Reading Effort 2017

Reading my own books in 2017: January reads

This month, every book I read came from my existing library. I’m going to savor that for a minute…

[*dramatic pause*]

This is the first month since making the conscious decision to read my own books that all my reads were my own. Of course, I must thank Andi of Estella’s Revenge for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and Benjamin Thomas of The Writing Train for the Book Hoarder’s challenge. Both have inspired me to stare down my gargantuan library. I’m … still buying books, un-redeemable book hoarder that I apparently am. But I’m making progress. Slow, snail-like progress.

Books I read

Six of my nine total reads happened during Bout of Books the first week of January. Spending a week inhaling books is basically my perfect vacation. The rest of my month was fairly slow, reading-wise, partly because I went back to work and partly because I read two longer classics.

January reads: Maya's NotebookMaya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

When we first meet the eponymous Maya, she’s 19 years old and on her way from California to Chile to lay low. We know there are bad experiences in her past and bad people looking for her, but we don’t know details. Her grandmother has given her a notebook to record her thoughts and feelings, which is how her story unfolds (hence the title).

The novel moves between her present on a remote island in Chile and her life before—her childhood in California and her gradual descent into drugs, crime, and homelessness. It’s part tense thriller, as Maya’s tells her story, and part travelogue, as Maya experiences Chilean culture, history, and tradition. Overall, I found it engrossing.

January reads: Cartwheeling in ThunderstormsCartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

I picked up this middle grade novel late last year without knowing anything about it. Because I loved the cover and title. It’s about a young English girl called Will growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe until she’s sent to boarding school in London. Her transition is heartrending. She experiences culture shock, cruelty, desperation. As an adult reading it, I found it had a fable-like quality, about finding your people and surviving life’s most devastating experiences. This novel felt cathartic, like reading Kate DiCamillo.

Gidget by Frederick Kohner and Kathy Kohner Zuckerman

I read this for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge we’re doing at Books, Ink. It’s the 1957 coming-of-age novel inspired by the true story of Kathy Kohner Zuckerman. The protagonist is Francie, a 15-year-old California teen who falls in love with surfing and surfer culture. Though it feels dated in significant ways, I was surprised by how frankly it confronts sex, drugs, and the desire to establish one’s own identity.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition by J. K. Rowling and Jim Kay

I’ve officially lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel. But … I’d not yet read the illustrated edition I picked up when it first came out. Also, my dear friend Jessica’s children were reading it for the first time, and I decided I needed to read along with them. It refreshes my experience of a book. It’s like how I feel taking a friend to Manhattan for the first time: The city seems new seen through the eyes of someone who has never been there before.
The illustrations are fabulous. So fabulous that they sort of competed with the story, where I didn’t know whether to stare at the beautiful images or read the text. I loved reading this version, though I’m glad it wasn’t my first experience of the book.

Bout of Books - The OvercoatThe Overcoat and Other Short Stories by Nikolai Gogol

This is a collection of four stories: “Old-Fashioned Farmers,” “The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich,” “The Nose,” and “The Overcoat.” The latter two have surreal and otherworldly elements. They poke fun at vanity and bureaucrats and can be poignantly funny. The first two stories are more slowly-paced, especially “Old-Fashioned Farmers.” The first two stories felt like portraits of a culture and way of life as well as of human foibles. The richly crafted sense of place and of people inspires me to slow down and take in the world and people around me.

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

I don’t know what possessed me to acquire this book. Probably that it’s about alternate universes, which, like time travel, is a trope that fascinates me. I was happy I read this during Bout of Books because once I began it, I didn’t want to put it down.

It begins with Joey Harker, who has no sense of direction, getting lost in his own town. He wanders down an unfamiliar street and into another universe. Joey is a Walker, someone who can move between alternate universes, which are created every time someone makes a major decision. Walkers are coveted by two opposing organizations, one guided by magic, the other by science. The job of all the Joeys—there are hundreds of them, each the product of a different world—is to ensure the two forces stay in balance. It’s breathless adventures and near-misses with sci-fi elements. It’s also part of a trilogy (you know what that means, right?).

January reads: Gulliver's TravelsGulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

As you can imagine from the title, this is the story of Gulliver traveling to worlds heretofore unknown to humanity: Lilliput where the people are six-inches tall, Brobdingnag where fully-grown humans are 70-feet tall, Laputa where theory trumps application, and finally the land of the Houyhnhnms, where horses are evolved, rational creatures and humans are beasts. It’s satire for the purposes of critique and clearly, from the voluminous footnotes, of very specific people and events. Over the course of his travels, Gulliver becomes increasingly disappointed and bleak about humanity.

Honestly, I felt very fussed by this book. It didn’t sit well with me. The first two parts in Lilliput and Brobdingnag can be enchanting and poignant. I would guess they’re why this book has been called a “children’s book.” But by the end, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, to be perfectly frank. Though I will say one powerful takeaway I took from reading parts one and two: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to have a mutually trusting relationship when power is markedly unequal. The less powerful may feel vulnerable to the whims of the more powerful, even if the more powerful are seemingly benevolent and respectful.

January reads: Long DivisionLong Division by Kiese Laymon

At the center of Laymon’s time travel novel is 14-year-old City Coldson, who, in the year 2013, delivers a blistering diatribe on live television and goes viral on YouTube overnight. City’s mom sends him to his grandma’s in a rural town where a rapper called Blaize has recently disappeared. Before he leaves, City is given a book called Long Division. This book, he discovers, is about a boy called City Coldson, but is set in 1985. 1985 City time travels with his friend/love interest Shalaya to 2013 (through a whole in the ground). They meet a rapper called Blaize, and the trio travel back to 1964, when Freedom Summer was underway and where their ancestors are in danger from the Klan.

I bought this novel because … well, you know: time travel. While reading it, I often felt confused about the events, about which City Coldson I was with—the 1985 or 2013 version. However, I’m not a reader who needs to understand everything. I was content to walk with City (both of them), to hear his voice and listen to his story, his struggle, his heartbreak.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was my first time reading Wuthering Heights through to the end. Previously, finding Heathcliff insufferable, I’d quit by the third chapter. Well, this is why you have to read a book to the end in order to assess it properly. Heathcliff remains insufferable, in my view. But the story doesn’t. I loved the final chapters so much. I felt transformed by them. They made this novel for me. I only just finished reading it yesterday, so I’m still processing it. I will have more to say soon. For now, I’ll just say I’m so happy I finally read it.

Books I started

January reads: Introduction to Greek PhilosophyIntroduction to Greek Philosophy by J. V. Luce

Here’s a book I haven’t picked up since grad school. It’s a pleasure to reread owing to the authorial voice. Luce covers complex issues in a succinct and readable way. Scholarship of the ancient world is bound to lead to competing interpretations. I love how personably he identifies scholarly controversies and explains which position he takes and why. I began this earlier in the month but got side-tracked by Wuthering Heights. I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus

To go with my Greek philosophy, a Greek novel: I just started this one, dating to about the 2nd century AD. I first heard about it on booktube, courtesy of Jean at Bookish Thoughts. The first translation of it seems to have appeared in French in 1559, which I find fascinating. My edition features three English translations—1890, 1898, and 1916 (so far I’m liking the 1898 version best). I also read that Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves, which I absolutely adored, was inspired by this story.

Books I bought

Otherwise know as: anatomy of a compulsive book buyer. It seems despite my best intentions, I cannot go a month without buying books. Sigh.

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

I tried really hard not to buy this. The e-book kept showing up for $1.99 in my inbox. By the third time … well, I’m looking forward to it, anyway.

Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

So what happened is, I fell in love with the first Tiffany Aching book last year. Then last Friday, I visited the Astoria Bookshop, a small indie in, yes, Astoria, NY. It’s bad manners to go to an indie bookstore and not buy books. It just is.

The Bertie Project (44 Scotland Street #11) by Alexander McCall Smith

This was just a product of my impulsive-ness. If I were a more strategic human, I would have waited to pre-order this on February 1 and not have to add it onto this already too-long list. But, as usual, I got carried away. I’m so excited to read this.

Books That Changed The World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History by Taylor Andrew

I love books about books. That is all.

How was your month of reading?

8 thoughts on “Reading my own books in 2017: January reads

  1. CONGRATULATIONS on reading only your own books this month! Whoa!

    And thanks as always for your thoughtful summaries of them (and for the picture of “An Introduction to Greek Philosophy” with a gyro beside it. That made me chuckle…and want a gyro!)

    So much to say here but my son is unexpectedly waking up early from his nap, so:

    1. I was intrigued by the fact that you like the new illustrated Harry Potters. I got the first two as a Christmas gift (well, a joint gift for me and my son) and I HATE them! I much prefer to use my imagination and the cute little chapter illustrations from the originals.

    2. “It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to have a mutually trusting relationship when power is markedly unequal.” This is the story of my life.

    Thanks again for sharing these and I’m looking forward to catching up on your other posts soon!

    1. Hi Alysa! I’m glad I made you chuckle 🙂 I don’t know if they ate gyro in ancient times (they definitely ate a lot of meat, if the literature is any indication), but I found myself craving one as I was reading, haha.

      I didn’t love or hate the illustrated edition, but I do see it as its own thing, separate from the book itself as more of a companion, like I see the films. I enjoyed looking at the illustrations and seeing how an artist interpreted the book, but for reading purposes, I definitely prefer the just-text version.

  2. What a great January list. I only read one of #myowndamnbooks this month. The rest of my reads were romance novels. It’s been a long winter and I need to read my comfort genre.

    I have to say, I want to go back to college and take a Brit Lit course so I can write a paper on Wuthering Heights. It’s one of my favorite novels. But I want to argue that it’s not a Gothic romance, instead it’s a Gothic warning about avoiding obsessive love. I may have to do it on my blog sometime soon.

    1. I hear you on the comfort genre. How I think about it is, the books will still be there when you’re ready for them.

      I love your take on Wuthering Heights and hope you do write about it on your blog. I’ve been thinking about how to write about it in a non-spoilery way, but it’s hard because the end is so important to how I read the story as a whole.

  3. Great job this month! I think I managed to read one book from my own shelves this month so still some work to do!

    Have you read the others in the Scotland Street series? There are a couple mystery series I’d like to get into but I get so discouraged when I see how many books are already in the series. I think I need to pick and choose when they get that lengthy because I’d never have time for anything else!

    1. Thank you, Sam! It was a nice way to start off the year, even if I don’t meet that same standard of success every month. As long as we’re reading and enjoying it, right?

      I’ve read all the books in the Scotland Street series. It’s one of my favorites. They books are so witty! The 10th book is coming out on Tuesday, and I’ve already pre-ordered it. I know what you mean, though. A long series can really take over your life!

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