Reading Challenge 2016

The unabridged list of books read in December

My list of books read in December and a reflection on #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.Well, here we are again: on the cusp of a new month and a new year. As it’s my last roundup of 2016, it’s the right time to reflect on my attempt to read my own books this year. It has been the most meaningful reading effort I’ve participated in and one that I’m looking forward to continuing in 2017.

Overall, I would have liked to have done better. Of the 110 titles I read this year, 54 were my own. While that’s close to the 50 percent mark I’d been shooting for, I would prefer to have exceeded, rather than fallen short, of it. More than anything, though, I’m treasuring what I’ve learned through the journey. I covered that here, but a quick recap of the most significant point:

A big part of what appeals to me about stockpiling books is the idea of the books, of what unread books signify: possibilities. In aspiring to do better at reading my own books, I’m aspiring to find possibilities, hidden potential, in the existing rather than in the imaginary. I want to be more mindful and less impulsive, in all areas of my life. Here’s to working on that in 2017!

And now, for the books:

Books I read:

Asterisk (*) signifies a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks title.

Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier (e-book)

A Lucy Stone cozy murder mystery to kick off the holiday season with a bang … literally: A reclusive, Scrooge-like mortgage company co-owner is blown up with a mail bomb. Naturally, Pennysaver reporter Lucy Stone is on the case. Not officially, seeing as she’s a reporter not a detective. She just can’t stop herself from nosing around.

These fun cozies are set in Maine and depict small-town New England life in all its charming quirkiness.

The Wee Free Men - one of the excellent books read in DecemberThe Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching Series #1) by Terry Pratchett (e-book)

I picked this book up after Andi at Estella’s Revenge posted a beautiful quote from the series on social media. Plus, it seemed wrong that I’d never read any of Pratchett’s books. The Wee Free Men is about a girl called Tiffany who discovers she’s a witch. A magnificent, sassy, level-headed hag, as the eponymous Wee Free Men call her. The latter are six-inch high Scottish warrior types who watch out for Tiffany. I loved how funny and poignant the fierceness of these tiny men is. The key lies in the juxtaposition: As full-sized men, their fighting, drinking ways wouldn’t be quite so delightful. I appreciate juxtapositions. They keep me mindful of the contradictions and paradoxes within us all.

I adored this beautiful story about finding the power inside of us. It made me think about the importance of taking care of each other in ways that aren’t condescending of others and that recognize and honor the power within them.

Jane Eyre - one of my books read in December
Oh, this line…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (e-book) *

I don’t remember having had a particular affinity to this novel when I first read it back in graduate school. This was my first time rereading it since then and … well, I can see why it’s not achieved the mythic-ness of a Pride and Prejudice. The story has tremendous feeling, but the men are horrible (more on this here, if you’re interested). I also found the moral overtones a bit stark and unforgiving, especially with how events play out at the end.

What most impressed me was how skillful the novel is in eliciting a particular response, especially through character development. Bronte is masterful in using description and telling details to evoke in the reader (well, me, anyway) the feelings Jane experienced. I love when a novel can make me feel, viscerally, what a character feels. My heart races, constricts, or hurts parallel with the character’s. How Bronte achieves this is definitely something I want to think more about.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (e-book)

I’ve not read much Dylan Thomas. This book, which I discovered through Words of a Reader, made me want to. It’s a short, lovely story of a young boy’s Christmas memories in Wales (obvi). The language is luxurious and startling in its freshness, like a new coat of snow. I downloaded it for bedtime reading, and it was perfection. Though I’d recommend acquiring the paper version: The edition I read had original woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. The e-book can hardly do them justice.

Christmas Stories from The Sketch-Book by Washington Irving (e-book)

I found these stories while researching for something festive to write about for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge. Turns out they may have inspired my favorite Christmas book of all time, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. They tell the story of Christmas at a fine English country manor as seen through the eyes of traveling American. The pieces are richly descriptive, entertaining, and nostalgic – perfect for the season.

A Christmas Carol - one of my books read in December
This is the paperback edition that started my holiday reading tradition all those years ago.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (hardcover) *

It doesn’t quite feel like Christmas if I’m not rereading Dickens’ classic about Scrooge and his four ghostly visitors. I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve kept up this tradition. And yet, the story continues to move and inspire me. I have … numerous editions. This year, I decided to read the annotated one and highly recommend it. It’s so crammed full of marginalia that it’s like reading three books in one.

A Highland Christmas by M. C. Beaton (e-book) *

Reading The Wee Free Men somehow managed to provoke nostalgia for Scotland … despite my not being Scottish and having only visited once in childhood with my family. So I guess what I’m really saying is, I became nostalgic for a Beaton Hamish Macbeth novel. I first read this one a few years ago. It’s also the first I ever read in the series, the one that made me fall in love with the characters and the setting.

Instead of investigating a murder, Hamish investigates stolen Christmas lights and the meaning behind a reclusive old woman’s crusty ways. The story is heartening and touching. I just might make it a Christmas tradition to reread this along with Dickens.

My Lady Jane - one of my books read in December.
This cover begged to come home with me.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (hardcover)

Christmas brought me an unwelcome gift: a virus that left me flat on my back for three days. I was fine, really, as long as I was horizontal. So, I took advantage of my inability to be upright by reading all day. I polished off this young adult fantasy novel in one giant gulp. It might be the most pages I’ve ever read in a single day.  It’s an *alternate* history of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen of England for nine days in 1553. Her story is desperately sad: She was a pawn in a power play and ended up losing her head (literally).

In this infinitely more cheerful revision, some humans (called Edians) have the ability to transform into animals, and some (called Verities) don’t. They do not appreciate each other. Who is what and how it all plays out makes for a rollicking adventure, and romance too. Obviously, it takes massive liberties with history. But the way it draws on the real characters and their stories is clever, witty, and fun. Plus, it inspired me to read up on the true events. That’s what I call a win on all sides.

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop by Jenny Colgan (e-book) *

This is the other novel I inhaled during my convalescence. It’s a second book about Rosie Hopkins, a Londoner who moves to the English countryside to take her over her ailing great-aunt’s sweet shop. It’s full of quirky characters, unexpected twists and reveals, and amusing banter. It was also quite moving in its exploration of community life and family bonds. That’s about all I want to say since part of the fun of these kinds of novels is the plot turns.

A Merry Christmas, and Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott (e-book)*

I picked this up a few years ago when I became obsessed with the Penguin Christmas editions. And finally, I’m finally getting to it (thank you, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks!). It’s a collection of Alcott’s Christmas stories, the first being from Little Women. They read like fables or allegories, as if we’re not meant to see the characters as their own entities exactly but as extensions of ourselves and our struggles. I’m finding them deeply affecting.

In the past, I’ve found Alcott a bit … I don’t know, maybe treacly? Reading these stories, I don’t think so anymore. I think she makes me confront the reality of my flaws. That feels hard, so I may feel tempted to diminish what she does as just so much saccharine. I struggle with my lack of patience pretty much on a daily basis. I’ve wished, often, that it was easier to be the kind of person I want to be. But no. I have to work hard at it. Somehow, reading these stories made me feel a better about the struggle. They show us how we never known exactly what’s going on inside someone else, so tread carefully. They remind me to focus on what I can control, which is me. And I’ll need quite a bit of energy for that. These have been perfect last-day-of-the-year reading.

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
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Books I read parts of:

Classic Christmas: 42 Heart-Warming Tales of the Yuletide (e-book) *

At almost 3,000 pages, this e-book is a massive collection of books, poetry, and shorter expository and fictional writing about Christmas. On Christmas Day, I read “The First New England Christmas” by G. L. Stone and M. G. Fickett and “Christmas in Seventeen Seventy-Six” by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton. I expect I’ll keep chipping away at this for years to come.

Books I bought:

Oh dear. Eleven books bought this month. I making a new rule for 2017: I can’t buy more books in a month than I read in a month! Between gift cards, e-book specials, and library book sales … sigh.

Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier (e-book)

A sale, and I’ve read it.

The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching Series #1) and A Hat Full of Sky (Tiffany Aching Series #2) by Terry Pratchett (e-book)

After falling in love with the first book, I had to get the second. I think I showed real restraint not getting all of them straightaway. Then again, there are only five, so the clever voice inside my head is telling me to pace myself.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce Series #4) by Alan Bradley (e-book)

A sale, and I fully expect to go through this series sooner or later, possibly sooner.

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Series #3) by Jasper Fforde (e-book)

A sale and so unnecessary as I have the hardcover, but it’s at home in Greece.

Gidget by Frederick Kohner and Kathy Kohner Zuckerman (e-book)

I got this for my Nook because I want to read it for the Gilmore Girls challenge we’re doing at Books, Ink.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (hardcover)

This was a beautiful hardcover that I felt good in my hands. I DID NOT NEED TO BUY THIS BOOK. For heaven’s sake.

Death of a Nag (Hamish Macbeth Series #11) and Death of a Macho Man (Hamish Macbeth Series #12) by M. C. Beaton (e-book)

I’m quite fixated on reading these in order. Why do I feel the need to stockpile these? I guess I feel a little better just knowing Hamish is in my e-library waiting for me.

Collected Works of Shakespeare by William Shakespeare (e-book)

I sooo wanted to leave this one off my list. We have two editions of Shakespeare’s collected works in my house. The font on both is microscopic. I wanted to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the cost of just the one play was the same as the whole collection! Why would I buy one play when I can get the whole collection, amiright?

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (hardcover)

I kept seeing people rave about this book. Plus the cover! At least I can say I read it.

No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel (e-book)

A World War II novel that I’ve wanted to read, and it was on sale.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (e-book)

I read this one too!

What did you read in December? What are you looking forward to in 2017?

2 thoughts on “The unabridged list of books read in December

  1. There’s so much to love in this post. I’m so so glad you’ve been in on #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks from the beginning and that you’ll continue. You nailed it when you wrote, “I’m aspiring to find possibilities, hidden potential, in the existing rather than in the imaginary. ” YESSSS! So much this.

    And I’m thrilled that you enjoyed The Wee Free Men. Tiffany Aching forever!

    1. Thank you so much, Andi! RMODB has been a catalyst for me in so many important ways. I’m so thankful for it and happy to be doing it communally again in 2017!

      And thank you (times infinity) for introducing me to Tiffany Aching!

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