Kicking off the New Year with the Goodreads Challenge

I began the Goodreads Reading Challenge on a whim. I don’t really like setting reading goals for myself, mainly because I’m never confident that I’ll meet them, but I read 87 books last year and I thought if I can avoid hitting a wall (like I usually do) I could actually read 100, why not? Plus 100 is a nice round number.

To keep pace with the reading challenge, I need to read a little more than 8 books in a month. I was just shy of that number in January but I read some great books.

NW by Zadie SmithPrior to reading NW by Zadie Smith I hadn’t read a title published for adults since August—and that was The Cuckoo’s Calling which although enjoyable and by an author I love, is a very different kind of book. Smith’s writing is challenging in the best sense of the word. She’s playing with various styles and forms to reflect the content and characters. I received the book as a Christmas gift from my Dad, along with Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Herman Koch’s The Dinner. I was feeling serious reading burn out all fall and NW was the perfect antidote. I needed to read something difficult, that wouldn’t make it easy to put down or continue. NW challenges the traditional idea of what a novel can be and that’s exactly what I needed at that time.

Boxers & SaintsAfter a brief stop-over in picture books with an ARC of the gorgeous My Country ‘Tis of Thee. I next read Little Blue Lies which I was assigned to review for School Library Journal and then dove into Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints. I’m still disappointed that these remarkable books weren’t recognized for a Printz Award this year, because I truly believe that each book can stand on its own as a great literary achievement. I was moved by the balanced treatment of the Boxer Rebellion in two books that ultimately advocate for peace without condemning their protagonists or preaching to the reader. Having grown up in a Catholic household, the strong themes of mercy and forgiveness in Saints especially resonated with me.

FangirlWith the ALA Youth Media Awards still looming, I re-read Fangirl to review on Someday, rediscovering everything I adored about it the first time I read it last May. It took me so long to solidify my thoughts, but there’s nothing like a deadline to give you sharp clarity when it’s needed most. In my review, I argue that Fangirl is one of the best YA novels of the year, but in the end it didn’t win at the YMAs. Lesson for next year: if I really love and support a novel, champion it loudly, passionately, and early.

September GirlsPost YMAs I still wanted to catch up on September Girls which made HVLA’s Mock Printz honor list. People who attended the Mock made such good arguments I wanted to form my own opinion. It’s a well-written book, for sure. I just don’t go in for really long descriptive writing that uses more words than necessary. Maybe I read too much Strunk & White, but I just feel like lengthy descriptive passages need to serve a deeper literary purpose than just being pretty. To be fair, having come off of some very satisfying reading, maybe my standards got too high. It’s a good book, just not my cup of tea.

LandlineI finished off the month with Landline, Rainbow Rowell’s forthcoming book for adults. It doesn’t actually pub until the summer so I don’t want to write much about it because I’d actually like to re-read the final copy before I offer my thoughts. What I will say now is that the cover is super gorgeous; that yellow phone handset is brills. Also, because my brain works in bizarre ways, Stevie Nicks singing “Landslide” kept playing in my head while I was reading (hey, it kind of rhymes).

There isn’t an obvious correlation among the titles I read in January, but the common thread I see is a shared emphasis on setting. In each of these books, location is important to the story and characters. Some of the characters are trying to transcend their current surroundings, while others are trying to adjust to new ones. In NW and September Girls the setting is almost another character in the novel, it is that integral to the plot.

January ended up being a good mix of adult and YA, as well as pop and literary. I didn’t make those decisions by design, but it’s probably a good indication of how I can avoid hitting that wall.

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