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.