Tag Archives: reading

Whether to reading challenge or not

15 Dec

reading challenge

This has been my third year doing the Goodreads reading challenge, and it will most likely be my last.

I’ve always been a huge fan of lists. To-Do List, 500-best lists, Bucket Lists. So naturally a reading challenge seems right up my alley. The Goodreads reading challenge is as simple as they come. You pick a number of books that you’d like to read in a given year, and you try to read them. In 2013, I succeeded and read 52 after I had set a goal of 50. In 2014, I came up short reading only 49 when my goal was 55. And this year, I’m currently at 44 of 55 and will probably not reach my goal.

The arbitrary thing about this challenge is that I could go into my account and change my goal. A lot of the people I’m friends with have goals of 10 books, 15 books. I’ve surpassed those numbers, and 44 is nothing to scoff at. I like the idea of the challenge in that it pushes me to read more which is always worthwhile. But I’m afraid it was negatively affected my reading habits.

I don’t feel down or unaccomplished for not reaching these goals, because I know exactly why I didn’t make it. Last year, it was the fault of Game of Thrones. This year it’s the fault of Outlander. In their respective years, I decided to read through these series and the volumes are not small or quick. I loved them though, especially Outlander.

jamie fraser

But these series slowed me down. I’ve only read the first three books of the Outlander series, and each one took me about three weeks to get through. The reading challenge was looming over my head, though. So instead of savoring Gabaldon’s descriptions of Jamie Fraser’s fiery locks or the sweet tones of his Scottish accent, I kept thinking to myself, “read faster, get through this, you’re so behind on the challenge.”

At bookstores and at the library, I found myself running away from larger books and favoring large font, shorter books, knowing that I could get through them faster. And I’ve never found myself intimidated my large books before. So instead of the reading challenge pushing me to read more, it only pushed me to read faster, to pick quicker books and shy away from larger tomes. I became so concerned about my numbers and how they stack up. I want my annual number to be better than the last.

The challenge can be a great thing for the right reader, but next year, I’m giving myself permission to read whatever book I want at whatever pace I want. If I decide to swim in the literary lake that is a poetry book, I will do so and not be rushed to meet some number I forced upon myself. It’s all about quality as opposed to quantity after all. Every good reader knows that.



Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

23 Feb

People just kept recommending this book to me. Everyone saying the same thing. They couldn’t put it down. The writing is stunning. So I began this book with the highest of expectations. This always makes me nervous as it makes books easier to fall short, to not be perfect.

This however lived up to the many wonderful things said about it. Most of the talk generated around this book has to do with race, which Adichie addresses beautifully and in a way that I had not seen done before. The novel is about a young Nigerian woman Ifemelu and the love of her life, Obinze. The two of them dream of emigrating to America together. However, only Ifemelu is able to obtain the visa. Over the years, they drift apart as Ifemelu tries to acclimate to the United States, and Obinze unsuccessfully tries to get to the US by working in London, but eventually ends up back in Nigeria.

A lot of books talk about the Black experience in America, but this book does so through the lens of a woman who spent the first 20 years of her life where being Black didn’t make her a minority. The subtlety of the racism she encounters is beautifully documented, not overly dramatized, yet apparent. It’s real. It makes all the people in this country that want to try and deny that we don’t have an issue with race look insane. Black people have come a long way, but to try and say that racism has been eliminated from our culture is foolish. Books like this that confront the issue are more important now than ever.

But beyond the expansive issue of race, the book is a beautiful love story. Ifemelu is a whip-smart, loveable character, and I found myself not wanting the book to end if it only meant that I could follow her story forever.

That being said though, to anyone out there that read the book, did the last three pages feel rushed to you? Maybe I was overwhelmed with grief that the story was ending, but I felt it was forced. I wanted more, not multiple months and the most important encounter of the book (to me) slapped on at the end.

29 Before 29: Read Catch-22

18 Dec

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

catchI’ll come right out and say it. I didn’t finish it. I got a little over halfway through, and I found myself not wanting to pick it up. I found myself dreading my reading time and preferring to listen to “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now” on repeat until I had memorized the background Spanish vocals. La indecision me molesta. Si no me quieres, librame. I had to put the book down unfinished. I had to do it.

It’s not that I hated it. I think my problem with it was manifold. One, I expected too much. I’d heard it was the funniest book ever written, and I thought I was going to spend a lot more time laughing than I did. There were funny, satirical parts, for sure, but I wasn’t falling out of my chair. Two, it doesn’t have a plot, or at least a structured plot. The book weaves in and out of time, jumping from character to character, scene to scene. It’s hard for me to become invested in a book like that if I don’t have a story or an idea I’m following. Three, I tend to never like books about war. I’ve read a number of war classics, and they just don’t do it for me. It’s like Sci-Fi. It’s rare for me to find a book in the genre that pulls me in. I have never been able to put my finger on exactly why that is. Four, I got the point within the first couple of chapters. War is absurd! All of it. It is a surreal, weird thing to send a bunch of men to a foreign country to kill people in order to make diplomatic progress. Bureaucracy and government are likewise absurd. Joseph Heller does a marvelous job of satirizing this, but once I got his gist, I wanted to move on.

But, again, it’s not to say that I didn’t like it. His prose is stunning at times, and I was amazed at the variety of characters that he built. I adored the “Major Major Major Major” chapter. I just couldn’t finish it. 300 pages in, and I wasn’t invested in what happened. Plus with a January book club book on the way and this stack of beauties on my bedside table, I didn’t want to waste any more time on something that I felt I had to finish, that I was obliged to read. Life’s too short for that.

My darlings.

My darlings.

For the Love of Books

22 Oct

By the always amazing Maria Papova at http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/08/03/book-spine-poetry-the-spark-of-love/

I can’t deal with my Kindle.

I don’t think it’s fair to call me an old-fashioned reader. I believe myself to just be a reader. Part of that love of books is the books themselves. Nothing fills me with more optimism than browsing a bookstore: all those stories, all those new things to learn, new characters to meet. In a tiny bookstore, one can find whole new worlds, universes! The covers (soft and hard), flipping through the chapters, using a special postcard to hold my place. I just love books.

Ebooks are essentially the same thing in a less attractive package.  And in my life they’ve been a life-saver. When I traveled around Japan for a week, it was a relief to only carry around my Kindle instead of four, heavy books. But recently, my Kindle and I have had a falling out from which I don’t think we’ll recover.

I had been reading a lot of hefty tomes this summer. It was also a hot, humid summer in which I got cranky when the five pound book in my bag pulled on my shoulder. So when I went to the library to pick up “The Count of Monte Cristo” and the librarian slammed that beast on the counter, I knew I couldn’t do it. I ran home and downloaded it onto my Kindle.

When I haven’t used my Kindle in a while, I’m always amazed by what a pleasure it is. So thin and light. A built in dictionary. One-handed page-turning! I was so happy in love and dreaming about all the large public domain novels I could download for free.

Then, as happens with technology, things started to go wrong. Sometimes when I would go to turn the page, it would take a couple of seconds. Not that big of a deal, but when you add up all those seconds between all those pages, that’s a lot of quality reading time down the drain. But I could forgive. I was 40% through my book, and I didn’t want to stop. Then my Kindle decided that it would randomly freeze and shut off. I would sit and wait for it to reboot, watching all that time slip through my fingers. And I began to get angry. Books don’t freeze! Books don’t need to reboot! When you pick up a book, it never tells you it needs to load first.

So my Kindle has been temporarily shelved, and I do feel that I’m getting a lot more reading in when I can turn the page as rapidly as I do.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

10 Jul

I now find myself working a new schedule, Wednesday through Saturday. While this means that I can no longer play Pac-12 softball (please, let’s not speak of this sadness), it does mean that I have two weekdays off.

On this Tuesday, I let my hair go curly. Something I almost never do, because it often frizzes messily or hangs limply like overcooked spaghetti. But today, the planets aligned and my hair curled perfectly; bouncy, honey-colored ringlets falling down my back. So I had to leave my apartment, I had to show my curls to the world.

So I went to the West Village, to a bookshop that had been recommended to me, Three Lives & Company. Lately, I’ve been reading the biography of Elizabeth I. It’s interesting, but it hasn’t been able to pull me in. All those accounts of what happened, what might have happened, and what is no doubt rumors is dizzying, and the writing was as dry as a Wikipedia article. I found myself watching “Gossip Girl” on Netflix at the end of my days instead of curling up with a book. If this happens, it is safe to say that one is reading the wrong book as that show blows. It pulls you in, but it blows.

So I browsed the tiny store for about 30 minutes, until I resolved to buy this book. It has been on my literary to-do list ever since I arrived in my beloved Prague over five years ago. So I purchased the book and headed to a coffee shop. I finished the chapter I was reading about the death of Amy Dudley in Elizabeth I’s biography and picked up the Kundera.

Within the first few pages, I was in love. A lot of times when reading a book, I’ll rush through, read fast and loose so that I can move on to the next book on my to-read list. So many books, so little time. But it is such an amazing and distinct pleasure to find a book that makes me want to go slow, to savor every paragraph. Instead of doing laps in a pool, I’m swimming in a mountain lake on a hot summer day.

My mom always used to tell me that “Money comes, money goes, but money always comes again.” I have found this so true in life, but I’ve found it to be true with everything. After months of the daily grind getting you down, a friend agrees to fly to Japan with you. After weeks of feeling unhappy with your job, a new opportunity presents itself and you find a new passion with which you want to spend your life. After a couple of weekends of nothing interesting, you find yourself at a surprise Brunch birthday party, drinking pitchers of mimosas and laughing with new and old friends for hours. After a series of lackluster dates, a man you’ve known for months crouches down and runs his finger over your tattoo, and it shoots electricity straight to your knees. You remember you’re not the girl who is okay with merely a dinner partner but needs someone who can put your all too sturdy knees in check from time to time. And, finally after throwing “Fifth Shades of Grey” across the room and sighing “Spare me,” and half-heartedly reading a dramatization of the Borgias (what rotten people), and forcing yourself to read a historical book so that you can meet your self-imposed yearly non-fiction quota, you find yourself with an amazing book that you can’t stop thinking about, that you know will be dog-earred, pen-marked, and reread. So if you’ll excuse me, I must return to my book now.