It’s that time of the year again; time to check in with the 2015 Reading Challenge. To refresh your memories: 2015 is the year we read dangerously, the year we decide to read a few books here and there that wouldn’t normally make it into our TBR piles (To Be Read piles).
Last we left off in March, I was regaling you with my latest literary exploits, including I’ll Give You the Sun, A Separate Peace, and Fun Home (FYI: the musical adaptation of Fun Home recently won the Tony Award for Best Musical…SO WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ IT, YET?!).
I’ve read ten books since March—a few great books and a couple of not-so-great-but-adequate books. If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll recognize two of my recent reads as BookExpo loot (and if you don’t read this blog regularly, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!). Not all of my picks fulfill the Reading Challenge, but remember: the checklist is only a guide to get you thinking outside the box, or rather, outside the pages.
I Was Here—Gayle Forman
I was a big fan of Gayle Forman’s YA novels If I Stay and Where She Went. I was counting down the days until this book was released. Although the plot was intense—college-age Meg commits suicide and her shocked best friend, Cody, goes on a journey to learn more about the friend she thought she knew—I’m usually game for a good book cry. I’m going to be brutally honest, here: I did not enjoy it as much as If I Stay or Where She Went. It started strong, but I found myself not caring about how it ended.
The End of Your Life Book Club—Will Schwalbe
(A book you own but have never read)
This memoir is the story of a man and his worldly 75 year-old mother, dying of pancreatic cancer, and the two-person book club they start during her final year. I’ve had this book for quite awhile and finally got around to reading it. I’m glad that I did! It was touching and honest, unflinching in its emotional resonance. An added bonus: through the Schwalbes, I learned of several new books and now give second glances to others that I had never considered reading.
Paper Towns—John Green
This was my second reading of yet another fantastic John Green novel, this time via Playaway. I enjoyed it more the second time around and came to realize how profound the story truly is. It’s about connectedness and individuality, and how in times of great loneliness and pain we are able to finally see others for their own pain and not as idealized versions of who we want them to be. It also has a really fun road trip sequence that I can’t wait to see play out on the big screen when the film adaptation hits theaters on July 24th. Click here to read more about my burgeoning experiences with Playaways.
(A book with more than 500 pages)
On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated and the world was changed forever. In 849 pages, Stephen King explores alternate realities, where a portal to the past can keep Kennedy alive, thus editing our collective history for the better and for the worse. With a mammoth narrative clocking in at over 800 pages, you can’t say King doesn’t fully explore every facet of the story; there’s time travel, an exploration of the butterfly effect, and star-crossed lovers. Interesting alternate history theories are presented, which were perhaps the most creative parts of the novel. My interest in the book ebbed and flowed during the month or so that I spent reading it, reaching some very high peaks of attentiveness and a few plateaus of boredom (that’s probably expected with a story this expansive). When I finally reached the end, I felt as though I had climbed Everest or defeated Goliath.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves—Karen Joy Fowler
After languishing in the land of 11/22/63, I needed a novel that I could sink my teeth into (and that would hopefully take me less than two months to read. In other words, I needed to get my reading mojo back!). We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the story of a dysfunctional and unorthodox family, mixed with a little coming-of-age flavor. To top it all off, I remembered that Karen Joy Fowler had received rave reviews upon its publication in 2013. It turned out to be just what I needed: the kind of book that I hated to put down. I thought it was a fantastic read about a normal, academic family with one unusual characteristic: the older daughter is a chimpanzee. Rosemary, the guilt-ridden younger daughter, is our narrator. She’s dry, sarcastic, hyper intelligent, and keenly observant. Rosemary breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the reader and admitting to lapses in detail and omissions in storytelling. Rosemary’s voice is singular and unforgettable. However, the real heart of the story is Fern, an animal whose nonhuman abilities do not make her less deserving of love and compassion. In all fairness, I should add as a caveat that I loaned the book to a coworker and she only made it half-way through before putting it aside. So, don’t take my word for it.
The Marvels—Brian Selznick
The Marvels was my big “get” at this year’s BookExpo! It will officially be released on September 15th, so I feel extra special to have had the opportunity to read it before the general public. Be sure to read our BookExpo post—specifically the section titled “There is still hope if you don’t get a ticket!”—to learn about the epic quest I went on to get my hands on a copy of The Marvels (And if you have not already read the BookExpo post in its entirety…WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!). Brian Selznick is a genius storyteller, combining gorgeous cross-hatched, lifelike drawings with written words to weave two stories into one. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a beautiful story about a shipwreck, a playhouse, the power or imagination, and the innate need for love and connection. Get on the waiting list for this one RIGHT NOW!
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl—Jesse Andrews
Since the massive success of The Fault in Our Stars, there seems to be a demand for books about dying teens in love. The tone of this YA novel is different from others, thanks to our narrator, Greg. He is self-deprecating to the highest power and so embarrassed by himself that he constantly references his exaggerated desire to “murder his eyeballs.” Despite its lack of sentimentality, the story is no less heartfelt and emotional than you would expect from a book about a teen that begins a friendship with a cancer-stricken classmate. And let’s not forget about Earl, Greg’s friend/”coworker,” with the hard knocks background; Earl’s dialogue is proof that he is perhaps the wisest character of the bunch. The film adaptation is currently playing in limited theaters, and I recommend that you seek it out. The movie was well-made and the ending—though it takes liberties with the novel—was especially powerful (the musical score had me feeling all the feels!).
You Look Like That Girl…–Lisa Jakub
I had this book autographed by Lisa Jakub at BookExpo. She was as kind and friendly as you would hope any author would be, and she seemed particularly excited given that this is her first book. If you’re looking for a salacious former-child star memoir, look elsewhere. Though she worked with Robin Williams, Jessica Tandy, Daniel Day-Lewis and other big name stars, Jakub’s book is more about her internal conflict with acting and less about name dropping. I’ll be honest: I would’ve enjoyed a little more gossip. But, you have to hand it to Jakub for staying classy. She’s certainly a talented writer and it would be interesting to see how she does in the fiction genre.
Shotgun Lovesongs—Nickolas Butler
I’ve had this one pinned on my “Books to Read” Pinterest board since it was in hardcover. As soon as I picked up my paperback copy, I was instantly lulled by Butler’s descriptions of small-town Wisconsin. It’s obvious that he put his heart on the page when he wrote this story of four men—lifelong best friends—and the various roads that lead them away and back to Little Wing, Wisconsin. Two live average small-town lives, one is a hotshot stockbroker and the other a world-famous rock star (reportedly inspired by musician Bon Iver, who attended high school with Butler). My one big gripe is that I found Henry—arguably the main protagonist despite alternating chapters told through the voices other characters—too likable; the man doesn’t have any flaws!
The Price of Salt—Patricia Highsmith
(A book set during Christmas)
Patricia Highsmith is known as a mystery and suspense author (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train). However, this 1952 romance novel is generating renewed interest and recognition due to an upcoming movie adaptation starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The story was ahead of its time: 19 year-old Therese falls in love with a mysterious, older married woman while working in a department store during the Christmas season. It’s always interesting to read a novel that was contemporary at the time, but can now be seen in a historical context. I thought it was a great read—well-written and nuanced. More than anything, I was impressed by the audacity it must have taken to publish a novel with a taboo romance at its center.
What are you reading these days? Are you following the Reading Challenge and discovering new authors and titles along the way? Leave a comment below with your recommendations.