Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Winter Reading Challenge

Every winter, for as long as I can remember (as long as I've been married), my local library has done a winter reading challenge. It starts December 1, and carries on through the last day of February.

I've earned way too many coffee mugs and tote bags by picking how many books I'm going to read through that three month period, and then getting 'er done.

For me, that's the easy track. I usually read close to two dozen books.

This year I decided to stretch myself, and my reading life, with the (always an option) 12 category challenge. It really was a challenge since I read about 98% fiction, and 2% nonfiction. And about half these categories seem tailored towards nonfiction (How crazy is that? And very biased. IMHO). But, I managed to work around that.

My reading always leans way heavily towards fiction, and that was certainly true of last summer and fall. With everything going on, I felt I didn't have two extra brain cells to rub together, so most everything I read was light and fluffy.

Fluff and stuff is quite formulaic and predictable and fun, but unfortunately, it was not included as a winter reading challenge category. Sigh...

So, when I was scoping out the categories for this challenge, I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew. But, I made it through. I still have to finish one book, but I am well on my way, and I still have another week.

I would say that having to find books for each category made me intentional about what I was reading. Plus, I found some great new authors, which was exciting. I also read a ton. I'm betting I read an additional couple dozen titles over the past three months, that were in already completed categories. (mostly fiction categories, if I was to be completely honest)

Here are the 12 categories, and the books I read to fulfill them.

1. Michigan Read: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron. Totally light, and rather humorous. Not a life altering read, but an enjoyable one.

2. Start of a Series: Lady Cop by Amy Stewart. Anne Bogel has recommended this series on her podcast, What Should I Read Next. The series is based on historical figures, but it wasn't my favorite book ever.

3. Put on Your Thinking Cap: Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. This book was on a teenager must read list compiled by Tim Challies. Confession, we went and purchased the entire reading list, and our goal is to read through each of these books with our kids. We assign chapters that we read independently throughout the week, and then we discuss what we read on Monday night at dinner time. It has been working out well. Under Our Skin was the first book we tackled, and it is about current race issues. I thought it was a good book on a very important topic.

4. Recommended by a Friend: Truly, Madly, Guilty by Lianne Moriarty. My book recommending friend is Anne Bogel. Via her podcast. And it was a indirect recommendation. (But, I do call her a friend, because we were in the same mastermind group a couple years ago, and we actually met IRL.) So, this was a new mystery with an unexpected twist. I liked the format, though I didn't really like the characters. They were all a bit odious.

5. Pick a Classic: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. Is that a stretch? Well, if it's not a classic, it should be. That's all I have to say about that. I bought it right after Christmas, I was determined to reread it, so I made it fit a category.

6. Guilty Pleasure: Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. So, this is a new(er) release, which I wanted to read. And it is a fluff and stuff, which is another name for guilty pleasure. While Auntie Mame would fit in this category, Modern Lovers wouldn't fit in the "pick a classic" category. Categories are flexible. They can handle it...

7. Big Book (500+ pages): Coming Home by Rosemunde Pilcher. I would say this is probably the book I enjoyed reading the most. (besides Auntie Mame) It was epic in its scope, interweaving lives and years. I am looking forward to reading more of her works. But, since each of her novels is in the 700+ pages category, I had to wait until after I finished the reading challenge.

8. Revisit a Childhood Favorite: Paddington Bear by Michael Bond. I'm not sure if this was one of my childhood favorites. I know I read it as a teenager. Does that count? I made it count. So, I started reading this to Meres over Christmas break. She loved it. I loved it. Paddington is so funny. Predictable in his scrapes, but hilarious. (I love hilarious books...have I ever mentioned that?)

9. Translated Novel: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This was not as good as The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared (that one is going to be hard to top) but it was still a fun read. Jonas Jonasson's books are ridiculously absurd.

10. Create Your Own Challenge: Harry Potter and the Curse Child by JK Rowling. So, I've never read a book in a play format before. Not my favorite format. I just pretended the name: wasn't there. As for the contents of the book, well, personally, I think she should have quit while she was ahead. I felt like it introduced adult issues into the series. I know that the original seven books grew up with her audience getting more and more intense with each installment, but this was different. I didn't like the heroes as adults, and wish that I had kept my own imagined version of their adulting unspoiled by her version. Oh well.

11. Armchair Traveler: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weis. This was a food memoir. The author has had an interesting life. I enjoyed it, but I've enjoyed other food memoirs more.

12. Improve Yourself: Peacemakers by Ken Sande. This is the one I still have to finish. (of course, its a nonfiction that I still have hanging over my head...) This book has been recommended to my husband and I by many people. Someone gave us a copy last fall, so we are finally digging in to it. It is very practical on the topic of pursuing peaceful relationships.

Ironically, as I read over this list, only three of the books ended up being nonfiction. I probably should/could have incorporated more nonfiction into the categories, especially numbers 1,4, and 10. But, I do currently have a nonfiction on my bedside table that I am working through. It would fit the recommended and armchair categories. It is called The Ballad of the Whisky Robber. It reads like a Jonas Jonasson title, but it really happened.

Anyway, the winter reading challenge did stretch both me and my reading life. What have you been reading recently?