Reading Challenge 2021

I decided to do a reading challenge again this year.

GOAL: Read 21 books in 2021

Last year, I posted my “thoughts” to Facebook, but this year, no social media, so I’m putting my blog to good use. You’ll discover that my tastes are very eclectic. I try to mix classics with modern so I don’t turn dumb. (Also, I’m really screwed in 2050.)

Anyway, here we go!

1. Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A Heinlein)

Two words: hated it.

I thought I was reading a book I’d read in high school that I really enjoyed. I was so wrong. Don’t get me wrong, at first as I discovered where the popular word “grok” came from, I was having fun. Then, unfortunately, the book traveled down this hippy dippy free-love / Valentine-as-his-own-religion path, I had to force myself to read on. And the only real reason I did read on was because it was a challenge and I was committed. I’m not a quitter! But I was not liking it.

2. Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Howard Pyle)

Well it’s a good thing I have some familiarity with the King James Bible because there was a lot of thee and thou floating around this book. An interesting read, though, but the ending was like, “WHAT?! THAT’S how Robin goes out?!”

3. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)

I made the mistake of watching the movie before reading the book, so all I could think of was Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp. Holy smokes was this a long one, too! But it’s an interesting take on society, in general, and despite it being written in the mid 1800s, it holds up pretty well when it comes to diving deep into the human condition.

4. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

What an amazing book! I loved the premise of this book about family – and not necessarily the one you’re born into. It was also an interesting take on personal responsibility and sacrifice. Not at all what you’d read today, obviously. I found it refreshing.

5. Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

Okay, I was not expecting this book to be written as a play. That threw me off right from the beginning.

That and somehow the “free” Amazon Prime rental version I got read like it was written in English as a second language and the formatting was way off. I couldn’t take it and had to buy another copy so I could read it and not feel like I was lost all the time.

I will say the pace of the play and the banter forced me to slow down and really absorb the wordplay. I can’t say I loved it, though it was silly and fun, but I think I was spoiled (and not in a good way) by seeing Tim Burton’s version first, despite this tale being a classic. Oh well, who can figure out preference?

6. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

I didnot have any expectations on this book other than I knew it was a classic and an anti-war novel written brilliantly and banned at various times in history for whatever reason.

It was strangely interesting to me. I’m not sure what else to say other than, “Was he crazy?”

7. Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton)

Wow. Considering this was written in the 1960s, it still stands up. Some of the images from the book are a little hokey, but the story is good and Crichton really did his research. I never saw the movie, and I think I’m glad I didn’t. It would have spoiled the book for me.

8. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)

Considering the majority of this book takes place in Bath (which I have visited!), I was baffled by the title for a while. Great book, but I would have liked to see some resolution to that horrible Isabella’s machinations. And her pesky, meddlesome brother. But no, we leave Bath and that’s it. The ending came on like a freight train. It felt like Jane Austin ran out of time having spent sooooo long in Bath. Still, it was a good read.

By the way, like “Worcestershire” sauce, I don’t actually know how to pronounce “Northanger”. (North Anger? Northanjer?)

9. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and Family in Nazi Germany (Erik Larsen)

I loved his book, The Devil in the White City, so I thought I’d slow my brain (and prepare for history and lots of data) and try this one, too.

It illustrates how subtle and subversive the culture can shift a mindset when certain regime tactics are used. Terrifying how it parallels the media today.

10. Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab)

This book was recommended by a coworker as one of the best reads ever. I started it as an audiobook, but without a daily commute in which to listen, I found I wasn’t reading it. So I switched to Kindle et voila, I finished it within a week. It’s one of three books in a series and I’m told each one gets better.

Magically traveling through various Londons (red, gray, etc.) as one of a dying breed who can, the character of Kell (Antari messenger and part-time artifact smuggler) and his introduction to Lila, a merciless street rat (and thief), makes for a very quickly engaging and interesting read. The book definitely sets itself up for a sequel as it introduces questions about both Kell and Lila’s history.

11. Little House in a Big Wood (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

What a wild breath of fresh air! It was such a simple, honest book. What was life like living in the woods in Wyoming over a century ago when you caught, prepped, and did everything yourself living in a small cabin with just your family for company and miles of forest all around you? Well, read on, because you’ll find out.

12. Dead Poet’s Society (N.H. Kleinbaum)

I saw the movie so, years later, I had to read the book. Then I found out the book was a “novelization” of the movie script.

What a disappointment. I mean, I was literally reciting the lines from the book because I remembered them from the movie. Oh well.

13. Creative, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Ed Catmull)

This was a great book. I mean great. Humility. Honesty. Bits of autobiography. Massive underdog. Landed on top and hoping they maintain that special sauce they worked so hard to achieve.

If you’ve ever heard of Toy Story or Pixar, you will find this book so interesting.

14. The Man Who Would Be King (Rudyard Kipling)

Weird? Good, I guess. It was not at all what I was expecting. I don’t even know what I was expecting. I never read “back covers” on these so everything is a surprise. It went in directions that were strange. The characters were interesting, though not particularly likable? And the crux of the story didn’t really get hopping until the end.

15. The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)

Totally unexpected. I’d never seen the musical but someone I know had a book of the music (maybe my daughter or a friend from high school) so I’d heard some of the songs. The book was a bit slow-moving, but it was very enjoyable and interesting in terms of “how it was done”. That’ll make more sense when you read the book. 🙂

16. Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury)

This was another slower-paced book with an homage to Bradbury’s childhood. It was just a nice story of a kid growing up in Illinois in the 1920s. It was very wordy in its descriptions, but I loved loved loved stepping back in time.

17. The Invisible Man (H.G. Wells)

I had only seen the movie with Alec Baldwin. This book is nothing like that, that I can remember. It was weird. He works so hard to discover invisibility and once he attains it, he goes psycho and leaves his his morals at the door. And then we switch focus and get to his “backstory” towards the end of the book. I kept wanting to scream at everyone to just, “Throw paint on him!”

18. It Starts with Food (Melissa Hartwig)

This is a precursor to all the other books in the Whole30 program. I did the program in September so I thought I’d read the book first to see what I was in for and prepare myself as much as I could. Interesting read.

19. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

I’ve read a few Dickens novels before, but never this one. I did not like this book for some reason. It made me angry. But I found I kept thinking about it. And reading it. And thinking about it more.

Dickens dives into how human beings cope with trauma and the general mob mentality and justification once society hits a breaking point (French Revolution). It was fascinating and depressing stuff.

20. Battle Ground (Jim Butcher)

This is the latest installment of the Harry Dresden Files series of books with poor Harry taking on a Kraken an that’s the least of his worries. I love the snappy dialogue and pacing of Butcher’s books. This one, however, did not thrill me as much as the others.

I have a theory, though.

Every other book in the series, I listened to on Audible with the dulcet tones of James Marsters (Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and for this one, I had to read it. It’s a reading challenge, after all. So I tended to catch the pace was too quick or I thought he glossed through that or when will he slow down to just let the story breathe?

Anyway, this one felt rushed to me.

21. The Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles)

I loved the book, A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility, I knew I had to pick this one up to read it. Towles went in a different direction on this one as it’s a bit more modern-day (1950s America) and his writing style takes a bit of getting used to. There are no “sentences in quotes” in this book. Just dashes and dialogue. If you can get past that quirk, you’re halfway there.

I like his writing, it’s so delicate. Like every word is a butterfly wing, snowflake, and unicorn just magically weaved together to tell a story. He always seems to manage to capture moments so well it’s like you’re right there with the characters.

My First Novel – “Stranded” (12 Years Old)

So, this particular story was a project for my grade 7 class.  I have left the story in its original form, leaving in all grammar, spelling, and my own 12-year old word-smithing.  I will have you know that I drew and coloured every single one of these pictures.  Enjoy!

Stranded

Stranded - Me

Lynn Valley Elementary School
Copyright January 1981 by Melissa C. Brouwers

Stranded - Map

We were flying around Mt. St. Frederick when suddenly we lost a propellor from the left wing of our plane.  We were going in circles and circles.  Suddenly we crashed…  Right then and there the teacher was killed and Beverly broke her leg.  When we finally came to, we decided that we had to have a leader.  We decided that it would be Jimmy since he was our student council rep.  I jumped out of the plane and found we had landed on a volcano.  With the help of Danielle and Suzie we took Beverly out of the plane.

Stranded - Crash

The first thing we did was get all the important things out of the plane.  We walked down the Volcano and stood at the bottom waiting for the other kids to bring down Beverly and the equipment.  Then we waited, we knew that if we didn’t co-operate that we would surely die!  We split up into groups.  Some people went to find food, some shelter, and some people water.  After we split up and found the things that we needed we went back to the bottom of the volcano.  Later on we went back to finding things for our stay.

I looked behind me as I went to collect some food and I saw Jimmy and Ian lying down under a tree.  I asked them what they were doing there and they said that they did not want to work!  So I said, “If you don’t want to work then you can’t eat our food, sleep in our caves, and drink our water!  In fact if you don’t help we will just leave you here to starve!!!”  Just then they said “We’re helping, we’re helping.”  That was the last time we had trouble with them.  “Thank god!”

When everybody started complaining about the groups they were in.  We decided that we would pick a partner.  Well everybody liked that idea so we went along with it.  The system worked like this, nine people would go for water, eight for food and nine for accessories.  After we got organized we started to plan our rescue.  A couple of people suggested that we light a fire and we thought that it was a good idea so we used it.  We started the fire with the package of matches we found in the plane.  We put four logs in a square angle, put a little gasoline (from our plane) on the logs.  Then we lit fire to them….  Was it ever bright!  Later on we decided that Suzie would stay by the fire so that it didn’t go out.  The majority won and poor Suzie was either collecting wood or watching the fire.  She did that all night.  The next day she started complaining.  She wanted to take turns with someone.  We voted again, this time Marisa was picked.  She was the day shift because she wasn’t so brave, and Suzie was brave.  They liked that idea so that was their job.

That night we were all thinking about the day of the plane crash, our parents, things like that.  Soon, after ten minutes of thinking, Kevin, Jimmy, Kathy, Jayson, Craig, Yvonne and Beverly fell asleep.  Everybody else was either stories or falling asleep very quickly.  I couldn’t so I just lay there on the ground staring up into the sky.  The reason why I could do this was that I was right by the cave door.  So I just kept staring.  Soon everybody fell asleep.  About ten to twenty minutes went by, I was just about to fall asleep when I heard a noise it was a helicopter!!  I woke up everybody and we ran down just to find Suzie snoring!!  By the time we woke her up the helicopter had already left.  Everybody was so depressed! except Suzie, she was still snoring.  We went back up to the cave and went to bed…

Stranded - Fishing

The next morning I woke up early (which is very unusual for me because I normally wake up at 12:00 in the afternoon).  Then I walked down to where Suzie was to go get something to eat.  (what I wouldn’t do for some shreddies right now)  Just then I heard three boys argueing.  It was it was Nicko, Tim and Jim, what a racquet!  Jimmy was very edgy.  He didn’t like giving out orders.  He thought that we thought that he was too snobby and pushy.  So we ran into our normal pattern again.  We took a vote.  We started by making ballots just as soon as everybody was awake.  (which wasn’t hard everybody was already awake)  Then we told them our plan and started to get ready.  When we had finally finished, the candidates, Marisa and Mehboob made up their speeches.  That day, Khadija, Danielle, Amber and I made supper.

When supper was finished we began the campaign.  Marisa won by three ballots, mainly because we trusted her more than Mehboob.  She promised that the more work you did the more privileges, and also that the boys and girls are equal they had to do the same amount of work.  Mehboob made promises such as the boys don’t have to work past 3:00 p.m.  The girls had to get food, water, clean the caves things like that.

Everything went okay with our new leader.  One hot afternoon Robert said to Marisa, “How do you expect us to kill the wild animals?  With our bare hands?!”  “You are very right.  Sooner or later I knew that you were going to ask me this so I have devised a plan.  We’ll make blades out of volcanic glass and then we will use very strong sticks.”  She divided us up into groups and off we went.  About an hour later we came back with all of the equipment.  Marisa then said “What we are going to do is make weapons with the things I asked all of you to collect.”  She split us up into our groups and we went to work.  For three hours we worked.  We were all finally finished.  I thought I did a pretty good job myself.  When we settled down she looked at every spear, knife, and axe.  Then she stood up and said that they were great!!

As time passed I decided that I needed a quiet place to think.  I missed my mom, my sister (believe it or not) and all my friends.  I went walking in the woods and soon found a tall, curved tree which looked very comfortable.  I climbed up the tree and lay down on the curved branch on the tree.  I just laid there thinking and resting.

After a couple of hours of thinking and resting I got up and went back to the campground.  I found Suzie, Amber, and Dana and we went for a walk.  In a way you could call it exploring.  They all agreed so we left.  Dana saw a baby cub, Amber saw an eagle.  We kept walking.  I opened a big bush and  I saw a ceremonial ground.  I ran back to the others and then we went back.  It had at least six stumps, three coconut trees around it and a sacrificing stone.  At first I got the shivers but I soon calmed down.

Suddenly something came out of the bush, We ran so fast that a puma couldn’t even catch us.  We were out of there in three seconds flat.  Later on we found out that it was only the little bear cub that Dana saw earlier.  When we got back to camp we saw Marisa making decorations.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  “We’re having a party.” “What kind of party?”  “An arrival party.”  Once we heard that we got right to work.  At six o’clock we had the party.

An hour went by and then Marisa silenced everyone.  She heard something.  It was a plane!  Not an ordinary plane, a rescue plane!!  Everyone did what they had to.  Even Suzie!  Then it landed.  We are going back to civilization.  “Civilization, here I come!”

Stranded - Rescue

Audiobook du jour

What I’m listening to right now…

Right now, I’m listening to Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.  I just finished listening to The Talisman so it seemed a natural progression.

It started a little slow, I have to say.  That may be because I listen to these books while driving and if there’s any kind of distraction or commotion on US 101, well…my attention drifts a bit.  So I’ll give it that.  There were a few minor misses here and there.

I’ve been devouring S.K. books recently from The Gunslinger (first book in the Dark Tower series) all the way up to The Dark Tower (the last book in the series).  It’s been a wild ride and all I can say is,

Thank GOODNESS I hadn’t heard about the series until Stephen King had finished writing them all.  That several year gap when he wasn’t writing ths series would have about killed me.

So I’m getting into the swing of things again and enjoying reading all about Jackie Sawyer, all grown up.  What’s next?  I haven’t decided yet.  I may listen to the J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings series or I may listen to Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.

Guess we’ll see.