with short chapters. The chapters are shorter than most of James Patterson’s books, if that helps you understand. The epilogue is longer than any of the twenty chapters.
I especially liked the chapters on professional ethics, being kind to our language, and learning from peers in other countries. As in all things, I liked the book but you may not.
I chose a mystery as the fifteenth book in my reading challenge. I had planned on reading a book first published in the 1940’s, but it would have taken more brainpower to read than I was willing to expend right now. So instead I picked up a mystery, Tatiana, by one of my favorite authors, Martin Cruz Smith..
This is the eighth novel with Arkady Renko as the protagonist. The first, of course, was Gorky Park which was published in 1981. In this novel Renko is searching for the murderer of a Russian Mafia chief and is also looking into the disappearance of the body of a journalist.
Russian gangsters, government corruption, investigative journalism are all part of the mix. I always seem to ask myself at some point in one of these novels if Renko is one step ahead of everyone, or if he just muddles through until it all comes clear to him. I’ll read the Renko mysteries as long as Mr. Smith keeps writing them.
The sixth book I read for the challenge was True Compass by Edward Kennedy. I am using it as the book recommended by a friend. In this case, the friend was Cindy who loved the book and kept telling me that I would love it as well. My story is that I bought this book shortly after it was published in 2009. I wanted to read it and so did Cindy. I told her that she could read it first so she took the book and started reading it. Then she put it down. After a while she would go back to the book, and then put it down for one reason or another. This pattern kept repeating. She finished the book in late 2016. I spent a week reading it.
Kennedy collaborated with the respected Ron Powers in crafting the book. It was released shortly after his death. It gives insight into his life and beliefs. Two things shine through it all, he was a man dedicated to family and he was a man of faith. Together they molded his life. I only wish that he had started working on his memoirs earlier in his life, because there was enough content that he could easily have filled three or more volumes. I would have gladly read that much.
The next book that I read was the graphic novel The Rocketeer:Hollywood Horror by Roger Langridge and illustrated by J. Bone. The Rocketeer was an independent comic book hero from the 1980’s. The comic was created, written and drawn by the late Dave Stevens. I was a big fan of the comic, and when I saw this new story was available I wanted the book. I haven’t actively collected comic books for a couple of decades, so I wasn’t aware that other Rocketeer stories have appeared since those days. But on to this one. It is set in the same time period, the 1930’s, as the earlier comics and The Rocketeer movie. I was a bit confused since I hadn’t read any of the stories since the original Stevens’ works. I was also surprised to see Nick and Nora Charles with a cameo by Asta; as well as “Monk” Mayfair, “Ham” Brooks, and Doc Savage. The story was enjoyable, but I am not a fan of J. Bone’s cartoonish art and found it a bit off-putting after Steven’s detailed work. I guess, for me, the book was not a hit, but a near miss.
I have a number of books in my “to be read” bookcase that would have fit the reading category From Page to Screen, but while browsing in my favorite bookstore I came across Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson. I’ll fit the other books into some other category.
First the book. It was first published in book form in 1883, so even I couldn’t fit it into a book published in a decade that I was alive. It was written as a book for boys, though it was quickly apparent that adult men were also drawn to it. Considering the number of murders and other deaths that occur, around twenty I believe, today’s overprotective parents probably wouldn’t consider it appropriate reading for their children. Considering that it is a story of pirates, buried treasure, and with a boy hero I found it a rollicking good tale. I’ve always wanted to use that phrase, and finally found a place for it.
Now, a bit about the movie versions. I saw two of them on television when I was much younger, but can’t remember enough to say if they were true to the book. What I do remember are the characters of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins. In the 1934 film (again before my birth) Wallace Beery played Silver, and Jackie Cooper played Jim Hawkins. In the 1950 Disney version Robert Newton played Silver and Bobby Driscoll play Jim. I have to say that Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver is the one I best remember, To me, he is Long John. There was also a television show in which Newton played Silver that I watched as a child.
Next I read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. It is the book that I chose for “a book of any kind.” It probably is best described as a book about science, but it is much more than that, IT is also about the lives, the collaboration, and the friendship of two Israeli psychologists. They studied the way people make decisions, and how “rule of thumb” is not as good a choice as using statistical analysis. I have to admit that I didn’t understand all that they were positing. For me, the more interesting parts of the book were the sections that dealt with the lives of the two men, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and how they interacted with each other. The book was written by Michael Lewis who has also written The Big Short, Moneyball, Liar’s Poker and other well known books. It is an interesting book, and I recommend it.
And then I read Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale. I had originally bought the book as my choice for “from page to screen,” because I had watched the first season of “Hap and Leonard” on television. The first season was based on this book. But since I decided to use Treasure Island for “from page to screen,” and I already had used another book tor the 1990’s, this book is now my choice for “part of a series.” The television show is faithful to the book, which made the reading of this already short novel a very quick read. If you are not a fan of violence and bad language, steer clear of both the book and TV version. Though there is a bit more gratuitous violence in the TV show.
In this year’s reading challenge I still need to read 1) a biography or autobiography, 2) a mystery, 3) a book on an historical subject, 4) a book of science fiction or fantasy, 5) one book each first published in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s 1980’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, and 6) a book of short stories or essays.
The first book that I read for this year’s reading challenge was Killing Floor by Lee Childs. It was the first of his Jack Reacher novels. It was first published in 1987, and will count as a book written in that decade. I had never read any of this series of books, and it isn’t likely that I’ll read another. The book began with an unlikely coincidence, had negligible depth of characters, and had a definite lack of suspense. I’m glad that I read the novel, just so I can say that I didn’t ignore the series of books completely. I purchased the book using a gift card that I received at Christmas, so I don’t feel that I wasted any of my own money.
The second book that I read for the challenge this year was The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe. I’m not sure what genre this book falls into. The U.S. Library of Congress catalogued it as Fathers and daughters – Fiction, and Mediums – Fiction, as well as Boston (Mass.) – Fiction. It is all of those and a lot more. I have to admit that I wouldn’t normally pick up a book like this one, but I was looking for something different to read for the challenge; and I was drawn to the book by the cover art. The book is set in the early 1900’s with flashbacks to the 1860’s. I suppose I would describe the book, succinctly, as being about people dealing with loss and discovery. I enjoyed the book and will look for others by Katherine Howe.
Last year I mentioned that I had trouble finding a western when I went to B&N. It turns out that I didn’t search well enough, because they have a section devoted to western novels. This year I walked to that section and picked up Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. It is without a doubt his best known novel. I admit that while I have heard of Zane Grey since I was but a lad, I had never read one of his books before this year. I was surprised, when I read it, that it was so anti-Mormon. He almost seems to go out of his way to run down the church. The book was written about a time, but not during the time, when polygamy was practiced in the church. In the book, Mormons are also depicted as a closed, intolerant group. I can’t imagine that the novel would be as well received today as it was when first published in 1912. If you can get past the severe anti-Mormon speeches you will find the book to be a good tale.
I went back and read The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English as the book I had started but not finished. This was my third attempt, and this time I succeeded in finishing the book. It was worth the effort. To be honest, I’m not sure why I couldn’t finish it the first two times that I started it. It is an interesting book for anyone who enjoys reading about the history of languages. Count me among that group. A large part of the book recounts how various words from other languages have become part of the English vocabulary. I believe it was T.S. Eliot who said that the only languages that don’t change are dead languages. I could be wrong about that since I’m relying on my memories from graduate school. At any rate, English is alive and well.
From the 1970’s I chose to read The Retaliators by Donald Hamilton. I chose this book in a reaction to the first book in this post. I wanted a reminder that Donald Hamilton had conceived of a tougher, more intelligent, less sentimental character than Jack Reacher decades before the Lee Child books. I’m talking, of course, about Matt Helm (not the very bad movie or television versions of this character). This book was the seventeenth in a series of twenty-seven novels, and was first published in 1976. Some of the latter books in the series have recently been republished. If you haven’t read any of the novels you may enjoy reading about a government agent who is primarily an assassin. Not very likable? Perhaps, but I eagerly read my way through most of the series in the 1960’s and into the 1980’s. I haven’t read all of the books, but plan to if they become available.
This picture is the third that I took on my way home to Lafayette after my mother was buried in Rolling Prairie. As you can tell, I do my best to avoid cities. Not that that there is much in the way of cities between the two places.
Well, I failed to meet the goals of my self-inflicted Reading Challenge again in 2016. I read only seventeen of the twenty types of books that I set in the challenge. Has that brought my spirits down? Yes, a bit. Is it deterring me from trying again this year? Not a whit! In fact in 2017 I’ll be shooting to read 21 different types of books. The twenty-one types are:
A book by an author you have never read before.
A biography or autobiography.
A book recommended by a friend.
A romance novel or a western.
A mystery or thriller.
A book on a historical subject.
A book of science fiction or fantasy.
A graphic novel.
A book of short stories or essays.
One of a series of books.
A book previously started but never finished.
A book that has been the basis of a movie or television series, or vice versa.
A book written in each decade that I have been alive, so one in the 1940’s.
A book written in the 1950’s.
A book written in the 1960’s.
A book written in the 1970’s.
A book written in the 1980’s.
A book written in the 1990’s.
A book written in the 2000’s.
A book written in the 2010’s.
And a book of any kind.
The challenge begins on January 1. As in all of my challenges, you are invited to play along with me. I don’t take myself so seriously that I don’t see this as play. If I did, I would be weighed down with self-recrimination over past failures to achieve my goal.
If you want to play, you have a few days to start picking your books. I would be interested to know how you do. I already have my first three books in mind; and I’m eager to start. I’ll give updates on my progress as the year goes along.
The reading that I set for myself this year requires me to read twenty books in various categories. Here is my challenge: An author you have never read before, Biography or autobiography, A book recommended by a friend, Romance novel or Western, Mystery, Historical subject, Science fiction or fantasy, A book started but given up on, Graphic novel, A book published in each decade I’ve been alive 1940’s – 1950’s – 1960’s – 1970’s – 1980’s – 1990’s – 2000’s – 2010’s, A book of short stories or essays, Part of a series of books, and to round it out A book of any kind. I’ll be bringing you updates as the year goes on. In fact, this is the first update.
The first book that I read was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig. The book was first published in the 1970’s, though I first read it in the early 1980’s. I had planned on reading it last year for the challenge, but ran out of time before I could get to it, so I started the year with it. The book was a best seller when it was published. It feels as if each time I read the book I understand a little more about what Pirsig is saying about Quality, but I do get bogged down in some sections. Having said that, I must admit that the term that best describes my feelings when reading the book is “comfortable.” Pirsig might say that “comfortable” is an intellectual construct of Quality. But I may have misinterpreted that section of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t mind working at their reading.
To the other extreme, my second book this year was Larry McMurtry’s The Last Kind Words Saloon. I chose to read a western rather than a romance novel this year. I had planned on picking up something by Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour, but after wandering the aisles of Barnes and Noble without finding anything, I turned to Larry McMurtry. McMurtry is an excellent writer, and I’ve enjoyed some of his other books. This book, however, seemed like it was put out just to trade on his other excellent work. The story was just too short to please me. I mean, I read the entire book in one day. I’ve spent more time on graphic novels.
I seemed to slow down in my reading when I came to the third book this year, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport. This fills the Biography part of my challenge. I realized a few years ago that almost everything that I had read about Lenin and Stalin was in the context of spy thrillers. This year I decided to finally rectify that situation by reading a biography of at least one of them. I’m not sure why my reading speed slowed down with this book, because it is quite interesting. Perhaps next year I’ll find a biography of Stalin to read.
After reading non-fiction I decided to go to something that I could get through quicker, so I chose a graphic novel to read. I chose Jupiter’s Legacy, Book 1 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitley, for the obvious reason that the art intrigued me. At first look indicated to me that Quitley’s art had been strongly influenced by Jean Giraud (Moebius) and perhaps also by Frank Miller. The story (the first five comics in a series) by Millar reminded me of Watchmen by Alan Moore. Truth be told, I enjoyed Millar’s story more. I may actually look for Book 2 so that I can read more of the story.
I feel like I’ve already fallen behind on my challenge, so I’m going to get cracking on the next book…after I work on my Stamp Collection for a bit.