Reading Challenge 2016

The unabridged list of books I read in June, Updated

The big excitement of books read this month: my return to reading paper books, at least partly. I’m still trying to work through Mount TBR, e-books edition.Books read this week, meet books read this month: Today’s WWW Wednesday, which I discovered through Taking on a World of Words and Coffee and Cats, includes my monthly reading roundup as well. The books with the fuller write-ups are, of course, the ones I read and have been reading over the last week.

The big excitement of this month is my return to reading paper books, at least in part. I’m still trying to work through Mount TBR, e-books edition.

Books I read:

*Asterisk indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBook title

The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George (e-book) *

This book got two thumbs up from me earlier this month.

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (e-book) *

My feelings about this book were complicated. I loved the idea that inspired it but had some issues with the book itself. I wrote more about it here.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (e-book)

This month’s book club pick was deeply satisfying and heartening. More of my thoughts on it are here.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (hardcover)

I read the first page in the bookstore and laughed out loud. That’s typically my cue to take a book home with me. The story follows the fall of Apollo, who wakes up in a New York City dumpster as a scrawny, 16-year old mortal with an acne problem. This is apparently Zeus’ punishment for incidents that transpired during the war with the giants, featured in the Gods of Olympus series.

Apollo is rescued by a young demigod, who brings him to Percy Jackson, who takes the teens to Camp Half-Blood. There, they engage in camp activities (many lols here) and investigate why all the oracles have gone quiet, which leads to much drama and adventure, needless to say. Each chapter begins with a silly and often hilarious haiku (‘memba? Apollo is the god of poetry, among others).

It’s the usual formula of gods, demigods, and monsters, frantic chases and dramatic near misses, mixed with silly humor and fun. This time, I was also struck by the clever and sly ways Riordan weaves mythology into the characters’ behaviors and conversations. As an adult who has studied Ancient Greece and Rome, it’s fun to decode. At the end, I found myself longing for the next installment. Too bad I’ll be cooling my heels for the next year until it comes out!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *

My fifth audiobook of the year … The other big surprise of 2016 has been discovering I can enjoy listening to books while exercising.

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith (e-book) *

Smith is an English professor and Janeite who devoted a sabbatical to setting up Jane Austen reading groups in six Latin American countries. The book follows her travels in each country, the people she meets, and the discussions she shared with local readers. She also narrates her own romantic adventures, apropos for a Jane Austen book, I suppose.

The book engaged me, becoming more interesting the more I read. The travel sections, where she describes the places she visits, were a highlight for me. Perhaps most thought provoking were her recaps of the book discussions. Something nagged me about these, especially as I read further and compared how she talked about them. It might be I detected an extremely subtle privileging of a particular way of reading literature, to which she is of course entitled. Though this is a memoir, not an academic book, perhaps it’s difficult for academics to shut off that part of themselves that continually categorizes and hierarchizes. It is for me sometimes as well.

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (paperback) *

This poem satisfied a category I’d not yet read this year for the “When are you reading?” challenge: Pre-1500.

I savored Seamus Heaney’s translation, stretching it out across more than a week. Though I read the book in school, I don’t remember it well enough to compare translations. What I can say about this one is the language was fluid and accessible. The accessibility of the language heightened, for me, the sense of dislocation created by the content. (I had a similar experience reading The Iliad.) The poem tells the story of Beowulf, a young Geat hero. At the poem’s outset, he presents himself to Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose kingdom is threatened by the monster Grendel. Beowulf offers to fight Grendel, and that’s all I will tell you about plot in case you haven’t read it.

The poem lays out customs and traditions and the warrior code in slow, steady rhythms and pacing. This world of warriors who don’t question but respond to dangers and losses feels out of reach, alien. But it’s no less moving for it. The poem’s power to move lies in part in its own survival across the centuries – a voice out of time and place. For me, it’s also in the metaphoric narrative of facing demons and threats, vanquishing one monster only to see another rise in its place, which resonates for our times as well. We can never rest, the poems seems to say, until our time has passed away.

Reading Beowulf made me sad. Perhaps it’s because we see him progress from youth through old age. Perhaps it’s the flashes of insight on loss, weakness, and the power of character, sacrifice, and loyalty. Moments of intense emotion are few but perhaps more starkly affecting for their rarity.

Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes (paperback) *

A novella prequel to Moyes’s novel The Girl You Left Behind, Honeymoon in Paris introduces us to Liv and Sophie, both honeymooning in the City of Light, 90 years apart. The women’s stories are told in alternating chapters. In 2002, Liv struggles with her new hubby’s workaholic tendencies. In 1912, Sophie worries that her artist husband’s eye will wander. Their stories intersect eventually, though I won’t tell you how (duh, spoiler).

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown in King Arthur Collection (e-book)

I remember writing a paper about this 14th-century English chivalric poem in college. I remember that my paper had a catchy title and went over well, though I can’t remember either the title or content! Anyway, Sir Gawain is a knight at King Arthur’s round table. On Christmas day, the Green Knight, so called because he is literally green, shows up at court to request a challenge. Sir Gawain takes the call. The rest of the poem explains what happens next. (I dislike when people spoil classics, as if no one cares about their plots.)

The translation I read has four cantos and rhyming stanzas and included an underlying romantic plot involving a lady called Elfinhart, who doesn’t seem to be mentioned in every version of the poem. I enjoyed the one I read. I loved how sly and witty its narrator is, while still aspiring to present an expected moral. Asides to the reader abound, in which the narrator expounds on his/her writerly intentions as well as that moral. Reading this brought a smile to my face.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I read the first page at the bookstore and promptly brought it home to resume reading. The story begins in Ghana at the tail end of the 18th century with two sisters, Effia and Esi. Born into two distinct villages, the sisters never meet. Effia marries a British officer overseeing the slave trade while Esi is captured and sent to America to be sold as a slave. Subsequent chapters are told from the points of view of each sister’s descendants in Africa and America from the 19th century to the present.

In a pivotal scene later in the book, a character, who is a teacher, says to his class, “This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others.” He continues, “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

These questions speak to the idea Homegoing explores – African and African American voices and stories lost to History. Content and structure echo each other. Each chapter captures one small fragment of each character’s story then leaps ahead to pursue the next one. The third-person narrator often leaves characters behind just as a significant event has happened to or around them. We may (or may not) learn that character’s fate retroactively, long after that fate came to pass. And our knowledge is often incomplete. We’re left to infer and fill in the blanks. We have to *do* the work of History. The narrative structure foregrounds how each character is part of a much larger story, and it left me with a feeling of longing to know more about them, to know their full stories, the very feeling we need to hold onto when studying history. We’re looking through a narrow lens. The story is much bigger than what we can ever fully know or understand.

Books I started:

This month hasn’t found me dipping into and out of books. So I might finally have found my reading stride … halfway through the year. I do have two books underway that I see myself reading/listening to right to the end.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Book 5 by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *

Now I’ve finished Goblet of Fire, I’m on to the next one.

Books I bought:

After last month’s dramatic backslide (it was my birthday month, i.e. gift cards), I’ve had a slightly more reasonable book-buying month … very slightly. It would probably help if I stopped hanging out at Barnes and Noble, but that isn’t happening. Books plus coffee? It’s my happy place!

The other big deal that happened this month: My eye doctor updated my prescription, and I can read hardcovers again. Paperbacks, not so much, but I’ll take what I can get in the paper book genre. On the other hand, the fiscal downside of this development is I bought a bunch of hardcovers to celebrate. Ooops.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (e-book)

This I bought for my book club and devoured in two days.

King Arthur Collection (e-book)

While reading Beowulf, I decided I needed to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight next, which is how I discovered this collection (offered at 99 cents!). It includes Sir Gawain as well as Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (which I’ve never read), Idylls of the King by Lord Tennyson, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (on my reading list), and more. Quite the bargain!

I might try A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court next.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling (pre-ordered the e-book)

I’m going to be traveling in July and don’t know what kind of bookstores I’ll have near me on the 31st, its release date. I want to be able to read this right away lest I miss it and then get spoiled by the Internet.

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (hardcover)

This was an impulse buy, sort of. Being of Greek heritage, I’ve heartily enjoyed Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Gods of Olympus series – very amusing, clever, and fun. Still, I wasn’t going to get involved in the new series because I’m reading my own books. I just walked by the book cover one too many times and finally couldn’t resist. I read it the day I brought it home, though, so that’s a victory.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (hardcover)

I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. It’s a Newbery Medal winner, and it’s narrative poetry, one of my happy reading discoveries of 2016. I couldn’t resist flipping through the book and then couldn’t resist walking to the counter and purchasing it.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (hardcover)

Another book I was going to wait on except I didn’t. I’m about three quarters of the way through and don’t like having to put it down.

How did your June reading go? What’s on your reading list for July?

8 thoughts on “The unabridged list of books I read in June, Updated

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed Beowulf. I remember enjoying Heaney’s translation as well. Happy reading and thanks for participating in WWW Wednesday!

    1. Thank you for hosting it! 🙂 I did enjoy Beowulf, and it’s made me want to read more classics – ah, I love the classics.

  2. So glad to read this and congrats on finishing all those books! I have to say, though, I’m surprised you liked “All Roads Lead to Austen.” I found it really disappointing – like there seemed to be no particular point to it. I guess it’s because the writer is a professor and it seemed like this experiment to do Austen discussions in different Latin American countries, but she never really pointed out a particular connection or reason for focusing on this part of the world. Maybe there was a point to it, but I just felt like she wanted to travel there and figured, meh, might as well tie Austen into this! I think it would have been so much more interesting if she could have done book groups around the world, or in areas that have a strong connection to Jane Austen and her world (so certain British towns and cities, maybe places abroad that have ties to some of her characters or aspects of her life – like how many of her books involve the wars with the French, etc.), or like maybe the places around the world where the most Jane Austen books are sold.

    I do like how you tie in the romance idea to the Austen theme – I hadn’t thought about that.

    1. At the beginning, I had to push myself to read it. The book did have a kind of aimlessness that starts from the beginning. The opening chapter doesn’t do a great job of explaining why she did this project. I reread it thinking I hadn’t been paying attention and missed something, but I think it was just missing. If I’d read the first few pages in the bookstore, instead of having it on my e-reader, I don’t think I would have bought it. After a while though, I just went with it because I enjoyed the travel sections, and I was curious to see how the different groups would react to the book and what they’d notice. For me, the missed opportunity was to think about the larger value of great literature and how it resonates. I felt like she was too professor-y and never really draws any conclusions about what she observed and what she learned from the experience of doing it. It’s like, “Here’s all this stuff that happened,” without saying why she bothered and we should care. On the other hand, it did keep me reading to the end, so I have to say the book engaged me. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Charlie! I love the HP series too. I’ve reread the books more than once and am thoroughly enjoying listening to them for the first time. 🙂 Happy reading to you too!

  3. I love getting your thoughts on all of these books! I’m glad to know you enjoyed the new Riordan. I’ve heard it’s his best yet.

    1. Thank you so much, Emelie! I enjoyed The Hidden Oracle so much – literally was laughing out loud reading certain scenes and still chuckle when I think about them. The haiku at the beginning of each chapter are hilarious.

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