THOUGHTS: 2015 Book Challenge

reading chall

Last night, on the 28th November 2015, I completed my year’s challenge to read 20 new books. I’m quite proud because it sincerely WAS a challenge – I’m the SLOWEST READER despite being an English student/ primarily a literature student… but I’m very determined to do better next year. My maths is really bad but I think that’s an average of one book every three weeks, which can definitely be improved on. Also, a few of those books took only a day to read, so many more took a lot longer than that average. Still, I’m feelin’ good because I know for a fact a lot of people I know don’t even get through one. So, here’s a brief synopsis of each of those 20:

1. Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. This was the subject of the first book blog post I made! It can be found here. The purpose of this blog was originally to write a little post about EVERY book I read; but with uni and being busy with other things, a lot of them slipped through the net. This blog post is one of my faves because it was actually well-thought out, unlike a few others which I wrote far too quickly and haphazardly and are probably no good to anyone. But I think this one is, so try it out if you might be interested in some crazy mind-bending postmodernism, like I really am.
2. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I did a blog about this one too, here. As I say in it, this book kind of disappointed me, but it was also an interesting insight into Plath that you don’t get from her poetry, and was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read.
3. Lucy Kirkwood’s NSFW. This is a play that I wrote about for a Gender & Sexuality unit essay and earned a tidy high 2:1, which was hugely unexpected as it was written near the end of a term when I was at my wit’s end with uni. It’s a cool contemporary play about media ethics and the internet age.
4. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. A heart-wrenching short story that I’m sure everyone is familiar with through the film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the late great Heath Ledger. A lecturer recommended this, pointing out that it’s actually quicker to read the story than watch the three-hour film, and it’s a lot more emotional.
5. Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Blogged here, this was another good easy read but also bears some thinking about. After this intro to Atwood I do think I’ll one day try A Handmaid’s Tale despite various warnings from A-level students to the contrary.
6. Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler. This took a lonnnng time to get through, which I gave an explanation for in my blog post here. It served as my yearly Kerouac (I just really like reading him when Spring/Summer comes), though I did also start Big Sur but got distracted by other stuff, so I guess that will have to be my 2016 effort.
7. Joseph Conrad’s To-morrow. I picked this up as one of Penguin’s Little Black Classics after attempting and failing to read Heart of Darkness last year – being Little, this one was easily gotten through.
8. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. This is one that I seriously regret not blogging about, because it may be my favourite read of the year. It’s an autobiographical, biographical, graphic novel, about her life and growth in relation to her father, his alleged homosexuality, and his alleged suicide, and it is stunning. The kind of thing that I’d love to write if I can when I grow up. Bechdel was quoted saying that she could not even remove one word from the story because it is all so tightly necessary after six years in production, and she is so right. Every single word and illustration is irreplaceably poignant and concise. I feel a kind of affinity with Bechdel, since I read somewhere once that attempting to make connections between or see patterns in everything is inherently paranoid; and she and I clearly share this affliction. This only took me a few hours to get through, partly because I was so engrossed and partly because there’s not REALLY a lot of words, being a graphic novel. I would recommend this to EVERYONE.
9. Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. My second Barnes novel of the year; I picked this one up in a Brighton book shop because I so thoroughly enjoyed A History. This one was a kind of strange choice though, because I haven’t even read Madame Bovary, but I weirdly couldn’t put it down. It was a really tough chewy read but I’m glad I did it.
10. Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. This one’s a double book, so can it actually count as two?! As blogged here, I explain why my enjoyment of The Tao was tainted by my disappointment in The Te.
11. Anne Fine’s The Tulip Touch. A lovely children’s/young adult story I bought for my Children’s Literature unit but never read, then inexplicably decided to read in the summer, blogged about here. It contains valuable lessons and stuff to think about for anyone who is past being a child or young as well.
12. John Green’s Looking For Alaska. I thought it about time I read a John Green, and I’m glad I did, though it was literally disgustingly awful but I do feel strangely compelled to try some more?! It’s dire. EW. Thinking about it is making me cringe. I wish I’d blogged about this one too because I mostly read stuff I like so can only be nice about it, and this would’ve given me chance to be really horrible which I sometimes like doing. Do not feed your kids this stuff, it is poison.
13. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Blogged here, though it’s definitely not my best blog, very rushed and doesn’t really do it much justice. This novel took me a while because it’s written in Scottish dialect which was hard to push through at first, but then I ended up in hospital for a few days so had nothing much better to do and got seriously engrossed in it. It’s really dirty which nicely reflected my surroundings. #SaveOurNHS
14. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This was a double book too; though it is for children so I didn’t want to count it separately. That would be cheating. I blogged about it here, which nicely sums up what I like about it. I wanted to read it because Alice is everywhere, still, in 2015, and a little girl with such longevity deserves some understanding of her origins.
15. William S. Burroughs’ Junky. I planned a blog about this one but never got around to it, which is sad, because I think I had some good stuff to say but I’ve forgotten it now. Damn.
16. Alexa Chung’s IT. Okay so this one doesn’t really count as an actual book, but maybe The Te of Piglet can cancel it out?! I hope one day I can be famous enough that I can write a vacuous £20 book just about me and stuff I like and everyone will buy it.
17. Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. The first new book I’ve read for my new, third year university units, and I finished it in November… Oops. I think I’ve been put off because this was so long-winded and I had no idea what was going on until other students in my seminar group pointed major plot points out to me that I had somehow missed. But it is interesting if you are interested in post-colonialism, which I purport to be, though I could be a lot faster in reading about it.
18. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Blogged at length here.
19. Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. This is a play, also for my Post-Colonial Texts unit, which demands a top-notch essay is written about it in two weeks’ time. Better get started. This one will take you an hour and is a really valuable insight into colonial ignorance.
20. Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. I’m powering through Carter’s works for my dissertation, which was the best choice by me because it’s SO FUN. I know a lot of people I’ve discussed dissertations with on my course somehow really do not find crazy postmodern magical realism fun, but I heartily refute them. I’ve found a kindred spirit in magical realist writers, I think: my first essay of the year came back with the feedback that I can get “carried away with my tone” and that’s probably a good explanation for why I love ridiculous literature so much. Because I tend to write it too. There’s a good quote I found near the end that goes like this: “It could be said that, for all the peoples of this region, there existed no difference between fact and fiction; instead, a sort of magic realism.” It encompasses everything I’ve found interesting so far studying at uni, and I can’t wait to start a Fact and Fiction unit next year, which has Kerouac and Burroughs and fun stuff on the reading list. FUN. I’m excited.

Those were my 20 – and now I know I can do much better with a bit of work and less laziness, 2016’s challenge will be 25. That doesn’t include re-readings or academic texts, so both totals are a lot higher in reality. Sometimes reading does feel like a bit of a chore, but I think about the mush my brain would be if I didn’t do it and I take my medicine stoically. I have a stuffed bookshelf waiting for me so I can’t stop now anyway. Challenge yaself in the new year and track your progress on Goodreads.com, it’s addictive.

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